“I’m a lich, technically,” said Gerald. “An undead abomination sustained by sheer force of will along with necromantic spells from beyond the ken of sanity.”

“Yes, and I’m a wight,” said Geraldine. “Not technically undead but not fully alive, capable of draining life energy at a touch and using it to sustain my horrific existence.”

“They say opposites attract,” laughed Gerald.

“Yes, the horrors of my existence beyond the veil exactly cancel out those of Gerald’s,” Geraldine added. “Why, Madison and Powell look almost human aside from the paleness and fangs.”

“There was some trouble with the families at first,” said Gerald. “But we’re raising the children as vampires. It’s a good compromise for everyone involved.”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

The trek across the taiga had been a bruising one. Paved roads had run out a few hours north of Yakutsk, and the dirt tracks some hours north of that. John had prepared as best he could for this eventuality, but even with all his groundwork he found himself making the last part of the journey on foot, across game trails cut by reindeer across the lower reaches of the Verkhoyansk Range, the coldest place ever permanently inhabited by man.

By the time John had arrived in a small valley carved fromt he Range by an unnamed river, he was suffering from frostbite, saddle sores, and bites from the stinging insects that swarmed eagerly around him, desperate for blood in the short quasi-summer that was their lives. Deep within the valley, visible only from the place indicated on the map, was an old ostrog–a single-tower fortress within a mouldering palisade, erected by the earliest Russian explorers.

When he was nearer, the unmistakable resonance of Tuvan throat singing could be heard echoring through the forgotten valley. This was the place.

John found the Porok at the highest floor of the okrug, at a window that had once served as a lookout post, projecting the eerie sound into the world through dead lungs. The Porok was rotted and embalmed, like a badly preserved mummy with just enough flesh and sinew to hold together its bones and support the worn finery it sported.

“It’s beautiful,” said John. “The singing.”

The Porok did not turn to him. “It is the only sound that I can make that one might think came from something young,” it said. Its voice was raspy and choked with dust, the death rattle of an old general cut down in single combat. “And it serves as a beacon to those who, like you, have made the long trek north from Yakutsk.”

John was susprised that the Porok’s English was so intelligible, as he had extensively practiced his rusty Russian and Latin. “So I am not the first,” he said.

“Nor will you be the last.” The Porok now approached John. Its face was eyeless, its lips and gaping nasal cavity devoid of all but the most base of flesh. “To those who would seek the Porok out, the long trek is a welcome…filter. The cool climate also agrees with me, as you may imagine.”

It led John downstairs, throught the main room decorated with trinkets that others had brought in supplication. The pretty things, tapestries and china, were heaped in a corner. It was the utilitarian things that occupied a place of honor: a wind-up short-wave radio, a shake-flashlight, a water filter.

“I know why you have come,” said the Porok. “All is known to me, always, forever. It is my curse and my gift. However, I long ago made a pact with myself, and with the Ancients measured against whom I am but a zygote. I only act on that which people say, rather than what they think or what they are.”

“Very well,” said John. “I will give you your gift and tell you now, if it please you.”

“Do so,” croaked the Porok. “But be warned: once you speak, your lost is cast, words set forever in stone. You may leave now, safely, or stay an evening to fortify yourself. But once you speak, you will face the consequences. Your request may be granted, yes. Or I may tear out your throat for your insolence. In asking, you accept this. Do you understand?”

“I do.” John set his jaw. “I will proceed.”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

Zombies and vampires, thanks to enthusiastic supporters on the one hand and a carefully calculated public relations campaign on the other, have never been more popular among mortals. But they are not the only corporeal undead. The Society for the Advancement of the Neglected Undead would like to remind you of the many other varieties that are often overlooked, discriminated against, or even endangered:

Liches, so called after the Norse lík for “corpse,” are powerful mortal spirits that retain their faculties and bodies after death or the completion of a powerful ritual. Contrary to the depiction in media of the skeletal or cadaverous undead being stupid and clumsy, liches are extremely intelligent and skilled: they are master necromancers and virtually immortal. Their body deteriorates only because it is a husk whose presence is an unfortunate necessity, as they have long evolved beyond any sort of personal vanity. But appearance-conscious mortals constantly recoil from them, shallowly, and accuse them of consorting with viler forms of undead. But who else are they to associate with

Wights, named from the High German for “unpleasant person,” are far less powerful and more ordinary spirits that remain bound to their bodies even after death through sheer force of willpower. While admittedly strong-willed persons can often seem unpleasant to observers, where would we be without them? In addition to being tarred with such an unpleasant name, wights can’t rely on sorcery or science to sustain them after death like liches can (though the more clever ones occasionally are able to ascend to glorious lich-hood). Instead, they must consume life energy stolen from the living. Merely touching a mortal can provide enough energy to sustain a wight for some time at the expense of only some nausea and one less day of life on the mortal’s part. Imagine the harmony that could be sown if wights could receive life energy transfusions just as mortals receive blood!

