Technical Sergeant Angelina Winterfox pulled her boot free from the mud with a rather noisome squelching sound. If there was one thing living on a man-made city floating on the surface of the ocean didn’t prepare you for, it was mud. Especially the sort of oily black mud one encountered on the shore of a long-abandoned rock quarry in the state of Ohio.
Truth be told, she didn’t want to be here. This was not her home, her jurisdiction, or even her job. She was an evidence and forensics specialist for Extra Special Weapons and Tactics, not a field officer. She’d worn the field jacket she currently had on just once in her life, during her induction ceremony into XSWAT. Her normal mode of dress was a white lab coat, worn over a shirt and bodyglove. It was her mother (Captain Chrysine Winterfox) who was the field officer (or had, until the loss of an eye to a rogue Entity had relegated her to desk duty.) But then again, it’s hard to ignore a request from the (former) Director of XSWAT.
* * * * *
“Uh… Aunt Jama you want me to go where?” Angie wasn’t sure she was hearing this correctly. She normally didn’t go out in the field, seeing as her power of Second Sight was more useful dealing with evidence (and corpses) in the laboratory.
“The state of Ohio, in the United States of America.” Director Jamadigni Renuka (retired) leaned back in her chair and sipped her tea. “There was a time when I’d go, but I’m fifty-two. I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.”
* * * * *
Which was true enough. Aunt Jama had seen plenty in her 21 years in XSWAT. And Angie herself was only one of a handful of officers who had any real dealings with the dead. And Aunt Jama, in her wisdom, had seen fit to assign two of those to the same mission.
Stepping carefully along the shoreline, Angie tried to keep her flashlight pointed at the ground in front of her. Last thing she needed was to twist her ankle on a loose rock. A sudden tug on her hair made her stop and sigh. Lifting her other hand from the carry-all slung over one shoulder she reached behind her back, returning with a small brown bat clinging to one gloved finger. “Well,” she asked. “Have you found anything?” For its part, the tiny mammal regarded her with bright black eyes, shrugged, then flitted away.
* * * * *
“But why me?”
Sipping at her tea (a delaying tactic that was driving Angie to distraction) Jama seemed more interested in the view out the window than answering the question. Which Angie knew was a lie. Fifty-two she might be, but there was nothing wrong with the Director’s eyes, ears, or mind. The only thing to do was sit and wait.
“Because you have Second Sight. You can see, and talk, to the dead. And I suspect the dead will have a great deal to do with what is happening.”
* * * * *
Everywhere you went there was someplace reputed by the local residents to be haunted. While Angelus had Omega Sector (which was most definitely haunted) this corner of Ohio had the Dougherty Gravel Works. It had last seen operation nearly 150 years ago, in the middle of the 20th Century. Now it was nothing more than rocky cliffs, thick stands of trees, dark water, and a long gravel-strewn slope.
Her spinner was some distance up said slope, a few hundred yards off that-a-way. It was parked next to a mobile home so ancient she figured a stiff breeze (or just a stern look) might cause it to collapse. There were also piles of rotted tires, some tangled chain-link fence, a slowly collapsing shed, and a red plastic Red Flyer wagon, sitting all alone in the middle of a stand of weeds.
* * * * *
“And what is happening, Aunt Jama?”
Another pause and another sip of tea. Angie was willing to bet Alice and Malachi had long learned the value of patience when talking to their mother. But right now all it was doing was making her fidget, which wasn’t good coming from a twenty-four year old Tech Sergeant. “I’m not sure.”
“Sheriff Singer told me that last year three children vanished out near the quarry. And that it has a reputation for strange happenings, such as ghostly figures, weird noises, wandering lights, and all that sort of thing.”
“Typical ghost story stuff, then?”
“Pretty much.” Jama sipped at her tea again, savoring the flavor. It was a pity Cadbury couldn’t be here to enjoy the moment, he’d always liked Angie. “But there is a rumor.”
* * * * *
Turning towards the quarry, Angie let her flashlight play out over the dark waters. Like many lakes the world over, the pond here was reputed to be bottomless. It was also said to never give up its dead, not that anyone went swimming—or fishing—here. Not anymore. The bright LED beam made a tight column through the clouds of mist hanging over the water’s surface. Somewhere out there, hidden by the black water, was supposed to be the wreckage of a grav-minibus. At least, that’s what the legend said.
“Why Halloween? Why not, oh… something simple, like a Tuesday?”
“Because Halloween is also known as All Hallows’ Eve. It is the time of Samhain, the time between autumn and winter, then the wall between the land of the living and the dead is at its thinnest. And one of the best times for any ritual involving human sacrifice. And anyways, Tuesday is tomorrow.”
