I didn't think anything would really happen when Joey suggested we have a seance. I mean, who hasn't seen that kind of thing in the movies? It's all old ladies rapping on tables and weird lights in crystal balls.
So when Joey suggested we go to the local cemetery on Halloween and try to talk to the dead, I played along. I figured it was just an opportunity for the two of us to spook the others with our special abilities.
"I think it sounds fun," I said. "We can wear our costumes and bring candy and stuff. And if anyone else comes lurking in the cemetery, we'll scare the pants off of them."
What the rest of the group didn't know is that Joey and I didn't just study at R. Bradbury Middle School. We had classes after school and on the weekends. We were honest to goodness wizard's apprentices. My mom was a healer and a seer, so I was learning plenty about how to keep people in good working order and find things that are hidden. Joey also lived with his master, but it wasn't one of his parents. All the other adults just called him Joey's "guardian." Joey's master was a necromancer.
Before you get too wound up and start thinking I was palling around with a zombie master, necromancy isn't really like that. Well, I guess you can go that route, but mostly necromancers are sort of like caretakers of the dead. They make sure spirits rest easy, put down anything less scrupulous wizards raise from the grave, that sort of thing. And sometimes, they communicate with spirits.
Bill fancied himself the manly man of the group, so he couldn't back out of anything Joey and I would do. So it really only left the girls.
"My dad has a Ouija board," said Katie. She seemed to like the idea. The problem was her best friend, Sarah. She'd decided she was too cynical to go around believing in things. We all turned and stared at her.
"Fine. Fine!" Sarah said at last. "We'll go in the stupid graveyard and have a 'seance' if it makes you happy. And Joey can push the Ouija pointer and claim it's not him. I'll bring my sketch pad and make some rubbings, so at least my evening won't be a total waste."
We didn't have that much time before things started up for the evening, so we all headed home to get ready. I walked with Joey for a bit, trying to find out what he was up to.
"I'm not planning on a funny-voices and table-knocking seance," he said. "Jim taught me how to speak with the recent dead. As long as someone's been buried in the area in the past week, I should be able to get in touch."
We set off in our separate directions after a little more small talk. I was already starting to think about what I had that would make a good costume. After a bit of deliberation I decided to go with "mummy." I was pretty sure we had enough ACE bandages.
* * *
The cemetery where we were meeting was just a few blocks from my house next to the oldest Catholic church in the city. According to Jim, there were graves in that cemetery from as far back as 1745. Its newer section opened decades ago, and while it wasn't abandoned, it hadn't been modernized, either. The lack of internal light posts or wide drives made for a deliciously spooky atmosphere.
We all met at the front gate of the cemetery. It looked like I was the only one who hadn't been planning to dress up until today. Sarah had her art folder with her, which meshed surprisingly well with her Raven costume. She was the superheroine, not the bird, complete with gray leggings and a deeply hooded cape. Bill had on a plastic breast plate and helmet for the gladiator look. It showed off the fact that he was in the best shape of all the guys, but he looked cold. Katie was the first of our friends to embrace the trampy side of girls' Halloween costumes. She was some sort of vampire, complete with cape, but instead of the traditional formal wear, her dress had a miniskirt and a really deep neckline. I was uncomfortably aware that she'd really started filling out since the last time I looked. She had her family's Ouija board in its box under one arm. Joey was in full wizard regalia - blue robes and pointed hat, complete with silver moons and stars. He had a backpack slung over one shoulder. I guessed it was full of seance gadgets. My wrappings were under a cheesy pair of my dad's old Bermuda shorts and a flowered shirt, so I wasn't even missing my jacket. I hadn't brought along anything except what I could fit in my pockets - my pen knife, house keys, wallet, and some change.
"Uh oh," said Sarah, pointing into the cemetery where a few flashlights could be seen, "looks like we weren't the only ones with this idea."
"Don't worry," Joey said, "that's not where we'll be going anyway."
"Where are we going?" asked Katie.
Everyone had remembered a flashlight, so there was no trouble navigating through the unlit headstones under the old trees. We startled a couple of high school kids making out behind one of the bigger monuments, but once they saw we were moving on they ignored us. The moon was full that night, casting the area outside the beams in a silver light. It was more pretty than creepy, really. I said as much.
"You'll see," Joey said again. He was eating this stuff up.
