“I still think it would be better if you came home, ma cheré. I don’t like you being so far away.” Grann sounded worried through the phone, and Jon felt bad about that—not bad enough to return home to New Orleans, but bad enough to try to placate her.
“I’m happy here, Grann, I swear. Sammy is a fantastic landlord and friend, and I have my book club.”
“I know. I’ve seen it.” There was a pregnant pause that Jon knew better than to disturb. “The pictures I’m getting now are all blurred, though, and the zanset yo are restless. They don’t know what to make of the situation.”
Jon suppressed a sigh. It was the same problem as always—or the same two problems. The first one he could address easily enough, even if his words didn’t have a lot of impact on either Grann or the ancestors. Come to think of it, that was the case with everything he did since he’d moved from New Orleans to Beaconville some five years before. And he was getting distracted.
“I already told you that Dre is super nice and also Sammy’s mate. He would never harm me.”
“Wi, wi, I know. I can see the threads of his love for his mate and everybody and everything his mate holds dear. It’s the only thing I can see clearly.”
“I told you… I asked Dre and he’s not doing it on purpose.”
“He doesn’t have to.” Grann’s voice had taken on a dark quality, a tone she usually reserved for everything occult she thought Jon wasn’t ready for or strong enough to hear. “He’s chaos personified. It’s his natural state. I wonder how your witch friends cope with it.”
Jon thought of Maribel and Mavis, the two witches in their book club. “I think Mavis once mentioned it to Dre shortly after he and Sammy had become mates. He said to give the magic some time, and they haven’t complained since.”
“I see.” Grann was mulling this over, shortly side-tracked by the magical possibilities Jon would never understand. Like a heat-seeking missile, though, she returned her attention to the matter at hand. “You really don’t want to come back home? Just yesterday I saw the obituary for a Silvery Sugar Fox. I could wake him for you, and I would, to make you happy.”
Jon rolled his eyes. He knew Grann meant well—the whole family, alive and dead, did—but Jon had finally drawn the line when Grann and the others had started mentioning obituaries like they were the last rave in dating sites. Funnily enough, they hadn’t batted an eye when he’d told them he was gay, after having lived with them for more than ten years, long enough for them to become his new family, one he dearly loved, even if they annoyed the ever-loving hell out of him sometimes. Coming out to them back in 1932 had been terrifying, but he hadn’t been able to keep lying to them and himself any longer.
It had taken them fifteen more years to decide he should start looking for a husband, and they had managed to be relatively subtle about it—casually mentioning deaths of eligible men over breakfast and, in the case of the ancestors, sending him dreams of newly deceased men—until the Internet had taken on steam in the nineties. Subtlety had died like a roach under the heel of a vicious housewife then.
First, they had tried to set him up with the living, presumably to get him into the swing of things, whatever that was supposed to mean. Jon just couldn’t do it. He had gotten used to not being alive, had arranged himself with the prospect of seeing eternity if he so desired. He was also comfortable with his enhanced abilities that didn’t make him cool and smooth like a were-creature or a vampire but were enough to distinguish him from humans, thus making it impossible for him to go out with one of them.
What he couldn’t stand—not to this day—was feeling the warmth of another being while he himself was always cold. It was a brutal reminder how he shouldn’t be there anymore, even though Grann had assured him that Papa Legba always had a plan for whatever he did. If said plan included having Jon living celibate, it had worked. His sex drive had apparently not woken with him. He still could appreciate masculine beauty, and he even knew what he would want in a man, if he would want a man. It was a strange state of being, caught between wanting intimacy and not being able to pursue it, made even worse by his family’s meddling. For some time, he had thought he might be asexual, but while he was still alive, his sex drive had been a prominent part of his life and he didn’t think his sexual orientation had changed with death.
After he had finally gotten it into his family’s thick skulls that a living man wasn’t what he was looking for, not even for the sake of sowing his wild oats, they had swung back to their initial MO and the thing with the obituaries had taken on new momentum.
