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       Valentine's Day of the Undead, p.1

           Stacey Jay
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Valentine's Day of the Undead


  Valentine’s Day

  of the Undead

  A Megan Berry, Zombie Settler, Short Story

  By Stacey Jay

  Copyright page

  Copyright Stacey Jay 2011

  Cover art and layout by April McGuire

  Author photo by Jamie Fender Photography

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  Valentine’s Day of the Undead

  Copyright © 2011 Stacey Jay

  Edited by Julie Linker. Cover art by April McGuire.

  Publication February 2011

  With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the author, Stacey Jay. Contact her using the form at staceyjay.com.

  Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/). (In addition, if you download this book illegally, the author will hate your rotten, stinky, thieving guts, and will dispatch her pack of flesh-eating zombies posthaste. Fear zombies; buy books.)

  This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.

  The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction: Are you lonesome tonight: Elvis Presley Enterprises, Mini Cooper: Bayerische Motoren Werke Aktiengesellschaft Aktiengesellschaft, Minnie Mouse: Disney Enterprises, Inc., Kardashians: KimsAPrincess Inc, Sonic: America's Drive-In Brand Properties, LLC Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt University

  What the critics are saying

  about the Megan Berry series:

  “Sharp storytelling, good writing, and the current hunger for zombie fiction make this a sure hit with some nutritive value.” -Booklist

  “Jay's writing is light and engaging, and the characters are lively and likable.” –Publisher’s Weekly

  "Megan and Monica kick some major undead butt in Jay's newest release. Jay is pitch-perfect with her heroine's attitude…her struggle feels eerily recognizable." -4 Stars from Romantic Times Magazine

  “I certainly hope there will be [more] because this series is staring to become a favorite of mine.” –Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf

  “Undead Much was just as funny, sassy, and unpredictable as it's predecessor!” –The Story Siren

  "...a cross between Stephenie Meyer and Joss Whedon.....high school angst with more than a dash of otherworldly danger" -Kidliterate Reviews

  "Part Buffy the Vampire Slayer, part Night of the Living Dead, this is one title you absolutely cannot miss." -BookKids Recommends

  What you’ve missed so far:

  Megan Berry is a Zombie Settler by birth, a supernatural therapist to those recently distressed in death. She helps friendly dead people with unresolved issues from their lives most of the time, but occasionally Megan has to whip out a can of kick-ass on black magically raised zombies.

  Megan’s power to Settle disappeared after an attack by black magically raised zombies when she was a kid, but returned at the beginning of her sophomore year of high school, in time for her to be tutored in the way of the Settler by her smoking hot childhood best friend, Ethan.

  She and Ethan fell hard for each other, Megan made the pom pom squad, was nearly killed by her best friend (a witch), and helped saved Carol High School homecoming from becoming a zombie bloodbath. Yay! But then Megan got in deep fertilizer all over again when a new, über-zombie uprising threatened to destroy the state of Arkansas. She discovered that not only is she a Settler, she’s also half witch and has black magically charged blood that bad guys the world over are going to want for their spells.

  She was kidnapped by evil cheerleaders, had a brief dalliance with a zombie psychic named Cliff who’s risen from his grave to help prevent a zombie apocalypse, and she and Ethan broke up (but decided to remain friends who hug). Top it all off with a human hand in a box from her evil bio dad and a warning from the zombie psychic that the evil Addison Strain (aka evil bio dad) will be showing up “soon,” and that’s what you missed in YOU ARE SO UNDEAD TO ME and UNDEAD MUCH?—books one and two of the Megan Berry, Zombie Settler, series. Learn more at staceyjay.com

  VALENTINE’S DAY

  OF THE UNDEAD

  February 14th, 8:02 p.m.

  Tragedy. Heartbreak. Misery. Pain.

  Being stuck serving hot dogs at the Valentine’s Day semi-formal because you’re the only pom squad member without a date is all of these things. Served cold. With a side of tragedy slaw, drizzled with the sour, rancid mustard of love squandered and passion denied.

  Ethan is hundreds of miles away, but even if he were standing right next to me it wouldn’t matter. Because I ruined everything. And now he’s gone.

  Anguish. Smothered in sadness chili.

  I sniff and hand over a tray of chilidogs to three junior girls who came as each others’ dates. They head for a table and Penny—fellow sophomore pom squadder—steps to the head of the line.

  “Megan!” she squeals. “You look so cute!”

  “Thanks,” I say, even though I know she’s just being nice. I look anything but cute. My hastily flat-ironed brown hair hangs in frizzy waves to the middle of my back, and I’m pretty sure I’ve already smeared my eyeliner. I should have known better than to make an eye-

  make-up commitment on a tear-threat-level-orange night. “You too.”

  Penny’s copper hair is piled on top of her head like a beauty queen, and her swingy green dress makes her eyes sparkle. She’s always super cute, but tonight she’s practically glowing. I guess her one-month anniversary is going even better than she hoped.

