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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:05

Warrington, I mean the zombie, didn't have a comeback for that, but he was thinking of one when a funny look came over his face. He went pale, and then a little green, and then he stumbled to the bushes and started throwing up. He fell to his hands and knees, still puking up all the food and drink he'd consumed. Justine held his hair back for him, which meant maybe it wasn't just lust. You usually have to love someone to do that.

"Should have started with something lighter, like broth," Nicky said.

"His digestive system couldn't take the heavy food."

"That's like treating his being dead for hundreds of years like he had the flu, or something," Domino said.

Nicky shrugged as much as the development of his shoulders would let him. "Why not?"

I didn't know what to say, so I turned to MacDougal. "And if he'd started doing that inside the restaurant, that would have been bad."

He looked very serious, and a little pale. "I see your point."

"What's wrong with him?" Bob asked.

"He's been dead for a few centuries," I said.

The vomiting had slowed down, and was into that dry-heaving phase. Justine asked Bob to go get some napkins from inside.

Warrington muttered, "What's wrong with me?"

"You're dead," I said. "What does that mean?"

"The dead can't eat solid food," Manny said.

"I know, and I'm sorry for that," I said.

He blinked up at me. "Why are you sorry? This is a gift."

"Because it will make other things harder."

Bob came back out with napkins and the zombie wiped his mouth clean. Justine wiped the sweat from his forehead. Zombies didn't sweat. "What other things?" she asked, staring at me.

I debated on what to say, and how to say it.

Manny helped me out. "You've just seen his body reacting to food, but without being able to consume something he will begin to rot, Justine."

She shook her head over and over as if denying it enough would make it untrue. Warrington stood up and swayed. She reached out to steady him, and MacDougal came closer in case he was needed. It wasn't just Justine who was bonding with the zombie. Apparently Warrington was a very likable guy. This all would have been so much easier if he'd been a mean bastard.

"Is that what happened to all the zombies you have raised, Ms. Blake?" Warrington turned his now-pale face to me as he asked.

"All the ones that I've seen aboveground long enough have rotted, Mr. Warrington. Not just my zombies, but everyone's. There is no known way to keep the body intact once we raise a zombie from the grave. I'm sorry."

"I will end like one of those poor souls we saw images of?"

I nodded. In my head I thought about the female zombies in the FBI videos. They never looked this alive, though the soul capture was a way of preserving the body. But since I didn't have Warrington's soul in a magical container somewhere, that wouldn't help him. That thought led to one other: If it wasn't his "soul" staring back at me from his eyes, then what was it? My magic animated him, but was that what filled him with personality? I'd expected him to be able to answer questions about historical events, but this level of aliveness . . . I'd never seen anything like it. The zombies that Dominga Salvador had shown me years ago had looked alive, but the shell had been the most lifelike thing about them. They had still been zombies, standing around waiting for her to order them to do something. None of them had this level of . . . personhood.

"I would not want . . . Justine to see me like that."

She clung to his hand with both of hers again. "No, Tom, no."

He put his big hand against the side of her face and gazed down into her eyes with a look as real as any I'd ever seen. Shit, he was in there, really, truly in there. What the fuck had I done?

"I would not want to see this look in your eyes turn to horror as I fell away, piece by piece."

"I would never look at you that way."

"I have seen friends turned into horrors just by battle injuries, so that their sweethearts could not bear to look upon them. I would not have my last glimpse of you on this side of the grave be you turning away from me like that. I would rather remember you gazing up at me as you are now."

Justine turned to me. "How long?"

"How long what?" I asked.

"How long would he look like this?"

"What does that mean, it varies? Hours, days, what?" She came to stand next to me, her body nearly vibrating with emotion.

"Tomorrow he'll probably be about the same, but the day after he won't be. Sometimes the mind goes before the body, and that's a mercy."

"What do you mean, that's a mercy?"

"I've seen zombies whose body went before the mind, so they were trapped in a rotting shell, but totally aware and in there. You don't want him to go through that, you really don't."

She gripped my arm, and normally I would have told her not to touch me, or jerked away, but there was too much emotion in her. I understood some of the pain and it made me let her hold on to my arm. I'd have liked to think this was just a crush mixed with lust, but whatever it seemed like to me, it was more than that to her.

"That's not true, you're just trying to scare me."

"I swear to you that I am not lying about this. I have seen zombies rot in a lot of different ways, and it's unpredictable. I can't guarantee how it will happen for him."

"Darling girl," Warrington said, "you can't want to watch the process regardless of how it happens, and I do not wish to be trapped in a decaying shell while my mind stays intact."

Her grip tightened, her eyes almost fever bright. "But he'll be like this . . . intact until tomorrow night when you planned to put him . . . back, right?"

She turned back to him. "We have until tomorrow night. I'll call in sick to work."

I didn't know what to say to that, but Manny did. "No, Justine, he has to go back tonight."

I decided for partial truth. "Are you hungry again, Mr. Warrington?"

He said, "No," and then stopped. A look I couldn't quite follow came over his face, and then he nodded. "I am. Ravenous."

I nodded. "I was afraid of that."

"Afraid of what?" Justine said. "Everyone gets hungry."

"People do, zombies don't."

Her face lit with a smile. "Then Tom isn't a zombie; see, I told you so."

"There's one kind of zombie that feeds, but cooked meat and coffee doesn't satisfy them."

"We should have done soup, or something, like the other man said. It was just too heavy a meal for him tonight," Justine said.

I shook my head. "There's only one kind of zombie that eats things."

's kind," she said, and went back to holding his hand.

"Flesh-eating zombies," Manny said.

"What are you talking about?" MacDougal asked.

"It's very rare, but an occasional zombie rises with a craving for human flesh," I said.

"That's ridiculous," MacDougal said, "movie nonsense."

"I wish it were, Mr. MacDougal, I truly do, but I've seen it. I've hunted them down after they started killing, and helped destroy them."

Justine clung to Tom. "You're just trying to scare us again. Everyone knows that's not true."

"Did you see the news reports from a few months ago out in Colorado?" I asked.

"That was a flesh-rotting illness, not real zombies," she said.

"There was a disease, but there were also real zombies involved. They were all flesh eaters."

"They were all just the walking dead; none of them were as alive as Tom."

She was actually right, but I needed to win this argument. "He didn't say he was hungry, he said he was ravenous."

"What?" she asked, as if the topic had changed too fast for her.

I looked up at the tall zombie. "Tell her how you feel. How hungry are you?"

He frowned at me, and seemed to think about it. "I feel empty, as if I'll never be full again. It's like this pit inside me needs filling, and . . ." He stared at me. "What is a flesh eater, Ms. Blake?"

"It's a rogue zombie that attacks and eats the flesh of the living."

His nice hazel eyes widened. "Are you saying that I could go mad and attack Justine, and my other friends?"

"There's enough left of you inside your head right now that you might attack strangers at first, people you don't have an emotional attachment to, but eventually you'd be a danger to everyone." In my head I thought, vampires and wereanimals will go after their nearest and dearest first, usually because of proximity, and some vampires are attracted to people they love when they first wake, thirsty for blood. I didn't add any of that, because it would just muddy the waters and I did not like how Warrington was describing his hunger. It sounded too close to bloodlust, or the flesh craving that new wereanimals get. It's a hunger that must, MUST, be satisfied.

"Tom would never hurt me," Justine said, wrapping her arm around his waist. She fit under his arm the way so many men seem to prefer, though she was tall enough that her head still came up over his shoulder, which made her about five-eight. She was taller than I'd thought, or maybe she just seemed smaller; whichever, they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle when you find the corner pieces and can finally start making progress.