**Visit Tynga’s Reviews today for her Beauty and the Beast Fantastic Fable from Lisa Desrochers & a chance to win ORIGINAL SIN**
Nancy Holzner is here today to share a very cool version of the Cinderella fable ~ Zombie style. I always love visiting Deadtown. It’s one of my favorite urban fantasy worlds. The series is teeming with fascinating characters, excellent worldbuilding, a kick-ass heroine and intriguing Welsh mythology. BLOODSTONE, the third book in the series, will be available on September 27th from Ace Books. Thanks to Nancy and the wonderful team over at Penguin/Ace, three of you who comment on this post will win a copy of the book! See details below
They call it Deadtown: the city’s quarantined section for its inhuman and undead residents. Most humans stay far from its borders—but Victory Vaughn, Boston’s only professional demon slayer, isn’t exactly human…
Vicky is one of the Cerddorion, a race of shapeshifters who trace their lineage back to the goddess Ceridwen. With the help of her teenage zombie apprentice, Tina, Vicky kills other people’s personal demons for a living. In this story, Vicky takes on the role of fairy godmother to help Tina fulfill her wish that, just for a moment, even a zombie can be the belle of the ball.
A Deadtown Story
I let my copy of Russom’s Demoniacal Taxonomy fall onto the table with a bang. We sat in the lounge of the group home my apprentice shares with several other teenagers, using the battered ping-pong table as our desk. The only reason Tina wasn’t in school right now was the independent study she’s doing with me on demon-fighting. Tonight, though, there wasn’t much “study” happening.
Tina had just given wrong answers to three questions in a row. The last time she’d been that unprepared, it was because she’d decided to become a pop star and make demon slaying her “backup career.” So what would it be this time, I wondered. Fashion model? Gossip blogger? Celebutante? With Tina, you never know.
She folded her greenish-gray hands in her lap, inspecting them, not raising her crimson eyes to meet mine. She shrugged. “Nothing.”
Despite the fact that she’s one of Boston’s two thousand zombies, a victim of the plague that killed humans and then reanimated them three days later, Tina has always had ambition. It’s one of the things I like about the kid. Zombified at fifteen when she and her BFF Jenna had skipped school to go shopping, she’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But she’d never let that slow her down. She couldn’t change her past, but she was determined to take control of her future.
“My little sister is graduating from middle school tomorrow.” Tina’s tone was so conversational I thought she was changing the subject, until I saw the expression on her face. Most norms who look at a zombie don’t see much beyond the death’s head grimace and spongy skin the color of decay. But I’m not a norm. And I knew Tina well enough to know that she was telling me her problem.
“That’s nice,” I said noncommittally, hoping she’d continue.
“My parents are giving Alyssa a party. A cookout, like the one I had back when I graduated, with a live band and everything. My whole family will be there—grandparents, a ton of aunts and uncles and cousins, people from the neighborhood. My dad even applied for a permit so I could go.”
Three years ago, when the plague hit, Boston dealt with its zombies by barricading the quarantine zone, turning it into a ghetto for all paranormals. Now, any zombie who wants to leave Deadtown has to be sponsored by a nonzombie. No sponsor, no permit, which meant a lot of zombies never got to leave. It had been months, in fact, since Tina’s family had last taken her out.
“That’s great!” I said. “You must be excited.” But Tina didn’t look excited. She looked like the only girl in high school without a date to the prom.
“I was. But my dad called today. He said his car’s in the shop and he can’t give me a ride. I asked him why he didn’t just take the T to come and get me, and he said it’d take too long. He’ll be too busy with setting up and guests and stuff.”
I thought about tomorrow’s schedule. Since I work nights, like most of Deadtown I sleep during the day. But I wouldn’t mind losing a few hours of sleep to help the kid out, especially when her problem was so easily solved. “I can give you a ride.”
“Really?” For a moment, hope lit Tina’s face. But almost as quickly as the spark flared, it extinguished. “Yeah, but the permit is in Dad’s name. He has to be the one to pick me up.”
“What time is your sister’s party?”
“The graduation ceremony is at noon, but I can skip that. The party’s at two.”
I checked my watch. It was only ten o’clock. “I’ll go home and apply for a permit online,” I said, standing. Since Tina had become my apprentice, I’d regularly taken her out of Deadtown to accompany me on jobs. It would be a matter of minutes to get the permit approved. City Hall’s Paranormal Affairs division stayed open on Deadtown hours—sunset to sunrise.
Tina bounced with excitement. So much so that she bounced right out of her chair and threw her arms around me. “Oh my God! I feel like my fairy godmother just, like, floated in through the window or something!”
“Hmph.” I pictured Cinderella’s plump, white-haired benefactress from the Disney film. Not exactly the role I’d audition for. “Well, I don’t have my magic wand with me tonight, so you’d better go decide what you’re going to wear.”
Tina jumped up and flew across the lounge, moving as fast as her stiff legs would carry her. In the doorway, she turned around. “Um, sorry about not being prepared and all. Can I have a do-over on the fire demons?”
