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Zombies Sold Separately
By Cheyenne McCray
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2011 Cheyenne McCray
All rights reserved.
Sunday, December 19
Icy wind and water surged around me as my hair slapped my cheeks. Wind spun so fast, fierce, and cold that a growing storm roared with power.
Hail stung my face and arms. Rain splattered me and rolled down my cheeks and skin. Water blurred my eyesight.
Thumps on hard surfaces. Loud crashes. The sound of smashing.
An object glanced off my forehead as it spun in the storm.
Hurricane. I was trapped in a hurricane.
So hard to breathe. Water in my nose. In my mouth.
No sound came out as I tried to scream.
The storm wasn't natural.
Not natural at all.
It wasn't supposed to be happening.
The storm wasn't natural ...
Because it was caused by ... me.
My elemental magic. Air and water.
"Nyx!" I shouted over the shrieking storm. I clenched my fists and dug my nails into my palms. Fought to gain control over my magic. "Stop!"
My control over the elements had never been so fragile.
Again I screamed into the wind. Tightened my muscles.
With all I had I grasped the reins of my magic.
The storm ended like a car slamming into a concrete barrier. Things that had been spinning in the storm crashed to a hard surface, as they hit my wood flooring.
Shock immobilized me. I blinked water out of my eyes, and my surroundings came into focus. I was in my bedroom in my apartment in Manhattan.
For several moments I sat on my sodden mattress and stared at the devastation around me.
How had I lost control in my sleep? I wasn't a child. Only younglings would do something like this without near the destruction I had just caused.
Without realizing I was doing it, I reached up and touched the collar around my neck that signified my Drow station in life. No, I was nowhere near being a youngling. I was of age by Drow standards. By Earth Otherworld standards I was fully an adult.
I looked around me. Almost everything in my room was smashed and broken. Trinkets I had purchased since I had moved from the Drow realm to New York City were cracked, broken, torn, shredded.
As a well-paid Tracker and PI, and thanks to my wealthy Drow heritage, I could replace everything that had been ruined. But I couldn't replace the memories that accompanied a good many of the objects.
I let my hand fall away from my collar and it splashed in the water pooled around me on my mattress. I inhaled and exhaled with long, slow, deliberate breaths.
Even though Dark Elves don't get cold easily, the storm had chilled me enough that goose bumps broke out along my skin. I shivered.
The same one I'd had countless times since I was young. The worst part of the nightmare was seeing an elder, a man with long, graying red hair in a world with lavender-streaked skies. The vision of the man made me sick.
Unlike every other time I'd had this nightmare, this time my entire being had reacted to the nightmare. It had never happened before. I'd never woken in the middle of a storm I had caused to happen.
My heartbeat slowed while my mind started to clear.
A sick sensation like thick, black sludge weighted my insides. It reminded me of just weeks ago, when I'd been sentenced to death by a Vampire. The thought had bile rising in my throat. I didn't want to think about that. Not at all.
I moved my palms to my belly, over my soaked lingerie. I lowered my head and closed my eyes.
It had been a long time since I'd had such intense nightmares — nightmares that I barely remembered when I woke.
During most of my adolescence I'd woken up screaming, wind whipping around my room from my elemental magic. Sometimes the room would be filled with mist. Sometimes a slow, drizzling rain.
Never a storm.
Mother would come in, rock me until I stopped crying and the rain ceased or mist cleared or wind subsided.
When I got older the nightmares came less frequently. I gained control over my elements and woke with nothing more than a sore throat from screaming.
Even though I never remembered the dreams, somehow I knew they had all been the same.
Once I came of age at twenty-five, they stopped.
I frowned and opened my eyes, blinked more wetness away as I raised my head. The nightmares started again two weeks ago. Over two years since they had stopped.
"Why now?" I said, the sound of my voice loud in my bedroom that was still, save for the sound of water dripping from the doorframes.
The sludge in my insides only worsened.
Winter sunlight slashed through the French doors and into my bedroom. I stared at the fractured pattern reflected in the sheen of water on my hardwood floor.
Light here, in the Earth Otherworld, often means renewal, rebirth.
In the lives of the Dark Elves, light means death. Death to any Drow who dared to go aboveground during the day.
To all Drow but me.
The mattress made squishing sounds as I shoved the comforter off my legs. I found a place on the floor where nothing was splintered or broken, slid out of bed, and got to my feet. Water ran down my body in rivulets, joining the puddles on my floor.
Had Kali gotten caught in the storm? I hoped not. My blue Persian would never forgive me.
I stepped through the water and felt melting bits of hail beneath my feet. My floor would be ruined if I didn't take care of it. Other than my elemental magic, I knew little Elvin magic, but I did know the word for "clean."
"Avanna," I said and the room dried, including my hair, skin, and the lingerie I wore. My things still lay broken on the floor and I wished I knew an Elvin word for "repair."
I stepped over a broken crystal clock, grabbed a shortie robe, and slipped it on.
A frame with a photograph caught my attention and I stooped to pick it up. The glass had shattered but it didn't look as if the picture of Adam and me in Belize was ruined.
