The Corpse Goddess
By Kristi Jones
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Number of pages: 274
Word Count: 79,034
Party girl Meg Highbury wakes up the morning of her twenty-first birthday with one hell of a hangover – and a walking corpse in her apartment. Meg turns to her straight-laced neighbor Armando for help and together they discover that Meg is a Valkyrie.
What’s more, her first duty is to trade places with the corpse. But Meg is being sent to her Death Duty too soon. In a race against time, Meg frantically tries to find a loophole to her gruesome fate, but while Meg is determined to live whatever the cost, Armando's strict moral principles keep getting in the way of her plans for escape.
Can Meg walk the 'right' and narrow path, possibly sacrificing her mortal life, for love? And if she can, will Armando have the stomach to love a rotting corpse of a girl who is falling apart in more ways than one?
A Little Light Reading
Tee picked up on the third call. “Wha’ is it?” Tee mumbled, obviously still half asleep.
“Tee. What. The. Hell?”
“It’s me, Meg. What the hell was in those drinks last night?”
“Drinks?” Tee coughed. Meg heard the flick of a lighter, the gentle grind of flint against steel, and waited for Tee to suck down her first drag of the day. “What’re you talking about?”
“The wine,” Meg said, her voice a screeching tire. She kept her eyes on the zombie. She stared at it for two reasons. One, to be ready in case it made any sudden moves. And two, hoping that it would suddenly vanish, and she would be free to get off this freak show carnival ride. “The Merlot we had last night. In the graveyard.”
“Oh, yeah. That. Why? What’s up? You want some more?”
“No,” Meg said, biting back a scream. “I do not want some more. I want to know why there is a freaking zombie standing in my apartment.”
“What happened to you last night? Danny was asking for you.”
“Tee, listen. Focus. I need to know. Did you put something special in the wine? A little birthday boost?”
Tee laughed. “Shit, Meg. Did you sleep with Danny?”
“He is a lousy lay. No doubt. Thinks he’s in love with you, right?” She laughed again. “Kick his ass out, girl. He’s got no business staying over if you want your privacy.”
“I don’t want my goddamn privacy, Tee! I have a zombie in my apartment!” Meg screamed. The zombie jumped at the sound of her scream, as if a bolt of electricity had suddenly brought the thing to life.
“Stay back!” Meg said in a pleading tone of voice. Her heartbeat went into overdrive, and it set her teeth chattering painfully together.
“Whoa,” Tee said, obviously [w1] offended. “Don’t get all commando on me. Not my fault you fucked up and shagged a loser.”
The zombie jerked its right leg forward. Then the left.
“Oh, shit,” Meg whispered, tears rolling down her cheeks now. “Shit, it’s coming.”
“Meg, you really need to get a grip. Just say no, girl. Just because it’s coming, doesn’t mean you have to take it.”
“I don’t think I have any control over that, Tee,” Meg said, explosions of fear wracking her body.
“You want my advice? Sleep it off, Meg. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Meg heard a click and then the dreaded dial tone. Her best friend, her only real friend, had disconnected the call.
The zombie jerked toward her, snapping and creaking with every step. Meg crab-walked backwards, scuttling off her bed and landed on the floor with a painful thud.
Her mind racing, playing catch-up with what her eyes were seeing, Meg tried to come up with a plan. She could shove the thing, hard enough to make it fall, maybe into a hundred pieces like one of those plastic toy snap skeletons her parents liked to give on birthdays. The next part of the plan was easy. Run. Run away as fast as her feet would carry her.
Her studio apartment was just under five hundred square feet. The front door was not more than a few paces away.
But what if the thing moved faster than she expected, like a lazy alligator suddenly darting for the kill?
She still had her phone in her hand, but whom could she call? Meg didn’t have many close friends, and you couldn’t call a casual acquaintance to help with a walking corpse, real or imagined.
The zombie walked around the bed, coming for her. The smell emanating from the thing was turning the wine in her stomach to vinegar, but Meg swallowed back the nausea. She threw back the comforter and clambered off the bed, keeping her eyes on the zombie. Pieces of rotting gray cloth and leaves fell to the floor.
It was coming closer, no more than three feet away now.
Meg’s heart ran a thumping rhythm inside her chest, and she broke out into a cold sweat that left her shivering on uncertain legs.
