Rising Shadows: Chapter One

“We have a situation,” said my cat, spitting a dead crow at my feet. “Necromancers.” 

            I yelped, stumbling away from the bird’s corpse, trying to shake a stray feather off my shoe. I lost my grip on the old junker TV I’d been levitating, sending it smashing to the ground. “What are you talking about? Why am I looking at a dead bird?”

            Catrick Swayze tapped the beak with his paw. “Necromancers. This guy was a scout.” 

I peered down at the feathery mess, the afternoon shadows seeming to lengthen around me. “A scout? Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. He reeked of magic and his eyes were glowing.” Swayze jerked his head to the side. “He was in that tree down the street, trying to get a look at us. Somebody knows there’s a wizard around, and they’re trying to sniff him out.” 

            A familiar chill stole through me, the one that came right before death and destruction ensued. I tried to will it away and it wouldn’t go. “And… necromancers?” 

            “Yup. The only wizards I’ve ever seen who could use carrion birds for scouts were necromancers. I guess death birds and necromancers spend a lot of time together.” 

            “What would necromancers want in Williamsport? Even the people who live here don’t like the place.” 

            “Offhand, I’d say it has something to do with the secret cemetery of wizardly death you came across.” 

            “How would they know about that?” 

“I don’t know, but if you found out about it, so can somebody else.” 

            I swallowed, tried to think. “Of all the damn times.”


            My gaze roamed the empty yard, as if necromancers might be lurking in the bushes. If there was such a thing as a good time for necromancers, this wasn’t it. I had a horror show of my own, looming over me like a thunderhead. That’s why I had been practicing. I needed to get stronger for whatever was coming. “It can’t be a coincidence, can it? It has to be connected.” Connected to Abby, the girl I’d known since I was a child. The girl who’d been… everything.

            “I don’t know,” Swayze said, watching me like he thought I was about to go off the deep end.

Abby’s face flitted through my mind like a half-seen ghost in the middle of the night. That had been happening a lot lately. It had been happening a lot since she was murdered. “Murdered” was a word I still couldn’t get used to. The man who’d done it had confessed it to me, but it still seemed more like a bad dream than cold, hard reality. “What about the, uh… spell?” I shivered at the mention of it. The spell. That was what we’d been calling it when we managed to talk about it. We’d had good reason to wait, at first, so I could recover my magical strength. But with every day that passed that excuse became flimsier and flimsier and was finally on the verge of falling to pieces.

“I don’t know that either,” he said.

            “Sam? Hey Sam, is that you?” 

            I glanced in the direction of a familiar voice, coming from around the corner of my house. “Yeah, over here.” 

            A uniformed cop stepped around the corner. Normally, that would have been cause for alarm, but John Rodriguez was okay. Neither wizards or teenagers trusted the police, and I was both, but Rodriguez had shown himself to be a friend. Still, I knew instantly his presence wasn’t a good sign, and my body tensed. “Hey,” I said cautiously.  

            “Hello Sam.”

            “You must be Rodriguez,” said Catrick Swayze. 

            “Bwahk!” said Rodriguez, jumping hard enough both his feet left the ground. 

            I doubled over with laughter. “John Rodriguez, this is Catrick Swayze, my Familiar.” 

            “That’s right,” Swayze intoned, “it is I, a talking cat.” 

            “Just ignore him,” I said. “That’s what I do.” My laughter died. “You’re here on official business, aren’t you?” 

            Rodriguez shot another suspicious look at Swayze, who gave him an innocent mew. “Yeah, unfortunately. There’s been a murder.” 

            I felt that chill again. “A murder? Who?” 

            “Brendan Romano, thirty-seven-year-old white male, lived on the North Side, worked at a sporting goods store, no priors. Blunt force trauma to the back of the head. Found this morning.”

            “Well, that was informative. You think magic has something to do with it. Which is why you’re here.” Dread began to burrow its claws into me. I didn’t want this. I didn’t want another explosion of violence I’d be lucky to survive. But I couldn’t say I was surprised one was here.

            Rodriguez, as if he could read my mind, looked apologetic. “We don’t know. There’s nothing out of the ordinary, other than the fact that his watch and wallet were intact, which leads us to believe it wasn’t a robbery, but we can’t even be sure of that. For all we know, the killer got interrupted before they could take them. Or it could have been personal.” 

            “It’s not like there are no magical suspects,” Swayze pointed out, causing Rodriguez to flinch.   

            I sighed. “He’s right. Since we’re on the subject of terrible things happening in Williamsport, you should know Puss in Boots thinks we have necromancers in town.” 

            Rodriguez’s eyes bulged.  “Necromancers? As in—”

            “Yeah, as in people who can raise the dead. Zombies. That’s as clear as I can make it.” 

            Rodriguez’s hand tapped his holster. “That’s pretty clear.” 

            “You need to tell the people at the top to go on high alert, if they have such a thing.” 

            He rubbed his face. “Oh, Jesus. Yeah, will do. It has to be them, right? What are the odds a murder happens at the same time these… people… show up?” 

