Undead and Done – MaryJanice Davidson

The guards finally took a break, and by lunchtime most of the skin on his torso had grown back. He sat down in the food court and contemplated his burger, cooked just the way he liked it (well-done, with a pucklike texture), with most of the bread scooped from the bun (not that he had to worry about hatefuldelicious carbs anymore), sweet potato fries with a sprinkle of sea salt, a dish of flan for dessert, and to wash it down, a tall glass of sweet iced tea, no lemon, with a shot of cream. It was perfect. He hated it. He ate it anyway. While he chewed and sipped, he looked around the food court, still amazed at all the changes that had happened in such a short time. The place hadn’t always looked like the Mall of America, and the devil hadn’t always been a vampire. He was pretty sure. Time was funny here. In fact, the devil was dead, killed in combat by the vampire queen, who then took over Hell and started running it by—he still couldn’t believe it; no one could believe it—committee. Hell had always been gigantic, so its transformation into a mall made weirdnormal sense. Some poor idiots had thought—and worse, said, and that was always a bad idea; someone was always listening—how bad could a mall be? They soon learned. An enormous mall where the stores never had things in your size and the food court only served things you hated or screwed up the food you loved and all the best rides in the amusement park were closed and it was always Black Friday was Hell indeed. The new devil, the vampireangel devil, was reluctantly, instantly admired for the depth of her cunning. Suddenly it didn’t seem so impossibly strange that Betsy (betsy????? what????) had killed the Morningstar.

Except the devil wasn’t dead; she’d only been hiding, had taken another form and had hidden in plain sight.* But the vampire queen had somehow known, and hurt her, and yelled at her, and banished her in front of everyone. He hadn’t been in the food court at the time—Thursday the guards drowned him in sweet tea—but he saw it all like he’d been sitting ten feet away. The guards, too. Everyone saw. Hell had trembled, teetered . and was slowly settling back. Or at least settling down. So! The terriblewonderful vampire queen was in charge. Meet the new boss, perhaps not the same as the old boss.

Maybe he had a chance. At last, one chance. Because she was letting some of them off. And she was letting some of them leave. At least, that was the rumor. And in Hell, rumors had more power than they ever had in life. So! Why wait? People could get a second chance; there were people in Hell who simply . weren’t there anymore. It wasn’t like there were going-away parties, but still: people who had been here a long, long time suddenly weren’t. And there didn’t seem to be any pattern.

Men, women, and children had left. Catholics and Muslims and agnostics had left. Killers and thieves, blasphemers and telemarketers—they could leave. Anyone could leave. You just had to meet with the new devil, talk to her. Explain things. She didn’t tell everyone yes . but she didn’t tell everyone no. She was terriblewonderful that way. And .

hadn’t he paid and paid? From birth to death and now beyond, he’d suffered. Where was his fresh start? But speculating was one thing. Making it happen was tricky. He was leery of approaching the new one on his own—everyone was. HeavenHell knew the old devil didn’t encourage fraternizing. But the word was if you got the ear of a committee member (not really you can’t really get their ears it’s just a saying if you tried to hurt a committee member she got sooooooo madddddddd did they ever find that guy’s face?) that committee member would take you to see her. Or at least put in a good word for you. Several good words, sometimes. He glanced around the food court but saw no one he could trust . no one he even dared approach.

They were all filthycrazy. He couldn’t even look at them; he’d never be able to approach one. And speak to them? No, no. He chewed and pondered and drank, and like an answer to a dreamprayer (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) there she was, gliding past the Dairy Queen like a bright-eyed goddess. Perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect body. She was real and clean and sane. And there, right there, and he was so stupid, he should have thought of her earlier. She’d help him; of course she would. She couldn’t refuse him a thing, no more than he could refuse her. “It’s you!” he cried, abandoning his perfecthorrible lunch without a second thought and running to her, ignoring the chewing and slurping and drinking and bitching and moaning that made up virtually everyone’s conversation during meals.

He saw her shoulders stiffen, and then she swung around. He noted with pleased pride that she recognized him at once; her eyes widened, then narrowed. She looked clean and perfect, her dark blond hair in an intricate French braid, her feet sockless in battered oxblood loafers, her faded jeans rolled at the cuffs, and wearing a blue T-shirt with white lettering (Jesus is Santa Claus for adults). She sucked in a breath (unnecessary; they were both dead, but old habits) and he had a moment of pure joy at being the focus of her attention, a moment where he didn’t feel (filthy filthy filthy) dirty. He’d been unclean in life and soiled in death; dirty up top, dirty down below, but now she was here, and she would help him be free; they could both be free and clean, clean forever and— Oh. God. Ow. “There!” she cried as he clutched himself and flopped to the floor. Fun fact: getting kneed in the balls hurts just as much in the afterlife as it does in life. And the vicious beating that followed was impressive.

This could be her job, he thought when she broke his nose with a small fist. Men and women hurt me all day every day, and she’s making them look like amateurs. What a marvel she is! “You son of a bitch!” Stomp. Smash. He coughed out three teeth. “I love you.” “Shut up!” “I really, really love you.” He’d curled up, protecting his tender bits, but that gave her a clear shot at the rest of him, and she took full advantage and wasn’t that something? He’d never had his elbow broken in Hell before now. “Get a grip, fucknut!” “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” And she was there, the new devil, the one who wore a red-and-white name tag that read, Hello, My Name Is Satan 2.

