Undeath: The Fragile Shadows Series (A Paranormal Vampire Romance), page 1
Undeath: The Fragile Shadow Series
A Paranormal Vampire Romance
Please note that Undeath was originally published under the title Nevergrave in July 2017. It is now unavailable for purchase.
Copyright © 2017 by Lily Levi
All rights reserved.
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“I feel exquisite pleasure in dwelling on the recollections of childhood, before misfortune had tainted my mind and changed its bright visions of extensive usefulness into gloomy and narrow reflections.”
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
June 17, 1994
“You think I live in the past?” Benny honked at the blue minivan ahead of them. “Figures, there’s no one on the road and we still get behind this son-of-a-bitch.” He crushed the empty can with his free hand and threw it into the backseat.
The day was warm and clear. On the beach outside the window, kids in shorts and brightly-colored bathing suits jumped between gray waves.
Jolene shivered and fingered the newspaper clipping in her lap. They’d stayed for nearly three weeks in Willapa Bay. Benny had wanted to make sure they were in the clear. It had been more than enough time for her to find the woman’s obituary in a newspaper box outside of a rundown Palametto’s.
“You hear me, Jo-Jo?” He pinched her arm. “You think I live in the past?”
She rubbed the growing red spot on the inside of her arm. “No,” she said, but she wasn’t really thinking so much about the freckled woman in Willapa Bay anymore. She would later, of course. She would always think about what Benny had done to her.
“I did what I had to do,” he said, as if he could hear her thoughts.
Jolene folded her arms and stared out the window. She followed the arc of a multi-colored beach ball over the rocky shoreline.
“Whatever,” she said. “You didn’t have to do it.”
He slapped the Cadillac’s steering wheel. “Oh sure, you tell yourself that. I saved your ass, Jolene.”
Maybe he had, maybe he hadn’t, but it didn’t change the fact that he’d finally done it. After all these years, Benny had finally killed someone.
“You got scared,” she said. “That’s what happened – you got scared.”
He laughed at her. “You want to see what scared looks like?”
Her muscles tensed. “Not really,” she said. He always did this.
He lifted both hands from the wheel and howled up at the roof of the Cadillac.
She crossed her arms. “Don’t play, Benny.” If he saw that she was afraid, he would keep at it. That’s how he was. It was strange to think that at one time, she’d actually liked that about him. If it used to be funny, it certainly wasn’t anymore.
The front wheel bumped over the dividing line between the lanes. He screwed his face up at her. “Scared yet?”
“Yeah,” she said, heart pounding. “Real scared.”
He bared his flat teeth at her. “Good, ‘cause maybe I have a death wish. You ever worry about that?”
The front of the car inched further into the opposite lane. The wooden fence bordering the road and the beach moved closer.
Jolene gripped the door’s handle. “I hope you know I’m not pushing this hunk of metal out of the sand.” She hoped he couldn’t hear the waver in her voice. “Look at all those rocks,” she added.
He shrugged at her. The gas revved beneath his heavy boot.
“Benny, seriously, watch the road.”
A white sedan flashed its lights at them in the oncoming lane. Benny howled again and fed the engine more gas.
“Benny,” she yelled, unable to help herself. She grabbed for the wheel.
He laughed, slapped her hand away, and straightened the Cadillac. “Now,” he said, spitting out of the window. “That’s what scared looks like.”
Jolene leaned stiffly back into the passenger seat and lit a cigarette. “Whatever,” she said She knew better. If Benny was going to kill them, he’d have something a little more dramatic in mind and not so off-the-cuff.
She grabbed for her earphones.
Hat Full of Stars. She’d bought the CD five years ago on an abnormally cold day in May, the same day she’d met Benny.
Things like this can always take a little time.
She’d left the crinkly white Virgin store bag in the back of Benny’s Cadillac. It was still there the second time they went out, and then the third, and on and on until five years had passed and the bag was thrown out, the case was cracked, and “Who Let in the Rain” always seemed to skip around the one minute mark.
And I wonder who let in the rain.
It wasn’t long before they passed through the first real semblance of a town that they’d seen in almost two days straight. They were hard to come by without the help of a highway and Benny avoided those now. Too much exposure, he told her. Too many people.
