When Winter Bared Our Bones

BOOK: When Winter Bared Our Bones
13.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

Here are the true confessions of a zombie.

 

Recounting the years of his life, the zombie tells a hauntingly beautiful story full of startling revelations, danger and death, heart and hunger.

 

This is a story of how the zombie came to be. A story of his eternal life and the curse of that life. A story that powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, the ineradicable spirit of conflict, the raw and vivid nature of the beast that lives within us all.

 

 

Copyright © 2014 Emily Asimov

All rights reserved.

Country of first publication is the United States.

DEDICATION

 

 

For my grandfather who taught me to believe in future possibilities and to never stop dreaming.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

 

I want to thank everyone who read my early drafts and believed in my story. I also want to thank Mrs. Moore for professionally editing my manuscript and Jane for proofreading the final work.

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

“Well,” said the zombie finally as he sat across from the girl and leaned back into the luxurious leather of the French provincial arm chair. “I not only stayed with the wolves, but I became their leader. Or at least, they looked to me to lead them and I did.

  “Life with the pack was simple. We hunted. We defended our territory. We sheltered. The pack was everything to me and I was everything to them, for I was Alpha.”

  “Alpha?” the girl asked.

  The zombie gazed at the girl. As much as he wanted to tell his story fully to someone, it was the interruptions, always the interruptions that brought out his nature and ultimately led to failure.

  The girl smiled under the weight of his stare. He smiled back even as he imagined tying the girl to the chair, using a surgical saw to cut a circle around her cranium so he could remove the cap of her skull and get at the tissues of her living brain. Even as he imagined scooping up those tissues a bite at a time with a citrus spoon while the girl writhed and screamed.

  There was no substitute for such delicacy. None. Point of fact, he’d eaten little else since he’d perfected the technique centuries ago and it was really modern medicine that was to thank for his marvelous find.

  In the early centuries of his life there simply hadn’t been such fine instruments as those used in modern medicine. Except
modern
wasn’t really the right word, was it?

  Nothing from the 15
th
century could be considered modern anymore, even so he grinned sheepishly at memories of his days stalking cobbled streets with his novel tools, at the way the horses always seemed to know who and what he was while his quarry would never admit to themselves that he was what he was even as he ate their live flesh while they flailed, screamed and squealed.

  Of all his tools, it was a simple citrus spoon from a Civil War silver service that he most cherished. He’d tried other types of spoons. Place spoons. Cream soup spoons. Demitasse spoons. But it was the citrus spoon with its serrated edge that made dining a pure joy. Nothing else could scoop up brain still attached to its host as easily.

  The zombie reached out to the girl, his hand moving hesitantly across the cinnamon-finished coffee table. He wanted to feel her warm flesh beneath his fingers once again. He knew he shouldn’t have touched her before, but the temptation was there. It was overwhelming. Overriding. The reason for every thought he promised himself he wouldn’t have.

  He relived the moments of their touch. How he’d grabbed her wrists to dissuade her leaving. How he’d reached out over the length of the table and steadied her. How she’d shuddered at his touch.

  The fear scent she’d released then was manna from heaven. Except heaven had nothing to with what might be ahead. Not even hell had anything to do with what was ahead. Hell was a child’s playground by comparison.

  The zombie wet his lips, managing to pull back his hand even as the temptation to let his fingers spider across the table set his senses ablaze. As he lifted the wine glass to his lips, he breathed in her scent on his fingers as easily as the bountiful bouquet of the deep red liquid.

  Beneath the Trésor perfume she’d dabbed on her wrists earlier that evening was her true scent. A scent that was surprisingly earthy for one of her occupation. He smelled the herbal teas she preferred to coffee. The garlic, ginger and ginseng of her ethnic foods. The faint odor of cigarettes from smokers who had been standing outside the all night diner where he’d met her earlier.

  The zombie realized his stomach was fluttering and his breathing was more rapid than it should have been. The sigh that escaped his lips then was almost a moan of pleasure, a tip of the hat to the fact it’d been so long since he’d eaten Asian.

  “Alpha?” the girl repeated.

  The girl’s voice brought the zombie out of his thoughts, but it was her warm brown eyes and the eagerness reflected in them that reminded him of what he was trying to accomplish. “Yes, alpha. Leader of the pack. I threw down my father’s sword, discarded my father’s shield and armor, and became one with the pack.

  “The pack protected me and I protected the pack. Song of the Moon, a great she-wolf who had been mated to the alpha I killed, was the only hold out. She distrusted me and I her. Of course, I had no idea at the time that wolves mated for life or that wolves, or any creature for that matter, could pledge themselves so fully to vengeance. I was naïve about a great many things in those early days.”

  “But you were just a boy, scarcely old enough to be on your own let alone to know the ways of the world,” the girl said.

  For a long moment the zombie gazed at the girl and then he started as if awakened from deepest thought. He breathed in her intoxicating scent. The wonderful tang of fear and trepidation were giving way to something else. Something equally tantalizing. “A boy, perhaps, by today’s standards, but I felt I was a man, for with the spring thaw came my second year in East Anglia and I was by then fifteen.

  “I’d survived a harsh winter with my pack and spring brought us nature’s bounty. We hunted the woods with deadly precision, for what I lacked in speed and agility I made up for in cunning. I loved my pack. I trained them in the art of the lure and the trap and they trained me in the art of the hunt and the kill.

  “We dined on elk, deer, wild pig, game hen, river fish and wild horse. I loved tearing flesh from bone with my teeth. I relished the way beating hearts pumping blood slowed and became still. The way that blood bathed me as I fed.

  “We wanted for nothing. There was such abundance that every pup in every litter survived, making our pack stronger than it ever had been before.