“Stay back,” she said, but the thing stepped closer, its bare knee bones peeking through the shredded trousers.
Panicked, Meg lunged forward, legs scrambling, stomach lurching. She thrust out her hands, making contact with the zombie.
The impact, when it came, was like a jacked-up haunted house gimmick. She felt her fingers plunge through the fabric of the thing's tattered white shirt as her hands sank into its rotting chest. The flesh beneath its shell of leathery skin was surprisingly gooey. Her hands sank into the gelatinous mess, and she had a fleeting thought that this was how people went crazy. She could feel her mind slipping away from the shocking reality of her predicament and into a deep, dark hole somewhere in the depths of her mind.
And then the rancid flesh embraced her, pulled her in. An intense burning triggered her hands to start shaking, and the sensation traveled up her arms. She screamed and tried to pull her hands away, but they stuck, super-glued to the monster. A bolt of blue ran across the zombie's chest. Meg screamed again, howling like a wounded animal, desperately trying to free herself from a nightmare she didn't quite believe in.
“You don't know her, Armando.” A sticky, slimy substance filled Meg’s mouth. She swallowed, put a hand to her chest, willing herself not to throw up. She made her own skin crawl, thinking about what was going on inside her body. It took a minute, but the taste in her mouth dissipated. She went on. “She's the only person who could have sent the book. There isn't anyone else in my life, don't you get that? She wanted me to read it and call up this, this, thing. And I hate her for it.”
And the dam broke. She couldn’t fight the tears. Her shoulders heaved, and she sank back down onto the bed, surrendering to the tears and the anguish and the pain. She sobbed in great wracking jerks and heaves. A small inner voice muttered, “get it under control, girl, you're making a fool of yourself”, but the emotions were too strong.
Armando sat beside her, his hand on her back. Meg focused on the weight of his hand, the warmth and the life of it. She closed her eyes and focused all her senses on that hand. She pictured it in her mind. She wondered if he tasted like salt. She held onto the image of Armando's hand, flushed with blood and warm in the sun, until all thoughts of rot and death receded.
“It’s okay, Meg. It’ll be okay,” Armando said. He removed his hand, but remained seated beside her.
“It isn’t fair, you know,” Meg said, keeping her eyes closed. “I haven’t done anything. I’ve wasted so much time, partying and stuff. Funny thing is, I used to look at you and think you were wasting your life.”
“Yeah, I kinda knew that.”
“I should have been studying and learning. Maybe if I’d been studying, been focused on school, I never would have gone to the cemetery.”
“I don’t know about that. It was your twenty-first birthday. I didn’t spend my twenty-first birthday studying.”
It was Meg’s turn to arch an eyebrow. “You didn’t?”
“Of course not. Contrary to what you might think, Meg, I do have a social life. It just doesn’t involve drugs and gallons of alcohol.”
Meg bristled at this, but decided to let it pass. He was right, she supposed, but it didn’t make it any less embarrassing.
“Anyway, curiosity isn’t something you can cure with schoolwork.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing that you like to push the envelope.”
“Maybe,” Meg said. She wasn’t sure what Armando was trying to say, but she knew he was trying to make her feel better about calling up her own death buddy.
“Besides, you’ve had lots of experiences. I’m pretty sure you’ve done tons of things I haven’t done.”
“That’s the kicker, Armando,” Meg said, turning to face him. “I haven’t. I haven’t done anything but drink and laugh at stupid jokes. I’ve gotten drunk and high and puked in my kitchen sink, but that’s not exactly a bucket list. I’ve never loved anybody. I’ve never gone sky diving or driven a race car. Christ, the worst part is, I’m not even good at being a party girl. I haven’t jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge or gone bungee jumping.”
“We don’t live anywhere near the Brooklyn Bridge.”
“That’s not the point. I’m just saying I haven’t lived yet.” Meg pointed at the corpse in the room. “I’m about to turn into moldy cheese, and I haven’t lived yet. A Valkyrie, whatever the fuck that is, is supposed to get one lifetime right? Well, doesn’t a lifetime include certain things? Marriage, kids, adventures.”
“You want kids?”
“I don't know. Probably not. But I'd like the chance to decide.”
“Right. Makes sense.”
He was looking uncomfortable with Meg’s talk of kids and marriage. Armando, who appeared completely at ease with bodily fluids, farts and personal belief systems, was acting like the typical commitment-phobe.
