The alarm went off promptly at seven, and was just as promptly pounded with a fist coming somewhere underneath the tangle of sheets and blankets, making Amber jump. She watched it retreat into the blankets like the tail of a dragon.
“M-Morning.” Amber said nervously, eliciting a growl from the bed.
“Do you have any idea what time it is?” Scott grumbled.
“Seven o’ clock?”
“Scott! It’s seven, time to get your butt out of bed mister!” his mother called from below. Scott grumbled again.
“How many times must I tell her before I get it into her head that I do not function in the mornings?”
“Maybe it’s because of your nocturnal extracurricular activities?” Amber provided, and Scott groaned again.
“I am a night owl doomed to a family of morning people.” Reluctantly, he got up and stumbled out the door. “Be right back. Honestly, I don’t know whether to pity or envy you for being a ghost. Don’t have to sleep, don’t have to use the bathroom in the morning…”
Amber paused to consider his words. Was it really better to be a ghost? True, having incorporeal traits could be useful, she supposed. But he didn’t know how frustrating it was not to simply be able to touch something. To never be seen or heard, save by a loopy necromancer. Cut off from the rest of the world in a most cruel and decisive way, able to see and hear but unable to actually do anything.
And she had been a ghost for less than two weeks. She shivered; if Scott hadn’t offered a way out, Amber was sure she’d go mad within a year. She shook her head. No, it sucked being a ghost. Last night had proved that once again. She had spent the entire night on the floor beside his bed. It was too dark to examine the room, and she didn’t want to leave the only person who could perceive her.
However, it was day now. Amber looked around the room, vaguely wondering what a teenage necromancer’s personal space looked like. It was almost disappointingly ordinary: a TV in the corner, a bed against the wall, a bookshelf filled to bursting with comics and fantasy novels, a soaking wet bikini model licking her lips seductively from a poster. Nothing that she supposed she wouldn’t find in any other fifteen year old boy’s room. At that thought, she realized this was the first time she’d been in a guy’s room. Alone. With him.
Amber’s train of thought was derailed when Scott walked back in, yawning. She jumped and was silently glad she no longer had the ability to blush.
“Find something interesting?” he asked and started getting ready for the day, but paused before taking off his nightshirt. “You, uh, mind?”
“Oh! Sorry!” Amber squeaked and turned to stare determinedly at the wall. “Just…everything’s so, well, normal, I guess. I was half expecting black walls, metal posters, and a bunch of candles and animal skeletons or something.”
“And precisely why would I have stuff like that? If I had other skeletons, I’d put ‘em to use.” Scott said, pulling a shirt on. “I’m just a regular guy, ‘cept for the y’know, raising the dead thing.”
“Yeah, I guess. It just doesn’t, I don’t know, gel together.” Amber confessed. Scott grinned.
“If you’re looking for spooky stuff, it’s not like my room’s totally devoid of all that.” He reached into his closet and moved a box against the wall. There was a two foot hole in the back. “I was about seven when my brother and I were fighting one time. Thing is, he slipped on something and made a hole in the drywall when he hit it. He freaked and made me promise to never tell mom or dad. I agreed because I didn’t want to get in trouble either, and it seemed like a good place to hide stuff. You know, if I ever wanted to. Used to put odd shaped stones in it, pretended I was guarding magic gems when I was playing. But now I actually have something valuable to store in there.”
He pulled out an ancient, well-worn book. Amber shivered, despite the fact she couldn’t feel cold. The cover of the book looked almost like a human face, twisted into a demonic wail. “Bound in human skin. Written in blood. This book contains all manner of methods of sorcery, how to bind and banish spirits and devils, and most importantly, instructions on how to raise the dead. Everything I ever needed to learn, came from this book. It tells of old gods, forgotten realms, and terrible prophecies of when the stars are right. Written around the fifth century by the mad Arab Abdul Al-Hazred, it is the only one of its’ kind in existence, offering unholy knowledge and truths too terrifying for the sane to comprehend and the mad to forget. It is the Necronomicon.” If Amber could still feel, she would have felt her flesh crawling at the mere sight of that book.
“I…I don’t doubt it. Where did you get such an…evil thing?” she asked nervously. Scott shrugged.
“From the library.”
“The LIBRARY!?” Amber exploded. For once, she was glad no one could hear her. Her shout would have deafened the neighbors.
