This toothsome anthology of 21 funny-scary stories from members of the Horror Writers Association arrives just in time for Halloween. On the humorous end, Matt Venne's "Elvis Presley and the Bloodsucker Blues" recreates Presley's voice with pitch perfect swagger and sets the record straight on how he really died, while Charlaine Harris's "An Evening with Al Gore" depicts a novel way to deal with environmental criminals; both tales are truly outstanding. In a creepier vein, Steven Savile's "Dear Prudence" finds a conflicted man repeatedly revising a note where he details gory plans for his significant other, and Nancy Holder's "I Know Who You Ate Last Summer" features stomach-churning "rock star cannibals." Big names like Jim Butcher and Sherrilyn Kenyon will have comic horror fans grabbing this anthology off the shelves. (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Blood Lite: An Anthology of Humorous Horror Stories Presented by the Horror Writers Associationby Kevin J. Anderson, Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, Sherrilyn Kenyon
The Horror Writers Association Presents
...a collection of entertaining tales that puts the fun back into dark fiction, with ironic twists and tongue-in-cheek wit to temper the jagged edge.
Charlaine Harris reveals the dark side of going green, when a quartet of die-hard environmentalists hosts a fundraiser with a/b>/b>/i>/b>… See more details below
The Horror Writers Association Presents
...a collection of entertaining tales that puts the fun back into dark fiction, with ironic twists and tongue-in-cheek wit to temper the jagged edge.
Charlaine Harris reveals the dark side of going green, when a quartet of die-hard environmentalists hosts a fundraiser with a gory twist in "An Evening with Al Gore"...In an all-new Dresden Files story from Jim Butcher, when it comes to tracking deadly paranormal doings, there's no such thing as a "Day Off" for the Chicago P.D.'s wizard detective, Harry Dresden...Sherrilyn Kenyon turns a cubicle-dwelling MBA with no life into a demon-fighting seraph with one hell of an afterlife in "Where Angels Fear to Tread"...Celebrity necromancer Jaime Vegas is headlining a sold-out séance tour, but behind the scenes, a disgruntled ghost has a bone to pick, in Kelley Armstrong's "The Ungrateful Dead." Plus tales guaranteed to get under your skin in a good way from
Janet Berliner Don D'Ammassa Nancy Holder Nancy KilpatrickJ. A. Konrath and F. Paul Wilson Joe R. Lansdale Will LudwigsenSharyn McCrumb Mark Onspaugh Mike Resnick Steven SavileD. L. Snell Eric James Stone Jeff Strand Lucien Soulban Matt Venne Christopher Welch
So let the blood flow and laughter reign because when it comes to facing our deepest, darkest fears, a little humor goes a long way!
Read an Excerpt
I see dead people. Unfortunately, they also see me.
One of the first lessons a necromancer learns is the art of playing dumb. When strolling down Fifth Avenue, searching for that perfect pair of shoes, pay no attention to the guy in the Civil War uniform. If he notices the glow that marks you as a necro, he will attempt to make conversation. Pretend you don't see him. With practice, you'll learn to finesse the act pursing your lips, tilting your head, murmuring "Hmm, I thought I heard Oh my God, would you look at those darling Jimmy Choos!"
Eventually, the ghost will decide you're untrained or just plain stupid and wander off before getting to the part that begins with "Say, could you do me a favor...?" Of course, one problem with playing dumb is that it seeps into your everyday life. But that has its advantages too. No one ever asks me to help with their taxes.
Now, as I stood behind the stage curtain, I searched for signs of any otherworldly presences. Nothing screws up a séance like the appearance of a real ghost.
In the theater, my intro began: "This is their world. A world of peace and beauty and joy. A world we all wish to enter."
I tensed, flexing my calf muscles.
"Jaime..." Brett warned as he fixed my hair. "Stand still or this piece is going to wave like a bug antenna."
Achieving an artlessly windswept updo is, truly, an art form, but it was part of the "sexy librarian" look I used for my shows. The pinned-up red hair, the modestly cut but curve-hugging dress and, of course, the wire-rimmed glasses. Admittedly, at forty-six, I was ramming the limit of how much longer there would be any "sexy" in my librarian. Keep the house lights low, though, and I looked damned hot.