  “I love your dress,” I say.

  “Thanks!” She squeals again. I try not to wince. Who am I to judge? I’m sure I was just as audibly thrilled at my first—and only—dance with Ethan.

  Ethan. Sigh.

  “So what can I get you?” I ask, with as much perk as I can manage.

  “Two hot dogs with extra relish, please.”

  “Awesome.” I smile my friendliest smile as I load two dogs into their buns. Penny and I had the it’s-fine-for-you-to-date-that-guy-I-went-out-with-once talk a while ago, but I don’t want her to think there are any lingering hard feelings. I couldn’t be more thrilled that she’s found true love with Josh Pickle. After my one, extremely lame date with Josh and his even lamer rumor-spreading about the “home run” he allegedly scored during said date—he barely got to first base and that’s the truth—I would have dubbed him a skeeze incapable of complex human emotion, but he’s great to Penny. Obviously, I was wrong about him.

  I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m wrong a lot lately. It’s becoming an upsetting trend—like open toed boots or lime green stretch pants or the Kardashian sisters.

  For example, I assumed I was just an unusually powerful Zombie Settler, but in fact I’m half Settler, half witch, and have weird supernatural blood that makes black magic more powerful. I assumed my dad was my dad, but he’s actually my adopted dad. My real dad is a witch who sent me a human hand in a box as a late Christmas present. I assumed our Settler community was good and honest, but somewhere in Arkansas there’s a traitor who helped my evil ex best friend—also a witch—escape from Settlers Affairs prison, and now every Elder in the state is being investigated by the National High Council.

  Worst of all, I assumed I was a true blue girl who would never cheat on her boyfriend. But I did. I cheated. I kissed another gu
y and ruined my chances with the only boy I’ve ever loved, the only person in the world who understands me, the only shaggy blond haired, flashy green-eyed, gorgeous, funny, sweet, brave—

  “Megan?” Penny waves a hand in front of my face. “Are you okay?”

  I blink away the stinging at the backs of my eyes. I’ve got to stop thinking about Ethan. So it would have been our first Valentine’s Day together. So what? There’s no reason to let my angst infect everyone else’s evening. I force another smile. “Sorry. I zoned out. What were you saying?”

  “Oh, nothing really.” Penny shrugs. “I just thought it was cool that Josh is dancing the fast dances with me. I know most of the football team would rather get stabbed in the face than dance in public.”

  “Totally. Wow. That’s brave.”

  “I know.” She laughs. “I can’t believe it. I was sure he’d want to sit on the side with his friends and I wouldn’t get to dance at all. But he said he knows how much I love to dance, so…” She trails off with sigh, and turns to peek at her true love. Josh is in line for popcorn and drinks at the cheerleader’s refreshment table.

  Dana and a half-dozen of her minions are working the cheer concession stand, and none of them seem bummed that they’re not here for fun of the romantic variety. But it’s a known fact that the Carol High Cheerleaders are seriously love impaired. Thanks to a magic Settler mind wipe none of them remember trying to sacrifice me on an altar in exchange for eternal youth and beauty a few weeks back, but I remember and I can tell you I’ll never look at a perky blonde ponytail the same way again.

  I’m a Zombie Settler and I deal with normal, troubled-in-death dead people on a regular basis, and black magically raised zombies hungry for human flesh more often than I’d like, and I still say there’s nothing scarier than a CHS cheerleader.

  “He said he practiced every night in his room so that he wouldn’t embarrass me,” Penny says, turning back to me with flushed cheeks. “Isn’t that the cutest thing you’ve ever heard?”

  “It is. Josh is so much cooler since you two started going out.” I pile relish on the hot dogs until the buns start to get soggy and hand them over to Penny with two forks and a handful of napkins. “You’re good for him.”

  “Really? You think?”

  “I do.”

  Penny smiles, but doesn’t turn to leave the table. She lingers, and the love sickness in her eyes becomes the gossamer sheen of pity. “I think you were good for Ethan, too. I bet he’s regretting transferring schools already.”

  The official story is that Ethan transferred to Vanderbilt University and is going for an undergrad degree in engineering. The true story is that Ethan is in training to be an Enforcer—one of the FBI of the Zombie Settler world—and won’t be finished for five or six years. He’ll only be coming back to Carol for the occasional family visit, which means from now on I’ll only see him for a few days at a time, and those days will be spent as friends.

  Just friends. Hopefully. And maybe not even that.

  I’ve called him five times in the four weeks since he left, but he hasn’t picked up or called me back. Kitty says he’s probably so busy that he hasn’t had the chance to get to a phone, and Mom says to give him time and he’ll come around, but I’m not so sure. If Ethan was serious about wanting to stay friends, he would have called me back. But he hasn’t. I’m guessing he’s decided he’s better off without a Megan in his life, and I really can’t blame him.

