“Yes, I know.”
“Ysabelle?” The front door thumped shut with an audible grunt from Noelle, one of my two flatmates. “One of these days we’re going to get Mr. Sinclair to fix that door…Ysabelle?”
“Elle est right here avec l’sitting chambre du femmes,” Sally, my other flatmate, called out as she drifted through the room. Sally has issues.
“Tabarnak! Vous parlez a mouthful.” Sally beamed at my client as she wafted past him, through the wall, and into the room beyond.
“Oh.” The door to the sitting room opened and Noelle stuck her head in, a worried frown puckering her brow. Since she was normally as cute as a button with short, curly red hair, freckles, and a cheerful disposition despite her rather sombre profession, a frown was especially noticeable. “Did you know there’s a small herd of zombies in the hall?”
I sighed, giving my client what I hoped was a reassuringly cheerful smile. “Yes, I know, and please, Noelle—zombie is so politically incorrect. The preferred term is revenant, or functionally deceased.”
“Well, there’s a group of fuctionally deceased in the hall playing strip poker, and if Mr. Sinclair sees them, he’s going to have a fit. You know how he is about using the flat for business.”
“Ahem! Brains!” Tim, new revenant in need of counseling, glared at me.
“I do apologize for the interruption, Tim,” I said in a calm, reassuring voice as I waved a hand at Noelle. She rolled her eyes and closed the door, leaving me with my client. “You were telling me about the taunting you experienced recently?”
“Yes, brains. Or rather, braiiiiiiiins. Spoken in a slurred, repugnant voice that was accompanied by fine spray of spittle. That’s all they said, over and over again, as if I was supposed to stagger toward them with a fork and knife, and start hacking away at their heads. I am more than a little offended by the stereotype portrayed in modern films, and which people such as those at the bus stop whole-heartedly embrace. Isn’t there something we can do about it? Must we endure such things without speaking up? Is there no way to educate the public about the true nature of revenants?”
“We are working very hard to do that, but as you know, public acceptance is a hard fought battle, and frankly, I don’t see an end in sight anytime in the near future.”
“Qu’est que l’hell?” Sally, who had drifted back into the room on Noelle’s heels, paused to look out the window.
“Sally, language, please!”
“Pardonnez. But holy merde! Voici est a whole boatload du zombies en l’rue. Moi allez to get le cricket bat in case ils try breaking dans le flat.”
“There, you see?” Tim pointed at Sally. She gave us a cheerful smile and flitted past to the next room. “Your…whatever she is. That’s just the sort of negative stereotypical reaction I object to!”
“Sally is my spirit guide,” I answered, my voice rife with apology. “I do apologize for her, as well. Some time ago she decided she wanted to be French, and changed her name to Fleur and began speaking in that attrocious Franglais. We’re hoping it’s a phase she’ll pass through. Soon.”
Tim’s eyes, which reminded me of a particularly obnoxious form of boiled sweet, bugged out at me in the manner of an elderly pug. “Spirit guide? You have a spirit guide? I thought you worked for the Society for the Protection of Revenants?”
“I do, but counseling is only a part time position,” I explained. “I also occasionally work as a history and English tutor, and I have some experience in acting as a medium for persons wishing to contact the deceased. I would probably have more of the latter work if I had a spirit guide who wasn’t quite so…well, you saw Sally. But my personal problems are neither here nor there. We were discussing your successful reentry into a meaningful and productive life filled with satisfaction.”
“It’s neither successful, productive, or meaningful thus far,” he said in a rather petulent tone of voice. “Surely there must be something we can do about the prejudice that I’ve been forced to face?”
I gave a helpless little shrug. “What would you suggest?”
“Well…I’m a pacifist, so I won’t go the route of violence, despite what the public seems to believe of us. Perhaps a picket, or a boycott of non-revenant companies, or oh! I know! An Internet letter writing campaign! That worked wonders with the Save the Hedgehog folk! You should suggest that to the Society.”
I opened my mouth to explain that the SPCR had spent long decades working to educate the public as to the true nature of their members with little success to date, but bit back the inevitable lecture. It would do no good. Tim was newly reborn, and he’d learn with time how to hide his present state. My job was not to teach him to pass as mortal—it was to get him past the first hurdles of rebirth. “I’ll be sure to pass along your suggestions, but you know, something like that really needs someone with excellent organizational skills to head it up. Perhaps you’d like to start a grass roots campaign yourself? Your resume says you were very active with a human rights organization.”
