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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:10

The zombie's hand stayed tight around Nicky's ankle, and then his head came up above the earth like a drowning swimmer pulled from the sea. He came up screaming, high and piteous, his words lost in the horror of it all, and then he started coughing.

"Warrington," I said, still aiming at the face.

"Bring him up a little higher, Nicky, not too much more yet."

Nicky crawled farther out of the grave with the other men holding on to him and brought the zombie up so that his upper chest was free, but the other arm was still trapped in the soft dirt. The zombie coughed harder, then started puking up dirt the way he'd thrown up food earlier.

"God help us, he was buried alive," one of the grave diggers said.

"Not exactly," I said.

"He was buried undead," Manny said, his face pale even by moonlight.

When enough dirt had come out, the zombie leaned against the side of the grave but still had Nicky's ankle in its grasp. I wasn't sure if Warrington even knew that he was still holding on to anything, or if he was like a drowning victim--once they have hold of anything they don't let go. It's how lifeguards get drowned every year trying to save people.

I wanted to help Warrington, but I wasn't letting him hurt Nicky, or anyone else, trying to save himself. I would help him if I could, but if I couldn't I'd let Susannah and her dad do their job. Once I had that decision dragged into the front of my head, I was calmer.

"Warrington, can you hear me?" I asked, still pointing the shotgun at his face.

He blinked up at me, but those fine hazel eyes were corpse's eyes now, half lost in their wasted sockets, color stolen by the moon. His face was waxy and skeletal; all the miraculous humanity had been lost, so that he was just another zombie except for his words.

"Ms. Blake, that is you, yes?"

"It is, Mr. Warrington."

"I can't seem to see as well as I usually do."

"Your eyes aren't working as well as they did."

"Is it from being buried?"

"Something like that," I said.

"Are you pointing a gun at me?"

"Are you going to shoot me?"

"Are you going to keep holding on to my friend's ankle?"

"Is that what I'm holding on to? I can't seem to think clearly."

"Yes, it's Nicky's ankle that you're holding on to."

"The big gentleman with the odd haircut."

"I can't seem to make my fingers work to let go."

"Give it a minute, and then try to let go; for now just rest a minute, Mr. Warrington."

"I thought you meant to leave me down there in hell. I know I deserve it, but I'm so glad you came to rescue me."

Rescue him. We hadn't come to rescue him; we'd come to try to find a way to kill him for good. He'd never be raised from the dead again; I'd make sure of that. "Manny and I were worried that you hadn't gone back to sleep and were trapped, so we came to get you out."

"Thank you, oh God, thank you." His fingers slowly unfolded and Nicky was able to pull himself completely out of the grave. He stood there tall and firm and looked at me. Of everyone at the graveside he felt most what I was feeling; nothing I could do would keep him out of my emotions. Domino and the rest I could shield against, but not Nicky; he knew.

I lowered the shotgun just a little and looked down at the talking corpse that was still trapped in the earth of his own grave. His body was decayed, so he looked like a regular zombie, but his mind was still awake and human. God help me.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Anita, what is going on?" Zerbrowski asked. He stared down at the zombie with the horror plain on his face, which you don't see from veteran cops much, not in public anyway. They save the horror for private moments, or getting drunk with friends.

"Please, help me out of this grave."

"Are you still craving human flesh, Mr. Warrington?"

He shook his corpse head. "No, no, I just want out of this place."

Manny came to stand beside me. "What are we going to do?"

"Do we dig him out?" the short dark-haired grave digger asked.

"No, no one else goes in the grave," I said.

"Help me, Ms. Blake, help me."

"We're going to, Mr. Warrington, just as soon as we figure out how to do that without endangering anyone else."

"I'm not craving flesh anymore, Ms. Blake."

"You're too scared right now. No one craves food when they're this scared."

He raised his free hand and looked at it. The flesh had molded to it, so that it was just a skeleton hand with pale, waxy skin formed over it. "What's wrong with my hand? Why does it look like that?"

"Oh, God," I whispered.

"He doesn't know what he is," Zerbrowski said.

"What's wrong with me, Ms. Blake? What's happening?"

"Do you remember why you wanted me to put you back in your grave?"

"No, I mean . . . I was craving human flesh. I was dangerous to others."

"Yes, potentially, and I told you that all zombies did one thing, do you remember what that was?"

He shook his head, then looked up at me, blinking those rotting eyes. "You said all zombies rot; no matter how lifelike I looked, I would rot."

"Is that what's happening to me?"

He started screaming then, over and over, just ragged screams, and struggling to free himself from the dirt of his grave. Manny touched my arm and motioned me to walk with him. I told Nicky and Domino that the zombie could free himself a little more, but if he tried to get out of the grave to shoot him.

Manny took me far enough away so we could hear over the zombie's screams. Zerbrowski came with us. "What the fuck, Anita? I mean, what the fuck is that thing?"

"It's a zombie," I said.

He shook his head. "I've seen zombies, and this isn't it. I mean, it looks like one, but they don't think, and they don't feel. One of the things that makes them so dangerous is that they don't feel when you're chopping them up, so the bits just keep crawling after you. This one, this one feels things."

"I know, Zerbrowski, I know. Don't you think I know?"

He nodded. "Of course, you do; I'm sorry, partner. This is why you wanted to exhume him."

"I couldn't leave him down there like this."

"How are we going to give him back to death?"

I thought it was an odd phrasing, but I didn't have a better one. "I don't know, Manny, there's no ceremony for this, not really."

"We could try a second animal sacrifice and blood circle and put him back with salt and steel."

"You're talking about the old-school way where we sew his mouth up with salt, aren't you?"

"We try modern first and if that doesn't work, we go old-school."

"You really want to try to hold him down while we sew his mouth shut, while he screams for help? Fuck no."

"I second that," Zerbrowski said. "No, we are not doing that."

"Do you have a suggestion, Sergeant, because if you do I am eager to hear it," Manny said.

Zerbrowski looked at him, then to me, and back to Manny. "I don't have suggestions, I'm just agreeing with Anita that we are not holding this . . . thing down and sewing its mouth shut in the hope that it will be dead for real then, because you aren't sure that will work either, are you?"

Manny sighed. "No, Sergeant, I'm not."

"What is wrong with this zombie, Anita? Why is it this alive?"

"Why is it this aware, then?"

"I told you, he was a cannibal in life."

"And that explains why he didn't die again when you put him in the grave tonight?"

"Maybe; it's all I got to explain it, so yeah, we'll go with that."

"Anita, you don't know, do you?"

"If you were your boss I'd deny it, but no, Zerbrowski, I don't know."

"Then we have no choice but to treat him like you would treat any rogue zombie, Anita," Manny said.