The Shambling Guide to New York Cityby Mur Lafferty
A travel writer takes a job with a shady publishing company in New York, only to find that she must write a guide to the city - for the undead!
Because of the disaster that was her last job, Zoe is searching for a fresh start as a travel book editor in the tourist-centric New York City. After stumbling across a seemingly perfect position though, Zoe is blocked
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A travel writer takes a job with a shady publishing company in New York, only to find that she must write a guide to the city - for the undead!
Because of the disaster that was her last job, Zoe is searching for a fresh start as a travel book editor in the tourist-centric New York City. After stumbling across a seemingly perfect position though, Zoe is blocked at every turn because of the one thing she can't take off her resume - human.
Not to be put off by anything especially not her blood drinking boss or death goddess coworker Zoe delves deep into the monster world. But her job turns deadly when the careful balance between human and monsters starts to crumble with Zoe right in the middle.
With really interesting restaurant recs and sightseeing suggestions, and unusual (to say the least) takes on the Statue of Liberty and Grant's Tomb, it's got everything you need to know for the trip of a lifetime--or longer! And with the smart and intrepid Zoe to show you around, how could you possibly get in trouble? I give it 5 Michelin stars and 8 Zombie Planet Thumbs Up (with real thumbs)!"
"In Lafferty's entirely believable world, New York City is secretly inhabited by vampires, zombies, fay folk, and assorted monsters. ... This is a funny, thoughtfully conceived, and thoroughly entertaining romp that will be a sure bet for urban-fantasy readers - and might even surprise people who don't think they'd enjoy a paranormal novel."
Mur Lafferty's debut novel is a must-read book for those who like their urban fantasy fast, furious, and funny. Terrific stuff!"Kat Richardson"
This is a great start to what promises to be one of the gems of the comic urban fantasy crown. The Shambling Guide sets the wonderful world of the supernaturaland the slightly more esoteric world of travel guide publishingon its ear, and the result is nothing short of delightful."New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire"
An engagingly funny, and fun, romp through NYC. You'll love Zoe... to bits."New York Times bestselling Tobias S. Buckell"
Shows exactly why so many writers have been buzzing about Mur Lafferty for so many years: an unbeatable mixture of humor, heart, imagination, and characterization. I want to live in Mur's New York."Cory Doctorow"
Without Mur Lafferty, the SF genre would be a much duller place. Mur is constantly inventive, always great fun and deserves every success."Paul Cornell"
A wild ride through the secret side of New York City, Mur Lafferty's mighty debut is urban fantasy the way it should be: fast, funny, with bags of action and characters you'll love. A total delight from cover to cover."Adam Christopher
The Shambling Guide to New York City is a monstrously fun romp by one of our most engaging new authors."Tim Pratt
Zombies and vampires and golems, oh my! The Shambling Guide to New York City rounds up the biggest cast of the undead and never-quite-alive ever to appear in a single novel, along with a wisecracking heroine whose picture belongs over the dictionary entry for spunky. This is a comic tour-de-force by a writer who lives and breathes popular culture. Mur Lafferty is throwing a monster party and you're invited."
James Patrick Kelly, Hugo and Nebula Award Winner
Mur Lafferty is a bright, shining light in speculative fiction. She brings a warm, humourous and startling fresh voice to the genre in The Shambling Guide to New York City."
Looking for a very different kind of travel guide? One that shows you the real Manhattan? The one the tourists haven't discovered yet, but the vampires and the watersprites have? Then The Shambling Guide to New York City is just what you need!
With really interesting restaurant recs and sightseeing suggestions, and unusual (to say the least) takes on the Statue of Liberty and Grant's Tomb, it's got everything you need to know for the trip of a lifetimeor longer! And with the smart and intrepid Zoe to show you around, how could you possibly get in trouble? I give it 5 Michelin stars and 8 Zombie Planet Thumbs Up (with real thumbs)!"
What, you thought only humans wanted to travel? Monsters are tourists, too."New York Times bestseller Scott Sigler"
The hip, knowing and sometimes hysterically funny narrative, interspersed with excerpts from the guide of the title, lurches along in splendid fashion. Combine wit, style and acute observation: the result is irresistible."Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)"
Charming debut... an enjoyable tour of the city's supernatural side."Publishers Weekly"
The Shambling Guide to New York City shows that Mur Lafferty has something different to bring to the urban fantasy genre. She's created a character that can experience the human/non-human dynamic via researching a travel guide, which we'd never see through the usual detectives and ass-kicking central characters, and with snappy dialogue, a creative cast and can-do central characters, we have fun tagging along."Gavin Pugh, tor.com"
In Lafferty's entirely believable world, New York City is secretly inhabited by vampires, zombies, fay folk, and assorted monsters. ... This is a funny, thoughtfully conceived, and thoroughly entertaining romp that will be a sure bet for urban-fantasy readers - and might even surprise people who don't think they'd enjoy a paranormal novel."
Booklist (Starred Review)"
Well-written and immersive...a travel series you'll definitely want to stick with."SFX"
An extremely exciting and incredibly amusing read."SciFiNow.co.uk (5 stars)
Read an Excerpt
The Shambling Guide to New York City
By Mur Lafferty
OrbitCopyright © 2013 Mur Lafferty
All right reserved.
The bookstore was sandwiched between a dry cleaner’s and a shifty-looking accounting office. Mannegishi’s Tricks wasn’t in the guidebook, but Zoë Norris knew enough about guidebooks to know they often missed the best places.
This clearly was not one of those places.
The store was, to put it bluntly, filthy. It reminded Zoë of an abandoned mechanic’s garage, with grime and grease coating the walls and bookshelves. She pulled her arms in to avoid brushing against anything. Long strips of paint dotted with mold peeled away from the walls as if they could no longer stand to adhere to such filth. Zoë couldn’t blame them. She felt a bizarre desire to wave to them as they bobbed lazily to herald her passing. Her shoes stuck slightly to the floor, making her trek through the store louder than she would have liked.
She always enjoyed looking at cities—even her hometown—through the eyes of a tourist. She owned guidebooks of every city she had visited and used them extensively. It made her usual urban exploration feel more thorough.
It also allowed her to look at the competition, or it had when she’d worked in travel book publishing.
The store didn’t win her over with its stock, either. She’d never heard of most of the books; they had titles like How to Make Love, Marry, Devour, and Inherit in Eight Weeks in the Romance section and When Your Hound from Hell Outgrows His House—and Yours in the Pets section.
She picked the one about hounds and opened it to Chapter Four: “The Augean Stables: How to Pooper-Scoop Dung That Could Drown a Terrier.” She frowned. So, they’re really assuming your dog gets bigger than a house? It’s not tongue-in-cheek? If this is humor, it’s failing. Despite the humorous title, the front cover had a frightening drawing of a hulking white beast with red eyes. The cover was growing uncomfortably warm, and the leather had a sticky, alien feeling, not like cow or even snake leather. She switched the book to her left hand and wiped her right on her beige sweater. She immediately regretted it.
“One sweater ruined,” she muttered, looking at the grainy black smear. “What is this stuff?”
The cashier’s desk faced the door from the back of the store, and was staffed by an unsmiling teen girl in a dirty gray sundress. She had olive skin and big round eyes, and her head had the fuzz of the somewhat-recently shaved. Piercings dotted her face at her nose, eyebrow, lip, and cheek, and all the way up her ears. Despite her slouchy body language, she watched Zoë with a bright, sharp gaze that looked almost hungry.
Beside the desk was a bulletin board, blocked by a pudgy man hanging a flyer. He wore a T-shirt and jeans and looked to be in his mid-thirties. He looked completely out of place in this store; that is, he was clean.
“Can I help you?” the girl asked as Zoë approached the counter.
“Uh, you have a very interesting shop here,” Zoë said, smiling. She put the hound book on the counter and tried not to grimace as it stuck to her hand briefly. “How much is this one?”
The clerk didn’t return her smile. “We cater to a specific clientele.”
“OK… but how much is the book?” Zoë asked again.
“It’s not for sale. It’s a collectible.”
Zoë became aware of the man at the bulletin board turning and watching her. She began to sweat a little bit.
Jesus, calm down. Not everyone is out to get you.