I scowled in my best impersonation of my aunt Mab, who’d trained me. Mab didn’t believe in do-overs. In the field, Mab would say, a demon never gives you a second chance But Tina looked so happy and so hopeful that the scowl melted from my face like a Popsicle left out in the sun. “All right,” I said. “But next time, you’d better get every question right.”
* * *
I picked Tina up at one thirty the next afternoon. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, and like any zombie out during daylight hours she was bundled up to the eyeballs: floppy hat, sunglasses, long coat, gloves. Not an inch of skin was vulnerable to the sunlight that could cause the orange, pitted (and irreversible) skin condition called zombie sunburn. Tina took off the hat and sunglasses so we could clear the checkpoints out of Deadtown and into human-controlled Boston. And then we were on our way.
“Joey Tomasino would love your Jag. He liked cool-looking cars.” Tina leaned back against the leather seat and ran a finger across the dashboard. “I wonder if Joey will be there. His sister is, like, Alyssa’s best friend.”
“Was Joey Tomasino your boyfriend?”
“Joey wasn’t anybody’s boyfriend.” Tina heaved a dramatic sigh. “But, yeah, I had a wicked crush on him. That day I went into Boston and got zombified—it was because I was shopping for a dress to wear to this dance that was coming up at our school. I thought maybe Joey was thinking maybe about asking me. But even if he didn’t, I knew he’d be there, so I wanted to look hot.” She pulled off her gloves, and then removed her coat, balled it up, and stuck it under her seat. “This is the dress I bought that day. I never did get a chance to wear it. Me and Jenna left the store and walked straight into the stupid plague.”
I glanced over. Tina’s dress was Barbie-pink satin, strapless, short, and fitted. “I hope you’re wearing good sunblock.”
“Yeah, I used a whole bottle of, like, two million SPF or whatever.” Tina pulled out a mirror and reapplied her lip gloss. She smacked her lips and viewed herself from different angles. The greenish foundation she wore smoothed out her skin, even though nothing would get rid of the greenish tinge.
She put the compact away and settled back in her seat. We drove northward in a silence broken only by her directions.
In Malden, we turned onto a side street and Tina told me to slow down. She leaned forward in her seat. “There!” She pointed to the right. “There’s my house! Just park anywhere.”
Tina’s family lived in a small Cape Cod–style house, turned sideways on its narrow lot, with white siding and black shutters. I pulled over in front of the driveway. Beyond the carport, I could see people milling around in the back yard. Some teen pop song blared, the bass line pulsing right through the car.
“So when do you want me to pick you up—a couple of hours?” Normally, a permit holder has to stay with the zombie at all times. But the permit Tina’s dad had taken out was still valid, so she could be here on that one while I found a coffee shop.
Tina stopped halfway out of the car. “You have to come with me.”
Um, right. Hanging around the graduation party of a 13-year-old I didn’t know was not my idea of a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon. “Sorry, Cinderella.” I shook my head. “Don’t you remember the story? As fairy godmother, my job is to get you to the ball. Nobody expects the fairy godmother to join the party.”
Tina pulled her legs back into the car and shut the door. She twirled a strand of hair around her finger, biting her lip.
“Oh, Tina.” Suddenly, it was all clear. “You didn’t tell them you were coming, did you?” Whether or not Tina’s father had actually applied for a permit, he’d been making excuses about the car. There it was, parked in the carport. Tina’s family didn’t want her at the party.
“Please, Vicky?” Tina’s hand gripped my arm. “I’m going in, whether you come with me or not. I have to. You don’t have to stay long. Just walk in with me until I feel, you know, more at home.” She looked at the small house on its tiny lot. “This used to be my home.”
How could I argue with her? I put the Jag in gear and drove down the block to find an empty space.
Tina didn’t say a word as she tottered in her high-heeled sandals along the cracked sidewalk. The smell of grilling hamburgers and hot dogs filled the air. At the driveway, we stopped. She looked up at the dormer windows. With a shaking hand she smoothed her hair. “I hope Joey Tomasino isn’t here,” she said in a small voice. Then she squared her shoulders and walked toward the music, down the driveway and into the back yard.
The song ended, followed by scattered applause. Then all sound ceased. I was only a couple of steps behind Tina, but by the time I came up beside her she was the object of three dozen hostile stares.
Tina flipped back her hair. “Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad.” She turned to a group of girls on the portable dance floor in the middle of the yard. “Congratulations, Alyssa.”
Tina’s parents offered the barest of nods. Her sister whispered to a friend. Then Tina’s mother pressed a napkin to her face and ran into the house. After ten very long seconds of utter silence, the music started up again, something bright and ridiculously bouncy. The girls started dancing. As if by agreement, every person at the party turned away from Tina. It was like she wasn’t even there.
Zombies eat. It’s what they do best, especially when they’re feeling nervous. Tina went behind the crowd, walking over to the picnic table that held a huge spread of food. Three people scurried away from the table at her approach. She picked up a big bowl of potato salad and started shoveling it into her mouth with the serving spoon.