            “I don’t know. It’s not like necromancers are above violence, but that doesn’t mean they had anything to do with this. Necromancers probably would have bagged the body if they had time. But like you said, they could have been interrupted.”

            “Do you think you could figure it out? Tell us more?” 


            He fidgeted. “That’s why I’m here. They know we worked together, that we trust each other. Not that they know the extent of it. That’s why they sent me.”

             “I’m guessing they’re none too thrilled you’re palling around with a teenage wizard.”

“No. There are a lot of people who aren’t very happy with me at the moment, or with you. Anyway, they want you to check it out. Can you tell if magic was used to kill Romano? You can sense it, can’t you?” 

            “I can, if it’s recent and strong enough.” Irritation welled within me. “I only worked with you people before because I didn’t have a choice. I’m not your wizard for hire.” 

            “Some people see it differently.” 

            “Yeah, well, some people should remember what happens to them if they cross me.” 

            “Look, if it’s nothing, it’s nothing. But if it’s not, you’ll end up getting involved anyway.  That’s what happened last time.” 

            “True,” I muttered. 

            “And if it is magic-related, you need to get a jump on it now, before things escalate. People could die if we wait.” 

“Now you’re trying to guilt me.” 

            He looked sheepish. “I know. I’m sorry.” 

            Then it was my turn to look sheepish. An apology can make up for quite a bit. And he was right. All hell was about to break loose, again, and I needed to get ahead of it instead of having to play catch up. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.” 

“How long will this take?” I asked Rodriguez, staring out the window of his squad car. At least he’d let me ride in the front seat. 

            “Not too long. I’ll take you to the morgue, and if you don’t sense any magic on the body, I’ll bring you home.”

            “You want me to look over the body?” 

            “Yeah, that’s the idea. Will that be a problem?” 

            “No,” I grumbled, not wanting him to think I was scared of corpses. Fear of corpses had nothing to do with my aversion to morgues. “Just as long as we get back before my parents come home.” 

“I’m guessing they wouldn’t want you getting involved with this sort of thing.” 

            “No, especially since after last time, I’m grounded for the rest of my life. Their words.” 

            Rodriguez frowned in sympathy. “If it would help, I could talk to them. Explain how it was my idea to bring you over here, official business and everything.” 

            “Thanks, but I don’t think it would matter. They wouldn’t care if it was official business.  It would just wind them up more.” 

            Rodriguez hung a left. “I can see how a parent would react badly to their kid doing… everything you did. But you saved a lot of lives, too. Surely they were glad about that.” 

            “Yeah, they said something about that now that you mention it. It just got overshadowed by my killing a bunch of people, performing exorcisms, blackmailing the mayor, ruining my suit. Things like that.”

            “You blackmailed the mayor?”

            “Of course not, whatever gave you that idea?”

            Rodriguez stared through the windshield with worried eyes. “Hopefully things won’t get that far again.” 


            It wasn’t long until we arrived at Williamsport General Hospital. Rodriguez found an empty space, and we climbed out of the car, heading across the parking lot towards the vaguely ominous brick structure towering over us. “This is a new feeling,” I said as we walked. 

            “What do you mean?” 

            “Working with the police. I feel like I’m on my own cop show and I’m the handsome, unorthodox consultant who solves the crimes no one else can.” I frowned at him. “Of course, in that scenario, you’d be a hot, no-nonsense lady detective who couldn’t stand my rule-breaking antics.” 

            Rodriguez laughed aloud. “If it’s any consolation, the entire force can’t stand your rule-breaking antics.”

            “As a matter of fact, it is some consolation.” 

            I couldn’t resist giving my hands a wave when we approached the glass doors, though they swished open on their own, without the aid of magic. We strode through a sparsely populated ER, Rodriguez stopping to speak with a woman at the front desk. She gave me a strange look, but only briefly, letting us pass. She seemed to know how things worked in Williamsport. We walked further down the hallway, and I followed Rodriguez into an elevator. My good humor of a moment ago had faded faster and faster the closer we got to our destination and was now as dead as anything waiting for us in the morgue.

Rodriguez punched a couple buttons, and I flinched, startled, when the elevator lurched downwards. He noticed it, shooting me a glance. “You sure you’re okay?” 

            I clenched a fist. “I’m fine.” 

            “It’s okay if you’re not. Nobody likes visiting a morgue.” 

            “Unless you’re a necrophiliac. Then it’s like going to a strip club.” 

            His smile was briefer this time. “After everything we went through, all the violence we saw, it’s only natural for you to be having a hard time. I still am. I knew being a cop could be dangerous, but that… that was beyond anything I could have trained for, or even imagined. I’m guessing it’s the same thing for wizards?”  

            “Yeah, I guess.” That wasn’t the problem, but I didn’t want to talk about it. Abby’s face flickered through my mind again. 

            Rodriguez had the sense to change the subject. “How long will it take to see if there’s anything magical about the corpse?”

            “If it’s traceable, seconds.” 

            “Good. We won’t have to stay here any longer than necessary.”

            “Do we need to talk to a coroner or something?” 

