THE HOT DAMNED SERIES
I drew hard on the cigarette and narrowed my eyes at the landscape before me. Graves, tombstones, crypts . . . she didn’t belong here. Hell, I didn’t belong here. My eyes were dry. I’d cried so much there was nothing left. I exhaled and watched as the blue grey smoke wafted out over the plastic flowers decorating the headstones.
Five minutes. I just needed five minutes and then I could go back . . .
“That’s really gross,” Gemma said, as she rounded the corner of the mausoleum I was hiding behind and scared the hell out of me. She fanned the smoke away and eyed me. “She wanted you to quit, maybe now would be a good time.”
“Agreed. It’s totally gross and disgusting and I’m going to quit, regardless of the fact that other than you, Marlboro Lights are my best friend . . . but today is definitely not the day,” I sighed and took another long drag.
“That’s pathetic,” she chuckled.
“Correct. Do you have perfume and gum?”
“Yep.” She dug through her purse and handed me a delicate bottle.
“I can’t use this. It’s the expensive French shit.”
“Go for it,” she grinned. “You’re gonna need it. You smell like an ashtray and your mother is inside scaring people to death.”
“Son of a . . . ” I moaned and quickly spritzed myself. “I thought she left. She didn’t want to come in the first place.”
“Could have fooled me,” Gemma said sarcastically, handing over a piece of gum and shoving me from my hiding place.
“Come on,” I muttered, as my bossy best friend pushed me back to my beloved grandmother’s funeral.
The hall was filled with people. Foldout tables lined the walls and groaned under the weight of casseroles, cakes and cookies. Men and women, most of whom I knew, milled around and ate while they gossiped. Southern funerals were a time to socialize and eat. A lot.
As I made my way through the crowd and accepted condolences, I got an earful of information I could have happily lived without. I learned that Donna Madden was cheating on her husband Greg, Candy Pucker had gained thirty pounds from eating Girl Scout cookies and had shoved her fat ass into a heinous sequined gown, for the funeral no less, and Sam Boomaster, the Mayor, was now a homosexual. Hell, I just wanted to leave, but I had to find my mother before she did something awful.
“I loved her.” Charlie stopped me in my tracks and grabbed my hand in his old gnarled one.
His toupee was angled to the left and his black socks and sandals peeked out from his high-water plaid pants. He was beautiful.
“Me too,” I smiled.
“You know I tried to court her back in the day, but she only had eyes for your Grandpa.” He smoothed his sweater vest and laid a wet one on my cheek . . . and if I’m not mistaken, and I’m not, he grabbed my ass.
“Charlie, if you touch my butt again, I’ll remove your hand.” I grinned and adjusted his toupee. He was a regular in the art class I taught at the senior center and his wandering hands were infamous.
“Can’t blame a guy for trying. You have a nice ass there, Astrid! You look like one of them there supermodels! Gonna make some lucky man very happy one day,” he explained seriously.
“With my ass?”
“Well now, your bosom is nothing to scoff at either and your legs . . . ” he started.
“Charlie, I’m gonna cut you off before you wax poetic about things that will get you arrested for indecency.”
“Good thinking, girlie!” he laughed. “If you ever want to hear stories about your Nana from when we were young, I’d be happy to share.”
“Thanks, Charlie, I’d like that.”
I gave him a squeeze, holding his hands firmly to his sides and made my way back into the fray.
As I scanned the crowd for my mother, my stomach clenched. After everything I had to put up with today, the evil approaching was just too much. Martha and Jane, the ancient matriarchs of the town and the nastiest gossips that ever lived were headed straight for me. Fuck.
“I suppose you’ll get an inheritance,” Jane snapped as she looked me up and down. “You’ll run through it like water.”
“Your Nana, God bless her, was blind as a bat when it came to you,” Martha added caustically. “I mean, my God, what are you? Thirty and unmarried? It’s just downright disrespectable.”
“I’m twenty-nine, happily single and getting it on a regular basis,” I said, enjoying the way their thin lips hung open in an impressive O.
“Well, I’ve never,” Jane gasped.
“Clearly. You should try it sometime. I understand Mr. Smith is so vision impaired, you might have a shot there.”
Their appalled shrieks were music to my ears and I quickly made my escape. Nana would have been a bit disappointed with my behavior, but she was gone.