“Yeah, darndest thing. Turns out the Necronomicon is a mild pop culture artifact, and you can actually buy fake copies online. This one was donated way back when so I guess they thought it was one of those. I was the first person to check it out. Of course, then I had to pretend to lose it, you know? But I think knowing the secrets of life, death, and everything between and beyond was well worth twenty-six dollars, don’t you agree?” he said smugly. Amber deflated at his explanation.
“Whatever you say.”
“Bye mom!” Scott called and waved back at the house. A hand waved back from the window. Citing the need to get to school early for a project, he’d grabbed some coffee and a bagel on his way out, passing a harried-looking woman and what appeared to be a small mountain in the shape of a high schooler that could only have been his brother.
“Aww, shouldn’t you have had breakfast with your family? I wanted to meet them. Err, kind of. Observe them, at least.” Amber said.
“Nah, have to get moving before I crash too hard.” He went over behind a storage shed and thumped on the ground. “Doing okay down there, Bones?” he yelled into the dirt. A minute later a bony hand emerged, giving a thumbs up. “Alright. Rebury your hand and we’re good to go.” When they’d all gotten back to his house Scott had commanded the skeleton to rebury himself about two feet under the dirt and stay there until further instruction. Amber was confused.
“Why go to all of that trouble of digging him up if you were just going to bury him again?” she’d asked.
“Because I needed him to be reanimated, closer at hand, in an unobtrusive spot, and he won’t get bored down there. Now shut up, I’m trying to concentrate!” Scott had whispered furiously, dangling from a rope beneath his second-story window. Amber of course had merely phased through the wall and taken the stars. “Stupid ghosts. They don’t need to worry about sneaking in, they can’t be heard at all.” he’d muttered.
They trudged along to school, Amber in the vaguely happy mood she’d been in since discovering someone to talk to and Scott in a black cloud that didn’t match the blue, sunny skies.
“I can’t wait to see everyone again. I know they won’t be able to see me, but it’ll be good to check up on them. Especially Stephanie, she’s been my best friend since forever. And there’s Carla and Ivory and-”
“Hate to break it to you, but you just named like half the top clique.” Scott interrupted.
“You know, the cool kids. The popular folk. The royalty of high school. The A-list. The…”
“I know what it means.” Amber deadpanned.
“Right. So in case you didn’t know, I’m not exactly part of the in-crowd. I won’t be going near them.”
“Oh.” Her face fell. “Okay, I guess. I’ll just hang around them at lunch or something. Oh! Don’t worry; I’m looking forward to meeting your friends too!” Scott laughed mirthlessly.
“Yeah, don’t hold your breath on that one. As the guy who plays with dead things, I’m not exactly the most popular around. I’m, not exactly…the, uh, best at social activity.” he said, his voice dropping and looking away.
“Ahh, it’s alright. I have hobbies to keep me busy, mostly raising the dead. Oh yeah, now that I think about it, don’t wander off too far from me.”
“Huh? Why?” Amber asked.
“To prevent your incorporeal degeneration.” Scott said.
“Degeneration?” Amber asked again, stopping in her tracks. Scott sighed.
“Degeneration. To gradually decay, to-” Amber gave him a light smack on the back of his head.
“I know what it means. So why am I going to do it?” she said.
“Right. So ghosts are by their very nature unstable beings. It’s how they don’t interact with matter like the rest of us do. Unfortunately, that means that sometimes the ectoplasm that makes up their bodies will basically run out and dry up. Which means…”
“I go poof?” Amber said, horrified.
“You go poof.” Scott confirmed.
“Aaaaaauuuugh! That’s terrible! What can we do to stop it?”
“Not much, admittedly.” Scott said. “There’s a whole bunch of stuff in the Necronomicon, including ghosts, but even it doesn’t have all the answers. There’s no telling how much time a ghost has before its’ power runs out and it’s consigned to oblivion.”
“Oblivion? You mean…” Amber put her hand to her mouth, aghast.
“Yup. No moving on, no chance of resurrection. You’re gone for good. The book said that strong ghosts, who were particularly obsessive or full of vitality when they were alive, could last longer, centuries even. You wouldn’t have happened to have anything you were so passionate about you would give everything for it, and couldn’t let the grave separate you from it?” he asked. Amber slowly shook her head. “I see. I’m sorry.”
“I…I actually think I’ve heard of that before,” Amber said, trying to think of anything else besides her imminent doom. “Ghosts are supposed to look after or repeat what they did when they were alive, right?”
“Most of the time. I think it’s what brings them back, that pure desire.” Scott said.
