“That’s not a sandwich,” I said.
“You’ve shown a preference for freshly-culled squirrel lately.”
This is the first scene from the first draft of No Good Comes which will be a series. Each book will focus on different characters, some of whom will be familiar from my other books. Eventually. This is a spin-off from the Not the Same River series, the first book of which will be published in the autumn of 2018.
No Good Comes will throw a spotlight on Cascade, an un/holy organisation set up to save humanity. I’m still building stories, but there will be queerness and romance and teleporting and murder. The series features angels, demons, vampires, vaewolves. There will be undertakers and magnificent hair and pistachios. If you’d like a sneak peek at my inspiration board—still a work in progress—you can find it here. Maybe you’ll have as much fun shipping the characters as I did.
In the meantime …
Stephen King is dead. But not for long.
She’d been watching my grave for weeks.
Every time I left my grave to feed, she was there. It didn’t occur to me until the tenth night that she’d make a tasty meal. She didn’t look overly tall, sitting there on the bench, but there was plenty of her to sink my teeth into. If I had any teeth. Bench. Bench. Was that a real word? I couldn’t really remember how big women were, or how they compared to benches. In size, I mean. Size. Size. Was that a real word?
My brain still felt fuzzy, which I suppose could be a normal thing for a dead person. Was I a zombie now? I felt like I should’ve been panicking more. I mean, it wasn’t every day you woke up dead. Except, now it was. Every day, or rather, every night, I woke up dead.
I spent all day in the ground, in a very tight, womb-like coffin. The lid was clear with dirt piled on it. Even in the consumptive darkness, I could see the tiny spaces between each grain and the seeds of other ungrown things. Nothing wriggled or crawled though. I was a sugar-free lolly, loaded with aspartame and avoided by ants, but not stupid humans. Why was she just sitting there? Aspartame. Aspartame.
She was young—early twenties at most—and very pretty, even with her ridiculous, acidic lime hair and matching eyebrows. She was bold and alive. She was exactly what I wasn’t. I hadn’t been bold and alive even before I died. I didn’t try to eat her. Even if I’d figured out how to do it, how to fit something so big into my face, assuming I still had one, I couldn’t bring myself to hurt her.
On the sixteenth night, I moved closer than I ever had before. I stood in front of her, taking in tonight’s outfit. She had one of those fifties dresses on—all floaty and triangular at the bottom, and tight against her breasts up top. It was lilac with cupcakes all over it. She wore cowboy boots and fishnets with embroidered things weaving in and out of them: stars, flowers, feathers, ribbons. Hanging over the arm of the bench was a denim jacket and a dark purple cardigan. Shouldn’t she be cold? She didn’t look it.
She wore a dreamy look on her pale face as she peered down at the phone in her hands. Someone was making her happy. Her thumbs flew over the screen, and I looked down at the back and forth of brief messages. Body Snatcher. That’s who was making her happy. It wasn’t the sort of nickname that should inspire happiness in a young woman who sat alone night after night in a graveyard. Unless that’s why she was here.
I looked around me. I’d never really bothered looking before. The moon seemed full again, the sky a brilliant, inky blue, pierced with stars. A stone church, small and perfect, squatted in the grass like a cottage in a fairy tale. The moon made it blue. The gravestones were uniformly square, unlike any cemetery I’d ever seen in England. England. There was something very off about them.
When I rambled back to the graves, I realised I didn’t know which one was mine. I felt panic rise where my gut should be, thinking I’d lost the ability to read the names on the stones. What if I couldn’t get back in?
Mine wasn’t far from the tree, I thought, but when I looked, there were five trees near the graves. I looked down at the nearest stone, one eye shut so only half my eyes could be disappointed. There was no writing. I checked the other side. No writing. I checked each grave. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. No writing.
I wondered if the woman knew where I was, or why there were no names on the gravestones. I wondered why I was more panicked that I couldn’t find my grave than by the fact that I was dead in the first place.
The urge to feed hit me again as I got closer. I wouldn’t hurt her though; I liked the sound of her laugh. And the way her head tipped to the side when she smiled.
She looked up, green eyebrows raised. “Don’t even think about.”
I looked around, wondering if the frown I felt was really there. Maybe she was talking to her phone.
I felt stupid as fuck saying, “Are you talking to me?”
She smirked. “Yes, I’m talking to you.”
“Am I dead?”
“Yes,” she said, without any of the respect that such a brutal response required.
I felt my lungs crumple, even though I wasn’t sure air did anything for me anymore. “Oh.”
“But it’s not permanent,” she said, her tone dubious.
“Can be,” she said, shrugging her tattooed shoulders. “That’s up to you.”
“Nothing is ever up to me,” I said.
“You wanna watch that attitude.” Then, without irony, she said, “It’ll get you killed.”
