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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:17

Little Henry looked smaller lying down than he had standing up, and hospital gowns make us all look somehow shrunken and weak, but none of it could hide that he was still six foot seven, with a spread of shoulders that was almost wide enough to touch the metal railings of the bed. Who would look at this guy and think, Him, I'll have him, and I'll totally fuck - him - up!

Everyone in the search group had been physically smaller, so why him and his dad? I asked Nicky, 'Why did they take him and his father? They're both ex-military, ex-special forces, in good shape, and they are both well over six feet tall. You saw the other search team members; would the Crawfords have been your choice of prey?'

'None of the vampires I saw were ex-military. They're undead, but that doesn't give them experience they didn't have in real life.'

'You're saying they couldn't judge who was dangerous and who wasn't?'

'Not like you and I can.'

'But the two men are still huge; that's not something you need training to see,' I said.

'It's like a lion pride going after a giraffe when there are plenty of gazelles to choose from.'

'But if you have enough lions you can bring down a giraffe, and if you have too many lions you need something that big to feed the pride. You said it yourself, Anita. This was the largest group of flesh-eating zombies you've ever seen.'

'Yeah, but they didn't eat the men - the zombies, I mean. The lions caught the giraffe but then didn't eat it; why not?'

'They ate one of them,' he said.

'But even the one they killed, they didn't eat it, not the way they did the others. You saw them, Nicky. They eat all the flesh. They ate enough to disfigure Crawford senior and kill him, but they didn't eat enough of him for the lion pride to be full of giraffe. It's like they were thinking more like serial killers than zombies.'

'Some vampires are serial killers,' he said.

'True, but that doesn't feel like what's going on. I mean, technically most vampires are serial killers, but it's because they have to feed on people, not because they want to kill them. Same outcome, but very different motives.'

'But the person ends up just as dead either way,' Nicky said.

'But serial killers get off on the torture, or the method of killing. The bodies down in the basement were just dead.'

'Throats torn out on most of the bodies I saw,' Nicky said.

'I didn't get much of a chance to see, but the ones near us had intact throats.'

'Probably tore out other major arteries and veins,' he said.

'From what you've told me, the zombies should have just eaten everything they could hold in their stomach and then left the bodies to be found, or rot, whatever.'

'That's typical,' I said.

'So what caused these zombies to just kill the people and store them?'

I looked at him. 'Say that again.'

'They stored them like groceries, or cords of wood for winter,' he said.

'I thought about the pictures in my history books of the concentration camps with the bodies stacked on top of each other in piles.'

'They weren't piled haphazardly, Anita. It was neat, orderly stacks. You don't body-dump that way, and you don't stack like that for disposal.'

I had a thought for how he knew that, but instead I asked, 'Why would you pile them up like that?'

'It was a food cache.'

'Zombies, even flesh eaters, don't do that, Nicky.'

'If it's an old pack that's been around for a few years undetected, they'll start removing the freshly buried bodies from underneath so that the grave looks undisturbed, and I've seen them keep bodies in a crypt for eating later, but it's rare. I mean, I only know of two cases where ghouls were that organized. They're usually more animalistic.'

'A lot of predators store food for later, Anita. They drag it up trees, bury it under leaves, hide it from other predators, but they plan on eating it later, if nothing else finds it and eats it first.'

I thought about it; he was right about animal predators. 'Okay, if we think of it as just another kind of predator, then why so many bodies?'

'The group must be larger than we know.'

I shook my head. 'There aren't that many people missing. Even if you add up the vampires and zombies that we've already destroyed, there aren't enough missing to need that kind of food. The bodies were the missing, Nicky, if we could have left anything unburned to identify them from.'

'How many zombies would need that kind of food?'

'Hell, I don't know. I've never heard of a group that big.'

'Ghouls then; how many would feed off that kind of stored food?'

I thought about it and tried to figure it out. 'The largest ghoul pack I've ever heard of was more than a hundred, and it was in Eastern Europe. I guess something that big would need that kind of food.'

'But ghouls will eat badly decayed bodies, right?'

'No, they like fresher meat than ghouls.'

'So, either these zombies are more like ghouls and would have eaten the bodies as they continued to decay, or what?' he asked.

'Or the vampire was planning on needing more food,' I said.

'There's only one reason to need more food, Anita.'

'He's planning to make more zombies,' I said.

'A lot more, but we destroyed his creepy grocery store, so if he still raises that many zombies, where does the food come from?' Nicky asked.