My cue came. I walked to the curtain, cheeks twitching as I struggled to keep my smile in, reminding myself I'd need it for the next two hours.
As I stepped onto the dimly lit catwalk, I could hear the breathing of the sold-out crowd. Their excitement ignited mine and my grin broke through. I bit my cheek and set out.
"Come with me now," my recorded whisper snaked through the hushed theater. "Let me take you into their world. The world of the spirits."
I stopped. The speakers hissed as the recording switched to a man's voice.
"The Globe Theater proudly presents... internationally renowned spiritualist..." Another hiss as the volume swelled, the house lights rising with it. "Jaime Vegas!"
"I'm getting a male relative," I said to Patty, a round-faced woman with big tortoiseshell glasses straight out of the eighties. "His name starts with N...no, wait...M. Yes, M."
Statistically speaking, M is one of the most common first letters for male given names. Somewhere in Patty's mental file, she'd find a deceased Mike, a Matthew or...
"Mort!" she shrieked, like she'd correctly answered the Double Jeopardy question. "My uncle Mort."
"Yes, that's right. Your moth..." I drew out the word, watching for her reaction. At her frantic nod, I said decisively, "Your mother's brother."
Interpreting cues was the key to cold reading. Sometimes it was only a slight widening of the eyes or a faint involuntary nod. Then I'd get people like Patty, so eager to praise and encourage me that I felt like a puppy who'd finally piddled outside.
I spent the next few minutes postponing the inevitable message, with "Wait, he's fading...no, here he comes...I think he's trying to say something..." It's a two-hour show.
I was in the midst of "reeling" Mort back when a voice said, "You called?"
I glanced behind me. There stood a sixtyish bald man with a round face, bearing a striking resemblance to Patty. Uncle Mort. It doesn't matter that I rarely summon ghosts onstage. Sometimes they just show up.
"Mortimer!" I beamed a smile as his gaze nestled in my cleavage. "How wonderful. I thought I'd lost you."
"Uncle Mort?" Patty bounced, clearing her seat by a good three inches. "It's me, Patty."
Mort squinted. "Patty? Shit. I thought you said Pammy, her sister." His eyes rolled back as he smiled. "Mmm. Pammy. She was always the cute one, but after she turned sixteen? Boom." He gestured to show what part of Pammy's anatomy had exploded.
"Uncle Mort would like to tell your sister, Pammy, that he's thinking of her."
"Ask her if Pammy's still hot," Mort said. "Last time I saw her was at my funeral. She wore this lacy little black number. And no panties." He chortled. "That's one good thing about being a ghost "
"Uncle Mort remembers that black silk dress Pammy wore to his funeral."
If Patty bounced any higher, she was going to take flight. "What about me? Does he remember me?"
"Yeah," Mort said. "The fat one. Even as a baby she was a little tub of lard "
"Uncle Mort says he remembers what a beautiful baby you were, so cute and chubby with red cheeks like apples."
Patty spent the next few minutes telling Uncle Mort about Cousin Ken's cataracts and Aunt Amy's arthritis and little Lulu's lazy eye. Uncle Mort ignored her, instead peppering me with questions about Pammy.
"Are you even listening to me?" Mort said finally.
"Uncle Mort appreciates the update," I said. "And he'd like you to pass on a message in return. Tell everyone he misses them dearly "
"Miss them? One more Christmas with those people, and if the cancer didn't get me "
" but he's gone to a good place, and he's happy."
"Would I be here if I was happy? I'm bored out of my frigging skull."
I crouched beside Patty, clasped her hands and wished her all the best. Then I returned to the catwalk. "Uncle Mort has left us now."
Mort jumped in front of me, waving his arms. I walked through him.
"She's ignoring you," another voice said.
"I'm waiting for a new spirit to make contact," I continued. "I can sense them just beyond the veil." I pretended to scan the room, to get a look at the new arrival without letting on I'd heard him. More secrets of the successful spiritualist.
A young man had climbed onto the catwalk. Dressed in a striped Henley shirt and cargo shorts, he was about twenty, stocky, with manicured beard stubble. A frat boy, I guessed. A ghost, I knew. The fact that no one noticed him sauntering down the catwalk gave it away.