“Am I naked?” I said, wondering why I’d suddenly thought of it, and why the hell I thought it was a good idea to say it out loud.
Her gaze swiped up and down my … being. It lingered on my crotch and a smile kicked her face into a laugh that bubbled over. And despite the heat and embarrassment I felt, I wanted to laugh too, and though I felt the echo of a smile—the shape of it, the shadow of lips and teeth and amusement—I couldn’t remember how to do it. The moment fell flat.
“Calm down,” she finally said. “I can’t see anything.”
“You’re a shadow, a silhouette.” She crossed her legs and said, “I knew you’d be more awake tonight so I brought you a sandwich.”
“I’ve been awake every night,” I said. “I’ve been counting.”
“Have you?” she said, like I’d told her this a thousand times already. Maybe I had.
“This is the sixteenth night.”
She raised her eyebrows. “It is. That’s quite unusual, you know. Most of you are at least three or four days out. At least. Sometimes they’re ten days out. Ten, Stephen.”
“Yes. Stephen. Stephen. I keep thinking words aren’t real words.”
“They just sound so weird. Weird. Weird.”
She laughed. “So, you want your sandwich?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, feeling my insides pinch. “How do I …?”
She opened a paper bag that was sitting next to her and held it out for me. I felt like an idiot. I couldn’t remember how to eat. But that didn’t seem like such an imminent problem when I looked into the bag.
“That’s not a sandwich,” I said.
“You’ve shown a preference for freshly-culled squirrel lately.”
“That’s what I’ve been eating? Squirrels? God, I’m a monster.”
“Yes.” She sighed. “Okay, this guy here, he was called Gerald. He was a little bastard, mean to all the other squirrels. He hurt them so bad, he deserves this.”
“What did he do?” I said.
Her face crumpled in a way that seemed familiar, but I couldn’t figure out what it meant. She pulled her dark lips between her teeth, her nostrils flared, her forehead crinkled, not just into horizontal lines, but vertical ones too. Like she was about to …
“How did he hurt them?” I said, when it seemed like she’d never answer.
“He pinched their nuts,” she burst out, her laughing voice filling the graveyard. “Nuts aren’t supposed to be blue, Stevie.”
I laughed but said, “Don’t call me Stevie.”
“Yeah, well, you’ll need a new name when we bring you up.”
“You make me sound like vomit.”
“Were you a comedian in real life? That explains why there were so many people at your funeral.”
“Shit, sorry, I really shouldn’t have said that. It was supposed to be a joke, but I—”
“You think it’s a joke that I had no friends? No parents? That there’s, like, four people who would even miss me at all.”
“No, that’s not what I … Stephen, you did have friends. The crematorium was full.”
“I can’t decide if that’s worse,” I said, feeling a phantom ache in my phantom throat where my voice was getting higher. “Not having friends, or not knowing I had any. I mean, I guess there were some. People from work. How … how did you find me?”
“You were on a watch list.”
“A watch list? Like, FBI levels of watch listiness? That’s the single most interesting thing about my entire life. Who was watching me?”
Erin grinned darkly. “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”
“Is that a joke? I mean, I’m already dead. Is that … I can’t really … I don’t feel right. My brain feels fuzzy.”
“You were concussed. Before you died, I mean,” she said. “You were … you hit the back of your head.” My hand flew to the sore spot, but there was nothing there. Nothing to feel. “That feeling won’t improve until after, and even then it might linger for a while. And the bump’s been fixed, by the way.”
I wanted to ask what the hell I was, but I couldn’t. Not yet. Instead, I said, “Who are you?”
“You can call me Erin, but everything else will have to wait until you’re brought up, okay?”
She had this solemn look on her face, like everything she was saying was for my own good, like everything was what she’d wanted to hear when she …
“I’m the same as you,” I said. “You’ve been through this.”
She didn’t answer because we both knew I was right. “You’ll make a good case study. You’re very alert. Do you mind?”
“If I bring a notebook tomorrow night,” she said. “If I, uh, make notes about tonight in it too?”
I shook my head, maybe. Then figured she couldn’t see me. “I don’t mind.”
“Do you remember the first night?” she said.
“I remember the dirt hitting the glass. And salt. Rock salt.” I hadn’t remembered that until just that moment. My head came up quickly to look at her.
“You remember the salt?”
“Yeah, I counted each little rock.”
“You remember how many?”
I shook my head pointlessly. “No.”
“What else do you remember?”
“The smell. At first, I thought I was dreaming, but I knew I wasn’t. The smells were all wrong.”
Erin shifted to the edge of the bench, her hands gripping the front of it. “What smells?”
“Everything smelt like dirt, until …”
“At night, everything smells of blood.”
Original image from BMaxim37 on Pixabay.