Home Improvement

Undead Edition

An anthology of stories edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L P Kelner

To the third member of the FP Clan,


who can float like a butterfly and write like a dream


We tried writing an introduction using a labored analogy between building a house and assembling an anthology, but it just felt wrong. This is our fourth collaboration, and the process of collecting and editing an amazing assortment of stories is still great fun. We love making up our “dream team,” sending out our invitations, and seeing who accepts and who has a previous engagement.

When we first began working together—on Many Bloody Returns—we didn’t know how successful these books would come to be. We were nervous about asking a strange mixture of mystery and urban fantasy writers to take a leap of faith and send in stories that combined two random elements. In that case, it was vampires and birthdays. Since then, we have dreamed up some more combinations that seemed interesting and fun to us: Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, about werewolves and the holidays, and Death’s Excellent Vacation, about creatures out of their normal habitat.

Home Improvement: Undead Edition came about when we both had teeth-gritting, jaw-clenching experiences arranging for mundane repairs around our own homes. After an orgy of consumer hand-wringing, we began to wonder how a supernatural creature would handle the same problem.

Each story we received is a unique vision of a situation that has arisen since the first mud hut sprung a leak in the rainy season, or the first cave needed a level floor. We’ve all been there. We hope you enjoy the creative ways writers have found to solve some common problems: fencing, housing inspectors, kitchen flow, water in the basement, security systems, vandalism, and, oh yes, resident ghosts.



If I Had a Hammer


“If I had a hammer,” I sang, as I used the measuring tape and a pencil to mark where I needed to drill.

From the next room, Tara called, “I’m going to leave if you’re going to sing.”

“I’m not that bad,” I said with mock indignation.

“Oh yes, you are!” She was changing one of the twins in the next room.

We’d been friends forever. Tara’s husband, JB du Rone, was part of that friendship. We’d formed a little group of misfits at our high school in Bon Temps, Louisiana. What had saved us from utter outcast-dom was that we each had a redeeming talent. I could play softball, Tara was a great manager (yearbook, softball team), and JB was incredibly handsome and could play football, given good and patient coaching.

What put us on the fringes, you ask? I was telepathic; Tara’s parents were embarrassing, abusive, poor, and public in their drunkenness; and JB was as dumb as a stump.

Yet here we were in our later twenties, reasonably happy human beings. JB and Tara had married and very recently produced twins. I had a good job and a life that was more exciting than I wanted it to be.

JB and Tara had been surprised—amazed—when they had discovered they were going to be parents, and even more startled to find they were having twins. Many children had grown up in this little house—it was around eighty years old—but modern families want more space. Though cozy and comfortable for two, the house began to creak at the seams after Robbie and Sara—Robert Thornton du Rone and Sara Sookie du Rone—were born, but buying a larger place wasn’t a possibility. That they owned this snug bungalow on Magnolia Street was something of a miracle.

Tara had gotten the house years before when Tara’s Togs started making some money. After careful consideration, she’d chosen the old Summerlin place, a bungalow built in the late twenties or early thirties. I’d always loved Magnolia Street, lined with houses from that same era, shaded by huge trees and enhanced with bright flower beds.

Tara’s one-floor house had two bedrooms (one large and one tiny), one bathroom, a kitchen, a living room, a dining room, and a sunroom. The sunroom, which faced the front of the house and lay through an arch to the right of the living room, was becoming the babies’ room because it was actually much larger than the second bedroom. And the closet that served that bedroom backed onto the sunroom.

After a summit meeting the week before, attended by me; my boss, Sam Merlotte; and Tara’s babysitter, Quiana Wong, Tara and JB had made a plan. With our help, they’d knock out the wall at the back of the little bedroom’s closet, which was between that room and the sunroom. Then we’d block in the closet from the bedroom side so the opening would be on the sunroom side. We’d frame that opening and hang louvered doors. The sunroom would become the new baby bedroom, and it would have a closet and shelves on the walls for storage. We’d paint the sunroom and the little bedroom. And the job would be done. Just a little home improvement project, but it would make a big difference.

The very next day, Tara had gone to Sew Right in Shreveport to pick out material, and she’d begun making new curtains to cover the bank of windows that flooded the sunroom with light.

Sam had agreed to perform the wall removal, but he was pretty anxious. “I know it can be done,” he said, “but I’ve never tried to do it.” JB and Tara had assured him they had the utmost faith in him, and with some tips from all-purpose handyman Terry Bellefleur, Sam had assembled the tools he’d need.

Tara, Quiana, the twins, and I had assembled in the sunroom to watch for the exciting moment when Sam cut through the old wall. We could hear a lot of cutting and sawing and general whamming going on, along with the occasional curse. JB was dragging the bits of drywall outside as Sam removed them.

It was kind of exciting in a low-key way.

Then I heard Sam say, “Huh. Look at that, JB.”

“What is that?” JB sounded surprised and taken aback.

“This piece of board has been cut out and replaced.”

“[mumble mumble mumble] . . . electric wires?”

“No, shouldn’t be. It’s kind of an amateur [mumble mumble] . . . Here, I can open it. Let me slide this screwdriver in . . .”

Even from our side of the wall, I could hear the creak as Sam pried the panel out from between the studs. But then there was silence.

Unable to contain my curiosity, I left the sunroom and zoomed through the living room to round the wall into the current nursery. Sam was all the way in the closet, and JB was standing at his shoulder. Both were looking at whatever Sam had uncovered.

“It’s a hammer,” Sam said quietly.

“Can I see?” I said, and Sam turned and held the hammer out to me.

I took it automatically, but I was sorry when I understood what I was holding. It was a hammer, all right. And it was covered with dark stains.

Sam said, “It smells like old blood.”

“This must be the hammer that killed Isaiah Wechsler,” JB said, as if that were the first thing that would pop

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