  “But there was always Song of the Moon as a thorn in my side. I thought I could change that by mating with her and claiming her for my own, but that only made matters worse. Worse for the she-wolf. Worse for me.”

  “You mated with a beast?” the girl asked, her eyes full of disbelief and her voice full of an unspoken hesitation, as if she were thinking of something else.

  The zombie raised a halting hand as he leaned forward. His expression showed his surprise at the things unspoken. The smell of her restrained arousal fed his yearning. A yearning he struggled with just as he fought the bountiful hunger building within him. “Not as repulsive as you must think. You must remember that I was a wolf then, not a man. I knew nothing else.”

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

 

The girl shook her head. Her eyes watered. Her changing scent told the zombie many things, chief among them that the girl was not repulsed by the thought at all. True, something he had already known, but he had wanted to be sure before contemplating how to explore the new possibilities that suddenly occurred to him.

  “It’s all right,” the zombie said to reassure her. “I’m not as offended by your words as I pretend to be. It’s only that I forget from time to time that this is your first time hearing my story.”

  “But what did you do? How did you survive if Song of the Moon was against you?” the girl asked.

  “It was the coming of winter that changed everything. The cold set in early, as did the snow. At first, I didn’t know anything was wrong, but some of the elders knew almost at once. They tried to divide the pack, to chase away the young wolves.

  “I didn’t understand. I fought those elders, drove them away instead, and Song of the Moon went with them. My pack without its greatest elders wasn’t the same. The young wolves were full of vitality but they lacked the verve of the great elders.

  “The hunt and the kill were never the same afterward and much of what I taught the pack of the lure and the trap was lost as well. Where before to a one our hunts succeeded, now fully half or more of our hunts failed. We went hungry some days and many nights.

  “As winter raged on, game became increasingly scarce. My pack had to range farther and farther away to pick up scents. During the long dark nights, I joined my brothers and sisters howling at the moon and begging the Lords of the Night for help. But no help came.

  “I blamed the deep snows and bone-baring cold. I never thought to blame Song of the Moon, though I should have. Instead I looked inward. I became bitterly disappointed in myself. I no longer believed that I deserved to be alpha. I despaired and my heart ached.”

  “By spring, I’d lost a quarter of my pack to hunger and cold. I told myself that what happened in winter didn’t matter. I grew the pack, kept every pup from every litter. The wolves that survived from the previous year’s litters were stronger now, more capable.

  “I taught them the hunt and the kill as I’d been taught. There was no time for the lure and the trap though, as we spent all of our time ranging farther and farther to get the game we needed to survive.

  “Oh, how we hunted. We were fearless taking whatever we found for our own. One of our greatest hunts came just before winter, a she-bear and her two cubs.

  “Bears are ferocious beasts. As we set upon them, the she-bear reared on her hind legs to protect her cubs. She took Running Mountain, the greatest of my pack, with one swipe, flinging him against a tree and breaking his back in an instant.

  “I didn’t see the mercy of such a swift kill then. I knew only my fury. My rage fueled our ravenous attack. A dozen wolves circled the she-bear, attempting to take her bite by bite while she swiped and roared. I lost two more of my pack, Grey Son of Deer Killer and Yellow Moon in Shadow. Grey Son to her powerful paws, Yellow Moon to her jaws.

  “But setting her jaws into Yellow Moon was the first of the she-bears many mistakes, for once she’d latched on she needed to maintain her hold until Yellow Moon was finished. While she shook her head and thrashed, the pack set upon her en masse, tearing into her fur and flesh over and over. After that, it was a matter of waiting while she bled and weakened.

  “If there’s one thing wolves know, it’s patience. We took the cubs while we waited. One on a cloudless morning near a swift-running river. The other after the cub wandered down and over a rise away from the she-bear. I’ll never forget the mournful roars of the she-bear upon discovering what remained of her cubs.

  “Her cries of rage were things a radiant beauty, as moving as any somber opera ballad, as sincere as any broken-hearted lover’s poem. It was as if one of the Lords of Night had come down from the dark sky and kissed my forehead while whispering in my ear. The she-bear lost her will to fight after losing both her cubs and we took her inside a rounded hollow as she sought to retreat to her winter cave.”

  “Fattened on our bounty, I felt we were ready for the winter, but I was wrong. Once again, game became increasingly scarce and we ranged farther and farther to find new quarry to hunt. As our hunts started to fail more often than they succeeded and the snows deepened, hunger set in.

  “Hunger during the long cold season is not unknown to wolves, but I again saw it as my failure. When Little Hound, the first born of the spring litters, died, I cried out to the Lords of Night, much as the she-bear had cried out for her cubs. I vowed I would do whatever it took to sustain us all.”

  “But that’s understandable,” said the girl quickly when the zombie paused. “I mean, wouldn’t anyone have done the same in such circumstances?”

  “Is it really so understandable?” The zombie looked at the girl. Her eyes never moved from his and in those eyes the zombie found the emotion he had been scenting for some time. The girl wasn’t like the others. Though his words dismayed and distressed her at times, they did not repel or repulse her. This was new. Different. “I think perhaps it was youthful inexperience. Let me explain. I loved my pack, as I told you, at times I believed there was nothing save pack. If someone would have told me there was anything else—that there could be anything else—I would not have believed them.

BOOK: When Winter Bared Our Bones
13.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Ice-cream Man by Jenny Mounfield
Doubt by Anne-Rae Vasquez
The Balloon Man by Charlotte MacLeod
Fall from Grace by L. R. Wright
Golden Threads by Kay Hooper
Line of Fire by Franklin W. Dixon