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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:00:56

I wanted to touch it. I wanted to pull out the corpse inside that hard ground. It felt good to use my magic; that wasn't new.

I dipped the machete back into the bowl of rapidly cooling blood. "I have to smear blood on you, Mr. MacDougal."

"I remember," he said, in a strained voice.

I used my other hand to take blood off the machete and have him bend down so I could smear it on his forehead, then open his shirt so I could touch over his heart, and lastly his hands. He didn't argue, or flinch at the blood. It made me wonder what our historian did in his spare time, or maybe the magic had him, too.

"I'm going to raise the zombie now. Don't leave the circle, because if you do then you won't be able to control the zombie and I don't have time to hand-hold it for you."

"I'll stay right here."

Nicky set the bowl of blood carefully on the ground and straightened with his hands flexing at his sides. "I want my hands free, just in case."

"You think you're going to wrestle the zombie?"

"I'd shoot it first, but I'll do what's needed."

I frowned at him, but I knelt and placed the machete across the bowl. I wanted my hands free, too, but for a different reason. I looked down at the grave. It was as if the last drop of blood had been one drop too many, and it was a moment of critical mass where the death and the magic met and imploded into something bigger. It was like doing a physics experiment that I'd done a thousand times before, but the same data, the same actions, and I suddenly had a brand-new result. Chaos theory is never a good thing when it meets magic.

I went to the grave and put my hands just above the soft dip in the earth where the coffin had broken down and a pocket of decay had risen underground and then deflated like a badly made cake so that the ground was hollowed out above it. I could feel the bits and pieces of the body under the dirt, like puzzle pieces stirred about. I put my hands on the dirt, and the moment my hands touched earth, it was like a spark leapt from the remains to my hands, up my arms, across my shoulders, and over my scalp like the way scientists say lightning truly is, from ground to air, but it never looks that way. This felt that way.

I concentrated on the earth against my hands. It was dry and hard packed, the spring grass the only softness. I made myself concentrate on the physical sensation so it would help anchor me against the magic that was spilling over my skin. This was an old cemetery; it didn't have sprinklers, and nothing got watered unless it was paid for with the caretakers, so I dug my fingers into the hard earth and the coolness of the new grass, and fought to control my own necromancy. It was just so much power tonight.

I plunged that power into the hard dirt and I called, "Thomas Warrington, Thomas James Warrington, I call thee from the grave. I call you to my hand, and the hand of the man behind your gravestone. Come to us, Thomas, rise and walk with us." I was cutting the ceremony to pieces, because I didn't need words of the ritual to build power. How did I know that I didn't need all the steps to raise this zombie? I just knew, knew with capital letters, I KNEW I could pull this zombie from the grave. It would take more energy doing it this way, but I needed to burn off the extra kick of the cow's death, and MacDougal's baby psychic powers. This was my only zombie raising of the night, and the magic had to go somewhere, because I didn't want it to go home with me to Jean-Claude and the other vampires in the underground. Necromancy was supposed to be good for all kinds of undead, including vamps. I so didn't need that tonight.

I used the dead man's name, because I wasn't certain that without it he would be himself and able to answer questions, but part of me was almost certain that I needed nothing but my own hands, my own power, to pull him out of the grave.

The earth moved against my hands like water, but thicker, as if mud could move like water and not be wet. The earth separated, remade itself, and I felt the pieces collect and begin to rebuild themselves. There were pieces missing, but it was all right, I didn't need the small pieces. I gathered him up and felt him begin to be.

I plunged my hands into that moving, writhing earth, and hands met mine, hands that laced their fingers around mine, and felt as real. It was like dragging a drowning victim up out of solid water. He clutched at my hands and the ground pushed, and I pulled, and he came out of the earth to his thighs, dressed in the black suit he'd been buried in. I got to my feet and pulled him with me, and the ground spilled him up like some kind of escalator. That was new; usually even the best zombies had to climb the last few feet from the ground as if the grave was reluctant to let them out. This grave gave him up like a flower opening and pushing out a seed.

He blinked huge, pale eyes at me, gray or blue. It was hard to tell by moonlight. He looked at me, at our hands, and said, "Who are you?"

Zombies didn't ask that first thing; like all true undead they needed blood to speak, to be real, to be "alive," even for a little while. I looked up into that young face and he was in there, aware, awake, and he was perfect. Even I was impressed.

