Vampire fans who like their blood and gore leavened with humor should enjoy the campy sequel to 2008's Staked. Eric Courtney, strip club owner and operator in Void City, is coming to terms with existence as a ghost vampire after dying in an explosion that totaled his place of business. His former fiancée, Marilyn, tells Eric that his best friend betrayed him, but the demon J'iliol'lth collects her soul before she can explain further. Worse yet, Eric's beloved Mustang somehow gets turned into a vampire. Eric accepts a commission from J'iliol'lth to find the Stone of Aeternem, which enables its holder to raise the dead, in exchange for immortality and the return of Marilyn's soul. The jokes are far from subtle, but Lewis's creativity elevates this above similar outings. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
ReVamped (Void City Series #2)by J. F. Lewis
AND READY FOR REVENGE.
Eric has lost his strip club, his Mustang, and even Marilyn, the elderly love of his (mortal) life. Even his body was obliterated. In short, they almost got him. But when you're a vampire, "almost" is a very important word. With a little magical help from his friends, Eric is restored to/b>/big>… See more details below
AND READY FOR REVENGE.
Eric has lost his strip club, his Mustang, and even Marilyn, the elderly love of his (mortal) life. Even his body was obliterated. In short, they almost got him. But when you're a vampire, "almost" is a very important word. With a little magical help from his friends, Eric is restored to corporeal form, but his treasured Mustang gets caught up in the sorcery and winds up with an unlife of its own. Now, along with "Fang the 'Stang," he's out to save Marilyn from one of Void City's most powerful soul-stealing demons. But salvation comes at a high price, forcing Eric to venture into his own worst nightmare, Vampire High Society, to uncover the truth about the origin of his powers.
At the same time, Eric's ex-girlfriend, Tabitha, has begun to wonder exactly what it was that she admired about those High Society Vampires in the first place. Her quest to find her own place in this deceptively vicious circle may lead her right back to Eric's side -- if her little sister, Rachel, doesn't kill her first. And Eric will need all the help he can get, because it looks like someone is after his soul, too. Blood will flow, fangs will be bared, and the claws will come out, because revenge is never pretty...and Eric has plenty to pass around.
"A pedal-to-the-metal demolition derby of sex and violence." Mario Acevedo, author of X-Rated Bloodsuckers
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Welcome Back to the Void
If you've never been blown up before, I can't recommend it. I suggest it even less if the perpetrators are using blessed shaped charges of C-4. Being atomized by that kind of firepower would have ended most vampires, but I'm not that lucky. I'm special.
In ice cream terms, vampires come in three flavors: chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. I'm grape sherbet -- hard to come by and much more likely to give you brain freeze. Technically there's one more type of vampire, Drones, but they're barely even immortal -- the vampire equivalent of ice milk -- and they certainly wouldn't have survived what happened to me.
My name is Eric Courtney and up until several minutes ago, I was a vampire. Now...? Let's just say I'm working on it.
The only good thing about being explosively deconstructed was that the sensation was new and different, two essential requirements for keeping an immortal from getting too bored. Being blown up by my best friend, having my body destroyed, and seeing my strip club obliterated weren't what I would have chosen to shake things up, but I've learned to roll with the punches, even the sucker ones.
For the first few seconds I actually thought I might be really most sincerely dead. Ended. Gone for good. I hovered over the still blazing ruin of my strip club, a glowing blue specter wearing jeans and a Welcome to the Void T-shirt; unseen, unheard, and utterly unamused. The neon sign flared impressively before melting into slag. Shards of glass covered the street between the Demon Heart and the old Pollux Theater, where the Casablanca poster in the display began to wither under the intense heat, browning at the edges as it curled. I owned both buildings, having bought them inexpensively after, of all things, a fire.
Security alarms from the buildings on the block adjoining mine rang out into the night. I ran a hand over my spectral face.
How do I get my body back?
That was the first question. I'd been reduced to ashes before, but Talbot (my...bouncer) or one of my other employees had always been around to pour blood on my remains. Vampires run on blood, so blood plus vampire ashes meant poof -- instant vampire, kind of like the instant Martians in those old Looney Tunes animated shorts. I had no idea how Talbot and the gang could bring me back this time, though. No ashes.
