Babes are all about Zombyres this week!!Chapter One
Hi everyone! The other babes have graciously let me hog the spotlight this week – because I have a brand new series available on Friday, April 6th!! It’s older YA, meant to be a crossover style dystopian romance starring Lolita Howard and Valdric…here is the first chapter! Enjoy!
I finished reading the last page of Cinderella as sunlight bounced off the dented coffee maker. The ending, where Cinderella gets to tell her nasty ol’ stepsisters to kiss her butt (polite though – her real mama probably taught her before she kicked the bucket) always gets me in a better mood after a bad night. Who doesn’t want to believe in happily ever after?
Mama told me once I was too hard headed to be a princess, which was her way of saying not to get my hopes up. Besides, if anybody around here was gonna marry a prince, it’d be Marla. Maybe Aussie, if the prince had a thing for guys.
My stomach rumbled as Juan fired up the breakfast grill, and the smell of fried peppers mingled with brewing coffee.
Marla and I work like slaves for Juan, the old Mexican guy who owns the diner. In exchange, he lets us have first dibs on the day olds. My itty bitty paycheck goes directly to Cliffside Hospital for Mama and Daddy’s treatment. I don’t wanna waste my tip money on junk like food – not when I can eat just fine for nothing.
Marla, a bite of toast forgotten in her fingers, stared out the tinted window toward what was left of Copper Mountain. The orange sun rose behind it, giving the dark, broken cliffs a spooky glow. My whole body shivered.
“Hey, you in there?” She acted as if she couldn’t hear me.
“If you’re not gonna eat that cinnamon toast before it goes stale, I will.” I tried snagging the warm, crispy bread, but Marla came to, just before I got it.
Shaking her red curls, Marla pouted, her purple lipstick shiny enough I could almost see my reflection.
“Lolita, the day you snatch food from my fingers will be the day I die.” So saying, she popped the toast into her mouth without smearing the gloss. Marla’s twenty-two and been married twice already. Once to a vampire, who she said was an excellent kisser, and once to a motorcycle mechanic, who liked his home brew. She preferred the blood-sucking outlaw over the biker, but since they’re both dead, it doesn’t matter much. Point is, she’s free if a prince ever comes wandering into town.
I can’t keep a boyfriend.
I don’t like to think about it, but Marla’s practically dead, anyway. She has to take the Virus Suppression Medicine, just like almost everybody else in this dying, comet-pocked town. Mile Post 42, a stupid name since we’re nowhere near a road with that number on it, runs slow but steady now that the zombie virus is under control.
Mama said there used to be about a thousand people around the Tennessee desert area, including the farmers outside the borders. There’s maybe half that now. I don’t know everybody, of course, but I reckon I know quite a few.
I grabbed a stale donut from the bin behind the counter. I’d give Marla whatever she wanted, so long as she ditched that sad look in her eye. The rusted bell over the door clanged and I looked up to see which one of the regulars would wander in.
Happily, I called, “Hello, Arthur,” to the stooped man shuffling toward the counter. Mama’d done his laundry for a while when I was kid, so he’d teach me to read. Guess he used to be a big wig teacher or something – now he’s one of my favorite customers.
He leaned forward, dropped his grubby duffle bag to the floor, then grunted as he hefted a skinny shank up on the torn, fake leather padding of the stool.
“‘Lo, Lolita.” Bald and hunched, he weren’t older than forty, just broken down by life. Another casualty of the Ten Year War.
If you get him revved up on what Juan passes for java juice, he’ll go on about how the comet blasts that started the end of times were actually bombs sent by the aliens who were searching for the vampires that escaped to plague our world. Makes me laugh every time – on the inside, so I don’t hurt his feelings.
I’ve read the old newspapers Mama’d wrapped our dishes in when we moved here. Vampires have been around since the beginning of time, but they’ve never been liked, so they stayed hidden. Guess the idea of power overrode their fear of humans in the government free-for-all of ’24. Mama said the government told people that vampires were a pestilence to be shot on sight. Pretty much wiped ‘em out.
Marla disagrees and blames our ‘state of despair’ on the Apocalypse. She says we’re stuck here on earth, damned.
I don’t feel damned. God. Aliens. I don’t know what to believe, not in the big scheme of things, but for right this very minute…I just want a boyfriend that won’t think of my body parts as appetizers.
Juan leaned out from the back kitchen behind the grill, hooking his thumb toward Arthur. “Get to work, chiquitas, unless you’re too good for a paycheck?”
Shoving my worn book beneath the counter, I hopped up and grabbed the coffee pot before Juan made good on his threat. “Toast and eggs this morning, Arthur?”
“Yeah.” He tapped a cracked fingernail on the cheap Formica countertop. “You know I like ‘em runny.”
