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Seanan McGuire | Exclusive Excerpt: AFTERMARKET AFTERLIFE


Aftermarket Afterlife
Seanan McGuire

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March 2024
On Sale: March 5, 2024
368 pages
ISBN: 0756418615
EAN: 9780756418618
Kindle: B0CHVB51TD
Paperback / e-Book
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Also by Seanan McGuire:
Tidal Creatures, June 2024
Add to review list
Aftermarket Afterlife, March 2024
Mislaid in Parts Half-Known, January 2024
Be Sure, July 2023

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A Special Excerpt from AFTERMARKET AFTERLIFE by Seanan McGuire, the 13th book in the NYT-bestselling and Hugo nominated InCryptid urban fantasy series

 

The cinnamon rolls were done, out of the oven, and had been solidly decimated as member after member of the family came drifting in, lured by the scent of bacon, coffee, and carbs. Even James had eventually woken up and come down from his room, although he had refused my fresh homemade waffles in favor of blueberry Eggos from the freezer. I would have been offended, but given that he was wound so tight with anticipation that I wouldn’t have been surprised if he spontaneously froze himself into a block of ice, I figured he could be allowed a little comfort food.

He didn’t bother with the toaster, instead passing them to Annie to heat before he smeared them with a layer of whipped butter and began dipping them in his coffee. No one reacted. Every family has their weird food habits, and ours sometimes seems to have more than most. It’s better not to comment.

Kevin glanced at his watch. He still wore an old-fashioned one, gears and glass on a leather strap. It was a gift from Aunt Laura on his fifteenth birthday, and I was pretty sure he was never going to replace it. Laura. The thought was enough to make me grimace. She was Kevin and Jane’s honorary mother figure when they were growing up; losing her was the root of the infection that rotted the ground between Jane and Alice. Any day now, one of them was going to realize the crossroads no longer had the ability to stop my tongue; they could ask me what happened to her, and I could tell them.

I just didn’t know what I was going to say when that happened. As there was no sense in borrowing trouble, I was doing my best not to think about it, and not to let it show when I did think about it and realized the implications.

Some information needs to be shared. Some information wants to be shared. And some information should go unshared for as long as humanly possible, because no one sensible chucks a fox into the middle of the henhouse when they have any choice in the matter.

“Jane and Ted should be getting here any time now with the kids,” he said. “Mom’s plane is supposed to have just touched down in Portland, which means, with time for deplaning, picking up their luggage, and getting the rental car, they’re probably about two hours out.”

“I still say we could have picked them up,” said Evelyn.

“Mom insisted we not put ourselves out,” said Kevin. “I think she wants to just rip the band-aid off in one go, and not be meeting up with us one by one all day long.”

“Yeah, but if we’d picked her up, we could have had the whole drive to get to know Grandpa before Aunt Jane got here,” said Annie wryly. “Your aunt promised me she’d be on her best behavior,” said Kevin.

“Uh-huh. And you believed her?” Annie took a long drink of marshmallow-topped coffee. She was on her third cup, and had moved on from the mini marshmallows to the freeze-dried Lucky Charms marshmallows she ordered off the internet in bulk. Sometimes I wondered how she could breathe, since her lungs were probably solid marshmallow fluff by this point.

Kevin opened his mouth, then paused and sagged in his seat. “Not entirely,” he admitted. “She’s going to lose her temper, and she’s going to start yelling. But being on her best behavior means she’s going to at least try to delay that for as long as she can.”

“Be nice to your aunt,” said Evelyn mildly, picking up a piece of bacon and giving it an experimental nibble. As a human raised by a cuckoo and a revenant, her food preferences can be odd even by family standards. Fortunately, it’s hard to make bacon too weird without eating it raw, and her human physiology means she can’t do that without risks, something her brother has always been happy to mock her for. (Her brother, Andrew, is a bogeyman. Also adopted, obviously, and immune to most human parasites, which simply can’t find a foothold in his slightly out-of-synch biology. Bogeymen aren’t obligate carnivores, but they eat a lot of rare and even raw meat, probably due to the fact that many of them have been driven underground, where “safe cooking” is a misnomer.)

“Not if she fucks up our chance to talk to an actual sorcerer,” replied Annie.

Evelyn sighed, but didn’t argue.

Annie and James were both sorcerers. Annie, as I’ve already mentioned, was a pyromancer, capable of creating and controlling fire. James was the same in reverse, a cryomancer who could create ice and snow and cause frostbite with a touch. He didn’t appreciate Elsa jokes very much, while she was perfectly fine with Firestarter references, which I suppose shows the difference in perceived coolness between a Disney princess and a Stephen King protagonist.

And neither of them had ever been given what I would call “proper training.” Sorcery, again, as previously mentioned, is genetic. Most types of magic use aren’t. Routewitches just happen. Ditto for umbramancers and the like. But sorcerers require at least one sorcerer ancestor, which is why the crossroads were able to do such a good job of eliminating them. I’m ashamed to admit that I played a part in that; through the bargains I brokered, the crossroads were able to eliminate more than a dozen sorcerous bloodlines from the world, and those were gone forever. Thomas didn’t have proper training either. He was self-taught, like most sorcerers. It was just that he was also decades older than Annie and James, and had been successful at both controlling his powers and figuring out their non-elemental applications. They were hoping they could convince him to train them.