We trekked through the silent cemetery, and Joey showed no signs of stopping. It wasn't long before I realized what he meant about the light. We were headed to the oldest part of the cemetery, a heavily wooded section that jutted off at ninety degrees to the fence around the main boneyard. The original church had burned down hundreds of years ago. The old graveyard and its low stone wall were all that remained.
The trees grew close together, and their canopies tangled up to make a dense, rattling roof. Enough dried up leaves remained on the trees to block the moonlight. It was a different world under those trees.
Joey walked directly across the uneven ground of the plots to a large stone with a flat top. He set his backpack down on top of it and started unpacking. He handed me a thin blanket, which I unfolded to make place to sit.
Bill's flashlight doubled as a lantern. It was suddenly possible to see our surroundings without shining a spotlight on them. This outing was getting cozier by the minute.
I looked at the engravings on the headstone, thrown into sharp relief by the lantern, and all my feelings of coziness disappeared. "Gerald Peltier," it said, "1804-1847. A Wise Man."
I jumped up and ran to the other side of the stone with Joey. "What the hell are you doing?" I whispered sharply.
"You said you scouted this place. You picked Gerald Peltier's tombstone on purpose? Are you insane?"
"The man died nearly two hundred years ago, Seth," Joey said slowly, like he was talking to a little kid. "I'm sure the Butcher of Bingham was put to rest a long time ago."
Joey and I had both learned about Peltier as part of our extracurricular studies. He'd been a necromancer, like Joey's Master. No one recorded exactly what set him off, but he began to raise the dead and tried to use them to take control of the town. Hundreds of people had died before one of the Sheriff's deputies had managed to shoot him. He was the only bad wizard our state had ever produced.
And Joey wanted to have a seance on his grave.
"Look, man, I just think it's pushing our luck," I said. "Let's move to another grave. Maybe at the very back of the main area."
"I said he's been gone to the Beyond for ages. Jim's great grandfather saw to it. Being this far from the new graves means we won't have to worry about getting swamped. Peltier's just for atmosphere."
I sighed and walked back around the stone. I'd just have to hope that Joey knew what he was talking about. The little circle of light didn't seem welcoming anymore. I felt like I was trapped in it, and its brightness meant I couldn't really see what was coming for us on the outside.
Katie had set up the board, so I tried to focus on the Ouija experiment. I concentrated on expanding my senses, so I could see any supernatural forces at work on the pointer or the board. Katie and Bill took the first turn. Once they were both settled, the pointer started to move in a gentle circle.
"Okay, I'll ask first," said Katie. "Is there a spirit with us?"
The pointer slowed, then crept across the board to the space marked 'YES.' Katie oohed softly, and Sarah scoffed. There had been no glimmer of magic around the white plastic.
"Sweet," said Bill. "What's your name, Spirit?"
The pointer was still boringly mundane as it started to creep toward the 'B.' Then, halfway there it lit up to my senses and jerked both kids toward the 'J' and stopped there. Bill's hands came off the pointer as it stopped suddenly. He and Katie looked at each other, surprised.
"I didn't do that," said Bill. "Did you?"
"No way," she replied. Katie's eyes were bright with excitement. Even Sarah was paying attention.
Bill put his fingers back on the pointer, and it jerked again, this time to the 'A.' Katie and Bill were ready this time, and kept their hands on the pointer. '-SON' followed in short order. The pointer stayed bright with magical power is it danced over the board.
The pointer's jerky, straight line movement continued, inscribing a star over the board. Bill and Katie were getting used to the thing's movement now, and kept up.
"Ask it something else," said Sarah.
"Why aren't you resting, Jason?" said Katie. "Why are you still here with us?"
The pointer inscribed more pentagrams, and the amount of power built up in it continued to grow. After three more circuits, it lurched toward the 'I.' Katie shrieked. 'WANT' followed quickly after. The pointer stopped moving in the center of the board.
"I guess he left," said Bill. He sat up slightly but kept his hands on the pointer.
Katie and Bill both shouted in alarm as the pointer zipped away to the end of the alphabet. Katie's fingers stayed with it, but Bill lost track of it and sat back on his rear end. The pointer continued moving with just one user.
Katie screamed in pain, and the smell of burning filled the air.
"Katie, let go!" I shouted.
"I can't! Help me!" Katie sobbed. Sarah and Bill started backing away.
"Joey! Now would be a good time!"