“But I don’t have anything like that. And my afterlife expectancy just dropped because of it. This sucks.” She shuddered, and it looked like she was going to cry. “I didn’t ask to be killed. I didn’t ask to be a ghost. I don’t even know why it happened; I don’t have any real unfinished business or anything.” She looked at him forlornly. “I mean, I had some dreams for the future. I wanted to travel a bit. Go to college. Meet a cute guy. Have kids. Why did this have to happen to me?” The spectral tears began to slide down her face. Scott gulped.
“Well, the book doesn’t say, but I’ve theorized that non-obsessive ghosts do happen a lot more than we realize. But without a strong anchor to this world, they…don’t have the strength to keep going.” Scott said, immediately realizing he said the wrong thing but too late to stop the words from coming out of his mouth. Amber buried her head in her hands and started sobbing. Scott was at a loss for words, and didn’t know how to make it better.
“That’s it then. I’m gonna disappear.” Suddenly, Amber recalled what the young necromancer had said earlier. “Hey, wait. You said there wasn’t much you could do. That means you can do something at least, right?” His eyes grew wide and he shifted uncomfortably, trying to look at anywhere but her.
“Err, well, yes… um, but…you see…” he sputtered.
“Tell me!” she demanded, and he sighed.
“To be honest, yes, there is something I can do. A couple of things we could try, in fact. But!” he declared, pointing a finger to the sky. “The only method I know of and am willing at all to use, is incredibly powerful and not easily irrevocable. If worst comes to worst, I’ll do it, but it’s a step I’ve hope I’ll never have to take. I’m only going to use it as a last resort. Got it?” This was the first time Amber had ever seen Scott look so serious. His emerald eyes were boring into her with such intensity they practically glowed.
“G-Got it.” Amber managed to meep.
“Good.” he said, mollified. “Anyway, I want you to stick close by just in case. I’d really rather not use it, but a deal’s a deal and if there’s no other way I’ve gotta keep you around until I bring you back to life. That I can guarantee.”
The walk to school on a bright autumn day found two people grimly marching on. While one’s mood was down, another’s had lessened, but both were filled with resolute determination.
Things didn’t improve much in school. Amid the hustle and bustle of lockers slamming, gossip being mongered, and classes in session, Scott trudged through it all like a crab on the ocean floor, never interacting with the fish above. Amber watched him through four periods, each of which he passed through disinterestedly taking notes. Since school started, she could count the words he’d used to anybody, even the teachers on one hand. He couldn’t even talk to her either, for fear of looking insane. When Scott said he didn’t have very good social skills, Amber had no idea that he was basically a pariah.
She sat down on top of a neighbor’s desk and huffed. A few days earlier, the fact that he was writing on a worksheet through her would have bothered her, but Amber paid it no mind. She was worried a little bit; did he really have no friends at all? Even for a necromancer, that just seemed…sad. She stole a look at him, surreptitiously trying to read a book under his desk instead of paying attention to the math lecture.
Her brow furrowed in concentration. She had seen him once or twice, of course. They had the same third period history class. It had given her a funny feeling to look at her own empty seat, and she hadn’t dared to sit in it again. From what she could remember, Scott Brookhaven was always quiet and alone. He never spoke unless necessary, and only raised his hand to answer a question if nobody else did first. Most of the time, he had his head buried in a book, like he did now. But from what she could gather, his grades weren’t great. Not bad, but not great.
So if he wasn’t just a meek little bookworm, what was he? Amber glanced at him again. There was no way this quiet, submissive Scott and the sarcastic, arrogant, cheerful Scott who loved to hear his own voice she had met last night were one and the same. Why such a big difference? Amber tugged her ponytail in puzzlement. Maybe, she reasoned, it was because it was she was a ghost. He didn’t seem to particularly care what she thought or did, probably because she couldn’t tell anyone else, so that might be it. She wondered if she could in fact recall him as anything more than a fleeting glance out of the corner of her eye, being ignored and unnoticed by everyone. Her eyes widened and she turned towards him. Was that it? Was the answer really so simple?
Amber jolted from the desk when the bell rang. Everyone else was rushing to pack and get out of the room, but Scott was slow and methodical in his motions and so was the last one to leave. Amber trailed behind, wondering.
She had nearly forgotten it was lunchtime when they headed to the cafeteria. Scott scanned the benches, searching for something but apparently coming up empty. He shrugged and got in the food line. By the time he paid for his burger and sat down at an empty space, Amber was almost ready to pull her hair out.
