Undead and undermined, p.16
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       Undead and Undermined, p.16
 

         Part #10 of Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson
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  "Jessica is asleep?"

  "Yeah. "

  "Laura?"

  "Gone. I don't know when. " And I didn't know where. The future? The past? The Mall of America? No idea. "I'll worry about that later. "

  I picked up a kitchen chair and set it upside down on the table we all shared, except Marc because Marc was dead; Marc killed himself and he'd never share this table again, except he would.

  Yes.

  I snapped off one of the chair legs. Turned. Marched toward the basement. Went into the basement. Walked the length of the basement until I came to the securely bolted door. Marc, after he'd been programmed or mojo'd into killing himself, had still thought of our safety. Had locked everything nice and tight before heading upstairs to inject himself with a lethal amount of opiates.

  He was beautiful in death. It was true what people said. Sometimes people really do look like they're only sleeping. Marc had taken care to leave a gorgeous corpse. This was good, because I wasn't going to let him stay dead for long.

  Oh, and the letter. He left that behind, too. But I wasn't letting anybody see that. Not for a while, at least.

  It seemed to take a long, long time to reach the wine cell. Tina and Sinclair had silently followed me. When I got there and shot the first of the bolts, they both automatically stepped forward to help me.

  "No. "

  "What?" Tina was startled out of her usual deference. I think my tone surprised her.

  "No. I'm doing this. Me. By myself. You two are not invited. I'm opening this door and going in. Then you'll close it and lock it. When I knock, open it back up and let me out. "

  Sinclair looked as distressed as I'd seen him. "Elizabeth, do not be silly, we can't-"

  "I'm not asking, Sinclair. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is a discussion. Now. Unless you want a shit day to turn apocalyptic, do what I tell you. "

  They did what I told them.

  Good thing, too. CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

 

  "Oh, you're here!" The Marc Thing was very pleased, if the futile wriggling against the tape was an indication. "Finally! Ready to kill me?"

  "Yes. "

  "Oh, goody, goody, goody! I've been waiting soooo-" He cut himself off and peered at me. "You aren't being a meanie, are you? You're not teasing? You'll do it?"

  "I'm not being a meanie. I'll absolutely kill you. "

  "Hooray!"

  "I just want to know why. " I crossed the room so I could get a better look at his face. His eyes. "Why did you come? Was it just to talk yourself into killing yourself? Was it so Ancient Me wouldn't get her hooks into you?"

  "You want to know why. " He seemed to ponder this for a moment, then brightened. He looked a little like his old self, and those moments, they were actually the worst. When I could see the man he had been. God, he was damaged, so damaged. But yeah, the worst was when he almost looked like my Marc. When he looked like my friend. "Because you don't know why! Right? You don't! I'm here so I won't be here and you don't know!"

  I squatted in front of him. Any other time I'd be yanking on my hair trying to puzzle this out, but I was frozen inside right now. Dead, almost. I felt like I could outwait anything, even the ravings of a crazy dead guy. "Right. I don't know. So tell me. I bet the devil fixed it so you could follow us back. Maybe you were supposed to kill me, too? Or as many of us as you could?

  "See, it occurred to me that we didn't have to stay in hell more than a few minutes. It occurred to me that maybe Satan was stalling. To give you time to work on Marc. To give you time to set up his suicide. And maybe my murder?"

  "Your murder? Who'd murder you?"

  "You want a list?"

  "You couldn't murder you, so you didn't murder you. " Patience was one thing, but this was starting to make me want to find a razor and trim his ears right off his skull. "Can you try to tell me in a way that isn't completely crazy? If it's at all possible?"

  "The devil won't ever kill you. And her daughter won't, either. They can't. But you can kill you. It was you, Betsy-Wetsy. "

  "You mean it was my fault because in hell I-"

  He whipped his head back and forth so fast his features were a frightening blur for half a second. It was such an unnatural way for a human body to move, it was shocking to watch. I almost fell backward onto the chilly cement. Then he seemed to catch hold of himself.

  "You did it. You sent me back, Betsy. "

  I was glad I hadn't fallen, because I wouldn't have been able to get up after hearing that. "Ancient Me sent you back?"