Joey's voice cut across the noise, pitched low and strong. "Unquiet spirit, I call you to me! Unquiet spirit, do not torment the living! Unquiet spirit, the path to your rest is with me!"
I turned to Joey. He had laid out a cloth embroidered with the magical diagrams that his Master used in his work on the top of the tomb stone. It glowed with the power he had called into it, in the mundane world as well as to my enhanced senses.
"What the hell is going on?" Sarah asked. "If this is some kind of practical joke, it's not very damned funny. Ha ha, let's spook the atheist."
"Not everything is about you, Sarah!" Katie screamed. She was bent double over her hands, and tears ran down her face. The pointer of the Ouija continued to dart back and forth over the board, spelling 'VENGEANCE' over and over.
I crouched down beside Katie, and reached gently for her wrists. "Let me see," I said, trying to be soothing.
"No! Oh, God, oh Jesus, it hurts!"
"I know, that's why we need to look. We need to see how bad it is." As soon as I got my hands on Katie's wrists, I my magic told me it was bad. I had never seen burns this bad, but I thought they probably went all the way to the bones. There wasn't a thing I could do about it, either. Trauma this severe would require Mom. I was afraid that even if I could get in touch with Mom, Katie was going to lose her fingertips. I tried to send soothing through her wrists and into her hands. It seemed to help a little, because Katie stopped wailing, but continued to rock and sob.
"Sarah, do you have your phone?"
"What?" Sarah was totally rattled. "Oh, of course! I'll call 911."
After falling, Bill had continued to move away from the Ouija board, and was now scrambling to his feet. He gave Katie one wide-eyed look, then turned and ran toward the main section of the cemetery. I didn't blame him.
Joey's voice continued, though it had dropped to a drone. The Ouija's pointer slowed, then stopped. The aura surrounding the little plastic pointer streamed toward Joey, who was chanting with his eyes closed in concentration.
"Joey, look out," I cried.
My shout interrupted his concentration, and he looked up at me. "Look out? For wha-"
His head shot back and his eyes rolled up into his head as the magic struck. He choked, then a quiet moan escaped his lips.
"Seth? What's happening to him?" Sarah had dropped her phone, and was staring back and forth between Joey and Katie. "What the hell is going on?"
"Vengeance is what's going on, little girl. Can't you read?" The voice was Joey's, but the words were all wrong. He was speaking in the smooth sing-song accent of the antebellum South. I'd never heard Joey even try to imitate that accent. His family was from New Jersey.
"Joey, don't be stupid. I'm freaking out here," Sarah said. She was starting to cry, and backed away from Joey with her portfolio held up like a shield. "This isn't funny anymore."
"Your Joey would be crushed to know he'd upset you so, my dear, but he's not exactly a going concern anymore. But don't worry, you'll all be together again soon. This whole town is going to go to Satan to pay for what they did to my grandfather."
"Run, Sarah," I said, "I'll help Katie. Just get out of here." I tried to sound braver than I felt, but at least I had a few defenses.
"Now, now, can't have that," said Peltier. He gestured sharply, and the Ouija pointer rose from the board and buried its sharp end in Katie's throat. As the fountain of blood splashed out of her neck to the waiting board, the spirit began laughing with my best friend's mouth. He came around the tombstone and backhanded me to the ground. I fell in front of the next head stone as he laughed again.
Jason Peltier, the hero worshiping grandson of our town's most infamous resident. Oh, no.
I ran. I should have stayed to help Sarah, but I couldn't. I should have tried to stop the bleeding before Katie died, but that laugh got me right in my spine. I took off into the densest part of trees, looking for a place to hide. I had the idea that I could climb the wall around the old graveyard and lose myself in the small forest that remained behind it on the old church lands.
"Rise! Rise my children, and walk again!" Peltier's voice followed me as I ran. I found a place where three old trees had grown together, and hid behind them. I peeked around the tree to try to see what was happening.
Dirt over the grave closest to me was heaving, like labored breathing. After a moment, a skeletal hand punched up through the soil. It was followed quickly by a head whose eyes glowed a baleful and sickening green. It's head swiveled unerringly to lock on to me where I hid.
Oh, no. Hades and Jesus and Buddha and anyone else listening, please help us. I scrambled around on the ground and found a thick branch, about two inches wide. It was still green where something had knocked it off a living tree. I took it in both hands like a bat, and ran from behind the tree with a scream. I smacked the skull from the skeleton before it could completely leave its grave, but all around me the plots were heaving and breaking open. I ran for the newer section of the cemetery as quickly as I could. I had the idea that maybe the heavier caskets and better embalming techniques would make stop the corpses there from rising.