“Listen, I know you can’t talk to me at school, but all this constant silence is driving me crazy.” He gave her a smirk, as if to say one day of talking to someone made her an addict. She bristled and smacked his head, making his hair flip up. “Hardy-har, smartypants. My friends are over there. I can be back in a flash if I have to. Is it alright if I go over for a while?” Scott nodded. “You won’t be bored by yourself?” In response, he pulled out his book and nodded again. “All righty then. See you.”
She drifted over to where Stephanie and the others were sitting and eating lunch, standing at the edge of the table and leaning down to listen in. It wasn’t very polite, but she figured it was compensation for having a ketchup-covered fry pass through her arm.
“I don’t know, it was the craziest thing. I had the coupon for the dress, but for some reason the tag wouldn’t come off and the staff was giving me a hassle because the coupon and the sale weren’t supposed to stack together, but there wasn’t any reason for them not to, so…” Ivory droned on, and Amber sighed with contentment. She really didn’t know how much she missed the little things, like Ivory telling them about her latest shopping conquest, until it was gone. Carla, Ivory, Courtney, Bess, and Stephanie. Her friends. AS she listened to them talking about everything at once and nothing in particular, tears threatened to spill forth once more. Would she ever be able to talk to them again?
Amber looked over to Scott, still calmly reading his book while eating. If he really could pull it off, she would be able to be with her friends again. She turned back to the table, the group chatting away innocuously.
“Right. I guess it’s settled then.” Amber said, nodding to herself. If he brought her back, she would be forever indebted to him, warehouse or no. She’d only known him for a day, but to Amber he seemed so reserved and lonely. She resolved to help break him out of his shell, at least a little. He might not have friends now, but if he brought her back Amber promised herself he’d have at least one.
“…so weird without her. I never thought she’d be killed like that, you know?” Amber’s head snapped up.
“Yeah, I never thought she’d be a target for…you know, the Craven Falls Killer.” Carla said.
“I totally agree. Such a shame.” Ivory put in.
“Yes. Well. I suppose there’s no helping some things. What happened has happened, and there’s no changing that fact or any use trying to live in the past. So we should drop the matter and move on, okay?” Stephanie said curtly, punctuating her statement by getting up and tossing her tray. The rest of the group, Amber included, looked surprised and chastised.
“She’s right. Amber’s…gone now, so there’s no more use going over it. It probably is for the best we try to put it behind us.” Courtney said eventually.
“Yeah, amber was Stephanie’s best friend. If she doesn’t want to talk about it, then she doesn’t have to. And we all agreed to support her. Right?” Bess said, to a chorus of half-hearted “I suppose so” and “yeahs.” “Good. Then the matter’s settled. What are the plans for this weekend?” she added with an air of finality. Amber stood up and sighed. Bess was always the mother hen, trying to keep order in the group. She might seem bossy, but she was always looking out for the rest of them.
“Bess, Stephanie, you guys. I swear that I’ll come back, don’t you worry. Then everything will be back to the way it was. I promise. With one final glance at her friends, she went back over to Scott.
“Have fun?” he muttered, never looking up from his book.
“As much as a barrel of monkeys.” she quipped, and cast a longing look at them. “They’re a whole lot more fun then you are.” She laughed when he grunted, but sat in a chair next to him all the same. “You know, it was good to see them, but it actually kind of hurt to be around them again. I guess this is just a case of so near, yet so far, huh?” Scott nodded. “Then again, I don’t suppose you’ve had much of an issue with either side of my problem.” He shot her a flat look, then absorbed himself in his book again. “Great. I can only talk to one other person in the world, and he’s king of the grouches. Story of my afterlife.”
Despite most of their schedules being different, it turned out that they shared the same English teacher as well, to their mutual displeasure. Not because of distain for one another, or even the subject itself; they both hated Mr. Grant. Of an advanced age temperamentally, if not temporally, his classes were rigid and dull, preferring to lecture at his students until they fell asleep. Whereupon he would turn red and begin shouting. However the average turnaround from being yelled awake back to bored stupor was 5.3 minutes. Amber sat on the floor, grimacing. If there was one good thing about being dead, it was not having to sit through Mr. Grant’s classes anymore. Yet here she was, forced to follow Scott around for the day and whose class did he have?
“Story of my afterlife.” she sighed. She threw an annoyed glare at the young necromancer. He was getting out of paying attention by once again pretending to take notes while secretly reading a notebook on his lap. Amber decided enough was enough, and got up. “Hey.” She poked him. “Hey.” She poked him again. “You’re not supposed to be doing that in class. If I’ve gotta suffer, so will you.” At her third poke, Scott frowned and his pencil finally moved on the notebook on his desk.