Time to find the reason I came back in here for . . . I smelled her before I saw her. A waft of Chanel perfume made the lead ball in my stomach grow heavier. I took a deep breath, straightened my very vintage Prada sheath that I paid too much for, plastered a smile on my face, said a quick prayer and went in to the battle.
“Mother, is everything alright?”
She stood there mutely and stared. She was dressed to the nines. She didn’t belong here . . . in this town, in this state, in my life.
“I’m sorry, are you speaking to me?” she asked. Shit, she was perfect . . . on the outside. Gorgeous and put together to a degree I didn’t even aspire to. On the inside she was a snake.
“Um, yes. I asked you if . . . ” I stammered.
“I heard you,” she countered smoothly. “If you can’t bother to comply with my wishes, I can’t be bothered to answer you.”
“Right,” I muttered and wished the floor would open and swallow me. “I’m sorry, I meant Petra. Petra, is everything alright?”
“No, everything is not alright,” she hissed. “I have a plane to catch and I have no more time or patience to make chit chat with backward rednecks. It was wrong of you to ask me to be here.”
“Your mother died,” I said flatly. “This is her funeral and these people are here to pay their respects.”
“Oh for God’s sake, she was old and lived well past her time.”
I was speechless. Rare for me, but if anyone was capable of shocking me to silence, it was my mother.
“So, like I said, I have a plane to catch. I’ll be back next week.” She eyed me critically, grimacing at what she saw. “You need some lipstick. You’re lucky you got blessed with good genes because you certainly don’t do anything to help.”
With that loving little nugget, she turned on her stiletto heel and left. I glanced around to see if we’d been overheard and was mortified to see we had clearly been the center of attention.
“Jesus, she’s mean,” Gemma said, pulling me away from prying eyes and big ears.
“Do I look awful?” I whispered, feeling the heat crawl up my neck as the mourners looked on with pity. Not for my loss, but for my parentage.
“You’re beautiful,” Gemma said. “Inside and out.”
“I need to smoke,” I mumbled. “Can we leave yet?”
Gemma checked her watch. “Yep, we’re out of here.”
“I don’t want to go home yet,” I said, looking around for Bobby Joe Gimble, the funeral director. Where in the hell was he and did I need to tip him? Shit, I had no clue what funeral etiquette was. “Do I have to . . . ?”
“Already took care of everything,” Gemma told me. “Let’s go.”
“Where to?” I asked. Damn, I was grateful she was mine.
“Thank you, Jesus.”
Hattie’s sold one thing and one thing only. Ice cream. Homemade, full of fat, heart attack inducing ice cream. It was probably my favorite place in the world.
“I’ll have a triple black raspberry chip in a cone cup,” I said as I eyed all the flavors. I didn’t know why I even looked at them. I was totally loyal to my black raspberry chip. My ice cream couldn’t talk back to me, break up with me or make me feel bad. Of course, my love could extend the size of my ass, but I wasn’t even remotely concerned about that today. Besides, I planned a very long run for later. I needed to clear my head and be alone.
“Sorry about your loss, Sugar,” Hattie said and I nodded. Her big fleshy arms wobbled as she scooped out my treat. “Do you want sprinkles and whipped cream on that, Baby?”
“Um . . . ” I glanced over at Gemma who grinned and gave me a thumbs up. “Yes, yes I do.”
“Me too,” Gemma added, “but I want mint chip, please.”
“You got it, Sugar Buns,” Hattie said and handed me a monstrous amount of ice cream. “It’s on me today, Astrid. I feel just terrible I couldn’t be at the funeral.”
“That’s okay, Hattie. You and Nana were such good friends. I want your memories to be of that.”
“Thank you for that, Darlin’. Ever since my Earl died from siphoning gasoline, I haven’t been able to set foot near that goddamn funeral parlor.”
I swallowed hard. Her late ex-husband Earl had siphoned gasoline since he was ten. His family owned the local gas station and apparently, as legend had it, he enjoyed the taste. But on the fateful day in question, he’d been smoking a cigar while he did it . . . and blew himself to kingdom come. It was U-G-L-Y. Earl was spread all over town. Literally. He and Hattie had been divorced for years and hated each other. It was no secret he had fornicated with over half the older women in town, but when he died like that, he became a saint in her eyes.
I bit down on the inside of my cheek. Hard. Although it was beyond inappropriate, whenever anyone talked about Earl, I laughed.
