“Okay, so it’s on Maple Street, so we can get there from Chestnut easily if we cut through the yards,” Amber said, her hand on her chin.
“No, that’s the police station, we’re not doing that one anymore. The morgue’s on elm, I have to cut through the yards on Birch.” Scott said, checking the map on his phone. They were still planning their break-in of the morgue, and a rough plan was coming together. With that decided, Scott needed to get home quickly, as he severely needed sleep.
“That’ll work, I guess. I never really thought I’d be planning a burglary in my life, though.” Amber said.
“Well, technically you aren’t.” Scott pointed out.
“Smartass. I suppose I-” Her foot stuck on something and she tripped, landing on the ground painlessly.
“Amber! Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I just tripped. My foot just caught on something.” She looked around, but there wasn’t anything to stumble over. She frowned. “Wait, I’m a ghost. How could my foot-?”
Both their heads turned to the sound of mirthless cackling from the path up ahead.
From the ground floated up what was obviously a ghost. Stringy white hair was seen first, followed by a hard, boney face that was little more than skin stretched over a skeleton. She wore a tattered black dress covering her whole body, once elegant stitching and embroidery now in shreds and swaying in the wind. A blue glow effused her body, but her eyes were solid black and her smile was hard and crooked.
Well, well. If it isn’t our little boy who likes to play with dead things,” she croaked in a dry, raspy voice that didn’t get much use. “How…bold…of you to come to my graveyard tonight.” Scott gulped, then slapped a big plastic grin on his face.
“Edith! So good to see you. How are you doing tonight? Haunting well? Good? Good!” he said brightly, stepping in front of Amber. “Shut up, let me do the talking, stay back and do not leave my side.” he whispered quickly.
“What, dearie?” The ghost was suddenly inches from his face, making him jump.
“Oh, nothing! N-Nothing at all!” he squeaked.
“Hrmm.” she muttered, floating back and drifting to his side. Scott shuffled around, always keeping himself between the old woman and the girl. “What have we here tonight, little dearie? Another dead one to practice your little necromancy games on?” she hissed softly, and Scott shuddered. Amber bit her lip; who was this ghost?
“S-Something like that, nothing major, just a little project I’ve been working on, all done now so I was just leaving gotta go see you!” he stammered quickly and tried to walk away, grabbing Amber’s arm. Quicker than Amber could follow, the ghost was in front of them again.
“Not so fast, little dearie.” she crooned sickeningly. “You’re a naughty boy, coming back to my cemetery after I warned you away last time. This is my place, and I allow no trespassing, especially to naughty little boys who think they do magic.”
“And like I told you last time, I’m not looking for trouble, but I need access to this cemetery too. Just let us pass, and I won’t make good on my promise to exorcise you.” Scott said, far bolder than he felt.
“Insolent whelp! You think you can threaten me!?” she snarled, rising into the air, blowing bright with rage. Her eyes fell on Amber again, and she calmed immediately and a smile wormed across her face. Amber shivered. Millions of years of evolution had allowed her to instinctively recognize the look in the older ghost’s eyes.
“Scott…” she moaned softly, when she spoke again.
“Normally I would teach you a lesson in manners, little…‘necromancer’. But I’m in a good mood tonight, so I’ll let you run along if you leave that little morsel at your side with me.” She stared down at them smiling greedily, her eyes never leaving Amber. Scott glanced at Amber, starting to tremble, and back to the ghost transfixed on her. He nodded to himself.
“Not a chance in Hell, old hag.” he said, stepping forward. “She’s my meal ticket, not yours.”
“You…you…!” Edith was shaking with rage. “Mangy runt! I’ll have your hide for this insolence! Tonight’ the night I’ll punish you! SHE’S MINE!” The specter shrieked and threw herself at Scott, boney hands curled into claws, empty eyes blazing and howling like a devil.
