A week and a half. That’s how long it took until the funeral. Amber stood in a daze, watching the procession go by, carrying her mortal remains. She watched her uncle huff from the strain, his breath making fog from the cold. Normally it wasn’t that chilly this time of year, but the last two days had brought grey skies and rain that chilled the air prematurely. Not that Amber could really feel it.
It was strange, being a ghost. Amber always had a faint yellow glow, like an outline or an aura. She couldn’t interact with solid objects at all, phasing right through them. She couldn’t talk to people either, no matter how much or how loudly she screamed or cried or pleaded. No matter who; her parents, her friends, her teachers, Stephanie… it was as though she were as silent and invisible as the air.
‘Dead air,’ she thought to herself as the pallbearers lowered her casket onto the winch.
There were no real leads on who had murdered her. Amber’s fist clenched. She wished she’d paid more attention to the news; her death had dominated headlines, but primarily because it had been the fifth slaying in four months to rock the formerly sleepy town.
Craven Falls had a serial killer.
Amber had overheard about it when the police were examining the crime scene. The M.O. was the same as the other four times: a young female as the target, the victim grabbed from behind and chloroformed, stabbed to death by a knife, and a trophy taken as a gruesome souvenir. Amber had stopped listening at that point, partly because she didn’t want to hear anymore, partly because her parents had arrived, hysterical, and she had gone to try and communicate with them. Futilely.
She was startled from her reverie by her uncle’s grunt sitting down. She turned forward again, because she didn’t want to see her parents. She had spent most of her time as a ghost following them, but the last two days she had avoided them altogether. It was too painful. They may have been trying to put up a tough front, but it was as plain as day to Amber. They were breaking.
“We are gathered here today to honor the memory of Amber Harris, beloved by her father Rex Harris and her mother Kelly.” the pastor began. Amber ignored him, going up to the casket to inspect her body. It was a closed casket funeral, but as a ghost she didn’t have to let that stop her. She put her head through the lid, her glow enough to illuminate the darkness.
She decided the morticians didn’t do a bad job, giving herself a once-over. She was obviously too pale, and her dark blonde hair was set down around her shoulders instead of her customary ponytail or braid, but Amber supposed stylistic choices differed from person to person, and it wasn’t like she could complain anyhow. No matter how much she wanted to. Still, with her nicest dress covering the wound, she didn’t know why her family didn’t opt for an open casket.
Glancing up at her parents, Amber ducked back down and grimaced. Maybe she did know why after all. It was probably the same reason she was avoiding them.
Amber sighed. She was certain there was nothing worse than being a ghost. No one could see her, she couldn’t touch anything, she couldn’t eat, sleep, or use the bathroom. At night when everyone else was sleeping, she had taken to walking the empty streets. It was better than watching her father toss and turn fitfully, only to get up at random intervals to stare at a picture of her. Or better than watching her mother sleep, dead to the world thanks to the now empty wine bottle in her hand.
Amber shook her head and pulled up just in time to hear the pastor say “…though she was cruelly taken from us in her prime, we can rest easier knowing that her soul is in a better place.”
“No it isn’t! I’m right here, you dickwad!” She started kicking the pastor in the shin, her foot phased right through, but it helped her feel a little better. After that, she decided to make a nuisance of herself throughout the rest of the eulogy, making faces, singing obnoxiously, and dancing on her coffin.
Eventually, the service ended and everyone drifted home. Her parents stayed longer, staring at the coffin in silence, but as the sun broke through the clouds and started to go down even they left. Amber stood beside her headstone as the cemetery workers lowered the casket and ill in her grave. After they had gone, she was completely alone.
She stared at her grave and tombstone for hours, reading her name over and over, trying not to stare at the end date and failing miserably. Staring and reading the same inscription, ‘Beloved daughter. Taken before her time.’ until the last of the sunlight faded and the stars and moon came out.
“At least I’ve got a good view for all eternity.” Amber muttered to herself. It was true; Amity Memorial Cemetery was on the edge of town, just near the woods. Her grave was on a small hill next to a tree with few other graves behind it, overlooking the lake which amber supposed must look quite lovely in summer. She sighed and sat on her gravestone. “Really, I guess it could be worse. I had a good turnout for my funeral, a nice spot for my grave, and a big beautiful sky to watch. I mean, yeah, I’m dead, but I’m not burning in Hell or anything, so I guess that’s a positive. It must be pretty bleak in winter, but spring’ll be nice, and summer, and fall brings out so many pretty colors in the leaves.” A bright orange one detached and drifted down in front of her face. “See? Not tormented, great view, no school or responsibilities, j-just me and myself enjoying the great outdoors. Forever.” Amber couldn’t hold back her tears anymore. She slumped down and they flowed freely, glittering drops that vanished before they hit the dirt. “This…this sucks. Why? Why did I have to die? Why did I have to stay here, all alone? Why can’t I-”
She was startled from her sobbing by the sound of approaching footsteps on the leaves. She turned to see a man in boots, black jeans, a grey hoodie, and gloves tromp up the hill, humming a jaunty tune. The hood was up so she couldn’t make out who it was, but Amber was most perplexed to see him carrying a lantern and a shovel.