I smiled and traced my human lover's image with my fingertip as my heart skipped. Love for him flowed through my veins warm and sweet as I took in his boyish grin and that dimple I loved. In the sunshine of Belize he looked sexy, adorable, and intensely masculine all at the same time.
I set the picture with its broken frame on my nightstand where my lamp should have been. It, too, was on the floor in shambles.
Avoiding everything sharp and pointy, I walked toward the window next to the French doors leading to the balcony from my bedroom.
Ice-laced sunlight touched my face and body as I peered out the window and the cold made me shiver again.
By day I look a lot like my human mother with my fair skin and sapphire-blue eyes. The exception is that my hair is black with blue highlights and hers a pale shade of blond.
When the sun sets, my skin turns a pale, pale shade of amethyst and my hair a deep cobalt blue. When it's dark I look more like my father with my pointed ears, small fangs, and Drow pigmented skin and hair.
I am not human then and have no choice but to avoid humans who know nothing about the paranormal world. Which is just about everyone.
My mind filled with the fragmented emotions both the nightmare and the storm had left me with. A storm in my house. How had I lost control like that?
I pushed aside the sheer curtain and the glass felt cool against my nose as I stared out at the street from my apartment.
It had snowed last night. From the corner of my apartment at 104th and Central Park West, I had clear views of Central Park from the terrace. No one from Otherworld is used to snow because there is no change of seasons there.
I loved Manhattan. I loved all the seasons. They were each beautiful and unique in their own way.
The Earth Otherworld holiday season had been pleasant so far and Christmas was just days away. The city was locked in winter's grasp and everything was white and beautiful.
Sometimes I tugged on a jacket and boots, and waded through the new powder while throwing snowballs at statues, taunting the Gargoyles hidden inside them.
Today the weight in my belly grew heavier as imprints of the nightmare pressed against my soul. Dread, terror, anger, pain ... the kind of pain that makes a person's heart hurt as if someone close to them has died.
I tried to swallow but my throat was too dry.
For the first time the image of a face with blurred features shimmered at the edge of my consciousness. Somehow I knew it was the face of someone I cared for.
I brought my hands to my chest. The contours of the image seemed so familiar.
And then the ghostly face was gone, as if it hadn't been there at all.CHAPTER 2
The pungent scent of spices rising from the manor's herb garden overpowered even the exotic perfume of the woman kneeling at the Sorcerer's feet.
He had always favored Maia and had always enjoyed her company.
Maia's warm autumn skin and dark eyes made her so exquisite that few could compare to her. Sunlight gleamed on her long black hair that lay perfectly over her shoulders. The air in the garden was so still that not a leaf stirred, much less a strand of her hair.
Unlike most of his people, she had not outwardly started the change — her skin remained unblemished, her eyes clear. When she walked she was a thing of beauty, her movements fluid and graceful.
At this moment in time she was perfect.
And that word, almost, meant everything.
"Please, Lord Amory," she whispered as she turned her tear-streaked face up to him. She clenched her hands against her belly. "It was an accident. I did not intend for —"
He held his hand up to silence her. She immediately bowed her head and looked at his feet again.
"It is what it is, Maia." His heart ached for what he must do now. "Our people are dying. Your body will begin the change now."
The young woman's sobs were harsh, loud.
Amory let out a sigh. "The baby will take your essence before it dies. Soon your body will be only a Shell, Maia. You would not be yourself."
"No." Her words came in a frantic burst as she met his eyes. "It will be different here in the Doran Otherworld than it was in Kerra. I know it."
Amory shook his head. "The Doran Otherworld has the same effect on our people as Kerra."
"What about the new Otherworld you have discovered?" The young woman's voice had a hint of hopefulness to it.
The Sorcerer studied Maia, wishing things could be different. "The Earth Otherworld would have allowed you to live and to keep your baby — had you conceived there. In your new body."
He knelt and cupped her face in his palm. With his thumb he brushed a tear from her cheek. "But you became pregnant here. Your body and the baby are now under attack. All is ruined."
"You are a powerful Sorcerer, Lord Amory." Her throat worked as she swallowed, her eyes wide with panic. "You can fix this. You can do anything."
He slowly shook his head. "I cannot."
"Send me there. To the Earth Otherworld." Maia sounded almost hysterical and he knew it was time to end this. "Please send me there."
Pain gripped Amory's heart as if someone squeezed it in his fist. Pain for this young woman and her unborn babe. Pain for all of the suffering of his people that had only grown worse despite his search for a new Otherworld that wouldn't kill them.
"The only way you could have survived was to move your essence to a new Host and only if you were not pregnant," Amory said. "You cannot move your baby to your new Host body. It is impossible. The child would remain in the belly of your Shell. A Shell is a creature with no essence, no mind, no will but to kill, maim, destroy. The baby would die."
"Please let us try, Lord Amory." Maia's tears flowed down her beautiful face and spilled onto her gown. "Maybe it will work for me and my baby."