“So it’s not for sale, or it’s a collectible. Which one?”
The girl reached over and took the book. “It’s not for sale to you, only to collectors.”
“How do you know I don’t collect dog books?” Zoë asked, bristling. “And what does it matter? All I wanted to know was how much it costs. Do you care where it goes as long as it’s paid for?”
“Are you a collector of rare books catering to the owners of… exotic pets?” the man interrupted, smiling. His voice was pleasant and mild, and she relaxed a little, despite his patronizing words. “Excuse me for butting in, but I know the owner of this shop and she considers these books her treasure. She is very particular about where they go when they leave her care.”
“Why should she…” Zoë trailed off when she got a closer look at the bulletin board to the man’s left. Several flyers stood out, many with phone numbers ripped from the bottom. One, advertising an exorcism service specializing in elemental demons, looked burned in a couple of places. The flyer that had caught her eye was pink, and the one the man had just secured with a thumbtack.
Underground Publishing LOOKING FOR WRITERS
Underground Publishing is a new company writing travel guides for people like you. Since we’re writing for people like you, we need people like you to write for us.
Pluses: Experience in writing, publishing, or editing (in this life or any other), and knowledge of New York City.
Minuses: A life span shorter than an editorial cycle (in this case, nine months).
Call 212.555.1666 for more information or e-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org more information.
“Oh, hell yes,” said Zoë, and with the weird, dirty hound book forgotten, she pulled a battered notebook from her satchel. She needed a job. She was refusing to adhere to the stereotype of running home to New York, admitting failure at her attempts to leave her hometown. Her goal was a simple office job. She wasn’t waiting for her big break on Broadway and looking to wait tables or take on a leaflet-passing, taco-suit-wearing street-nuisance job in the meantime.
Office job. Simple. Uncomplicated.
As she scribbled down the information, the man looked her up and down and said, “Ah, I’m not sure if that’s a good idea for you to pursue.”
Zoë looked up sharply. “What are you talking about? First I can’t buy the book, now I can’t apply for a job? I know you guys have some sort of weird vibe going on, ‘We’re so goth and special, let’s freak out the normals.’ But for a business that caters to, you know, customers, you’re certainly not welcoming.”
“I just think that particular business may be looking for someone with experience you may not have,” he said, his voice level and diplomatic. He held his hands out, placating her.
“But you don’t even know me. You don’t know my qualifications. I just left Misconceptions Publishing in Raleigh. You heard of them?” She hated name-dropping her old employer—she would have preferred to forget it entirely—but the second-biggest travel book publisher in the USA was her strongest credential in the job hunt.
The man shifted his weight and touched his chin. “Really. What did you do for them?”
Zoë stood a little taller. “Head researcher and writer. I wrote most of Raleigh Misconceptions, and was picked to head the project Tallahassee Misconceptions.”
He smiled a bit. “Impressive. But you do know Tallahassee is south of North Carolina, right? You went in the wrong direction entirely.”
Zoë clenched her jaw. “I was laid off. It wasn’t due to job performance. I took my severance and came back home to the city.”
The man rubbed his smooth, pudgy cheek. “What happened to cause the layoff? I thought Misconceptions was doing well.”
Zoë felt her cheeks get hot. Her boss, Godfrey, had happened. Then Godfrey’s wife—whom he had failed to mention until Zoë was well and truly in “other woman” territory—had happened. She swallowed. “Economy. You know how it goes.”
He stepped back and leaned against the wall, clearly not minding the cracked and peeling paint that broke off and stuck to his shirt. “Those are good credentials. However, you’re still probably not what they’re looking for.”
Zoë looked at her notebook and continued writing. “Luckily it’s not your decision, is it?”
“Actually, it is.”
She groaned and looked back up at him. “All right. Who are you?”
He extended his hand. “Phillip Rand. Owner, president, and CEO of Underground Publishing.”
She looked at his hand for a moment and shook it, her small fingers briefly engulfed in his grip. It was a cool handshake, but strong.
“Zoë Norris. And why, Mr. Phillip Rand, will you not let me even apply?”
“Well, Miss Zoë Norris, I don’t think you’d fit in with the staff. And fitting in with the staff is key to this company’s success.”
A vision of future months dressed as a dancing cell phone on the wintry streets pummeled Zoë’s psyche. She leaned forward in desperation. She was short, and used to looking up at people, but he was over six feet, and she was forced to crane her neck to look up at him. “Mr. Rand. How many other people experienced in researching and writing travel guides do you have with you?”
He considered for a moment. “With that specific qualification? I actually have none.”
“So if you have a full staff of people who fit into some kind of mystery mold, but don’t actually have experience writing travel books, how good do you think your books are going to be? You sound like you’re a kid trying to fill a club, not a working publishing company. You need a managing editor with experience to supervise your writers and researchers. I’m smart, hardworking, creative, and a hell of a lot of fun in the times I’m not blatantly begging for a job—obviously you’ll have to just take my word on that. I haven’t found a work environment I don’t fit in with. I don’t care if Underground Publishing is catering to eastern Europeans, or transsexuals, or Eskimos, or even Republicans. Just because I don’t fit in doesn’t mean I can’t be accepting as long as they accept me. Just give me a chance.”
Phillip Rand was unmoved. “Trust me. You would not fit in. You’re not our type.”
She finally deflated and sighed. “Isn’t this illegal?”
He actually had the audacity to laugh at that. “I’m not discriminating based on your gender or race or religion.”
“Then what are you basing it on?”
He licked his lips and looked at her again, studying her. “Call it a gut reaction.”
She deflated. “Oh well. It was worth a try. Have a good day.”
On her way out, she ran through her options: there were the few publishing companies she hadn’t yet applied to, the jobs that she had recently thought beneath her that she’d gladly take at this point. She paused a moment in the Self-Help section to see if anything there could help her better herself. She glanced at the covers for Reborn and Loving It, Second Life: Not Just on the Internet, and Get the Salary You Deserve! Negotiating Hell Notes in a Time of Economic Downturn. Nothing she could relate to, so she trudged out the door, contemplating a long bath when she got back to her apartment. Better than unpacking more boxes.
After the grimy door shut behind her, Zoë decided she had earned a tall caloric caffeine bomb to soothe her ego. She wasn’t sure what she’d done to deserve this, but it didn’t take much to make her leap for the comfort treats these days—which reminded her, she needed to recycle some wine bottles.
EXCERPT FROM The Shambling Guide to New York City
THEATER DISTRICT: Shops
Mannegishi’s Tricks is the oldest bookstore in the Theater District. Established 1834 by Akilina, nicknamed “The Drakon Lady,” after she immigrated from Russia, the store has a stock that is lovingly picked from collections all over the world. Currently managed by Akilina’s great-grandaughter, Anastasiya, the store continues to offer some of the best finds for any book collector. Anastasiya upholds the old dragon lady’s practice of knowing just which book should go to which customer, and refuses to sell a book to the “wrong” person. Don’t try to argue with her; the drakon’s teeth remain sharp.
Mannegishi’s Tricks is one of the few shops that deliberately maintain a squalid appearance—dingy, smelly, with a strong “leave now” aura—in order to repel unwanted customers. In nearly 180 years, Akilina and her descendants have sold only three books to humans. She refuses to say to whom.
October seemed completely unaware that she was having a shit day. The crisp weather and the blue sky couldn’t help but cheer Zoë a little bit. She had simply loved coming home. Full of people and secrets, cities were three-dimensional, rising high in the sky and creating labyrinthine tunnels underground. She’d come from the suburbs of the Research Triangle in North Carolina, a sterile, impotent metropolitan area of three million people stretched over several counties. That was not a city.
She’d moved with her parents when she was in grade school, but nowhere had ever felt like home the way the city did. She reflected she should have returned when she got out of school, but she got a job traveling for a magazine, and then got the job in Raleigh with Misconceptions and decided that was worth it.
After that ended, it seemed obvious that there was nowhere else to go except home. Ever since she was a child, she had felt cities, especially New York, were alive. Cities had a heartbeat. When she wasn’t in a city, she felt soulless, with an ever-present itch telling her something was missing.
New York was a city.