Still smiling, I topped off the chipped mug that read “I love Florida” and scooted it across to Arthur. He likes that one best out of all the mismatched mugs we got. Think he was from there, before it fell in the ocean.
“I know. Over easy.”
I repeated the order to Juan, who acted like he’d never heard of toast and eggs before, even though Arthur’d been plopping his butt in this diner for the last three years that I knew of, for a fact.
Juan hired me when I was barely fifteen, says he got tired of me stealing from his dumpster. Been a walk in the park ever since.
Arthur brought the mug to his mouth and slurped. I took the rag, wiping down the countertop, studying the side of Arthur’s scarred face. He weren’t ugly. Bald, but not sickly. Nothing like my folks. They had to be about the same age, maybe Arthur was a little younger, but… I turned and put the rag in the bleach bucket. It didn’t do no good worrying what caused the sickness. Once bit, you were on the VSM until your brain got the message that your body was dead, and had been for a spell.
Juan smacked the bar behind me and yelled, “Order up!” I took the plate of snotty eggs and burnt toast and handed it to Arthur, who tucked right in, dipping the toast into the egg center and stuffing it into his mouth. Talk about sick. One time, when Daddy had a virus break-out bad enough to take him to the hospital, it looked like that. All yellow and white, with slimy stuff oozing from his skin.
I looked up, swallowing fast so I didn’t puke and add to the mess. That twit, Cinderella, never had it as bad as this.
Marla caught my eye and winked. “Still hungry, Lo?”
Ha ha. I ignored her, straightening napkins and arranging silverware. I greeted each of the customers by name as they walked in and took a little bit of teasing about streaking down Main.
“What happened to that poor boy, Lolita, darlin’?” Daisy, who used to be one of the prettiest women in Mile Post 42, asked. “Did he get a taste of your sweet lips afore you called the sheriff on him?”
Shivering, I sashayed my non-existent hips by the table she shared with her husband, Captain Bob. He was a known lech, but Daisy just had to put up with his philandering ways, on account there weren’t enough men to go around as it was.
Made me feel sorry for her, to tell the truth, especially since you could see the lines of decay digging deep around her eyes. Her lipstick feathered out on her cracked, dry lips, and the rings on her skeletal fingers slid loosely from front to back. It wouldn’t be long. I cleared my throat against the oncoming sad.
“Boy, nothing,” I said. “Zombie. I bashed him over the head with a candlestick, Daisy. Right on the frontal lobe. He dropped, and I ran like my hair was on fire.”
The diner exploded with laughter.
“We saw, we saw,” said the Morrow sisters.
Whitler Paulson raised his mug. “To Lolita, who is in excellent shape – if a little on the skinny side.”
Even Arthur chuckled at that one.
“I appreciate y’all calling for help.” My cheeks burned with humiliation, but I let them have their fun. It might mean a bigger tip. I filled mugs as I walked the length of the diner and back – fully clothed.
“Well, Sheriff Jim caught me in front of the Shopmart and gave me his vest,” I paused to let them know what I thought of their leering, “then he went to the house, with Rex, and they hauled my ex’s body to the Pit for burning.” I forced a smile at Captain Bob, refusing to think about the border guard, turned monster, I thought I’d loved. “Pancakes?”
“Sure, sure.” Captain Bob waggled his brows. “You know what I like.”
Ugh. I saw the flash of hurt cross Daisy’s spackled face, so I didn’t stay and flirt. Sometimes a tip just ain’t worth it.
“Good thing Rex was there. Sheriff woulda had a helluva time by hisself,” Whitler said. He always talks like he knows every last thing. “Probably shot that zombie full of whatever he had in his pharmacy, keep him knocked out cold.”
“I think I did a pretty good job of getting him down the first time,” I said in my own defense.
“Sure you did,” one of the Morrow sisters agreed. “But zombies are so dangerous when they’re full blown. I’m just glad you’re okay, Lolita darlin’.”
The noise inside the diner rose as everyone started discussing the virus, what could be done to stop the bodies from forming a black cloud as they were cremated, which led to who’d finally gone on to their sweet reward. I’d grown up with the lingering stink of burned bodies so it didn’t bother me as much as it did some of the older customers who remembered a better life. Didn’t take a scientist to figure out that when the black clouds blossomed over Mile Post 42, you plugged your nose.
I grabbed a fresh pot and went around again. The diner could serve twenty people comfortably, twenty-five if everybody squished together. Juan delivered a hearty breakfast, but it’s the gossip that keeps everyone over coffee.
Captain Bob spoke up over the din. “Went up to Cliffside yesterday.” He patted Daisy’s hand.
“Finally met the new doctor. Dr. Joan Holovac.” Daisy’s voice hitched at the end, dragging out the hard C sound.
