Undead and Unsure


"This is a bad idea," Detective Berry said as he helped Jessica out of the passenger seat. "But I gotta say, it's nice to see you out in the lack of sunshine."

The sun had been coyly hiding behind clouds for the last couple of days, but it was only midafternoon, and quite bright. (Compared to the deep dark of the some twenty thousand midnights since Tina turned me, it would have to be cloudy indeed for me to think it less than bright.)

We had not driven far from Dr. Taylor's home; we were parked outside the First Presbyterian Church, which had been here since 1855... half again as long as I had. It was an enormous structure, brooding over Vermillion Street with thick walls. The twin towers and white arches gave it a Romanesque look, as if the congregation had plucked their church from medieval Europe and brought it to Minnesota piece by piece. I had long admired it.

Laura had parked her car on Sixth Street, behind mine and Marc's, and walked to my side. Marc had his phone out and was giving Tina, snugly ensconced in his trunk, a tedious moment-by-moment update. "Okay, we're all standing on the street. But it's Hastings, so nobody's getting run over like dogs. Now we're all staring at a huge church that looks like it's gonna be stormed by medieval peasants any second. Now your boss and my roommate are walking up to the doors of the-uh-Eric? I think that's a very bad idea."

"Come with me," I said to Laura, who had fallen into step beside me.

"Are you trying to make me bring Betsy back so you won't kill yourself?" she asked, seeming honestly interested. "Because I have to admit, I'd be torn on the right way to handle that. Not just for me. For all mankind."

"You were explaining to me that people cannot change. Something you learned after your endless twenty years on the planet."

"Now Eric's making fun of Laura's age," Marc dutifully reported. "Did she think she was being subtle in Mama Taylor's kitchen with that 'people don't change, it's just something old people say' stuff? Because I'm only a couple years older than she is, and I still winced. Ooh, now they're approaching the big wooden double doors of the church. I guess he's gonna threaten to burn himself ali-oh, my God! He's opening the door! And he isn't on fire! So far!"

"Come along," I told the Antichrist. "Come pray with me."

"Pray for what?" Laura whispered, following me into the church.

"My wife's safe return," I replied. "And peace on earth for all mankind, I suppose. If you're inclined. I myself am not; how dull that would be!"

She followed me through the fellowship hall; much of the first floor was used for coffee and snacks after the service, potluck suppers, and the occasional reception. To the rear were several smaller rooms used for classes and day care. To the left was a sizeable area for coats and, past that, steps leading to the chapel.

I walked up the steps, leading the Antichrist by the hand.

"The amusing thing is, there was a time when I believed you were right. That we don't change; we cannot change. That people were good or bad or cowardly or brave but, ultimately, not terribly original or interesting. Certainly not inclined to modify behavior or, if they did, never for long.

"And then I met the queen. And through her, all the extraordinary people now in our lives. Including you, I suppose," I added with a smile.

"Now he's taken her into the part of the church where they hear the service!" Marc nearly shrieked into his phone. "And he's still not on fire or anything! But I'll keep you posted on the fire thing! What? I'm shouting? Sorry!" I could hear Detective Berry helping Jessica up the steps. "Hurry up, you guys, you're missing this!"

"Which has been, I admit, a mixed blessing," I finished. "You know I love the queen. But... ah... yes. Mixed."

Stunned, Laura allowed me to lead her to the altar.

"But I eventually learned that they can change," I said, kneeling. "And when they don't, or won't, I have learned patience. Because perhaps they are not the ones who should change; perhaps I am the one who must change. The queen taught me that."

I folded my hands. I looked at the altar. The wise eyes of the Shepherd were on me, as they had been the moment I came squalling from my mother.

"'"Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants."... But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion-'"

Beside me, Laura was weeping. "'And ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son."'"

"'But the father said to his servants, "Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry."'"

We finished my mother's favorite parable in unison: "For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."

"I'm sorry." Laura wept. "I'm so, so sorry."

"It's all right." I helped the Antichrist up from her knees. "I didn't ask you here to shame you. Only to show you."

"You don't even know." She fumbled in her pocket, found a napkin, and gustily blew her nose. "You don't know what I've done. I'm sorry."

"To Elizabeth?" I asked sharply.

She shook her head. "Betsy's safe."

"And so am I. And so are you. The rest can be for another time."

"You. Are not even gonna believe. What's going on in here." I looked; Marc was openmouthed, the phone nearly dropping from his fingers. "I don't have the words. Which sucks for you, since you're in my car trunk and can only rely on my narration to know what's happening. But this incredible thing you're missing is friggin' incredible!" His last incredible was nearly shrieked.

"Shush," I scolded. "Remember where you are." I rarely saw people in this church on a weekday in the middle of the day, but it did not follow that disrespectful noise was acceptable.

"Somebody's been keeping secrets," Detective Berry scolded. "How long have you been a vampiric Presbyterian?"

"By kidnapping Betsy, you outed him!" Jessica told Laura. "So you can feel good about that. But stop crying now, or you'll get me started."

"Ah, give her a break." Detective Berry hurried down the aisle, but I had already helped Laura to her feet. "How often does someone's faith in humanity get restored? Let her have her moment."

"Laura's crying," Marc narrated, "but everybody else is in pretty high spirits. Okay, I'm muting my phone for a minute." He pressed something, took the phone away from his face, and said to me, "God, God, God!" At my raised eyebrows, he turned to the others. "See? I knew he was off!"

"Off?" I asked.

"I slipped a couple of times the last few days and apologized, and Eric was always 'no problem my good man' about it. I thought it was bothering you less."

I could not hide my amusement. "Less?"

"Well, no. That's not right. I thought you were hiding it better," he admitted. "Usually you and Tina react to a God comment like someone lashed you in the eyebrows. Lately you've been a little less flinch-ey. I just figured hiding it better was a king-of-the-vampires thing, since Tina's a lot older but it sure bugs her."

Something beyond the sun, I remembered. I had been lost in Elizabeth, drowning in her, and thinking that she had not just given me the light. But that was nothing I wished to share; it belonged to me as did the queen, and as I belonged to her.

"I had no idea you were so observant," I teased.

"Hey, if Betsy didn't give a shit about shoes or TV or the movies, she'd be really observant, too. It's just, she spends a lot of her brainpan focusing on shoes. Hang on, I gotta get Tina back in." He touched another spot on his phone. "Hey, I'm back. Just had to test a theory. How's the charge on your Kindle... ? It is? Okay, good." He looked up. "You know, the only thing we need for that extra bit of TV drama is for Jess to instantly go into labor." He paused and stared at her. We all stared.

"What?" she replied testily. She'd refused to sit in one of the pews and, given how they appeared to be designed to enrich chiropractors, that seemed wise. "I feel fine. Go get your drama somewhere else."

That seemed as good as any indication that it was time to take our leave.

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