"I am sorry." He moved his palm from her cheek and now had his hand splayed over her entire face. His skin was so dark that it made her flesh appear even more autumn-kissed. He clenched his fingers in a tight grip and dug his nails into her skin. "I am sorry."
Maia screamed as he did what must be done.
The Sorcerer infused her entire being with his power.
He burned away all of the infection that would have taken her life. As magic glowed around her body in hues of orange and gold, her internal organs started to fail and she began to die.
He was only speeding up what she would have gone through over the next months, ending her and the baby's suffering in minutes instead of days.
Maia's screams echoed throughout the gardens, reverberating off the stone wall behind him.
And then she was silent.
Such a sweet, beautiful woman ... and now nothing.
Only the pile of clothing lying at his feet and her cremated remains.
"I did what was best." Amory spoke to himself as he stood. "What I had to."
What he'd had to do too many times.
Amory caught the attention of the gardener and pointed to the pile of rags at his feet. "Take care of this."
The gardener gave a slight bow before going to the water pump. He would burn the rags that had once been Maia's dress and then he would wash away her cremated body so that her remains would join others'. It was a place where Amory had been forced to put many out of their misery.
He walked up the path to the back steps of the manor. As he entered the cool interior, he swept his hand over the top of his bald head and felt nothing but smooth, warm skin. It still jarred him a little to not feel his own long, brittle graying red hair, to not see his own reflection staring back at him whenever he looked in the mirror.
But this body was young, strong, powerful. He felt alive again. With his magic, once he was living in the Earth Otherworld with his people, this body would never die.
The interior of the manor was dark and cool compared to the brightness and warmth of the day. It was as he preferred it to be. He sensed his servants at hand but they kept well out of sight and would only appear the moment he needed one of them. They were well trained.
When Amory reached the Room of Life, he paused at the threshold of the cavern. Thousands upon thousands of egg-shaped stones glittered and sparkled, reflecting the light of dozens of candles that were lit throughout the cavern.
In that place, the life within the stones gave him renewed vigor. It made it easier for him to let go of the pain of extinguishing a single life only moments ago.
Amory took the steps one at a time until he was inside the cavern that was deep below the manor. He strode to a far wall where he kept larger stones that were closer to the size of ducks' eggs than hens'.
Amory picked up one of the larger stones and smiled as he held it to eye level. The front of the stone was flat, like a window.
He called to the magic of the stone, willing it to bring to him what he wished to see.
Manhattan's skyline filled his view.
The Sorcerer smiled.CHAPTER 3
Tuesday, December 21
Adam would love the red silky panties and bra I slipped into — lingerie that Kali hadn't a chance to shred. Over the lingerie, I pulled on a pair of black jeans and a red cashmere sweater, followed by my black Elvin-made boots. Adam would be here soon and I couldn't wait to see him.
It was a beautiful snowy Tuesday afternoon, two days after the incident, and Adam and I were going out to admire the holiday decorations and enjoy some hot chocolate.
Preparing for Adam improved my mood considerably. This morning I'd woken terrified, shivering, my head filled with more images that were like hollow specters, no substance at all.
I'd felt some relief that I didn't cause another hurricane in my bedroom. It had taken me all day Sunday just to clean up the mess since my maid, a Shifter named Dahlia, was off for the weekend.
New lamps were parked on the nightstands on either side of my bed, the lamps carved wood and painted white to match my blue and white bedroom. Far more sturdy than glass. I'd slipped the photograph of Adam and me into a new white latticed wood frame and put it next to the lamp on the side of the bed where I slept.
Not a lot had had survived the storm so my room was pretty bare. Paintings had to be reframed, the vanity chair leg fixed, and the glass in my vanity mirror replaced.
Could have been worse. My entire apartment could have suffered rather than just my bedroom.
I glanced in the mirror and figured I looked all right. After I pulled my hair back and knotted it, I grabbed one of my red Dolce & Gabbana purses out of the closet and picked out a black leather Burberry jacket.
A familiar knock at my door made me smile and I walked out of my bedroom and went to open it.
When I reached the door, I hesitated only a moment as I thought about the Metamorph who had briefly fooled me into thinking he was Adam and whom I had kissed. The memory made me shudder. I shook off the creepy feeling and opened the door.
Any other thought vanished when I saw Adam standing before me, one hand braced on the doorframe. He wore his brown leather bomber jacket, opened just enough for me to see a forest green T-shirt that hugged his quarterback build and was tucked into a pair of faded blue jeans.
The corner of his mouth turned up in an adorable smile and his brown eyes glittered. His brown hair looked even more tousled than usual and I caught his leather and coffee scent from where I stood.
Adam grasped me around my waist and swung me into the apartment. "Hey, honey."
"Hey, you." I dropped my purse and jacket. I wrapped my arms around his neck and laughed as he whirled me around.
The door shut behind us, leaving us in the total and complete privacy of my apartment.
Excerpted from Zombies Sold Separately by Cheyenne McCray. Copyright © 2011 Cheyenne McCray. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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