After last month’s self-indulgent story, here’s a tale that takes place in the same humor/horror universe as Gateway Blood.
Being immortal, Jamal always has trouble keeping friends. Most times it seems like he just gets to know someone when then hit their expiration date. They shuffle off to whatever is after life, leaving him scratching his head.
Only this time, after being buried, his friend Newt–a non-binary skeleton–rose from the dead with a problem. A former lover and necromancer had stolen Newt’s heart from his grave.
Jamal agrees to retrieve the heart. And runs into his own brand of trouble; the kind that could end him.
Worse than being punched in the chest, Jamal Morris clutched the wooden stake that had been shot deep into his heart as he stumbled backwards, and fell into an open grave.
Flat on his back. On the hard, damp dirt.
Stunned, his vision swam and a ringing filled his ears. Oddly, his mind tried to analyze the dirt of the grave that he laid in. Was it fertile? Could a garden be planted here instead? Was it hallowed so the dead couldn’t rise from this grave? Fuck, now I’m going to be dirty.
Shock did weird things.
The sliver of a moon high in the Miami night sky, smiled down at Jamal. Still trying to come back to his senses, his mind made a zombie-ized Cheshire cat from the stars around the moon.
“You can’t help that, Jamaal.” Zomb-Cat said, “We’re all dead here.”
No, they weren’t all dead.
Take, for example, the mother fucker—and his mother fucking friends—who drove a mother fucking stake into his new, seven hundred, mother fucking dollar, burnt umber Burton Brothers suit. A suit that Jamaal had bought specifically not to offend Perry, the prissy shapeshifting necrophile necromancer known to grave rob in the Ashton Homes Cemetery.
Only to be ambushed and staked by some gung-ho ass-hats.
Jamaal sat up, and rubbed his head. His vision was clear and steady. A slight ringing still played on his ears, but the world made sense again. Mainly from discomfort, Jamaal tried to pull the stake out. Nope. The fucker was in there deep.
He sighed and stood. His brown-black Johnston Murphy dress shoes—shoes that he had shined to a high gloss—sunk into the earth.
Jamaal mumbled, “Mother fuckers.”
Now he looked like shit. And this was the one night he specifically didn’t want to look like shit. If he had known this was going to happened, he wouldn’t have changed out of his favorite stained, threadbare t-shirt, worn thin blue jeans or holey—not holy—tennis shoes.
Rustling sounds came from above. As did whispers. “Did you get him?” A woman’s voice.
“Yeah. I got him.” The guy sounded like a palooka. Jamaal hoped the guy had something on the ball. Nothing was worse than being bested by someone who had no idea what was happening.
The woman. “Where’d he go?”
She asked, “Where’s Mark?”
“Dunno.” He was sounding more and more palooka-ish by the moment.
Jamaal squatted and went to fully leap out of the grave. While his forward movement was on point, he had no hops. Only lifting a foot from the ground, he thumped into the earthen wall and fell backward.
The stake must’ve been bathed in holy water by someone who believed.
He stood. He was going to need help. And the only folks who could help him were the ones who got him into this mess.
They took turns whisper-calling Mark’s name.
Mark wasn’t going to answer. Mark had an accident.
Really, an honest accident.
A guy, probably Mark, had rushed Jamaal from the bushes. He swung a silver-plated sword above his head like a two-hour YouTube kendo practitioner who obviously skipped the history and breathing lessons to get the good stuff. Jamaal simply dodged. After Mark missed, he tripped forward as he freaked-out-swung at a second target. He struck the statue and fell into its arms. The sword had come from his hand in an odd sounding rebound.
The silver-plated sword went straight up, and came straight down just inside of Mark’s left collar bone; and probably through his heart. Jamaal wasn’t sure, but the dude didn’t move again.
Being a timeless, Jamaal’s existence was fueled by luck. As such, he had a particularly extensive understanding of the unquantifiable force. Since slipping Time’s grip, Jamaal had seen worse mishaps, but only barely.
