Home > Deadtown (Deadtown #1)(9)

Deadtown (Deadtown #1)(9)
Author: Nancy Holzner

Tina chattered happily as we drove the last few miles back into town, but I tuned her out. I was busy wondering whether I was making the biggest mistake of my life. Probably. Well, so far, anyway—after all, I was still young.

3

WE WERE ABOUT THE TENTH CAR IN LINE AT THE TREMONT Street checkpoint, waiting to enter Deadtown, the roughly rectangular, several-block-long area that was home, by law, to all of Boston’s paranormals.

They’d opened the express lane for vampires, so it had to be nearly sunrise. As we sat there, customers stumbled out of the bars in the no-man’s-land between Deadtown and human-controlled Boston, a stretch everyone called the New Combat Zone. The buildings here had stood vacant for a couple of years; when bars began to open in the dusty storefronts, the owners made no attempt to spruce things up. The more derelict and dangerous a place looked, the bigger the thrill for the norms who ventured here to mingle with the monsters.

Tina nudged my arm. “Isn’t that your roommate?”

I followed her gaze to a short, curvy woman with long hair so black it had blue highlights. She stood in the doorway of our usual hangout, a bar called Creature Comforts, nuzzling a man I’d never seen before. “Yeah, that’s Juliet.”

“Call her over. She can get us through the express lane.”

Juliet wrapped one leg behind the guy’s knees as he threw back his head. “Does she look like she wants to be interrupted? Anyway, the Jag only has two seats.”

“She can share with me. We’ll fit.”

“I don’t think so. Watch. And don’t blink.”

Juliet released the human from her embrace. He staggered backward, leaning against the wall, one hand pressed to his throat. Juliet herself simply disappeared. One second she was there, surveying her conquest with heavy-lidded eyes. The next second, she was gone.

“Hey,” said Tina. “Where’d she go?”

“Home. She’s there by now.”

“Really? How?”

“Vampire trick. Juliet doesn’t like waiting in line, not even the express lane.” You’d think a six-hundred-fifty-year-old vampire would’ve developed patience, but not Juliet.

“Can’t she get in trouble for skipping the line?”

“Trouble?” I laughed. “Juliet’s been poisoned, burned at the stake, thrown off cliffs, and dumped in the ocean to drown. Trouble doesn’t faze her.”

“God, I wish I were a vampire. They’re, like, so much cooler than zombies—I mean, if you’ve gotta be undead. Check out that hot guy she was with.”

On the sidewalk, Juliet’s bedtime snack opened his eyes and blinked. He looked up the street, then down, then toward the Deadtown checkpoint. His shoulders slumped as he realized Juliet was gone. He pulled a scarf from his coat pocket, wrapped it twice around his neck, and walked toward the human checkpoint back into Boston. I couldn’t tell for sure because the Jag’s windows were rolled up, but he looked like he was whistling. Nothing like a vampire hickey to put a guy in a good mood.

“They should let zombies use the express lane,” Tina complained as we moved up one car length. “The sun’s not good for us, either.”

“Yeah, but zombies don’t go up in a puff of smoke.”

“We don’t heal, though. If I get sunburn, my skin will be all cratered and orange-splotched for life.”

She sighed, and I knew we were thinking the same thing: whatever “for life” means to a zombie.

THREE YEARS AGO, THE ONLY PEOPLE IN BOSTON WHO believed in zombies were teenagers who’d watched Night of the Living Dead a few too many times. That was before the plague hit.

At the time, some of the city’s monsters had begun venturing out of the closet, out of the coffin, out from under the bed. This was a change from when I was growing up, when someone like me had to keep my true nature hidden. I knew about my own kind, of course, but back then I had no clue that vampires and werewolves were more than scary bedtime stories. Then, about five years ago, in Boston and a few other cities around the country—Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami—paranormals began organizing for legal recognition and social acceptance. They were led by Alexander Kane, werewolf and lawyer. Oh, and my sometime companion for dinner, movies, and the occasional overnight romp. Kane’s legal practice gave him a toehold of respectability among the humans, and his goal was full legal equity at the federal level for humans and monsters. (Except, if you’re talking to Kane, don’t say monster. Say Paranormal American, or PA for short.) He’d recruited a good-sized group to further the cause: werewolves, vampires, even a few humans. But no zombies. Because there were no zombies until the plague.