Being a ghost wasn't all bad, at least. As a ghost, my thoughts were clearer than they'd ever been, and the hunger for blood, that ever-present inner dark that had driven me to do most of the questionable things I'd done in my unlife, was gone. It was as if, for once, my brain worked like everybody else's; no memories seemed to hover just out of reach. Even my attitude had shifted. I'm an angry guy, but searching my feelings, I found my anger replaced by pain and more grief than I'd ever felt before, a sense of endless loss.
The world of the living was a faded watercolor painting seen through my noncorporeal eyes, blurry and surreal. Most of the Demon Heart's side of the street burned, flames devouring the place hungrily.
Firefighters and police showed up in time to save the Pollux. Distorted figures in half-recognized uniforms sprayed water on the ancient movie palace. It bothered me that I couldn't smell the smoke or feel the heat of the fire. Even with all the hustle and bustle, the heartbeats of the humans responding to the emergency did not echo in my ears. Instead, their voices were muted and far away.
I stared at the fire engine. They had parked it in the middle of the street, right over the spot where my former best friend Roger had been eaten by werewolves. I saw a flash of him in my mind's eye, reduced to a skeleton, still screaming as the Orchard Lake pack consumed him in his entirety. I felt a pang of guilt for siccing them on Roger, even though he'd betrayed me, but it was a brief pang. Intellectually, I knew he hadn't really been my friend.
For the last forty years Roger had plotted my downfall, but with my memory functioning properly, it was hard not to hear his screams echoing through my brain. Worse, though, were the memories of Marilyn, watching as the explosion ripped through her, seeing her die...Her death had been Roger's parting birthday present to me. What a pal.
At least Tabitha hadn't been at the club when it had happened. If there's a good time to ditch your boyfriend, I'd say right before he gets incinerated is a good pick. So, kudos to her for timing.
"It's all so eerily beautiful," said a voice. Marilyn was standing next to me. Young again, red hair hanging down past her shoulders, she sported the same leather jacket she'd worn in the photograph I'd carried in my wallet before it got torched with the rest of me. If Ann-Margret or Maureen O'Hara had been blessed with more attractive younger sisters, they might have looked almost as sensational as my Marilyn. She'd been the bait for the trap Roger had set for me. I had to give him high marks for effectiveness there. Picking the love of my life (if not the love of my death) to lure me to my final destruction was primo angst material.
"Like a Van Gogh painting," Marilyn continued. "The Starry Night or The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night."
"'Starry, Starry Night' is an old Don McLean song right?"
Marilyn laughed. "That song's called 'Vincent,' but 'Starry Night' is in the chorus."
I was born in 1926 and Marilyn was a few years my senior. When I turned into a vampire, she stayed human, wouldn't let me turn her...so I'd watched her age for over forty years. I had missed her so much without even realizing it. The person she had become, the one who was old and sick and smoked too much, bore almost no resemblance to the Marilyn I remembered, the one who was here now.
"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I am so sorry, Eric."
Ghosts, as it turns out, can hug one another. I took her in my arms, crushed her to my chest. We probably looked like long-lost lovers in some old black-and-white movie, but given our ages, I guess that shouldn't have come as a big surprise. Her breasts pressed against me, without warmth. It didn't matter. I covered her with kisses and she laughed again, despite herself, before she pulled away.
"What is it?" I asked.
"I need to tell you something." I didn't need an orchestral cue to know it was bad news. Marilyn is not a timid woman. She could stare down an angry vampire, blow smoke in his face, and laugh when he snarled. I couldn't count the number of times she'd done exactly that...to me. I had never seen her so scared.
"Tell me," I said. "Look. It's okay. I mean, we may be forced to haunt the remains of a strip club for eternity, unless our bus is just late or something, but I don't see how this is your fault."
Shaking her head, she walked away from me, passing unthinkingly through a firefighter.
"I'm not staying," she said. "I can feel it" -- she placed her hand over her bosom -- "inside. I just...I have to tell you something before I...go."