They continued to call for Mark.
Trying to broker good will, Jamaal offered, “Mark’s over by the statue.”
“Oh no.” The woman sounded breathless.
The palooka made sobbing sounds.
And these were the clowns that had gotten the drop on him? Well, it sort of made sense. Jamaal had been so taken with how unlucky Mark was that he didn’t notice the palooka—and his amazingly good luck—bearing down on him until it was too late.
Grief always seemed like a waste of time.
Jamaal asked, “Um, could you help me up?”
The palooka bellowed, “You killed our friend!”
Jamaal calmly replied, “I had nothing to do with that.”
“Yes, you did. You killed him.” Having a huge block for a head set upon a massive neck and shoulders, the palooka leaned to look down at Jamaal. The moon lit his blond mohawk and glistened off the streams of mucus coming from his nose.
“Nope.” More so moving to not be in the snot drop zone, Jamaal stepped to have a better angle to look up.
Jamaal gave a helpless shrug. “That dude killed himself.”
“Bullshit! You killed him—” The palooka pulled a handheld golden cross and brandished it. “Vampire!”
Jamaal thought about hissing and falling away. It’d be funny, but this wasn’t the time for that. He shook his head. “I’m not a vampire.”
“Yes. You. Are!” The palooka held the cross with more force; as though physical might could somehow bolster faith.
“No. I’m not.” Jesus. Was he going to have to Bugs Bunny reverse psychology this guy?
Jamaal leaned back so the slight moon could light his chest. “Look, you got me square through the heart. Trust me. I can feel it. If I were a vampire, I’d be paralyzed.”
The woman, as chunky and blocky as the palooka came to stand next to him. Gratefully, she didn’t jump into the nuh-uh, uh-huh first-grade debate they were having.
She asked, “If you aren’t a vampire, what are you?”
“Look.” Jamaal struggled for a moment. He hated using the word, but had to offer an option, and—while not correct—it was closer to what he was than a vampire would, hopefully, ever be.
Jamaal signed. “I’m an immortal.”
The palooka’s voice lighted. “Like a Highlander?”
“Sort of.” Trying to hold his nerd back, Jamaal bopped his hands. But he had to explain. “Well, that guy was called highlander by the Spaniard because he was from Scotland’s highlands. And the Spaniard was called the Spaniard, because he was—accent aside—supposedly from Spain.”
The palooka asked, “Where’s your sword?”
Hoping she would step in, Jamaal looked to the woman.
She motioned to the palooka. “That is a good question?”
So much for reason.
Jamaal flopped his hand against his side and came up with a lie-laced truth. “I was disarmed earlier this month and had come here to meet up with Mancer to try and find what I’m looking for.”
She asked, “Who is Mancer. Or what is a Mancer?”
Shit. Jamaal had wanted the near-lie to not lead to a very specific question. Luckily, she asked two. Hoping his hard-pressed grin came off as reluctant-truth versus avoiding-the-first-question, he said, “They cast spells.”
The palooka looked away toward the statue. “Can they help Mark?”
Yup, Perry could. In fact, the necromancer was one of the very view in Miami who probably would; Perry could even offer several options. However, none of them would bring Mark back to a true form of being alive. That boat had sailed.
Life was like the ultimate bad deal. You only got one. No refunds, extensions, or exchanges. And, usually, by the time one truly understood that; it was too late. It had been in Jamaal’s case. But, with how much bad luck Mark had, he was probably fortunately enough to not come to this understanding.
Jamaal frowned. He hated giving bad news. “Well, dead is dead. But if you want your friend reanimated, that could be done. And with the death being recent and local, there’d be very little loss.”
The woman keyed on one word. “Loss?”
In context, a very specific question. Helpless not to answer, Jamaal looked around the hole was in. Very apropos. “If I told you he’d be fine, I’d be lying.” And that was the truth. Pivoting on that, he snapped his fingers. “In fact, I’d say he’s probably—this is going to sound harsh—better off fucking dead.”