Zoë prided herself in her ability to seek out the perfect hidden gems in a city. She fancied herself an urban explorer of a sort, and desperately avoided chain restaurants and stores. She enjoyed getting to know cities as if they were friends; you visited the Targets of your acquaintances, but the mom-and-pop stores of your friends.
Her fifteen or so years out of New York had seen the city change a lot, both from time and from 9/11. She loved wandering the streets, getting to know it again.
So what if she’d left Raleigh in shame and now counted on one hand the unemployed weeks she had left in her savings account before she had to give up and move out? She was where she’d always wanted to be.
When she spied the little café a few doors down from the bookstore, she knew where she wanted to be right then: Bakery Under Starlight. It was perfectly placed, facing south on Fifty-First Street so that the fading afternoon sun of early autumn cut through the trees and into the café. The café had orange-red walls with antique, mismatched chairs and tables. Behind the counter a cappuccino machine hissed. Racks of bread and pastries assaulted Zoë’s nose, and she took an appreciative whiff of freshly baked goodies.
“Suck it, Starbucks,” she muttered as she got in line.
The only people Zoë saw working the shop were a mountain of a man whose baker’s jacket said “Carl” and a petite woman who shouted obscenities at the customers when their coffees were ready.
Zoë stood in line behind a fat man with sallow skin and limp brown hair. He wore a very nicely tailored pinstripe suit, but it was ill-fitting, straining at the buttons and baggy in the shoulders. She felt a little sorry for the suit, thinking that if it had had any say in the matter, it would not have chosen this man to fill it.
Carl greeted the customer by name. “ ’Morning, John, you’re looking well.”
John smiled and winked at Carl. “I found a new club the other night. Things are looking up.”
“Oh really? I’d check it out, but, you know.” Carl gestured widely, encompassing the café, and John nodded as if he understood.
The John person got his coffee and scone—“Latte for the son of a demon and a whore!” the small woman cried out in accented English—and nodded again to Carl before taking a table against the wall.
Zoë nodded to the barista as she approached the counter. “Doesn’t that drive away customers?” she asked Carl.
Carl shrugged. “Tenagne’s Ethiopian,” he said, as if that explained it.
“That’s a little stereotypical,” Zoë said.
Carl glanced at Tenagne, who steamed milk with her back to him. “Not for her family, which is pretty large. Don’t worry, she only yells obscenities at people she likes. You should be safe. Now what can we get you?” Zoë blushed and gave her order—plain coffee and a croissant—and then snagged the only free table by a window, which happened to be along the wall next to John’s.
On the wall above her hung another corkboard with missing-cat notices and job postings. She saw the Underground Publishing flyer, and snatched the whole thing off.
As she contemplated the job description again, she caught John staring at her. She tried to ignore him, reading the flyer a couple of times, looking for any clue that would lead her to what Underground Publishing wanted, but finding nothing.
When she looked up, the man was still staring at her. She sighed. “Do you have a problem?”
He did not flinch at the obvious irritation in her voice, but instead put down his coffee and wiped his mouth, a silver bracelet peeking from inside his cuff. Despite his lugubrious appearance, he sat up straight and met her eyes with no sense of shyness. He gestured toward the flyer. “I’m not sure if that’s a good idea for you to pursue.”
Zoë pursed her lips. “So I’ve heard. Is there a campaign against me? You don’t even know me. Neither does that Phillip guy.”
John raised an eyebrow at her. “You know Phil?”
She nodded. “I just met Phillip Rand at that nasty bookstore down the street, and he told me the same thing. So what is the problem? Why are you people following me to make sure I don’t apply? Why do you fucking care?”
The fat man considered her for a moment, smiling. “Paranoid, and quick to anger. That’s very attractive.” He didn’t sound sarcastic, and his tone made her squirm slightly inside. “To answer your question, Phil is my boss. Our office is nearby. We’re hanging flyers in area businesses. Your encountering both of us is nothing but a happy coincidence.” He ignored her snort of derision. “And about your qualifications, Phil is looking for someone with experience you may not have,” he said, seeming to choose his words carefully.
Zoë sighed. “Why not? I’ve got experience, I’m a native, I’m an excellent researcher, surely I’m worth an interview at least.”
He sipped at his coffee again, sizing her up over the mug’s rim. His muddy brown eyes weren’t undressing her, but she still had the uncomfortable feeling that she was a slab of beef and John was a butcher, deciding where to make the first cut. “You’re still probably not what they’re looking for.”
“So what do you do? What makes you so perfect for the job?”
He extended his hand. “John Dickens. Public relations, Underground Publishing.”
She shook it, his warm hand strangely dainty in her own.
“Well, I’m not in editorial; it’s not my decision. Go ahead and apply. Who knows? Phil might change his mind and take a liking to you. You’re… appealing.”
Zoë didn’t like the way he said that. Did she want to work with this asshole? “Thanks for the advice, I guess.” She sat at her table and pushed her chair pointedly to put her back to John. She got out her BlackBerry and pulled up the template for her standard job query. She made some pertinent changes, attached her résumé, double-checked for mistakes, and then sent it to Phil’s e-mail address as given on the sheet.
She sat back and relaxed. Despite the comments to the contrary, she felt good about this one. Of course, she’d felt good about all the jobs she’d applied for; she’d been convinced that every publishing house in the city had at least one open job whose description read so perfectly the ad might as well have said, “WANTED: Thirtysomething woman from Raleigh, NC, petite, heartbroken, fleeing a scandal at a publishing company. Names starting with ‘Z’ preferred.” But she had been overqualified for one, under-qualified for another, and too laid-back for a third—although she was pretty sure her lack of any structured religion was the real reason, even though by law they couldn’t say that. That was her worry about Underground Publishing: that it was focused toward Jews or Christians or bisexuals or people who had lived through the heartbreak of psoriasis or some other group that she didn’t belong to. But why were John and Phil so secretive?
Zoë fiddled with her phone, ignoring the other patrons, especially the man behind her. She went through news feeds, reading her favorite websites, checking in at the weirder science news sites just for fun, and then checked publishing blogs. She was tsking at another book deal for another celebrity who’d made a name for herself by doing drugs and sleeping with producers and now felt qualified to write, when she realized that an old Kool & the Gang song was playing very loudly.
No, Carl hadn’t cranked the volume. Instead, everyone in the café had stopped talking. Zoë looked up and saw a dirty, wide-eyed woman standing in the middle of the café. She looked to be older, like seventy, and had white hair and Asian features. She wore a pink shawl, a grimy T-shirt that said “I 8 NY” over a silhouette of Godzilla, and dirty jeans. Out of place on her ragged form was a pair of very high-quality black combat boots. She pirouetted slowly and stared at the patrons in the café. The patrons stared back.
“Well, this should be interesting,” John whispered behind her.
Zoë frowned. The tension in the café was palpable; there was none of the usual discomfort or pointed ignoring reactions New Yorkers did when faced with something or someone they didn’t want to deal with. The people in the café seemed completely terrified of the old woman, even though her thick braided hair swinging at her hip was the strongest-looking thing about her. Zoë felt a sudden kinship with this woman, feeling outcast and friendless as she had been. She stood up and glanced around the coffee shop. Even Carl looked petrified.
No one moved to talk to the woman, to take her order, or to usher her out. Zoë couldn’t take the tension any more, so she turned on what she had learned of Southern charm. She heard a small gasp behind her as she approached the woman.
“Hi, honey, can I help you? Are you meeting a friend, or do you need a cup of coffee?”
The woman fixed her wide brown eyes on Zoë and seemed to think for a moment. “You want to buy Granny Good Mae a cup of coffee?” Her accent was flat and difficult to place, almost the generic American accent Hollywood actors had.
Zoë shrugged. “Sure, why not?”
“I always knew you were a good one,” she said, glaring at Carl, who blanched, his dark skin turning ashy. “I don’t do coffee. I drink tea.”
“Sure.” Zoë walked to the counter. She waved her hand in front of Carl’s face. “It’s OK, she won’t bite. Just get her some hot tea. I’ll pay for it and get her out of here.”
“That’s Granny Good Mae,” Carl whispered, but he moved to fill a to-go cup with hot water. “She’s not welcome here.”
Zoë shook her head in amazement. “She’s not hurting anyone. What’s your problem?”