Go? Going sounded like a bad idea. Marilyn walked back and put her arms around me. "I didn't know about it, I swear. When Roger told me, I was shocked and horrified, and when you rose, I knew that I couldn't go through with it. So he..."
A babbling Marilyn was an even bigger warning sign. My girl didn't babble. She didn't mince words, and she sure as hell didn't let her words trail off into nothingness.
"When I rose...as a vampire?"
As far as I knew, I'd died in a car wreck. Coming back as a vampire had surprised me as much as it had anyone else. When I rose, it was two weeks after the crash at two in the afternoon on the day Marilyn and I were supposed to have been wed. "Am I late for something?" I'd asked her before bursting into flames. The look in her ghostly eyes, there in the remains of my club, was the same as the look she'd had back then standing over my grave. And I was afraid of that look, that not-only-did-I-not-get-what-I-wanted-for-my-birthday-but-the-gifts-that-I-did-get-prove-no-one-really-understands-me-at-all-look -- full of hurt and disappointment and...fear.
I did not want to know. Call me King Avoidance. I have a sixth sense for things I don't want to know and her manner pegged this as top of the scale ignorance-is-bliss material. Her confession or revelation or whatever was best left unsaid, best taken into the grave and left there. All the bad ones are.
No one wants to hear that you never really loved them, that it was you who ran over their pet dog, that you forgot to pull out, or that you actually did nail your secretary that one time in New York when you claimed you were in separate rooms.
You've got to understand...being blown up was not the most traumatic thing that has happened to me lately. When it turned out Roger was behind all the attempts on my unlife, the one who set me up to fight the werewolves, the one who tried to spike my blood supply...I hadn't wanted to know that, either, would have given almost anything to change things so that he'd been smart enough to cover it all up without my ever knowing. That way I'd still have been able to think he was my friend. I'd have preferred the lie.
Marilyn's eyes told me I'd prefer a lie in her case, too. Any secret that had stayed buried that long didn't need exhuming. She opened her mouth to tell me, but I couldn't let her finish that sentence. I wasn't ready for her to move on, so I kissed her.
She kissed me back -- not a passionate kiss, but the tender intimacy of two people who have grown old together and accepted the best and the worst in each other.
It might have been more romantic if that fat policeman hadn't stepped through us. A bed would have been nice, too. If we could touch, I was pretty sure we could do other things. For forty years I had craved her touch. To make love one last time would have been a kindness, but it didn't happen.
She ended the kiss and there was no second one.
Marilyn took my hand and led me over to a bench in the little glassed-in bus stop where my bouncers would leave guys who'd had one too many. "I missed you so much," I told her.
"I've been with you for half a century, Eric." She scowled.
"You know what I mean," I said sheepishly. I gestured to her body. "Not like this, not in the same way."
Her expression softened. "That ought to make me angry, but it doesn't. I always find it hard to be mad at you for long."
"Brain damage," I responded.
She almost laughed. It literally rose and fell dead in her throat. The laughter couldn't escape whatever was bothering her.
"Don't joke," she said sharply. "Don't be so much like your old self. It makes everything too hard."
"Good. Let it be too hard," I said briskly, rushing through the words, running them together. "If not telling me will keep you here with me, then don't tell me. I'd rather not know."
"You really need to know this, Eric. I'm sorry." She looked at me, expecting a response.
"No, you aren't," I told her. "You don't have to say anything, but if your mind's made up...I've never been able to unmake it."
"Do you remember what happened when you died?" she asked.
"I was driving Roger's car, the brakes went out, blah, blah, blah. What are you going to tell me, that you sabotaged the brakes because you didn't want to marry me?"
"Roger did," she spat out quickly.
I froze. If I'd been in a cartoon, the angel on my shoulder that represented my good nature would have just been gut shot by the devil representing my bad side.
"He wanted me to marry him," she continued. "Roger and I had been seeing each other for months, and I didn't know how to tell you -- "
I got up and walked off toward the Pollux, leaving Marilyn still sitting on the bus stop bench. Two of the firemen pointed at the enclosure. Its rear window froze and shattered as I passed through it. I didn't know why it happened. I assumed it was part of whatever ghost powers I'd wound up with, but I didn't give a damn, not then.