Their eyes widened. Screaming how dare you say that about our friend?
Time for the hard truth. Jamaal gave a heartless sniff. “You know I’m right.”
They started to shake their heads.
“Yes, you do.” Though underground, Jamaal pointed to where Mark hung dead in a statue’s arms. “Think about it. How often were you guys close to victory or had everything resolved only to have Mark come along and fuck it up?”
Reluctantly, they looked at each other.
Jamaal continued, “In fact, I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d lay money that there had been more in your group when you first started after vampires.” The answer was clear on their faces. “I’m right, right? So, what? Four of you? Five?”
The woman admitted, “Six.”
“Six, thank you.” Jamaal appreciated the honesty. At least it felt like honesty. “And if you think about the circumstances in which the other three died; it had to do with your buddy Mark. Or, if any happened to escaped with their lives, they quit because of a needlessly close encounter caused by good ol’ Mark.”
Jamaal let his words stand on their own. He’d seen enough bad luck blunderers that he could continue in a general way about that would, doubtlessly, sound specific to Mark, but no one like their friends—alive or otherwise—beaten upon.
The two were focused on each other.
She said, “Jeff.”
The palooka nodded. “Ashley.”
She nodded. And, at the same time, they both said, “Professor Floyd.”
Great. Now they, as a group, were making progress, but patience had never been one of Jamaal’s strong suits. However, he had learned that if he counted to five in his head—a true count, no rushing—it was usually long enough to give the impression of being patient.
But the five seconds always felt so fucking long.
Jamaal said, “I don’t wish anyone dead. Hell, I don’t wish anyone harm. In fact—” The truth kept rolling. “I came here to help a friend. And the longer I’m down here, the less likely it is that I’ll be able to help them.”
The two of them stepped back from sight. Their feet padded away. They were whispering and had gone too far for Jamaal’s heightened senses. Were they going to help him out—literally—or leave him there to surprise a family in mourning in the morning?
More than anything, he hoped his blunt talk had sparked their better sense.
And speaking of senses, Jamaal was flat out surprised that he hadn’t used any gender specific pronouns while giving the overview of why he was in the cemetery in the first place. If he shared that realization with Newt, the non-binary gendered skeleton—animated dead, Jamaal; Newt prefers A.D.—would be thrilled. But only if he shared it.
To Jamaal, there were a great many universals on earth and gender was one of them. And humans were the only ones who tried to shirk their sexual identity. Either you have boy innards, or girl innards. Pretty simple. However, there were also a great many things on earth that defied such a simple explanation. And Newt’s no-guts-having A.D. existence passed the muster for Jamaal realigning his thinking. He thought he knew where he stood—he did know where he stood, in a fucking empty grave—on gender identity, but Newt’s existence made Jamaal’s mental jury go back into deliberation about those with innards.
Jamaal touched the damp earthen walls. A stray answer from his earlier senselessness—the dirt smell fertile—came to him.
Choosing not to try and make sense of his earlier question, Jamaal pushed in a little. The pressure made the moist ground condense enough to possibly take on a weight-supporting density.
Worst best case scenario, they’d leave him there and he’d have to do the hands-on-one-wall-feet-on-the-other climb out that he’d seen in parkour videos, but never actually tried. The true question though; was, if he didn’t have the strength to jump out of the grave, would his limbs support him on the climb.
The two hunters started to walk back.
Putting on his best help-a-brother-out face, Jamaal warmed up his pleading puppy dog eyes.
They came back into view.
The palooka instantly pulled away. “I can’t.”
“What?” She followed him back out of sight. She whispered like an angry girlfriend. “Stan, we agreed.”
“I know.” Stan said, “But look at him. He looks so helpless.”
Jamaal didn’t let up on his look. If the big guy came back to the edge, he wanted to hit him again with his helplessness.
“What?” She glanced down.