0, because her friends thought it was funny. “Cathie, what the hell? Sir, are you—oh yuck,” she said as he knuckled blood out of his eyes and blinked up at her from the floor. “You are all kinds of gross and bleeding right now.” “This—this—” She was sputtering and rubbing her hands on her pants as if frantic to get his blood off her fingers, then took a breath and forced calm. “This repellant fucknut is the guy who murdered me.” “Ha! Repellant fucknut, that’s— Whoa.” The other devil’s blond brows arched. “You’re the Driveway Killer?” She bent to take another look, her shoulder-length hair swinging forward and obscuring her face and brightbright eyes for a second, and then she nodded. “You’re the Driveway Killer. I couldn’t tell right away, on account of how your nose is spouting blood and has been moved over an inch.

Yikes, Cath, you really did a number on him.” This in a tone of mild admiration. “I’m not done, either.” This in a tone of whatever the opposite of mild admiration was. “Yeah, you are, though.” The new devil extended a hand. He expected a slap, or a trick, but she just waited and he eventually took her hand and climbed to his feet. “What’s on your crazy fractured mind, Driveway Killer?” “Ben.” That name, that terriblecorrect name the newspapers stuck him with; he’d hoped it hadn’t followed him down here. “Ben Sporco.

” “Yeah, I don’t care. Why’d you pick a fight with my friend?” “I didn’t pick a fight with her.” Shocked. The idea. Oh, he would never. “I needed her help.” Cathie made an inarticulate sound that sounded quite a lot like rage. “I’ll help you,” she managed through gritted teeth. “Right into a fractured skull and multiple amputations, I’ll help you. Someone get me a blowtorch.

” But the new devil was looking at him thoughtfully. “Huh. You’ve heard about the changes. You’re looking to get paroled, I’ll bet.” Yesyes! He nodded so hard blood and mucus flew in strings from his nose. The new devil dodged, saving her sweater. “It’s a brand-new program,” the new devil explained, which was nice of her, because the people in charge didn’t have to explain anything, anywhere, unless they wanted to—something else that was the same wherever you were trapped. “And we don’t even know if it’ll work. Baby steps, y’know?” He didn’t, but he nodded anyway. She reached into her pocket, pulled out her hand, scowled, reached into her pocket again, pulled out a large clean handkerchief, and handed it to him.

“Ta-da! Uh, I don’t want that back, by the way.” “Thank you,” he managed. What was happening, exactly? Was he in trouble? Was he getting out? Was this a new version of torture? “You’re much nicer than the old devil.” “That’s a low bar.” Still, she seemed more amused than anything else. “And maybe I’m not. If I was really nice, I’d have cured your injuries.” “You don’t have to cure me,” he said, then took a break to blow snot and blood into the handkerchief. Both women grimaced, which was fair. “Just let me out.

I want to get out.” The (last) love of his life made a disgustedhappy sound. “And you thought I’d help you? Jesus, you really are crazy.” “I’m not crazy,” he said. “I just want to leave.” “Actually, those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. Well, c’mon,” the new devil said. “Let’s go to my office and talk about it.” “Really?” This in unison with the (last) love of his life—ah, even in Hell, they were one. “Oh, Betsy.

” She sounded equal parts appalled and interested. “You’re not serious. Are you? No. Can’t be. Wait. Are you?” “Never hurts to talk, Cathie. Listen, are you okay? D’you want to get out of here for a while?” That was another thing about the new devil’s friends/committee members. They didn’t have to stay in Hell. She helped them pop in and out all the time. He had the sneaking suspicion one or two of them weren’t even dead.

Disgusting. “No, I’ll stay.” A glare that could shatter glass. “He’s not driving me out. This is my turf. Everyone knows the food court is my turf.” “Well, if not before, they sure do now. Let me know if you change your mind.” The new devil put a solicitous arm around his love, which all the people pretending not to watch couldn’t miss. “You want to take the day off? Do something that isn’t .

” She glanced around the food court. “This?” So, this one was clever like the last one. My friends can kick the shit out of someone here, and I’ll be worried about them. I’ll show concern for them. Not any of you. See? “No, like I said, I’ll stay. I’ll want to talk to you.” He met Cathie’s gaze as best he could; his left eye was swelling shut. The other eye had no trouble picking up on her baleful glower. “After.

” “Oh, I’ll bet.” The new devil grinned, then looked at him. “Come on, then, Driveway Guy.” “Ben.” “Still don’t care.” He fell into step behind her, wondering why she didn’t just whisk him away to her office in the security wing. Then he realized she wanted everyone to see him follow her out. New, but learning quickly. Oh yes. * * * He had just finished explaining.