I will not scream. I will not scream. I will not scream. Now...10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Breathe in, breathe out. “Hello Jasad. Do you like doing that to people?”
The tall XSWAT officer, clad in all black, except for the silver trim of his jacket and the cross pinned to his lapel, bowed. “You have found me out.”
Gritting her teeth, Angie took another deep breath (and almost regretted it due to the smell of organically-infused mud.) “So, have you found anything, or are we just wasting our time?”
“Trust me, young Winterfox,” Jasad’s eyes and teeth glittered in the shadowy darkness of his face, “we are most assuredly not wasting our time. There is something here. Officer Benedict can feel it, and so, I presume, can you.”
Tilting her head to glance past Jasad’s shoulder, Angie looked to where a pale white figure seemingly floated amid the scraps of mist blowing off the pond. While she might scare you, she won’t hurt you. Yeah, thanks Aunt Jama. Just what I needed to keep me company on Halloween night, a ghost and a vampire.
“No, you’re right, there’s something here. Something nagging at my mind. I just can’t see it.”
“Patience, young Winterfox. The night is still young. Things will happen in their own due time.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“They always do.”
* * * * *
“A rumor? Lemme guess, some crazy cannibal family lives back in the woods and kidnaps hikers so they can torture them?”
Bright green eyes looked at her over the rim of a tea cup. Angie suddenly felt like she was six again, and her mother had caught her with a hand in the cookie jar. “Perhaps I should talk to your mother about your choices in viewing habits?”
“Aunt Jama, I’m twenty-four!”
“Positively ancient. Now, if you’re finished, I’ll explain.”
* * * * *
“So, let me see if I have this straight.” Angie tapped her chin as she walked along the shore, Jasad following a step behind. “Forty-seven years ago, a bunch of high school students are coming back from a school dance when the minibus they’re in decides to take a cross-country detour and slam into this pond here.”
“That is the story, yes.”
“The bus wished to go swimming?”
Angie stopped so fast Jasad nearly collided with her. “I swear, I’d slap you if I could. Be serious.”
Behind her Jasad shrugged, his long hair hiding his grin. “Do you wish me to guess on something we know nothing about? That the bus crashed into the quarry pond is a given, searchers found enough evidence of that floating on the surface.”
“But no one knows why.” Now it was Angie’s turn to shrug. “Well, there’s the usual theories.”
* * * * *
“Black magic?” Angie asked.
“Perhaps,” was Jama’s reply. “Two dozen people died in that crash. That’s more than enough for any blood magic I know of. But there’s something deeper going on here.”
“Do the math, Tech Sergeant Winterfox. What happened 47 years ago on Halloween?”
“Ahhh…” Where’s de Normandy when I need her? “2140 minus 47 is… oh shit.”
“But Jama, that bus crashed on the same night as the Van Goren breakout. When Omega Sector was created!”
“And you want me to check out something like that alone?”
“Alone?” Jama quirked an eyebrow. “No, never alone.”
* * * * *
“Yes,” Jasad started to tick items off on his white-gloved fingers. “The bus driver was secretly a psychotic…”
“Or a serial killer.”
“One of the teachers wanted to hide an affair with a student.”
“The GPS failed.”
“Possible, but unlikely. Besides the bus had manual controls.”
“One of the students wanted revenge on a tormentor.”
“And killed twenty-four people to do it? I don’t think so.”
“Never underestimate the strength of madness. Besides, there’s always the last choice.”
“Someone wanted power. A great deal of power.”
“And they died getting it.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
* * * * *
“Officer Benedict? The ghost cop?” Angie wasn’t sure she’d heard that right.
“Yes. Officer Miyako Benedict and Officer Jasad will accompany you on this mission.” Jama rose and poured herself a new cup of tea.
“Jasad? Who’s Jasad?” Angie asked. She considered venting a touch of frustration by making a face at Jama’s back, but knew better. The woman had eyes in the back of her head, or so Angie swore.
“A very special officer. He’ll meet you in Ohio, along with Benedict.”
“Why not now?”
“Because you’ll be taking a sub-orbital and they… have their own ways of getting there.”
* * * * *
Out in the middle of the lake something burbled. Angie pointed her flashlight out across the water, her nose wrinkling at the smell. “Whew… just what we needed, impure methane.”
Jasad studied the bright line of light. “Coming from where?”
“Normally? I’d say a layer of rotted vegetable matter at the bottom of the pond. But here? Corpses perhaps?”
A sudden ripple across the lake’s surface made the water’s edge surge. Angie stepped back as a second surge sprayed water across her boots. “Uhm…” A deep belch announced a low wall of water that crashed amid the stones along the shore, followed by a series of splashes.
Angie spared her tall companion a withering glance. “You think?”