Jamaal had tried to put stars in his eyes.
She wasn’t buying it. She went back out of sight. “While he might not be a vampire, Professor Floyd would say that he’s something.” Her tone ramped up to angry wife. “And somethings gotta go.”
“Okay.” Stan agreed. He came, took one look at Jamaal’s face, and recoiled away. “But I can’t.”
“Jesus. Give it to me.” There were three clicking sound and a heaving grunt from both of them. “This is heavier than it looks.”
Stan said, “Here, let me help you with the clasps. The harness helps distribute the weight.”
Heavy? Harness? Weight? What in the fuck did they have up there? Didn’t matter, whatever it was, she was planning on using it.
Jamaal changed tactics. “Hey, I fight evil, too.” Since it was more true than false, he could say it. Of course, it was only weighed more toward the truth because the majority of moral scales of the, to be honest, asshole-ish supernatural beings on the planet tipped them into the straight-up-dicks-to-mortals category. Always: me first, me first, me first; I want, I want, I want.
To be fair, Jamaal had his own me first and I want, but he tended to help others when he could without putting stipulations on it.
A sturdy sounding click came from up there.
“Bend down a little.” Stan said, “Back straight. Engage your core.”
She panted. “Like this?”
“Yeah, exactly like you’re doing squats.”
There was another click.
“Oh.” She said, “That does help.”
Though he was starting to freak out a little, Jamaal kept his tone even. At least he thought it sounded even. “Look, if you do whatever you’re planning to do, you’re going to be making the world a worse place.” Neither of them came to the edge.
A third click came.
Stan said, “There.”
“I like this.” She sounded super pleased. As though she had decided to try a vegetable that she just knew she would hate, but actually found it to be quite tasty. “Oh, this is nice.”
Stan gave an approving grunt. “It’s a good workout, too.”
Fuck. Jamaal pressed his hands into the dirt on one side and kicked his feet back across the short end of the grave.
His muscles strained. But he could hold himself up.
Then the dirt around his hands started to give.
He decided to let his legs fall so that he didn’t face plant.
Kneeling in the dirt, habit made him wipe his hands on his suit. Remembering how much it cost, he stopped mid-swipe. And remembering the stake in his chest and his dirty back, he continued to wipe his hands.
Jamaal called up, “If you do this, guys. The assholes are going to win.”
Steely eyed and death-faced, the woman came back into view.
She stared down a barrel at him. A small flicker of flame danced under the tip.
“Whoa!” Jamaal popped to his feet. He backed away the best he could. Hoping to grab something to help, his hands kept gripping at the dirt walls and coming away empty. “Fucking whoa!”
Smoothly, she transitioned around the lip to keep him down barrel. A sick little smile played on her lips. “Fucking whoa. Do you want those to be your last words?”
This was happening. She was going to burn him to a crisp, they’d probably toss some dirt on him, and—way before he could begin to regenerate—the coffin would be lowered upon him, pinning him beneath the ground forever. Time would go on and he’d be stuck. The only conciliation was that the stake would burn, so, perhaps in a few decades, he’d be able to crawl out.
He shook his head at the thought. Sadly, that was far flung optimism.
Jamaal composed himself. He wiped his hands clean, straighten his Burton Brothers coat and looked her square in her maniacal eyes. “Miss. Don’t let the assholes win.”
She stared down at him.
Jamaal stared up at her.
While the flame continued to flick at the bottom of the barrel, the committed-to-committing-murder fire in her eyes died. She dropped the butt from her shoulder and lowered the barrel.
Jamaal’s spirits soared, but, on the off chance she was a twisted little minx who got off on getting victim’s hopes up before murdering them, he didn’t let it show. Some hunters ended up more twisted than those they hunted.
Agreeing with whatever part of her mind that had decided not to pull the trigger. Jamaal nodded.
She pointed at him with her trigger finger. “I want to know what you are.”
