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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:11

"Not to complicate things," Zerbrowski said, "but won't the zombie have an issue with sunlight, too?"

"Will it burn in sunlight like a vampire?" Nicky asked.

"No," I said, "but zombies hide from the light."

"Some of them fall into a vampire-like torpor once the sun rises. Flesh eaters are smart enough to find cover before dawn sometimes."

"Will this one die at dawn like a vampire?" Zerbrowski asked.

"You're saying that a lot tonight," he said.

"Order them to go back to their cemetery again, Anita."

"Make it more of an order," he suggested.

I looked at the ghoul in front of me and said, "I order you to go back to the cemetery you crawled out of tonight."

"Think dog, not person, Anita," Nicky said.

"How would you word it?"

He was quiet for a minute, and I almost said, See, not so easy, but he said, "Do they burn in daylight like a vampire?"

"No, but they hide from daylight, so it doesn't feel good. They can come out at dusk before it's truly dark; most vampires can't."

"If dawn comes and they aren't near their tunnels, what do they do?" he asked.

"Take shelter until dark."

"Look around, Anita, where can they hide? It's going to be light soon."

I looked for a shed, or a mausoleum, and found a tomb that rose above the others in the distance. I motioned toward it. "They might be able to hide in there."

"Are they strong enough to break into it?"

The ghoul looked at me, his crimson eyes doing that flat shine again as if reflecting light I couldn't see. It made a different noise higher in its throat and started backing away. I had a sense of movement out among the graves, and knew it was the other ghouls.

"What are they doing?" Domino asked.

The one in front of me got very low to the ground and sort of groveled, and then it began to crawl backward away from us. It kept looking at Nicky and then Domino and the two exterminators in their fire suits, as it tried to keep all the dangers in sight. It stopped and groveled again, but that was always aimed at me.

"The others are at the mausoleum," Nicky said.

I glanced up and could see the others like gray shadows skulking around the huge stone. The ghoul in front of me made an abrupt, sharp almost-growl that made the hair at the back of my neck stand up, and then he turned and crept out among the tombstones, using them for cover the way a lion used the long grass.

"Don't shoot it," I said.

"No, we'll burn them out once daylight comes," Susannah said.

She looked at me. "Yes, we will."

"You're not paid for ghoul extermination tonight."

"You're protecting them."

Manny said, "Contact the company that runs the graveyard, and then they'll pay you to do it."

"Is that what you meant, Anita?"

"Why do it for free if you can do it for money?"

Her body language was all relief as she let go of the serious mad-on she'd been about to aim at me. Her father added, "I like the way you think, Anita; business first."

"If I took it personally every time a monster pissed me off, I couldn't do my job."

"I guess not," Susannah said.

Zerbrowski gave me a look, and then Manny. Both of them were wondering if I'd meant business, or if I just hadn't wanted them fried in front of me. Since I wasn't sure, I didn't try to enlighten them. You can't share the light if you're still in the dark yourself, and I was stumbling around in the pitch black, wondering why the hell a ghoul pack had come to visit me tonight. The ghoul had taken my orders, which wasn't possible, but it had happened, so it was possible. Impossible: I was beginning to think it didn't mean what I thought it meant.

FALSE DAWN CAME, making the darkness lighter, but it wasn't truly daylight. Vampires would still have time to run for cover before they started to burn. The ghouls had broken into the crypt and were crawling inside like rats in a hidey-hole. That left just one undead to deal with, and I turned back to the open grave.

The zombie had managed to free itself to its waist in the dirt and was still wiggling more of itself free. Domino was keeping an eye on it the way Nicky and I had told him to. If I gave the word, or the zombie tried to get out of the grave, he'd shoot it. I didn't want to shoot it, but I didn't know what else to do with it either.

"Ms. Blake," it said, "please, I just want out of this awful place." His face looked more cadaverous with the growing light, so that no matter how cultured his language was he still looked like a rotting corpse.

"Are you still craving flesh?"

He stopped trying to get his legs free and seemed to think about my question. "Yes, yes, I am."

"Do you feel as empty as you did in the mountains when the snow trapped you?"

"I don't understand what that means."

"Do you remember your name?"

"I don't know." He'd gone back to trying to free his legs; he was only caught below the knees now.

"Do you know what Tom is short for?"

"Thomas, what's your last name?"

It blinked eyes up at me that were still hazel, but watching the balls roll in the nearly exposed sockets meant that they weren't lovely hazel eyes anymore. There was so little flesh on the face that I couldn't read his expressions anymore.

"Thomas Warrington," I said.

"I should know my own name, shouldn't I?"

"Yes, Mr. Warrington, you should."

"Why does it sound strange, as if it's not me at all?"

"Dawn is coming," I said.

"I don't understand."

I didn't know if he had forgotten what dawn meant, or if he didn't understand that the sun coming up was a potentially bad thing for a zombie. Hell, maybe he didn't even know that last part. Most people didn't understand that zombies preferred darkness, and some couldn't move around in daylight at all. I was pretty sure Warrington would still be moving, but his mind was going as the light grew, and that wasn't going to be a good thing for any of us.

I motioned to Susannah and her father to suit up. They didn't question me, just pulled their hoods up over their heads. They were out of sight of the zombie. What was left of Warrington might not understand what their suiting up meant, but I didn't want him to be frightened in his last few minutes of conscious thought, because that was what he seemed to be losing. When the sun came up, I was pretty sure he'd be the walking dead inside and out. Once he was that, he wouldn't be able to be afraid. I was going to wait for it.

"He'll stop moving and just fall down like a broken doll when the sun rises," the tall blond grave digger said from the edge of the grave as he gazed down at the zombie.

"Not always," I said.

"Anita's zombies don't die at dawn," Manny said.

"Yours don't either," I said.

He grinned at me; the white in his hair seemed to glow in the growing light. It was a nice effect. "I do all right for an old man."

I shook my head. "Don't old-man me, Manny, you can still raise more zombies per night than anyone at Animators Inc. except Larry and me."

He shrugged and didn't try to hide the pleased look on his face.

"Anita," Domino said, and he was pointing the shotgun down into the grave now.

The zombie was almost free, and he was fighting harder, not like a person struggles, but more like that mindless give-it-your-all that real zombies have.

"Thomas Warrington, are you in there?" I asked.

"Hungry," he said in a voice that didn't sound like Warrington at all.

"Mr. Warrington, can you hear me?"

"It's almost free, Anita," Domino said.

"I order you to stop struggling," I said.

It didn't stop; in fact, it struggled harder. It was making a high-pitched hissing noise and staring at Domino as if the gun didn't exist. About every other sound or so, it was still saying, "Hungry."