It hadn’t taken long. Which was just as well, as he’d never taken a meeting with the devil before. Or a vampire. And certainly not in a room that looked like the dispatch office of a busy Midwestern mall. A row of screens showed what was happening in several corners of Hell, though she thankfully had the volume off. No clocks, of course, and no calendars. No family pics anywhere, or posters. Bare walls and banks of screens showing eternal suffering; Hell was always efficient. They had come in and she had plopped down in the big chair behind the desk dominating the room, and he’d gingerly taken a seat opposite her as he was wondering where to start, how to start, when he got his first good look at her. For the first time he noticed what she was wearing—he’d been too distracted earlier by Cathie.

And pain. And by how normal a devilvampire looked: pale skin, blond hair, light eyes, light eyebrows. Minimal makeup—just that shiny lip stuff women put on when they wanted something fancier than ChapStick but not a full-on date-night mouth. And she was too tall, and her eyes were all wrong. He’d never have chosen her to be his love if he’d seen her in life. Cathie had that honor, not this new devil. (Putting that aside, if he had seen her in life and tried to make them as one, would he be a vampire now? Or just in Hell? Or both?) Never mind any of that; on the outside, at least, there were millions just like her in Minnesota alone; she was nothing special. Her clothes were just as unexceptional: khakis in that style that made it look like they were too short (capris?), a light blue sweater, high heels of some kind. She was suddenly sucking on a straw and he realized she’d gotten a large cup of something, though he hadn’t seen her order anything in the food court, and she’d left with only him, not him and a drink or (so much better!) Cathie and him and a drink. “Is that .

uh.” Was he really? Was he going to chat with the vampiredevil like this was an ordinary office and he was an ordinary man? Ask her about her diet, for God’s sake? “Are you . um.” There is no polite way to ask Satan 2.0 if she’s slurping blood out of an Orange Julius cup. None. None at all. She figured out what he was (not) asking and shook her head. “Strawberry smoothie.” “Oh.

” “It’s less gross than blood,” she explained, “though there are more seeds to contend with.” “Okay.” “I love blood. But I don’t like it. Y’know?” “Yes.” “So then. Let’s have it.” “What?” The slurping. The slurping was working on his nerves like a small string of firecrackers tossed into a dirty street, just pop pop pop poppoppop and smoke and more unbearable loud sharp sounds and dust everywhere, filth all over this was a bad idea this was a VERY BAD IDEA. “Hey! Stay away from the light, pal.

Keep your focus. Your life story,” she prompted. So he told her, and she nodded here and there and grimaced a few times, but mostly she let him talktalktalk, and when he was done he felt a little better, not clean, exactly—only Cathie could make him clean—but a bit less wretched. “Wow,” was all she said after a long moment. She sucked in more smoothie and then (thank you thank you) put the cup on the desk, leaned back in her chair, and stretched out her long, long legs. “Your entire life.” “Yes?” “Was severely fucked up.” “Yes.” “Which you decided to take out on several innocent women who had never harmed you in any way.” He said nothing.

It seemed safest. And they weren’t several women, they were his loves, his terriblewonderfuls. They sat in silence for a moment, until she broke it. “So . dying didn’t get rid of the crazy.” He blinked. “The crazy what?” “I mean, this is exactly how you thought when you were killing short, dark-eyed blondes in their driveways, right? D’you know, my friends were worried you’d come after me?” “I would never,” he protested, trying not to stare at her legs, ugh, the gangly things took up half the office it was so off-putting women were supposed to be short so men could (help them have them save them use them and GET HOLD RIGHT NOW) “You’re not my type,” he managed, and oh thank God she seemed more amused by that than anything else that had happened in the last half hour. “No? You’d never have tried to bag me for your collection?” She grinned at him and he noticed how white her teeth were. And . sharp.

Of course. “That’s too bad. My friends were worried, but I’d kind of hoped you’d try something.” He shook his head. “Never.” He felt like retching; her legs alone were problematic; he would have needed an extra suitcase at the least. And her eyes were wrong, wrong, all wrong. “A discerning serial killer!” “I— What?” “Picky. Is that better?” He had no idea. And now came the strangest thing in a very strange day; he could feel himself warming to her.

Liking her, even, and it was so strong it almost (almost) buried the fear. “I . ” Almost don’t loathe and fear you, but even he wasn’t such a glutton for a beat-down that he’d say such a thing. “You’re very patient.” “Sure.” She shrugged and shifted in her chair, looked down and smiled, and he thought her selfdeprecation and modestly lowered gaze were charming until he realized she was smiling at her shoes. They were purple high heels with a purple cuff around each ankle, which made it look like she was wearing two festive electronic tracking devices. “I’m still learning myself. As you maybe noticed, I’m new in town.” Well, yes.

He’d noticed that. “So,” he began, but she cut that right off. “You’re not getting out.” Her tone was hateful because there was no malice, no glee; she took no pleasure out of it, out of any of this, and that was worse than malice. You can’t fight calm indifference. “No way. Not for a long, long time. Even I couldn’t tell you how long.” Of course you could! he wanted to shout. You’re the only one who could! You could snap your fingers—like that!—and I’d be free.

He kept it behind his teeth, thank God, and what came out next was purest truth, if not sanity. “Please. I’ve been here too long. Your horriblewonderful mall is—is —” “Horrible and wonderful?”

.

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