With an outrush of air the mist cleared, showing the quarry pond to be smooth, pristine, and very, very dark. Angie dropped one hand to the butt of her maser. She wasn’t sure what use it would be, but the resin grips felt comfortable at the very least least. Beside her Jasad seemed calm, his arms folded in front of him, hands buried in the depths of his coat. A further look showed Benedict standing as still and motionless as she had been before. Angie wondered if the dead woman was even aware of what was going on. Or, perhaps, she was just waiting.
The water bubbled again, crashing and frothing as something upwelled from below. Bits of debris started to appear—a white mask, a plastic pumpkin, a scrap of clothing, something that might be a PDA.
With an echoing groan the crumpled nose of a minibus rose from the depths of the pond. Water streamed from the tangled wreckage, covered as it was in mud, water weed, and aquatic life. The vehicle reached further and further into the air, the water boiling about its base, before crashing back down to rest on the once-again calm surface of the quarry pond.
“There,” Jasad intoned, “the wall is now so thin the dead can enter the land of the living. Look with your Second Sight, young Winterfox and tell me what you see.”
* * * * *
A sub-orbital. Aunt Jama made it sound so simple. But truth be told, she’d never left Angelus before. Who needed (or wanted) to? Everything you could ask for was right here, on the Eighth Wonder of the World. Well, okay, Aunt Jama traveled abroad quite a bit—she always had law enforcement conferences to attend—and her mother often went overseas to participate in eight- and nine-ball tournaments. She’d often intended to go with Chrysine some day, but had never gotten around to it. Perhaps she should make the effort. It wasn’t like she was lacking in vacation time, after all.
Holding her carry-all tightly, Angie glanced at the departure board. Still 30 minutes before boarding, and then a three hour flight to Chicago. Shrugging her shoulders (an XSWAT field jacket was a lot heavier than her lab coat) she sighed. All things considered, she’d rather be back in the lab than standing here, waiting for a flight to a country she’d never visited before. Still, it was something new, and to be honest, exciting. And it certainly would be something to tell her mother about once she got back.
* * * * *
Blinking once, twice, a third time, Angie did her best to focus past the floating mass of a long-wrecked bus. Initially her Second Sight seemed to be a random thing, but her time spent with Aunt Jama had refined the ability. Now she could call it up almost at will, although she still wasn’t always sure what she was looking at.
Swallowing, Angie willed herself to keep her gaze on the shattered minibus. “Ghosts, Jasad. I can see a dozen at least. They’re standing on the roof, dressed in party costumes and wrapped in chains.”
“Chains?” The vampire looked at her in alarm. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Angie’s voice sounded distant, almost distracted as her Second Sight filled her field of vision. She was getting lost in what she was seeing, a common effect of her talent. Useful in the lab, but potentially dangerous when standing next to a haunted lake. “They’re chained hand and foot and neck to neck…. There’re more now. A lot more. Maybe two dozen. Boys, girls, a few teachers.”
“Angie. Angie!” Jasad took the young officer by the shoulders and shook her. “Angie, stop looking!”
* * * * *
Sheriff Michael Singer was tall and thin, with close-cropped black hair. He also seemed more friendly than Angie had expected. Although, to be honest, he had called Aunt Jama, which meant he was already a far cry from the close-minded and xenophobic stereotype she ascribed to anyone who came from so-called ‘Middle America.’ Actually, she hadn’t met a whole lot of Americans, so she wasn’t sure if she was being fair or not. Perhaps tri-vid wasn’t the best place for forming opinions on the rest of the world. Then again, a kid from Roar Sector, whose mom was a Clade, really shouldn’t be forming baseless opinions about anyone.
“Sheriff Singer? I’m Technical Sergeant Angelina Winterfox. Director Jamadigni Renuka sent me.”
“Ah yes, she said she’d be sending you over. Told me all about you.”
Angie’s heart almost sank at that. “She did? Uhm… what did she say?”
“Only that you were a fine officer.” He paused and looked her up and down. Angie was rather tall (she towered over Aunt Jama and could look Claire 404 eye-to-eye) and the XSWAT uniform made just about anyone look positively badassed, but she was willing to bet she still wasn’t what he was expecting. Although with XSWAT one never knew what to expect. “Do you really talk to ghosts?”
Oh, that’s what she told him. “Ahh… yes. Yes I do. Well, sometimes. I usually work in evidence an forensics and sometimes the bodies in the morgue aren’t exactly dead.” She paused and tried to think how to best express what she was getting at. “They’re… only mostly dead, you see. The spirit hasn’t fully left the body, so sometimes you can talk to it and find things out.”
“Like how they died.” Or in Officer Benedict’s case, you can read her AAR.
