‘Jesus fucking Christ!’ I can’t believe I just asked Witch-Hazel all that. I hadn’t thought about that shit in years and promised myself I would never say it aloud.
‘I drink one magic potion and suddenly I’m spilling my guts to her. Why don’t I just give her my diary and psych eval?
I probably should get a psychological evaluation.
‘Nah, who has time for that?’
I have the ac running in the car but my face is hot from embarrassment. I desperately try to keep what little cool I have left. Witch-Hazel, thankfully, doesn’t bring it up. Whether it’s because she wants to respect my privacy or because we have something more important to do; either way I’m grateful to her.
One of the cleaning crews for the apparent massacre I created returned the car back to my place. It explains why I was so sweaty when I woke up, I must’ve walked for miles in this heat. I couldn’t snap on a cooler day?
‘Focus Hollyhock! We’re not going to think about your deteriorating mental health, we’re trying to catch an asshole who’s reanimating dead kids. All that other shit is on the back burner.’
I turn a corner.
“If you ever want to talk about it, we can,” Witch-Hazel offers. “I can’t give any advice, but I can listen.” She runs the back of her neck.
“If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not talk about it. Ever,” I counter. It came out harsher than I intended, so I follow up with, “but thank you, for caring enough to offer.”
My face gets warmer.
We sit in silence for the rest of our drive. I head down the street of our destination. The apartment buildings around are relatively new, but they aren’t as populated as they should be. Hardly anyone is out and about here, all because of one building.
“I remember the city was hyping this area up,” I tell her. “Supposedta be a great economic boom. Office buildings one side of the street, on the other side: cozy apartments. No need for long commutes, keep your paychecks close to home,” I explain further. “They were gonna open a supermarket, and other stuff to cut down on traveling. A city scum’s wet dream, basically.” I pull into a largely empty parking lot.
“It was a bit cart before the horse, if y’know what I mean.”
“Hmmm, in IronHenge we say “don’t count your phoenixes until they’re reborn” but it's the same principle.”
“....right. So anyway, one company set up shop in one of these buildings. I don’t know what they did but they didn’t do it well, one of the employees came and shot the place up. Twelve died, the business shut down, other businesses pulled away, and rent around here plummeted.”
“Isn’t that good?”
“It is, but the jobs around here evaporated, defeating the whole purpose of the place. Now it’s practically a ghost town.”
We exit the car out into the humid heat of the afternoon. Across the street is the building that caused all this: Chrysanthemum Offices. It’s still new and shiny on the outside, but the distinct lack of activity around it raises flags.
“Seems a good a spot as any to check first. You sure you felt it around here?”
“Definitely, now that I’m closer I can sense their magic a bit,” Witch-Hazel explains.
“Then let’s go floor by floor-”
“Hand over your wallets!” I’m interrupted by a rough-looking man. His face is skinny, and his clothes are way too big for him. He has a rusty half scissor pointed at me, an unsteady hand holds it. His eyes anxiously shift between us quickly.
I sigh and take out my wallet, I thumb through some bills and gather them in my right hand. His eyes widen at the money.
“Here’s three hundred dollars, it’s yours but I wanna ask you a question first,” I offer. He turns his attention to Witch-Hazel.
“Now you!” My arm immediately moves to get between her and him.
“She doesn’t have any money, keep that pointed at me before I feed you your teeth,” I warn him. He nervously swallows and turns back to me.
“Has anyone died around here recently?” I ask the would-be thief.
“Fuck kinda question is that?” I roll my eyes.
“Has anyone who died around here gone missing? Their body not where it was before?” I probe further. He sniffs loudly.
“There was a stomach virus going around ‘bout a month ago.” He wipes his nose. “Killed a few of the people that stay in that building,” he nods towards Chrysanthemum Offices. His eyes dart back and forth between the money and me. “Heard a coupla ‘em disappeared, don’t know more than that.”
I reach my hand out, offering the money freely. He looks at the blade in his hand, then to the money, then finally at me. I can tell he wants to ask for more, but he looks me up and down and thinks better of it. He takes his money, shiftily looking at us both the man darts away.
“It’s always something,” I say. Witch-Hazel is looking at me with a smile across her pretty face. “What?” I ask her. She chuckles and shakes her head.
“Nothing,” she says with a laugh “Let’s go.”
‘God, her laugh is so nice.’
“No, what is it?” I ask again.
“Don’t worry about it,” she counters. If she doesn’t want me to know then she’s not going to tell me.
We cross the street and enter the building; what was supposed to be the lobby of a prominent office is now an impromptu shelter for the homeless. There are bedrolls, mattresses, and some tents scattered about the place. Various things to cook food on and personal effects take up the rest of the space, but there’s no one here. Given how hot it is in here, it might just be the occupants are trying to avoid heatstroke, but I don’t think anyone’s been here for a while. Witch-Hazel looks around with a careful eye, searching for something specific.
“I sense something above us,” she says.
“Let’s hit the stairs.” I pull out the pistol from the back of my jeans and head to the stairwell. We go up flight after flight until Witch-Hazel indicates we’re here. It’s the fourth floor that we end up at. It’s the floor that the shooting happened, bullet holes in the walls, and dried blood splatters that no one cleaned are the first things my eye catches. Like the lobby, there are signs that people lived here, but not recently.
The smell of death hangs in the air, the heat doesn’t do it any favors. It doesn’t take us long to find the source. Toward the front of the building where some windows have been opened, there’s a line of bodies underneath tarps. I’d say this is more than a ‘few people’. If these are the victims of the stomach virus, I see at least a dozen bodies. Whoever put them here, lined them up side by side. It makes it easy to see that some are missing, the gaps between bodies are an ominous sign our necromancer was here.
I look around cautiously while Witch-Hazel goes to examine the bodies. Dust has settled a lot of stuff around here, a broken laundry basket holding some clothes, a can opener, a solar-powered charger, and a small hot plate. I can’t imagine anyone living here leaving those by choice.
“Five bodies are missing,” Witch-Hazel notices. “The necromancer was here for certain. They’re either perfecting their methods, they’re finding more suitable people, or perhaps both.” She stands up and looks over the other corpses.
“What would make someone more suitable?” I ask.
“Well, a lot of that is up to the necromancer. The condition of the bodies and rigor mortis factor into it, but I can’t say what they’re looking for, without seeing who’ve they already reanimated,” she comments. “Your bike thief is the only one we’ve found but he seems to be one-off. These people,” she gestures to the gaps “they’re a part of something. Something big.”
“How do you mean?”
“Reanimating one or two bodies I could understand, but this necromancer has at least five from here today. Who’s to say they don’t have more? They could have an army.”
“That’s not good,” I note.
“No,” she says “it’s not.” She says something in a language I don’t understand. “The further down this road we go, the darker it gets.”
“Darkness doesn’t scare me, girl,” I tell her. The witch shakes her head slowly.
“It’s what I’ll do in the dark that has me hesitant. What’ll have to be done to end this grim story,” she looks me right in the eyes “I just hope you’re ready for it.”
I want to joke, but her tone lets me know she’s being serious. She’s concerned for my well-being. It catches me a bit off guard.
“Whatever to stop this nightmare, I’ll have your back,” I reassure her. She nods solemnly and looks back at the bodies.
“We still have to catch them,” she says.
“We’ll have better luck next time,” I promise.
Chapter 16 End
Bio: I’m a young writer from NYC I want to be a professional writer someday and hope I look good while doing it. I like writing action and romance and even exclusively either. Follow me on Twitter and Tumblr for updates and bug me about my stories!