"Eric," she called after me. "Wait! You need to hear this."
"Actually, I don't." My voice was calm, but I wasn't. "I was murdered by my best friend and my fiancée?" I scoffed. "Nope, didn't need to know that. What, then he got attacked by a vampire and voilà, sucks to be you?"
"No, Eric." She chased after me. I stopped just shy of the middle of the road, didn't turn to face her. "It wasn't like that. I had nothing to do with it. When they called me and told me you were dead...I called Roger and he already knew. I went over to his house and he told me what he had done to you and then he showed me what he had let someone do to him."
"He'd become a vampire," I said flatly.
"He said that it had happened three weeks earlier when he'd driven over to Chicago for that conference. He'd met a woman from Atlanta...a woman named Gabriella..."
"A woman who was really a vampire, and then she turned him." I shook my head, rounding slowly toward Marilyn. "Well, that's just so fucking cute I could puke."
I felt a little tremor of rage, and when I did, I had a brief glimpse of Carl's garage, of my Mustang. I loved that car, an artifact from my living days, a 1964 1/2 convertible. I'd wrecked it three days before, but Carl was doing a great job on the repairs. Why I saw it in my mind then, I couldn't say. It was weird.
"I told him to get away from me." Marilyn touched my shoulder, then pulled away as if she'd been stung. "I ran from the house, but he caught me.... He pushed himself inside my mind and touched my thoughts. He left something there. He smeared blood on my skin, willed it into a tattoo, a little frog. He said that if I wouldn't join him willingly then I would be his human slave, his thrall."
Thrall. I had one of those. Rachel, my ex-girlfriend's little sister, had damn near forced me to make her my thrall during the whole werewolf brouhaha. But as Marilyn described the process, it sounded pretty familiar, except I hadn't given Rachel any kind of tattoo, blood or otherwise, and Rachel sure as hell wasn't my slave. As far as I knew, thralldom granted the mortal participant protection from other vampires, marked them as protected. It also widened a vampire's senses, allowing them to detect the thralls of other vampires while simultaneously allowing the vampire to sense the location of their vampiric offspring.
"Why didn't you say anything?" I demanded, turning back to face her.
"He wouldn't let me. When you rose and you were stronger than him, he wasn't sure what to do. He'd made me his thrall, and every time I tried to talk about it, the words just wouldn't come out. He'd specifically forbidden me to tell you."
I cursed aloud and saw another glimpse of my car. Ignoring the automotive strangeness, I grabbed the front of her jacket, the ghost leather creaking under my phantom fingers. "What the fuck good does this do me now? Did you tell me just to make yourself feel better? To drive me out of my freakin' mind so my crazy-ass ghost can haunt the Demon Heart?"
"He's been afraid of you for years, Eric, too afraid to kill you, and too afraid to really do anything to me when you were around."
"When I was around? What about when I wasn't around?" I yelled. "What then?"
"I think you already know the answer to that," she told me, resignation clear in her voice. And I guess she was right, at that.
"I'm so glad Willie and his werewolves ate that motherfucker," I ranted.
"That's why I had to tell you," she sobbed. Marilyn tried to put her arms around me, but all the love-struck puppy had gone out of me and I pushed her away. She kept her balance, but I couldn't look at her. "Good! Be mad at me, Eric, as angry as you want, but you have to hear this. You may think you know how devious Roger was, but he's worse. I can't believe I ever thought about leaving you for him! He had some kind of plan to steal your power, to become whatever it is that you are. You're not a normal Vlad. At first Roger didn't believe it, but all the things he did to you, they were part of a test, to convince him, to prove what you were...are."
I looked back at her and she wasn't crying. The cadence of her words was increasing, trying to beat the clock. She sounded as if her time was running out, the commercial was almost over and she had to get the rest of her message out before she returned to regularly scheduled programming. "Last night, when I was tied to the chair, I heard them say that you are the rarest of the rare, a king of kings, an emperor."
"Emperor?" I scoffed.