“Not tonight!” He raised his hand and shouted “Azmeion Zenket!” Amber felt a pulse shoot out, and the attacking ghost was blown back, tumbling through the air like a leaf in the wind. Screaming obscenities, she stuck her hand into the ground, her broken nails somehow finding purchase enough to halt her, though was still being pushed back by a 200 mph wind.
“I’ll…have…your head!” she spat out, even as her fingers made furrows in the dirt.
“See you in the next county, bitch!” Scott said. “KET!” With a final screech, the ghost was lifted up and blown away, her claw like hands flailing to reach them and gnashing her crooked teeth.
“What was THAT!?” Amber screamed, scanning the distance for any sign of her. She turned to Scott but he was gone, legging it for all he was worth to the forest behind the graveyard.
“Less talking! Move now, that wasn’t enough to stop her!” She flew after him, not stopping until they reached the relative safety of the trees.
“What was that!?” she asked again,
“That was Edith Warden. She was interred here 150 years ago, and she’s been haunting the place ever since. Around here she’s known as the Witch.” he said.
“The witch? Does she use magic like you?” Scott shook his head.
“Don’t you think it’s strange, in a town as old as this one, in a cemetery as big as this, there have been so few other ghosts?” he asked. Amber tugged on her ponytail nervously.
“Now that I think about it, even when I was walking around town I didn’t see any other ghosts.” she said nervously, a feeling of dread overtaking her.
“That’s because of her. You know how I said ghosts usually fade away? There’s a few ways to avoid that. One of the worst is for a ghost to…well, no easy way to say this…for a ghost to consume another, weaker ghost.”
“What?” Amber said, her eyes wide in horror.
“Yeah. To stave off oblivion, a ghost can eat another ghost and gain its’ energy. The problem is the weaker ghost still dies, and horrifically at that. Well, not dies, just gets obliterated in a different way. And the ghosts who win get stronger and stronger with each soul they consume, leading to an easier time with the next one, creating a very vicious cycle. It’s not a pretty process, and the ghosts who think it’s a good idea…are usually not very nice.”
“That’s an understatement!” Amber snapped, trying not to shake again. Scott looked down and shook his head.
“Damn it, this isn’t good.” he huffed, and started pacing back and forth. “I may be a necromancer, but that fact makes me as vulnerable to her as you. She can touch me just as well as any other ghost. I can touch her back, but her strength is greater. We’ve had a couple run-ins in the past, but as long as she didn’t actually attack, I wasn’t about to press the issue with her.”
“C-Can’t you do anything?” Amber asked, trying to hold back tears of fear. This wasn’t fair! She didn’t deserve to have her soul eaten!
Scott snorted and gave her a hollow grin that tried to project confidence.
“Who do you think you’re talking to? Push comes to shove, I’m stronger. I’ve got incantations that can do just about anything to a ghost. The problem is that it takes time to write out sigils and say words, and she’s too fast. She can easily tear out my throat in that time. The spell I used earlier can only send her away, not hurt her. Another is you can exorcise a ghost, but only after it’s been weakened. And after a hundred years of eating other ghosts, she’s got strength to spare. Don’t get me wrong, I can still win-” Amber looked at him incredulously “-but I’d rather not take a chance like that. That’s why I didn’t try to get her before now.”
“I see. We’re screwed.” Amber said gloomily, and Scott couldn’t disagree. “How long do you think it’ll take her to come back and find us?”
“She flies faster than a car and can travel in a direct straight line. We’ve got like two minutes tops.”
“Okay, can we hide?”
“Not happening. She’s obsessed with hunting down and eating other ghosts, and you’re the freshest piece of meat around. Your ‘scent’ will draw her from miles away.” Amber felt like tearing her hair out.
“Can’t one of your spells suppress that or something?” she asked desperately.
“I don’t know, maybe?” he answered, still pacing.