“Astrid totally understands.” Gemma gave Hattie a quick hug and pushed me away from the counter before I said or did something unforgivable.
“Thanks,” I whispered. “That would have been bad.”
“Yep,” Gemma grinned and shoveled a huge spoon of ice cream in her mouth.
“Where in the hell do you put that?” I marveled at her appetite. “You’re tiny.”
“You’re a fine one to talk, Miss I Have the World’s Fastest Metabolism.”
“That’s the only good thing I inherited from the witch who spawned me,” I said and dug in to my drug of choice. I winced in pain as my frozen ice cream ass-extender went straight to the middle of my forehead.
“Are you okay?” Gemma asked.
I took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of my nose. God, I hated brain freezes. “No, not right now, but I’ve decided to change some stuff. Nana would want me to.”
My best friend watched me silently over her ice cream.
“I’m going to stop smoking, get a real career, work out every day, date someone who has a job and not a parole officer, get married, have two point five kids and prove that I was adopted.”
“That’s a pretty tall order. How are you gonna make all that happen?” she asked, handing me a napkin. “Wipe your mouth.”
“Thanks,” I muttered. “I have no fucking idea, but I will succeed . . . or die trying.”
“Good luck with that.”
“Um, thanks. Do you mind if we leave here so I can chain smoke ‘til I throw up so it will be easier to quit?”
“Is that the method you’re going to use?” Gemma asked, scooping up our unfinished ice cream and tossing it.
“I know it seems a little unorthodox, but I read it worked for Jennifer Aniston.”
“No, but it sounded good,” I said, dragging her out of Hattie’s.
“God, Astrid,” Gemma groaned. “Whatever you need to do I’m here for you, but you have to quit. I don’t want you to die. Ever.”
“Everybody dies,” I said quietly, reminded that the woman I loved most had died only a week ago. “But I’ve got too fucking much to do to die any time soon.”
Three months later . . .
“There are ten thousand ways to express yourself creatively,” I huffed, yanking on my running shoes. “My God, there’s acting, painting, sewing, belly dancing, cooking . . . Shit, scrapbooking is creative.” I shoved my arms into my high school sweatshirt that had seen better days.
“You’re not actually wearing that,” Gemma said, helping herself to my doughnut.
“Yep, I actually am.” I grabbed my breakfast out of her hand and shoved it in my mouth. “And by the way, I’ve decided to be a movie star.”
“But you can’t act,” my best friend reminded me.
“That’s completely beside the point,” I explained, taking the sweatshirt off. I hated it when Gemma was right. “Half the people in Hollywood can’t act.”
“Don’t you think it might be wise to choose a career that you actually have the skills to do?”
“Nope, I told you I’m making changes. Big ones.”
I bent over and tied my running shoes. Maybe if I just ran forever, I would stop hurting. Maybe if I found something meaningful, I could figure out who in the hell I was.
Gemma picked up my soda and took a huge swig. “You’re an artist and a damn good one. You should do something with that.”
“Yeah, maybe,” I said, admiring my reflection in the microwave. Holy hell, my hair was sticking up all over my head. “Why didn’t you tell me my hair exploded?”
“Because it’s funny,” Gemma laughed.
“I’ll never make it in show business if people see my hair like this,” I muttered and tried to smooth it down.
“Astrid, you will never make it in show business no matter what your hair looks like. You may be pretty, but you can’t act your way out of a hole and you suck as a liar,” Gemma informed me as she flopped down on my couch and grabbed the remote.
“Your confidence in me is overwhelming.” I picked out a baseball cap and shoved it over my out of control curls. “If the movie star thing doesn’t work out, I might open a restaurant.”
“Did you become mentally challenged during the night at some point?” she asked as she channel surfed faster than any guy I ever dated.
“Gimme that thing.” I yanked the remote away from her. “What in the hell are you trying to find?”
“For real?” I laughed.
“For real for real,” she grinned.
“Don’t you have a home?” I asked.
“Yep. I just like yours better.”
I threw the remote back at her and grabbed my purse. If I was going to be a famous actress, or at the very least a chef, I needed to get started. But before I could focus on my new career, I had business to take care of. Very important business . . .
“Where are you going?” Gemma yawned. “It’s 8:00 on a Sunday morning.”
“I’m going running,” I said, staring at the ceiling.
“Oh my God,” Gemma grinned, calling me out on my lie. “Astrid, since when do you run with your purse?”