Here, the people flopped down the wooden sidewalk in their sandals, heads bobbing. Kids pointed into the open shops – Sally’s Saltwater Taffy, Sock City, Pine High Kites – and waved their towels through the air.
Jolene paused the disc in the Walkman and reached into the dash for the crushed box of Menthols. She lit another cigarette between her fingers. “Where are we?”
Benny pointed up at the windshield with one meaty finger. “Goddamn tourist trap, that’s where. Fuckin’ use your eyes for once.”
She blew out a puff of hot smoke and craned her neck to see what he’d pointed at.
Over the street, someone had strung a sun-faded banner.
NEVER PINE. HOME OF PETER PAN.
Lopsided Tinkerbells graced it’s edges.
Jolene leaned back into the seat. “Wasn’t Peter Pan from England?”
Benny slammed on the brakes and pushed his hand into the horn. A wom
Benny stuck his head out of the window. “Hey,” he called out to her. “You wanna get a leash for that kid?”
Not thinking, Jolene slapped his chest lightly with the back of her hand.
He returned the slap with a hard fist to her bare thigh.
She winced but wouldn’t cry. Instead, she pressed the cigarette between her lips. She still remembered a time when she would’ve told him to fuck right off. What she couldn’t remember was when she’d gotten so scared of him.
She flicked her cigarette ash out of the half-open window. Maybe scared wasn’t the right word. She felt somewhere right around the fringes of scared, right on the border of okay and not-okay.
She tossed the cigarette butt out of the window. She thought she would leave Benny one day, but that day never seemed to come.
Ahead, just a little further up against the winding highway, a tilted green cutout of Peter Pan rose up into the sky.
Jolene lit another cigarette. She made the same idle bet she always made and always lost, looking for a sign from the universe that it was the right time to leave Benny, but never looking too hard.
If he stopped at the motel, she’d leave him. If he didn’t, she’d keep on just the same. There were worse things in the world.
She pointed to the motel. “Maybe we could stay the night here,” she said.
It was like flipping a coin, but both sides were the same. He would keep driving, even if he really wanted to stop. He was combative. He was contrary. If Jolene said something that rubbed him the wrong way on Sunday, he’d make sure she paid for it on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. It never ended.
“Okay,” he said.
The motel parking lot sat empty of people. Only their cars were left. Everyone would either be at the beach or strolling through town, looking to buy cheap little Peter Pan souvenirs that they would no sooner buy than shove into a half-filled junk drawer.
Benny left his keys in the ignition and sauntered into the front office alone.
Jolene reached over the dirty cup holders and jangled the hanging keys against one another. She eyed the rearview mirror.
His bright orange duffel bag sat quietly in the middle of the back seat. She’d won her bet and if she was actually going to leave him, then the scenario now was too perfect. All she had to do was slide over into the driver’s seat, lock the doors, and press down the silver gas pedal.
If only she knew how to drive. There had never been any need for her to know, at least none that Benny could see.
She bit her lip and slouched back into the seat. It was just a stupid bet and nothing said she had to follow through with it.
She’d leave him one day, just not today.
Benny sauntered out from the motel office and she turned her eyes to the parking lot.
The Cadillac’s door creaked open with a metallic crank. “Come on,” he said. He grabbed the orange bag from the backseat and pulled the keys out from the ignition.
Jolene stretched back to look into the office. Inside, a man hung a ‘be back soon’ sign in the window. Catching her eye, he stopped to give her a thumbs up and a cheesy grin that said he hadn’t realized what kind of guy Benny was.
“Aren’t you going to park the car?” she asked.
Benny shrugged at her. “Here looks good. They’re not going to do anything about it. Come on.”
She moved out from the car and followed him down the long row of green doors.
They passed a faded blue ice machine. “Remind me to get ice,” he said. “I have a headache.”
“Okay,” she said.
He slid the keycard into their room door and she followed him inside.
The door slammed shut behind them.
“This place is a stinking hot shithole.” Benny wiped his creased forehead with the back of his hand. “You need a shower?”