“Hey, I haven’t memorized every little ritual in this thing, okay?” he said, pulling out the Necronomicon and starting to page through it, looking for anything that could help. “Even if it does, it’s bound to wear off and Edith doesn’t need to sleep or rest, and I’ve heard she’s relentless when she has a target.”
“Aaauuugh!” Amber exploded. “How do you know so much about her, anyway!?” Scott grinned at her.
“Just because she eats all the ghosts she can find doesn’t mean she can find all the ghosts to eat. I’ve met a couple who’ve been around and they filled me in. The ghosts in the know keep a low profile, so Edith usually only gets the slow, dumb or just plain unlucky, like insect ghosts these days.”
“Ew. Bugs have ghosts too?” She stuck her tongue out.
“Yeah, not very appetizing to me, either.”
“Well, how do they avoid her?”
“Usually by sinking into the ground really deep, but she’ll sniff you out too quick. Honestly, she’s like a wild animal at this point, leaving her lair only to hunt…” Suddenly, he snapped his fingers. “That’s it!”
“What is?” Amber said, bewildered.
“Her lair! I mean, her grave! If we can’t banish her, we’ll bind her instead!” He started flipping through the Necronomicon until he found a passage referring to the topic.
“Yeah! Says the ghost’s grave is one of the best places to do it, ‘cause their body’s there and it already has a spiritual hole in their shape for them to fill. This can work!”
“Great! Where’s her grave?” she asked.
“Down the path deeper in the woods somewhere.” Scott said, looking further into the shadowed forest. “They buried her really far out, I think it’s because she was executed for killing the children in her care or something.”
“Wha-? Really?” Amber said, a look of revulsion on her face.
“Don’t know, don’t care, not the point!” He grabbed her by the shoulders and looked her directly in the eyes. “I have a plan, but it’s very dangerous. But if we don’t do something, we’re both worse than dead anyway. Will you help me?” he asked seriously, his green eyes boring into her. Amber swallowed hard.
“I already said I’d do whatever I needed to help you, Scott. What’s the plan?”
“I need to find her grave and prepare the spell. I can’t do that if she-”
“WHERE ARE YOU? I CAN SMELL YOU! YOU CAN’T HIDE FOREVER!” Edith howled high up in the air, making them both drop to the ground. They saw her float through the cemetery, growling like a wolf.
“Crap, she’s back.” Scott whispered, and turned back to Amber. “If you want me to find her grave and us to have a chance of beating her, you need to distract her for a while, until I give the signal. Okay?”
“What!” Her hear whipped around to fix him with a glare. “Are you crazy? I can’t go face her alone!” she whispered harshly.
“It’s either that or we’re both dead twice over! Besides, you’re the one she wants!” Scott shot back. Amber ground her teeth, but couldn’t refute the logic, no matter how much she wanted to.
“Fine.” she relented. “But you owe me.”
“Duly noted.” Scott nodded. “You can do it. Go!”
“Right.” She tensed up, preparing to spring forward. And prepared. And prepared.
“Any day now.”
“Don’t rush me!”
“Relax. I can help.” He put his hand on her back, and whispered gently, “Azmeht Zenket.” She found herself tumbling like she’d been shot out of a cannon out of the forest, head over heels.
“Augh! Hey!” Amber looked up to see the cannibalistic ghost in the air, looking down greedily.
“Hello, dearie.” she crooned. Amber looked back at the woods.
“You suck, Scott!” With that parting insult, Amber took off like a bullet, Edith cackling madly behind her as the chase was on.
As soon as he had sent her away, Scott scrambled up and ran down the path as fast as he could, trying not to stumble or trip on the tree roots in the dark.
“C’mon, c’mon…come…on…” he wheezed, trying to urge himself faster. Digging up graves, casting spells, all this running, it was pushing him to his physical limits. His side burned, forcing him to a trot, but still he pressed forward. “She’s counting on you, you can do it, go.” He tried to motivate himself further, but he could go no faster. ‘What use is the power over life and death if it can’t help me run faster!?’ he thought, having to stop and catch his breath. After a minute, he slapped his cheeks and pumped his legs forward again.