Jane screaming in his face as soon as he came through the door wasn’t going to help with that. But then, Jane’s issues were and have always been mostly with her mother.

Kevin’s phone beeped. He pulled it out of his pocket, looking at the screen before he nodded. “Jane and Ted are at the gate,” he said. “Evie?”

“Yes, dear.” Evelyn, who was closer to the end of the table, stood and walked over to the intercom box on the wall, where she pressed the button to release the locks. A moment later, the intercom buzzed to signal that the gates were sliding open.

The level of security around the family compound can sometimes seem a bit excessive, but when you’ve spent several generations getting ready for an inevitable clash with the paramilitary organization your ancestors ran away from, it becomes a lot more reasonable. Every lock and every failsafe was installed to protect against a specific problem or suite of problems, even down to the ultrasonic pest-repelling units that Kevin had recently installed on the fence, intended to ward off cuckoo incursions.

Not that there were enough cuckoos left on Earth to mount a proper incursion. Sarah had seen to that. Still, there were other things that could be driven off with the right ultrasonic frequencies, and after James and Alex had both made modifications to the units, I was willing to bet they’d keep us safe from something.

The front door slammed just before Jane called, “Hello? Anybody home?”

The mice cheered.

“We’re in the kitchen,” Kevin called back. “You know someone’s home, or the gate would never have opened to let you in.”

“You could have all hurried out to hide in the barn, I don’t know, maybe you had a vital dissection project in process,” said Jane, bustling into the kitchen. True to expectations, she looked to be in a foul mood already, as if she’d been pre-gaming her incipient anger since she woke up. She brightened a little when she saw the platter of waffles.

I waved my spatula at her. “Breakfast?” I asked.

“I already ate,” she said, which I hoped was true. Jane was the least physically active member of the family, having chosen to live inside the city of Portland proper, where her associations with the cryptid world were normally of the domesticated kind. She belonged to at least three cryptid book clubs that I knew of, and a support group for the parents of part-cryptid children, and several other organizations that kept her busy but didn’t keep her moving. That would have been fine, had she not come from a family of obsessive athletes who spent most of their time jumping off of buildings or skating around roller derby tracks.

And that still might have been fine, had we not come from a society where women’s value was frequently defined by their waistlines. Jane had flirted off and on with disordered eating for her entire life, no matter how much all the rest of us told her that her weight didn’t matter, we’d love her no matter what. Even coming from Ted, that hadn’t helped as much as we would have wanted it to, and Jane’s diets remained a frustrating, occasionally frightening constant. Add that to a tendency to skip meals whenever she got stressed, and I had to seriously question whether she had eaten that day.

Jane read the doubt in my expression, because she reached over and touched my arm. “Really, Mary, it’s fine,” she said. “Everything looks fabulous, but I didn’t know you were going to be making break- fast, so I had some oatmeal before we hit the road.”

“She did,” verified Ted, coming in behind her. Unlike his short blonde wife, Theodore Harrington was tall and dark-haired, with a leading man’s bone structure and twinkling eyes. Before Annie came home with Sam, he’d been the tallest member of the family, and had only managed to lose the title by about half an inch, which he didn’t seem to resent in the slightest. As always, he was dressed to disappear in a crowd, grays and browns without a single pop of real color. For an incubus, he was committed to the idea of not attracting attention.

Everything Verity knows about the “making yourself look like someone else with the addition of a pair of glasses and a cheap blazer” routine she so excels at—calling it “Clark Kenting,” which is accurate enough, in its way—she learned from her Uncle Ted. That man could make himself look harmless with a shift of his posture, and he normally chose to stand that way.

Being big and slow-aging and supernaturally attractive would have been easy things for a less gentle man to take advantage of. Thankfully for everyone involved, Ted has never been that sort of guy. He and Jane met while in college, and only started dating because she wore him down with her constant requests for dinner and a movie. Even then, it might not have worked, except that all the currently living Price-Healys by blood are descended from a woman named Frances Brown, Alice’s mother.

Fran was an amazing woman. Kind, ridiculous, foul-mouthed, an incredibly practiced horseback rider, and an even better shot. And a devoted mother, although she didn’t get to hold that title nearly as long as all of us would have liked. What she never knew while she was alive, and none of us knew until long after she was dead, was that she wasn’t entirely human. One of her recent ancestors—probably one of her parents, given the circumstances under which Fran had been found and taken into the carnival that raised her—was a type of humanoid cryptid called a Kairos. Kairos manipulate coincidence more than pure luck, although the two things can look very similar from the outside.

Kairos are also resistant, if not immune, to most known forms of psychic manipulation, including both cuckoo telepathy and Lilu pheromones. Meaning Jane may have been the first woman Ted ever met who liked men but wasn’t impacted by his preternatural attractiveness. She’d been flirting like a sledgehammer because she was interested in Ted, not because he was an incubus.