“Okay fine,” I snapped. “I’m going to run a few errands and say goodbye forever to one of my best friends today.”
Gemma gaped at me. Her mouth hung open like she’d had an overdose of Novocain at the dentist. “So today is the day? You really going to end it?”
“I don’t really have a choice, since there’s so much damn money riding on it.”
“Oh my God,” she squealed and punched me in the arm. “I’m so proud of you.”
“Don’t be proud yet,” I muttered, praying I’d be successful with my breakup plans.
“You didn’t have to take the bet,” Gemma said.
“Yes, I did,” I said and shook my head with disgust. “Nothing else has worked. Voodoo has to.”
“Good luck with that.”
“Thanks,” I said as I slapped on some lip gloss. “I’m gonna need it.”
“Yes, you are,” Gemma grinned. “Yes, you are.”
It was hot and I was sweaty and I wondered for the umpteenth time if I was losing my mind. I needed to stop making bets that were impossible to win. Maybe I could be a social smoker or I could just hide it from everyone. I could carry perfume and gum and lotion and drive to the next town when I needed a nicotine fix.
“Excuse me, are you here to be hypnotized?” a feminine voice purred.
I glanced up from my spot on the filthy sidewalk and there stood the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. I quickly stubbed out my cigarette, turned my head away in embarrassment and blew my smoke out. Reason number three hundred and forty-six to quit . . . impersonating a low class loser.
She looked foreign—Slavic or Russian. Huge violet-blue eyes, full lips, high cheekbones set in a perfect heart-shaped face, framed by tons of honey-gold blonde hair. Absolutely ridiculous. I felt a little inadequate. Not only was the face perfect, but the body was to die for. Long legs, pert boobies, ass-o-rific back side and about six feet tall. I was tall at 5 feet 9 inches, but she was tall.
“Well, I was,” I explained, straightening up and trying to look less like a crumpled homeless mess from my seat on the sidewalk, “but they must have moved.” I pointed to a rusted-out doorway.
“Oh no,” the gorgeous Amazon giggled. Seriously, did she just giggle? “That’s not the door. It’s right over here.” She grabbed my hand, her grip was firm and cool, and guided me to the correct door. A zap of electricity shot up my arm when she touched me. I tried to nonchalantly disengage my hand from hers, but she held mine fast. “Here we go.” She escorted me into the lobby of a very attractive office.
“I don’t know how I missed this,” I muttered as she briskly led me to a very nice exam room. She released my hand. Did that zap really just happen? Maybe I was already in nicotine withdrawal.
“Please have a seat.” The blue eyed bombshell indicated a very soft and cozy looking pale green recliner.
“I’m sorry, are you the hypnotist?” I asked as I sat. Something didn’t feel quite right. What was a gorgeous, Amazon Russian-looking chick doing in Mossy Creek, Kentucky? This was a tiny town, surely I would have seen her before.
“Yes, yes I am,” she replied, sitting on a stool next to my comfy chair with an official-looking clipboard in her hand. “So you’re here because . . . ?”
“Because . . . um, I want to stop smoking,” I told her and then quickly added, “Oh, and I don’t want to gain any weight.” If you don’t ask for the impossible, there’s no way you’ll ever get it.
Miss Universe very slowly and somewhat clinically looked me over from head to toe. “Your weight looks perfect. You are a very beautiful young woman. Are you happy with your body right now?”
“Yes,” I replied slowly. Was she hitting on me? I didn’t think so, but . . .
“That’s good,” she smiled. “I can guarantee that you will never gain weight again after you’re hypnotized.”
“Really?” I gasped. My God, that was incredible. Smoke free and at a weight I liked. This was the best day ever.
“Really,” she laughed. “Now let’s get started.”
“Wait, don’t I need to fill out a bunch of forms and pay and sign my life away in case you accidentally kill me or something?”
Blondie laughed so hard I thought she might choke. “No, no,” she assured me and quickly pulling herself together. “My receptionist is at lunch . . . we’ll take care of it afterwards. Besides, I’ve never killed anyone by accident.”
“Oookay.” She was a little weird, but I supposed people with her occupation would be. She did guarantee me I would be smoke free and skinny. That did not suck. Wait . . . I needed to think this through. I was feeling unsettled and wary. She was odd, made me uncomfortable and had electric hands. On the flip side, she was very pretty, had a really nice office and promised no weight gain. Damn.