Jamaal knew a deal when he heard one. “And, as soon as I’m out of this hole and we’re out of this cemetery, I’ll tell you.”
She shook her head. “I want to know now.”
Jamaal couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony. One of the very few things that could kill him, admitting what he was in a graveyard—in an actual grave none the less—was to be his price.
She raised the barrel, murder jumped back into her eyes, and her finger slipped into the trigger guard. “Did I say something funny?”
“No.” Dour, Jamaal shook his head. “No, not at all. It’s just that…” He sighed. “What’s your name?”
“What?” Confusion fought with murder to be the dominate expression. “Why?”
Knowing the battle raging there, Jamaal spoke slowly to be clear. “While speaking to you, I want to use your name, not a pronoun, or an accidental endearment that might put your finger into action.”
Still not at the rim, Stan said, “Names have power.”
“Yeah.” She glanced back. Probably to where Stan was. Then down at him again. “Names have power.”
Thanks, palooka. “Sometimes, but hey—” Jamaal patted his chest to introduce himself and hoped to fuck that it didn’t come off as pandering. “My name is Jamaal Morris.”
Stan piped, “He’s lying.”
She raised the butt to her shoulder.
“No, I’m not.” Jamaal sped along before Stand could counter. “While I can bend the truth. I can’t lie.”
She looked down the barrel at Jamaal.
“He’s lying.” Just like a relentless fucking heckler.
Jamaal bit his lip. “Okay, Martha.”
She frowned. “Martha?”
“I made up a name. Please, just go with it.” Hell, the name worked for Superman when Batman had a kryptonite spear poised for the kill; it might just work for him, too.
Struggling for a way to say what he needed to say without actually saying it, Jamaal wound his hands around each other. “Martha. In this grave and—” He patted the two dirt walls that he could effortlessly touch then rolled his wrist to spin his index finger around. “On these grounds, I can’t say what I am because— Because, it will be my undoing.” He shook his head. “You’re saying, telling you what I am is the only way out, but I just can’t. I swear, on everything that is sacred to me, once we are off cemetery grounds, I’ll tell you.”
Jamaal rolled his eyes. It wasn’t easy. The weight of Stan’s unflagging, dim-witted certainty made him want to just close his eyes and facepalm.
Martha shot Stan a dirty, quieting look. More importantly, she lowered the gun, again.
Jamaal wanted to offer to buy coffee to sweeten the pot, but it looked like she was already sold.
Martha looked back down at him. “Can you tell me why you’re here?”
Jamaal nodded. “I have a buddy.” Was buddy a gender derivative term? Did women call each other buddy? Hell, didn’t matter. If the Minions could use it to refer to each other, he could use it to refer to Newt. “This buddy had something essential to their identity stolen. The person who stole it will be here tonight. I’m here to get it back.”
Stan came to the rim. His face was clear and composed. “Is your buddy a vampire?”
“No.” Jamaal gave an unquestioning shake of his head. He wanted to append, he’s not a vampire to that no, but repeating part of the question would make it obvious that he was answering to a specific type of undead. It was best not to possibly tip them off to start rattling off a list of things they were against letting exist.
Martha asked, “Is he a werewolf?”
Shit. They were going to do it anyway. Jamaal shook his head again. “No.” He pivoted on a truth. “But the guy I’m here to see is a shifter.” It was true. Perry was a necromancer wereracoon. “And if you want to kill him, I’d be down with that, but let me get what I need first.”
The two hunters looked at each other. They communicated in some facial tics steeped in camaraderie.
Stan said, “Well, we are here to kill a werewolf.”
Since that wasn’t a question. Jamaal kept his mouth shut. If they didn’t get the drop on Perry, they’d find out soon enough.
She said, “Go ahead. Hall him out.”
Without question or hesitation, Stan kneeled at the edge of the grave and extended a muscled arm.
Jamaal took it.
Stan said, “On three.”
Three whole seconds? Jesus. How come no one ever went on one.