* * * * *
“Angie? Are you alright?” Jasad glanced from the young officer to the wreck out on the water. He wasn’t sure but the dark-clad shuffling forms of the long-dead students seemed to be increasing.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m okay. Angie tried to focus her eyes on Jasad’s face. “What’s wrong?”
“You were getting lost in your Sight. And that would not have ended well for you.”
“Chained ghosts indicate a necromancer.”
“That’s bad, isn’t it?”
“It depends on how powerful and skilled the necromancer is. But looking as you were? You may have seen more than you’d ever wish to. Not to mentioned drawing the attention of things best left undisturbed.”
“Uh… I guess that’s why there’s so many ghosts.”
“Ghosts are the least of our problems young Winterfox. It seems the dead walk tonight.”
Angie looked to where Jasad pointed. Instead of the hazy forms of dead souls, she could see a small horde of dark, dripping figures, dressed in water-logged and rotted clothing. “Wonderful.”
* * * * *
The sheriff’s office was far more modern than Angie would have thought. She had to remind herself that even here in Warren Valley, Ohio, it was the year 2140, not 1940. It was, however, cluttered with all the sorts of things long-term law enforcement ended up with. Evidence bags and boxes, file folders of paperwork, computers, a weapon’s locker, a coffee machine, and a seemingly endless supply of used coffee cups. It reminded of her mother’s old precinct back in Angelus, before she started desk duty in the Tower.
“Realize that 2093 is long before my time, Officer Winterfox.” Singer shrugged. “I wasn’t even born then, much less sheriff. So all I know is what the reports say and some of those are… well, questionable. However,” and here he sat up straighter and more self-assured, “I do know that since joining the force here the Dougherty Gravel Works has been the scene of some very strange occurrences.”
“Oh?” Angie sat up straight herself. Now it was getting interesting. “Like what?”
“Like last Halloween, for example. Three teens decide to see if the stories about quarry being haunted are true and spend the night there. All we found was their tent. Nothing else.”
“Uhm… why didn’t someone stop them from camping there?”
“Because they didn’t tell anyone who would.” In response to Angie’s look, he continued. “They only told a few friends. When the kids didn’t show up the next day, or the day after that, the friends then told us. I went out there myself, and like I said, all we found was a tent and some sleeping bags. Of the three kids? Nothing, not a trace.”
“Maybe they ran away from home?”
“Maybe they did, but they didn’t seem the type. And no one’s seen them since. Not in person or online.”
Yeah, that was the kicker. You could hide from the public eye if you really wanted, but sooner or later you’d need to access the Net, and once you did, everyone who cared could find out where you were. It seemed nearly impossible for three teens to go a whole year and not access the Net even once. And even if someone had murdered the kids and stolen their PDAs, those would have shown up somewhere.
“Director Renuka also mentioned some other incidents,” Angie prompted, feeling an almost ghoulish fascination with the whole deal.
“I could give you a whole case file, if you want,” Singer said. “I’ve got reports of fishermen going out on the water and only their boats coming back. No one will swim in the lake; the water’s said to be ice cold year around, and bottomless to boot. Hunters have reported strange lights and noises, and people have supposedly seen figures moving around the lake… and on it. These days the quarry is pretty much left alone. Which is good, since no one will give me the funding to fence the damn place off.”
Sounds like Omega Sector. “Can you download it to my databand? Also, I’ll need directions and transport.”
* * * * *
“That’s way more than two dozen people Jasad.” Angie kept her flashlight pointed out at the floating wreck. There were a lot of dark figures standing out there on the vehicle’s roof.
“It would seem our necromancer has been busy over the years.”
“So all of those stories of people vanishing?”
“Are very, very true.”
“So what do we do?”
“Destroy the physical bodies. And see if we can’t find and destroy the necromancer. Then the spirits of the slain will be at peace.”
* * * * *
As rooms went it wasn’t bad. It had all of the basic amenities one expected a 22nd Century motel room, although Angie missed some of the features her house computer had back home. Still, it wasn’t like she was completely cut-off from the rest of the world (meaning Angelus), it was just a bit of a hassle. That said, she was able to link into the XSWAT d-bases, check her email, send Jama (and her mother) a note that she was here and all was fine, and then download and start reading over the voluminous pile of files that Singer had dropped into her databand.
It was heady stuff. Starting with the disappearance of the grav bus 47 years ago, nearly 50 people had vanished in or around the quarry over the decades, with last year’s three teens the latest victims. There were also reports of strange apparitions, ghostly forms, weird howls and screams, smelly ape-like figures, lights in the sky, the forest, and the water, and innumerable other such tales. It was like some form of water-logged Omega Sector, right here in the middle of heartland America.
“He needs you to open the door.”