‘What do you want?’ he wrote, shifting it so he could see.
“I’m being tempted to stay six feet under just so I never have to step into this class again. His lecture’s putting me to sleep and boring me to death, and I can’t actually do either! It’s driving me nuts!” He shot her a dry look.
“No! I’m bored and lonely and scared because of everything going on, I don’t want to have to deal with this on top of everything else! At least you can read a book, I can’t even turn a page!” Amber shouted, throwing her hands up in frustration. She paced around the room, heedless of desks and students alike. “I’m sick of it! I can’t talk to anyone-else-and just look at me! I’ve been stuck in the same clothes for two weeks now!” She swept her hand at her outfit of loose t-shirt, sweatpants and socks Great for sleeping, not so much for nearly anything else. “I’m almost glad no one can see me. I just feel so sloppy, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it!”
Scott waved her over with a finger, then began writing again.
“Huh? ‘I’ve been wondering about that, you’ve never tried poltergeisting since you died?’” She glowered at him. “Please assume I don’t have the same knowledge as you please, thank you.”
‘I mean, have you tried moving things telekinetically, with your mind? That’s what the Necronomicon says ghosts can do, at least.’ Scott wrote. Amber’s eyes widened.
“I can do that?”
‘Theoretically. The book says ghosts can concentrate their ectoplasm in order to affect the material world. And changing clothes should be the same. Since you’re made out of ectoplasm, you should be able to apply changes to yourself as well. I haven’t seen you floating around, either.’ If Amber’s eyes got any wider they’d fall out of her head.
“I…can do that? I can really…fly?” she asked in a small voice. Scott rolled his eyes.
‘You’re still thinking like you’re a human. You’re not right now, get over it. But until I can revive you, you might as well accept the good with the bad. You should practice, it’ll keep you occupied. Now leave me alone, I need to rest. I didn’t get much sleep last night, and I won’t tonight either because I’ll be digging up your body.’ he scribbled out.
“You’re going tonight? I could be alive again tomorrow?” Tears welled up in her eyes again. “Oh, thank you, thank you!” Scott nodded and underlined ‘practice.’ “Oh, right. I’ll, uh, get started right away.”
For the rest of class, only one student noticed the eraser making small, jerky slides on the chalkboard. Throughout the day, she worked on making things move.
Soon after, the school day was over and the pair could finally make their way home, in considerably better spirits than when the day had begun.
“Did’ja see the eraser, did’ja see!? I could move it without touching it! This is great! I made pens roll, papers float, I could even move a chair a little bit! Haha!” Amber laughed, skipping along slowly. It seemed that she could do quite a bit with her newly discovered powers, but they took energy out of her, leaving her tired and weak.
“That’s great, but don’t push yourself. We don’t want you burning out.” Scott said.
“I know, I know. Really, I’m okay. But you have no idea how freeing it is, being able to actually do things again. It’s exhilarating. And watch.” Amber closed her eyes in concentration. After a minute, Scott watched in fascination as her form rippled and shifted, morphing into jeans, boots, and a white blouse. “Phew. Ta-daa! What do you think?”
“Pretty cool. It’s gotta be convenient to change clothes just by thinking about it.”
“Yeah. All I have to do is picture what I want to wear in my head and try really really hard to become that image. It’s a whole lot easier than trying to move stuff, too.” She looked up at the sky, then back to Scott. “I, uh, I’m a little nervous to try this next part out.”
“Don’t be. The worst thing that can happen is you phase through the ground. It’ll be fine.” Scott reassured her. She took a deep breath and tensed up.
“Okay. Here I go. One, two…three!” She straightened up, arms uplifted and pointing her face straight up at the sky. And stayed that way.
“You know, it works a lot better if you actually try to fly.” Scott deadpanned.
“S-Shut up! It’s not that easy, okay?” Amber retorted, once again grateful she couldn’t turn red.
“Ghosts interact with matter differently than actual objects. That includes air molecules, so get your butt off the ground.” Scott said, still calm.
“Okay, okay. Here goes.” She hunched over, her face scrunched up in concentration. After a minute, her feet left the ground and she hovered about a foot and a half in the air. Her eyes were still closed. “How’s that? Is it working?”
“Why don’t you actually look and see?” One eye peaked open, then with a loud shriek she flailed her arms in the air, causing her to tilt forwards and phase her head through the ground, sticking there.
