Home > Deadtown (Deadtown #1)(7)

Deadtown (Deadtown #1)(7)
Author: Nancy Holzner

“Our next job? Let me see. That’d be when hell freezes over or snow falls in July. Take your pick.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means there is no ‘next job.’ I’m not taking you with me again.”


“But nothing. You ignored everything I said and acted like Mr. Funderburk’s dreamscape was your personal playground. That man hired me to kill his demons, not to cause permanent psychological damage—which you almost did. You blasted his mother with a flamethrower, for God’s sake.”

Tina didn’t answer. She folded her arms and slouched in her seat. As much as a zombie can slouch.

“I said you could come with me tonight as research for your school project.” Zombies had only recently gotten a school of their own. Tina had been in tenth grade when she died. Three years later, she was finally getting the chance to go back to high school. “I never said we were going into business together.”

“But . . . you told me you had more work than you could handle.”

It was true; I had said that. I was the only professional demon exterminator in Boston, and in the past year there’d been a spike in personal demon attacks. Not that I was complaining. The money was good, and I loved my work, being on the side of the forces of good and all that. It was just that sometimes I wouldn’t mind a little help.

But not from Tina. She’d ignored my instructions by jumping into George’s dream in the first place; once there, she made the proverbial bull in a china shop seem like some prim old lady at a tea party.

“Sorry, Tina. I’m not cut out for a partner. I work best alone.”

She started arguing, and I turned up the radio again to tune her out.

Up ahead on the right was a 24/7 Donuts. At the moment, coffee seemed like a wonderful idea. I pulled into the lot. Tina sat up, then pumped her fist in the air and shouted “Yes!”

“Nothing like a little snack to lift your mood, huh?”

“Hey, zombies eat. It’s what we do.”

“Yeah, but all that sugar?” I chose a space and shifted into Park. “You ate enough back at Mr. Funderburk’s to give an entire kindergarten class a week-long sugar rush.”

“I could eat every donut in that shop and I wouldn’t gain an ounce,” she said, getting out of the car. “It’s the only thing that doesn’t suck about being reanimated.”

The donut shop was typical of the kind you find in Boston—bright pinks and purples splashed across the walls and table-tops, long rows of donuts climbing the wall behind the counter. A fiftyish woman stood behind the cash register, her scowl clashing with her perky pink uniform. She held out her hand like a traffic cop.

“You got a permit for that thing?”

It took me a second to realize she was talking about Tina. Legally, restaurants couldn’t refuse to serve a zombie unless the zombie had left Deadtown—the nickname for Designated Area 1, the part of Boston where all of us monsters had to live—without a permit. In that case, most humans would call the Removal Squad. And when that crew removed a zombie, the zombie never came back.

I slapped the permit on the counter. “My friend’s name,” I said, “is Tina. Not That Thing. Tina. Got it? And if you refuse to serve her, I’ll have this place shut down so fast it’ll make the cockroaches’ heads spin.” I could do it, too. That’s what workaholic werewolf lawyer kinda-sorta boyfriends were for.

Gloria—that’s what the woman’s name tag said—gave me a look that I hoped she didn’t use on the coffee. It’d be way too bitter. “What can I get you?” she growled.

“How about a new attitude?”

“Look, you wanna order something or are you just gonna stand there? We don’t allow loitering, you know.” She jerked her thumb over her shoulder at a sign that hung behind her. Sure enough, its big red letters proclaimed NO LOITERING.

I was half ready to turn around and walk out, but that would’ve made Gloria’s day. So instead I smiled sweetly. “Ask Tina.”


“She’s your customer. Ask her what she wants.”

Clearly, Gloria did not want to ask Tina. She didn’t even want to look at her. Suddenly, the woman seemed fascinated by the way her own fingers drummed the countertop. I hated that kind of attitude. Tina could have been Gloria’s grand-daughter. It was just chance—being in the very wrong place at the very wrong time—that had killed and reanimated the kid. Not to mention a couple thousand other Bostonians just like her.

“Are you refusing to serve my friend?”

Gloria mumbled something.

Tina stepped forward. “Did you say something, ma’am? I couldn’t hear you.”

“Whaddaya want?”

Tina looked up, down, and around, whistling. Then she turned to me. “I don’t know who she’s talking to, do you?”

“Yeah, you know, it’s pretty confusing.” There was nobody besides the three of us in the place. “I guess Gloria ought to use the name of the person she’s talking to.”

