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Author: J. F. Lewis
Publisher: Pocket Books, 2009
Series: Void City: Book 2

1. Staked
2. ReVamped
3. Crossed
4. Burned

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Eric has lost his strip club, his Mustang, and even Marilyn, the elderly love of his (mortal) life. Even his body was obliterated. In short, they almost got him. But when you're a vampire, "almost" is a very important word. With a little magical help from his friends, Eric is restored to corporeal form, but his treasured Mustang gets caught up in the sorcery and winds up with an unlife of its own. Now, along with "Fang the 'Stang," he's out to save Marilyn from one of Void City's most powerful soul-stealing demons. But salvation comes at a high price, forcing Eric to venture into his own worst nightmare, Vampire High Society, to uncover the truth about the origin of his powers.

At the same time, Eric's ex-girlfriend, Tabitha, has begun to wonder exactly what it was that she admired about those High Society Vampires in the first place. Her quest to find her own place in this deceptively vicious circle may lead her right back to Eric's side -- if her little sister, Rachel, doesn't kill her first. And Eric will need all the help he can get, because it looks like someone is after his soul, too. Blood will flow, fangs will be bared, and the claws will come out, because revenge is never pretty...and Eric has plenty to pass around.



Welcome Back to the Void

If you've never been blown up before, I can't recommend it. I suggest it even less if the perpetrators are using blessed shaped charges of C-4. Being atomized by that kind of firepower would have ended most vampires, but I'm not that lucky. I'm special.

In ice cream terms, vampires come in three flavors: chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. I'm grape sherbet -- hard to come by and much more likely to give you brain freeze. Technically there's one more type of vampire, Drones, but they're barely even immortal -- the vampire equivalent of ice milk -- and they certainly wouldn't have survived what happened to me.

My name is Eric Courtney and up until several minutes ago, I was a vampire. Now…? Let's just say I'm working on it.

The only good thing about being explosively deconstructed was that the sensation was new and different, two essential requirements for keeping an immortal from getting too bored. Being blown up by my best friend, having my body destroyed, and seeing my strip club obliterated weren't what I would have chosen to shake things up, but I've learned to roll with the punches, even the sucker ones.

For the first few seconds I actually thought I might be really most sincerely dead. Ended. Gone for good. I hovered over the still blazing ruin of my strip club, a glowing blue specter wearing jeans and a Welcome to the Void T-shirt; unseen, unheard, and utterly unamused. The neon sign flared impressively before melting into slag. Shards of glass covered the street between the Demon Heart and the old Pollux Theater, where the Casablanca poster in the display began to wither under the intense heat, browning at the edges as it curled. I owned both buildings, having bought them inexpensively after, of all things, a fire.

Security alarms from the buildings on the block adjoining mine rang out into the night. I ran a hand over my spectral face.

How do I get my body back?

That was the first question. I'd been reduced to ashes before, but Talbot (my…bouncer) or one of my other employees had always been around to pour blood on my remains. Vampires run on blood, so blood plus vampire ashes meant poof -- instant vampire, kind of like the instant Martians in those old Looney Tunes animated shorts. I had no idea how Talbot and the gang could bring me back this time, though. No ashes.

Being a ghost wasn't all bad, at least. As a ghost, my thoughts were clearer than they'd ever been, and the hunger for blood, that ever-present inner dark that had driven me to do most of the questionable things I'd done in my unlife, was gone. It was as if, for once, my brain worked like everybody else's; no memories seemed to hover just out of reach. Even my attitude had shifted. I'm an angry guy, but searching my feelings, I found my anger replaced by pain and more grief than I'd ever felt before, a sense of endless loss.

The world of the living was a faded watercolor painting seen through my noncorporeal eyes, blurry and surreal. Most of the Demon Heart's side of the street burned, flames devouring the place hungrily.

Firefighters and police showed up in time to save the Pollux. Distorted figures in half-recognized uniforms sprayed water on the ancient movie palace. It bothered me that I couldn't smell the smoke or feel the heat of the fire. Even with all the hustle and bustle, the heartbeats of the humans responding to the emergency did not echo in my ears. Instead, their voices were muted and far away.

I stared at the fire engine. They had parked it in the middle of the street, right over the spot where my former best friend Roger had been eaten by werewolves. I saw a flash of him in my mind's eye, reduced to a skeleton, still screaming as the Orchard Lake pack consumed him in his entirety. I felt a pang of guilt for siccing them on Roger, even though he'd betrayed me, but it was a brief pang. Intellectually, I knew he hadn't really been my friend.

For the last forty years Roger had plotted my downfall, but with my memory functioning properly, it was hard not to hear his screams echoing through my brain. Worse, though, were the memories of Marilyn, watching as the explosion ripped through her, seeing her die…Her death had been Roger's parting birthday present to me. What a pal.