“Don’t worry, Armando. I’m not asking you to marry me or have kids with me. I’m just saying, I think I deserve all that, you know?”
Armando nodded, but his eyes were unfocused. He was thinking of something else.
Meg shifted away. Her stomach was roiling again, and she was afraid she might fart. The stench of Cousin Ed clearly still bothered him, and suddenly she didn’t want to disgust Armando. She realized with a sort of dawning wonder that she wanted him to like her.
She could feel the heat of his leg against hers, but she kept her eyes on the floor. Her shoes were off, and she noticed that her toenails were turning blue. Fighting off another eruption of the despicable tears, she thought about asking him to get her a drink or something – anything to lessen the tension between them – when the bedroom door clicked open. Meg and Armando broke apart like startled lovers.
They got out of the car and trudged across the grass, stepping over gravestones and one mound of freshly turned earth. Meg headed toward the tree, then decided to keep going. The back edge of Green Haven ended in another cornfield, one neat line of mown grass abutting against the ordered row of cornstalks.
The place was deserted, as usual, but cars passed by on the road running from the university. They were taking a risk doing the ceremony before dark, but time was running short. And Meg wanted to get the show on the road.
“I need to use the bathroom before we start,” Meg said.
“Why didn’t you go at the gas station?” Emma asked, lips pursed.
Meg didn’t understand why Emma was acting so put out. “Because it’s still light out, Emma. The last thing we need is to get caught with a zombie in broad daylight.”
“Emma, why don’t you help her and I’ll go get the replacement.”
“I’ll just use the field,” Meg muttered, trying to ignore the shiver that ran through her body when Tee called Danny “the replacement”.
Emma followed as Meg stumbled over the gravestones and into the cornstalks.
“I’ll be okay here, Emma.”
“Do you need me to hold you or something?”
“No, I think I can manage. I’m not that bad off yet.”
“It’s okay. I’ll meet you at the tree.”
“But, what if you need help?”
“I’ll call, okay? Really, I’m fine.” Meg heard the impatience in her voice, but dammit, she wasn’t an invalid yet. This might be her last real pee, and like a frustrated toddler, she wanted to do it herself.
“All right, I’ll be right by the tree, so call if you need a hand.”
Meg knew she wouldn’t be able to squat. Her legs were already shaking and unsteady. She pulled a few leaves from the stalks, laid them in a pile then pulled down her pants and underwear.
She sat down, spread her legs and tried to heave herself up with her arms long enough to pee into the leaves, hoping it would funnel away from her body. It worked, sort of. She used a wad of napkins she’d stuffed into her pocket for toilet paper and dried her legs. Unfortunately there was no way to avoid seeing the blood. The blood that meant she was dying. Her heart tripped, a scared, rabbit-punch beat. This is what it’s like to die, she thought. This is what it’s like to be eighty and wasting away in a nursing home ... only at warp speed.
When she finished and got to a standing position, her face was covered in tears. Tears of fear and pain and anger. Anger at herself for reading that book, and for dragging Armando into something that had cost him so much. She realized that even if she did manage to use a replacement and delay her duties as a Valkyrie, she would never be able to give Armando back what he'd lost. How she would live with that, she couldn't imagine, but she had no strength to fight against the rushing stream funneling her toward some unknowable future. She Emma had emerged as a pillar of cold-hearted strength in a surprising determination to help Meg escape the Death Duty. Only Tee seemed unchanged by the day’s events. She was simply helping a friend. Going along, the way she always did. Ready to be entertained, ready to have fun despite it all.
“Meg? Are you okay?’
Meg wiped the tears away and sniffed back her feelings. “Yeah, yeah, I’m coming.”
She emerged from the cornstalks, her mouth set in grim determination. “All right, let’s get this show on the road. I’m ready to be human again.”
[w1]I added this because Meg cannot know that Tee is offended. She can only infer.
Kristi Jones spent her childhood exploring European castles, crumbling manor houses and ornate cathedrals, always looking for secret passages and hidden rooms. She holds a degree in European history and loves to throw ‘ordinary’ characters into extraordinary circumstances.
She currently lives in south Texas with her husband and two children, who inspire her daily. She is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas and Romance Writers of America. She loves old movies, being a Mom, the feel of paper in her hands and things that go bump in the night.
Where to find Kristi:
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