I continued to survey the room. "A spirit is trying to break through the veil..."
"Don't bother, buddy," Mort said to the other ghost. "She may be a necromancer, but she needs some serious remedial training."
"Actually, I hear she's very good. Comes from a long line of powerful necros."
"Yeah? Well, it skipped a generation."
"I have a name," I intoned, eyes half-closed. "Is there a Belinda in the audience?" In seat L15, if my sources were correct.
"See?" Mort said. "She doesn't even know we're here."
"Oh, she knows." The frat boy's voice carried a burr of condescension. "Don't you, Red?"
"Do I have a Belinda in the audience? Hoping to contact her father?"
A bingo-hall shriek as an elderly woman in L15 leapt up. I made my way over to her. Mort stomped back to his afterlife. The frat boy stayed.
After the show, I strode down the backstage hall, an icy water bottle pressed to my cheek.
My assistant, Tara, scampered along beside me. "We have a ten a.m. tomorrow with the Post Intelligencer, then a two o'clock pretape with KCPQ. Friday's show is totally sold-out, but you can plug the October one in Portland."
"Will do. Now, can you find Kat? Let's see if we can't get that sound system fixed before Friday."
I slipped into my dressing room, closed the door and leaned against it. A slow clapping started across the room.
The frat boy slid off my dressing table. "Okay, show's over. You done good, Red. Now it's time to get to work. Be a real necromancer."
I uncapped my water and chugged.
"Cut the crap," he said. "I know you can "
" hear you. Yes, I can." I mopped my sweaty face with a towel. "But a dressing-room ambush really isn't a good way to get my attention."
His full lips twisted. "Oh, please. You think I'm going to peep at you undressing? You're, like, forty."
"I meant it's rude." I tossed the towel aside and grabbed my hairbrush. "If you'd like to talk, meet me at the rear doors in twenty minutes."
"Um, no. I'm going to talk to you now, and I'm not leaving until I do."
Rule one of "how to win favors and influence necros"? Never threaten. I'd say if you're lucky enough to get one to listen, you should fall on your knees with gratitude. But that might be pushing it. A simple "okay, thanks" will do.
I'm not heartless. In fact, in the last few years, I've made a real effort to listen to ghosts, and I'd had every intention of hearing this one out. But he was fast blowing his chance.
I turned to the mirror and brushed out my hair, pins clinking to the floor.
"Don't turn your back on me," the ghost said.
"I'm not. I said I'll be ready in twenty minutes."
He walked through the dressing table, planting himself between the mirror and me. "Fine. How about this?"
He shimmered, then shot back, clothing drenched with blood, stomach ripped open, safety glass shards studding his intestines. A brain-splattered metal rod protruded from his ear. One eye bounced on his cheek.
I fell back. "Oh my God! No, please. Not the death body. I'll do whatever you want!"
I recovered and reached through his intestines for my cold cream. "Do you really think you're the first spook who's tried that? I've seen decapitations, burnings, drownings, bear maulings, electrocution..." I leaned to see my reflection past the rod sticking from his head. "A couple of years ago, there was this one ghost who'd been cut almost in half. Industrial accident, I guess. That one did give me a start. But car accidents? Pfft."
I met his eyes or the one still in its socket. "Did you see that segment on E! last month? About celebrities addicted to plastic surgery? They talk and it's like watching a ventriloquist dummy. Only their mouths move. That scares me."
I went into the bathroom to wash my face. The ghost followed. He changed back to his regular body, but stood behind me, arms crossed. Now, I've played this game before, and I could usually hold out longer than any ghost. But then my cell phone rang.
Even without the special ring tone, I'd have known it was my boyfriend Jeremy. He always called me after a show to see how it went and he always timed it perfectly, giving me a chance to wind down but catching me before I headed out for a postshow talk with my staff.
The call also reminded me that he was coming to Seattle after my Friday show. Our schedules only allow weekend visits every couple of months, and there was no way in hell I was spending this one with a ghost in residence.
So I told Jeremy I'd call back, then said to the ghost, "What do you want?"
"My cousin died in the same accident as me. I want you to open his coffin."
"I'm not a grave digger."