Christ, Stan was going to count aloud? It’d been a while since Jamaal had done anything in tandem that needed timing. Was he supposed to count, too? Jesus, say two.
Jamaal tried not flinch or fidget, but Stan wasn’t counting seconds. No, his count was more like two seconds. Oh, my god. Jamaal prepared to jump. Come on, say three.
Stan grunted and pulled.
He was out of the Goddamn grave. Yes! Jamaal jumped into the air and punched the sky.
“Easy, man.” Shielding himself, Stan eased forward and took hold of the stake in Jamaal’s chest. “Stand still.”
“Oh yeah.” Jamaal reeled in his excitement. But fuck, he hadn’t that close of a brush with death for decades. He tried to calm himself and sit still like a behaved child.
Stan said, “On three.”
“Just pulled it,” Jamaal snapped. He calmed. “I mean, please, just do it. No need for a countdown.”
“So, if you’re bound to the truth…” Martha had a shit eating grin on her face. “Does counting hurt your kind?”
Jamaal struggled to keep his mouth closed. He worked his lips as he had the first time he had tasted his grandmother’s chocolate chip cookies early last century. She was one of the very first health nuts that he knew. She used ninety percent pure cocoa and no sugar.
As his grandmother had then, Martha and Stan watched him now.
And, as it did then, stuff came unbidden from Jamaal’s mouth. “Yes.”
She clapped in a rather girly way. Given her stout, muscled body, the reaction looked entirely out of place, but perfect for the moment. She smiled a rather cute smile. “I can’t wait to hear all about your kind.”
That wasn’t a question. Jamaal kept his mouth shut. He hadn’t promised to tell her about the timeless, but now was not the place to remind her. No, that was best done in public. Like at a coffee shop, or anywhere else where she couldn’t lite him on fire.
Jamaal motioned to the stake. “Whenever you’re ready.”
“Oh, right.” Stan tugged.
It didn’t come out.
He tugged again. “It’s stuck.”
“Well, you it got jammed in there pretty hard.” Jamaal walked them away from the open grave. “Come over here.” If he ever saw one again, it would be too soon. Careful not to walk over any graves, he stopped behind a sturdy looking tombstone. He turned his back to it, got down on his knees, and reached back to grab onto the cold tombstone to anchor himself.
It didn’t come out.
Stand stepped back, spat on this hands, and came back forward.
“Hold on. I’ll help.” Martha was un-clicking herself from the monstrous flamethrower pack that looked like a hybrid between a collapse portable pavilion tent and dual serious deep seat diving SCUBA tanks. A second gun that sort of looked like a grenade launcher was at her feet. It had a similar three clasp-on system.
Stan put his foot on Jamaal’s Burton Brothers suit; right next to the stake. He grabbed it with both hands and kicked as he groaned. The stake came loose. It looked like a big, thick number two pencil with something shiny at the core.
Cool air swooped into the hole in Jamaal’s chest. He leaned back on the stone-cold tombstone and soaked in both sensations. His full strength returned in an instant.
“I said to hold on.” Martha came over with her hands on her hips. Obviously, she wanted to be part of the extraction effort.
“It’s okay.” Stan showed her the stake. “I got it.”
It looked like he was going to toss it back toward the flamethrower.
Jamaal extended his hand for it.
Stan gave it to him.
Studying it, Jamal got to his feet. It was a rather clever design. They had given the wooden stake a silver heart. Rather they stabbed a vampire or a were creature, it had something for both. The tinge of holy water fading from his system signaled that the thing even had a little something for demons. For most other creatures, something thick and pointy through the heart meant death. And the flamethrower addressed everything else that this baby didn’t.
They were well prepared, but far too trusting.
Jamaal said, “Thanks.”
Martha smiled that cute smile again. “Your welcome.”
“No prob.” Stan shrugged like it wasn’t a thing.
Jamaal brandished the stake. “Did I ever say that I wasn’t going to kill you?”
Color drained from their faces.