There was a voice from the bed, hoarse as if he hadn't been talking much lately. 'Us, us.'

We turned and found Little Henry looking at us with big brown eyes.

'People,' he said. His eyes went a little wider, lips parting as his breathing sped up.

'What people?' I asked.

Henry opened his mouth and screamed, 'God! God! God!' He sat up in bed, clawing at the tubes and wires.

My cross flared to white-hot fire. I got out my gun, because when the cross flared it meant a vampire was nearby and doing bad things. Nicky had his gun out, too, so we were armed as the nurse and doctor came through the door.

'What did you do?' Dr Aimes demanded as he shielded his eyes from my cross and ran for his patient.

'It's a vampire,' I said. I'd known vampires that could be invisible in plain sight even to me.

Dr Aimes and a small blond nurse were trying to hold Henry so he didn't yank any more tubes out of himself, but it's hard to hold down someone that big. I'd have had Nicky help, but we had other things to do.

'Search the corners of the room by walking along the wall,' I said.

'You think the vamp has been here all along?' he asked.

'I don't know, but my cross says it's here.'

Nicky and I walked the perimeter of the room, guns out and ready, shoulder scraping the wall so even if it tricked our eyes we'd run into it. Invisible doesn't make you less solid.

I was half-blinded by the glow of my own cross. I thought about going for my sunglasses, but I didn't want to let go of the gun with either hand. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, but it was the nurse being tossed across the room. Henry was still screaming, wordless, ragged, and frantic. Cops and more nurses came in to try to help hold him down, but their holy objects flared to blue-white light, too. The cops pulled their guns.

It was Deputy Al who asked, 'Where's the vampire?'

I explained what we were doing, and we had almost too many people searching the room while the medics fought to hold down Henry and he threw them around like toys. We finished our perimeter walk of the room. Nicky had gotten to the bathroom before I had, and he and another uniformed officer had checked it and called it clear. My cross was still white and blue and glowing, but there was nothing here.

'It's not here, Anita,' Nicky called to me over the screaming.

'There's nothing here,' Al said.

I glanced up at the ceiling; vampires could do that, but not while invisible. It took too much concentration to levitate and use mind tricks to that degree. If there'd been more shadows in the room, maybe a vampire could have done both, but the lights were full on and it was bright as day.

'Then help hold down Henry,' I said.

Nicky put up his gun, because I'd said so, and went to help the doctor and battered nurses. When he moved to help, so did a couple of the other bigger officers, and as soon as they touched Little Henry their holy objects flared brighter, going from blue-white to a pure burning incandescent white. His screams intensified, and he almost threw all that muscle off him, but one of them was almost as big as Nicky; they had enough strength to pin him to the bed.

I saw Dr Aimes pick up a syringe through the glow of the holy objects.

I yelled, 'Aimes, don't do it!'

Dr Aimes turned and looked at me. His glasses were gone, lost in the struggle. His cheek was already swelling a little. 'We have to calm him down. He's going to hurt himself, or someone else.'

'I know where the vampire is,' I said.

'What are you talking about?' He turned toward the IV tube with the syringe.

The room was small enough that I was there in time to grab his arm. 'It's in Henry.'

'Look at the holy objects when they touch him.'

He blinked at the bed as if he hadn't noticed, and maybe he hadn't. It looked like he'd gotten a good hit to the face. That can ring your bells and disorient you for a while. He turned back to me, looking puzzled. 'I don't understand.'

'I think I do,' I said, 'but it's going to be unpleasant.'

'More unpleasant than this?' Aimes said.

'Will it help my patient?'

He should have asked more questions, or maybe I should have waited for him to recover from the blow that he'd had to the side of his head, but I didn't. Because he might get all cautious and reconsider and I didn't want that.

Nicky called to me from the bed, where he was still helping hold down Little Henry. 'What are you going to do?' Nicky was having to work at holding just one arm and part of the upper body. He could bench-press small cars if they had a balance point. He shouldn't have been having to work that hard to hold a human down, not even a really strong one.

I didn't know how to explain it to a room full of people with no psychic or vampire experience, so I said, 'I'm going to find the vampire.'

'How?' Deputy Al asked.

'Little Henry's going to help me.'

'How?' Al asked again.

'Easier if I just show you,' I said, and I started stripping off my weapons. All the men by the bed should have done the same, but there hadn't been time; now there was. I'd take off anything that Henry could grab and use against us, and then I'd have the men do the same one by one, and when we were as safe as we could manage, I'd go exploring. I'd go exploring inside Little Henry Crawford's mind.