Missed part 1? Read it here
“This probably isn’t the best time to tell you I’m terrified of dead people,” I said as we watched the carcasses continuing to draw closer. “It’s actually the reason I dropped out of med school. I couldn’t make it through the cadaver lab on campus.” Srujana laughed mirthlessly. “How did I get stuck with the one witch who’s afraid of her own shadow?” I glared in response, then looked back towards the gathering horde. “I am still amazed at how fast these guys move considering their state of decomposition.” “Be impressed later,” Srujana retorted. “We need to move before we’re the newest additions to the group.” “Right, let’s run.” We made our way back towards the front office, carefully listening to make sure we avoided the first corpse we had confronted. As fast as we were running, my mind was racing even faster, question after question bubbling up.
Why would someone terrorize this facility, and why use this method? Where did these corpses come from? Where were the workers who had been here only hours earlier? And perhaps the most important question: if there was a necromancer controlling the dead, who was it? “We need to find this necromancer or we’re goners. Did any of those bodies look like the people who work in this facility?” “No, I didn’t recognize anyone, and the clothing didn’t look familiar.” The tattered rags that hung on the walking cadavers looked decades old, perhaps even from the end of the 19th century.
Please let the answer be no, I thought to myself as opened my mouth to speak. “Is there a cemetery anywhere near here?” Srujana nodded and replied, “Yes, it’s on the backside of the plant, not even a quarter mile from here.” I sighed in aggravation. When will people learn that building anything near graveyards is a TERRIBLE idea? “Well, that’s where the shambling meat sacks are coming from. This could be really bad. Depending on how many deceased are in that graveyard, there could be dozens more surprises before this is over.”
We were back at the office with the main door barricaded behind us. “Where would a necromancer hide?” I spoke aloud, mostly to the night air. “If it is a necromancer, they’d be using a grimoire because it’s too hard to control that many dead without one.” “What’s a grimoire?” “It’s a book of magic, but there are certain grimoires that are specifically for controlling spirits, manipulating the dead, that kind of thing. We need to find that grimoire and burn it. That’s the easiest way to break the spell reanimating these corpses.” “So these dead people should go back to being actually dead if we do that?” “Theoretically, yes. I haven’t tested this hypothesis before, so I can’t be certain...”
I was interrupted by violent shaking of the double doors leading into the main plant. Shadows passed over the small glass inset and I caught sight of rotting flesh. “These doors aren’t going to hold much longer,” I commented while I rummaged in my bag. “I have an idea, but it may not work.” After a moment I found the small bag I was looking for. With deft movements I assembled the metal rods and held up the Y-shaped instrument up for Srujana to see. “What’s that?” “It’s a divining rod, also called a dowsing rod. Non-magical folks use it to find water, but this particular divining rod is used to find magical objects, like a grimoire for instance.
“We need to go back into the plant.” “You’re joking! How can we get past the bodies? They’re blocking the doors, in case you didn’t notice.” I quickly dug through my bag again and pulled out a cigarette pack. “Before you ask, I’m not a smoker. This is just a convenient way to carry spells around when TSA is checking your bag.” It’s been my personal experience that the government tends to frown on items of an occult nature when you’re going through airport security. I removed a cylindrical slip of paper from the carton, then proceeded to unroll it. The paper was covered in symbols that would be unfamiliar to someone without magical training. Within seconds I had taped the slip to the door and motioned for Srujana to stand back. “When these doors blow, we need to run as fast as we can before the corpses can regroup.” I closed my eyes and breathed deeply before reciting the spell written on the parchment.
As I opened my eyes, the symbols on the paper began to throb and pulse with shimmering prismatic color. Without warning, the doors exploded away from us, the force hurling bodies, giving us the opportunity to flee.
We were almost free from the deceased horde when I felt something close around my ankle and I pitched forward. In the struggle to free myself I rolled over on my back, only to realize that the first corpse we had encountered was pulling my body towards his own decaying one. Fear unlike anything I had ever experienced surged through me and I felt myself go limp from the terror. Killed by a reanimated corpse. How do you write that in someone’s obituary? I thought morosely as the dead man reached his hands for my throat.
As I finished what I imagined would be my last thoughts, the corpse’s head separated from his body and his grip loosened on me. I watched as his head arced through the air and landed meters from us. Srujana hauled me to my feet and gave me a quick lookover to make sure I was alright. “How did you do that?” She tapped the front of her lethal looking shoes on the floor. “Steel toed boots. They’re highly recommended since there’s a lot of dangerous equipment in the plant.” And that’s why proper PPE is so important.
The other bodies lay on the floor at haphazard angles, but it was obvious it would only be moments before the horde was able to reassemble. That’s the difficult thing about walking corpses; they can take a beating and keep coming back for more. I pulled the divining rod out and muttered a few words. In response, the rod pulled me forward, the inanimate version of a mystical bloodhound.