Ghouls, whose name comes from the Arabic ghul for “to seize,” have a stable source of life energy after death, usually due to being slain by unnatural means. But their bodies constantly deteriorate and, driven by trends and fashions left over from their mortal existences, strive desperately for biomass to replace that which is constantly rotting away. This desperation is behind their unsavory reputation as cannibals–though it should be noted that plenty of mortal cultures have practiced cannibalism in the past, shielded by busybody anthropologists. Mortals, as a race, have inert corpses to spare; surely some donations would go a long way toward building ghoul culture and civil society!

Ghasts, a term coined by noted friend and benefactor of the neglected undead H. P. Lovecraft, are ghouls who have been particularly successful and therefore begin to evolve in a new and wonderful direction. They become much cleverer, cast off many unnecessary and vestigial mortal features, and obtain others (like talons and fangs) most evolutionarily suited to their diet. Occasionally obtaining near-lich intelligence, they are the leaders of groups of ghouls, zombies, or wights and must feed somewhat less voraciously on a choicer selection of cuts from mortal flesh. It’s worth noting that they have nothing in common with the foul black death-dogs of Yorkshire, the barghests, aside from their mutually disagreeable odor to mortals and undead with noses.

And those are only the most common sorts! Mummies, animate skeletons, beautiful penanggalans, manananggals…there are all sorts of corporeal undead severely discriminated against and neglected in favor of trendy and popular vampires and zombies. So please, open your hearts, your minds, your wallets, and your rib cages to the Society for the Advancement of the Neglected Undead. We wouldn’t be caught dead without you.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

“So,” said Ulgathk the Ever-Living, tenting his skeletal fingers on the desktop, “what makes you qualified to lead the charge in the reputational rehabilitation of liches, wights, and ghouls?”

Alistair grinned his most confident smile. “Well, I have ten years as a ghostwriter with Giraudoux & Strauss. In that capacity, I wrote autobiographies, stories, and screenplays. Ever hear of the ‘novel’ that Paris Ritchie wrote? That was me.”

“You did that?” croaked Gothmir the Depraved. “I remember that one. Pulpy but convincing. I was surprised she could even read, much less write.”

“Indeed, that is impressive,” said Ulgathk, the searing lights in his empty eye sockets dancing. “But we need more than impressive ghostwriting. We need a narrative for you, a come-from nowhere story.”

“I assure you, sir, my writing speaks for itself,” Alistair retorted. A bead of sweat made its way visibly down one cheek. “I brought samples if you doubt me.”

“That’s not the point,” hissed the third member of the panel, Nthaeit, Archduke of Wights. “We are attempting to counter a very concerted propaganda effort by our mortal enemies in undeath, who in the space of a mere decade have been able to reinvent themselves from horrors to be shunned to sex idols to be worshiped. A large part of that is the author’s story–they need to come from nowhere, they shouldn’t be slick, they should appear genuine.”

Gothmir the Depraved bobbed his grotesquely distended head, splattering unspeakable juices on his three-piece suit. “The authors enthralled by our enemies in undeath are hack screenwriters, sexually repressed housewives, and emo lolichan girls in black lipstick. We have to know that you can compete with that.”

Ulgathk the Ever-Living tapped where his nose should have been in assent. “So what’s your story, Alistair Chamberlain? Where are you now, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

Alistair never dropped his smile. “Well, I went to Berkley and majored in 18th-century French Romantic poetry, and then worked a stint at a coffee house in Chelsea. I-”

The Elder Lich raised a hand. “I’m going to stop you right there,” Ulgathk said. “That’s not really what we’re looking for.”

“Lacks the common touch,” agreed the Archduke of Wights.

“Too ivory tower, too hipster,” said Gothmir. “People don’t take to that narrative no matter how good the writing is.”

“But-” Alistair began.

“Sorry,” said Ulgathk. His upraised hand glowed as it sucked the lifeforce from Alastair’s body. “But thanks for your time.”

Nthaeit took up his broadsword Hatscarnot, Slayer of Kings, and poked the interviewee’s dessicated remains, crumbling them to dust. “Next!”