“You both batshit crazy,” Tenagne said to Zoë, tossing Carl a tea bag. “Her ’cause she talk to the air, and you ’cause you listen to her.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Zoë said. She paid Carl for the tea. The customers still watched Granny Good Mae, who looked them over as if she were a general surveying the enemy. Neither seemed willing to make the first strike.
Zoë walked up to the old woman and put her hand on her elbow. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’m not really sure why they don’t want you here, but I think it might be best if you go. Here’s your tea.”
“I got what I came here for,” Granny Good Mae said, turning to leave.
“Does this café have especially good tea?” Zoë asked, opening the door for the woman.
Granny Good Mae looked at her, startled. “What? No, the tea here is garbage tea. Comes in bags. Like garbage. And goldfish crackers. I came here to see how you’ve grown up.” She tossed the full cup of tea into a garbage can on the street. “And you grew up real nice.”
Bemused, Zoë said, “Uh, OK. I’m Zoë. Nice to meet you.”
“Life! Life! This city needs life!” Granny Good Mae cackled as if she’d made a good joke, then her face fell. “Remember, Zoë-Life, watch your back. Some people in this city will eat you right up.”
Before Zoë could ask anything more, the old woman turned and wandered down the street, laughing again about “Zoë-Life.”
Zoë shrugged and went back into the café. A couple of the patrons shot her sidelong glances, but the room had returned to its former light and friendly atmosphere.
“You’re really not looking to make friends, are you?” John asked as she sat down.
“I don’t know what the problem is. She’s just a harmless old woman. She didn’t even shout obscenities or urinate on the wall,” Zoë said, not looking at him and taking her phone out of her pocket. The light on top was blinking, and she switched it on to read her messages.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, but that’s not your fault,” John said. He retrieved his own mobile phone and started typing something on the screen.
“Holy crap,” Zoë said, as she read her messages. She had already gotten a reply from Underground Publishing. She read the e-mail quickly.
She finally looked at John, a triumphant smile on her face. “Phil wants to talk to me. I’ve got an interview.”
John nodded absently, checking his own phone. “Yeah, but don’t worry. We have time for another cup of coffee. You want a refill on me?”
Zoë blinked at him, her triumph melting into a feeling of stupidity. “Uh, what?”
“Didn’t you read your e-mail? Phil wants to see you at four o’clock. It’s three fifteen now.”
Zoë gasped and called up the e-mail again. There it was, four o’clock. She looked down at herself. She wore her favorite (read: old) beige sweater, which now had a grimy streak across the front from that foul bookstore. Underneath that she wore an old Pearl Jam T-shirt with an ink stain on the shoulder and a hole by the neck seam. Jeans, purple Chuck Taylor sneakers, and her vintage denim jacket completed her wardrobe. She hadn’t even washed her hair that morning. “I’m not dressed for an interview.”
John shrugged. “Phil is likely trying to catch you off guard. I told you, you won’t fit in with us. He’s going to try to find any reason not to hire you. Here’s a hint: Phil likes confidence.”
Zoë narrowed her eyes. “Why are you helping me? You clearly didn’t want me to get the job ten minutes ago.”
John’s eyes widened and he shook his head. “Oh no, I’d like nothing more than to work with you. You seem intelligent and willing to take risks. You’re also not shy. I hate shy women.” Zoë frowned, but remained silent. “I’m just saying, I agree with Phil: you won’t fit in. Once you learn more about the job, you probably won’t even want it.”
Zoë sat back. “We’ll see. And yes, I will take that coffee.” Her heart pounded in anticipation of her interview. “But make it decaf.”
Zoë had demanded John keep silent as she frantically searched the Web on her phone, looking for any information on Underground Publishing. She pulled up a page with a slate-gray background saying “Under Construction,” complete with a circa-1997 animated gif of a little stick man in a yellow hard hat digging the same shovelful of pixelated dirt over and over. She groaned.
Well, there’s a place to start with suggestions for the company. It gave her nothing to go on, though.
She began to make notes about what the website needed, surfing to other publishing sites to see what common elements they contained. She bit her lip and typed in the URL for Misconceptions Publishing. Godfrey’s trim, bearded face smiled at her from the home page, and she hit the back button and closed her eyes.
She knew what was on its site. She’d designed the damn thing back when Misconceptions was a little company with a skeleton crew. It had been her idea to put his face on the front page, giving the company a figurehead, someone to trust.
Just as I trusted him.
She took a deep breath and then a big gulp of her coffee. Now was definitely not the time to think about Godfrey. She frowned, and then rooted around in her leather satchel. She dug out a little silver MINI Cooper (a gift from Godfrey, its once-comforting weight now feeling like a heavy reminder) and put it aside, firmly telling herself to stop pining like a brokenhearted teen. After a little more rooting through papers and two novels, she found what she was looking for: one copy of Raleigh Misconceptions, the book she’d edited (not to mention that the entire Misconceptions line was her baby). She put the little car back in her satchel and then looked at her watch.
“How long does it take to get to Underground Publishing?” she asked John, who was reading the Times. “Should we catch a cab?”
“Nah. It’s around the corner,” John said, putting his newspaper into his briefcase.
Zoë raised her eyebrows. “A publishing company in the Theater District?”
He grinned. “Phil rented and refurbished an old off-Broadway theater and put a publishing company there. But working in an old theater won’t be the weirdest thing you encounter today, I promise.”
Zoë shrugged. “All right, then. Lead on.” She bused her table, dropping the dishes at the counter.
Carl stopped her before she could go, his hand touching her wrist lightly. “Listen, Zoë, isn’t it?” She nodded. “If you’re a friend of John’s, then I’ll warn you, we’ve had… trouble with Granny Good Mae in the past. I’ll serve anyone who can pay, and sometimes if they can’t. But Mae is a different story.”
Zoë frowned. “I still don’t see what’s so harmful about the old woman.”
“I hope you never have to know,” he said. He stuck his hand out. “Water under the bridge?”
She shook it, surprised. “Sure, I guess.”
She followed John into the afternoon sunlight, and he led her around the corner and down an alley. John proudly waved his hand down a rickety staircase that led to a below-street-level theater. “And here we are.”
The doorway had no signage, and had a board nailed across it, even though it opened inward.
Zoë nodded calmly, looking around for possible exits. “So you’re bringing me here to kill me.”
John’s eyes widened. “Oh, goodness no. I’m pretty sure in a one-on-one match, you’d end up on top, easy.”
Zoë gripped her satchel and planted her feet, but John made no aggressive moves toward her. She hadn’t studied martial arts in a couple of years, but she still remembered the basics. “So you just expect me to go into a condemned theater with a guy who I just met, who’s been checking me out for the last hour?” she asked.
John grinned ruefully. “I can’t help my nature, Zoë. And you’re the one who wanted the job, remember?”
He had her there. She pointed down the stairwell. “You go first.”
John shrugged. “Sure.”
She watched him walk all the way down the stairs and reach under the board to push the door open. “Now just duck under the board, and we’re in.”
Zoë swallowed hard, curious despite her fear. She pulled out her phone to check if she still had cell service, and dialed 91 and kept her finger over the 1. She followed John down the stairs and, saying a prayer to whatever god might be listening in a disused alley near Fifty-First Street, she slipped under the board and followed John into the dark hallway.
EXCERPT FROM The Shambling Guide to New York City
THEATER DISTRICT: Nightlife
One of the best things about New York City is how coterie have insinuated themselves into the culture. Broadway wouldn’t have started without the fae queen, Titania, establishing the New Amsterdam at West Forty-Second Street, but infighting among the fae made the palace fall into squalor. Peaseblossom, who has held power for the past four decades, has restored the palace to its former glory. He’s welcomed vampires, succubi, and incubi, and even some of the fresher zombies, into Broadway auditions.
The coterie-friendly cast and crew may imply that all coterie are welcome to audition or attend, but you need to remember the dress code is key: make sure to blend in.
As with all auditions, don’t expect your coterie status to get you in; they still want the best, and they’ll choose a human over you if you don’t measure up to their standards.
There was a distinct lack of smell in the hallway. Zoë realized it didn’t smell musty or even overly clean and bleachy; it didn’t smell like anything.