"It has something to do with why your eyes are still blue, why you never went through postmortem syndrome. She said it's like your transformation stopped just before it was finished, and in that gray area, not alive, not dead, and yet not entirely undead, there is a lot of power to be had." In retrospect I should have asked her who the "she" in that sentence was, but I was too caught up in thoughts of Marilyn and Roger to think very clearly.
"Well, la de fucking dah, Marilyn." I tossed up my hands. "What the hell good does that do me now?"
"Because Roger had a backup plan. I don't know what it was, but he was working with..." She clawed at her throat, eyes ablaze with terror. "Oh, God..." She coughed. "It's coming for me..." I tried to help, but my hand passed through her shoulder.
Her mouth opened wide in a silent scream, and then it grabbed her. I didn't know what it was, at first, and then my memories of El Segundo washed over me in a wave. I'd never been on fire so many times in one weekend. El Segundo was where I'd met Talbot, and where I'd met my first demon. Being in the presence of a demon had never bothered me when I'd been a vampire. Now that I was a ghost, its presence burned.
Fear ripped through me, tore at my ectoplasmic brain with tiny meat hooks. A swirling cloud of Marilyn screeched through the air toward its open mouth, her ghostly essence both compressed and stretched, converting her into an unrecognizable blue smoke funnel -- a hellish I Dream of Jeannie moment. But this was a demon, not a bottle, and that was Marilyn, not Barbara Eden. Where Marilyn had seemed clear and precise to my spirit eyes, the demon was an outline, a hole of blackness in the air. Marilyn, what was left of her, vanished into that void.
The presence turned its attention to me. "Do I know you, revenant?" it asked.
"Give her back!" I charged the demon, certain that I might get sucked into the same vortex, but not giving a damn. Fighting is one thing I'm never afraid of. My hands passed through the creature with no effect. Ghosts can't harm demons, I guessed.
The demon let loose with a series of loud whinnies combined with the sound of a machine crushing ice. It could have been laughter. "Her soul was promised to me, angry one. It is my due for services rendered."
"Let her go."
"I have a contract." The demon moved closer. Supernatural panic forced me to my knees like a two-ton bouncer. The power rolled over me, tried to pound me down onto my face, but I refused to go all the way down. A Mustang's engine roared to life somewhere far away. Beneath me frost formed on the asphalt.
Cops and firefighters screamed. I don't know if they saw me or the demon, but most of them ran. One of them was too close. His life called to me, not like blood, but warmth. The ground rushed up to meet him as his soul tore free and surged into me. The frost on the ground spiraled out from my phantom knees, crusting thickly on the man-made surface.
"Give her back!" Nourished by the firefighter's soul, I forced myself to my feet. His spirit coursed through me, the sensation not unlike the feeling of warmth and fullness I got when, as a vampire, I'd made a fresh kill. Powers, I thought to myself. If I'm a ghost, then I have ghost powers, like freezing the window, breaking it. But will any of them kill a demon?
"An arrangement might be reached," the demon purred. He sounded mildly impressed. If he was giving in, willing to deal, then it was likely I could hurt him. I just needed to figure out how. "An exchange," the demon continued. "You for her?"
"An old friend of mine warned me about deals like that," I growled. "He said that demons always cheat."
"No prevarication has ever taken place on my part, I assure you, but I do obey the letter of the agreement. It is true that many do not" -- he paused -- "think through contracts as carefully as they should.
"Marilyn made her deal. The agreement was reached under compulsion from her vampiric master, but the signature is hers. Her soul in exchange for an...intercession." The demon moved back, its edges bleeding into its surroundings. "I believe I have a viable substitute, however, and will be able to perform the ritual without using up Ms. Robinson's soul. I'll hang onto her for now, shall I? I hope we meet again, angry ghost. But having collected this lady's soul, I now have other duties to perform, including the intercession of which I spoke."
I lunged for him again, but when I crossed the white line in the middle of the road, I flew apart, my essence bursting into countless little particles of self, the world blurring even more than before. Everything went silent, then dark, until I re-formed, standing in the spot where the bomb had gone off. Nice! Not only was I a ghost, I was a ghost with a short leash. Copyright © 2009 by Jeremy F. Lewis
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