  I can hurt and ache and cry and feel like my soul is trapped at the bottom of a deep, dark hole I might never climb out of, but I can’t blame him.

  But Penny doesn’t know any of that, so I just shrug. “Maybe.”

  “Definitely. I bet he’ll transfer back this summer and you two will be the cutest couple ever again in no time.”

  Gah. The knife. She twists it. But she doesn’t know that, either. “Thanks, Penny.”

  “No problem.” The freshman boy behind her clears his throat. She scoots to the side. “Well, I guess I’d better go. Let me know if you need a bathroom break. I can cover the table.”

  “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got it under control.” I wave good-bye to Penny and start another tray of chilidogs for the freshman boy—who seems to be alone, but in desperate need of processed meat topped by more processed meat, extra cheese, and onions.

  Fine by me. The more hot dogs I sell the better.

  All proceeds from the concession stand are going to buy new uniforms for the pom squad, though you wouldn’t know it judging by the behavior of my Sisters in Pom. Everyone’s out dancing, or eating, or making out under the bleachers—happy to leave the heavy dog lifting to me for the entire night.

  Penny is the only one who offered to fill in for even a few minutes. Of course, Monica—my new best fr-enemy and captain of the squad—probably would have worked a shift, but she’s at home on Settler duty. If any teenagers rise from their graves in need of supernatural assistance tonight, Monica is channeling enough power to draw them all to her.

  I volunteered to be the Settler on call—the better to avoid prolonged exposure to couples in love—but Kitty, the Enforcer in charge of guarding me from bad guys out for my witch blood, says its best if I keep my power under wraps as much as possible until the whereabouts of my evil bio dad are determined. In a show of coolness, however, she agreed to guard me solo tonight and let Barker have a night off.

  If I know him, he’s probably shacked up with the Monicster in her pink and orange love lair above her parents’ garage. Barker is super old—probably twenty-three, at least—but he and Monica have a thing. I can tell. There’s something in the way he looks at her that screams “man besotted.” I know that look. Once I’d seen that very same look on Ethan’s face when he looked at me.

  Sigh. Mournfulness. With melted miserable cheese.

  God, this is getting ridiculous. Maybe I should take a potty break. Nothing like the smell of nasty melon air freshener to clear the head.

  I hand over the tray of dogs to the hungry freshman and search the dance floor, hoping to catch a fellow pom squadder’s eye long enough to beckon her over. I don’t want to bother Penny since she’s busy eating and making googly eyes at Josh, but Alana or London could certainly stand to come to the rescue.

  They’re the ones who insist we need new uniforms to celebrate Carol High’s mascot change. (I personally don’t find the fact that our beloved Cougars have become the Fighting Cavemen, or that our new mascot is a guy in a fur diaper, anything to celebrate.)

  But London and Alana don’t see me wave. They’re on the far end of the gym, as close to the D.J.’s table as they can get without dancing on top of it. The D.J. is very cute, but both London and Alana came here with a man slave in tow. They could have a little more class.

  Though it’s not like I’m one to talk.

  My eyes skim past the girls to find Cliff dancing with a giggling Terra. They’re not dating—they just came to the dance as friends—but I can tell Terra wishes Cliff was her special friend. She’s constantly pestering me about him during dance team practice. She thinks he’s my cousin from California who came to live with my family after his dad passed away, and she doesn’t understand why I’m not more eager to facilitate her love connection.

  But Cliff is not my cousin. He’s a dead psychic who rose from his grave to help me prevent a zombie apocalypse, and who only manages to stay alive-looking and non-rotty by siphoning my magic.

  We’re supernaturally connected until the threat to the world is resolved and very good friends, but there have been some awkward moments between us since January when I hosted his soul in my body during the cheerleader attack.

  Aaron, the lone male cheerleader and ringleader of the spirit squad’s black magical plans, had been hosting my evil ex-best-friend Jess’s soul inside his body when I accidentally knocked him off a roof. She got trapped inside Aaron when he died, but that didn’t stop her from trying to summon a zombie army. So Cliff and I did what we had to do to stop Jess/A
aron and save Arkansas from certain doom. We ripped his/her heart out. With my bare hand.

  Jess’s body died in Settler prison shortly thereafter, but Aaron’s was never found. For all we know, Jess could still be out there somewhere, inhabiting his heartless corpse, but still…it feels like Cliff and I killed two people instead of one. Two evil people, but that doesn’t make it any easier to live with. There are nights when I can’t look into Cliff’s eyes without remembering how it felt for my fingers to dig through flesh and bone.

  And when I’m not thinking about that, I find myself thinking about other dangerous things. Like how good it felt to hug him, and the amazing way he kisses.

  Blergh. Kisses. That one stupid kiss Cliff and I shared that day by the lake. If it had never happened, my whole life could be different. Ethan might have decided to stay in town until I graduated, I wouldn’t be drowning in shame and regret, and my home life would be infinitely less stressful.

 
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