Dim lights along the wall lit the sad, worn red carpet. Her logical mind told her that following a stranger into a condemned building was about as smart as climbing trees during a lightning storm, but for some reason Zoë felt no sense of panic. Something told her that this was legit, and a certain, curious part of her was eager to see what a publisher would do with an old theater.
The lobby was small and empty, with an ancient popcorn machine at the leaning candy counter. John led her around to a side door and into another hallway. Zoë realized they were going backstage. She peeked through one of the portholes in the wall and saw a woman sitting in the theater, by herself in the dim light, reading a book. Zoë frowned and picked up her pace to catch up to John.
Once she got backstage, Zoë realized that, yes, they had actually renovated the old theater to house a publishing company. The wings held a fridge and a freestanding cupboard, and the stage looked to be the set of a break room complete with a table and chairs, and easy chairs. Shelves filled with colorful books sat next to the easy chairs, with reading lamps on top of them. If not for the hundreds of dusty, empty seats facing the area, it might even have been cozy.
“That’s the break room,” said John. “Everyone works in the dressing rooms backstage. Editorial in one room, marketing in another, the boss gets his own dressing room. The star, you know.” He winked at her.
Zoë managed a smile. Her fear had mostly left her, but she still didn’t trust this guy. She glanced at him as he led her down another poorly lit hallway. He definitely didn’t look as if he could take her; he looked like an unsure nouveau riche who had bought an expensive suit without having a tailor measure him.
“Phil wants to see you before you meet anyone else,” he said over his shoulder.
“Mysterious,” she said, trying to sound amused. They had reached the dressing rooms at this point, all of them closed, and headed for the one with a big star on the door. John knocked on the door twice.
John raised his eyebrows. “Ready?”
She made a face at him. “You take me this far and ask me if I’m ready now?” She moved past him and put her hand on the doorknob. “Stop trying to psych me out.”
Zoë nearly laughed as she opened the door. She’d expected the publishing company to have taken over the theater and made it look sterile and corporate, but Phil Rand had apparently not done anything to modify the star’s dressing room. It was still lit largely by a vanity, which he had apparently repurposed as his desk. Instead of makeup and hair products, he had books and notebooks and pens, but the abandoned theater still apparently boasted a good deal of its costuming and set pieces; a corner held trunks, armoires, and hat racks. Phil stood as they entered and left his seat at the vanity to walk forward and shake her hand. He still looked unassuming and bland when lit brightly by the clear bulbs. He was maybe thirty pounds overweight, with a red ponytail and thin glasses. He was more casual than John, still wearing his T-shirt. He seemed even taller than he had in the bookstore. His clean-shaven face was freckled and mature, yet unlined, so she guessed his age at around thirty-five.
“Zoë, how nice to see you again,” he said, his voice seeming friendlier than it had in the store.
She smiled at him. “It’s my pleasure, Mr. Rand. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me so soon.”
“I appreciate tenacity. If you’re so interested in this job, far be it from me to dissuade you with words. I’m so glad that John was able to lead you here. You may not have been able to find the place on your own; we don’t advertise very much.”
Zoë felt she was being tested already, and decided not to be thrown off. “I wouldn’t worry about it, sir, your business isn’t direct retail. As long as employees can get to work, there’s no issue. While I might worry about OSHA getting upset at a few of your more… eccentric design decisions, I love your offices. They’re unique.”
“OSHA. Right. I’ll make a note of that,” Phil said, scribbling something on a pad. It was literally a scribble. Zoë caught sight of it when he put the pad down, and the scrawl was completely illegible.
This is decidedly weird.
“Have a seat,” he said, inviting her to a plush pink couch. Zoë joined him. Phil looked pointedly at John, who looked slightly startled, then nodded and left the room. “I want to know what John told you about the company,” he said.
Zoë remembered what John had told her and sat up straighter. “Not much more than what you said. He said I wouldn’t fit in, that I am not like the rest of you.”
Phil sat back. “He was telling the truth. And he told you nothing else?”
She frowned. “No. He refused to, even though I thought it was jumping to some pretty extreme conclusions. And now you’re doing it again. Why interview me if you agree with him?”
He smiled at her. “Because when you find out what this company is all about, you’re going to leave. And I want to make sure you remember that you could have left this whole time.”
“Sheesh, either you guys are baby-eaters or I’m really making a bad impression!” she said.
He laughed, his voice echoing in the large dressing room. “I just want you prepared. I honestly am interested in your credentials, I just know you won’t take the job.”
Zoë glared at him. “Reverse psychology?”
He shrugged. “Simply the truth. Now. Your résumé is impressive. We don’t have any of the Misconceptions line here yet, do you happen to have one of your books on you?”
She handed over Raleigh Misconceptions. “I led the team on Raleigh, and launched the Misconceptions line, actually.”
He flipped through the book. “Impressive, I have to say. I still—”
Zoë interrupted him, her voice desperate. “Please, Mr. Rand, I have no idea what you have against me or what you think I may be, but please just give me a chance. I’m really open-minded, it’s hard to shock me.”
He cocked an eyebrow at her and stared, his brown eyes studying her. She felt blood rise to her face, but she knew she couldn’t back down. He handed the book back to her. “I’m hungry and it’s quitting time. Let’s go get a bite to eat.”
Echoes of the situation she had recently exited ran through her mind. She pursed her lips. “I’m sorry, Mr. Rand, but I’m not going on a date with you—or doing anything more—for a job.”
He gave a close-lipped smile, amused. “Oh, Zoë. You’re delightful. I am merely hungry, I don’t require anything else from you except companionship. Do you want to work at Underground Publishing?”
The unconventional work space was intriguing, and she needed a job in a bad way. If she honestly did end up standing out among her coworkers like a redheaded stepchild, she could always turn him down, or quit later. She nodded firmly. “Yes, sir.”
He checked his watch. “We can leave in about half an hour. I’ll wrap up what I’m doing here, and John can show you the rest of the office. I think everyone has gone home; everyone except Kevin and Opal, anyway.”
He got up and moved to his office door. Zoë admired the graceful way he handled his somewhat heavy body before she caught herself. Not again.
John was at the door as soon as Phil called for him. They spoke quietly, and then John peeked into the room. “Zoë, can I show you around?”
She got the tour for the next twenty minutes, seeing the large dressing rooms with dressing tables serving as desks. Zoë found out that about ten people worked at Underground Publishing, that it had been around for about a week, and that it still didn’t have computers. It had PR, marketing, and writers, but no managing editors yet. She and John settled in the “break room,” which had a decidedly non-relaxing atmosphere, with the whole of the theater spread out before them. The woman in the audience had gone.
“There was a woman here before,” Zoë asked. “Who was that?”
“If she was Japanese, that was Koi. She likes to read the papers in the audience.”
“I didn’t see her face, but her hair was really long and dark,” Zoë said.
“Yeah, that’s Koi. She’s in charge of our operations. Office manager, distribution, she handles about seven different tasks at once.”
“Gotcha. Koi. Operations.”
John looked at her curiously. “Do you like what you’ve seen so far?”
Zoë weighed how honest she should be. “It’s definitely interesting,” she finally said. “I’m dying to know what the dreadful secret is that separates me from all the rest of you, though.”
John looked over to where Phil had joined them onstage. The big man had barely made a sound while walking. “I expect you will find that out tonight. Right?”
Phil carried a briefcase, and a dark coat hung over his arm. “She certainly will. We’re going to the little Italian place around the corner.”
John blinked. “Ah. Well. Yes, that will do it. Can I come?”
“No.” Phil was matter-of-fact, but his voice held a no-nonsense tone. Zoë was surprised at the sudden change in demeanor. “You’re not even hungry.”
How does he know how hungry John is? Zoë looked from one man to the other. “Is everything all right?”
Phil smiled. “It’s best if it’s just the two of us. You’ll be fine, Zoë. I won’t let any harm come to you.”
“Is that a possibility?”
Neither man answered.
They said good night to John, who smiled mischievously at Zoë and said he hoped to see more of her in the future.
“He’s a little forward,” Zoë said.
“Well yes, what did you expect?” Phil said, leading them down Fifty-First Street toward Broadway.