Angie slowly picked herself up off the floor, glad she had managed to avoid knocking her tea into her computer. As it was it took her a good minute before her heartbeat resumed anything near a normal pace, not to mention picking up her chair, her PDA, and digging under the bed for her stylus.
“Officer Benedict, would it hurt to knock?”
Angie was tall enough to look Benedict in the eye, an experience she didn’t recommend to anyone. The long-dead officer simply stared at her from under tangled locks of inky black hair, neither moving or breathing. She was, as Angie uncomfortably noted, as still as the grave. Finally she raised one arm and pointed towards the door. “Officer Jasad can’t enter without your permission Officer Winterfox. Please open it.”
She’s doing this on purpose. She has to be. Angie sighed and went over to open the door. Once she got back to XSWAT she’d have a thing or to tell Aunt Jama about her choice of mission companions. The ghost of an XSWAT officer who’d died nearly fifteen years ago and a vampire that was… was… She idly wondered how old Jasad might be. His speech patterns were slightly archaic as was his choice of clothes. Oh well, it wasn’t like asking him would get her anywhere. If anything, he could be more cryptic and evasive than Aunt Jama and Officer Benedict put together.
“Enter freely and be welcome,” Angie stated with a bow as she swung the door open as dramatically as possible. As she rose Jasad’s tall black-clad form glided past, his eyes glittering with amusement in the shadow of his long hair.
“Careful who you say that too, young Winterfox. There are those who are not as benevolent as I and would exploit such an invitation.”
“Well, isn’t that why she’s here?” Angie jerked her thumb to where Benedict stood.
“For now, yes. But you can’t depend on such companions to be there at all times. Now, let’s see what you have found, hmmm?”
* * * * *
She’d given up counting corpses. They were now spilling off of the roof and splashing into the water. She was positive the dead were either walking or swimming across the lake, heading right towards her and her undead companion. “Why isn’t Benedict joining us?”
Drawing her maser, Angie flicked the safety off, feeling a touch of comfort as the battery hummed up to a full charge. She tried to recall everything her mother, Claire, and Uncle Tyger had ever told her about firearms. Except… her mother could fire a 15mm revolver one-handed, while Claire and Tyger tended to go into combat duel-wielding pistols and were capable of making it work. Yeah, like any of that was going to help here. Maybe she should go with Aunt Jama’s advice, which was to set one’s feet, hold the maser with both hands, and fire for the T made by the target’s arms and torso. Yeah, that’d work. Glancing over at Jasad, she noticed he was carrying a rather large and heavily customized maser pistol in each hand. Figures.
“Standard or creature?”
“For you young Winterfox? Set it for creature. Take your time, go for the center of mass, and make each shot count. Don’t worry about the numbers, that is my concern.”
“She will aid us when the time is right.”
* * * * *
“Well, it’s not much,” Singer said, “but I hope it’ll do.”
‘It’ was a Warren Valley police department patrol spinner. Not nearly as advanced as the typical XSWAT spinner, but serviceable enough. And it’s not like she expected to be handed the keys to a Stozwind or anything. Even XSWAT had maybe two dozen or so of those. “No, it’ll do fine,” Angie replied. as she opened the door. Room for two (driver and passenger) cargo space in the back, VTOL capacity. The perfect vehicle for examining a haunted quarry from the air and the ground.
“I’m glad you like it. What do you plan to do next?”
“Next? Next I intend to get some breakfast. then go and look the quarry over from the air. Then, check it out from the ground, and finally I’ll decide on where I’ll be landing tonight, once it gets dark.”
“Dark hunh,” Singer sounded dubious, or perhaps apprehensive, she couldn’t tell. “You really intend to spend the night there?”
“Ghosts mostly come out at night,” Angie stood up and grinned at Sheriff Singer over the roof of the spinner. “Mostly.”
* * * * *
The water near the shore started to ripple and bubble. Something was just under the surface and Angie had a good idea of what. A good four-dozen walking corpses, collected over the same number of years. Now ‘alive’ and kicking on All Hallows’ Eve. Just peachy-keen.
“Remember, young Winterfox, make each shot count. Don’t panic and don’t fire wildly.”
“And when they get close?”
“We’ll retreat up the hill. And don’t wait for me before you do so.”
A black shape cut the water’s surface, resolving into the slowly staggering body of… well, she wasn’t sure what. Four decades of immersion could do that to a person. Oddly enough, she was a lot calmer than she expected. Perhaps it was working in the XSWAT morgue that did it. Perhaps it was having a demon-fighting mother. Perhaps it was having an aunt who could call down storms from the sky. Or, perhaps it was knowing that whatever was coming out of the quarry pond couldn’t be worse than surly red-eyed ghost and a vampire with a sardonic sense of humor.