The man stopped in front of a very old grave, breathing in a deep breath as a chill wind blew, like a person greeting the morning sun. He set the lantern down and began digging at the grave. Amber was starting to freak.
“H-Hello? Are…are you really doing what I think you’re doing?” She thought about it for a second, then put her head in her palm as the man kept digging. “Stupid. Of course he can’t hear you, nobody can!” She sighed, her previous despair starting to return. “Yup. Just gonna be like this for the rest of eternity. I’ll be able to see everyone else, and no one’ll be able to see me back. Some eternal afterlife.” Amber sat back on her headstone.
“Eh, probably won’t be for eternity. I mean, you might move on before the world ends, right?” the man said, not pausing his digging. Amber blinked.
“Were-were you talking to me?”
“You see anyone else around?” Amber actually turned to scan the area before she remembered they were in a cemetery at midnight.
“You can see me!?” Amber launched herself at the figure, landing in a tackle-hug that knocked him to the ground. To her delight, she fell too, not phasing through him. She didn’t know whether to start laughing or crying. “You can see me! I can touch you!”
“Ow. Yes, we’ve established that. Could you get off me now, please?” Amber looked up to see that he wasn’t a man like she first thought, but a teenage boy. Green eyes glared through overlong reddish-brown hair at her.
“Oh. Sorry.” she apologized, letting go and blushing furiously. At least she thought she was. Her body temperature was always cold, and her arms and hands were always so pale now she could only image the rest of her was as well. “It’s just, you’re the first person to see me since I…became a ghost.”
“ I gathered, yeah.” The boy brushed himself off and resumed his digging. Amber blinked again. Here he was talking to a real live(?) ghost, and all he could focus on was the dirt?
“So. Uh. What’cha doing?” she asked awkwardly.
“What’s it look like? I’m digging.” he grunted.
“Yes, I can see that.” she said, exasperated. “But what for?”
“G-Grave robbing!?” Amber shrieked, horrified.
“Yeesh, keep it down a bit. I know no one else can hear you, but you’ll drive me nuts if you keep screaming like that.” he said, never pausing his digging. The hole had grown quite deep and large in the short time he’d been there.
“Why in the hell are you robbing graves!?”
“Because it’s not like the authorities are just going to let me dig ‘em up just cause I need to.” he answered calmly. Amber clutched her head and waved it around before her next question. Despite not being able to feel anymore, she was sure he was giving her a headache.
“And what do you need to dig up graves for!?”
“I told you to quit screaming like that. You’ll wake the dead.” He said, giving her a cheeky little grin.
“And what do you need to dig up graves for.” Amber growled, much quieter.
“Well, it’s because of my job. I-Oh!” His shovel struck something solid. “Alright! I’m glad it rained, made the earth nice and soft. ‘Course, I couldn’t do much digging for the last couple of days because of it, either. Wouldn’t want to catch my death of cold.” Giggling at his own joke, the boy quickly removed the rest of the dirt from the ancient coffin, then with a quick, practiced stroke broke the lock with the shovel.
“This one’s from the 1800’s. I figure it’s better to go for the older ones, it makes it easier to open the coffins. But when you do this you have to hope the bones aren’t too brittle and rotted. It’s really the luck of the draw.” He pried open the lid and rummaged inside. “Yep, a bit too rotten to be complete, there’s not enough meat on him to be useful by himself.” He picked up something and examined it. Amber bent down, and in the moonlight she could see him holding aloft a grinning skull.
“Ew! Gross, put that back! If you’re going to look for jewelry, stop dismembering him!” she said angrily.
“Oh, he’s what I’m after, not any jewelry.” the boy said.
“Why do you want some moldy old bones?”
“I told you, it’s because of my job. My name’s Scott, and I…” He held the skull up, a grin as big as the one in his hand on his face. The skull’s eyes suddenly lit up a brilliant toxic green, and the jaw chattered like a jackhammer. Amber fell back with a terrified scream as the boy grinned even bigger. “…am a necromancer."
