Jenn McKinlay

New York Times Bestselling Author

dark chocolate demise

Chapter One

“He looks really good in there,” Angie DeLaura said. “Peaceful even.”
“You can’t say that about everyone,” Melanie Cooper agreed.
“It’s all about the casket,” Tate Harper said. “You want to choose a lining that compliments your skin tone in the post mortem.”
Mel and Angie turned and gave him concerned looks.
“How could you possibly know that?” Mel asked.
“The funeral director at the mortuary told me,” he said. He threw an arm around Angie. “Since we’re engaged and all maybe we should pick out a doublewide so we can spend eternity snuggling.”
Angie beamed at him and giggled. Then she kissed him. It did not maintain its PG-13 rating for more than a moment and Mel felt her upchuck reflex kick in as she turned away.
She was happy for her best friends in their coupledom, really she was, but sometimes, like now, it was just gag worthy.
“Really you two, how about a little decorum, given the gravity of the situation?” she asked. She knew she sounded a bit snippy but honestly, some days they were just too much.
“Of course, you’re right,” Tate said. “Sorry.”
He and Angie untangled themselves from one another. He smoothed the front of his shirt and straightened his jacket while Angie fluffed her hair and shook out her skirt. Duly subdued, the three of them stood beside the casket that held their friend and employee Marty Zelaznik.
Marty looked particularly spiffy in his white dress shirt and his favorite bold blue tie. His suit was black and Angie had tucked a blue pocket square into his breast pocket so that just the edge of it was visible. His features were relaxed and his bald head was shiny as if it had been waxed to a high gloss.
“Hey.” Oscar Ruiz, a teen known as Oz, who worked alongside Marty in the bakery Fairy Tale Cupcakes that Mel, Angie and Tate owned, joined the trio by the casket. “So, we’re going with an open lid, huh?”
“We think it’s for the best,” Mel said.
“His tie is crooked,” Angie said. “We should fix that.”
“Yeah, and his make-up is a little on the heavy side,” Tate said. “He has angry eyebrows.”
“Anyone have a handkerchief?” Mel asked. “A little spit will take care of that.”
At this, Marty’s eyes popped open and he sat up in his coffin and glared. “What am I five? You are not spit-shining me!”
“Ah!” Angie yelped and leaped back with her hand clutching her chest. “Gees, Marty, you scared me to death!”
“Nice one.” Tate laughed as he and Oz high-fived and knuckle-bumped Marty.
“What? Did you think I was really dead?” Marty asked, sounding outraged.
“No!” Angie snapped. “I thought you were napping. You had a little drool in the corner of your mouth.”
“I was, but that doesn’t mean you get to swab my decks,” Marty said as he shifted around and rubbed the dried spittle off of his chin. “You know, I have to say it’s pretty comfy in here. I may have to look into putting a deposit on one of these for the future.”
“Way in the future,” Mel said.
Marty glanced at the four of them. “So when do we leave for the zombie walk? I want to catch a few more Z’s. Oh, and by the way the undead look you’ve all got going, yeah, I don’t want to wake up to that ever again.”
Mel glanced at her friends. Tate and Angie were doing the undead bride and groom. In requisite tux and white wedding gown, they had topped off their look with gray make-up and faux partially rotted flesh. Tate had a fake knife lodged in his skull while Angie had an axe sticking out of her back. They had already taken bogus wedding photos that Angie was seriously considering making their official wedding portrait.
Being single and thinking this was going to become a permanent state, Mel had decided to go as an undead chef complete with her toque, double breasted white coat and checkered pants. She wore her pleated hat back on her head to enhance the amazing latex scar Oz had adhered to her forehead. It was pretty badass.
Oz had decided to wear his chef whites as well, but had changed it up by making the side of his face appear to be rotting off. Every time Mel saw his fake putrid skin flap in the breeze, she had to resist the urge to peel it off.
Being the body in the casket, Marty had chosen to be less undead than the rest of them. He was pasty pale and sunken eyed but that was about it. Mel suspected because he was closer to his actual expiration date than the rest of them, dressing up as a dead man had less appeal for him. Overall, she had to admit, they were fabulously gruesome.
“Sorry, Marty, but no napping,” Mel said. She grabbed him by the elbow and hauled him out of the casket, which was sitting on a trailer on the back of the cupcake van. “We’ve got to load up the van and get over to the Civic Center Park and set up our station before the undead descend upon us.”
“Ooh, that sounded nice and grisly,” Angie shuddered.
“It did, didn’t it?” Mel said. She let go of Marty, ignoring the look of longing he gave the coffin. “Let’s move, people.”
She hurried to the back of the bakery, where she’d left her rolling cart. Loaded with boxes of cupcakes, she pushed it beside the service window of the van and began to hand them off to Oz, who was inside.