“Hmmm. That’s an idea,” Tim said with a thoughtful pause. “I suppose I could do something along those lines. Perhaps if we started small, say a sit-in consisting of new revenants like myself to show the public that we aren’t the mindless, brain-eating zombies popular movies paint us.”
“Excellent idea,” I said, relieved that he was channeling his energies into something worthwhile. Most new revenants spent several months at a loss as to how to restart their lives.
“Somewhere popular, obviously. Leicester Square?”
I frowned. “There are a great many restaurants there…”
“Is that bad?” He looked puzzled for a moment, then nodded. “Ah, I see what you mean. You believe the proximity of fast food and other restaurants will be a tempation for us to leave the vegetarian lifestyle behind.”
“It has been shown that revenants function much better in society if they severely limit their intake of animal flesh,” I said gently. “Sadly, it is well documented that those revenants who turn feral have indulged in what can only be described as orgies at local fast food restaurants. That is why the Society insists all members adhere to a strictly vegetarian diet. Most members have no problem doing so, but for new people, it can be difficult to avoid the lures a Quarter Pounder with Cheese presents. Thus we counsel avoiding temptation altogether for the first two months.”
“Surely a hamburger now and again couldn’t hurt?”
“You wouldn’t think so, would you? But we’ve found that animal flesh is more or less an addicting drug to revenants—it leaves them addicted, craving more, needing greater and greater quantities to satisfy the addiction. Thus the no-flesh diet.”
For a moment, a red light lit the depths of his eyes, but it faded quickly. “Er…yes, point taken,” he said solemly. “Perhaps somewhere less likely to lead to a fall. A park? Hyde Park?”
“That sounds like a perfect location.”
“Yes. I will do that. Thank you, Ysabelle—that was an excellent suggestion. You will help with the sit-in, naturally?”
I smiled. “I’ll do my best. If you have any problems, feel free to contact me.”
“Very well.” With a brisk nod, Tim gathered up the orientation and welcome packet I’d given him. “I’d like to get started on it right away, but I suppose I should look up my wife and see what she’s done to house in the six months since I died. Knowing her, she’s run amok with gingham or some other hideous scheme.”
“Your family was notified last week about your resurrection, so they should be ready to greet you,” I said, getting up to show him out. “If there are any questions or problems you encounter, please don’t hesitate to call. My number is on the card.”
He nodded and said goodbye.
I waved him out then hurried to Noelle’s door, knocking before opening it. “How did the infestation go?”
She looked up from the screen of the laptop she used for her book in progress. “Hmm? Oh, it went well, although there were a few more coblyn than I expected. But, given Salvaticus, understandable. Speaking of that, how are you holding up? I know this can’t be an easy time for you.”
I sighed and rubbed my neck for a moment. “I’m tired but I think my head is still above water. This is so different from what I’ve experienced in the past, I’m a bit overwhelmed.”
“It’s bound to be. How many zombies do you normally have to deal with?”
I rubbed the back of my neck again, and wished for a couple of aspirin. “Usually less than five a year are raised by intervention.”
“Intervention? Like a drug intervention?”
“No, not like that. Intervention in this case means someone has to petition a being with the power to raise the dead. It’s not an easy process. But now, because Salvaticus is traditionally the time of rebirth, the society says we can expect more than three hundred rebirths over the next few days. All the counselors are working around the clock to cope with the influx. Speaking of which, if my clients are playing poker in the hall, I’d best see to them before the neighbors start to complain about naked revenants. Sally?” I poked my head out into the flat’s hall.
“Oui? Vous called?”
“Can you show in the next person? And please—watch your language. Some of these people have been dead for over a hundred years, and they’re bound to be scandalized by such colorful language.”
My erstwhile spirit guide snorted and rolled her eyes as she drifted toward the front door. “Années du hundred est rien to sneeze at. Moi, je will be cent soixante-dix deux next March.”
“And you don’t look a day over one hundred and fifty,” I said with a shooing motion. “Please give the client the welcome packet, and tell him or her I’ll be right there. I need to talk to Noelle quickly first.”
