Home > Silver Zombie (Delilah Street #4)(17)

Silver Zombie (Delilah Street #4)(17)
Author: Carole Douglas

"I have friends now, Father, and some of them have big teeth."

"You ... can't mean that vampire anchorman?"

"No, my adopted wolf-mix dog. He runs about your weight."

"Oh. Oh. Excellent." Father Black winked at me, a very lame wink, and walked on into the administration building.

I hopped into Dolly, revved her up, and majestically drew away from the curb and a big part of my past. On the way back down the meandering drive, I peered at the little lake and the island when I reached the scenic overlook, squinting in the dying light through my "sunglasses" contacts. Sure enough, the spire of a steeple poked through and there was a metal needle protruding from the spire, upon which perched, like a wind vane, a sculpture that looked very much like a ... gargoyle.

Gooo-aa-l! Irma chortled.

I didn't echo her cheer. I knew already I was surely going to Hell for lying about my gray contacts to kindly Father Black.

Chapter Thirteen

"DON'T COWS SLEEP at night like everything else?" I asked, irritable about being startled by every distant moo.

"City-raised," Leonard Tallgrass commented to Ric as we crouched in a cornfield bordering the grazing land we were "watching."

What you can "watch" crouching in corn plants in the dark of night is zero.

"Me too," Ric said in defense of my city-girl history.

"You? City-raised? Naw." Leonard Tallgrass had spoken. "You've got an inside-the-Beltway D.C. manner and you'll never tell me what or why, but you were used to living out-of-doors young."

I knew Ric would leave Tallgrass's pronouncement unanswered, so I broke the lengthening silence.

"Say, guys. I still don't get what we're doing in a cow pasture in the dark of night, or what you've been 'looking into' on the rural scene. Or why you were so interested in the footage Slo-mo Eddie got of the cow mutilation scene here."

I'd returned Dolly to the Thunderbird Inn from Our Lady of the Lake to find Ric, Tallgrass, and Quicksilver waiting, all ravenous. After a fast-food dinner, Tallgrass wanted to eyeball my TV station tape of this very scene, then get the two-footed members of our party appropriately garbed for a nighttime "operation."

So here we were two hours later in the dead of night. At least the nighttime temps dipped to a tolerable seventy degrees and the Kansas humidity was low. I couldn't believe that my quashed TV story on cattle mutilations was of such interest now, although the enlarged clawed tracks I'd noticed at the original scene had looked mighty bear-like on my laptop.

"Now that we know their route," Tallgrass told Ric, "I figure the herd will be ambling our way in twenty minutes or less."

"Somebody's driving them hard," Ric said. "They'll probably get here in ten to twelve minutes."

"Herd?" I asked. "Nobody herds cows overland these days. Aren't we laying a trap for the rotten teenaged cow mutilators? Probably half-breed vamps who've never gone mainstream and are living off livestock."

A weed was shifting in the night wind right under my nostrils, so I gave up the knee-creaking crouch and let myself fall back on my rear. Ric's fingerless workout gloves grabbed my wrists to pull me up again.

Ric and I had outfitted our designer jeans for unexpected night surveillance with work boots and long-sleeved black cotton shirts from Western Werehouse. My size eight boots weren't broken in. The stiff leather would chaff my ankles raw if I maintained this classic crouch position any longer.

"She okay?" Tallgrass asked softly.

"'She' is fine," I whispered. "I may not be Annie Oakley, but I got you guys back to the same field I'd filmed two months ago."

"Yes, you did, scout," Ric answered. "Any pasture where several cows have been mutilated and some officious Fed shows up to kick out the local media is prime scouting material."

"That was weeks and weeks ago," I objected. "A lot of weather has been over this field since."

Tallgrass snorted. "You got that right. Especially lately. Wichita's been having excessive 'weather' for early summer. Doesn't matter. When blood is shed, the earth remembers."

I shivered a little, even though it was a perfectly temperate night. Crickets chorused their approval all around. We could occasionally hear the almost metallic rustle of birds of prey briefly silhouetted by the nearing three-quarter moon, looking like a mottled football, in the dark sky above.

