Strange CandyLaurell K. Hamilton
Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novels by Laurell K. Hamilton
THE LAUGHING CORPSE
CIRCUS OF THE DAMNED
THE LUNATIC CAFE
THE KILLING DANCE
NARCISSUS IN CHAINS
LAURELL K. HAMILTON
BERKLEY BOOKS, NEW YORK
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi--110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), Cnr. Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright (c) 2006 by Laurell K. Hamilton.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hamilton, Laurell K.
Strange candy / Laurell K. Hamilton.--1st ed.
1. Supernatural--Fiction. I. Title.
This one is for all those editors who took a chance on me when I was an unknown. To everyone who bought my stories when putting my name on the front of their magazine, or in their anthology, didn't guarantee them more sales. Thanks for taking a chance on me.
To my husband, Jonathon, who knew me first through my stories, and now knows me better than anyone. He loves me still--the dark and light of me. To Darla and her husband, Jack, who were two of the four people who used to show up at my signings, when no one knew who I was. To Andrew, best man at our wedding, and the fourth of that long-ago four that kept me company at all those empty signings. You guys can truly say you knew me when, and the fact that you all still know me now is even better.
This one is also for the other readers who first discovered me not through the Anita Blake series, or the Meredith Gentry series, but through my short stories. Thanks also to all those fans who have asked over the years when am I going to do the sequel to Nightseer. Here, at least, are stories set in the same world--not the same characters, sorry about that, but the world and the magic system are here. I hope you enjoy seeing other parts of Keleios's world.
Thanks to Richard Nichols, who for the first time helped edit. Also, as I write this, he is turning thirty. Happy Birthday, Richard. Mark and Sarah Sumner, who were my next-door neighbors when many of these stories were written. Good neighbors, good friends. Rett MacPherson, one of the bravest women I know. Marella Sands, I look forward to your new world finding its footing and its fans. Deborah Millitello, who was there, almost from the beginning, and saw most of these stories in some rough form or another. Thanks for the encouragement. There were days when your support kept me from giving up. Sharon Shinn, for gripe sessions and an understanding ear. Tom Drennan, a quiet, comforting presence at all the meetings of the Alternate Historians. To Jannie Lee Simner, who had the audacity to move all the way to Arizona a few years back and abandon us all. Congrats on all your books. N. L. Drew, who also got to see some of these stories in rougher form. Robert K. Sheaf, who was with us early, and now is with us no longer. Are you writing stories up in Heaven, Bob? For you, and your so-firm faith, God bless. For my faith, blessed be.
THOSE WHO SEEK FORGIVENESS
A LUST OF CUPIDS
THE EDGE OF THE SEA
A SCARCITY OF LAKE MONSTERS
A TOKEN FOR CELANDINE
A CLEAN SWEEP
HOUSE OF WIZARDS
HERE BE DRAGONS
THE GIRL WHO WAS INFATUATED WITH DEATH
Welcome to the parts of my imagination that don't get much play at book length. Some people see short stories as a way to further their book career. The last story, "The Girl Who Was Infatuated with Death," was commissioned by my publisher for a collection of pieces with other of their supernatural writers. So I guess that one was designed to further my reading audience and those of the other writers with me in the anthology. But as for the rest of the stories, these are ideas I was compelled to write by nothing but my sometime peculiar imagination and a desire to play. Short stories for me are like vacations. You know, those trips you take to new places to do things you don't normally get to do in your work-a-day life. These stories, with a few exceptions, are worlds where most of you have never been with me. Several of these are set in the same world as my first book, Nightseer. So for those of you who keep writing in, or asking at signings, when will I finish that series, here are at least a few more pieces of that world--though with different characters and countries. I thought once I would write only heroic fantasy like a mix of Tolkien and Robert E. Howard. But the bottom fell out of the heroic fantasy market and I was left scrambling to find a vision that the publishers would buy. I had a few stories that were different, set in modern day with fantastic elements. One was the first Anita Blake short story, "Those Who Seek Forgiveness." Another was "The Edge of the Sea"--which is still an idea that intrigues me. You have also my only completed science fiction story, "Here Be Dragons." You also get the only story I've ever written in Anita's world that has none of the main characters in it, "Selling Houses."
I have dozens of other short story ideas, and most of them are very unlike Anita and Merry's adventures. My unwritten short ideas are vacations of the mind. The last thing you want to do on vacation is your normal job. So how does a girl get to a point where normal is vampire hunting, fairie princesses and private detectives, and some of the most erotic relationships on paper? Just lucky, I guess.
