Undead and Unsure


CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT



"People don't change," the infant Antichrist was informing me while the others were putting on their jackets and preparing to leave casa Taylor. "They like to think it, so they say it. But it's just something, uh, some people say."

Tina, Dr. Taylor, and I all picked up the old people context. I traded glances with my old friend. Calm. Be calm. The surest way to annoy a child is to call attention to the fact that she is, in fact, a ch-

"What nonsense," my mother-in-law said, exasperated. "Laura, I'm sorry, but I can't accept any sort of 'this is how everyone is in the whole wide world' pronouncement from someone who's been voting age for less than three years. I understand that you're more than a pretty girl from Minnesota, but some things are true no matter what your pedigree is."

"I don't see what pretty has to do with it," she muttered, and I had to agree.

"I understand that you're a paranormal force of extraordinary power, maybe even destruction incarnate. And you've been that for not quite two decades. You can't rent a car yet. So enough of your pronouncements on humanity."

"Then how about not-humanity?" she snapped.

"Sorry, what?"

"Him!" Ah. The moving finger pointeth at me. "Your daughter's husband, the king of the vampires! She's killed the devil and he's here to bully me into bringing her back."

"Not at all," I said helpfully. "Merely to tell you that if you do not return the queen, I shall kill you."

"That's not bullying," Tina agreed. "It's a straightforward if/then proposition." She turned to Jessica, frantically shaking her head; Marc, making slashing motions across his throat; and Detective Berry, who was holding his head in his hands. "What?"

"Nothing," they returned in mumbled unison, followed by Jessica's whispered, "Should we go outside and let them thrash it out?"

"DVR's empty," Marc reminded her.

"Screw that," the expectant mother replied.

"Laura, you have never approved of me," I said, "and really, never of the queen, either. Which was irrelevant to me until you snatched her from the world. And it has nothing to do with what we have or have not done. You distrust our very nature. We could present the world with a cure for cancer, and you would explain it away by assuming it was a way to keep our prey healthy."

"That would be just like you," she said, startled into agreeing.

"Oh, Laura, really!" Dr. Taylor snapped.

"Because we cannot change. Vampires are predators who feed on humans."

"Yes."

"Evil incarnate, as you are thought to be destruction incarnate."

"Yes." But this time, she could not meet my gaze, and I finally understood.

"Laura." I took her small, warm hand in mine. It trembled like a small animal, a rabbit in a trap. "Laura, if you do not wish to be evil, do not do evil. That's all. That is the big secret. You were not born to destroy worlds. If you do so, that is by choice and not by blood. Really, all this drama because you've read The Bad Seed too many times?" I chided her gently.

"If you're even being honest with me, it's not that simple. Don't you understand?" She took her hand back. "There's no one like me anywhere. So no matter what happens, no matter what I do or what anyone does, I'm stuck."

"Yes." I smiled. "And in that, you and your sister are exactly alike."

"Oooh, now with the trash talk," Jessica commented.

"Not at all. Come with me," I coaxed. "Let me show you something that will make you feel young, as when the world was new."

"Wait," Marc said. "Where have I heard that?"

"Curse your near-perfect recall of all things pop culture," I said, leading Laura to the front door.

"Wrath of Khan!" he cried, galloping down the hall after us. "That does not bode well for us! Unless Khan wins in this case!"

"You should all see this," I said. "Now come along."

"Eric, are you sure... ?" Tina trailed off, and I knew her startlement was profound by her use of my first name. She knew this was a secret I had guarded jealously. It was still so new to me. I wanted to share it only with the queen. But this was no time to close ranks. Quite the opposite. If we were a family, a true family, it was time to behave as such.

"Stay here with Dr. Taylor until it is full dark," I told her. "Or have Marc take you straight home. We shall all be there shortly. The queen as well, I am sure." Laura wouldn't look at me, but I held to my confidence. "I don't want you to risk further harm. You were foolish to come here at all, which we shall discuss at a later time." That was as severe a reprimand as I could manage, because I knew she was upset and worried for me... and for Elizabeth. Tina did not normally risk immolation.

"It's okay," Marc assured me. "I'll run her home right now. She likes my trunk."

"This is the sort of thing that makes people scared of vampires," Laura commented.

"Thank you so much," I replied politely. "I have never once considered that in all my years of being a blood-seeking denizen of the night." Ah, careful. Careful.

"Actually, I do like his trunk," Tina said quickly. "It's roomy and he leaves book lights..." She mimed turning on the light on a miner's helmet. "And blankets, and books, too. And yesterday he recharged my Kindle and put that in there. It's nice!"

To my surprise, the Antichrist burst out laughing. "Sorry, it's just-the mental image-it's nice that you like it-" She dissolved into giggles. "It's good that you take care of them."

"Oh, yes." Marc smiled at her. "It's a full-time job, you know. It keeps me busy." And I realized he was smiling at all of us.

As they began to file out, I turned to say my farewell to Dr. Taylor, who had left the hallway. "Thank you for-"

"Eric, wait!"

I stopped and stepped back from the door, swinging it almost all the way shut to keep the heat in. The others had filed out, Tina hidden under Marc's parka/refrigerator/shield. "Yes, Dr. Taylor? What is it?"

"This." She had run to the living room and plucked Elizabeth's booking photograph off the wall. Beaming, she brought it to me. "Here," she said, looking up at me with my wife's eyes. "I know it's your favorite. You keep it until you get her back."

Unspoken: This is all I can do for you.

Unspoken: I know you'll get her back; this is my token. This meant much to me, because although I was fairly confident Laura would bend to my will-was bending to my will-and that Elizabeth had things under control where she was, life and death had taught me nothing if not that things do not always happen as planned.

I took the picture carefully, like it was a baby bird. "Thank you." For one dreadful moment I thought my voice was going to crack. The dreadful moment passed and not a dreadful moment too soon. "I shall keep it for you until."

Until. Vague and hopeful at the same time.

"Thank you." I realized I had already said that. I realized I needed to leave. To my horror, I found I was close to weeping. I vowed I would not break down and sob in front of a woman wearing Jack Skellington slippers. "Thank you, Dr. Taylor."

She nodded and smiled. "You'll get her back. When you do, bring the picture back and I'll tell you all about it."

"There is no need to threaten me," I said dryly and left as quickly as dignity allowed.

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