Hope and Undead Elvis - By Ian Thomas Healy Page 0,1

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No book can exist in a vacuum, and this one is no exception. I couldn't have done it without advice from my friend and former agent Ange Tysdal, who passed along a few useful suggestions and potential markets I hadn't known of before. And finally, I want to extend special, heartfelt thanks to my best friend and editor, Allison M. Dickson, without whose eagle-eyed enthusiasm for editing (she'll slap me for the alliteration there, I'm sure!), my work would be lacking in, well, pretty much everything that makes a good book.

Ian Thomas Healy

September, 2011

Image: Catholic Schoolgirl of the Apocalypse

Image: Undead Elvis of the Apocalypse

Chapter One

Hope and Undead Elvis

Hope was playing Five-Card Draw with Undead Elvis when the world ended.

Well, he might have been Elvis. He certainly looked the part in his white sequined jumpsuit that flared at the ankles over his black leather cowboy boots, open down the front to show off a prodigious belly from decades of rough living. Purple waist-length cape with a high collar, and who wore a cape anymore these days? Golden belt that would have set a professional wrestler's teeth on edge with gaudy jealousy. The sunglasses. The hair. The freaking sideburns, for fuck's sake.

If he might have been Elvis, there was no question in Hope's mind that he was thoroughly undead. Zombie? Perhaps, although instead of going for brains like any sensible zombie would have, he was chowing down on a plate of greasy fries doused in sausage gravy with a handful of grated generic cheese on them—another indication that he was in fact Elvis. He wasn't a pale-faced vampire, neither sparkling nor catching on fire in the afternoon sun leaking through the blinds of Yancy Cleveland's Tavern, Microbrewery, and Rock Shoppe in the middle of Nowhere, New Mexico. That was the name of the town, and an apt description it was for a few ancient buildings that aspired to ghost town status. There was the Post Office and Rock Shoppe, the Authentic Jewish Delicatessen and Rock Shoppe, and Hope suspected even the police department had a rock shoppe buried somewhere inside by the single-bed drunk tank.

She'd run out of car passing through town. Some people ran out of gas, or had a breakdown. Hope's car had sputtered and died three miles out, and when she'd stepped out to inspect it, the parking brake had failed and the thirty-year-old Plymouth had rolled gracefully down the embankment to flip into a box canyon. It had taken with it every worldly possession of Hope's except for the Catholic schoolgirl costume she'd worn the night before when dancing at one of the Indian casinos, and thirty-eight dollars in singles. She could have had a couple hundred if she'd given that one guy the lap dance he kept asking for, but that would have led to the kind of trouble Hope had decided to avoid.

Hot, sweaty, dusty from the road, she'd walked into Yancy Cleveland's in search of a cold brew and a ride out of town. Instead, she'd found Undead Elvis sitting in the corner, smoke curling from the cigarette clutched in his bluish fingers, with a deck of bicycle cards still shrinkwrapped on the table before him.

"Hey there, Li'l lady, come on over here and sit down a spell," he'd said.

Sitting had turned into talking, talking into drinking, and drinking into poker. Undead Elvis was an interesting fellow, full of stories and reminisces about the Good Old Days before he'd taken one or two or ten too many pills and wound up facedown in his own crapper. He wasn't very good at cards, and Hope wasn't about to tell him she could see the reflection of his hands in his sunglasses. So far, she'd taken him for fifty bucks and felt optimistic she could clean him out and maybe buy somebody's junker to get her out of Nowhere and as far as Raton, where she'd been promised steady work.

When the world ended, she had four Kings and Undead Elvis was trying to work two pair: aces and eights. It would have been the perfect Dead Man's Hand, except he had the red aces instead of the blacks. There were forty-eight dollars in the pot. Hope finished her mug of piss-warm Dos Equis and took a deep draw from her Virginia Slim Ultralight. The hearts and diamonds in Undead Elvis's hand reflected backward off his sunglasses and she wondered just how far she could push him with this hand. "Raise ten bucks," she said to him,

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