I saw the cemetery wall fall away to my left as the area opened up to the larger plots. From ahead I heard the confused and pained screaming of the high school couple we'd surprised earlier. The new cemetery was no safer.
For the moment I was clear of any of the walking dead. I took a chance and ran for the wall. It was higher here in the new section, but still only about six feet. I jumped as high as I could, and scrambled until my elbows were over the top of the wall. The ground was soft from recent rains, and stayed flat outside the wall. Jumping from that height probably wouldn't even hurt my feet.
As I gathered myself to drag my body the rest of the way to the top of the wall, I felt a hand close over my ankle. I shrieked in surprise and kicked out with my other foot, but the iron grip on my shin dragged me backward and I flopped onto the ground, biting my tongue. I felt coppery blood well up in my mouth.
"Why did you leave me, Seth?" I looked up in horror to see Sarah. The hood of her costume was down, and her neck canted grotesquely to the side and lay flush against her shoulder. Her eyes glowed the same sick yellow as the skeleton I'd destroyed. She raised a fist and clubbed me in the head where I knelt. "Why?"
I scrambled away from my friend, screaming. I stood up, limping where her grip had injured something in my ankle. "I'm sorry, Sarah, I'm so sorry."
"He knows where you live now, Seth. He'll be going after your dad, next." The corpse smiled. The extreme angle of her neck pulled the other side of her mouth open and turned the smile into a grimace.
I swung my club at her head. Bark scraped my hands and the zombie staggered backwards, but kept coming. I was never going to be able to knock its head off with its neck in such good shape.
"I'm sorry Sarah," I said as I swung for her knees. I realized I was crying. She smashed her hand into my shoulder, which made my left arm go numb, but I kept swinging with the right. Eventually her knee bent backward. As I'd been hoping, she wasn't able to move very fast that way, so I could get away from her.
More corpses were approaching, in various states of decay. There was no way I'd be able to take them out without the rest dragging me down. I called my magic and used the spark of life left in the branch to grow it out to a crude point while I still had some breathing room. I whispered to the grass to grow up around the feet of the corpses and stop them, but it only slowed them down.
I ran at top speed toward the narrowing ring of undead, and slipped between two men in suits as they fought free of the clinging blades of grass. I could see more of them coming from the street side of the cemetery, and could hear faint screams from the street outside. I swore, and turned back toward the old churchyard.
Jason Peltier was on his way out to meet me. He spread Joey's arms wide in welcome as he saw me. His movements were jerky, like he was controlling Joey's body with a remote control. "Ah, Seth. I see you've come back to join us. That's good. If you don't fight me, I'll give you peace as your reward for helping bring me back. The boy might have held me off, you know, if you hadn't distracted him."
The words arrowed into my heart, and I started crying again. "I'm sorry, Joey. I'm so sorry."
I ran forward and raised the branch over my head. When Peltier put up his arms to protect his head, I pulled the branch down low. I jabbed the sharpened end of the branch as hard as I could at his throat, and collapsed on him. Peltier's uncoordinated arms couldn't get down in time, and the sharp hardwood tore open my best friend's throat.
Peltier cocked his arm and slapped me hard on the temple. I saw stars and my stomach lurched, but I held on. Where he had touched me burned with some kind of magical attack, but it faded away as the life ran out of Joey's body.
I sat back on Joey's stomach, and look around tiredly at the zombies gathered in a ring around us. They stood quietly for a moment, eyes fastened on me, then collapsed in heaps where they stood.
I stood wearily and brushed the dirt from my clothes. I left the stick I'd used to murder my best friend where it pinned through the flesh of his neck to the ground. I stumbled over the close packed bodies of the zombies and headed for the entrance.
I found the older kids a few rows in from the walls, still half undressed. The girl's head had been turned completely around. I stopped and covered her with Dad's shirt. It was truly a marvel that she'd gotten so far.
I walked the four blocks to my house without seeing another living soul. The corpses had made it most of the way there before collapsing. Three large mummified bodies lay sprawled on my lawn.
I reached up and gently soothed the place where I'd entered the boy's skull. I reached out with my will and raised the fallen zombies to their feet. I headed toward the front door with them at my flanks.