"He isn't in the ground. Our family has a mausoleum."
"And why would I want to open his coffin?"
He looked down his nose at me, not easy when he was no more than my five foot six. "Because I said so. You're a necromancer. You serve the dead. I'm dead. So serve."
Of course, I said no, in increasingly descriptive ways. Of course, he didn't let it go at that.
The problem with refusing a ghost's request is that you can't just walk away. Wherever you can go, they can go. At my staff meeting, Frat Boy stood between me and my staff and shouted the Pledge of Allegiance. When I called Jeremy back, he mocked and mimicked my conversation. In the rented limo, he sat on my lap and switched in and out of his death body.
Being unable to touch anything in the living world squashes a ghost's threat potential. But they can be damned annoying. And this guy was a pro, making me wonder how many other necros he'd hit up before finding me.
When it came time for my shower, I declared war. I've had enough ghostly Peeping Toms to get over any modesty, but Frat Boy would do more insulting than ogling, and as healthy as my ego was, I didn't need a twenty-year-old studying me for signs of sagging and cellulite.
So I filled a censer with vervain, set it alight and banished him. A temporary measure that worked until 4:10 a.m., when the herbs burned up and I woke to him screaming the Pledge in my ear. I added more vervain and went back to sleep.
When I woke, there was no sign of Chuck. I had no idea what the ghost's name was, but he looked like a Charles Willingham the Third or something equally pretentious he reeked of money and privilege, too much of both, the smell as strong as BO and just as offensive. If he was a Charles, I'm sure he'd be Chas. I'd call him Chuck.
Not seeing him that morning, I hoped that meant he was gone and naming him was premature. The last bit of vervain still smoldered, though. When it disappeared, he'd come back.
I added another pinch, then noticed I was getting low. That happens when I'm on tour. There's a limit to how much dried plant material you can take on a plane. Even if I explain I'm a spiritualist and produce documentation, a satchel of dehydrated herbs begs for a trip to the little white room and a visit from Mr. Hand.
Half of my remaining vervain gave me time to dress and escape. But as I walked into the TV station that afternoon, Chuck found me, and I spent the next half hour with a ghost prancing naked between the interviewer and me. Though I kept my cool, I knew my distraction would show eyes a little too round, gaze darting a little too often, laugh a little too shrill. That wouldn't do. Part of my appeal is that, yes, I can be spacey, but in a ditzy C-list celebrity way, not one that screams "I just got my day pass."
Afterward, sitting in the cab, listening to Chuck do a standup routine of sexist jokes, I envisioned him harassing me through my Friday show and into my weekend.
I can take abuse, but there are two things no one interferes with: work and Jeremy. The warning shots hadn't scared this guy away. Time to haul out the howitzer.
Normally, my "big gun" comes in the form of a sword-wielding, ass-kicking spirit bodyguard. Eve is a half-demon and a part-time angel, proving even the afterlife has moved to nondiscriminatory hiring practices. But when Eve is on a celestial stint, she's incommunicado.
So I had to do this myself. That meant the heavy-duty banishing ritual, one that required a lot of time, effort and ingredients. The last was the sticking point. Vervain wasn't the only herb I was low on. So I placed a call to my West Coast supplier.
Paige is a witch who lives in Portland and has everything a spellcaster or necromancer could need. She doesn't sell the stuff. She's just better organized than me... or anyone else I know.
It was still late afternoon, and Paige never went home early, so I called the office.
"Cortez-Winterbourne Demon Hunters," a voice sang. "Get 'em slayed before you get flayed."
"Yeah, needs work, though. The rhythm's off." A pause and a double thump, and I imagined Savannah leaning her chair back, feet banging onto the desk. "So how's the celeb necro biz?"
Savannah was Paige's nineteen-year-old ward and Eve's daughter. From the way she answered the phone when she recognized my number, I knew Paige wasn't there, so I chatted with Savannah.
"Lucas is off in Chicago defending a client," she said. "Paige and Adam are in San Fran with Cass, checking out a vamp problem. Guess who's stuck behind answering the phone? I told Paige that's why God invented voicemail. But now I have a feeling my week is looking up. So what kind of trouble are you in? Kidnapped again?"
