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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:06

We were standing outside the morgue with the windowed door barricaded shut, because there were zombies inside eating the remains of two morgue attendants and the security guard who some genius had sent down here by himself after Jonas called them. By the time Al got down there it was all over except the eating part. I'd been worried about vampires, not so much the zombies. I'd never heard of zombies putting themselves back together once you blew them into pieces with guns. We didn't have to worry about the vampires, because according to Al and the police with him the zombies were eating them, too.

We had two more hospital security officers with us now. One man looked to be in his early forties, built sort of square, with a high-and-tight haircut that said ex-military as if he had a sign around his neck. He'd introduced himself as 'Macintosh, yeah just like the apple, but call me Mac.' The other guard, Miller, looked to be early twenties, a slender, dark-haired kid with glasses. He'd already been sick down the hallway where we made him run when we realized he was going to do it. Throw up outside in the woods, or at a graveyard, and the out-of-doors sort of took away the smell and made things better. In a hallway in an area with no windows the smell of vomit lingered; at least it lingered a little farther away from us. I hadn't yelled at him; I mean, how many times do you have a coworker, maybe a friend, eaten by zombies? Besides, once he got sick he calmed down. I'd been the rookie once, too. Everyone throws up at least once.

Have you ever wondered why there are windows in the doors of most morgues? It's so attendants can look in first and make sure nothing has risen from the dead and is waiting to eat them. Whoever had put the windows in these doors must have a been a tall motherfucker, because Edward had to stretch to see in the windows and he had me by five inches, plus the two inches of his cowboy boots.

'Tell me what you see,' I said.

'It's like Nicky described from the zombies in the mountains; they're just huddled down over the bodies like vultures.'

'They'll be safe-ish until there's nothing left to eat; then they'll try to get out and find something fresh. What kind of zombie can take out a vampire?'

'This kind,' Edward said.

'Are they eating the other dead bodies, or just the vampires?' I asked.

'There are no bodies on any of the slabs.'

'Shit, I need to see them,' I said.

Edward looked down at me and smiled; even with the sounds coming through the doors, he smiled that Ted smile. 'Need a boost so you can see for yourself?'

'How can you smile looking at that?' Al asked; he looked a little green.

'I can smile looking at a lot of things,' he said, and this time it was more Edward looking out at the deputy. He let his inner sociopath show through more than he ever did on a case, which was a sign of just how much he was bothered by what he was seeing.

To distract Edward from terrifying Deputy Al, I distracted them by saying, 'Yeah, I need a boost.'

Edward moved toward me, but it was Nicky who went down on one knee and made a stirrup of his hands before my fellow marshal could get started.

'You could have picked her up and been all romantic,' Dev said.

'It's only romantic if Anita thinks it's romantic,' Dev said, 'and right now she wouldn't think so.'

'That's more insight than I'd have credited you with, son,' an older uniformed officer said. He was about Edward's height, but the way he carried his weight made him look shorter. He was mostly bald with a fringe of white hair that looked like it would be soft to touch like baby duck fluff. His eyes were a clear, brilliant blue, like an echo back to when the rest of him was as vibrant.

'I'm not your son,' Nicky said.

'No offense meant ... just giving you a compliment.'

'A backhanded one.' Gonzales looked at Nicky. 'Don't let Jenkins here get your goat. He calls everyone son, and he doesn't know how to give anything but backhanded compliments,' Gonzales said. The big sergeant had been upstairs when Al had called for volunteers. I had a feeling he was spending most of his time near Rush Callahan's rooms.

Nicky didn't respond, just stayed waiting to give me a boost. I didn't know what to say, because Nicky's dislike of being called son, or boy, probably had something to do with his abusive family background, and that was no one's business. I ignored it all and put one foot in Nicky's hand. He trusted me to be able to hold myself steady enough for him to lift me up, and I trusted him enough to lift me smoothly so I could see. The only concession I made was to put my fingertips against the cool wood of the door as he lifted, and that was for balance. He lifted me until I said, 'That's great.'

It was great, sort of, in that I could now see into the room for myself, but what I had to see was awful enough that I wished I hadn't. I get that a lot in both of my jobs. Like most truly awful sights it took my mind a moment to process it; at first it was just images, shapes, that didn't want to make sense. I knew what I was supposed to be seeing; the fact that my eyes refused to 'see' it meant it was going to be bad. It was the brain's way of giving you a chance to look away, to not see the awful thing, but it was my job to look when everyone looked away. So I kept looking, and suddenly all the jumbled shapes snapped into focus.

It looked like every zombie movie you'd ever seen, except that I knew they got it wrong, so why did this match it? We'd sent a handful of vampires to the morgue, and maybe a dozen zombies in bits, but the room was so full of the walking dead that I couldn't count them as they huddled over the bodies. Edward had compared them to vultures, but vultures squabble over the dead, fighting for the best pieces, or any piece. The zombies ate in near silence, except for the wet, tearing sounds that I'd been hearing through the door long before my mind wanted to acknowledge them. I hadn't realized that my hearing might try to protect me just like my vision did; interesting. The zombies huddled around four distinct piles of 'food.' There were only supposed to be three dead, so why four piles? I couldn't see the bodies because the crouched undead hid most of the corpses from view. I got bits of red flesh glinting in the overhead lights, white bone gleaming like polished nightmare pearls, and the shining colors of organs as they were torn from deep within the bodies and consumed by ... people.

Some of the zombies were decayed, but the one munching on someone's heart looked fresh as a newly minted undead penny. None of the zombies we'd sent here had looked that good, and just like that my poor, horrified brain put the impossible together.

'Oh, shit,' I said, and I sounded afraid, even to me.

'What's wrong?' Edward said. 'What are you seeing that I don't?'

'We sent less than a dozen zombies in pieces here.'

'There's got to be more than twenty,' he said.

'Yeah, and none of them looked this human, Ed ... Ted. They were all decayed, a lot, not fresh like this.'

'It's some of the bodies that were in the morgue when we unloaded,' Al said.

I turned and looked at him, with my fingers holding on to the edge of the window. 'What did you say?'

'Far as I can tell it's every body that was in the morgue when we dropped off the vamp bodies and zombie parts.'

'Let me down, Nicky,' I said.

'You look spooked,' Gonzales said. 'That can't be good.'

'Why do you both look like you just saw a ghost?' Jenkins asked.

'A ghost wouldn't spook me,' I said.

'It's a saying, Anita,' Edward said, as if it mattered.

'Talk to us,' Gonzales said.

'Zombies rise from graves, not morgues. They need to be buried before they can be called from the grave as zombies. Even I couldn't raise a body that's just been sitting around the morgue.'

'What do you mean? Dead is dead, right?' Jenkins said.

'No,' I said, 'you don't get it. Zombies don't rise without a vaudun priestess, or necromancer, to call them from the grave.' I pointed back behind me to the doors of the morgue. 'They don't rise spontaneously just because you put older zombies in the same area, and let me just say that zombies don't put themselves back together once you've blown their legs and heads off. They keep moving and will kill and eat you if they can, but they don't heal. Dead flesh doesn't heal, and zombies are the most dead of the undead.'

'So if all that's impossible, then what the fuck is going on?' Jenkins asked.

I shook my head. 'I don't know.'

'Oh, I don't like that at all,' Gonzales said. 'You're supposed to be the expert on zombies in the Marshals Service. If you don't know, then ...'

'We're fucked,' Jenkins finished for him.

No one argued with him.

Something heavy hit the door, and I screamed like a fucking girl.