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Reformation Day

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They were nearly out the front door when the pastor's wife touched Sadie's arm. "Will we see you for six o'clock service?"

Sadie clicked her teeth. "I'm doing some ministry on the east side, but I'll bring a casserole for Thursday night."

"Perfect!" She turned to Cecilia. "And it was so nice to meet you, we should go out for coffee," she said, hesitating, caught between wanting to befriend another white woman and remembering that the rotary club didn't allow Italians, "Or something."

Cecilia smiled, and the Wife's heart thumped. With her tanned legs, waxed arches, and a touch of cinder in her eye, the rest of the congregation looked positively anemic.

"Damn, she got pregnant just lookin' at you." said Sadie, shutting the car door as Cecilia lit a cigarette.

"Speaking of which, how's things at home?"

Sadie sniffed, staring at her flat belly as if it had betrayed her. "Nothin' yet."

"We," and by 'we' she meant a host of chain-smoking maiden aunts, "Always told the girls not to eat shrimp if they're trying."

"We're two miles from the Kentucky line, you see a whole lotta shellfish?"

Farmland stretched in either direction, and they saw no other cars on the way to the cemetery. Cutting the engine, Sadie leaned over and snatched a pistol from the glove compartment. "You ready?"

Cecilia nodded, pulling on thick leather gauntlets past her elbows. Not army-grade, but enough to stop a bite. "Does the client have a name?"

"Fred Rafters," she said, checking that she had a round in the chamber, "Nice guy, worked at the wire mill when I was a kid."

"Should I bring my cigarettes?"

"That ain't exactly healthy."

"I'm guessing lung cancer is low on his list," she said, smiling, "I'm just saying he'd enjoy...something familiar, you know? I knew a vampire who smoked all the time, just liked having warm smoke inside him."

"Fred's pretty far along for that."

Cecilia surveyed the distant gravestones. "Is he contagious?"

"No, they were never infected, they just cursed."

She raised one perfect eyebrow. "Cursed?"

"Yeah, maybe it had been an Indian burial ground, maybe someone stole a Gypsy bride, we don't know who done it, and don't know how to fix it really. Bullets, fire, nothin' brings them down."

"Have you tried fighting magic with magic?"

"Watch it sweetie," said Sadie, as she opened the driver's side door, "You're in God's country."

They stopped a few yards from an open grave, where Fred Rafters was worrying a femur, his face covered in meat sauce. He looked up at the ladies' approach, and didn't manage a warning snarl before Cecilia took out his kneecaps with a pearl-handled Derringer.

He snarled again, and then sneezed around the gun barrel jammed up his left nostril. Cecilia splashed him with holy water. "WON'T YOU JOIN US FOR BINGO NIGHT, MISTER RAFTERS?" shouted Sadie over his screams, thumbing back the hammer, "I MADE PEANUT BRITTLE."

Carrying the hog-tied Fred between them, Sadie unlocked the mausoleum that led underground, and feeling their way in the dark, descended toward the sanctuary. She'd run power to a bare bulb above the pipe organ, but otherwise it was black on black shadows. It was a good twenty degrees cooler at the bottom, and thirty dead Baptists sat waiting in folding chairs, swatting the air with paper fans. Fliers for the aforementioned Bingo Night sat pinned over a stack of pew bibles.

Cecilia covered her face. "Ugh, the smell."

She pulled a pack of smokes from her purse, but Sadie pushed them back. "You crazy? They been rotting for months down here," she hissed, glancing at a row of putrefying, swollen bellies, "One spark and this whole place'll go up."

"I could probably fix them, send them on their way," she offered, fingering the black book in her purse, "It'd be a mercy."

Sadie gave her a hard look. "The Church does not condone necromancy."

"They don't believe in magic?"

"Of course they do, why do you think they're holding a potluck on...the last day of October?" she said, holding back the H-word as if that too might ignite the air.

Sadie sat at the organ while Cecilia turned pages, the undead clapping and singing, well more yodeling, a jaunty hymn that made nearby cattle foam at the mouth. Mr. Rafters sat chained to a high-chair, rocking back and forth to loosen his bonds, but six verses of "We Gather Together" soon sedated him, and by Offertory he was kind enough to pass the plate with his lipless mouth.

The collection plate came back to Sadie, and she ran her fingers through a few coins and gold teeth. "Oh good, we have enough for Lily," she said, smiling at a little girl in the front row. If not for her black teeth, she would have passed for Living. "Ceci, you good with a pair of pliers?"

Thursday night, she and Josie and Lily arrived on the church steps. Lily wore a new wool jumper that Cecilia had fashioned with a lace collar and little buttons down the front, and if she didn't talk you'd hardly notice the shape of her mouth.

Cecilia looked around as cars pulled in. No wonder the undead were socked away. The war was fresh in the town's mind, for they had divined America's future in the entrails of dying soldiers and decided it was better to starve the horror, any horror, of their attention, like belting off a wounded limb, for fear of bringing some worse retribution on their heads.

Holidays, dance music, even book burnings weren't safe, for they smacked of ritual sacrifice. It was the H-word plus the costumes plus the scary bedtime stories, all threatening to start an alchemical chain reaction that would reach to an already combustible Heaven and gain the Almighty's notice. And should the Almighty look down, believers would surely find themselves wanting, like sheep who lay in the snow and find they're not so white after all. Better to say nothing. Better to look the other way and make a casserole.

The door opened, and the Pastor's wife faltered as her eyes swung down. "Who...what's this?"

"This," said Sadie, as the little girl's face stretched in a jack-o-lantern grin, "Is your new neighbor."