Something touched my hand, and I was jerked back to the grave. Requiem was still at my back, dead still, but Graham was on the grave. He looked uncertain, but he was sniffing the air near my skin. "You smell like trees and pack," he said softly.
Richard looked up at us. "Why is Graham there?"
"Bodyguard. Jean-Claude was afraid of what would happen if I didn't have someone with me."
"Tell him he's supposed to guard you, and he can't do that on the grave."
"You're supposed to guard me, Graham, you can't do that from here." The sharp scent of wolf thickened around me as I said it.
Graham reacted to it like he'd been struck. He cringed to the ground, doing the wolf grovel. "I'm sorry, you just smelled so good. I forgot myself."
"Stop groveling and get back to work." Richard said it first, and I echoed it for him.
Graham did what he was told. He went back to very serious bodyguard mode, looking out into the dark for whatever might come.
Richard took in a deep breath, and I smelled that thick, sweet scent of deep woods. He'd run miles, effortlessly, not for the same reason that a human will run well, but because the land itself helped him run, gave him strength, welcomed him.
He stood there in the middle of the woods, his feet anchored into the ground. I realized that Richard was my ground, my center, his joy, his heart pumping in his chest from that joyous run. I kept my tie to him open and full of scents and sounds and things faraway from here. I put my hands on the grave, and even with Requiem at my back, touching me, it wasn't as real as the pounding of Richard's heart miles away.
"Edwin Alonzo Herman, with will, word, and flesh, I call you from your grave. Come, come now!" It was all wrong, all different from usual, but it was right just the same.
I felt the corpse shift, solidify, piece itself together like a puzzle, and begin to rise up through the earth as if it were water. I'd watched this happen countless times, but I'd never been kneeling on the ground when it happened. The earth buckled and rolled like an earthquake that was trapped in a few feet of ground. The ground flowed under my hands like it was something else, not water, not mud, but something both less and more solid. I don't know what Requiem thought was happening, but he didn't try to pull away, he stayed solid at my back. He rode it with me and never made a noise. Brave vampire.
Hands met mine through the shifting earth, cool fingers wrapped around my warmth. Edwin Alonzo Herman's hands wrapped around mine like a swimmer who's given up hope and finally touches a rope. The grave threw him upward like a flower springing free of the earth, but the push of it forced me to pull him upward, to find my feet with Requiem steadying me. If the vampire hadn't been there to hold me standing on the writhing, twisting ground, I would have fallen. But Requiem kept me standing, and I pulled the dead man from his grave, pulled him perfect and whole, until he stood taller than me, with the grave dirt falling away from a perfect black suit that looked as if it had been freshly pressed. His hair was balding with a thick fringe just above the ears and down the collar, and thick sideburns that curved to a walrus thick mustache. He was portly, nearly fat, which had been in style among the rich. When Edwin Alonzo died, only the poor were skinny, only the poor looked starved.
I felt Richard still standing by the edge of that small stream. The air was cooler by that musical run, and his pulse was beginning to slow from the run, the light sweat starting to cool on his skin. He wasn't afraid, or horrified. He simply stood rooted to the ground, steadying me with the pulse and beat of his body, the thick musk of wolf faint in the autumn air.
I stared up at the zombie, and even to me, it looked like damn good work. With a big enough blood sacrifice I could raise a zombie that looked alive, close at least, but this, this was perfect. His skin looked full and healthy in the starlight. He had a faint smile on his face, and his clothes looked as if he'd just put them on. Even his shoes were near spotless and gleaming with polish. Polish so shiny I noticed by moonlight. The hands that were pressed to mine were cool, but they didn't feel dead. He wasn't breathing, but he looked, felt, more alive than dead. It was unnerving. I'd known there was a lot of power tonight, and I'd had to force all of it into this one grave, so I guess it was alright that he looked this good, but for a moment when I looked into that plump, smiling face, I was afraid. Afraid that I'd done more than I'd been paid for, but when I reached his eyes, I let out a sigh of relief. The eyes were thick and full and looked, again, perfect, grayish in the starlight, probably would be blue in the brighter light, but there was no one home in those eyes. They were empty and waiting. I knew what they were waiting for, those empty eyes.
I lifted my left hand away from the zombie's, and he didn't cling to me, his fingers just opened as I moved. I held my hand at shoulder level, toward the vampire at my back. "Undo my bandage."
Requiem kept one hand on my shoulder, but used the other hand to peel back the tape on my wrist.
"Take it off," I said.
He finally ripped the bandage away. I couldn't stop a small jerk of pain.
Richard called inside my head, "What are you going to do?"
"He needs blood, so he can speak. I didn't kill an animal. This is all the blood I've got."
He didn't say anything, but I felt his pulse begin to pick up speed.
I offered my wrist upward to the slightly taller body in front of me. Something slid through those pale eyes, something I'd seen before in the better preserved zombies. It was as if something went through them, something that paused in their eyes, as if there were darker things waiting, waiting for a chance for a body to inhabit. Something, not so much evil, as just very, very not good. But that whiskered face turned toward my wrist, sniffed the air, and the moment it scented the blood, that otherness in its eyes vanished. Driven out by the promise of something that all the dead value, a bit of the living.
The zombie grabbed my arm with both of its hands and smacked its mouth against my wrist like you'd grab a kiss from your dearest lover. Just the impact hurt the wound, made me gasp. But I knew what was coming, because I'd fed zombies off my own blood before. Not often, but often enough. The mouth locked around the wound, and his mouth was wide enough to take it all in, to set his teeth against the torn edges, and grind. I made a small sound, because I couldn't make no sound. Usually the zombie's mouth felt less real than this one. Except for how cool the flesh was, I couldn't tell the difference between the zombie and a person. It was a very good job, solid all the way through, even in places that only I would feel.
Richard bounded across the stream, hitting the edge of it with one foot, as if he wasn't quite steady. He began to run up the other bank, began to run with the night and the trees and the smells.
Edwin Alonzo Herman's mouth locked around my wrist and began to suck. The wound had begun to heal more than I'd realized, because to get to the blood, he had to pull hard and tight on my wrist. It hurt, really hurt. Yeah, I liked teeth in the right situation, but this wasn't it, and what might feel good during sex just f**king hurts during violence.
Richard was running full out now. I'd thought he was fast before, but he'd just been playing. Now, he ran. He ran so fast that branches slashed at him, that the earth didn't give to him, and part like water. He was running, running... running from himself. I had a bright glimpse inside his head. The sensation of teeth in my wrist, of that forceful mouth on my wound excited him. Excited him as both man and beast. He could have accepted if it was just about food, but it wasn't. The mixture of human and animal blurred the differences between food and sex. Blurred so many lines. Lines that Richard had never known existed, let alone wanted to cross.
He ran, and slipped in the leaves, and fell and was on his feet and running before his body had time to realize it was down. It was only in that moment that I remembered his injured shoulder, and the thought got me the memory, he'd shapeshifted, briefly, and healed himself. So much more powerful than he wanted to be.
The zombie had fallen to his knees, as if sucking at my wrist was the most exquisite thing it had ever tasted. It cradled my wrist against its mouth, and its tongue explored the wound.
My breath came out in a harsh word, "Shit!"
"Are you hurt?" Requiem asked softly.
I shook my head. It hurt, but I wasn't hurt. There was a difference, but usually a zombie starts to slow down about now. This one was still sucking hard and fast, as if he were a baby that had been starved. Of course, I'd never raised anyone this long dead without an animal sacrifice. Maybe that was the difference? I hoped so, because anything else would mean that something had gone wrong, really wrong.