"Ha-ha. No trouble. I just need ritual supplies from Paige. Do you have access to her stash now? Or does she still keep it under lock, key and security spell so you don't blow anything else up?"
"Ha-ha. The shed was an accident. So what's the ritual for? Summoning or banishing?"
"Banishing." I listed what I needed.
"Ooh, big-ass banishment. What did your spook do to deserve that?"
"The usual. Tormenting me. Insulting me. Blasting me with the Pledge of Allegiance."
"Allegiance assault? The bastard."
"It's probably the only thing he'd ever memorized. Anyway, if you could courier the stuff to Seattle "
"Seattle? You're just around the corner."
"A hundred and fifty miles around the corner."
"I'll be there by seven."
"No! I appreciate that, but really "
"Staying at the Olympic, as usual?"
"Er, yes, but "
"Seven it is. Don't eat without me."
Savannah arrived at 7:20, bearing pizza and beer. I wasn't asking how she got the beer. With Savannah, I'm better off not knowing.
She kicked off her knee-high boots, peeled a slice from the box and folded her long limbs into a chair, feet pulled up under her. "So, what does he want?"
"Your spook. Does he have a name?"
"Probably. I call him Chuck."
"So Chuck presumably asked you for a favor. You couldn't do it. He's making your life hell. You need to banish him. Which is why you shouldn't let them ask in the first place."
"It was more of a demand, really. But I have been trying to listen more often, help with little things like passing on messages."
"Uh-huh. How's that working out for you? Or I guess that " She jabbed her pizza slice at the burning vervain. " answers my question. About Chuck, though. What does he want?"
I took a beer and sat on the sofa. "He and his cousin died in a car accident. They were interred in the family mausoleum. He wants me to open his cousin's casket."
"There is no 'and.' Apparently, as a servant to the afterlife, it's not my place to question the will of the dead."
"Asshole." She chugged half her beer. "If he's got a mausoleum, that means he's got money or his family does. I bet there's something valuable in that casket, and jerkwad is just too stupid to realize it won't do him any good, being dead. So, if we did find something, we'd need to keep it."
"No, I'd give it back to his family."
"Shit. Jeremy's finally rubbing off on you, huh?"
"There's no treasure in that casket."
"Then why does he want you to open it? Aren't you curious?"
I wasn't. Another necromancer lesson: Never stop to question. There are too many opportunities. Like the residual in Savannah's house a woman forever watching out the window. I should wonder what she's looking for, why it was so emotionally powerful that the image of it is seared forever within those walls. But necromancers can't afford idle curiosity. They'll go mad chasing questions whose answers don't really matter. That doesn't keep me from feeling like I should be curious, though.
"It is odd..." I said finally.
"Good." Savannah smacked her bottle down. "Let's go take a look and get rid of this spook, so you can skip the nasty banishment ritual. You don't want to be wiped out when Jeremy's here, right?"
I hadn't thought of that. One problem, though... "If I do it, he wins. I'll have ghosts lining up to scream the Pledge of Allegiance at me."
"I'll handle that." She tamped out the burning vervain with her fingertips. "Yo, Chuck!"
After a moment, he appeared. "Who the hell is Chu ?" He saw the pizza and beer. "A party for me? How nice." His gaze moved to Savannah. "Whoa. You even brought party favors. Sweet."
Savannah's gaze followed mine and fixed on a spot near the ghost. "Sit down, Chuck. Grab a beer." She sucked back the rest of the bottle, eyes rolling in rapture. The pizza came next, which she dangled over her mouth, twisting the cheese strands around her tongue. "So good. Want some?"
His eyes slitted. "Teasing little "
"He appreciates the offer," I said, "but respectfully declines."
She set down the pizza. "Come here, Chuck. I have a proposition I think you'd like."
Hope glimmered in his eyes, then guttered out as he remembered his noncorporeal state.
"We're going to open your cousin's casket. No, you didn't wear Jaime down. I'm curious so I talked her into it. Give her any grief, though, and she has the shit now to do a full banishment. And, later, if you ever come around again? Or tell anyone we did this for you?" She recited a spell. A fireball appeared at her fingertips. "I'll replace your balls with these."
"He agrees to your terms," I said, "and thanks you for your help."