“A what? Eeeeek! Make it stop!” Amber yelled as the shull chittered away. The grin on the boy’s face froze.
“A…necromancer? One who practices necromancy? You know, with the bodies and the dark magic and the whole ‘evil overlord’ thing?”
“What? I don’t know anything about that! Please, make it stop, it’s freaking me out!” Amber said covering her head.
“Seriously?” The boy dropped the skull, the glow and chattering fading as it hit the dirt. “It’s fantasy 101! The evil sorcerer, in league with dark forces beyond the ken of mortals raises up an army of dead bodies to serve him and sets them against the plucky and stalwart young hero and his noble, possibly quirky companions? How could you not know what necromancy is?” he asked, exasperated.
“I don’t know, I’m not a fantasy nerd! It doesn’t come up that often in casual conversation.” Amber said, trying to collect herself. Scott shook his head.
“Jeez. How inconvenient. Alright, I’m going to assume you know what magic is, right? You’ve read Harry Potter?”
“Yeah, kinda. I read the first few when I was a little, but I saw some of the movies later. Well, awhile ago. And I saw part of the Lord of the Rings movie, does that count?” Amber asked. The boy sighed.
“Just the movies, not the books…” he muttered. “Anyway, remember Voldemort? The bad guy who had a ton of servants and used evil spells?” She nodded. “Well, it’s kind of like that.
“Necromancy, coming from the Greek ‘Necro’, which means the dead, and ‘mancy’, which means to divine, or finding out answers from a source.” he said, noticing her confused look. “So ‘necromancy’ actually means the art of communicating with the dead, traditionally summoning spirits to answer questions. That’s the classic definition, anyway. Nowadays, it’s a catch-all term for the raising of bodies or spirits through magical means.” he explained.
“So…magic is real.” Amber said, wide-eyed and nodding slowly. Scott rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, but that’s not the point you’re supposed to be taking away from this. Through my studies and research I’ve discovered necromancy is actually the branch of magic concerning the wielding and channeling of necrotic energy, kind of the opposite of life energy.”
“Uh huh.” she said, eyes glazing over. “What’re necrotic and life energy again?” At his sigh, she exclaimed “Don’t blame me, I’m doing my best to keep up! It’s just a lot to dump on someone at once, especially when I went my whole life thinking magic wasn’t real.”
“Right, right. Sorry.” He planted the shovel in the ground and leaned on it. “I forget sometimes most people aren’t as well learned as me. In fact, I was one of them ‘til I found the book.
“But anyway, necrotic energy and life energy are equal and opposite invisible forces that infuse all organic matter. Live energy is positive, light, heart, motion, growth, hope, that sort of thing. Anything that’s alive is running on life energy, whether they know it or not. It ebbs and flows, but it’s always there. It’s the soul, if you will. Then there’s the opposite. Necrotic energy is darkness, fear, death, decay, silence, stillness, despair, any other negative adjective you wanna throw on it. More like anti-life energy than anything else, it’s basically the same thing inside out.
“For example, there’s no way for science to bring someone back to life. That’s because usually everything that humans know is based on the observable universe, and in actuality all medical healing is based on the cultivation and restoration of life energy, and once that spark of life runs out there’s no way to bring it back. The body simply can’t accept it anymore. But through the magic of, well, magic life energy can be turned into its opposite, which turns out dead bodies and spirits are amazing at receiving. Which means…”
“The dead can come back to life.” Amber said breathlessly. If she still had a heartbeat, it would have been pounding in her chest right now. Scott tilted his hand in a so-so gesture.
“Ehh, yes and no.” Amber’s face and hopes fell. “There’s a couple of conditions on actually resurrecting the dead.” Her hopes picked up again.
“Yeah. First, the actual spirit has to be around and willing to jump back in the body. Usually they aren’t, they’ve moved on. Which is a good thing if you’re a necromancer like me.” She raised an eyebrow.
“Oh? Why’s that?”she said. He grinned at her.
“Check this out.” He popped the coffin lid open. Put the skull back, and rummaged in his pocket. Pulling out a piece of chalk, he drew a circle around the bones in the coffin, then started drawing strange sigils on the aged wood. Amber rubbed her eyes; the symbols hurt to look at, and she could swear they weren’t only in two dimensions.
“There. It’s a little sloppy, but the main thing is the circle, and I should be able to brute force the rest.” Scott said, finishing.