That snagged my attention away from clearing dirty dishes. I straightened, pushing a braid back over my shoulder. “New doctor?”
“From Slovakia.” Captain Bob crossed his arms in front of him and rested them on the table. “She’s been up at Cliffside three months. Says she was getting the lay of the land before she started taking patients.” Captain Bob’s sneer didn’t seem like a vote of confidence.
“Well. I never seen her before, and I’m there twice a week now.” Marla set her tea pitcher on the counter next to Arthur. “What’s she like, Daisy?”
Daisy’s cheeks flushed at being the center of attention. “Like Bob said, we were there yesterday. For a checkup, is all.” None of us asked how things were going – we could see for ourselves Daisy weren’t getting better.
“She’s very serious like. Stern. Rex said she used to run a space program before the Ten Year War, and that she’s real smart.” She lowered her voice. “She says she’s gonna find a cure for the virus.”
My heart skipped. A cure?
“There was a tall guy with her. Quiet type. Looked too young to be a doctor. Never seen him before either.” Bob huffed, giving his opinion of that. “Didn’t answer when I asked him his name.”
It got so quiet inside the diner you could hear the coffee percolate. Strangers could be dangerous – who knew if they were infected? Last one was six months ago, and Sheriff Jim had to shoot him right there, in the middle of Main street.
Mama said it was just plain rude, but Daddy agreed with the sheriff. When a stranger comes into town gnawing on a human forearm, you can’t roll out the welcome mat.
But a new doctor? A mysterious stranger? You could practically smell hope over the scent of burnt toast and cloned bacon.
We’d all gathered here because of the hospital beneath Copper Mountain, and the town sorta sprawled below that. We had one main street, and it led up the hill to Cliffside. The docs taught us how to grow veggies in a greenhouse, but most importantly, they’d created the VSM. What if they finally found a cure instead of something that just slowed the illness?
“Where’s Slovakia?” Marla’s penciled brows arched. “Is that near New York?”
I shook my head. Marla’s got this idea that New York is heaven, where people dress in high fashion and don’t have rotting skin. No good comes from arguing with her. If what Arthur says is true about the ocean rising and taking all the coastal cities, that would include New York, but, heavens forbid, Marla listen to reason. Or look at a map.
“Slovakia,” Arthur spat, “hid a colony of power hungry vamps in the Carpathian mountains. The Slovakian government practically invited them to take over the country, for pity’s sake. The beginning of the end.” He sent a commiserating glare toward Captain Bob. They had the Ten Year War in common, if nothing else.
Captain Bob nodded once, his mouth a grim line. “Yeah. Gave the blood suckers the ships to destroy what the comets missed.”
“Wasn’t the vampires to blame for the war,” Marla said, picking up the pitcher of tea with a trembling hand. I knew she was thinking of her first dead husband, Ashton, from the sad lines around her mouth.
Captain Bob slammed his fist against the tabletop so hard the syrup bounced. “What do you know? You weren’t there, girlie, were ya?”
She blushed but held her ground. “Ash said all the governments brought them from the vaults to fight in the armies. To fight for humans. They promised!”
The diner erupted into arguing points of view on vampires and corrupt government, totally forgetting about Daisy and the new doctor. From Slovakia.
How did she get here? Was Mile Post 42 the last safe place on earth? I’d have to get a look at one of Arthur’s maps. My stomach flipped, and I could taste the day old donut in the back of my throat.
The bell over the door clanged, and I looked up, my fingertips pressed against my lips. I knew this weren’t no regular customer coming for pancakes, and the sense of something bad didn’t go away when I saw my other best friend standing in the doorway. His spiked magenta Mohawk splintered the orange sun.
Tall and lean before the sickness, he was a walking skeleton now. Twenty and so funny he made my sides ache, he woulda made a great zombie boyfriend – if he weren’t gay. There are times when I swear I’ll be a virgin ‘til I die.
“Hon,” he said, his blue eyes bright. We all knew he was talking to me, and for the second time that morning, the diner quieted.
Aussie works at the zombie rehabilitation facility attached to the hospital. Last year, I had to move my folks up the hill to Cliffside’s rehab, and the guilt eats at my soul. Hospitals suck, and so do doctors, but I just couldn’t take care of Mama and Daddy at home anymore. Aussie promised to look out after them. If he was here, looking at me like that, well…
I swallowed and tossed my bangs from my eyes. “Yup?”
“It’s your daddy. I’m sorry, but you gotta come.”
In a daze, I walked toward the door, untying my apron. I said nothing to Juan, or the customers. I just trudged slowly toward Aussie, whose Mohawk was sharp enough to poke somebody’s eye out. Marla’s hand on my shoulder should have been comforting, but I was numb.
My parents might be zombies, but they’re all I have in this messed up world.