“No,” she said, avoiding his eyes. She couldn’t stop thinking about her own silly bet. The odds that he would’ve stopped in at the motel were too low to even be real. He hated people. He hated small, dinky towns. He hated fresh air. He hated cartoons, which probably included Peter Pan. But there they were, at the Neverpine Motel, and the sun was still high in the sky.
There was no reason for them to be there. If anything, they had every reason to keep going. Benny was no longer just a run-of-the-mill thief. He was technically a murderer now and that meant that they had to be more careful.
Yet there they were.
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Well, I’m taking one. Give me a kiss.”
Holding her breath, she stepped up to him. She pressed her lips lightly against his. He tasted like beer and body odor.
She felt his hand grab lazily at her ass.
“Good girl,” he said. He tossed the keys and duffel bag onto the thin floral comforter. He pointed at her with two fingers. “I’m watching you, Jo-Jo.”
“Whatever,” she said. He trusted her as much as he trusted anyone, which wasn’t much. In five years, she’d never given him any reason to doubt her, but somehow he still believed that she was cheating or hiding things from him that he couldn’t possibly know.
Like her little bet to leave him.
The bathroom door shut behind him.
Jolene waited until she heard the shower start and then lit a cigarette. She stared at the orange bag in the middle of the bed. She wasn’t thinking straight, she knew that much. It wasn’t a sign that Benny stopped at the motel. It wasn’t anything. It was just where they were and that’s all there was to it.
Besides, leaving him now would be crazy. She had nowhere to go. Benny was her home, like it or not. Maybe he wasn’t the greatest, but he loved her in his own way, and love wasn’t always pretty and nice. It was messy and complicated.
Sometimes, love was even mean.
She tapped the cigarette against the ashtray on the cheap laminate desk. Even if she did manage to leave him, he’d still find her no matter how far she got. Benny was as unrelenting and stubborn as they came. So, when he’d inevitably catch up with her, could she hope that he’d understand?
Sorry you’re a shitty person, Benny. I had to leave. Sorry I didn’t say goodbye. Sorry I took your stuff. Sorry you found me.
She was being flighty and impulsive. Relationships took work, she knew that. Besides, she would probably make some kind of mistake and it would cost her everything. If Benny had a weakness – and he had plenty of those – it was that he couldn’t stand to look weak, which was just how leaving him at the Neverpine Motel would make him feel.
She closed her eyes and the freckled face of the woman in the Willapa Bay office supply store played behind her lids.
She touched the outside of the pocket that hid the folded obituary. Her name was Jean.
No, it had been Jean.
He’d shot Jean and he’d killed her, not because she was dangerous, but because she’d tried to make him look weak. Now, no matter how much she wanted to think about it or didn’t want to think about it, everything was different.
Even though she was Jolene, she could be Jean. All she had to do was go one step too far.
She stepped towards the end of the bed. She remembered how loud the bang of his gun had sounded in the small store. The pistol was just for show and that’s what he’d always told her. Only now, it wasn’t anymore.
The shower stopped and her heart sank. She waited for the sound of the plastic curtain to open and the pad of wet feet on tile.
But the shower started up a second time.
Without thinking, she grabbed for the orange bag and unzipped it with a swiftness she didn’t know she had. She shuffled through the liquor bottles and crumpled shirts. With one hand, she lifted the pistol out from beneath a pair of unwashed jeans.
It wasn’t just a pretty toy anymore. It was something else entirely.
She set it gingerly on the bed.
Drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll, he used to say with that shit-eating grin on his face. Everything is in the bag, you just need to know how to find it.
She found the flap and lifted it.
She let her fingertips glide over the crisp paper beneath. It came up to a little more than two hundred thousand dollars. He’d made her count it out loud in the smoke-filled room in Willapa Bay.
Two hundred thousand dollars - and counting. There were no plans to stop until they hit Mexico and even then, they would probably keep going. Enough was never enough for Benny.
She eyed his car keys. It was easier in so many ways to just sit back in the passenger seat, cigarette in her mouth, feet on the dash. But now…
The water stopped running in the bathroom for what she knew had to be the last time.
She snatched the bag from the bed and slipped silently out from behind the door.
She was doing it.
Her body felt like it wasn’t hers anymore.
She was doing it and she wasn’t supposed to be doing it.
But she was.