“Whew…” Even her time in the morgue hadn’t fully acclimated her to a smell like that. Setting her feet, Angie settled into the classic policeman’s stance: slightly crouched, feet shoulder-width apart, both hands on her maser. She looked over the top of her pistol at the mass of figures now stepping onto the shore. There, the short one, still wearing the ragged remains of a Halloween costume. She sighted in towards the center of the upper torso and…
Zark! The high-energy discharge caused the water-logged body to super-heat, with the sudden eruption of steam doing almost as much damage as the maser beam itself. The walking corpse fairly exploded, with the head (or what she guessed was the head) arcing into the air before splashing back into the pond. “Y’know Jasad, I bet this used to be a nice neighborhood.”
The tall vampire didn’t bother to answer (although he spared her a withering glance), instead busying himself with firing his twin masers with a speed and precision that would have done Claire and Uncle Tyger proud. While Angie sighted in (and destroyed) a second zombie, he managed to down a good half-dozen or so.
“Y’know, this doesn’t seem half-bad.” Angie backed up a few paces before resuming her shooting stance and firing again. Once out of the water the walking dead moved a lot quicker than you’d think. “I mean, we got ‘em, right? Am I right?”
Aw crap. Back-peddling, Angie ejected the pistol’s battery and reached to her belt for a fresh one. “Jasad! Reloading!” They’d taken down nearly two dozen targets (while Benedict did nothing… in fact, where’d she go?) but that still left another two dozen. And now the corpses were spreading out, apparently trying to flank the two XSWAT officers. Still, she didn’t doubt they could handle it.
“Ah! Is It That Time Of Year Again?” The voice echoed strangely over the dark waters of the quarry.
Sparing a quick glance, Angie could see a new figure standing atop the floating wreck. This one looked… different. More animated in fact. She sighed. She should have remembered the lessons her mother and Aunt Jama had told her over and over. Rarely were things as easy and simple as they seemed. “Wonderful.”
* * * * *
In Angelus, an XSWAT uniform attracted disinterested looks. It wasn’t that the uniform was all that special, but the people in it tended to be. Still, after 40 years of existence, they’d become a somewhat normal sight in the City of Tomorrow. However, here in Warren Valley, Angie’s uniform attracted outright stares. Standing in line waiting to pick up her caramel mocha and muffin, she tried not to fidget. Maybe they expected her to start summoning monsters right here in the middle of Starbucks… or explode a few heads with a glance. She wondered what reaction her mother would have garnered. A six-foot plus Fox-Class combat Clade probably would have sent half of them screaming for the door and the other half falling to the floor with a heart attack. Suppressing a grin, she decided saying ‘boo’ to the cashier was probably a bad idea.
A muffins went, it wasn’t bad, but for someone spoiled by Claire’s baking it was at a severe disadvantage. The caramel mocha, on the other hand, was perfect. Angie took a sip and then glanced at her PDA. Based on Google Maps, the best place to land would be near the old access track, which led from a meandering country road right down to the water’s edge. There was a clearing near what looked like some ancient shacks perfect for setting a spinner down.
“Good morning, young Winterfox.”
It was with a supreme effort of will that Angie didn’t shriek her surprise to everyone in the Starbucks. As it was she nearly ended up on the floor again and it was only Jasad’s supernatural reflexes that kept her PDA from ending up somewhere on the other side of the restaurant.
“What is it with you two?” she snapped once she’d reseated herself. She paused and then looked out the window and then back at Jasad. “And how is it you’re here, anyway?”
“Please accept my apologizes, young Winterfox, I tend to forget how little noise I make.” Angie thought that was a blatant lie if she ever heard one. Her mother, who could move almost as quietly if she wished, tended to be genuinely sorry about startling people when she came up on them unawares. But it wasn’t her fault, really, it was how she was made. Jasad, on the other hand, seemed to be taking perverse glee in trying to turn Angie’s hair as white as her mother’s. And she wasn’t even 30 years old yet!
“Apology accepted.” Angie took a long drink of her mocha, hoping to calm her nerves. “And you didn’t answer my other question.”
The black-clad officer simply shrugged. “Perhaps you should read your Stoker, hmmm?”
Angie settled for resting her forehead on the table. This was going to be a long night.
* * * * *
Kneeling behind the long-dead remains of a tree. Angie looked out over the lake, blinking in an effort to bring up her Second Sight. She could hear the figure out on the wrecked bus ranting in his weirdly-echoing voice, as Jasad dealt with a small army of walking corpses off to her right. It was with a mixture of apprehension and surprise she realized all of the glowing chains she’d seen before led right to him. Some stretched out into the water, presumably still attached to mobile corpses, while others hung in the air, linked to glowing spheres of light she could only assume were souls who’d had their physical bodies destroyed.