“Uh, a little respect? If he talks like that all the time, someone could sue you for sexual harassment,” Zoë said.
Phil frowned. “It’s his way. Everyone we work with understands that.”
It made no sense, but Zoë shrugged it away, refusing to rise to the constant “You’re not like us” bait. She just made a mental note to throat-punch the guy if he ever tried to touch her. “So where are we going?”
“A little Italian place on Ninth Avenue. My favorite place to eat. It’s a little hole in the wall, something you wouldn’t find in mainstream tourist guides.”
Zoë nodded and prepared herself to survey the place. Food, atmosphere, and service, not to mention clientele. Maybe a write-up of the restaurant after the meal would impress Phil.
“Is it the kind of place you’d want written about in your travel guide? For ‘your kind’ of people?”
“Most assuredly,” Phil said. He looked at her then, his face inscrutable in the city lights. “Do you honestly think you could fit in with any office environment?”
She blanched. “Well, sure. I mean…” She thought briefly of hard-core bondage fans, or people who ended each conversation with “God bless,” but shook her head. “No, I can’t think of anyone I couldn’t work with. Maybe the Ku Klux Klan or Westboro Baptist Church PR departments, I guess.”
“Oh, we’re not bigots. We like all kinds of people. But you may change your mind. I will not judge you if you do.”
“So if I turn out to be an unintentional bigot, it’s OK?” she asked, laughing.
He didn’t share her mirth. “Actually, yes. You can decide not to take the job, and you move about your life in the city, and we work on our books.”
Zoë stopped laughing. “Look. I’m no racist or whateverist. You have a job that needs doing. I can do it. Let me prove it to you.”
“Let me show you whom you’ll be working with first,” he said.
Zoë was all ready to look at the restaurant with an appraising eye in hopes of impressing Phil with her keen observation skills. Gothic decorations covered the walls, wrought-iron twisted into curlicues on top of red wallpaper decorated with dusty weeping flowers. She squinted into the low light as she realized the only illumination came from candles.
Was he planning something romantic after all?
A tall, willowy woman, looking to be in her late forties, swept up to them and embraced Phil. She wore a long blood-red dress that clung to her shapely torso and then draped gracefully in a fuller skirt that hung to her feet. Black lace peeked out from her sleeves and collar. She reminded Zoë of something gothic, only much more authentic than the goth girls she’d gone to college with.
“Phillip, it’s so good to see you again. I had begun to fear that you had forsaken us!” she cooed.
Phil returned the hug with more warmth than Zoë had seen him show, but cleared his throat quickly as he let her go. “Sylvia, I’ll need a table for two tonight.”
Sylvia stepped back and glanced at Zoë and then turned back to Phil. “A table in the back, perhaps? And would you like to see a wine list, or did you bring your own?”
“Wine list, please. And my companion will take the standard menu.” He said “companion” with a little bit of emphasis, as if telling Sylvia that they weren’t on a date.
“Of course! Only the best for you,” she said, and swept through the shadows to the back of the restaurant, motioning them to follow.
Zoë surveyed the other patrons as she followed Sylvia. A handsome couple dressed in a fashion that spoke of older days, almost Victorian ones, returned her gaze coolly, and she flushed. Sylvia led them to the table and asked Phil if he wanted his usual server. He paused and then nodded.
Zoë sat and put her napkin, a fine piece of linen that she feared dirtying, in her lap. She grinned at Phil. “I feel a little underdressed.”
Phil inclined his head. “That is nothing to fear.” The question of whether there was anything else to fear hung between them, but Zoë refused to ask it. She was tired of his enigmatic attitude and wanted him to just come clean with her.
Admittedly, something about the restaurant had thrown her off her game, and she was desperately trying to regain her footing. She opened her mouth to speak, but a dry voice over her shoulder interrupted her.
“Mr. Rand, lovely to see you.”
“Eric, the pleasure is mine. I’ll have my usual vintage, but my companion will need a wine list.”
“Ms. Stoll already indicated this to me,” the voice said, and Zoë craned her neck back and took the proffered menu. She did a double take when she saw the waiter, and then looked back at Phil, who watched her closely.
She took a look around the restaurant and then again at the waiter, who loomed calmly over her. She laughed. “Is this what you were worried about?”
Phil stared at her, his mouth slightly open. It was the first time she had actually surprised him, and it felt good. “Well. Frankly, yes.”
“I told you, I don’t judge. Is that what the book will be? A view of New York for cosplayers?”
“Cosplayers,” he repeated faintly.
“Yeah, people who are really into costume play. Storm Troopers or Slave Leias or Master Chiefs from that video game. Or”—she surveyed the waiter who shuffled away from them—“makeup. That was some seriously good zombie makeup.”
Each of the patrons now made sense. It was a room full of sore thumbs; but together they all seemed to fit in. A man ate alone in the corner, dipping his spoon into a bowl full of a black liquid. Small demon horns were glued to his forehead. The handsome couple she had noticed earlier had fangs that glinted as they talked and laughed. And three hulking men devoured plates of meat in a way that made Zoë think they were being a bit too true to the role-playing aspect of their costuming. And their waiter—wow. He waited for her order, hunched over, gray skin peeling from his face. She worried that it wasn’t terribly sanitary, but she figured the management would have taken that into account.
She took a look at the pathetically short wine list and decided to go with the house red. She looked up. Phil was still staring at her. She laughed. “Come on, did you think I would be so judgmental about it? I played Dungeons & Dragons in college, and a lot of my friends were into live-action role-playing and cosplay. Some were even furries. I’ve been to cons with guys just like these people. I didn’t get the memo that we’d need to come in makeup. I can do a good vampire if I can find my fangs.”
Phil smiled at last, then laughed loud and long, startling the patrons near them. “I would make a safe bet that you can do just that.”
The shuffling waiter looked at Zoë. “And the lady would like…?” he asked her in his dry voice.
“A glass of your house red, please,” she said, smiling at him.
“You would not enjoy our house red, ma’am,” the waiter replied. “It’s… clear your tastes run to a much finer vintage.”
“Well, what would you recommend?”
“We have a lovely shiraz that many of our human customers enjoy. I will bring you a glass.” He shuffled off.
Zoë grinned at Phil. “ ‘Human customers’? This is so cool. I really wish we’d dressed the part. This is exactly the kind of restaurant I’d love to write about in the guidebook.”
Phil nodded, picking up on her segue. “Let’s look at your book again.”
He perused the book on Raleigh, nodding in some areas and frowning in others. Zoë pointed out her specific work, whether it had been editing or writing, and he read in silence for several minutes. Their wine arrived without further comment from the zombie, and she sipped her red and tried not to fret.
Phil closed the book and handed it back to her. “I’ll be frank. You are nearly perfect for the job. And it bodes well that you are not put off by the various customers we hope to reach. But I admit I haven’t been one hundred percent honest with you.”
At that point, time seemed to slow for Zoë. Four waiters had gathered around the table where the three burly men sat after devouring their meat. Two were dressed as zombies, one was much cleaner and his fangs indicated he was probably a vampire, and the fourth had some superb scaly makeup covering his face and hands. They all began to sing “Happy Birthday” to one of the men, who beamed and didn’t bother to wipe the juice from his steak off his face. A fifth waiter approached from the kitchen, this one wearing stuck-on demon horns and carrying…
Zoë swooned for a moment, a memory hitting her like a fist to the jaw. When her family had moved to the suburbs of North Carolina, she would often ride her bike around the development. During one mid-morning Sunday ride, she came across a scene that took her brain a full ten seconds to process. Nothing she saw was otherworldly, but it was so out of place in a peaceful suburb that she refused to see it. A family stood in the backyard watching a man butcher a deer they’d hung on their kids’ swing set. The skin lay in a discarded pile to the side, and the man approached the pink muscles and sinew and started to carve off hunks of venison with a long knife. Zoë stopped and stared and her brain attempted again to process, but it failed.
They’re slaughtering a deer. A deer. In the suburbs. A skinless deer is hanging RIGHT THERE.
Nope. Still the brain didn’t acknowledge. She moved on, worried the family would notice her blatant staring, and only about a minute later did her brain work out what had happened. She slammed on the brakes and toppled from her bike into a hydrangea bush, where she vomited, clutching her stomach and voiding her mother’s signature hash browns. She had not expected to see a skinless deer hanging from a child’s swing set, and when she did, her brain rejected it until forced to understand.