“Let’s goooo!” The leaves scattered in his wake, endorphins racing in his blood to combat the mounting fatigue. After five full minutes he had to stop and take stock of the situation. The trail wind3ed through the forest, but he couldn’t see any gravestones, or even any branching paths either. The ghosts who he’d talked to said the grave wasn’t far in, but he’d seen no sign of it, and couldn’t run forever.
“Damn it! Where is it!?” he cried, stomping his foot. Unbeknownst to him, the cliff behind him had loose, crumbling soil. As his foot landed, the dirt crumbled away, tilting him back to slam against and roll down the hill. He skidded to a stop on the ground; certain he’d lost an entire layer of skin on the pebbles and rocks.
“Augh.” He spat some pebbles and what he thought was blood out of his mouth. He probed a cut in his mouth with his tongue. Yup, he’d thought he’d bitten his lip on the way down. Scott struggled to sit up, but smacked his head on a rock, causing a new burst of agony.
“Ahhh! Why?” Shaking his head to clear it, he finally took note of why his foot burned more than the rest of his body. It didn’t seem to be broken or twisted, but gingerly putting weight on it elicited a hiss of pain. That was it; he couldn’t run anymore.
“Damn it! Of! Course! Just when I needed to! Just as soon as I’m the only thing that she can count on! Aaaaaugh!” he screamed at the night, hitting the ground. “Look at the big, bad necromancer! Can’t banish a ghost, can’t find a grave, can’t even bring a girl back to life! No! I get to trip, torn up and attacked by a bloodthirsty ghost! Then I hit my head on this goddamn…” He took a good look at the rock he’d hit his head on. It was covered in dirt and moss, but even through that he could see how unnaturally smooth and oval shaped it was. “….stone?” He crawled over and started brushing it off. His disbelief turned to joy as he made out four inscriptions on it in the moonlight: Edith Warden. 1842-1881. “Yes! Yes! In your face, you old bitch!” Cackling, he pulled out his chalk to mark the head stone itself and grabbed a stick to scratch sigils in the dirt. Paging through the Necronomicon to find the correct passages, he grinned and spent the next several minutes etching the necessary sigils and preparing the trap, whispering bizarre incantations in a dark tongue.
Once that was done, he sat cross-legged on the grass, putting his hands together as if in prayer. It was time. Breathing deeply, he concentrated, letting the necrotic energy build up inside of him.
‘I really hope he’s having an easier time than I am.’ Amber thought to herself as she tried to make herself as small as possible behind a gravestone. The Witch had put up a fierce pursuit, but ducking behind and through objects had allowed Amber to escape her sight for now.
“Where are you, dearie?” Edith called in a singsong voice, floating silently inches above the ground in a slow, deliberate sweep. She chuckled to herself. “I can smell you, dearie. Come out and let’s end this nonsense, shall we?” Amber peeked out from behind the marble only to duck back as Edith turned in her direction. The Witch chuckled and moved on.
“I don’t want to hurt you, dearie. That nasty little necromancer, he’ll have to be punished, yes. But not you. Never you, dearie. I could never hurt one so young and innocent. I remember what it was like to be a young girl, and a young ghost. So lonely. So afraid. So ignorant of what I could do. I could teach you, dearie. Show you all the ghostly abilities you have, how to use them to their full potential. Guide you. Help you. Be there for you. You’d never have to be alone again. Never have to be afraid again.” Edith said, her voice drifting closer to Amber’s hiding spot again.
For one awful, irrational, black, slimy moment, Amber was tempted. Her new existence was hell; but wasn’t it always said misery loved company? And who better to help than an older, more experienced ghost?
‘The hell am I thinking!?’ She came to her senses immediately. While she was talking, Amber had been tracking her voice.
