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Authors: Cameron Haley

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BOOK: Skeleton Crew
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The dead were everywhere, but only the fey were staying down. The humans were nursing wounds they couldn't possibly have survived and some of them were already starting to look a little crazy.

Oberon was stretched out on the floor, his head cradled in Titania's lap. He'd returned to his youthful, sidhe form. He was bleeding but at least he was conscious. The queen wouldn't let anyone else get close, but she didn't object when Oberon waved me over.

“You slew the Fomoiri,” the king said.

“We did,” I said, nodding at Adan. I looked but there was no corpse in this world, not even a puddle of tar.

“I'm in your debt, Domino.”

“Nah. Really it was just self-defense.”

“This was my party. I'm the host.” He paused and looked up at Titania, and smiled. “You defended my queen.”

I shrugged. “You want to return the favor someday, I'm not going to argue much.”

Oberon nodded and then his face hardened. “I'm sorry, but you're going to have to clean this up.”

I looked around the room at the carnage. Most of the living dead were my soldiers. I saw Honey. She was sitting on the couch again with Jack, though I remembered hearing her battle cry during the fight.

I also saw Anton. He sagged against the wall with his legs stretched out in front of him. His torso had been torn open and he was trying to shovel his guts back into the cavity.

I shook my head. “No way, King. I'm not putting them down.” Then I walked over to Anton. He looked up as I approached and I saw he was crying.

“I was dancing, Domino,” he said. “Did you see me?”

“I missed it, Anton. I bet you danced real good.”

“I was dancing with the pretty fairy.” He looked toward the dance floor, and then tucked his chin into his chest and bawled. I turned and saw a bloody tangle of meat that might once have been a female sidhe.

I tightened my jaw, bit down on my lip and turned away. Honey and Jack flew over to me and Adan followed.

“What are you going to do, Domino?” Honey whispered.

I stared at her, blinked and ground my teeth. “I will
not
put that fat son of a bitch down.”

“We don't have a choice, Domino,” Adan said. “You know what will happen if we don't.” He tried to put his arm around me but I jerked away.

“Honey, you and the other fey see what you can do. Save the ones that are still alive, then patch up the dead the best you can.” I pointed to Anton. “Start with him.”

I walked to the center of the dance floor and looked around. “Listen up,” I said. “Those of you who died tonight, you're going to start getting hungry. You know the drill—you've all seen enough fucking zombie movies. You're going to want human flesh. You're going to need it.”

I paused and looked at Anton. “You can have all you want,” I said quietly, and then I looked out at the survivors again. “Eat up. It might keep your bodies intact, keep you more or less human. But there's only one place you can feed. If I find you anywhere else, I put you down.”

“Where should we go, Domino?” Anton asked. “I'm hungry already.”

“You go find Mobley and his boys, Anton.”

Adan came up behind me and whispered in my ear. “Domino, no, you can't do this. You don't even know Mobley was responsible for that thing.”

I turned and looked at him, and whatever he saw in my eyes made him step back. “I know,” I said. “I tasted his fucking juice on it.”

I turned back to Anton and nodded. “Go on,” I said, and smiled. “Pig out.”

four

The dream had become a nightmare, and now the party turned into a war council. Oberon had converted an unused storage space in the back of the club into a conference room. Terrence, Adan and I followed him in and joined the fairy king and his queen at the long, rectangular table.

“Who's Fomoiri?” I asked when we were seated. “It's a demon, isn't it?”

Oberon nodded. “Not who,
what.
A Fomorian. It is what some of your kind call the Firstborn.”

I'd always thought demons were fallen angels, but Mr. Clean claimed they were actually Preadamites—the first race given souls and granted dominion over the earth. According to the jinn, they lacked empathy, conscience, the knowledge of good and evil, and so they had become corrupted and were cast out of the mortal world.

It seemed they were back.

“They are an ancient race,” the king said. “An ancient enemy.”

“Francis Mobley brought it here,” I said. “A summoning of some kind.”

Oberon looked at me and his face went hard. “No,
Domino.
You
brought it here. Your actions on behalf of this man,” he said, gesturing at Terrence, “brought this thing into my house. Your efforts in defense of my queen do not absolve you of that crime.”

“Ain't got nothing to do with Domino,” Terrence said. “Mobley sent that thing after me.” Terrence's Egyptian costume was gone, and he reached a hand inside his jacket. He pulled out a fancy parchment envelope and threw it on the table. “I guess I didn't invite myself here tonight.”

Oberon stared at the invitation and then at Terrence. The muscles under the skin of his face shifted and rippled, like something hidden was trying to get out. “Nevertheless,” the king said, “it was not prudent for Domino to throw in with you, Mr. Cole. Even the acting boss of her own outfit opposed her decision.”

“I'm not Domino's boss, Sire,” said Adan. “And I supported her decision. I still do. Terrence is our ally, just as you are. Mobley is our enemy. It isn't complicated.” I looked at him and tried to keep the surprise from my face. He didn't return the look and his expression remained impassive. He was a good liar.