Would common sense or vanity prevail? And the winner is . . . vanity. By a landslide.
She leaned into me, her green eyes intense. I could have sworn her eyes were purple-y bluish. I was getting so tired. I prayed I wouldn’t drool when I was out.
“Astrid, you need to clear your mind and look into my eyes,” Miss Russia whispered.
“How do you know my name?” I mumbled. “I didn’t tell you my name.” Alarm bells went off in my brain. My pea-brain that never should have thought it was a good idea to get hypnotized at a strip mall on the bad side of town. You’d think a business called ‘House of Hypnotism’ might have tipped me off. Crap. These were not the decisions a smart and responsible, if not somewhat directionless, twenty-nine year old woman should make. I should have listened to my gut and gone with common sense.
The room started spinning. It felt like a carnival from hell. Blondie’s mouth was so strange. There was something very unattractive going on with her mouth. It got kind of blurry, but it looked like . . . wait . . . maybe she was British. They all have bad teeth.
“I fink ooo shud stooop,” I said, mangling the English language. I tried again. “Oow do ooo know my name?” When did I put marbles in my mouth? Who in the hell dimmed the lights and cranked the air conditioner?
“Oh Astrid, not only do I know your name,” she smiled, her green eyes blazing, “I know everything about you, dear.”
I opened my eyes and immediately shut them. What in the hell time was it? What in the hell day was it? I snuggled deeper into my warm and cozy comforter and tried to go back to sleep. Why couldn’t I go back to sleep? Something was wrong . . . very wrong. I just had no idea what it was.
Ignoring the panic that was bubbling to the surface, I leaned over the side of my bed and grabbed my purse. It was Prada. I loved Prada. I proudly considered myself a Prada whore, albeit one who couldn’t afford it.
Everything seemed to be in there . . . wallet, phone, makeup, gum, under-used day planner. Nothing important was missing. I was being paranoid. Everything was fine.
I eyed my beloved out of season Prada sandals lying on my bedroom floor. Shoes always made me feel better. Only in New York or Los Angeles would anyone know my adored footwear was four seasons ago. Certainly not in Istillwearmyhairinamullet, Kentucky. I got them on sale. I paid six hundred dollars that I didn’t have for them, but that was a deal considering they were worth a solid twelve hundred.
I pressed my fingers to the bridge of my nose and tried to figure out what day of the week it was. Good God, I had no clue. I suppose exhaustion had finally caught up with me, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what I had done to be so tired. I vaguely remembered driving home from somewhere. I glanced again at my awesome shoes, but even my beautiful sandals couldn’t erase the sense of dread in the pit of my stomach.
“Focus on something positive,” I muttered as I wracked my brain and snuggled deeper into my covers.
Shoes. Think about shoes . . . not the irrational suffocating fear that was making me itch. Bargains! That was it, I’d think about bargains. I loved getting a good bargain almost as much as I loved Prada. Unfortunately, I also had a huge love for cigarettes, and I needed to love one now. Right now. I rummaged through my purse and searched for a pack. Bingo! I found my own personal brand of heroin and lit up.
WTF? It wouldn’t light because I couldn’t inhale. Why couldn’t I inhale? Was I sick? I felt my head; definitely no fever. My forehead felt like ice.
Okay, if at first you don’t succeed . . . blah blah blah. I tried again. I couldn’t inhale. Not only could I not inhale, I also couldn’t exhale. Which would lead me to surmise I wasn’t breathing. The panic I was avoiding had arrived.
“Fuck shit fuck fuck, this is a side effect. That’s right, a side effect. A side effect of what?” I demanded to no one in particular since I was alone in my room. I knew it was something. It was on the tip of my brain . . . side effect . . . side effect of not smoking. Side effect of not smoking? What the hell does that even mean? For God’s sake, why can’t I figure this out? I have an I.Q. of 150, not that I put it to very good use.
“Wait,” I hissed. “It’s a side effect of the hypnotism.”
God, that was bizarre, but that had to be it. I made that stupid bet with Gemma and got hypnotized to stop smoking by that big blonde Amazon at the House of Hypnotism. That’s what I drove home from. I wasn’t crazy. The Amazon must have forgotten to inform me that I wouldn’t be able to breathe for awhile afterwards. That’s what you get when you don’t read the fine print. Did I even pay her? I’m sure I’ll start breathing any second now. I’m so glad I figured this out. I feel better. For a minute there I thought I was dead.