I stood beside Tina and scanned the crowd. If there was going to be trouble, I knew whose side I’d fight on. I wasn’t sure who’d yelled at Tina—possibly the guy in the New York Yankees cap who sneered from a safe distance. I hoped it was him. In this neighborhood of Red Sox fans, that hat would get his ass kicked for him. I wouldn’t have to lift a finger.
Tina acted like nobody had said a word. She finished the potato salad and put down the bowl. She used a napkin to wipe a smear of mayonnaise from her chin, then calmly fixed her lip gloss. When the band started the next song, she blinked. “I love this song!” she exclaimed. And she headed straight to the middle of the dance floor.
The dancers scattered as though someone had dropped a bomb into their midst. Tina danced. She shimmied and twirled and shook her hips, using some of the choreographed dance moves she’d learned during her brief career as a pop singer. She had the entire ten-by-ten dance floor to herself, and she used every inch.
Watching her, I wanted to give Tina a hug and tell her everything would be all right. But how could I, when it was so clear that nothing would be all right—not really—ever again? Fairy godmothers don’t exist. And if they did, there are some things that even a magic wand can’t fix.
Life isn’t a fairy tale. Nobody gets out alive—forget about happily ever after.
It was time to go. I’d get Tina—show these jerks that somebody cares about her—and we’d stop for ice cream on the way home. Okay, so ice cream wouldn’t make everything better, but at least it was a place to start. As I pushed my way to the dance floor, I may have shoved Tina’s heckler a little hard. Oops. At least I said, “Excuse me.” Or maybe it was “Get the hell out of my way.” Close enough.
The music had switched to something slow. Tina stood on the dance floor, her eyes closed, swaying. Before I could get to her, someone stepped in my way. A tall teenage kid with black hair. Tina’s eyes flew open as he touched her arm.
“Dance with me?” he asked.
“Joey,” she smiled. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Joey Tomasino put his arms around Tina. She rested her head on his chest, and together they did that high-school slow dance—swaying together gently, leaning into each other, turning in a slow circle. Like there was nothing in the world besides the two of them and the music. When the song finished, Joey put his hands on Tina’s shoulders and held her at arm’s length.
He gave a low whistle. “Nice dress.”
“Want me to get you a hamburger?”
“No, thanks. I have to go. My mentor is waiting for me.” She nodded in my direction. Joey turned around. He gave me a crooked smile and a brief wave. “Anyway,” Tina continued, “if I don’t leave now the Jag will turn into a pumpkin.”
“That’s your car? Sweet!”
Tina stepped away. “See you, Joey.”
“Yeah, see ya.” He stuck his hands in his pockets as Tina left the dance floor. “Hey, Tina?” he called, and she turned back to him. “I, uh, just wanted to say that things were a lot more fun when you were around.”
She blew him a kiss, then walked over to me. “Glowing” isn’t a description I’d normally use for a zombie, but at that moment, it worked for Tina.
The crowd parted to let us through. No one shouted any names.
At the edge of the carport, Tina stumbled. She grabbed a pole for support and then bent toward her right foot. “Stupid cheap sandals.” She straightened and held out her shoe, dangling from a broken strap.
“Hey, maybe I should leave it behind so Joey can, you know, find it and bring it to me in Deadtown.” She smiled, then bent over and took off the other sandal. “Nah,” she said, flexing her pink-painted toes. “I think this is the best place for the story to end.”
Tina looked back at the party. A wistful look crossed her face. “Not happily ever after,” she said, “but . . . well, something.”
“Come, m’lady.” I gestured down the street. “Your carriage awaits.”
Nancy Holzner grew up in western Massachusetts with her nose stuck in a book. This meant that she tended to walk into things, wore glasses before she was out of elementary school, and forced her parents to institute a “no reading at the dinner table” rule. It was probably inevitable that she majored in English in college and then, because there were still a lot of books she wanted to read, continued her studies long enough to earn a masters degree and a PhD.
She began her career as a medievalist, then jumped off the tenure track to try some other things. Besides teaching English and philosophy, she’s worked as a technical writer, freelance editor and instructional designer, college admissions counselor, and corporate trainer. Most of her nonfiction books are published under the name Nancy Conner.
Nancy lives in upstate New York with her husband Steve, where they both work from home without getting on each other’s nerves. She enjoys visiting local wineries and listening obsessively to opera. There are still a lot of books she wants to read.
Want to read more from Nancy Holzner?
This giveaway is provided by Nancy and Penguin/Ace
Two winners will each receive a copy of Bloodstone by Nancy Holzner
One winner will receive a signed copy of any book from the series:
Available on September 27, 2011 from Penguin/Ace
About the Book:
Boston’s diverse South End is known for its architecture and great restaurants, not its body count. So when mutilated human corpses begin turning up in the area, the entire city takes notice. The killer—dubbed the South End Reaper—uses a curved blade for his grisly work. And even though there’s no real evidence pointing to a paranormal culprit, the deaths are straining the already-tense relations between Boston’s human and inhuman residents.
As the bodies pile up, Vicky, her formidable aunt Mab, and her werewolf boyfriend Kane investigate, only to find that the creature behind the carnage is after something much more than blood…
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