Dark Hunger


Stranded = bad. Hell = bad. Stranded in Hell = very terribly awfully horribly dreadfully bad. Whew! That was a lot of adverbs. Wait... adjectives? Definitely should have paid more attention in Miss Wilson's English class. At least I wasn't trying to distract myself by pondering a past regret.

"Don't panic," I gasped aloud. Regardless of the damned who may or may not have been lurking just beyond the mist, I had to think out loud or go crazy. It wouldn't take much for me to lose my shit. So I embraced the urge to yak-yak-yak. "It's not as bad as it seems. It's not! It'll be fine. It will! You're a badass shoe shopper with an utter lack of conscience at sample sales. And also, you're a vampire. The queen of them, even. So take it easy. And you should probably stop talking out loud."

Okay. Good pep talk, good advice. Or at least not terrible life-ending advice. So I was marooned in the hellfog for who knew how long. Stay put or walk?

I know all the survivor show guys (they're always guys, for some reason) say if you're lost you should stay put so the rescue team can find you. Except I was the rescue team. Laura was the only one who could go back and forth from hellfog to earth to hellfog; her mother could, too, but (whoops!) I'd killed her.

But if I had to just loiter in one spot until Laura (maybe) returned to (possibly) 'port me back, I'd (see above) lose my shit. So against everything Bear Grylls had tried to teach me (also, I'd rather succumb to dehydration before wrapping a urine-soaked shirt around my head), I started to walk.

And walk.

And walk.

This might not have been my best idea. I had the feeling I could walk for a long time and never find a Starbucks. Which would be, of course, the coffee shop... from hellfog!

I managed a giggle, which didn't lighten my mood because it was swallowed by hellfog and just sounded sad. I could occasionally make out other shapes through the fog, but they never seemed to get closer and that was A-OK with this girl. In fact, after about half an hour I started to declench. I was still abandoned, still stuck, still wishing I hadn't thought about Starbucks because I wanted a hot chocolate with a side of O negative in the worst way, but nobody seemed to be sneaking up on me or even approaching me. I'd think my rep was preceding me, but even my vanity wasn't that all-encompassing. I figured the damned were as lost in the fog as I was; they were trying to keep their heads down until they could think of what to do next, as I was.

Heck, if I was one of them, I'd be fine with the "head down until further notice" plan. I'd definitely be doing my best to avoid notice, though it went against most of my instincts. Ha! That made me think of my late stepmother, the Ant, someone who'd be unable to keep her head down. Even when she tried for subtle and unassuming, she put off obvious and overdone. Every damn time. So I needed to get back to counting my blessings.

There were worse things, I reminded myself, than being abandoned on a strange spiritual plane with piles of bad guys (they had to be bad; they were in Hell, right?) who were damned.

"Oh, hell."

I went cold(er). That voice. There were worse things and I had been stupid to forget it for even one-half of one second. My hackles were trying to rise so hard I was nearly on tiptoe. I knew that voice; oh, yeah. The voice of my shattered family, the voice I hated beyond all others, the voice that was my own personal Vietnam.

Think of the devil, and her assistant appears.

I whirled to confront the most fiendish denizen of Hell in the history of humanity: my stepmother.

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