And her brain was rejecting what she saw now, utterly refusing to acknowledge that the demon waiter carried a terrarium that was half-full of hedgehogs. The little creatures moved against one another, each trying to get to the top. The mound positively writhed, and the men at the table watched eagerly. At the end of “Happy Birthday,” while everyone in the restaurant applauded, the waiter placed it in front of the man, who reached inside and grabbed a hedgehog. He opened his mouth impossibly wide—his head hadn’t been that big before, had it?—and popped the hedgehog in as if it were a marshmallow. He chewed and grinned and nodded to his companions, who both went grabbing for their own desserts.
This scene played out in front of Zoë’s eyes, and her brain tried to process it, but eventually it refused and it decided instead to focus back on Phil. Phil watched her with the same intent gaze he had fixed on her all night. He took a sip of his very thick red, the legs of the wine sliding into the glass as he righted it. His freckled face had gained a little color.
“Now do you understand?” he asked.
He smiled at her, showing teeth that slowly elongated into fangs. Zoë nodded once and then toppled slowly out of her chair as her brain decided that the best way to deal with the situation was to check out completely.
When Zoë opened her eyes, it was as if she were looking through a television. She had no emotional reaction, and felt slow and stupid. She was sitting awkwardly in the chair, unable to move, slumped oddly to the side.
Phil swirled the blood in his glass, contemplating it. “You’re interesting, Zoë. You went a completely different way than most humans do. Most deny it first, not even attempting to find a plausible explanation. I wonder if you’ve encountered others like me.”
She felt her head move from side to side. “I don’t think so.”
Eric shambled over and looked down at Zoë. “Are you going to eat her here, Mr. Rand, or should I prepare her to go?”
Zoë expected a jolt of adrenaline, but it didn’t come. Phil frowned. “Bring her some water. She will need it when I let her go.”
“So you won’t be dining on her?”
“No. I’ll have another glass, though, same vintage please.”
Eric helpfully propped her more upright in her chair, pushing her slightly so that she slumped against the wall instead of out of the chair. Phil handed the zombie his wineglass and he trudged off.
Phil tapped his finger on the table. “For this moment, you are mine,” he said, staring into her eyes.
“You’re the boss,” she answered, blinking.
“I want to ask you some questions, and I need you to be truthful to me. You will be under my control for only a few minutes.”
She frowned, realizing her face was answering some of her commands. “You don’t have to be so dramatic. I’ll tell you anything you want.” Her words were slow, though, as if she were drunk.
He tapped his finger again. “The truth is, hiring a human might be what we need, if you can take the stress. Do you have any phobias?”
“No.” Zoë rubbed her face, still disoriented.
“How do you work under extreme stress? Have you ever been in a position to find out?”
Zoë’s face stilled. “Yes,” she said softly. “I was terrified. I threw up. But I handled it the best I could. I guess.”
“Tell me what happened.”
“My boss seduced me. I didn’t know he was married. No one did. When his wife found out—” She stopped.
Don’t tell him. Something—instinct?—told her not to give him the details, and although it was an effort to resist, she managed it.
Phil pursed his lips over his fangs. “Are you in league with Public Works, do you have any history with zoëtism, fortune-telling, or anyone in coterie society?”
“Does a fing look swart to the zooloofills?”
Phil stared at her blankly. “I have no idea—”
“Exactly,” she interrupted. “I don’t know what you’re talking about either.”
Phil’s tongue ran over his fangs, and Zoë got the sense that it was a tell he used when he was thinking, not something that indicated his hunger. He tapped his finger on the table again. “How are you resisting me? All other humans have been malleable.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m being truthful. I just don’t want to tell you everything about me.”
“What do you have to hide?” he demanded.
“It’s not a matter of hiding something. I don’t need to hide the age I started my period, but you don’t need to know it. I just don’t want to tell you. You don’t need to know the model of my first car or the fact that I thought Lionel Ritchie rocked pretty hard when I was a kid. Although I did just tell you that. If you want to know everything about me, we’re going to have to be here a long time. I’ll tell you what you need to know.” Her eyelids drooped suddenly, exhaustion taking over. Keeping them open had taken almost as much effort as resisting him had.
“You don’t know how you’re resisting me,” he said slowly.
“Honestly, I don’t,” she said. “I wish I did.”
Eric brought Phil his refilled wineglass. “The bill, please, Eric, and have Ms. Stoll call me a cab.” He took a deep drink.
“As you wish,” the zombie said.
“Why are you asking all these questions? Don’t you want to know my history with publishing?” Zoë asked, looking at her napkin and fingering the seam. “What does my incident of dreadful decision-making with a married man have to do with anything?”
Phil put his hand on Raleigh Misconceptions. “No, I’m satisfied there. It truly is a remarkable book you’ve written. I needed to know if you’d fit in. I needed to know what scared you. Now, do you remember anything that’s happened tonight?”
“Sure. There are monsters here.”
“And how do you feel about that?”
“Scared. But no one has threatened me. If you wanted to eat me, you probably would have done it by now.”
Phil dabbed a bit of blood off his lips with his napkin and put it on the table, neatly folded. “Zoë, you’re too cool, too quick. We need you on our side before Public Works finds out about you. I fully expect that after this initial shock, you will accept our world with as much grace as a human can.”
Eric brought the bill and Phil paid it with two bright red-and-yellow bills. He led the groggy Zoë out of the restaurant, waving to Sylvia as he left.
He helped her into the cab. She went along pleasantly, feeling rather drunk. As they pulled away from the curb, she said, “You’re a vampire.”
He smiled wanly. “And how do you feel about that?”
“It’s a lot to take in. Are we going somewhere for dessert?”
“No. I’m taking you home. You will have a job offer tomorrow. I can give you a day to sleep on it.”
She frowned. “Now wait a second, I never said I’d take the job. I mean, you eat people, don’t you?”
He smiled at her, his face looking rather handsome now that the blood had given him a ruddy complexion. “Now, Zoë, you’ve already learned far more than the average human. I can’t give you any more information unless you agree to work for me.”
She felt she should be freaking out more. Or at least fainting again. But the calm Phil had forced on her was still washing over her, leaving her pleasantly buzzed and peaceful. Monsters in the city? Sure. No problem.
The cab screeched to a halt in front of her building. How had they gotten to Brooklyn so fast? She shook her head. “This is too weird.”
“It’s been a pleasure, Zoë. I look forward to your answer tomorrow.” Phil took her limp hand and shook it. She stared at him blankly. He got out of the cab, walked around, and opened the door for her. “This is your address, is it not? It was on your résumé.”
“Oh. Yeah. Right.” Zoë let him help her out of the car, wondering when she’d be able to move on her own. Phil got back into the cab, and it roared down the street.
Reality snapped back into place as she stood alone on the street. Reality and a sense of acidic hunger. Zoë put her hand to her stomach, where a glass of red wine sat alone and forlorn. “Hey. You were supposed to buy me dinner. Asshole.”
“Bad date?” asked a voice behind her.
She jumped and turned, a small scream escaping from her lips. Zombies? Frankensteins? Harpies? “Jesus, don’t do that!”
Excerpted from The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty Copyright © 2013 by Mur Lafferty. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
With really interesting restaurant recs and sightseeing suggestions, and unusual (to say the least) takes on the Statue of Liberty and Grant's Tomb, it's got everything you need to know for the trip of a lifetimeor longer! And with the smart and intrepid Zoe to show you around, how could you possibly get in trouble? I give it 5 Michelin stars and 8 Zombie Planet Thumbs Up (with real thumbs)!