“You okay down there?” Scott asked, trying to suppress a laugh and failing. Amber’s reply was inaudible, but he got the feeling it was not appropriate for innocent ears.
“Yeah yeah, laugh it up. Just get it out of your system now.” Amber said, floating up with her feet in the sky. With a bit of effort she righted herself. “I don’t see why you had me do this anyway. You’re going to dig me up tonight, right?
“Mostly it got you off my back today, so I could concentrate.” he freely admitted. “Besides, I thought you’d like the ability to fly. I’m pretty sure it’s been a dream for everyone since the dawn of time.” Amber shrugged and tugged at her ponytail.
“I…uh, don’t do well with heights. I’m a little afraid of them.” Amber said shyly.
“So I’ve noticed.” Scott said flatly.
“Is the coast clear?” Scott whispered. Amber poked her head out from the wall.
“It’s all good. I did a scan and everyone’s asleep.” It was nearly midnight, and time to get to work. As soon as he got home, Scott had fallen onto his bed and didn’t get up until his brother physically dragged him to dinner. Hot dogs, mac and cheese, and tense silence were served. Amber gathered that his parents were fighting over bills, sniping at one another over dinner. Scott and his brother tuned them out, apparently used to it.
“Don’t worry, it happens all the time. They’ll make up, it’ll be fine.” Scott reassured her, but Amber was still unsettled. Her parents never argued about money, and when they did fight it was behind closed doors.
She shook her head and returned to the matter at hand.
“I watched everyone for at least three minutes. No one’s going to notice. But does your brother know how loud he snores?”
“Tell me about it. We used to share a room when we were younger; I can’t tell you how much sleep I lost back in the day.” Scott said, rolling his eyes.
“So your current schedule is nothing new, then?” she asked, too innocently.
“Ha ha.” he deadpanned, then slid the window open to toss a rope out. “The door squeaks like all hell, so Mom’ll notice right away. Found that out the first time I snuck out the hard way. The second floor window became easier than the first floor door.” He dug around in his closet and pulled out the Necronomicon. “Should probably take this, too. I haven’t memorized this ritual yet.”
Making sure the rope was securely fastened to the dresser, Scott climbed out the window and slowly closed the glass with one hand, making sure to leave it open enough he could easily get his hand underneath to pull it up. Once everything was secure, he rappelled down the house as quietly as he could.
“C’mon, Amber! We gotta go!” he hissed as loud as he dared.
“No problem, it’ll just take me a second to walk down the stairs and-” she started, but Scott wasn’t having any of that.
“Oh fine.” she huffed. Closing her eyes, she jumped through the wall, knees bent and completely focused on not falling. So much so she didn’t actually descend.
“The sooner you get down, the sooner you live again!” Scott stage whispered.
“All right, all right.” Scrunching up her face in effort, she drifted down as gently as a dandelion seed in the wind. “Happy now?”
“Ecstatic.” They set off down the street, Amber scouting ahead for people still awake, Scott muttering about girls that couldn’t act like the proper phantoms they were.
The trip was uneventful; Amber even began to find it enjoyable. The sky was clear and bright, a cloud drifting across a yellow crescent moon and stars dancing their light down. Of course, she didn’t feel the cold that was making Scott shiver. Soon they reached the cemetery, Scott boosting himself over the wall while Amber merely walked through.
“Must be nice.” Scott muttered, dusting himself off.
“Trade you.” Amber shot back. Scott grinned.
“I’ll pass. But it would be useful, just phasing through stuff. I try my best, but I’m always afraid I’ll leave evidence when I’m up here. I haven’t seen any guards yet, but my activities can’t go unnoticed forever. I’m sure the cemetery workers have figured out there’s someone coming in late at night. I just hope they blame it on some kids or something.”
“Really? But aren’t you a kid?” she teased.
“Ha ha. I’ll have you know fifteen really isn’t that kiddish, no matter how you look at it.”
“Oh? But a lot of people consider fifteen or even older to be kids.” Amber said.
“They’re wrong.” he said with confidence.
“Then what would you call yourself?”
“A young adult.” He said it so proudly, with his nose in the air, that it made Amber crack up laughing all the way up to her grave. Scott cracked his neck and planted the shovel in the dirt.
“Guess it’s time to go to work.” he said, starting a pile of earth. “Wish I’d brought Bones up here to dig for me. If I have a minion, I should be able to use him.” he grumbled.
“Why didn’t you?” Amber asked.