“W-What exactly are you going to do?” Amber asked nervously, but she was cut when he clapped his hands together and started to chant.
“Aztock, turath, neb emuu kashnoth serbaph jslatmon ha. Aztock, turath, neb emuu kashnoth serbaph jslatmon ha. Aztock, turath, neb emuu kashnoth serbaph jslatmon ha. Aztock, turath, neb emuu kashnoth serbaph jslatmon ha,” he intoned, over and over. He started to sweat as he focused as hard as he could on the coffin before him. Amber saw an unearthly toxic green glow emanate brighter and brighter from it, and a minute later with a cry of “jslatmon HA!” the glow reached its peak and burst, leaving Amber blinking and the boy breathing hard.
“Whew. There you have it.” he said, wiping his forehead.
“What do you mean?” Amber gasped when she saw the skeleton sit up in the coffin. Scott grinned again.
“The fruits of all my practice and research. That’s what necromancers are after. When there’s no soul to provide life energy, necrotic energy can be used instead. Now the corpse has the power to move again, And since there’s no soul and I the energy used is mine, it becomes a mindless autonamaton completely under my command.”
“What? He’s you’re slave?” Amber said, horrified.
“Please. The only thing I’ve enslaved is a pile of calcium and some vestigial protein in the shape of a human body. There’s nothing in there to take over. His soul’s long gone, I’m just…repurposing the remains. That’s why it’s called reanimation instead of revivification. I probably could give him the semblance of flesh and a mind of his own if I put enough oomph into it. But he still wouldn’t really be here, he’d be more like…an echo, or a copy. A ‘ghost’ of his former self! Eh? Eh?” He wagged his eyebrows at her, and she stared at him in shock (and exasperation for the pun). “You might as well accuse me of enslaving a remote controlled car.”
“Really? That’s all he is to you? A mindless servant? That used to be somebody and you’re treating his remains like a toy!” He stopped and considered a moment.
“I suppose you could look at it that way, yeah.” he admitted. “But I do have quite a few uses for my undead minions to order around.”
“What possible reason do you have for making these…zombies?” A thought struck her, and her face turned murderous. “Don’t tell me you plan to dig up the graves of women and-”
“Whoa, whoa! Let me stop you right there.” he said, hands up and eyes wide. “I love the dead, but I don’t love the dead like I think you’re thinking. That’s just gross. I practice clean, wholesome, family-friendly dark magic rituals, thank you very much.”
“Oh.” she said, slightly mollified. “But then what do you actually do this for?”
“That’s a simple one, my dear! Just think about it. Once I have enough zombies, I’ll have an entire factories’ worth of manpower that’s even better than slave labor! The dead don’t need food, rest, or pay and they can work for eternity if their bodies last that long. Hell, they don’t even need lights to see by. With so much production power at so little cost, I’ll be able to manufacture just about anything for huge profits! I’ll be rich!”
Amber stared at him, slackjawed. That was the reason he was violating graves, human remains, and the second law of thermodynamics?
“You want to get cheap labor?” she asked, nonplussed.
“Pretty much. Although merely having actual minions is worth it, really. You haven’t known real joy until you’ve got an army of completely loyal servants waiting on you hand and foot.” Scott said, grinning. “For example.” He scrabbled out of the pit, pulling the skeleton up behind him and handing it the shovel. “Bones, refill the grave.” The skeleton nodded and went to work, tirelessly moving the earth back into the grave at a quick, steady rate.
“He does work fast.” Amber admitted. “But what else is necessary to bring someone back to life?”
“Oh, right. Sit down and I’ll tell you about it.” Scott made himself at home under the tree, and Amber sat back down on her headstone. Scott pulled a protein bar from his pocket and started munching while he explained.
“I already said you first need the willing spirit. You also need the body, at least mostly intact.”
“So, a body with damage done to it couldn’t be revived?” Amber asked, her face falling. Scott laughed at her.
“Of course not! It’d be a pretty pathetic magic spell if it couldn’t take care of that. In addition to the body and the soul, you also need the right magical sigils and incantation. You see, the process involves reducing the material body into a special salt, which is then infused with enough necrotic energy to jump start the regeneration of the body. Add the soul into the mix to provide the necessary blueprint for the body’s composition and voila! Instant resurrection.”
“So, you know how to do it?”
“Oh, sure. I mean, I’ve never actually done it before, but it seems simple enough. And it’s not like I could take only one shot at it, either. As long as I have the body and soul, I’ve got everything I really need, no matter how long it takes.” he said. Amber swallowed hard, preparing to ask the question she’d wanted to.