She pulled on her boots. "Off to the graveyard we go then. My first mausoleum break-in." She paused at the door. "Actually, my second, but if Paige asks..."
"It was your first."
It wasn't the first mausoleum break-in for me. Or the second. A practicing necromancer needs "artifacts of the grave" and the easiest way to get them is from bodies in crypts.
Between grave robbery and graveside summonings, I'd been in enough cemeteries to write a guidebook. I could also write a security manual for cemetery owners. I rarely encountered more than floodlights and an hourly rent-a-cop drive-by.
This cemetery had taken the extra step of locking the gates after dark... a gate attached to a fence with gaps you could ride a horse through. They'd splurged on lights too, and from a distance the place looked like a runway. But all the lighting in the world doesn't help when you're outside the city limits, a mile from the nearest house.
As we'd driven up in Savannah's car, I'd suspected Chuck had played us this cemetery looked too small and new for family mausoleums. Apparently, though, it'd been designed by someone with a background in real estate, creating "mixed-dwelling" communities. Here, you had your apartments (columbaria), single-family dwellings (graves) and McMansions (mausoleums). The latter targeted families with too much money, too high an opinion of themselves and too little time to actually check out the product before plunking down cash. The buildings were little more than faux Greco-Roman sheds.
Savannah picked the lock and we stepped inside to what looked like a camp bunkhouse, stinking of damp wood, the walls lined with berths and a few coffins.
"So which ?" I began.
Chuck motioned for silence and made me relay it to Savannah.
"Um, okay," she said. "But someone should tell him 'waking the dead' is only an expression."
And, it seemed, we were the only ones supposed to stay silent. Chuck kept up a running commentary as we cast our flashlight beams around. When Savannah approached his cousin's casket, he got louder.
"Do you hear that?" Savannah asked.
"I can't hear anything with Chuck yapping." Which I began to suspect was the point.
"Something's in here." She bent to unlatch the coffin. "Are mice scavengers? If so, I think we have a nest of them chowing down at the body buffet."
My "wait!" came out like the squeak of a mouse, which must be what she mistook it for, because she threw open the lid. The corpse leapt up like a jack-in-the-box, shrieking and gobbling, fingers worn through from battering the casket, bone tips clawing the air, flesh tatters waving.
I'd seen this coming, but I still fell back. Even Savannah did, punctuating hers with a "holy fucking shit!"
At the sound of her voice, the zombie went still. His head swiveled toward her. Then, with the grace of a landlocked hippo, he lurched over the side of the casket. Savannah stepped back and the zombie his internal bits and bones out of whack hit the floor, limbs sprawled.
"Dude, chill." Savannah brushed a stray bit of flesh from her jeans. "Do we look like grave robbers? Your cousin brought this nice necromancer here, and I'm guessing he wanted her to help you out of your predicament."
The zombie looked around but, of course, couldn't see the ghost, who'd taken a seat on an empty berth and watched, arms crossed, waiting for me to get on with my job.
After a moment, the zombie got up. It wasn't easy. His left leg had evidently been broken in the accident and coroners didn't reset bones on dead people.
He propped himself against the berth and looked at us, his gaze keen and very human. A real zombie isn't the shambling brain-chomper of movie myth. It's a ghost returned to its corpse. Simple... and simply horrifying.
"So how did this happen?" I asked.
"What the fuck does it matter how it happened?" he shouted, voice garbled, wheezing through a hole in his throat. "Get me out of this rotting corpse!"
"You know, it shouldn't be rotting," Savannah said. "Someone went cheap with the embalming, dude."
"Stop calling me that."
"Would you prefer 'decomposing hunk of stinking meat'? Speaking of which, he is damned ripe, Jaime. Can we crack open the door before I hurl?"
I motioned for Savannah to tone it down and made a mental note to give her zombie sensitivity training later.
"Again," I said, "how did you ?"
"And again, what the fuck does it matter, you dumb twat."
He did not say "twat." The word he used made Savannah grab him by the suit collar and shake him.
"Show some respect, dickwad. She's trying to help you." A sharper shake. "That right hand looks a little loose. If I smack it off, it ain't growing back."
