The Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #2)(17)


by Laurell K. Hamilton

I stepped around Dominga Salvador. For no reason that I could name, I stayed out of reach. She had no weapon, I was almost sure of that. The danger she represented had nothing to do with knives or guns. I simply didn't want her to touch me, not even by accident.

The zombie on the left was perfect. Not a sign of decay. The look in her eyes was alert, alive. God help us. She could have gone anywhere and passed for human. How had I known she wasn't alive? I wasn't even sure. None of the usual signs were there, but I knew dead when I felt it. Yet . . . I stared up at the second woman. Her lovely, dark face stared back. Fear screamed out of her eyes.

Whatever power let me raise the dead told me this was a zombie, but my eyes couldn't tell. It was amazing. If Dominga could raise zombies like this, she had me beat hands down.

I have to wait three days before I raise a corpse. It gives the soul time to leave the area. Souls usually hover around for a while. Three days is average. I can't call shit from the grave if the soul's still present. It has been theorized that if an animator could keep the soul intact while raising the body, we'd get resurrection. You know, resurrection, the real thing, like in Jesus and Lazarus. I didn't believe that. Or maybe I just know my limitations.

I stared up at this zombie and knew what was different. The soul was still there. The soul was still inside both bodies. How? How in Jesus' name did she do it?

"The souls. The souls are still in the bodies." My voice held the distaste I felt. Why bother to hide it?

"Very good, chica."

I went to stand to her left, keeping Enzo in sight. "How did you do it?"

"The soul was captured at the moment it took flight from the body."

I shook my head. "That doesn't explain anything."

"Don't you know how to capture souls in a bottle?"

Souls in a bottle? Was she kidding? No, she wasn't. "No, I don't." I tried not to sound superior as I said it.

"I could teach you so much, Anita, so very much."

"No, thanks," I said. "You captured their souls, then you raised the body, and put the soul back in." I was guessing, but it sounded right.

"Very, very good. That is it exactly." She was staring at me so hard that it was uncomfortable. Her empty, black eyes were memorizing me.

"But why is the second zombie rotting? The theory is with the soul intact, the zombie won't decay?"

"It is no longer a theory. I have proved it," she said.

I stared at the rotted corpse, and it stared back. "Then why is that one rotting, and this one isn't?" Just two necromancers talking shop. Tell me, do you raise your zombies only during the dark of the moon?

"The soul may be put into the body, then removed again, as often as I wish."

I stared at Dominga Salvador now. I stared and tried not to let my jaw drop, not to let the dawning horror slip across my face. She would enjoy shocking me. I didn't want her taking pleasure from me, for any reason.

"Let me test my understanding here," I said in my best executive trainee voice. "You put the soul into the body and it didn't rot. Then you took the soul out of the body, making it an ordinary zombie, and it did rot."

"Exactly," she said.

"Then you put the soul back in the rotted corpse, and the zombie was aware and alive again. Did the rotting stop when the soul went back in?"

"Yes. "

Shit. "So you could keep the zombie over there rotted just that much forever?"

"Yes."

Double shit. "And this one?" I pointed this time, like I was doing a lecture.

"Many people would pay dearly for her."

"Wait a minute, you mean sell her as a sex slave?"

"Perhaps."

"But. . ." The idea was too horrible. She was a zombie, which meant she didn't need to eat or sleep or anything. You could keep her in a closet and take her out like a toy. A perfectly obedient slave.

"Are they as obedient as normal zombies, or does the soul give them free will?"

"They seem to be very obedient."

"Maybe they're just scared of you," I said.

She smiled. "Perhaps."

"You can't just keep the soul imprisoned forever."

"I can't," she said.

"The soul needs to go on."

"To your Christian heaven or hell?"

"Yes," I said.

"These were wicked women, chica. Their own families gave them to me. Paid me to punish them."

"You took money for this?"

"It is illegal to tamper with dead bodies without permission of the family," she said.

I don't know if she had planned to horrify me. Maybe not. But with that one sentence she let me know that what she was doing was perfectly legal. The dead had no rights. This was the reason we needed some laws to protect zombies. Shit.

"No one deserves to spend eternity locked in a corpse," I said.

"We could do this to criminals on death row, chica. They could be made to serve society after death."

I shook my head. "No, it's wrong."

"I have created a non-rotting zombie, chica. Animators, I believe you call yourselves, have been searching for the secret for years. I have it, and people will pay for it."

"It's wrong. I may not know much about voodoo, but even among your own people, it's wrong. How can you keep the souls prisoner and not allow them to go on and join with the lao?"

She shrugged and sighed. She suddenly looked tired. "I was hoping, chica, that you would help me. With two of us working, we could create more zombies much faster. We could be wealthy beyond our dreams."

"You've asked the wrong girl."

"I see that now. I had hoped that since you were not vaudun, you would not see it as wrong."

"Christian, Buddhist, Moslem, you name it, Dominga, no one's going to think it's all right."

"Perhaps, perhaps not. It does not hurt to ask."

I glanced at the rotted zombie. "At least put your first experiment out of its misery."

Dominga glanced at the zombie. "She makes a powerful demonstration, does she not?"

"You've created a non-rotting zombie, great. Don't be sadistic."

"You think I am being cruel?"

"Yeah," I said.

"Manuel, am I being cruel?"