“So then…as I’m a ghost, and am quite willing to come back to life, and my body’s right here…do you think you might find it in your heart to possibly help a girl out?” she asked hopefully.
“Hmmm…I suppose I could. But why would I?” Amber stared at him.
“Why? Why? Because I’m in a heap of trouble and you’re the only one who can help! Isn’t that basic human decency?”
“Yeah, I get that, but it’s also a lot of effort for no return. I do the ritual, you pop up again, you say thanks for the assist and go on your merry way. I raise bodies for profit and what you’re asking isn’t what I’m going for here. What’s in it for me?”
“What kind of person are you, you’re being so selfish! Didn’t you say it was a simple procedure?” Amber protested. Scott scratched his chin.
“Performing the ritual’s no problem, but there are two problems here. One is that bringing people back is considered impossible, and I don’t want the kind of attention that’ll bring. The living have enough problems that bringing this into the world’s just asking for trouble, for me especially. That’s not happening. And two, It’s not just about making a zombie that just needs to move around. We’re talking some major magic here. It’ll take a lot out of the necromancer who’s actually doing it, and I have more important things to spend my time and energy on. So I’ll ask again: what’s in it for me?” he said. Glaring at her.
“Well…uh…” Scott shook his head.
“Thought so. It’d be a waste of effort.” He got up and dusted himself off. See you later. Try not to degenerate too much, okay?” Noticing the skeleton was finished, he took the shovel back and they started walking away.
“No, wait! I-I can pay you!” she blurted out, waving her arms to stop him. He turned and looked at her.
“Yes! Uh, well…I don’t have any money, but my dad does! He’s pretty well off, I’m sure he’ll be able to give you whatever you want if you really can bring me back to life.”
“Hmmm…” Scott considered, resting his chin on his knuckles.
“Come on, what do you say? I’m sure he could pay for services rendered no problem.” Amber pleaded.
“Wait a sec. You’re Amber Harris, right? As in, the guy who owns like five businesses in town and that big mansion on Crystal Lake Boulevard?”
“Six businesses.”Amber corrected sheepishly.
“That’s great!” His eyes lit up with avarice once again. “That means he’s got money, but more than that probably even some warehouses, right?”
“Err, yeah, I think so.”
“Right! All he has to do is give me one of those.”
“A warehouse!” Scott exclaimed animatedly. “Think about it. Right now I have to sneak around with my spells, research and corpses. My parents wouldn’t be too happy if they knew about any of this. But if I had my own private warehouse, an actual building of my own with plenty of space, just think of all the necromantic experiments I could do! I could probably even use it to start a manufacturing plant!” His eyes gleamed in the starlight, full of plans for the future. “Oh man, if I play my cards right, I could be set for life. And the risk of jail time would be considerably lessened! I’m pretty sure making corpses sit up and dance at least counts as desecrating a body, right?”
“Okay, I’m gonna have to slow you down a minute there. I don’t know for sure if dad even has a warehouse he can give to you.” Amber said, and Scott considered the information.
“No problem. Worst comes to worst, I’ll ask for fifty or sixty thousand dollars. A bargain when his only daughter is brought back from the dead. Okay miss Amber, you’ve got a deal.” He stuck out his hand.
“O-Okay then.” They shook on it, Amber relishing the contact with something solid. “Hey, I never told you who I am. How did you know?”
“Are you kidding? Your face’s been everywhere for the last week. They even had a memorial for you at school.” Scott said.
“Oh. Wow. For me? Really?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t pay it much mind, I’ve got better things to do. But you’d have to be blind not to notice.” He looked over at his skeleton. “Hey Bones, let’s get a move on.” He gave it the lantern to carry. “You can hang at my place until I bring you back. I imagine it’s a little lonely out here, plus I don’t want anything to happen to you until I get paid.”
“I’m touched by your concern.” Amber deadpanned. “Wait, I’m dead. I thought the worst thing that could happen to me already did.”
“Oh no, there’s a bunch of stuff that could happen to a ghost. But don’t worry, don’t worry! I’ll be with you, so think nothing of it.”
Now I am starting to worry, Amber thought as she followed the teenager and his skeleton. But she couldn’t help but be grateful someone was looking out for her, even if he was loopy and greedy. Scott glanced at his watch.
“Yikes! It’s three a.m., we gotta move! Hustle, people, hustle!” He broke out into a run, the skeleton clacking behind him.
“Wait, hold on! Scott, wait up!” Amber called, jogging behind him.
“C’mon, you don’t have to even breathe! Move those legs!”
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