Not love at first sight, maybe, but definitely a solid, healthy relationship, and one I had been delighted to see Jane find for herself. Ted was good for her. Always had been.

Motherhood was also good for her, inevitable fussing about her weight in the aftermath of both births aside, and Jane had been there for both her children the way she had wanted Alice to be there for her. Elsie didn’t have a lot of what I might call “ambition” or “motivation” or desire to move out of her childhood bedroom, but she made up for it in sweetness and loyalty. There was no one better to have in your corner when things got rough, something that had always benefited her younger brother, Artie, who was much more introverted and inclined to hide in his room with his computer and his comic books.

Or he had been, anyway. Before he took a trip to another dimension with a bunch of his cousins and wound up getting his entire personality deleted. It was an accident, and the cousin who did it—Sarah Zellaby, cuckoo, childhood best friend, and longtime unconfessed love— probably felt worse about it than anybody else, even Artie. He couldn’t understand why she was avoiding him so assiduously. Sure, she broke his brain, but she’d put him back together afterward, and everything was fine now, right?

Right?

Wrong. Everything was very, very wrong. What Sarah had done had pieced together a reasonable facsimile of the man we knew, but the cracks had started showing almost immediately. This current Artie was built from the memories other people had of him, not the memories he had of himself: his internality was gone, replaced by an amalgam of other people’s ideas.

As he stepped into the kitchen and moved to get himself a waffle, I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t the only dead person in the room. Although at least I knew my life was over. Artie—Arthur, as he had started asking us to call him—was still operating under the assumption that he was alive.

“There’s vanilla ice cream for the waffles,” I informed him, and he shot me a grateful smile, heading over to open the freezer and get out the carton.

“So when are they getting here?” he asked. “Mom’s been wound tighter than a jumping jack all morning long.”

“I have not,” said Jane.

“Have so,” he replied, sounding almost disinterested. “You yelled at Elsie for having a Diet Coke instead of coffee. And you yelled at Dad for not knowing where you left your house keys.”

Jane made a huffing sound.

Artie scooped ice cream onto his waffle, returned the container to the freezer, and moved to sit down next to Sam. The kitchen table, which was generally used for breakfast and small groups, was reaching capacity. I frowned, removing what would hopefully be the last waffle from the wafflemaker.

“We should probably move to the dining room, now that we’re all here,” I said. “There’s no room for anyone else to sit.”

“God forbid we inconvenience the incredible Alice Healy,” said Jane, tone bitter.

Kevin sighed. “You said you were going to behave today.”

“I said I would try.”

“Well, you’re certainly trying.” He stood, taking his plate and mug with him. “Mary, you need help with anything?”

“I’m fine, Kevin, thank you,” I said.

The next ten or so minutes were a chaotic blur of motion, as we relocated all the people and their breakfast to the much more spacious dining room. We had just finished when I paused, cocking my head.

Someone was calling me.

“I’ll be right back,” I said, as reassuringly as I could, and disappeared.

Special excerpt adapted from AFTERMARKET AFTERLIFE. Copyright © 2024 by Seanan McGuire. Reprinted courtesy of DAW Books. All rights reserved.

AFTERMARKET AFTERLIFE by Seanan McGuire

 

Aftermarket Afterlife

Seanan McGuire's New York Times-bestselling and Hugo Award-nominated urban fantasy InCryptid series continues with the thirteenth book following the Price family, cryptozoologists who study and protect the creatures living in secret all around us

Mary Dunlavy didn't intend to become a professional babysitter.  Of course, she didn't intend to die, either, or to become a crossroads ghost. As a babysitting ghost, she's been caring for the Price family for four generations, and she's planning to keep doing the job for the better part of forever.

With her first charge finally back from her decades-long cross-dimensional field trip, with a long-lost husband and adopted daughter in tow, it's time for Mary to oversee the world's most chaotic family reunion. And that's before the Covenant of St. George launches a full scale strike against the cryptids of Manhattan, followed quickly by an attack on the Campbell Family Carnival.

It's going to take every advantage and every ally they have for the Prices to survive what's coming—and for Mary, to avoid finding out the answer to a question she's never wanted to know: what happens to a babysitting ghost if she loses the people she's promised to protect

 

Fantasy Urban [DAW, On Sale: March 5, 2024, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780756418618 / eISBN: 9780756418625]

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About Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire lives and works in Washington State, where she shares her idiosyncratic home with her collection of books, creepy dolls, and enormous cats. When not writing - which is fairly rare - she enjoys travel, and can regularly be found any place where there are cornfields, haunted houses, or frogs. A Campbell, Alex, Hugo, and Nebula Award-winning author, Seanan's debut novel (Rosemary and Rue, the first entry in the New York Times-bestselling October Daye series) was released in 2009, and she has published more than fifty books since. Seanan doesn't sleep much.

InCryptid | October Daye | Wayward Children

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