THOSE WHO SEEK FORGIVENESS
This is the first time Anita ever walked onto paper for me. The cemetery in this story is based on the cemetery where my mother is buried. It was a place I knew very well, because my grandmother, who raised me, took me often. I guess it was inevitable that I would write about the dead; my childhood was haunted by death. Not real ghosts, but the ghosts of memory and loss. Anita raises the
dead in this story, which was all I had planned on her doing. The idea of her being a legal vampire executioner actually didn't hit my radar until quite late in trying to write the first book. Originally this story represented what I thought Anita would do: raise zombies. How different things would have been if I'd stuck to my original plan. No Jean-Claude, no Richard, not much of anybody except Anita. What a bleak world it would have been, with just Anita and me in it.
DEATH is a very serious matter, Mrs. Fiske. People who go through it are never the same."
The woman leaned forward, cradling her face in her hands. Her slim shoulders shook quietly for a few minutes. I passed another box of tissues her way. She groped for them blindly and then looked up. "I know you can't bring him back, exactly."
She wiped at two tears, which escaped and rolled down flawless cheekbones. The purse she clutched so tightly was reptile, at least two hundred dollars. Her accessories--lapel pin, high heels, hat, and gloves--were all black as her purse. Her suit was gray. Neither color suited her, but they emphasized her pale skin and hollow eyes. She was the sort of woman that made me feel too short, too dark, and gave me the strange desire to lose ten more pounds. If she hadn't been so genuinely grief-stricken, I could have disliked her.
"I have to talk to Arthur. That's my husband...was my husband." She took a deep breath and tried again. "Arthur died suddenly. A massive coronary." She blew delicately into a tissue. "His family did have a history of heart disease, but he always took such good care of himself." She finished with a watery hiccup. "I want to say good-bye to him, Miss Blake."
I smiled reassuringly. "We all have things left unsaid when death comes suddenly. But it isn't always best to raise the dead and say it."
Her blue eyes stared intently through a film of tears. I was going to discourage her as I discourage every one of my clients, but this one would do it. There was a certain set to the eyes that said serious.
"There are certain limitations to the process." My boss didn't allow us to show slides or pictures or give graphic descriptions, but we were supposed to tell the truth. One good picture of a decaying zombie would have sent most of my clients screaming.
"Yes, we can bring him back. You came to us promptly. That helps. He's been buried only three days. But as a zombie your husband will only have limited use of his body and mind. And as the days go by, that will grow worse, not better."
She stood up very straight, tears drying on her face. "I was hoping you could bring him back as a vampire."
I kept my face carefully blank. "Vampires are illegal, Mrs. Fiske."
"A friend told me that...you could get that done here." She finished in a rush, searching my face.
I smiled my best professional smile. "We do not do vampires. And even if we did, you can't make an ordinary corpse into a vampire."
Very few people who came to us had even a remote idea of how rare vampires were, or why. "The deceased would have to have been bitten by a werewolf, vampire, or other supernatural creature, while alive. Being buried in unconsecrated ground would help. Your husband, Arthur, was never bitten by a vampire while alive, was he?"
"No," she half laughed, "he was bitten by my Yorkshire terrier once."
I smiled, encouraging her turn of spirits. "That won't quite do it. Your husband can come back as a zombie or not at all."
"I'll take it," she said quietly, all serious and very still.
"I will warn you that most families find it advisable to lay the zombie to rest after a time."
Why? I saw the happy family embracing their lost loved one. I saw the family sick, horrified, bringing the decaying corpse to be put down. The smiling relative reduced to a shambling horror.
"What exactly do you want Arthur to do when he arises?"
She looked down and shredded another tissue. "I want to say good-bye to him."
"Yes, Mrs. Fiske, but what do you want him to do?"
She was silent for several minutes. I decided to prompt her. "For instance, a woman came in wanting her husband raised so he could take out life insurance. I told her most insurance companies won't insure the walking dead." She grinned at that. "And that is what Arthur will come back as--the walking dead."
Her smile faltered, and tears came again. "I want Arthur to forgive me." She hid her face in her hands and sobbed. "I had an affair for several months. He found out, had a heart attack, and died." She seemed to gain strength from the words, and the tears slowed. "You see that I have to talk to him one last time. I have to tell him I love him, only him. I want Arthur to forgive me. Can he do that as a...zombie?"