“Are you crazy? Do you have any idea how hard it is to actually get your hands on a human corpse? I have to be very careful not to dig up a grave someone visits, is in plain view, or is tended regularly. With Bones, I only have four zombies buried in my backyard. If anyone finds out about them, there’s a lot of questions I don’t want to answer, doubly so if anyone sees them moving around. I can’t risk it. Secrecy is a key part of my operation.”
“Ahh. I see.” Amber left him to his digging. Unfortunately, that left very little to do. She stared at the sky, paced around the growing hole, even took to practice hovering. She didn’t want to break his concentration and slow down, but after what felt like hours, she couldn’t take it anymore. It reminded her too much of her two weeks of solitude.
“So…read any good books lately?” she asked lamely.
“Only the Necronomicon. Scott said, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “Actually, I haven’t had time for my personal reading lately. I’m either trying to catch up on sleep or going over my notes and experimenting.” Amber’s brow furrowed.
“Yeah. Like, two weeks ago I found an old mouse corpse. Now I know I can make a zombie no problem, but I wanted to test the incantations a bit. So I cut its head off and tried reanimating just that.” Amber made a face, and even Scott was looking green in the gills as he remembered. “I know, total horror story. Not exactly the most pleasant of experiences, but we all have to make sacrifices for science. Anyway, I cut its head off and did the ritual, and it worked perfectly. I had a severed head yapping at me. Real creepy, but it worked. So then I tried to reanimate just one of its paws and tail, separately. It worked, but the strange thing was it didn’t last very long. They moved around, even responded to my commands, but after about five, ten minutes they were inert again.”
“Wait, they responded to your commands? But they don’t have ears.” Amber said, thinking hard on how this was supposed to work. Scott just shrugged.
“Got me, they don’t have any brain to interpret the words either. I think it’s because it was the fact that I reanimated them, but who knows for sure. So after that, I tried the rest of the body, and get this-the whole thing gets up and stays animated. I timed it and it lasted hours. Later on I tried sewing the head paw back on and glued the tail back. Guess what happened.”
“They got reanimated too?” Amber raised her eyebrow at this development.
“Exactly!” Scott threw his hands up in the air, protesting his lack of understanding. “It’s crazy, I have no clue how it works! I mean, the tail’s not even attached to the rest of the body’s cells, the glue completely separates it! But it still works. I eventually sewed the head back on, it’s just a regular zombie mouse now.”
“Jeez. You could just reassemble a rotting mouse and it’s no worse for the wear?” Amber said.
“Yup. Oh! And it’s not rotting.” Both of Amber’s eyebrows shot up at that statement.
“It’s not rotting?”
“Yeah. As far as I can tell, the process of decay seems to stop as soon as I give it necrotic energy. And it stays that way. It seems like the magic constantly repairs and refreshes the bones and flesh to the state it was previously in, but I can’t know for sure until I do more research and I just don’t have time right now. My grades are slipping because I keep falling asleep in class and everyone keeps hounding me about it because they expect me to care.”
“And you don’t?” Amber asked.
“Of course not.” Scott said matter-of-factly. “School is overrated and a waste of my time. My vocation lies in reanimating dead people, I don’t see how high school is supposed to help with that.”
“Ahh. I guess not.” Amber said, biting her lip. “I don’t know if I’m weird or not, but I always kind of liked school. I go to meet my friends every day, and homework at least gave me something to do after school at home. I never minded it, not really. I really liked math class, it was my favorite.”
“Why’s that?” Scott asked, his head popping out of the hole. It was getting quite deep.
“Mmmm, I’m not really sure. It was always the subject I enjoyed the most. I think it’s because math is constant. There’s always an answer, no matter how hard it is to figure out. Everything always comes together and works out in the end.” she said, a smile on her face.
“So, when you come back to life, do you want to be, like, a math teacher or something?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t come to any sort of decision on the matter. I could see myself doing it, though. You know, you’re kind of lucky you know what you want to do with your life.” Amber said wistfully.
“I guess. Necromancy is-” The shovel hit something solid. “Ahh! That’s it, I’ve got the coffin.”
“Really? Yes!” Amber pumped her fist.
Scott rapidly cleared the rest of the dirt from the grave, then broke the lock with the shovel. Amber would have waited with baited breath, had she any to hold. He lifted the lid up to examine her body.
“Okay, let’s see what we got here…wow, the morticians did a really good job here. Alright, everything seems intact.” Her body hadn’t visually decayed at all, and Scott poked at it. “Simple enough job, looks like. What was the cause of death again?”