I motioned for Savannah to release him. Zombies are notoriously unhygienic.
"The reason I'm asking," I said calmly, "isn't to satisfy my curiosity. I don't really care how you got in there. But until I know, I can't get you out." I swept off a dusty berth and perched on the edge. "Why don't I take a guess? You and Chuck "
"It's Byron," said the ghost.
"You and your cousin. You die in a car accident. You come back as ghosts. You find a necromancer. You demand something and you won't let up, so he teaches you a lesson by shoving you back into your body. Am I close?"
The zombie tried unsuccessfully to cross his arms. "I only wanted him to bring us back to life."
"And he did," Savannah said.
"I didn't mean like this."
"That's the only way it can be done," I said. "I'm sure he tried to tell you that. You didn't believe him. So he showed you. Now he'll let you stew for a few days before setting you free." I took my flashlight from the berth. "I'll go talk to him and get this sorted. Where is he?"
"Why?" Chuck said. "Not good enough to do it yourself, Red?"
"No, I'm not 'good enough' to free another necro's zombie. It can't be done."
The zombie turned on me. "What? No way."
"It doesn't matter. I'm sure I can persuade this guy "
"He's gone," Chuck said.
"If I knew, do you think I'd bother with you?"
When I asked what had happened, the cousins each gave their own rambling account, drowning out and often contradicting each other. After wading through the bullshit that blamed everyone but themselves, I figured out two things: One, some people never learn; two, I wasn't getting Chuck's cousin un-zombified any time soon.
After their pestering led the necromancer to return the cousin's soul to his body, Chuck decided the best way to fix it was to pester the guy some more. The necro had opted for an impromptu vacation to parts unknown.
"Okay," I said. "I have a lot of contacts, so tell me everything you know about him and, hopefully, in a few days "
"A few days!" the cousins said in unison, then launched into rants that could be summed up as: "You're useless and stupid, and if you don't get him out of that body, you'll regret it." After a few minutes of this I began to think that, while I never thought I'd condone zombification, I could see the other necromancer's point.
If I could have stuffed Cousin Zombie back into his casket, I would have, but getting him there meant risking a noxious scratch or bite. So I agreed to attempt a soul-freeing ritual. And I kept attempting it for an hour before I gave up. That's when Savannah mentioned she knew a spell that might work.
"Why the hell didn't you say so?" the zombie said.
"A spell for freeing souls?" I said. "I've never heard of that."
"Because it's not meant for zombies. I'm thinking outside the box."
"Thinking?" the zombie said. "Must be a new experience for you."
"Do you want back inside the box? Nailed shut?"
"So, this spell," I said. "The real application is..."
"Knocking the soul out of a living person."
"Temporarily, I hope."
"Supposedly... but that's why I haven't tested it. Lack of volunteers."
The zombie cleared his throat, air whistling through the hole. "This is all fascinating, ladies. But in case you haven't noticed, this body isn't getting any fresher."
Savannah looked at him. "I want to be clear that this is an untested, very difficult, very dangerous dark magic spell, intended for use "
"Oh, for God's sake. Do you want me to sign a fucking liability waiver?"
"No, but I happen to be a mixed-blood witch," Savannah said, switching to a tone that sounded eerily like Lucas's legalese-speak. "That means when I cast a spell, the results can be more vigorous than intended. I'm trying to become a more responsible spellcaster by considering the ramifications "
She glanced at me.
I nodded. "If anything goes wrong, I'll tell Paige you read him the disclaimer."
Savannah cast the spell. The first two times, nothing happened, and the cousins started their heckling. By the third cast, her eyes were blazing as she spit the words, and I probably should have stopped her, but when I saw the zombie's skin balloon and bubble, like a pressure cooker, I thought his soul was about to pop free. Something did pop. His left eyeball shot out, bounced across the floor, then came to rest, optic nerve quivering like a sperm tail.
Cousin Zombie screamed, breaking it off in a string of profanities long enough to hang someone with, and from the looks he shot Savannah, there was no doubt who he'd hang.
"Hey, I warned you." She prodded the eyeball with her boot. "You know what they say. It's all fun and games until someone loses "
He lunged at Savannah. She hit him with a knock-back spell, sending him smacking against the wall, the flimsy building trembling. He bounced back, fists swinging.