"I've found that the dead are very forgiving of the living, when they die of natural causes. Your husband will have ample brainpower to speak. He will be himself at first. As the days progress, he will lose memory. He will begin to decay, first mentally, then physically."
"Yes, slowly, but after all, he is dead."
The relatives didn't really believe that a fresh zombie wasn't alive. Knowing intellectually that someone smiling and talking is the walking dead is one thing. Emotionally, it is very different. But they believed as time passed and as he or she began to look like a walking corpse.
"It's temporary then?"
"Not exactly." I came from behind the desk and sat next to her. "He could stay a zombie possibly forever. But his physical and mental state would deteriorate until he was not much better than an automaton in tattered flesh."
"Tattered...flesh," she whispered.
I touched her hand. "I know it's a hard choice, but that is the reality." Tattered flesh didn't really touch the white sheen of bone through rotting flesh, but it was a term our boss allowed.
She gripped my hand and smiled. "Thank you for telling me the truth. I still want to bring Arthur back. Even if it's just long enough to say a few words."
So she was going to do it, as I had known she would. "So you don't want him for weeks, or days, only long enough to talk."
"I think so."
"I don't mean to rush you, Mrs. Fiske, but I need to know before we set up an appointment. You see, it takes more time and energy to raise and then lay to rest, one right after another." If she laid and raised quickly enough, Mrs. Fiske might be able to remember Arthur at his best.
"Oh, of course. If possible I would like to talk for several hours."
"Then it's best if you take him home for at least the evening. We can schedule putting him back for tomorrow night." I would push for a quick laying to rest. I didn't think Mrs. Fiske could take watching her husband rot before her eyes.
"That sounds good." She took a deep breath. I knew what she was going to say. She looked so brave and resolute. "I want to be there when you bring him back."
"Your presence is required, Mrs. Fiske. You see, a zombie has no real will of its own. Your husband should be able to think on his own at first, but as time wears on, the zombie finds it very difficult to decide things. The person, or persons, who raised it will have control over it."
"You and I?"
She paled even more, her grip tightening.
"Mrs. Fiske?" I got her a glass of water. "Sip it slowly." When she seemed better, I asked, "Are you sure you're up to this tonight?"
"Is there anything I need to bring?"
"A suit of your husband's clothes would be nice. Maybe a favorite object, hat, trophy, to help him orient himself. The rest I'll supply." I hesitated, because some of the color had crept into her face, but she needed to be prepared. "There will be blood at the ceremony."
"Blood." Her voice was a breathy whisper.
"Chicken, I'll bring it. There will also be some ointment to spread over our faces and hands. It glows faintly and smells fairly strange, but not unpleasant." Her next question would be the usual.
"What do we do with the blood?"
I gave the usual answer. "We sprinkle some on the grave and some on us."
/> She swallowed very carefully, looking slightly gray.
"You can back out now but not later. Once you've paid your deposit, it can't be refunded. And once the ceremony begins, to break the circle is very dangerous."
She looked down, thinking. I liked that. Most who agreed right away were afraid later. The brave ones took time to answer. "Yes." She sounded very convinced. "To make peace with Arthur, I can do it."
"Good for you. How is tonight?"
"About midnight," she added hopefully.
I smiled. Everyone thought midnight was the perfect time for raising the dead. All that was required was darkness. Some people did put a great deal of stock in certain phases of the moon, but I had never found it necessary. "No, how about nine o'clock?"
"If that will be all right. I have two other appointments tonight, and nine was left open."
She smiled. "That will be fine." Her hand shook as she signed the check for half the fee, the other half to be delivered after the raising.
We shook hands, and she said, "Call me Carla."
"I'll see you at nine tonight at Wellington Cemetery."
I continued for her, "Between two large trees and across from the only hill."
"Yes, thank you." She flashed a watery smile and was gone.
I buzzed our receptionist area. "Mary, I'm booked up for this week and won't be seeing any more clients, until at least next Tuesday."
"I'll see to it, Anita."
I leaned back in my chair and soaked up the silence. Three animations a night was my limit. Tonight they were all routine, or almost. I was bringing back my first research scientist. His three colleagues couldn't figure out his notes, and their deadline, or rather grant, was running close. So dear Dr. Richard Norris was coming back from the dead to help them out. They were scheduled for midnight.
At three this next morning I would meet the widowed Mrs. Stiener. She wanted her husband to clear up some nasty details with his will.