Strange Candy (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 0.5)


by Laurell K. Hamilton

INTRODUCTION

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.

“Limitations?”

“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.”

“Ordinary?”

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?”

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?”

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