“It will have to be quick,” Noelle said, glancing at the clock and saving her book file. “I’m on duty tonight in the Tower of London’s portal. It’s been spewing out huge numbers of imps the last few nights, and the Tower’s regular Guardian is too overwhelmed to cope with all the crossovers.”
I frowned. “I know Salvaticus is the time of rebirth for revenants, but why would that make the imps come into our world?”
“Lots of reasons,” Noelle said, snatching up her bag of tools and a small purse. “It’s the week before Vexamen, the time of upheaval in Abaddon when demon lords struggle with one another for surpremacy. Those battles generate an excess amount of dark power, so the imps and other beings use that to access portals that would normally be beyond their abilities. And speaking of that, I wanted to remind you to be especially careful when you go out.”
“Me?” I watched as she crossed over to her bedroom window and drew a protection ward on it, then followed when she marched out and repeated the process on all the windows in the flat. “What are you doing? I thought you warded the flat every weekend?”
“Those are normal household protection wards. These are different—these will keep any being of dark powers out. They don’t last as long as the others. I’m drawing them because you’re at risk right now.”
She turned to face me as Sally showed a middle-aged woman into the sitting room. I told the woman I’d be with her in a minute.
“What are you talking about?” I asked Noelle in a low voice so as not to be overheard. “Why am I at risk? It’s not like I’m sex bunny or even beyond minimally attractive.”
“Oh stop. You’re sex bunny enough to capture five husbands.”
I thinned my lips. “They weren’t captured, not any of them. They were all very nice men, considerate and thoughtful, if a bit…well, that’s not a discussion for today. My point is that with my handicap, I’m rendered unattractive, and thus am not at risk when I go out.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake…you aren’t handicapped.”
“I am. I’ve learned to live with my differences.”
“Being different from others doesn’t mean you’re handicapped. It means you’re unique! Besides, it’s differently abled now,” she said with a quirk of her eyebrows as she eyed me. “That’s not what I was talking about, but you know full well you’re attractive enough. You’re not cursed with red hair and freckles.”
I smiled. Noelle’s hair and fair skin were the bain of her existence. “Oh, now, you’re not going to tell me that men don’t like red hair, because I know that’s not true. You have lots of boyfriends.”
“Perhaps, but there was only one who really mattered.” She stopped next to a desk, her face drawn. I put an arm around her. I had been in the country visiting a relative when she had met, been madly attracted to, and ultimately, rejected by a mysterious man about whom she was oddly reticent to speak. “I’m sorry, Belle—I don’t mean to be a wet blanket about this, but it…well, it still hurts.”
“Men are scum,” I said sympathetically. “Most of them are, that is. Certainly the one who dumped you is.”
“He didn’t dump me so much as reject what I had to offer him,” she said with a sad little sigh. “I just don’t know how he could do that. It doesn’t seem possible—it was against all the rules—but he did.”
I murmured platitudes, feeling her pain. “I know it’s hard now. It’s only been, what, seven months? But in time, you’ll realize that this man was not meant for you.”
“That’s just the problem—he was meant for me,” she said, turning away. “He was…oh, what does it matter? He refused me, and that was the end of it.”
“Then more fool him. You are charming, attractive, smart, and a wonderful person. And for the record, I quite like your red hair and freckles.”
She laughed and gave me a hug. “And I like your dark hair and grey eyes, but that’s beside the point. We’re quite a pair, aren’t we? Here’s me mourning a lost love that never was, and you thinking you’re a pariah because of your soul.”
My smile faded. I looked out the window, uncomfortable as I always was when my handicap was mentioned. “I still don’t see what that has to do with Salvaticus.”
“Then you’re being unusually obtuse. You must know that you will present an extreme temptation to any servants of demon lords who are about.”
“As does anyone with my handicap,” I said, crossing my arms and looking out the window at the rainy London morning. A thin drizzle spotted the window and made the street gleamy damply, casting a gloom over the day that had me shivering slightly.
“Ah, but there aren’t that many of you around, are there?” she asked, her head tipped to the side as she continued to study me, evidently cheered out of her own glums by my moodiness.
I shifted restlessly, uncomfortable with such close scrutiny.
“That wasn’t a condemnation, you know,” she said softly, then tsked when the sitting room clock chimed. “Bloody hell, I’m late. Just watch yourself. Stay in and don’t go out for the next few days just to be sure.”