  "She didn't remember and she asked and when I didn't remember she sent me back. You did things and said things. In the future. You did things and the other you, the old you, the bad bad you, she didn't remember those things happening. She saw a chance to save him. Them," he added, like that would clarify the babble. "She sent me back to save me. Because if she didn't let all those bad things happen to me, then bad things wouldn't happen to her. "

  I was trying to follow this. I had a vague memory of a sort of shoving match in Ancient Betsy's office. Her surprise . . . her shock, even. So when Laura and I left, she thought about it. And talked to the Marc Thing about it. And sent him back to kill/save my Marc.

  Because if I didn't make Marc into the Marc Thing, maybe there were other awful, awful things I wouldn't do.

  Maybe such an insanely risky maneuver was all she could do. Maybe she decided it was worth the risk if it meant she might keep her soul. By saving the world from . . . well . . . her . . . she was also saving her family and friends.

  I could almost see her, the older me, sitting at her icky big old desk and wondering: will I feel it when the time stream shifts? Or will I never notice it at all? Will I still be . . . me? Or will I be her? Or someone else, someone like neither one of us?

  I didn't know. That was the maddening part. I knew quite a bit now about the future, but only enough for despair. Not near enough for hope.

  "I saved me," the Marc Thing said, so softly and pleasantly he sounded a lot like the guy who'd killed himself upstairs two hours ago. "Now you have to save you. " He nodded at the chair leg stake in my hand. I hadn't bothered to hide it. What would have been the point?

  "She never," he said. I realized he was crying a little. "She could never finish me. She couldn't save me and then she couldn't end it for me, so I went on and on and on and got more and more and more dead and she knew that killing me would have been killing the last smallest scrap of her humanity and she wouldn't. She couldn't. And I loved her and I hated her, but mostly I loved her because she was her and if you kill me you won't ever be her. And Marc will never be me. "

  I was staring at the floor. I couldn't look at him. It was definitely the worst when he sounded almost human. "I'm sorry that happened to you. "

  "Happened to me?" He laughed. "You're making it sound like I was in an earthquake. You're sorry you did that to me. Right?"

  "Right. "

  "I know. That's why I know you can kill me. Right? If you kill me, you'll have all kinds of scraps of humanity left. Tons of scraps! Only I don't want to see it coming. I never could stand to even get a shot if I knew when the needle was going to hit . . . isn't that the dumbest thing you've ever heard?"

  "No. "

  "It's why I was going to jump. The night we met, remember? I was going to jump and die, but you caught me before I fell. You caught me before I even jumped. And kept catching me and catching me and because you were so used to saving me you could never let me go. You will now, though, right?"

  "Yes. "

  "I liked being a doctor," he said wistfully. "I think if I hadn't been murdered I would have been happy doing that for the-"

  I stood. Looked closely . . . yes. The Marc Thing was gone. A chair leg slammed through the chest and out the back of the chair he was trussed to would do that every time.

  I'd saved him, and maybe myself.

  And he hadn't seen it coming. CHAPTER FOR
TY-SEVEN

 

  "I'm sorry about how I was in the basement. It's your vampire kingdom, too. I just really wanted to take care of it myself. "

  "I was not offended, my queen, only worried. " We were in the wreck of our bedroom . . . seeing all the shattered evidence of Garrett and Antonia's reunion was the first thing that made me smile in hours. "Also, I cannot live like this. "

  "We're outta here. " I zipped closed the bag I'd been packing. "I don't want to see this place for a couple of days. Jessica's already called contractors. I told her we'd be at the downtown Marriott. " And Jessica would tell the others. And we'd all take a couple of days to recover from our shattered sense of How Things Should Be. And then we'd sit at the smoothie table and try not to notice how Marc wasn't there. And then we would make a plan. And then we would save the day.

  Which would be tricky, given everyone's new identities. The timeline wasn't the only thing that had changed.

  Garrett, who barely opened his mouth to ask for a new skein of yarn, or whatever they called the units of measurement yarn came in, had learned to lie. Satan, who practically invented lying, had taken to sprinkling some truth in with her usual doses of fibs. Laura, who almost never lied, was learning to leave out important chunks of stories. And I, I'd learned that if I could keep my damned mouth shut once in a while, people would do things or tell me things they hadn't planned on.

  Because, although I was thrilled Antonia (the good one) was alive and back with us, I would never forget that I hadn't asked for her. I'd asked for something else . . . something that didn't have a soul and a pulse. Instead of asking for the life of a friend, I'd asked for a thing that couldn't love me back. And that meant . . .

  That meant I was not the hero of the story. In fact, it was looking more and more like Laura was the hero.

  So what did that make me?