Raising her maser, Angie carefully sighted down the barrel. She had no idea if shooting the necromancer with a burst of coherent electromagnetic radiation would work, but it was worth a shot. So to speak.
“What?” Angie turned the weapon on its side and checked the shot counter. Full charge. Safety was off, all LEDs in the green. Why wasn’t the damn thing working?
“Well, Well, Well. What Have We Here?”
Uh-oh… She could feel the cold coming off his body before she even turned around. He’d crossed a hundred yards or more in the blink of an eye and had apparently shut down her maser with just a thought. This could be bad.
The necromancer didn’t look that unpleasant for someone who’d been dead and submerged for 47 years. In fact he looked disturbingly normal, if one discounted the excessively pale complexion, the stringy hair, and the fact he was soaked to the skin. She’d seen a lot worse back at the morgue. Then again, he was floating in the air, surrounded by glowing ghost chains and the souls of the long-departed. Which led to the question: ‘what would Aunt Jama do?’ Probably summon up a spirit and blast him. Mom? Cut him in half with Hexbreaker. Uncle Tyger? Start shooting. Claire? Ditto. Yeah, this was not going well.
“Technical Sergeant Angelina Winterfox. Extra-Special Weapons and Tactics, Angelus.” She stood up straight and announced herself with a steady voice and eye. “And you’re-urk…”
“You’re A Cop? Rather Oddly Dressed For One, Aren’t You?” The necromancer snatched her up into the air with a twisting motion of his hand. He held her for a moment, looking her up and down. She was taller then he was, she realized. But then again, she doubted he was much older than 16. Another twist of his hand and her maser was pulled out of her grip. “Not So Tough Without Your Gun, Are You? And I’m What? Under Arrest?” He laughed, a creepy burbling noise she could have done without.
“Well… yes, I guess.” She realized just how absurd that sounded. Like one could arrest the dead. “And I’m not alone, you know.”
“Oh, I Know. I Know.” The necromancer nodded over to where Jasad had been firing as of a few moments ago. “But I Doubt He’s All That Tough Without His Guns, Either.”
You’d be surprised. Angie decided that the last thing she needed to do was to mention exactly how many and what kind of companions she had. Powerful he may be, her captor wasn’t as smart as he thought he was. Perhaps she could get him talking (he did seem to like hearing himself pontificate) and stall for time. “So… what now? I guess you’re not going to let me go, are you?”
“You? Of Course Not. First, I Shall Dispatch You, As I Have All The Others Who Have Trespassed On My Domain. Then…” and here he looked her up and down again. “I Make You My Bride.”
Gritting her teeth, Angie did her best to avoid laughing. Dead he might be, and a powerful magician to boot, but he could learn a lot about fear. Benedict was creepy going on downright scary, while Jasad could be quite eerie if he so chose, but this guy? He was pathetic.
“Your bride? Aren’t you twelve?”
“Shut Up! I’m Not Twelve! I’m Sixteen!”
“Positively ancient.” His sudden change in demeanor went a long way to removing the initial rush of fear. “And I’m still not going to marry you.”
“Hah!” He let her drop back to the ground and then descended until he was standing over her. “Once I Finish With You, You Won’t Be Able To Say Shit. Got That?”
“Yeah… got… it…” Whatever spell he’d use to pull her into the air was now being used to press her into the mud of the access road. Armored XSWAT field jacket or no, the points of gravel under her hurt. “But… someone I know… might… object.”
“Who?” He jerked his head over to where Jasad had last been. “Him?”
“No…” Angie nearly smiled at the sight of a pure-white form. “Her.”
The necromancer’s reply was cut short as Miyako Benedict drove five wickedly-long claws through his chest. Angie winced and turned her head to avoid the sudden spray of black blood. The boy gurgled, a sound even worse than his laughter, and seemed quite surprised to discover he could be hurt. But then again, Benedict was a ghost after all. Withdrawing her arm, Benedict seemed to hiss in either anger or glee, and Angie regretted the glimpse she had of the ghost-cop’s expression. That was the face of fear.
Trying to turn and raise his hands for another spell, the necromancer’s face fell as he caught sight of what confronted him. A pale white figure, with red eyes and tangled black hair, arms spread wide, fingers tipped with nightmarish claws. Blurring with the motion, Benedict struck, slashing through the teenager’s torso with a flurry of strikes. Still prone, Angie crawled backwards away from the scene, not wanting to get between a predator and her prey. It dawned on her that this was why Benedict had been so scarce. She was a ghost after all and the last thing she needed was to attract the necromancer’s attention. So once he’d fixated on Angie, she’d come in for the kill. It was a cold-hearted stunt, using her as bait, but then, Benedict wasn’t exactly the warmth of human kindness. Not anymore.
