How to Bury the Undead (An Excerpt)
A Cemetery Girl Mystery
I don’t get the attraction to vampires these days. I really don’t. I mean, historically speaking, they are ruthless, soulless and will attack even their nearest and dearest for blood.
Have I ever met one would be a logical question to ask. And it has been asked.
Yes. I have met a vampire. I met a whole nest of them, in fact, not just one. It happened shortly after my abrupt departure from New Orleans and it was an experience I’d rather not repeat. So the idea that they are romantic heroes (or heroines) in current fiction and film is baffling to me.
“But they’re beautiful, sophisticated, cultured,” is the party whine – I mean, line.
Well, of course they are. Of course vampires have this unearthly beauty, the piercing eyes, silky soft voices to soothe the trembling heart. So do the fae and I want to interact with them even less than I do vampires.
Vampires need those little nifty tricks – like any predator, they need them to seduce and reel in their prey. The really lucky ones end up dead, their bodies completely drained of blood. The smart vampires leave their victims’ bodies hidden somewhere discrete. The Renfield types leave their leftovers in a ditch.
The not-so-lucky ones who live to tell the tale end up giving a highly distorted version of the truth, which would explain the over-saturated market of the handsome, sensitive and misunderstood vampire in what is known as urban fantasy.
I want to make this absolutely clear – vampires are dead. More to the point, they are Undead. As far as I’m concerned, the only real difference between a vampire and a zombie is that the vampire tends to retain the social and intellectual skills he or she had in life. But they are still just as NOT alive.
And they are not nice. Forget that brooding, sensitive hero image they’ve been cultivating over the last forty or fifty years. They’re slightly mad with a healthy dose of insanity; require copious amounts of blood to survive (preferably fresh and human); and need soil from their original grave in order to sleep in a protected space when on the move. And those are the sane ones. Let’s not talk about the not-so sane ones.
And the people who love them? Necrophiliacs with serious self-esteem issues.
I was thinking all of this as Dottie Perswalski tidied up my tiny galley kitchen. The kitchen is tiny because my living space was tiny – being a crypt in a previous incarnation was why. The dead don’t take up much living space, especially if they’ve been cremated. The crypt fell into disuse after numerous break-ins and the urns were interred elsewhere in the cemetery. That was more than ten years ago. Dottie was one of those originally interred in my crypt. She’s a ghost and in life had been housemaid to a rich family in Wickerman Falls, some ten miles away. The daughter of immigrants, Dottie was happy in her life until a fire burned the place down one night in the winter of 1925. It killed everyone inside, including Dottie. She had been sixteen when that happened and is clearly of a generation that belonged in the here and now. She hangs out in my crypt because she still isn’t used to the new one. Go figure.
I don’t mind Dottie’s presence so much; actually, I kind of like hearing her chatter, even if it did border on the obnoxious. I guess it’s like having a younger sister, but being an only child, that’s all speculation on my part. Right now she was fussing over the pot of soup on the hot plate, even though she couldn’t generate enough energy to actually stir it. That was my cue to get up off the couch and cross the short distance to where she hovered and picked up a spoon to stir my tomato soup.
The couch came from a thrift shop in Wickerman Falls. So did the tiny, drop-leaf table, a couple of high-backed chairs, a dresser and my bed frame. All of them had seen better days, especially the couch, but they were still serviceable and that was just fine by me. I don’t need much to live on, just enough to survive. Most of what makes the crypt hospitable for me to live in was the generator tucked discretely into an alcove outside the front door. The alcove had a roof and door; it was leak-proof and blended in perfectly with the exterior of the crypt. If you didn’t know where to look, you wouldn’t find it. It was never warm and cozy during the winter, but it kept me safe and it was mine until it was time to move on again. I like it that way, but I will admit that I sometimes feel the pull to stay in one place for a little longer than a few months.
I was thinking about vampires because, in the course of fussing and chattering, Dottie had let it slip in her gossipy way that the “oh, isn’t he dreamy” pastor was in a bother over some vandalism that kept occurring at night at the church, some of it on the inside next to the podium. I considered telling her that nighttime was usually the best time to commit vandalism, but refrained. Dottie didn’t understand my sense of humor.