The guys had their night-vision, bone-finding field binoculars glued to their sinuses. They radiated teamwork and concentration for the hunt. What exactly they were hunting other than cows, they'd been seriously tight-lipped about telling me, but all our faces wore swaths of cammo paint.

I couldn't blame them. I was along to share the cramped discomfort they reveled in only because Quicksilver was doing the real scout-work somewhere out there. Also, I'd been pursuing broken threads of my past all day on my own in Wichita and wasn't keen on spilling the unpromising details when the male contingent had been finding out serious shit.

Obviously, Ric's FBI assignments and later freelance consulting work had brought him far north of the Mexican border. And Leonard Tallgrass was about as "retired" as the Energizer Bunny. Comparing the taciturn Tallgrass to something pink relieved my boredom and all-over outdoor itches and made me smile.

"Don't show your pearly whites on point unless you're going to use them," Tallgrass grumbled in my ear.

Damn. He didn't miss a thing.

"What about those funky tracks in the field?" I whispered into Ric's ear.

"Yes," he said.

Okay, so we weren't here to share, but pounce. On someone or something.

A moment later I heard rustling in the already trampled cornstalks behind me.

Turning my body around was going to make a no-no of a ruckus, so I twisted my head over my shoulder. I could see the tassels of corn plants shifting against the lighter panorama of the moonlit, cloudy sky.

Something was crawling toward our position.

I poked Ric in the ribs and nodded behind us. He lowered the binoculars and frowned, hearing the same, steady advancing crinkle of broken foliage. I was slightly behind the crouching men, so my rear would be the thing's first appetizer.

"Ty-ohni," Tallgrass whispered without turning. "Your wolf-heart returns, silver-woman."

I watched the shadowy earth move as if a giant furrow was being churned up. Did Kansas have any burrowing predators, beside possible post - Millennium Revelation ghouls?

The moon sailed free of a train of cloud to reveal Quicksilver belly-crawling to join us. Some joker had smeared his snout and paler colored lower face with sooty cammo paint.

He crawled alongside me, offering a quick lick of greeting along my unsmudged neck just below the black shirt's collar line. He knew not to remove my cammo face paint. Cleaning us all up at the Thunderbird Inn after this outing was going to be messy and awkward, like some cheesy B-movie threesome.

More than one cow lowed, much closer. I realized the critters sounded like giant mourning doves, plaintive and knowing they were meat for nature's whims and human hunger.

After seeing the royal Egyptian vampire empire "food stock" of a human herd kept for generations, I was soon converting to some form of vegetarianism.

Quick's short, coyote-style yip made Tallgrass's head nod.

"Three minutes, tops, and they'll be on us," he warned.

Oh, come on. Like Quicksilver can tell time.

I curled my fingers around the black leather collar he came with, the silver discs circling it feeling fatter and overheated, as if the sun had been out. Ouch.

"Okay. You can tell time," I whispered in his perked ear.

He flicked me off like a mosquito, suddenly lunging to his feet, digging claws into earthen clods and darting into the clearing made by the cow mutilation incident two months ago.

Tallgrass and Ric jumped up to follow him, carrying weapons I'd noticed and couldn't name. They were big, thick, black, pug-ugly automatic weapons somewhere between a submachine gun, an assault rifle, and a flame-thrower.

I didn't have time to watch our team members attack.

A whole freaking herd of cows - longhorn cattle - were moving forward as one boulevard-wide mass, with horn tips that could extend to the height of a very tall Texan, to hear those braggarts tell it. I was ready to become a believer. I'd never thought of cows - steers and cows, I should say - as majestic, but they sure were a vision to behold, surging toward us with thundering hooves and rumbling lows and Viking helmets like an army from the clouds above brought down to earth.

The earth, Tallgrass had said, that never forgets a drop of blood spilled on it.

And maybe that explained the vampire and werewolf resurrection in our times, bleeding Kansas, the Civil War nexus, my own moon-driven monthly agonies, the notion of cattle as human sacrifices, which would really rile the beef industry, my old TV news reporter persona realized.