* * * * *
Google Maps hadn’t lied. The clearing, albeit weedy, was perfect for setting the patrol spinner down. She parked next to an absolutely ancient house trailer that looked too decrepit to even approach, much less enter. It was overgrown with vines, most of which looked to be either dead or dormant, and surrounded with the sort of flotsam and jetsam places like this tended to accumulate. A scattering of ancient tires, many rotted away into scraps of rubber, empty and broken bottles, a tangled stretch of chain-link fence—complete with broken gate—and over there, a tool shed that was slowly going the way of all flesh.
“So, Jasad, now what?”
“Now?” The tall vampire looked over the desolate scene for a moment. “We look for evidence.”
“Of what? It’s not like the police haven’t combed this place already. Especially after what happened last year.”
“True. But they didn’t have Second Sight, now did they? Besides, if Sheriff Singer had that much knowledge of the occult, he wouldn’t have called the Defender, now would he?”
He had a point. Checking her maser, she holstered the pistol, then slipped an LED flash into her belt. Finally, she slung a carry-all over her shoulder. Why she needed a pouch of candy was beyond her, but Jasad seemed to think it important. Something about traditions he’d said. “Well, let’s go.”
“Yes, let’s. And don’t worry, young Winterfox, Benedict will be along in due time and I intend to keep in touch.” With that he collapsed downward, like sand running from an hourglass, becoming not dust, but a stream of small brown bats. One fluttered by Angie for a moment, alighting on her shoulder and tugging briefly on her hair, before taking to the air and following its fellows.
Now she was alone. And it would be dark in an hour or so. “Wonderful.”
* * * * *
“Angie? Are you alright?” Jasad crouched down next to her, the concern evident in his face and tone.
“Yeah, I guess.” She stood, slowly, painfully, and tried to not sway from the aching in her head. “I think I lost my maser.”
“No,” Jasad nodded, “Benedict has it. I must commend you, young Winterfox, for showing such resilience. The Defender and your mother would be proud.”
“Great.” Well, that came out wrong. “I’m sorry Jasad, I don’t mean it like that. It’s just…”
“I feel like I didn’t do anything. That you and Benedict could have done it all without me.”
The black-clad officer shrugged. “Perhaps. But neither of us could have spoken with Singer. And we would have been at a disadvantage when facing such a necromancer. And you did account for six of the walking dead.”
“Hmm…” If this was field work was like, she’d stay in evidence and forensics, thank-you-very-much. How Aunt Jama had survived was beyond her.
“Now, wait here, young Winterfox, while I get our vehicle.”
Leaning against a tree, Angie watched as Jasad walked up the slope. He looked somewhat ragged, his uniform battered and torn, mute testimony of what it took to destroy the remaining walking dead bare-handed. Still, it had been worth it. She’d heard the ghost-chains shatter once Benedict had finished rending his physical form. The necromancer’s captives were free at the very least. As for the necromancer himself? Only time would tell, but the quarry felt… less oppressive at any rate.
“Here, you dropped this.” Benedict held out her maser, which looked fine, if covered in smears of mud.
Holstering her pistol, Angie sighed. She wanted a hot shower and a warm bed. Not to mention… a sudden tug on her jacket made her turn around. One of Jasad’s bats she bet. Looking to hitch a ride on her hair again.
Behind her she found not a bat, but a small child, dressed in a crude spherical burlap mask and faded orange pajamas. Looking up at her, he held open a plain white pillow case.
“Uhh…” Angie felt utterly confused. How had such a young child gotten out here? And where were his parents? And what did he want from her, anyway?”
“Officer Winterfox.” Benedict’s voice actually sounded concerned. This was enough to make Angie glance her way, to see the revenant standing as still as a stone, looking not at her but at the small trick-r-treater. “The candy in your carry-all, give it to him.”
“Give?” She glanced back, to see the child still holding up his sack. “All of it?”
“Some, all, it doesn’t matter. Just give him a treat.”
Too tired and sore to argue, Angie simply nodded. “Yeah, sure.” Reaching into her carry-all she produced a handful of sweets and dropped them into the bag. “Here you go. Now get on home, it’s late.”
Glancing into his sack, the child seemed happy with his treats. Nodding to her, he turned and walked down the access road to the quarry’s pond. “Hey! Not that way!” Angie almost started after him before Benedict closed one icy hand on her arm. “No, let him go. It’s best for all of us.”
“It’s what the Director would have done.”
“Oh…” Said that way, perhaps it was best not to interfere. She glanced back towards the lake only to realize the small figure had vanished.
“Uhm… Benedict? The little kid, where’d he go?”
“Sam? In search of more treats of course. It’s what he does.”