WE LEFT THOMAS the Zombie with MacDougal. He and Mrs. Willis were very, very pleased with the zombie. "He seems alive," Mrs. Willis whispered to me, because once we'd explained to him what he was, and how much time had passed, it had scared him. I'd seen zombies react like that before, when they didn't know they were dead. I always hated that part, explaining to them that they were dead, and there was no way to change that permanently. Not even my necromancy could resurrect the dead. Thomas the Zombie looked fabulously alive, but he wasn't, and if we left him walking aboveground long enough his body would begin to rot and the miracle would turn into the nightmare of every shambling zombie movie you'd ever seen.

I used to have a hard-and-fast rule that I never let clients take their zombies away from the graveside. I put the rule in place after a few families took their loved ones home and kept them until they were rotted nightmares, and even then some didn't want to let them go. The worst was when they tried to bathe them. Water made them rot faster and did nothing to help the smell. My zombies didn't rot initially, even back in the day when they'd looked like partially rotted corpses, but the "magic" would eventually begin to fade, and the first sign of that was that the decay process started back up, and rotting meat stinks; it just does.

But technology and enough profit to buy the technology had given us options. I had an electronic ankle cuff waiting to put on the zombie. I'd use it to track him just like the police do with someone on house arrest. This model of cuff would also alarm if it was tampered with, so if they tried to take it off I'd know and they could be charged with disturbance of a corpse, among other things.

Our business manager at Animators Inc., Bert Vaughn, had approved the expense after he lost me for entire nights while I stayed with my zombies listening to them being questioned about everything from court cases to historical events. We billed per zombie raised, not by the hour, so that much revenue loss had finally convinced even Bert that we needed a different way to keep track of our zombies. But first we needed someone to give the zombie to, which was MacDougal.

Once the zombie was aboveground, the power was fine. I pulled the circle down and the spring night was just normal. Only the zombie was extraordinary, so lifelike that it was a little disturbing. I raised the dead; I did not do resurrection--no one did outside of Bible stories--but Thomas Warrington might have made a believer out of people. Not me; I knew in a few days he'd start to rot, and being this "alive" only meant that he'd be more horrified when it started, like the poor victims in the videos that the FBI had shown me. It was the same principle, except I didn't have Thomas Warrington's soul in a magical reinforced jar somewhere, so I could put it back in, or take it out, at my customers' whim.

To raise a zombie, even a recently dead one, that looked as alive as the women in the videos, the animator had to be damned powerful. There weren't many of us who

had the juice to do something like this, and fewer still who could capture souls. Hell, I didn't even know how to do that. Dominga Salvador had offered to teach me, but I'd told her I didn't want anyone's soul. I hadn't then, and I didn't now, but watching Thomas laugh and joke with everyone made me wonder, if it wasn't his soul in there, what was it? Was it just body memory? The last flickers of personality, caught in the flesh like the traumatic events that get caught in the walls and floors of a house, so they play over and over again--not a true ghost, but the echoes of emotions so strong they leave images behind? Was that all I was seeing in the tall young "man"? I didn't know and Manny hadn't known either, because I'd asked him. My grandmother Flores, who taught me how to control my power, hadn't known either. As far as I knew, no one knew the answer; maybe there wasn't one.

We made plans for them to bring him back tomorrow night to be put back down. We made the plans quietly while MacDougal asked questions and the zombie answered them, and one of the young guys, whose name I couldn't quite remember, recorded it with his phone. Ah, technology. The zombie had protested the ankle bracelet, but when I gave him a direct order to let me put it on, he'd complied like he had no will of his own. It sort of comforted me that he reacted like any other zombie, because he was almost unnervingly alive, even to me. His skin was still unnaturally cool to the touch, but other than being a little pale, he looked great; for being dead over two hundred years, he looked amazing.

Nicky, Dino, and I were using the aloe baby wipes I kept in the car to clean my hands. The wipes did well on everything except the blood that always seemed to embed itself at the roots of your fingernails. That needed soap, water, and scrubbing, sometimes with a bristle brush, but for everything else we'd be presentable. Nathaniel held a fresh trash bag so we could throw the used wipes in. Tonight it wasn't very full, but on some nights the kitchen-sized bag filled up.

"Killing dinosaurs to no purpose," I said.

Nathaniel explained, "A lot of plastics used to be made from petroleum products, just like gasoline, so it's all prehistoric dead plants and animals."

"Dead dinosaurs," Nicky said.