  Exactly.

  "I was so happy when we got back from hell. I felt like I'd fixed everything, how fucking dumb could I be?" I was telling this to Sinclair's chest, because he'd folded me back into his arms. Luckily my nose had healed.

  "Shhh, do not do this to yourself. "

  "If not me, then who?" I thought that was a better-than-fair question. Who was gonna call the vampire queen on her shit, when even the vampire king deferred to her if she was bitchy enough?

  Exactly.

  "It will seem so strange here without Marc," Sinclair mused. "And even stranger to have Antonia back. Once I thought I had seen so much, life could teach me no more. How fucking dumb could that be?"

  I had to laugh; I knew how he felt. And he had a good point about Antonia.

  Was it always going to be like this? Would I have to give up something wonderful to get something wonderful back? Because I did not sign on for this shit.

  No. Because I knew things I hadn't known before this awful, awful hooray-Thanksgiving-will-soon-be-here, awful month of November.

  I knew dead didn't mean dead.

  I knew you could come back. Or the devil could give you back.

  Oh, and one more thing. The devil badly, badly needed to stay on my good side.

  "Marc's dead, but he won't be for long," I vowed, shaking in Sinclair's arms. From anguish or fright or rage, I couldn't tell. Maybe it was all three, a new emotion, one so novel to me I couldn't identify it. "I'm gonna get Marc back. He didn't leave a gorgeous corpse behind for no reason . . . he knows I'll get him back. "

  "Elizabeth-"

  "I'll get him back, Sinclair, no matter what I have to do. And no matter who gets in my way. "

  "I believe you, my queen, and will help you any way I can. "

  "Yes, I know. We'll get him back and then we'll all have smoothies and laugh about how worried we were the day he died. "

  And the devil help anyone who got in my way. It would have to be the devil.

  God, it was clear, was on my side. EPILOGUE

 

  Dear Betsy,

  I'm gone now, but not forever. Couldn't leave without giving you the scoop, though, so listen up.

  First, although you will, don't blame yourself. Even as I'm writing this I get that it's a waste of time, but I'm jumping in and trying anyway. Again: don't blame yourself, dumbass.

  I wanted to do this. Frankly, I have inclinations like this all the time. It even runs in my family (along with alcoholism and the ability to make hospital corners). Shit, remember the night we met? I was about to do a swan dive off the hospital roof and you wouldn't let me. You saved me . . . for a while.

  Now I'm saving you.

  It's only fair.

  It's also only fair to tell you that you shouldn't blame the others, either. In hindsight, letting me spend time alone talking with the dead me seems careless and risky, right? Sure . . . in hindsight.

  But it's not their fault. I only told them the stuff they'd find most helpful, the bare minimum. The stuff that would make them feel okay about me going back into that room. And back. And back. They're as invested in saving you as I am. And they don't know a fifth of what I know.

  Listening to yourself tell yourself about the awful things you'll do someday is an experience, I won't deny it. But before you break off a chair leg or something and march into the basement to kill the other me like John Wayne with fangs, please believe that the other Marc DID NOT MOJO ME

  INTO DOING THIS.

  He just told me what would happen to me if I didn't. Believe me, it was not a difficult choice. At all. And hey, I'm a man comfortable with opiates. When I went, honey, I went wrecked.

  So I've saved myself. And I've saved you. And I was glad of the chance. Do you know why?

  Because I love you, dumbass. From the moment we met. You've been like the little sister I never wanted. (That's a joke. Not a very good one, I agree. ) And right now you're thinking dark thoughts about how you can't protect your friends and being the vamp queen has ruined your life and no job in the world is worth this and how could you not see what I was going to do, blah-blah-blah, why me, I want shoes, this is hard, I hate everything, more shoes, blah-blah-blah.

  But here's the thing, and it's the stone truth: knowing you has only ever made me feel one way. Not scared, not horny, not crazed, not pissed, not despairing, not thwarted. Lucky.

  Knowing you has made me feel lucky. Even now, prepping this little opiate cocktail, I feel lucky. I'm controlling how I leave this world, something that poor bastard down in the basement couldn't do. And look at the price he paid!

  By doing this to myself, I'm undoing some seriously bad shit.

  But don't take my word for it.

  Go to the basement, and ask me. Ask me for yourself. You won't like what I say, but you'll see the truth behind his awful smile.

  I love you.

  I will see you again. Believe it.

  Your friend,

  Marc
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