"Watch out," Savannah said. "That hand is really wobbling."
He ran at her. She caught him in a binding spell.
"Damn, this isn't easy," she said through clenched teeth. "It doesn't work as well on zombies."
"We've got about ten seconds before he breaks it. And he's really pissed."
"No kidding!" yelled Chuck/Bryon, who hadn't been silent, just ignored. "You popped out his eye, you incompetent "
I returned him to ignore mode.
"Should I try the spell again?" Savannah asked, face straining with the effort of keeping the zombie bound. "I think I was close."
I looked from Cousin Zombie, frozen in a savage snarl, to Chuck/Bryon, spitting dire vows of vengeance, and I decided that at this stage, "close" wasn't really an issue.
"Go for it," I said.
It worked the first time. That is, the spell worked in the sense that it didn't fizzle. It didn't release his soul either. Just that loose hand, which sailed off and flopped like a trout at my feet.
"Did anyone not see that coming?" Savannah asked.
The zombie broke the binding spell then and Savannah showed off her single year of ballet lessons by pirouetting and skating out of his way as he lumbered after her.
"Forget her!" Chuck/Bryon shouted. "Get the necromancer. She's old and slow."
Great advice, if only zombies could hear ghosts. His cousin kept dancing with Savannah, who, after a few rounds, zapped him with another binding spell. Caught off balance, he tottered and fell sideways.
She whisked off her belt. "Are you over this 'I should be more helpful' shit yet?"
"In general, no. In this case, as you may recall, I was done with it long ago. Then you convinced me to open Pandora's casket." I walked closer, skirting the zombie in case the spell broke. "We aren't getting this guy back in that box without a fight. Even if we manage it, someone could find him, and I'll be the only council delegate who's ever had to haul her own ass before a disciplinary committee."
I stared at Savannah.
"You remember Molly." She looped the belt around the zombie's ankles.
"Dark witch? Your mother's contact? You sent me to her for information, she knocked me out, dragged me into the woods, tried to torture me and dump my remains in a swamp? I vaguely recall her, yes."
"So what do you think?"
She untwisted her scarf. "Molly would love to babysit this guy for you. Not only does she get a slave, but the bits that fall off are gold on the black market. Then, when you've found that necro, he can de-zombify this guy, preferably after Mom's back to deal with him."
Again, I could only stare.
"What?" she said as she gagged the zombie with her scarf.
"Last time you saw Molly Crane you were leaving her gagged and bound."
"I didn't gag her. And she'll be over it." She knotted the scarf. "If not, then this is the perfect olive branch. She'll be happy for the excuse. I'm Eve Levine's daughter. Having me in her contact book is almost as valuable as those zombie bits. Of course, there is an alternative. We can put him in my trunk, take him to your hotel..."
"Do you still have her number?"
"Right here." She took out her BlackBerry.
Chuck/Bryon leapt from his perch, where he'd been listening. "Am I hearing this right? You're going to sell my cousin into slavery?" He strode over to me, switching to his death body for effect. "You do this, and you will regret it. You think I was bad before? That was nothing compared to what's coming. I'll haunt you every minute of every day, and there's nothing you can do about it."
"Nothing?" I said softly.
He crossed his arms. "Nothing."
I took a slow step back toward the middle of the mausoleum.
A smirk rippled his defiant scowl. "So, Red, I'd suggest you start speed-dialing those contacts of yours."
"Uh-huh." I scanned the crypt, walking the perimeter.
"That's right. Find a place to get comfy. It's going to be a long night."
I stopped at a casket and my gaze settled on the plaque. Byron Carruthers. "Your name's Byron, right?"
"That's what I said. And you'd better start using it. No more of this 'Chuck' shit. Got it?"
I unlatched the casket.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Just getting a look." I heaved it open. "Seems you've rotted even worse than your cousin. That's not good."
I retrieved my Gucci makeup bag of necromancy supplies. "Savannah?"
She pulled the phone from her ear. "Hmm?"
"Tell Molly we have a special today. Two zombies for the price of one."
I knelt beside the casket and started the ritual.
Copyright © 2008 by The Horror Writers Association, Inc.
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