I glanced out of my bedroom window at the full moon.
“Full moon? Oh my God, have I been in bed all day?”
I threw the covers off and stood quickly, still trying to figure out what day it was. The room spun violently and a wave of dizziness knocked me right back down on my ass. Little snippets of my dreams raced through my mind as I waited for the vertigo to pass.
God, that was a freaky dream. Oprah and Vampyres and yummy, creamy chocolate blood . . . you couldn’t make that stuff up.
The room quit spinning and I stood up slowly, firmly grasping one of the posts of my beautiful four poster bed. I reached up high above my head, arched back and popped my sternum. Slightly gross, but it felt great. I ran my hands through my hair, rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and bit through my bottom lip. Mmm . . . crunchberries. I licked the tasty blood from my mouth.
I wondered what time it was. If it wasn’t too late, I could get a run in and then I could . . . bite through my bottom lip?? Crunchberries? What the fu . . . ?
In my frazzled mental state, I heard a noise in the hallway outside my bedroom. I immediately dropped to a defensive squat on the floor. Way back in high school they told us, if you hear an intruder, get low . . . or was that for a fire? Shit, that was get low for a fire . . . what in the hell do I do for a burglar?
Good God, I was in my bra and panties. The blue granny panties with the unfortunate hole in the crotch. Not a good look for fending off burglars. Not a good look ever. On my never ending list of things to do I needed to add throw out all panties over seven years old.
I remained low, just in case. I duck walked over to my closet and grabbed one of my many old cheerleading trophies out of a cardboard box so I could kill my intruder. It was plastic, but it was pointy. I’d been meaning to give them to my eight year old neighbor. Thank God I was a procrastinator. Wait a minute . . . As I death-gripped my trophy I was overwhelmed with the scent of rain and orchids and Pop Tarts and cotton candy.
What the hell?
It wasn’t a dream. She was here? And apparently from the smell of it, she had a guest. I’d just cannibalized my own lip, my blood tasted like crunchberries, I could smell people in my house, I couldn’t breathe, my skin felt icy, and I think I might be . . .
“Astrid, are you awake?” Gemma called from right outside my door interrupting my ridiculous train of thought.
Oh thank you, Jesus. “Yes.” Was that my voice? It sounded deeper and raspier. And sexier?
“Get out here,” Gemma yelled. “Get dressed and change that underwear . . . it’s nasty.”
“Gemma, I have to tell you something weird, but you have to believe me and you can’t get mad,” I said through my closed door, ignoring the insultingly accurate underwear comment.
“I think I already know,” she said from the other side.
“It’s not about my haircut.”
“You got your hair cut without me?” Gemma was appalled.
Shit, I thought she knew about my hair. What did she know then? Good God, what in the hell was wrong with my bra? The girls were spilling out of it. Were they bigger? Did my bra shrink? “Gem, um . . . I swear I meant to tell you about my hair. It was spur of the moment. Mr. Bruce dragged me into the salon and the next thing I knew, he set my baseball cap on fire, cut my hair into long layers and put in some kick ass highlights.”
“Fine, Astrid.” Her voice got tinny and high. “Just don’t be surprised if I go get a perm without you.”
“I might,” she threatened.
“Gem,” I begged, “with me or without me, Do. Not. Get. A Perm. That’s so 1980s.”
“You’re right,” Gemma sighed, “I’d get a lobotomy before I’d get a perm. What do you need to tell me?”
I gathered myself. I realized I was about to sound like an idiot, but when had that ever stopped me? I closed my eyes and let her rip. “Um . . . after my haircut, I got hypnotized by a big blonde Amazon gal to stop smoking, and now I can’t breathe. I think it must be a side effect, but it’s freaking me out.” Gemma was silent on the other side of my bedroom door.
“You can’t breathe?”
“No.” I couldn’t tell if she believed me.
“Are you sure?”
“I think I would know if I couldn’t breathe,” I shouted.
“Do I owe you a thousand bucks?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
At least I was honest. The entire reason I’d gotten hypnotized was because I’d bet Gemma a thousand dollars I could quit smoking. I knew she thought it was a no-brainer bet due to the sorry fact that this was my ninth attempt to quit in the last three months. Nicotine gum, cold turkey, weaning off and all those self-help books weren’t doing it for me. I needed outside assistance. Short of having my lips sewn shut, I hadn’t been successful at quitting. Hypnotism was a last resort because having my lips sewn shut was simply not an option.