At least Tabitha hadn't been at the club when it had happened. If there's a good time to ditch your boyfriend, I'd say right before he gets incinerated is a good pick. So, kudos to her for timing.

"It's all so eerily beautiful," said a voice. Marilyn was standing next to me. Young again, red hair hanging down past her shoulders, she sported the same leather jacket she'd worn in the photograph I'd carried in my wallet before it got torched with the rest of me. If Ann-Margret or Maureen O'Hara had been blessed with more attractive younger sisters, they might have looked almost as sensational as my Marilyn. She'd been the bait for the trap Roger had set for me. I had to give him high marks for effectiveness there. Picking the love of my life (if not the love of my death) to lure me to my final destruction was primo angst material.

"Like a Van Gogh painting," Marilyn continued. "The Starry Night or The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night."

"'Starry, Starry Night' is an old Don McLean song right?"

Marilyn laughed. "That song's called 'Vincent,' but 'Starry Night' is in the chorus."

I was born in 1926 and Marilyn was a few years my senior. When I turned into a vampire, she stayed human, wouldn't let me turn her…so I'd watched her age for over forty years. I had missed her so much without even realizing it. The person she had become, the one who was old and sick and smoked too much, bore almost no resemblance to the Marilyn I remembered, the one who was here now.

"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I am so sorry, Eric."

Ghosts, as it turns out, can hug one another. I took her in my arms, crushed her to my chest. We probably looked like long-lost lovers in some old black-and-white movie, but given our ages, I guess that shouldn't have come as a big surprise. Her breasts pressed against me, without warmth. It didn't matter. I covered her with kisses and she laughed again, despite herself, before she pulled away.

"What is it?" I asked.

"I need to tell you something." I didn't need an orchestral cue to know it was bad news. Marilyn is not a timid woman. She could stare down an angry vampire, blow smoke in his face, and laugh when he snarled. I couldn't count the number of times she'd done exactly that…to me. I had never seen her so scared.

"Tell me," I said. "Look. It's okay. I mean, we may be forced to haunt the remains of a strip club for eternity, unless our bus is just late or something, but I don't see how this is your fault."

Shaking her head, she walked away from me, passing unthinkingly through a firefighter.

"I'm not staying," she said. "I can feel it" -- she placed her hand over her bosom -- "inside. I just…I have to tell you something before I…go."

Go? Going sounded like a bad idea. Marilyn walked back and put her arms around me. "I didn't know about it, I swear. When Roger told me, I was shocked and horrified, and when you rose, I knew that I couldn't go through with it. So he…"

A babbling Marilyn was an even bigger warning sign. My girl didn't babble. She didn't mince words, and she sure as hell didn't let her words trail off into nothingness.

"When I rose…as a vampire?"

As far as I knew, I'd died in a car wreck. Coming back as a vampire had surprised me as much as it had anyone else. When I rose, it was two weeks after the crash at two in the afternoon on the day Marilyn and I were supposed to have been wed. "Am I late for something?" I'd asked her before bursting into flames. The look in her ghostly eyes, there in the remains of my club, was the same as the look she'd had back then standing over my grave. And I was afraid of that look, that not-only-did-I-not-get-what-I-wanted-for-my-birthday-but-the-gifts-that-I-did-get-prove-no-one-really-understands-me-at-all-look -- full of hurt and disappointment and…fear.

I did not want to know. Call me King Avoidance. I have a sixth sense for things I don't want to know and her manner pegged this as top of the scale ignorance-is-bliss material. Her confession or revelation or whatever was best left unsaid, best taken into the grave and left there. All the bad ones are.

No one wants to hear that you never really loved them, that it was you who ran over their pet dog, that you forgot to pull out, or that you actually did nail your secretary that one time in New York when you claimed you were in separate rooms.

You've got to understand…being blown up was not the most traumatic thing that has happened to me lately. When it turned out Roger was behind all the attempts on my unlife, the one who set me up to fight the werewolves, the one who tried to spike my blood supply…I hadn't wanted to know that, either, would have given almost anything to change things so that he'd been smart enough to cover it all up without my ever knowing. That way I'd still have been able to think he was my friend. I'd have preferred the lie.

Marilyn's eyes told me I'd prefer a lie in her case, too. Any secret that had stayed buried that long didn't need exhuming. She opened her mouth to tell me, but I couldn't let her finish that sentence. I wasn't ready for her to move on, so I kissed her.

She kissed me back -- not a passionate kiss, but the tender intimacy of two people who have grown old together and accepted the best and the worst in each other.

It might have been more romantic if that fat policeman hadn't stepped through us. A bed would have been nice, too. If we could touch, I was pretty sure we could do other things. For forty years I had craved her touch. To make love one last time would have been a kindness, but it didn't happen.

She ended the kiss and there was no second one.

Marilyn took my hand a…

Copyright © 2009 by J. F. Lewis


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