Jon had dealt with it as best as he could, aka ignoring his family by keeping himself busy with staying on top of every new computer development and diving deep into the world of video games, making himself a part of their evolvement from Pong to Space Invaders to Pac-Man. From there it went on with SimCity, Final Fantasy and Castlevania in the second half of the eighties. By the time real-time strategy games like Dune II or Warcraft: Orcs and Humans started their triumphal march in the nineties, Jon was already a veteran in the scene and a sought-after game tester and advisor for all the huge companies. Strictly speaking, he was several veterans, because being a zombie meant he would be around long enough for people to notice, so he took some precautions until he realized that nobody in the gaming business gave a damn about suspicious longevity, because people simply assumed the person behind the alias, in his case PLM—Papa Legba’s Miracle—changed while the alias stayed on. He’d been PLM ever since, abandoning his other virtual personalities. He was proud to say his name was linked to quite a few legends in the world of gaming, and his fame was paying off nicely. It also helped him to bury the confusing feelings he was having regarding his life under an avalanche of pretend worlds where reality was simply a nuisance.
But no matter how deeply he immersed himself in the world of virtual reality, no matter how much money he gave Grann and the family to prove to them what a successful and fulfilled undead life he was leading, they wouldn’t stop poking their noses into his business, namely his nonexistent love life.
One day, Jon had had enough. He’d hung a map of the US on a wall, taken a dart and thrown it. He’d never heard of Beaconville before, but that had been where he’d be living from then on. After much complaining and endless discussions about how the Midwest was too far away from New Orleans and that the snow would kill him, not to mention what he did to his poor family, leaving them behind, Grann finally caved and gave her blessing. Because she was the undisputed matriarch, nobody dared contradict her, and some of his younger cousins even helped him move his stuff to the only hotel in the small town, ‘M&M’s B&B’. Meeting Mavis and Maribel had been a stroke of luck, the witches immediately knowing what he was. They’d introduced him to Sammy, who was open and friendly without being nosy and who happened to have an empty basement he didn’t know what to do with. It was perfect, and until the incident where he’d forgotten to eat some brain and his body had reminded him loudly how important that was everything had been fine. Luckily for him, Sammy didn’t spook easily and had managed to distract him with some leftover apple pie while he’d made a dash for the butcher to buy Jon a whole pig brain.
After that, he’d gotten another call from Grann, telling him in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t take better care of himself, she would personally drag him back to New Orleans and Mavis and Maribel had explained to him that he needed to get out at least once a month for his ‘mental hygiene’, as they called it. Jon was well versed in understanding subtext, the message being he would be playing with way less than a full deck of cards if he didn’t start forming some bonds outside his virtual realities.
Sammy had just started his book club, which seemed as good a reason as any to come up for air from his beloved basement. By now, Jon wouldn’t miss the regular meetings with his friends and he even left the basement once a week to chat with Sammy or Milo in the bookstore. When Dre was there, they would read mangas together on one of the couches Sammy had renovated, while they drank hot chocolate or Frappuccino’s.
Jon thought he was making great progress regarding his social life, while Grann thought it was time for him to come back home, which was the other bone they regularly discussed heatedly.
“It’s Silver Fox or Sugar Daddy, Grann. And I want to get to know the man I’m hooking up with, which is difficult when he’s already dead.”
“Now you’re just being stubborn.” Grann chuckled. “Fine… I’ll leave you to your games. Perhaps I’ll wake him for myself. His picture does look good, and I could do with some action, pa kwe?”
“Grann! I don’t need to hear that!”
“It’s only natural, cherie. And just because you refuse to live—”
“I’ve heard enough. Do what you must, but leave me out of it. And don’t tell me about it.”
Now Grann was laughing out loud. “I love you, cherie. Take good care of yourself.”
“I love you, too, Grann—and I will.”
She hung up on him, leaving Jon wondering what she was cooking up in her brain to let him off the hook so quickly. Usually her rantings about him coming home lasted a lot longer. He shrugged, knowing he would find out sooner than he would like and determined to enjoy the time until the boot dropped on his head. He had a book club meeting about The Witcher to attend.