I kept muttering “uh, huh” as she spoke, which, I realized too late, only encouraged her. Then she changed topics and began comparing the pastor to some guy named Rudolph Valentino and that’s where I lost interest, especially when the dreamy sighs began. I wondered what she would make of today’s movie stars – Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt or (I shudder to think) George Clooney. I wouldn’t get any peace, that’s for sure.
My name is Cadence Galloway, Cady for short. I’m 5’9”, have grey eyes and traveling feet. I don’t own a car, a driver’s license, a bank account or even a gas card. I try never to be in one place long enough to establish residence. For any job I take on, I’m paid in cash, off the books and the only cellphone I have is one that I can put minutes on as needed. I change the phone every six months, on the dot. They’re cheap to come by and I recycle the old ones in the handy drop-bins at any electronics store. Needless to say, since I don’t get mail, I don’t need to throw away 99% of the trash stuffed in a mailbox, thus saving a couple of trees.
I have a refurbished laptop computer that I bought for a couple hundred bucks at a mom-and-pop electronics shop two years ago. It came with all the basic programs on it. It includes a writing program that I use for keeping a journal about my travels, but no wireless internet – I go to the library if I need to use that.
I have colored my hair so many times over the last twenty years that I’ve forgotten what its true color is. I never color it the same shade twice in a row. My itch to travel and be on the move comes from being on the run rather than any desire to see the country, although it has been an educational journey. In twenty years, I have crossed the United States from the East to the South to the West. So far, I didn’t see the need to travel north and frankly, I hope I don’t have to. I don’t enjoy cold winters.
I’m on the lam, but not from the law. Let’s just say I don’t want to become the latest in a long line of experiments just because I can talk to ghosts.
The pastor Dottie was mooning over was Pastor Devon Maclaine, who presides over the local, albeit small, Presbyterian church. Most of the locals tend toward the mediumistic side. I think he is too good to be true. Since I landed in Sleepy Eye Cove in late January, he’s been encouraging me to join in on the social scene, such as it is. He even suggested the local historical society. I think my job at the cemetery gave him ideas that it would be good for me.
As of late, he had begun dropping hints about the local softball league. Tryouts were in late March, practice beginning in April and the season ending in September. Since I wasn’t planning on sticking around that long, I passed on the idea. Twice. I know he hasn’t given up on making me a part of his softball team, so I avoid him on general principle. Abby Somers, a part-time gardener at the cemetery and practicing witch, says he has a lost-cause complex. I suppose that’s one reason to go into the seminary.
And a very good reason for me to keep my distance.
“Quit sighing so loud,” I said, feeling cranky. “I get it, I get it. You think Maclaine is cute.”
Dottie pouted. “And why not? He has a singular light about him that only Mr. Valentino possessed.”
Typical teenage girl, according to Abby. I had asked her about it shortly after moving into the crypt and was faced with the permanent teen angst. I wouldn’t know, not having any experiences to compare it with. My teenage years were more concerned with escaping Danvers State Hospital with help from one of the nurses. The place was shut down a few years later. My alleged doctor was not.
I continued to ponder the idea of vampires as I stirred my soup in slow circles. I’m not exactly sure why they had leapt immediately to mind when Dottie mentioned the vandalism at the church. She hadn’t mentioned anything in particular that would have labeled it a vampire problem. And besides, vampires are unholy creatures of the night – hallowed ground is impossible for them to breach unless it had been defiled. As far as I knew, the local church was not.
But then, I was a recent resident of the area, so what do I know? I guess the thing to do is ask around. There were plenty of locals to talk to, and most of them were my neighbors. Ghosts are really chatty, probably because so few of the living can hear them, so it wouldn’t be too hard to get them talking about the past. Plus, they wouldn’t ask any of the awkward questions that the living seem so fond of. Pastor Maclaine was not on my list of those to ask.
My soup was bubbling, so I turned off the hot-plate and lifted the pot, pouring the red liquid into a bowl. Steam rose in a cloud, and I inhaled the tomato scent with a sigh.
Vampires. God, I hate those bloodsuckers. At least they clean up easily with a broom after staking. I shuddered.