Their mouths moved in tiny ohs.
Martha scrambled back.
“I’m kidding. I’m kidding. Sorry.” Jamaal tossed the stake away. “Couldn’t resists.”
“Fucker.” As though he had run a mile, Stan doubled over to put his hands on his knees and recover his breath.
With the first strap over her shoulder, Martha gave a nervous laugh.
“Come on.” Jamaal kept an ear on Stan and Martha’s panicked breathing. He wasn’t going to let them sneak up on him a second time tonight. “Perry’s over this way.”
Martha asked, “Perry?”
“Yeah.” Jamaal stopped and turned. “You know, the guy you want to kill.” He pointed over his shoulder toward the clearing that would be out behind the Marston’s family above ground tomb. “He’s over this way.”
Stan went scurrying for the launcher.
Martha rushed on the pack.
“Hurry up.” Jamaal turned and jogged. “Or we could just meet there.” They called out to him to wait, but he was never any good at that.
The hum of traffic out on Flagler Street traveled up the main drive that split Ashton Homes Cemetery into two large parts. Unofficially, the section that they had been in was for those with almost too much money. Perry strictly worked his magic on the side that was for those who definitely had too much money.
Even though Jamaal couldn’t cross graves, getting around on this side was a breeze. All the plots were large and had above ground tombs.
He didn’t want to think about Newt getting more and more pissed by the minute in the car. If Jamaal had gone straight to the Marstons’ lot, he would’ve been there and back already. But, since he was here, he had decided to pay his respects to Mr. Combs, his favorite secondary school teacher.
Perry’s custom incense, a mix of myrrh, dragon’s blood, and his own musk hung in the air. The man had been humming, but returned to his perverted chants. “Rise. Up. Come quick. One of you bitches is gonna suck my dick.”
To prepare Jamaal for what he may experience, Newt had told him about this particular necrophiliac ritual that Perry used to bind the dead to him. Still, hearing it chanted with such deprived lust was quite shocking.
Jamal rounded the corner.
Perry. Naked. In his human form, danced inside a circle made of six bodies. He waggled his fingers to entice the dead to rise. Three male. Three female. Perry was an equal opportunity necro. In the center of the circle, a small, shriveled, weathered baseball, looking heart.
Perry started another round. “Rise. Up.”
Jamaal yelled, “Hey.”
Panicked, Perry jumped and turned a circle. Fur sprouted from his skin and wicket little claws hooked from his fingers. His protruding snout had those jagged teeth raccoons were known for. In his hybrid form, Perry was just a little shorter, but looked much more vicious.
Jamaal wasn’t fazed. “Perry, your fur looks fabulous.”
“Liar.” Perry hissed. “What do you want?”
“You know I couldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.” Jamaal countered. He then answered, “Newt’s heart.”
“I said, I’d give it to him.” Perry stood from his I’ll-maul-you-to-death stance and brought his tail up to pet it. Oddly that looked worse. It was more of a I’ll-molest-you-to-death-and-keep-molesting-you-afterwards look. He brought his tail in to cover his muzzle in a playful manner. “Where is he?”
Jamaal shook his head. “He doesn’t want to see you.”
“So, he left this.” Perry spread his arms wide to show off his fur and let his genitals dangle. He then flicked a finger at Jamaal’s disheveled suit. “For that.”
“Ug, no.” Jamaal shivered a bit. “Dude, I’m just a friend and I’m pretty sure Newt doesn’t get down like that anymore.”
“You’re telling me you never jumped his bones.”
Stunned, Jamaal’s mind went to what pleasure one could get from a skeleton. He instantly reeled it back in. He didn’t even want to imagine it. And he sure enough wasn’t going to try to explain Newt’s non-gender identity to Perry.
“No.” Jamaal shook his head. “God no. Look, your guys’ marriage was until death do you part, right? Well, death happened for Newt. And he wants to move on.”
Perry scooped up the heart. “He said, I’d always have his heart.”