Oberon's cold stare locked on Adan for a few moments, and then his face relaxed. “Very well,” he said, and looked at me. “It appears I misjudged the situation. Domino, I beg forgiveness for my ill-considered accusations. It has been a difficult night.”

“Unnecessary but accepted, King. Adan has it right— Mobley is the bad guy. There's no profit in turning against each other. I figure that's why he sent the demon here and not to Terrence's bedroom some night.”

Oberon inclined his head, deeply enough that it was almost a bow. “The question is, then, what do we do about it?”

“The bad news is the conflict between Terrence and
Mobley has escalated,” I said. “The good news is, the political niceties just got flushed and the gloves are off. Mobley is an easy problem to solve.”

“You sure, D?” Terrence asked. “Motherfucker summoned a demon. I don't know where he got the juice. Don't know where he got the chops. It ain't nothing
I
could do.”

“And if he summoned one,” Adan said, “we have to assume he can do it again.”

“Okay,” I said, “let's work that angle. How the fuck did he do it?”

“There are rituals, of course,” said Oberon. “But I hadn't thought there was yet enough magic in the world to sustain the Fomoire—nor for a man like Mobley to call one.”

“I got a taste of the juice. I can try to reconstruct the ritual.” That still wouldn't explain where Mobley got the craft or the juice to pull it off, but it was a start.

“That sounds real good, D,” said Terrence, “but Mobley ain't even our only problem. Zombie motherfuckers is getting out of control.”

Oberon shrugged. “Our concern is the Fomoire, not the zombies.”

“How do you figure?” I asked. “Looks to me like the zombies are everybody's problem.”

“You may have noticed,” the king said, “that my people are immune to this plague.”

“I have a theory about that,” Adan said. “The zombies are created when souls are unable to leave the body after death.”

“So why are the sidhe immune?” I asked.

“We don't have souls,” Titania said.

Awkward.
I felt like I'd just told an off-color joke in mixed company.

Oberon chuckled. “There's no reason for discomfort,
Domino. It's not a matter of lack or misfortune. We are creatures of spirit wrapped in a thin veil of flesh. You are flesh that imprisons a small measure of spirit. Neither better nor worse, only different.”

“Okay, so the Seelie Court won't go zombie,” I said. “That's good. But it's still bad news for you if the rest of the city does.”

Oberon didn't say anything and the expression on his face made it clear he didn't entirely agree. Was it possible he viewed a Los Angeles without humans—living ones, anyway—as an opportunity?

“She's right, husband,” Titania said. “We need them.” The “for now” at the end of the sentence was no less obvious for being unspoken.

“Yeah,” I said, “you need us. Oh, and let's not forget the moral tragedy of the whole fucking human race being wiped out by fucking zombies. Maybe we should consider that, too.”

Oberon and Titania looked at each other and then back to me. They smiled in unison. “Of course,” they said.

“We are your friends, Domino,” the king said. “We wish you no harm. But our first obligation is to our own people. We would expect no less of you.”

“I'm overwhelmed, King. Thing is, I need your help with the zombies. Someone has to contain this thing and your people are obviously better suited to it than mine. I send my soldiers out to herd zombies, some of them are going to end up swelling their ranks. I don't like the math. Eventually, I'm out of soldiers and I've got more zombies than ever.”

“And what of the Fomoire?”

“We can deal with Mobley. Anton and his crew should keep them busy for a while. Terrence, you help them out. Hit that motherfucker with everything you've got. There
will have to be a reckoning with Simeon Wale at some point, but not now. We need him.”

“Consider it done, Domino.”

“In the meantime, I'll try to figure out how Mobley called the demon and what's causing the zombie plague. Adan, I'd like your help with that.”

He nodded. “I think they may be related.”

“How so?”

“The king is right—there shouldn't be enough magic to pull the Firstborn into this world and keep them here. Not yet. The dead rising, though…the normal rules are breaking down. Whatever's causing it, there are consequences to something like that. The walls are falling. It would make a summoning much easier.”

“A Critical Metaphysical Instability,” I said, and Adan cocked an eyebrow at me. “Never mind. But I'll bet you're right.”

“I don't like the idea that your attention will be divided between the zombies and the Fomoire, Domino,” Oberon said. “If Mobley is capable of summoning more of the Fomoire into this world, nothing is a higher priority. Not even a zombie plague.”

“My attention won't be divided—not for long. I need to break down the spell because I tasted the juice. Once that's done, I'll give you and Terrence what I've got and you can deal with it.”

The king smiled and bowed his head. “That is acceptable to us.”

I'm so happy for you.
“Okay, this sounds like a plan,” I said. “Terrence and his outfit go stone-cold gangster on Mobley. The Seelie Court cowboys up on the zombies. Adan and I run down the summoning spell and then look for whatever's putting Death out of business.”

There were nods all around the table and the council broke up. Adan and I sat together in silence after the others had left. He reclined in his chair, drinking wine from a crystal goblet, lost in thought. I knew what was coming—the Talk—and I really wasn't in the mood. The way I saw it, whatever happened between us at the party had happened, and that was all there was to it. Hell, I wasn't even sure what
had
happened—Oberon had slipped us all a magic roofie when we walked in the club.