“Where did you get hypnotized?” she quizzed.
“House of Hypnotism over by the Chinese restaurant that serves cat.”
Gemma was speechless. I was getting more nervous with each passing second. “Do you have a pulse?” she asked.
“I’m sorry, what did you just ask me?”
“I said,” Gemma yelled through the door, “do you have a pulse?”
“What kind of a stupid question is that? Of course I have a . . . ” I checked for my pulse, then I checked again, then I checked again and then I checked one more time. “Um . . . no,” I whispered.
“What’s your skin temp?”
“Really cold,” I told her.
What in the hell was wrong with her? She was awfully calm about the whole thing. She was silent for what felt like an eternity. These questions were right up Gemma’s alley. She loved all things weird, especially anything astrological or supernatural. I could tell she was thinking because she was humming ‘Billie Jean’. Gemma, besides being a Prada whore who like me couldn’t afford it, knew the lyrics to every Michael Jackson song ever recorded. She wore black for an entire year after he died. “I think I know what’s going on.” She began to hum ‘Thriller’.
“What’s wrong with me?” I shrieked.
“Come out here, Astrid.”
“Wait Gemma . . . am I dead?”
“Kinda,” she said with excitement. The same kind of excitement she exuded when she tried to convince me of Bigfoot’s existence. “Just get dressed and get out here.”
I quickly whipped on some overpriced jeans that made my butt look asstastic and put on the first shirt my fingers touched. I pulled on some hot pink sequined Converse and made my way out to my living room. That took about ten and a half steps because my house was the size of a postage stamp.
Gemma was standing by the window bouncing like a ball, so excited she was about to burst . . . and the Queen of Daytime Talk was sprawled on my couch reading my diary. Wait . . . what?
“Holy Jesus,” I gasped. “You’re Opr . . . ”
“Don’t say it,” my idol cut me off, throwing my diary aside as if I wouldn’t notice she’d been reading my most private and embarrassing thoughts. “I’m not her, never fuckin’ have been, never fuckin’ will be. If you call me that, I’ll leave. Trust me, that would be very fuckin’ bad for you.”
“Oookay, you have quite a vocabulary.” I smiled, wondering if Gemma thought this was as screwy as I did. She did seem a little freaked, but not nearly enough to merit the fact Oprah was here. “If you’re not Opr . . . I mean that woman who you look exactly like, then you are . . . ?”
I peeked around my tiny living room and looked for cameras. This had to be for a show segment. Right? Gemma must be in on the whole thing with Oprah.
Was she going to redecorate my crappy house or give me a car or tell me something wonderful about my birth mother?
That was impossible. My birth mother was actually the woman who, for lack of a better word, raised me and there wasn’t much wonderful about her. My Nana, may she rest in peace, was wonderful. Her daughter, my mother . . . not so much. Hopefully, Oprah was here to redecorate.
“You’re a Vampyre and I’m your fuckin’ Guardian Angel,” I’m-Not-Oprah grunted.
Gemma squealed and clapped her hands like a two year old at Christmas. Apparently they’d become great friends already, possibly bonding over Bigfoot. The dizziness now combined with total paranoia overtook me as my knees buckled and I dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
“Wow . . . so not what I was expecting to hear.” My stomach was queasy. This was starting to make me tingle, and not in a good way. I’m-Not-Oprah had to go. “Well, golly gee, look at the time; I suppose you have a train to catch . . . to Crazytown,” I informed her in a bizarre cheerleader voice that I had no control over. “So you’d better get going.” Vampyre my ass. I’m-Not-Oprah is cuckoo loco crazy. I crawled over to my front door and opened it with shaking hands and body, letting Oprah know she had to leave.
I’m-Not Oprah had the gall to laugh, and I don’t mean just a little giggle. I mean a huge gut-busting, knee-slapping guffaw. God, I need a cigarette. Oh but wait . . . I DON’T SMOKE ANYMORE BECAUSE I CAN’T BREATHE. I was completely screwed. There had to be a logical answer to this clusterfuck. I just needed to think it through.