“Ugh, don’t remind me. I was stabbed.” Amber said, wrinkling her nose.
“Ah yeah, think I remember that. Welp, no problem here. We’ll have you on your feet in no time.” he said. Amber let out a laugh and clapped her hands, hovering off the ground. Scott pulled out a marker and started to draw sigils on her body, starting with her head.
“I really can’t thank you enough for doing this, Scott. I mean, you’re kind of saving my life here.” Amber said. For the first time, she saw him smile, not a grin or a smirk. An actual smile.
“It’s no problem. R-Remember, I’m getting paid, so…huh?” Scott tilted his head in puzzlement. He had been marking a sigil on her heart, but there was a ton of stitching on her chest messing his lines up. “Were you stabbed in the chest?”
“I…don’t remember that well, honestly.” Amber admitted. “I think? I remember the police talking about chloroform, and the killer actually-ugh-taking something, like a trophy.” It really weirded her out talking about her own death like this, but Scott’s eyes went wide. Suddenly he grabbed the dress on her body and ripped it open, exposing her chest. “Hey! What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” Amber screeched. Scott ignored her and stared at the mass of stitches on her chest over her heart. He swore.
“Tell me. Did the police say that your heart was taken?” he said curtly.
“I guess? What the hell is going on!?”
“It means the resurrection can’t be performed. I can’t bring you back without your heart.” he sighed, shaking his head. Amber went bug-eyed.
“Yeah, this’s messed up. What to do, what to do…” He started pacing back and forth.
“What do you mean you can’t bring me back? I thought you said damage to the body doesn’t matter!” she shouted, her arms in the air.
“It doesn’t but all of your body has to be there!” he snapped back. “Especially the heart! It’s one of the most important organs, especially when it comes to magic. I can bring you back no matter the state it’s in, but it has to be there, along with the brain, eyes, skull, liver, and…” he suddenly trailed off, going pale and eyes wide with horror.
“What? What is it?” Amber said, looking around for danger.
“That serial killer…the one that’s been in the news. Has…there been any mention of other body parts harvested from his victims?” he said in a small voice.
“Um…I don’t think so. I caught the report of my death on TV, but now that I think about it there wasn’t any mention of my heart being taken.” Amber said, frowning.
“Jeez. Oh jeez.” Scott started to hyperventilate, then focused and took several long, deep breaths to calm himself. “Okay, first things first. I’m sorry, but I can’t bring you back to life right now. I’m definitely going to keep my end of the bargain, but we have some work to do before that can happen.” He stopped pacing and stood up straight. “Right. I have a plan. It’s not perfect, but it should work. Will you help me?” Amber rolled her eyes.
“Of course! Duh! You’re my ticket out of limbo; I’ll do whatever I need to!”
“Good. We need to break into the police station.” Scott stated matter-of-factly. Amber stared at him for a moment, and then pinched the bridge of her nose.
“I don’t know what I expected, I really don’t…” she muttered. “Why do you want to break into the police station?”
“Because that’s where the reports are kept. We need to find out if any other organs are missing from the victims, and the fact they haven’t reported it means someone’s trying to keep this quiet. I know it’s going to be tough, but you’ll be incredibly useful as a scout. If you go first, we should be able to avoid most problems. The real problem is the security cameras…” he trailed off, becoming lost in thought. Amber put her head in her palm and sighed.
“…but then I suppose it wouldn’t cover my face, maybe a mask…”
“Scott.” she said again, louder.
“…look suspicious as hell though, but-”
“Scott!” she shouted, jolting him from his thoughts. He looked up at her. “We should break into the morgue.” He tilted his head.
“Yes. Not only will it be definitely less risky than the police station, it’s guaranteed to have the information we need, and we won’t have to shuffle through other stuff like traffic reports to get it.” She explained. Scott opened his mouth, paused, then closed it and nodded.
“I knew there was a reason I kept you around.”
“Yeah yeah. Fill in the grave and let’s go, seeing me like this is freaking me out. And cover me back up!” she snapped, and Scott turned red.
“Aye-aye, ma’am!” he saluted and got to work. The hole was quickly filled in while they discussed the logistics of the upcoming operation. Soon Scott patted down the dirt and they left for home. They were so wrapped up in conversation they didn’t notice the glowing fingers crawl up on her gravestone, nor the head that reared up behind it.
“Well, well, well. The little necromancer returns...” it said, licking its chops.