I was there when it hit. I was on my way to a drugstore near Downtown Crossing to buy lightbulbs before a lunch date with Kane. Funny how you remember little details like lightbulbs. One minute, I was in the middle of a crowd of lunchtime shoppers; the next, I was standing alone on the sidewalk, surrounded by fallen bodies. It was as if, on cue, everyone around me had agreed to play dead—except they weren’t playing. I bent to the woman lying facedown at my feet. She’d hurried past me ten seconds ago; I’d admired her leather jacket. Now, her neck was warm, but my searching fingers could find no trace of a pulse. I turned her over. Her eyes were open, their whites bright red, and thin trails of blood trickled from her nose and mouth. She wasn’t breathing. I checked another body, then another. They were all the same—whole and warm, with red eyes and dribbles of blood. And very, very dead.

I screamed and ran, not knowing where I was going; all I knew was that I had to get away before the same thing happened to me. But there was no “away.” Every corner I turned, every block I ran down, was the same. Dead bodies. Everywhere. Dead bodies strewn all over the ground like trash at a landfill. Some wild part of my brain believed I was the only living thing left in the entire world.

Then I saw movement to my left. I quit running. A woman I knew from Kane’s activist group, a werewolf, stood in the middle of the street, turning in slow circles. She stopped when she saw me. We stared. I was afraid that if I blinked, she’d disappear. The next thing I knew, we were holding each other like shipwreck survivors clinging to a raft in a shark-infested sea.

As scientists learned later, the virus was a one-in-a-billion mutation that happened to hit downtown Boston, the only place in the world to be so lucky. Only humans were vulnerable to it. The rest of us—werewolves, vampires, and yours truly, Boston’s only active shapeshifter—were immune. The plague was the best thing that could’ve happened to human-PA relations in Massachusetts. Suddenly, the humans needed us.

We agreed to enforce a quarantine zone and gather up the dead. Every PA in Boston came forward to help. We strung up yellow DO NOT CROSS tape and spray-painted DED, for “Disease Enclosure District,” on every available surface around the perimeter. (More than one norm noticed how DED could be pronounced as dead, and so Deadtown got its name. Well, from that and the fact that there were a couple thousand corpses within its borders.) We kept away the morbid thrill-seekers; nobody knew then that the virus had already mutated again, into something no worse than a bad cold. We gathered the dead and stored them in makeshift morgues. We went through belongings, making lists of the names and addresses of nearly two thousand humans who, in minutes, had been cut down. We even patrolled against possible invasion, since there were rumors of biological attack—a theory that’s never been proved.

Then, three days after the plague, the zombies began to rise. And Boston has never been the same.

I LEFT TINA AT THE GROUP HOME SHE SHARED WITH FIVE other teenage zombies, promising to drop off some demonology textbooks before school the next night. Then I parked the Jag in the climate-controlled, secure garage I rented two blocks from my building. It was expensive, but I lived in a neighborhood where the residents possessed both superhuman strength and nasty tempers. Besides, nothing was too good for my baby.

It was six thirty on a Wednesday morning, and Deadtown was quiet. The sun was high enough that all the vampires were tucked safely into their coffins or relaxing behind blackout window shades. Deadtown, the area where the plague had hit, looked pretty much like any other part of Boston. Shops, offices, apartment buildings. There was a lot of construction going on; restricting all of Boston’s PAs—two thousand zombies and several hundred assorted other monsters—into such a compact area had created a demand for high-density housing. Offices got converted to studios, and high-rise apartment buildings sprouted all over. Everything was silent now, of course. All the work happened at night.

A figure passed on the other side of the street, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a scarf wrapped around its neck and the lower half of its face, looking more like a scarecrow than the zombie I knew it was. Zombie skin disintegrates when touched by direct sunlight—the “zombie sunburn” Tina had mentioned—so the few zombies who venture outside in daylight look like walking piles of laundry. I turned the corner to my block, thinking about how good it would feel to crawl between the covers and sink into my mattress. Work was so busy I hadn’t had a decent day’s sleep all week.

And then there was a sight that made me stop in my tracks and forget about sleep—but not about crawling into bed.

On the sidewalk in front of my apartment building, a figure paced, talking on a cell phone and gesturing. At the moment, his back was to me, but I knew that back, broad and well muscled beneath the expensive wool coat. Kane. Pleasure shivered through me as I paused to admire the powerful grace of his movements, the way his hair gleamed in the early morning light. Kane’s hair was silver—not gray but really and truly silver. It gave him authority without making him look older than his thirty-one years.

He turned and saw me, then waved. He held up a finger in a “wait a minute” gesture, then bent his head and spoke into the phone. I waited, enjoying the chance to watch him. It was no accident that Kane spearheaded the campaign for PA rights. Besides his passion for the cause, he had the good looks and charm to be its perfect poster boy. The All-American Werewolf. When he appeared at a rally, leaping onto the stage with the animal grace that powered his every move, women cheered and swooned. I couldn’t blame them. Watching him pace back and forth, I felt a little weak in the knees, myself.

   
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