Luise awoke to a calm, shining sun. The insane heat of the previous day had moved along, and in its place was a perfect morning from which she could begin to pack and prepare for her journey home. She took her time with a leisurely breakfast, shower, and a solid ten minutes in front of the mirror wondering if she should dye her hair brown again. The red was often used as a talking point for people looking to start conversations, and she loathed every minute of it.
As per her usual, Luise ignored her cellphone until the last possible minute. When she finally and reluctantly opened it, she expected anxious texts from Camilo, an apology from Nialghas, and a series of unimportant questions from her mother.
There were no messages, not even from Camilo.
Luise considered that for a moment, but was confident that at the very least, Eroll and Nialghas were able to get themselves out of trouble just as readily as they always hopped into it.
She continued the almost ritualistic process of preparing for another trip home– her family, though she loved them dearly, were very predictable. She would arrive, be offered sweet tea, ushered inside the house, asked how living in the ‘godless north’ was going, they’d complain that she’d lost too much weight, ask if she had met any nice boys…then the guys would get bored of sitting still and go for a ride on their dirtbikes, and Luise would join them, and she’d get filthier than she ever did at work, but she’d have a blast.
She knew all of this would happen, but she was still somehow looking forward to it, even the 101 questions.
Luise had timed her vacation just slightly off with her grocery shopping however, and realized now that she had nothing fresh for her lunch or dinner, and nothing that could realistically be cobbled together to make a proper meal. Once again hopping in her car, she drove to the supermarket, and found the place unusually busy. Everyone seemed to be in a rush, too. Luise was not an idiot, she could feel that something was amiss. Was it a disease outbreak? Martial law? War? Luise considered the danger in front of her, shrugged, and decided she was equal to whatever danger the grocery store could throw at her.
The chaos was a little worse within, and no one was making eye contact. Some people were outright stealing and running out of the store.
“Is it the fucking Four Horsemen or what?” Luise asked an employee.
“Panic. Some reports about violence from downtown, might be gang related, not really sure of the details. Heard lots of different stuff. I think they’re all just panicking.” The woman stocking shelves said. “In a few days those cameras and the police department will track down all of our thieves.”
“Hmm.” Luise muttered before grabbing a few items- a salad mix, ground chicken, and a chocolate bar. She knew she should save her indulgences for her trip, but…just in case the world really was going to hell, she wanted one last Caramilk.
She paid, of course, before heading back to her car.
Then she saw the first one. Foaming at the mouth, skin blackened and ripe, lurching and leering at whichever person was closest. It also happened to be between her and her car.
Luise stood in shock for a moment before gritting her teeth and seething “Nialghas!” She wasn’t sure exactly what he and that book had to do with this, but it wasn’t nothing.
There had been a few moments in Luise’s life that called on her to act or die. A camping trip with the Girl Scouts that had gone wrong, a first-and-last experience in rock climbing up a real mountain, and, finally, the one time someone had tried to rob her at gunpoint. Luise had a bit of experience overcoming the deer in the headlights phenomenon. As the zombie locked eyes with her and began spastically approaching, Luise looked for anything she could keep it away with. A broken branch? No such luck. A brick, a rock, anything?!
Luise began to panic as the zombie got close. She turned and began to run, with the zombie choosing to chase her. At full speed, the zombie began to fall behind– but Luise couldn’t keep up her top speed forever, and it didn’t seem like the zombie was capable of getting tired. After a few hundred meters, Luise reached the far end of the parking lot where some construction had been going on. A dozen lengths of rebar were laying in a neat pile. “There!” Luise shouted, and lept to the other side of the pile. The zombie was gaining ground quickly, but not quickly enough. Using the rebar like a spear, Luise sunk the first length through the zombie’s stomach. It tripped and fell, and Luise added more rebar through its torso, legs, and arms, until it resembled a porcupine. She then took a quick video on her phone, and bashed its skull in. She returned to her car quickly, and locked the doors.
Then, and only then, did she allow herself to feel the panic she’d held at bay. She trembled, and punched the seat next to her, and screamed at how ridiculous it was that she’d just killed a goddamn zombie. After she’d stopped crying, she ate her chocolate bar, and sent the video to Nialghas.
Camilo had watched the original outbreak as it happened. He wasn’t in a perfect position for it, but a mass of what he guessed was thirty zombies had spilled out into the streets only a few blocks from where he was perched. It took him over two hours to connect that whatever Nial and Eroll had been up to may have been related. He had, originally, been very confident of his position atop the Library, but now he felt trapped. If he went down, there could be half a dozen of these zombie-like things waiting for him. His phone was dead.
The first handful of people who noticed the pack of zombies didn’t make it out. Camilo covered his ears so he wouldn’t hear their screams. Police arrived eventually, as someone must have made it out, but bullets didn’t seem to do much unless it was a clean headshot, and their aim wasn’t all that good. Their perimeter wasn’t perfect either, so a few regular citizens who were more unobservant than the others ended up learning first hand that headphones and not watching where you were going was a bad combination.