Gloria looked like she was ready to explode. “Goddamn it,” she muttered under her breath. Then she looked Tina in the eye and said, “Whaddaya want, Tina?”

Tina bounced up and down on the balls of her feet. “Gee, Gloria, I thought you’d never ask. I’ll take a dozen donuts. For starters.”

Gloria whipped a box into shape, then Tina put her through a whole aerobics routine, bending and stretching and running back and forth as she hurried to retrieve the donuts Tina called out in rapid-fire succession: “A Boston creme, and a chocolate, and a cruller, and a buttermilk, ooh, and one of those pink-frosted ones with the sprinkles. No, make that two of those . . .”

After Tina had purchased a good part of their inventory, I ordered coffee and a pistachio muffin. “This is to go, right?” Gloria grumbled as she rang up the total.

“No, we’re eating here,” Tina said, wiping pink frosting off her face. Three boxes of donuts were tucked under her arm.

“It’s to go,” I said. “We need to get you home before sunrise.”

I paid. Tina waggled her fingers at our server. “Ta-ta, Gloria. See you soon.” She blew a kiss, then spun on her heel and flounced through the door.

In the parking lot, Tina dumped all three boxes into a trash can. Wordlessly, she got into the Jag.

“You okay?” I asked, buckling up.

“Fine. Just not hungry.”

I backed out of the parking space, then glanced at her. Zombies can’t cry. But if they could, Tina’s face would’ve been wet with tears.

“I wish I could shapeshift like you,” she said. “I’d have turned into a lion and torn that bitch’s head off!”

“She’s just a norm, Tina.” Norm was a paranormal nickname for human—especially the clueless ones like Gloria.

But I understood how Tina felt. When I was her age, there’d been times when I’d wanted to do the same thing. Different norms, different insults, but I knew that feeling. I’d had to learn to push it down before the anger took hold and I really did shift into a lion or something equally dangerous. For Tina, it was just a fantasy.

Tina pressed fists against her eyes, blotting tears that couldn’t fall. “Do you know that tonight’s the first time I’ve been outside Deadtown in over two months? Every time I ask my parents if I can visit, they’ve got some stupid excuse. They wish I was dead, really dead. I know it.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Everyone’s forgetting me.”

I wished I could say she was wrong, but I couldn’t—the same thing was happening to all the zombies. Three years ago, after the terror and confusion of the plague, the rising of the zombies had been cause for citywide celebration. Everyone treated the newly reanimated victims like heroes: loved ones snatched back from death’s craw. But the zombies were too different. Their skin was a funny shade of greenish gray, their movements stiff. They avoided sunlight and spent nights wide-awake. Their superhuman strength and insatiable hunger made them as terrifying as the zombies in any horror flick. And then there was the little problem of blood—the smell of fresh-spilt human blood sent them into a frenzy of hunger. You could calm them down with any kind of food, but the bloodlust did make things awkward sometimes.

Slowly, people like Tina’s parents began to realize that they hadn’t gotten their daughter back; instead, there was this creature, this monster, a mocking reminder of what they’d lost. Zombies couldn’t cry, but they could still hurt. It was easier for the norms not to see that.

“I don’t know why I even bother going to school,” Tina said. “I’ll never have a career. I’ll end up doing manual labor like everyone else. That’s all a zombie’s good for.”

“What about your teacher? She’s a zombie with a career.”

“That makes one.”

Her voice sounded so utterly without hope that I found myself saying words I knew I would regret. But I said them anyway. “You really want to learn how to exterminate demons?”

She stared at her hands, folded in her lap. Then she nodded.

“Okay, I can teach you, but—”

“Great!” She bounced in her seat like one of George Funderburk’s jack-in-the-boxes. “When’s our next job?”

I shook my head. “Uh-uh. I said no, and I meant it. You can start learning the way I did: by studying.”

She huffed and muttered studying in a tone more suited to a word like maggots or entrails. “Okay,” she finally said, flipping her hair back over her shoulder. “How do I start?”

“I’ll give you some textbooks. Once you’ve convinced me you know everything in them—and I mean everything—we’ll go over the different pieces of equipment. Then we’ll start practicing how to use each one. It’s a long apprenticeship, Tina. It’ll be years before you’re ready to face a real demon.” Suddenly, I felt like Aunt Mab. I’d just described the exact training program she’d used with me.

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