But I just knew Adan felt the need to talk it over. I could see he was thinking about it, the way he sat there, staring at his goblet and turning it in circles on the table. The only question was what type he'd turn out to be. There was the annoyingly sensitive “we've got to share our feelings” type. Or he could be the irritatingly analytical “we've got to dissect this and figure out exactly what it means” type. If I was really unlucky, he could turn out to be the nice guy “I'll pretend I'm not needy and then stalk you” type. I
hated
that type.

Adan sighed and shook his head, and then looked up at me. Here it came. “I just have to know,” he said, “did we have a foursome with those piskies?”

I laughed, choked and felt wine flood my nasal passages. Adan started laughing, too, and that made it worse. I hooted and howled, my eyes watering and my stomach clenching painfully. I finally managed to catch a little breath and gasped, “The guy, Jack, had to be a full nine inches.” Adan doubled over and started slapping the table, and I lost it completely. All the pain, and fear, and horror of the demon attack and the zombie plague that threatened to tear the city apart from the inside out—all of it just got flushed away. It was the oldest and most powerful magic, the kind of magic humans had always used to banish the darkness.

After long, helpless minutes we finally managed to control ourselves. Adan took deep, shuddering breaths and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. Finally, he looked at me and grinned. “Are we cool?”

“Like the other side of the pillow,” I said.

As if on cue, Honey and Jack buzzed into the room. They stopped, hovering together in midair, and looked at us. “Oh, Domino, what's wrong?” Honey said. “Have you two been crying? Has something else happened?”

Adan and I looked at the piskies and then at each other. Adan made a sound that was half choke and half sneeze, like he'd taken a deep drag on a harsh joint. The laughter bubbled up again and brightened the world for a while.

 

I ran down a senior citizen on the way back to my condo from the Carnival Club. Adan, Honey and Jack were all with me in the car when it happened—Adan riding shotgun, the piskies in the back doing whatever. We were cruising down Silver Lake and I was using the traffic spell to make good time when an elderly gentleman stumbled into the street between two parked cars, arms windmilling, right in front of the Lincoln.

Adan shouted and braced one arm on the dash as I hit the brakes, but the old man never had a chance. There was a loud thump and the car shuddered as the grille slammed into his left hip. He flipped over the hood, twisting like a stuffed toy tossed into the air by a pit bull, and smashed against the windshield before somersaulting into the backseat of the open convertible. The piskies bailed just in time to avoid being crushed by the limp, broken body.

The Lincoln's tires squealed as I locked up the brakes and finally brought the car to a skidding stop. My hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly I thought my fingers
might snap when I released it. I glanced in the rearview mirror. I couldn't see the old man, but the white upholstery of the backseat looked like it had been painted red by a really sloppy tagger. I looked through the starred glass of the windshield and saw blood there, too.

Adan and I just sat there for a moment, neither of us speaking. Then the screaming started. We looked to our right. An old woman with curlers in her hair stood on the sidewalk, one clutched hand wrinkling the front of her muumuu. And she shrieked.

“Tell me that didn't just happen,” I said quietly.

“Where the hell did he come from?” said Adan.

“Domino…” Honey said. She was hovering at the edge of the street, between the car and the old woman.

“Pearl, stop that wailing!” the old man said, appearing in the rearview mirror as he sat up in the backseat. “You're like to wake the dead.” He made a horrible hacking, wheezing sound and his shoulders shook. He was laughing. The left side of his skull was caved in and a wet flap of skin hung down over his cheek. His teeth were broken and bloody, and a couple of the lower ones were protruding from his bottom lip. He was wearing a nightgown, an old-school Ebenezer Scrooge number.

“Henry, you bastard!” yelled Pearl. “You bit me, you miserable old snake!” The woman shambled toward the car, raising her arm above her head. She was holding a butcher knife. Blood ran from a wound on her neck onto the green-and-orange muumuu. At least he hadn't gotten her ear. Adan and I jumped out of the car and backed away.

Henry twisted in the backseat and started crawling out onto the trunk. Most of his body didn't seem to be responding very well, and he dragged himself along on his belly, using his elbows for leverage. Point to Pearl—he did
kind of look like a snake. He was also smearing blood all over my car.

I held up my hands. “Chill the fuck out, Pearl,” I said. “Let's see if we can talk this through.”

Pearl stopped and looked at me, still holding the knife in stabbing position. “Talk?” she shrieked. “You want me to talk? He tried to eat me!”

“I feel you,” I said, rubbing my ear. “Believe me. But I'm not going to let you stick Henry, okay?”

“He died already!” Pearl yelled.

“Twice,” said Henry. He'd rolled over on his back and lay splayed out on the trunk, chuckling wetly.

“Okay,” I said. “How do you know he died, Pearl?”

“The machine! He's been hooked up to those damn machines for months, good for nothing except lying in bed shitting himself.” She shook with fury. “I had to clean it up!”

“And he died?”

BOOK: Skeleton Crew
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