“What flavors did you create for zombie cupcakes?” Tate asked.
“No, new flavors,” Mel said. She flipped open the lid of one of the boxes to show off the cupcakes. “Just new names. In place of the usual suspects we have the Marshmallow Mummy—“
“Hey, you made the frosting look like bandages on a mummy’s head,” Oz said from the window. “Cool.”
“And it has a marshmallow filling,” Mel said. “We also have Vanilla Eyeballs, Strawberry Brains, and Dark Chocolate Demise just to round out the flavors.”
“The eyeball one is staring at me,” Marty said. “I don’t think I could eat that.”
“How about the brains?” Tate said. “How did you pipe the frosting in the shape of a pink brain?”
“Fine pastry tip,” Angie said. “It was fun.”
“Are those little candy coffins on the chocolate ones?” Oz asked. “I dig those. Get it?”
“Aw, man, that stunk worse than rotting flesh,” Marty said. He closed the lid on the box, took it from Mel and handed it through the window. The others stared at him and he asked, “What? I’m just getting into the spirit of things.”
“Fine, but please keep the rotten flesh remarks to a minimum when selling the cupcakes,” Mel said.
“This from the woman who ruined a perfectly good cupcake by putting a bloodshot eyeball on it,” he said. He shook his head as if he couldn’t fathom what she’d been thinking.
Mel lowered her head to keep from laughing. She didn’t want to offend Marty as he took his vanilla cupcakes very seriously.
“Melanie!” a voice called from the bakery. Mel glanced up to see her mother Joyce Cooper stride out the door. Joyce took three steps and stopped, putting her hand to her throat. “Oh, my!”
“We look amazing, right?” Mel asked. She spread her arms wide to include her entire crew.
“What are you?” Joyce asked.
“The baking dead,” Oz said from the van.
“Niiiice.” Tate nodded.
“Yeah, I’ll give you that one,” Marty agreed and exchanged a complicated handshake with Oz.
Mel approached her mother who only flinched a little when she drew near. “Thanks for watching the bakery so we could work the zombie walk, Mom.”
“No, problem,” Joyce said. “But, honey, really I just have to say that white foundation you have on, well, it’s really not terribly flattering and now that you’re single, you really might want to consider a little blush and maybe a less prominent eye shadow.”
“I’m supposed to look like a zombie,” Mel said. “I’m pretty sure they don’t wear blush or eye shadow.”
“Lipstick?”
“No,” Mel said.
Joyce heaved a beleaguered sigh, turned and walked back into the bakery.
“Really?” Mel said to Angie. “She’s worried about my pasty foundation but she blithely ignores the fact that I have a gaping wound on my head.”
“She’s just looking out for you,” Angie said. “Maybe you’ll meet a nice undead lawyer at the zombie walk and she’ll stop worrying.”
“There’s only one lawyer I’m interested in,” Mel said. “And as far as I know he is alive and kicking.”
Angie gave her a half hug as if trying to bolster her spirits. The love of Mel’s life was Joe DeLaura, the middle of Angie’s seven older brothers. A few months ago, Joe had rejected Mel’s proposal of marriage even though he had already proposed to her and she’d said yes. As Mel explained to her mother, it was complicated.
The truth was that Mel had gotten cold feet at the “until death us do part” portion of the whole marriage package, but she had worked through it. Unfortunately, when she had gotten over her case of the wiggins and proposed to Joe, he’d just taken on the trial of a notorious mobster, who was known for wriggling off justice’s barbed hook by murdering anyone who tried to lock him up.
Joe had walked away from Mel to keep her from being a target. To Mel it still felt like rejection. She didn’t handle that sort of thing well and in the past three months had gained fifteen pounds from comfort eating. For that alone, she hoped Joe brought his mobster to justice.
“Come on, ladies, it’s ‘time to nut up or shut up’,” Tate said as he dropped an arm around Mel and Angie’s shoulders and began to herd them to the van.
“Zombieland,” Mel and Angie identified the movie together.
The swapping of movie quotes was one of the foundations of their friendship. Mel and Tate had met first in middle school but then Angie had come along and the three friends had spent weekends in Tate’s parents’ home theater watching old movies and eating junk food. Ever since they had played a game of stumping one another with movie quotes.
These days just the memory of those happier times made Mel glum. Why did it seem like everything was so difficult now?
“Chin up, Undead Chef,” Tate said. “We’re going to go sell cupcakes to the shambling masses and make an arm and a leg in profit.”
“Ba dum dum,” Angie made the sound of a drummer’s rim shot.
Mel rolled her eyes. “I guess that’s better than making a killing.”
“That’s the spirit,” Angie said with a laugh.
“Aw, come on. It’s a zombie walk finished off with an outdoor big screen showing of the Night of the Living Dead,” Tate said. “How could we have anything but a good time?”