I'd been taught my Kansas history. In the twenty years after the War Between the States, only the ten million head of Texas Longhorn cattle driven north on legendary trails to railheads in Kansas and beyond kept the nation fed. It was called the largest movement of animals under man's direction in world history. I couldn't help thinking of the Karnak vampires' puny human herd, but how many had they added up to over a couple thousand years?

Yet the cattle drive I was witnessing now was beyond the ordinary, eons-old business of eat and be eaten, graze and be slaughtered, be animal, vegetable, or human and be worried.

This was a herd whipped up from Hell.

These cattle drivers weren't those legendary cowboys partnered with another grazing herbivore, the conquistador-descended mustang ponies. They were shambling along on foot, dozens and dozens of them. Mexican peons and parade prima donna hidalgos mounted on palominos of pale aspect. A skeleton corps of horses and riders, pale horses, pale riders, pale cowherds on foot beside them. Ghosts and zombies and flesh-and-blood cattle, oh my.

I was watching a multicentury parade of the blood price between human and beast laboring by in a half-phantom form.

Quicksilver was in constant motion, flashing, fog-gray bone and blood and fang nipping at the herders' paranormal heels, driving them into a single once-and-future mass of past and present, real and supernaturally preserved life ... and death.

And, among this supernatural Wild West Show rode and walked the real game-masters, actual men. From Ric's intent expression, these were the criminal elements from south of the border he had been tracking before.

Meanwhile the silver moon was pouring light down on whole flocks of clouds that were massing and cascading down to earth in disembodied herds. I'd never imagined the Kansas plains could host such an abundance of forgotten and now refreshed life and death. The vast scope of the prairies made the lavish neon sprawl of the Las Vegas Strip look tawdry and pinched.

Here, in the wide open spaces, the Millennium Revelation could expand and multiply, celebrating all the dead and undead life of our endlessly evolving planet. Nothing was lost. Nothing failed to survive, but everything had been reborn in some extravagant, frightening, haunting form.

I watched this gruesome, gritty, inspiring, ghostly panorama, bedazzled by the times I was living in. Anything could happen, could be real, could require dealing with.

Especially Lilith and Lili, me and Irma, all my new frenemies in Vegas and especially Ric and Quicksilver and Leonard Tallgrass beside me joined in a quest to free the future from the past.

That's when something knocked me off my feet, pointy-toed cowboy boots and my nose both digging into the earthy ground.

So much for moon-gazing at ghost longhorns in the sky.

While I spit out dirt, someone pulled me up by the elbow and jerked me several feet sideways. It was either a very annoyed friend or a very impatient foe.

"Del," Ric shouted over the major mooing, "this is the drive-in all over again, only these zombies are on fast-forward. Okay? We need to do some major mowing-down if we don't want to be mowed down."

I looked around. He was right. Most of the mounted men were literal ghost riders in the sky, literally "spooking" the cattle to move on. The zombies in ragged clothes and ragged flesh were darting at the edges of the herd, biting and clawing like a pack of attacking wolves, occasionally clotting when they pulled a calf down, tearing it apart while it bawled and the protective long-horned mother charged, kicking and head-pronging the hell out of the zombies, but eventually falling helpless into their never-dying, gobbling midst.

Obviously, I needed to keep a lot of bad things from getting close enough to off me. The demure silver familiar, which had so far accepted a role as the metal strap adjustment clips on my industrial-strength sports bra, went as molten as Quicksilver's collar disc on me. It seared up my shoulders and then down my arms into its major set-to weapon of choice, twin braided solid silver whips.

When the silver familiar had ripped like mercury down my arms, filling my hands with the butt knobs of twelve-foot-long whips, Ric stepped close behind me, putting his hands over mine as he had when he'd helped me "dowse" the day we'd first met in Sunset Park and we'd together dredged up the unbeloved dead.

I felt my breath whoosh out of my body as an electric charge knocked me back even tighter against Ric, as if we'd been melded into one body. His hands vibrated with strain on mine. An electric rainbow aura played aurora borealis all around us. I remembered an image of us in the mirror when we'd first made love, when I'd gladly let him kiss my virginity good-bye.

I'd glimpsed our auras then, and only then. Mine ice-blue, like my eyes on fade. His hot and yellow, like his ... desire. They had blended into green and purple.

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