Meet the Author
Mur Lafferty is a writer, podcast producer, gamer, runner, and geek. She is the host of the podcast I Should Be Writing and the co-host of Ditch Diggers. She is the winner of the 2013 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She is addicted to computer games, Zombies, Run!, and Star Wars LEGO. She lives in Durham, NC with her husband and daughter.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I've been a fan of Mur Lafferty's podcast, I Should Be Writing, for a while now, I've listened to her Marco and the Red Granny and Playing For Keeps (both available on Podiobooks), and was very excited when she sold her first book to a publisher. Mur loves her fans, so one of the things she did was podcast her book for free. We're on an extremely tight budget right now, so although I wanted to buy the book I had to listen to the podcast and console myself that I would buy the sequel. The best thing about The Shambling Guide is that it's fun and fast-paced, and the main characters are colorful and engaging. I particularly liked Morgen the water sprite and the baker at the cafe, they stole the show at least half the time for me. There was snappy dialogue, descriptions that set the scene just enough without taking away the readers' ability to fill in some details on their own, and enough humor to make me chuckle on a number of occasions. I had a blast listening to it. Of course having the author read the book is an extra bonus because they put the emphasis where they want it to be, and the whole experience feels more intimate than when there's a professional voice actor in the picture. Lafferty's world-building skills deserve a special mention. There are zombies, vampires, golums, all of which roughly follow the traditional lore of being dangerous creatures, but the author has made them her own and humanized them along the way. Of course this happens when you are looking at them from inside their world and witness their weaknesses and their struggles to make it in a world where nobody's supposed to know about them. There's a lot to recommend this book, yet there was enough that didn't work for me to spoil the experience. Some characters came to life and some were pretty flat. Take Arthur the love interest, he was just a generic hot guy with a bunch of preconceived notions. The protagonist, Zoë, is too comfortable too soon in her new job and with her co-workers. Yeah, the pay is good and she needed the job, but she is almost blasé when it comes to the world of monsters where she suddenly finds herself. Would you be totally cool if you found out that your boss is a vampire (not vegetarian either) and that every one of your coworkers can kill you without exerting themselves too much? I know I wouldn't. There was a sex scene, which, although well-executed, didn't have to be there and didn't really do anything to move the story forward or develop any of the characters. (For fairness' sake I do have to admit that this is my usual complaint about sex scenes, and unless the book is a romance I'd rather authors kept them out of the story. After all, what exactly has to happen between the sheets to serve the story or character development? Off the top of my head, not too many options there.) The mystery at the center of the story was interesting and I was surprised to find out who the villain was, but there was so much going on during the final battle that frankly I lost track of it all and just waited for it to be over. If it was a paper book I would've skimmed the pages and gotten to the end. All in all I thought her shorter works were tighter and therefore more effective, the novel format allowed for too much room for digression. The Shambling Guide is a fun read and if you've had a stressful stretch it's just the thing to get your mind off the problems. Get the audio book to give you a charge for the work day or to help you unwind during your commute in the evening. It's not great, but for all its faults it is good enough to make me want to pick up the sequel, Ghost Train to New Orleans, and to hope that there will be a third book. After all, I believe writers get better with every new novel. Unless their work becomes formulaic, but that's a topic for another time.
This is the first book I've read by the author, though I've heard of her for years. I am so sorry I haven't been paying attention! I can't wait for the next book in the series to come out, New Orleans sounds like it'll be awesome.
Zoe has moved back to her home city, New York City, after a terrible incident with her last boss and...his unbeknownst to her, wife. She has some money to live off of, but needs a job. She is a wiz at travel guides and the book store and coffee shop she stumbles into has the perfect add on it's board. Zoe feels she's a perfect fit. The owner...not so much. Zoe learns of the special employees and that she might be in mortal danger from them. These beings are all through the city. Then the danger she comes upon with the city as a whole. Zoe tries to balance the attacks on her, find out who and why they are after New York City, and finish a layout for the new Travelers guide all at the same time. Mur takes New York City and twists what we know to the supernatural lives as well. What we know as one meaning also has another to the supernatural world. We start with the implications and feelings there is something off with a few places. We are human and the supernatural do hide themselves rather well, but we the readers are looking for it and see the small flickers in their glamour. ;) The first chapter left me wanting more. I was curious to what the world is like behind the curtains we don't know are there. I did get the feel there were some supernatural in the world. And when Zoe was talking about the publishing company; on yes, something was going on. Zoe's personality is perfect. One that takes things in stride, and what she learns about what's been in New York City all these years, and everywhere, trips her up for a heartbeat but she goes on. She needs the job to badly and finds it all interesting at the same time. I love her thinking process on the monsters in the city. They'd been here for some time, so why was it different from last week? I love seeing Zoe interact with the "monsters" and all that is present in the world. The connections of Zoe's life to what's happening around the Coterie is not viewed as a coincidence by the Coterie. There is more to it. Then we meet Zoe's neighbor, nice young man, Arthur. But Arthur has a secret as well. I love that we get Zoe's story and clips from her guide book at the end of each chapter. The clips give an insight to what we've already learned, places we've visited, and what's to come. This story has a blend of everything here. Fun. Supernatural. Story that grows as we get more and more acquainted with the world. And a spark of relationships. Definitely a must buy series for me! Mur is wonderful at weaving fun into a story. She has a great cast of characters and twists things with a supernatural element along with her quick one liners that make me chuckle. Mur weaves a whole system to the supernatural world. One that keeps it secret to the human world as well. Thank you Mur, and Orbit, for podcasting this book. I loved every minute of listening to it and HAD to get the book! I want this to show off and go back through. This fun humored read and story is one I'll suggest to many for the fun and world. You'll be flipping the pages to learn what next is in this world and the humor that will come with it. Then, you'll find you are sucked in to a story that you didn't see coming.
Good book, with fun characters, but not as great as I'd hoped it would be. It contradicts itself several times, which is annoying (or arguably one of the characters does, so maybe it's just him, but none of the other characters pick up it, suggesting it's not). A fun read, despite the contradictions and occasional plot hole, but it's definitely less 'Zoe is putting together a supernatural travel book' and more 'Zoe fights monsters, and occasionally claims to be a book editor'. Also, heads up for the sudden sex scene in the middle of the book, it's brief but graphic enough that I wouldn't give this book to a 13 year old. If your teenager wants to read this, I suggest reading it yourself first and deciding if you think it's appropriate.
I been listening to Mur Lafferty's podcast for years. When I heard the first chapter of this book from her feed, I was hooked. Mur is a very talented writer, don't pass up a chance to get this book. You will be hooked as well.
I read Lafferty's _Playing for Keeps_ and loved it, so I decided to give this book a try. It is very different, but just as good. The world is very fully realized, and the characters are diverse and interesting. Great for fans of the UK "Being Human".
It's nice to be getting urban fantasy that is somewhere near as diverse as actual urban reality. Coterie presence is a change, but New York City populated by only straight white people would ACTUALLY be jarring. Kudos to Lafferty for paying attention.
Check it out. A very different story line. Characters are interesting and fun.
At first I wasn't sure about the book, but the title intrigued me. Am reading book 2 now and can't wait for the next one!
This book follows the shamblers guide to New York and is a great sequel and stands pretty well on its own too.
Fun urban fantasy with an engaging heroine, a tour book writer & editor. Zoe's returned home to NYC after a disastrous affair. Between dragonish booksellers, peculiar bakers, and a run-in with a vampire, she falls into the perfect job: writing a travel guide for the supernaturals. There are introductory bits to each chapter with amusing anecdotes for the traveler, and an exciting adventure/romance for Zoe.
A highly enjoyable book. I found Zoe and the supporting characters to be highly believable. Zoe doesn’t make all the right decisions, and she doesn’t come through the battles miraculously unscathed. Instead, she muddles through and manages to come out right in the end because she’s willing to make friends in unlikely places. I love the concept of a travel guide for the coterie and the excerpts at the end of each chapter were some of my favorite parts of the book. Lafferty also does a great job with the coterie – no sparkling vampires or mindless zombies here. Nothing too deep, but it’s fun and exciting, and I’m curious to see what Zoe does next in Ghost Train to New Orleans
This book has everything one expects in a modern urban fantasy. The plot moves along nicely, the protagonist is a reasonably smart, tough chick with a little hidden twist, magic doesn't entirely hang together with itself or reality as we generally know it. Speaking as a native New Yorker, the book is peculiarly lacking in New York flavor, despite presenting that flavor as a big element of the plot's own raison d'être. Enjoyable but not groundbreaking; recommended as an easy intro or a fan's regular fare for the genre.
Walks into his house and sighs