Finally, around noon if Camilo’s internal clock was any kind of accurate, the police called an all-clear.
“Unbelievable.” Camilo scoffed as he descended. “I could’ve done that alone with a crowbar in half the time.”
Camilo returned to his empty home– no surprise there, his parents worked insane hours– and plugged his phone in before collapsing into his bed to try and nap. The screams still echoed in his ears, however, and no sleep came for him. He’d passed his information on to the authorities and they said they’d want a statement before long, but something in the back of Camilo’s mind told him that their idea of ‘normal life’ hadn’t been merely disrupted. It was over.
As soon as Camilo’s phone turned back on, he shot out some texts. He figured if he tried to call his phone could die again.
Luise had messaged him. Eroll had messaged him. His parents had sent him a warning about some kind of ‘gang violence’ downtown.
Nialghas was the only one who hadn’t said anything.
Eroll, what the hell happened? Are you and Nial alright? The necromancy thing must’ve been real since a small horde of zombies kept me stuck on a freakin’ rooftop all night!
Eroll wrote back. Not sure what all I’m able to say. Nialghas is fine. Just stay indoors, especially at night.
How do we stop this? Camilo asked.
I’m not sure. Nialghas hasn’t explained thoroughly what all went on. I’ve had an idea. I’m going to use my parent’s credit card for the only thing it’s good for: setting up some security. You remember how to get to our beach house? It’s far enough out of the way that we should all be safe, I’m going to stock it full of food and the kind of weapons you can get without needing permits. Your parents should come too. I have a feeling that this isn’t over.
Camilo sent back a thumbs-up, and looked at Luise’s text.
Cam, weird shit going on. Don’t go out.
Well, not nothing new there.
Eroll wants to establish the beach house as our apocalypse bunker. Kinda crazy all those times we debated our zombie apocalypse plan and now we’re here scrambling lol
This isn’t an apocalypse, Luise replied. This is…well, I don’t know, but Nialghas probably does! Is he coming to the beach house too? I’ll get in contact with Eroll.
Camilo decided he wasn’t going to wait for Nialghas to finally answer his phone or to reach out. He had to go to his house and find him. Maybe he was in trouble.
Nialghas hadn’t moved in hours. His back ached from his improper posture, his pen was clutched so tightly in his hand that his muscles were burning, but he didn’t notice. This was the most important thing he had ever studied. He had learned just a few things so far– the Order that Eric Prospero had represented used various techniques to mimic magical ability, since magic itself would ‘stain the soul’. The Necrophos whose book Nialghas had stolen had no qualms with this, and touched magic directly. Nialghas would not need a potion for when he needed to walk in Spirit again, not with the technique he had come to understand. When he did, he could lay claim to stray souls and stuff them into corpses, to turn them into mindless laborers. He wasn’t sure he understood the ‘how’ on this one just yet. The town must have plenty of spare bodies with the zombies the Necrophos woman had unleashed, though. Had she unleashed them all? If so, the outside world would be chaos now.
Nialghas’s mind sparked within that train of thought, and a fire was lit. An idea of how to overcome the Necrophos using her own techniques, but improved upon. Nialghas wasn’t sure he could actually do this idea, but it gave him hope.
Nialghas was in such a rapture over his studies that he barely registered when Camilo burst through his front door.
“Nial! You home?!” He shouted.
“In back.” Nialghas responded.
“Where’s your mom? We’re all gathering at the beach house.” Camilo rounded the corner just as Nialghas tucked away his book.
“I sent her away. With the scarcest of details, of course, but she’ll see on the news soon enough.”
“Oh. Why aren’t all of us just running, then? And what exactly is going on?”
“I don’t want to explain everything, it would take a very long time. The person who made the zombies is after Eroll and me. We can’t flee, because she will chase us. She needs us dead. We saw too much– or, rather, I did, and Eroll was with me, and she knows it. I have a plan. Everyone else should be fine to run, though. So you and Luise definitely should.”
“No way I’m leaving you two behind. Luise is gonna head to Eroll’s, so maybe we should too, then we can figure this out and face it together.”
Nialghas nodded after a moment’s hesitation, and the two of them took Nialghas’s mother’s car toward the beach house.
Luise was meant to meet Eroll at a hardware store so they could take as many sledgehammers, axes, and other such useful instruments as possible and return them to Eroll’s place. He had already finished the grocery run.
Eroll did not arrive in time.
Luise had been there, certainly. Her car was there, as was a pile of four zombie corpses strewn about the parking lot. Her cellphone was on the cement, crushed. Luise herself, however, was nowhere to be seen.
Eroll’s stomach had knotted up tightly. He tried his best to keep cool, but hot, angry tears still sprung to his eyes as he considered what could have happened, each alternative darker than the last.
Finally, Eroll inspected Luise’s car, and on the driver’s side door there was a message written in blood.
Come get her, little thief.