Ignoring the unexplainable situation in my home, I curled into a ball by my front door and went back through what I could remember. First, I’d gotten my hair cut and colored because it looked like hell. Then I chain smoked half a pack of cigarettes getting my nerve up to get hypnotized to quit. After almost vomiting from the sheer amount of nicotine in my system, I got hypnotized to stop smoking. Good thinking on my part. Next, the ridiculously attractive Amazon woman who hypnotized me was successful because I will never smoke again. Good thinking on her part.
However, it was also beginning to look like I would never breathe again. So technically I was dead. The lack of pulse and air intake could attest to this, but clearly I wasn’t dead because I was curled up on the floor thinking somewhat coherently and Oprah was in my house . . . What in the hell was I talking about? None of this was possible. I was dreaming. That had to be it. I was dreaming. I pinched myself. Hard.
“Ouch . . . shit.” Not dreaming.
I slowly stood up, determined to kick Her Oprahness out of my house. My whole body began to tremble as I locked eyes with the insane talk show host sitting on my couch. I couldn’t believe I was standing here looking at Oprah, who says she’s not, who’s telling me I’m a Vampyre, which don’t exist, and she’s a Guardian Angel, which again . . . don’t exist. Besides, if they did, they certainly wouldn’t have a mouth like hers.
“Oh my God,” I moaned as another bizarre wave of dizziness came over me. The room grew darker and smaller. I’m-Not-Oprah and Gemma started to get blurry and a burning began in my gut. Flames ripped through my stomach and violently shot into my arms, my legs, my neck and head. My insides were shredding. I was thirsty . . . so very thirsty. God, it hurt so much. I floated above myself as my body crumpled to the floor. The buzzing in my head was deafening. I tried to take a deep breath, but that went nowhere fast.
“I’m dying,” I groaned.
Crapballs, did I have good underwear on? No! I still had on light blue grannies with a not on purpose hole in the crotch. Oh my God, I’m dying with bad underpants on. My mother will have a fit. I can hear her now, “Well, with underpants like that, it’s no wonder Astrid couldn’t get a man. She kept buying all that Prada, but she should have invested in a couple of pairs of decent panties.” This was not good.
The blazing inferno inside me consumed my whole body. It was excruciating. I wasn’t sure how much more I could take. I vaguely saw Oprah coming for me.
“Kill me please,” I begged. She laughed and scooped me up like a rag doll and shoved my face to her neck. God, she smelled good. “Argrah,” I gurgled.
“Just shut the fuck up and drink,” I’m-Not-Oprah growled.
It was delicious, like rich dark chocolate, so smooth, so warm, so yummy. What was this? The pain slowly subsided and I realized I was curled up in I’m-Not-Oprah’s lap with my teeth embedded in her neck. She was rocking me like a baby.
I removed what I’m fairly sure were my fangs from Oprah’s neck. “What am I doing?” I calmly asked.
She looked down at me and smiled. Holy cow she looked like Oprah. “Drinking.”
“Drinking what?” I inquired politely.
“O negative,” she replied.
“O negative what?” I screeched, jerking to an upright position on her very ample lap.
“O negative Angel blood, dumbass,” she bellowed. She stood up and dumped me on the floor as she walked over to retrieve my diary.
“Oh my God, you’re not joking.” I was horrified.
“No, I certifuckingly am not.”
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Vampyres don’t exist. They absolutely do not exist.
At least I didn’t think they did ‘til I tried to quit smoking and ended up Undead. Who in the hell did I screw over in a former life that my getting healthy equates with dead?
Now I’m a Vampyre. Yes, we exist whether we want to or not. However, I have to admit, the perks aren’t bad. My girls no longer jiggle, my ass is higher than a kite and the latest Prada keeps finding its way to my wardrobe. On the downside, I’m stuck with an obscenely profane Guardian Angel who looks like Oprah and a Fairy Fighting Coach who’s teaching me to annihilate like the Terminator.
To complicate matters, my libido has increased to Vampyric proportions and my attraction to a hotter than Satan’s underpants killer rogue Vampyre is not only dangerous . . . it’s possibly deadly. For real dead. Permanent death isn’t on my agenda. Avoiding him is my only option. Of course, since he thinks I’m his, it’s easier said than done. Like THAT’S not enough to deal with, all the other Vampyres think I’m some sort of Chosen One.
Holy Hell, if I’m in charge of saving an entire race of blood suckers, the Undead are in for one hell of a ride.