Two flights of stairs later, we stood in a long hallway with doors on either side. The divining rod quivered in my hand as if delirious with excitement. “It’s definitely here. What are all these doors?” “These are the offices of the plant employees.” As I walked forward slowly, the rod continued to convulse, then forcefully turned to the left. This particular office door was cracked, so I nudged it gingerly and it swung open silently.
A man sat with his back to us, talking loudly even though no one else seemed to be present. While I couldn’t recognize the language, I could feel the magical power in his words as they rolled off his tongue. I had just motioned to Srujana to be quiet so that we could sneak up on the man when the divining rod pulled itself from my grasp. I let out a low grunt as I struggled to hold onto the rod. At the sound of the disturbance, the man spun around in his office chair, revealing a large book lying in his lap.
The divining rod actually pulled me toward the book, confirming this was indeed the grimoire we were looking for. I managed to bark out the single word to inactivate the rod and it became motionless once again. “Alright necromancer, give us the grimoire.” The man’s mouth hung open momentarily before he regained his composure. I smiled inwardly. I always feel a little smug when other people realize they aren’t the only supernatural beings in the neighborhood.
The man snapped out of his state of awe and looked at the book, hurriedly reciting more lines. “What’s he doing?” Srujana asked. “I’m not sure, but he’s probably calling in the cavalry, so we need to act quickly.” I dug through my bag again, hoping I would have one last trick up my sleeve to help us out. My fingers closed around a small plastic vial. I pulled out the vial and yanked off the top, pouring the contents into my hand. “Srujana, hold your breath!” Without inhaling, I blew out as much of my breath as possible. The amethyst colored powder swirled towards the necromancer, engulfing him within seconds. There was a bout of coughing, then a thunderous thud as the man crashed to the floor.
“You killed him!” Srujana screeched. “No I didn’t, it’s just a sleeping potion. I always bring some for myself because I have trouble sleeping in hotels since they tend to be haunted.” Srujana looked at me, then back at the unconscious figure lying on the floor a few feet from us. “Grab that grimoire before the shambling meat sacks realize where we are. If I was a gambling woman, I’d bet anything that the corpses are drawn to that grimoire, as it’s technically what reanimated them. We need to burn it now.”
Srujana picked the grimoire up from where it had fallen. “Is this… a lab notebook?” she questioned. I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. I took the book from her hands and flipped through the pages, quickly scouring over each of the spells contained within. “It looks like he scanned pages from an actual grimoire and then taped them into his lab notebook. He made very detailed notes about which spells he had tried, how much of each ingredient to add, that kind of thing. I’m rather impressed, yet simultaneously horrified.” I took a moment more to peruse the book. “Okay, time to dispose of it.”
We watched in silence as the flames devoured the notebook, and within a few minutes the pages were nothing but a pile of ash. “Hopefully burning the book takes care of our undead acquaintances. But just in case it didn’t, we need to be on guard.” It turns out we didn’t have to worry, because as soon as we were on the stairs we found all of the corpses we had encountered previously. The bodies were slumped over one another, effectively blocking our path, but at least they were animate no longer. I squealed and squeaked the entire two minutes it took me to climb over the pile of cadavers.
A Week Later
“I have some interesting news for you,” I told Srujana as I walked into the lab. We were getting ready to harvest one of our small fermentation tanks. “Oh?” “One of my mystical contacts gave me the scandalous backstory on our necromancer friend, AKA Dr. Garrett Matheson. As it turns out, Dr. Matheson was a postdoc working on a fermentation project at the university. Unfortunately for him, the NSF pulled the grant money for the project, and thus the project was cancelled, because his PI fabricated data in the grant application. Simultaneously, he was turned down for the professorship he was pursuing at another university and his cat died. Bad luck really does come in sets of three.”
Srujana shook her head, but she was smiling a little. “You’re like a train wreck. I know I should look away, but I just can’t help myself.” I nodded in agreement. “Yeah, once you’re “in” the supernatural community, it’s kind of hard to go back after that.” “So what happened to Dr. Matheson?” “I contacted my clean up crew to rebury the bodies and to also deal with the necromancer. They assured me no one’s the wiser, and anyone who is too interested will be told it was someone’s awful idea of a Halloween prank. Matheson is what I call an ‘accidental’ necromancer. He somehow stumbled onto a legitimate grimoire and had enough magical power and wherewithal to be dangerous but relatively ineffective. We were actually pretty lucky. If he had anymore training and really knew what he was doing, I don’t know if we’d be standing here having this conversation right now.” Srujana pondered this for a moment. “You know, it’s things like this that make me think I should have become an entomologist. I bet none of them have ever dealt with poltergeists or reanimated corpses.” I made a face in disagreement. “Have you ever met an entomologist? They have a lease on a special kind of crazy that has nothing to do with the supernatural world. You’d have to in order to work with some of the insects they touch. I mean, maggots, so gross.” I shivered at the thought. As I helped Srujana harvest the fermentor, I thought, One of the first things I discovered in this line of work is that life in a fermentation lab is never dull, but even less so when you’re a full time scientist, part time witch.