“I’m pretty sure that was just pillow talk, buddy.” Jamaal almost felt sorry for Perry. Then one of the bodies twitched—a man in a deep red suit—and all sympathy vanished. “Besides, that was when he was above ground. You stole that from his grave.”
Defensive, Perry clutched the heart close. “If he wants it. He has to come and me tell himself.”
Jamaal motioned to the rising corpse behind Perry. “How can you think anyone you want to be with will be okay with any of this?”
“What?” As though nothing was wrong at all, Perry scanned around and made a happy squeak upon seeing the guy in red. “Want to go first? I don’t mind sharing.”
Jamaal’s stomach heaved. And since it was a question, he had to justify it with an answer. “No.”
“Jamaal.” Stan whisper-called, “Is he there?”
Jamaal answered, “Yes.”
“Newt?” Perry stopped, turned, and posed. “Newt, honey?”
Not saying a word about who was coming up behind him, Jamaal motioned his head as though Newt was there instead of a hunter.
Perry clapped in the same way Martha had and, the heart in the wereracoon’s hands notwithstanding, the motion looked more natural from him. He pranced to the corner.
Jamaal dashed in for heart.
Perry hissed, tucked it close, and zigged around Jamaal.
Jamaal leapt after him and stripped the heart from the clawed hands.
Strips flaked away, but he had most of it.
Moving to what he thought was the real deal, Perry didn’t even look back.
Heavy thunks sounded a split second before a long jet of fire shot well past the mausoleum.
Fur on fire, Perry screamed as he ran.
But he couldn’t run far enough, fast enough, to out distance the hundred-foot-long line of fire.
Mewling, Perry fell.
With a gun of his own—that grenade launcher looking thing from earlier—Stan stalked the pile of flaming fur to where it fell. With a thunk of his gun, a thick round of munition was shot and the mewling stopped.
Stan called, “Clear.”
Martha came around the corner. “That wasn’t a werewolf. What was that?” She looked at the old heart in Jamaal’s hands. “What’s that?”
“What I came for.” Jamaal answered the last question. “Look, I owe you a lot of info. How about we meet at the Java Palace down Flagler.”
Doubt played in her eyes. “Are you going to show up?”
“Yes.” Jamaal answered.
She asked, “Within the next hour?”
Jamaal smiled. She was rather clever to lock in a timeframe. “Yes.”
Hands wrapped around his third hot, twenty-one-ounce Big Prince caramel coffee, Jamaal took another sip and tried not to think of how much time was passing.
Most everyone who entered either gave him a knowing nod, a thumb up or complemented his zombie costume. He had started to feel a bit self-conscience.
Newt had been thrilled with the heart, but saddened by the news of Perry’s demise. The skeleton had invited Jamaal back to its place because it didn’t want to be alone, but—after Perry’s jumping his bones comment—Jarvis now looked at Newt in a different way. Newt may not identify with a gender, but there still was some kind of sexual drive in there. And Jamaal wanted to keep a long distance between himself and that drive.
Besides, when Jamaal thought about Martha, he was looking forward to getting to know her better. Which was why it fucking sucked that he was here and she was a no show.
He refused to check the clock. That was a one-way ticket to madness for him and his kind.
Jamaal finished his drink.
Disheartened, he got up from the table that doubled as a checkers board.
The clerk behind the counter asked, “One for the road?”
Jamaal shook his head. “The eternal road is long, dark, and narrow. And I must walk it alone.”
The clerk opened his mouth as though he was going to reply and then closed it.
Jamaal gave the clerk a somber nod, threw his cup away, and left.
The eternal road was a solitary existence. It would’ve been nice to have mortal friends. To ease the sting of being stood up, Jamaal reasserted an old lesson about mortals—to the timeless—were little more than reminders of time passing.
Some other supernatural out there probably needed help and brokering good will on the eternal road helped break up the monotony.
© Ezekiel James Boston
Cover art copyright © fergregory
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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