“Liar!” she cried, sinking into the ground. She hated doing this. Complete darkness, able to feel nothing, not even a real sense of gravity to provide direction. She took off in what she hoped was the right direction and emerged what she thought was about sixty feet later. Sure enough, Edith was crouched over her previous hiding spot like a spider, scanning the area for any clue as to where she might have gone.
“I’m not lying, dearie.” she said, speaking louder to be heard. “I know how it is. How alone a ghost really is. No one but other ghosts can see each other. Why can’t you see how much better it would be if we joined forces?”
“Ha! Alone is right! You just want to eat me!” Amber said, sinking and popping up in a different place again.
“Now who told you that, dearie?” Edith said as she moved to the previous hiding spot. “All I want to do is ease my loneliness. All I want to do is help you. Not eat you, my goodness no.” Edith crooned, fooled once again.
“I’m not alone! I have Scott! He already taught me way more than you ever could, and he’s gonna bring me back to life!” Amber countered, repeating the process.
“Silly girl. What can a member of the living understand about the dead? What does he now of the emptiness and stillness of those left behind? What can he know? Dearie, it’s that horrid necromancer boy who’s lying to you. No one can bring the dead back to life. Such a feat is beyond any mortal, living or dead.”
“Yeah, probably would’ve agreed with you before I saw him animate human remains last night, so I guess he knows what he’s talking about!” She sank, floated away, and rose up to get her bearings, but this time the Witch was nowhere to be found.
“I have you, dearie!” Amber spun around to see Edith, grinning triumphantly. She tried to dash away but quick as lightning Edith’s hands shot out and grabbed her wrists. Amber pulled, but her hands felt like steel vices.
“Let me go!” Amber cried, kicking at the evil ghost’s midsection, but her torso felt just as hard as her hands. What was she made of!?
“Now now, dearie. Don’t struggle so. I told you I could smell you.” Amber stopped struggling and looked at her in horror. All this time, she had only pretended to be fooled! “A valiant effort, and I’ve enjoyed the chase. But all good things must come to an end, even the hunt.”
“No! I don’t wanna be eaten!” Amber cried, trying desperately to fly away.
“Hush, dearie. I really was not lying. After I consume you, you will not be alone anymore. You’ll spend the rest of eternity within me. Giving me your youthful power. Strength. We’ll catch more and more ghosts, just you and me, together.
“I fancy sometimes I can feel them, you know.” She said in a conspiratorial voice. “They have gone to a better place. Inside me. Joined with me. Their strength, mine. As will yours.” She pulled Amber close, letting her pale blue tongue grow to lick the side of Amber’s face. Amber trembled. “Don’t be afraid, dearie. In fact, rejoice! Rejoice, for all your pain and loneliness come to an end. Rejoice, for you join something greater than you could ever be.”
“Noooooo!” Amber wailed. Edith crowed triumphantly, rearing back to sink her teeth into Amber’s ectoplasmic body.
A silent explosion rocked the night, sending shockwaves that didn’t disturb even one blade of grass but shook through the ghosts like thunder overhead. They both turned to see an enormous green flash dissipate.
“Scott! The signal!” Amber realized.
“What is that fool up to now?” Edith spat.
Tuning to her captor, Amber steeled herself. She summoned up every last ounce of power and courage she could muster to release in one, final burst.
“Get AWAY!” She closed her eyes and shoved, throwing everything she could behind it. Edith squawked as Amber shone a fierce golden yellow and tossed her away like a toy.
Amber suddenly felt drained. No exhaustion she had felt in her physical body could compare to this. When she pushed her away, it felt like the shove took part of her with it, leaving only…emptiness.
It was then she noticed Edith getting up, growling like a wolf.
“No!” She pushed again, the general feeling of numbness that permeated her body replaced by void even more. The Witch was knocked away even further, but was on balance and charging after her. “Gotta…get to…Scott.” she droned, flying as fast as she could towards the source of the flash, leaving a trail of yellow embers in her wake that winked out in seconds.