            “No. The coroner’s taking a walk.”

Well, so much for the scene with the quirky coroner in my cop show fantasy. The elevator bounced to a grinding halt, the doors slicing open. 

            The instant we stepped through them, cold prickled my skin, seeping through me. Was this what death felt like? I hadn’t noticed any preternatural cold during my own near-death experiences; they had mostly just been bewildering. Rodriguez led the way down a short hallway lit with dingy fluorescent lights. “You know,” I said, my voice sounding strange, that cold air slithering down my windpipe as I breathed, along with something chemical, “part of the reason people are so scared of morgues is the ambience. I mean, this lighting is a disgrace. And if you’ll pardon the pun, would it kill them to get some carpeting?”

            “Yeah,” he said, voice tight, “maybe some décor on the wall. Like a nice nautical scene.” 

            “Exactly. Who doesn’t love a nautical scene?” 

            “Up there.” Rodriguez indicated a big, gloomy metal door at the end of the hall.  Showtime. I followed Rodriguez through it, into something that could have come from one of those cop shows I had talked about. There was a jumbled desk on one side of the room, various scientific-looking objects scattered on tables and shelves, an empty exam table in the center of the room.

            This was where they’d brought her. The knowledge seemed to leap up and swallow me, sucking what little light there was out of the room and out of my mind. Malevolent images stirred, faceless, white-coated people depositing Abby’s body on the tables, lifeless and empty, bottomless dead eyes staring sightless at the ceiling. Stripping off her clothes, so they could slice into her for the autopsy.

            “Sam. Sam, talk to me.” I shook my head, resisting the urge to slam it into a wall. Rodriguez was gripping my forearm.

            I blinked several times, my mind coming back to where it was supposed to be, more or less. “What? Urgh. Right. Right. Sorry. I’m fine.”

            “You didn’t seem fine.”

            “I am now.” He clearly didn’t believe me but didn’t press it. I glanced around. “The body isn’t here.”

            He surveyed the room, his brow creasing. “No. It was supposed to be on the table.” The examination table in the center of the room was sitting empty.

            “Well, the people who run Williamsport aren’t exactly known for being trustworthy.” 

            “No. But when it comes to this stuff, they don’t screw up like this. When they so much as suspect anything supernatural might have gone down, they make sure everybody knows what they’re doing. They wouldn’t just lose a corpse.” 

            “Maybe we’re in the wrong wing. Maybe we should go see if that coroner is back from his walk.” 

            “Yeah, maybe.” His gaze roamed the room, and his hand drifted down to his gun. 

            “What’s wrong?” 

“I don’t know. Something just doesn’t feel right.”

            His words didn’t fill me with courage. A strange vibration slithered through me. Magic. Of a kind I didn’t recognize and took an instant dislike to. “We got trouble,” I said.

            I heard a door open, saw someone step through. 

            “Hey, doctor,” Rodriguez said. “Can you­­—”

            The guy who’d just walked in must have been the coroner, judging from his white lab coat. And he’d recently been murdered, judging from the crimson stains splotched all over it and the jagged red tear across his throat. 

            “What are… hey,” Rodriguez said. I guess shock and horror must have overridden his cop training, because he didn’t react when the dead coroner reached into his bloody jacket and pulled out a gun.

            “Duck!” I threw myself into Rodriguez as the first shots exploded through the morgue, shattering glass, throwing up sparks. We threw ourselves behind the desk, Rodriguez finally having the presence of mind to pull his gun, for all the good that would do.

The gun kept roaring, and more stuff kept shattering. “Is that… is that…” Rodriguez sputtered.

“Yeah, a zombie.”

           “He’s got a gun.” 

            “In real life they can do that.” Another shot boomed.  

            I risked a peek around the corner to see the zombie swivel his gun around, looking for us. About the only bright spot in a shootout with a zombie is that their aim is usually lousy. Of course, the necromancer, whoever he was, had planned for that: from what I could tell, the zombie’s pistol seemed to have an extended magazine, allowing him to blast away at us all afternoon. 

            More shots thundered, sending us both slamming face down onto the tiled floor. Glass tinkled down on top of us, along with a blizzard of paperwork. Shields, you fool, shields. I cast out the magic, let the blue-green energy spread out in the air in front of us, stopping three or four more rounds. That was good; I didn’t think our desk could withstand much more.  

            Spotting the shield, the zombie let out the kind of growl you hear from an inhuman, undead abomination with severed vocal cords. He started running toward us, trying to outflank the shield, forcing me to twist and slide around on the floor, keeping the shield in place, while shot after shot slammed against it. The situation was what you’d call untenable. 

            “I’m gonna let him have it,” Rodriguez said. “Can you do that telekinetic thing?” 

Levitation—or that telekinetic thing, as he put it—happened to be my specialty. “Yeah, I think so.”

“Great,” he said, and without further ado, he stood and opened fire. His barrage was fast, desperate, a couple shots missing to blow holes in the walls, but more struck home, punching holes in the zombie’s chest. A human would have been dead before they hit the ground, but the zombie just staggered, twisting away, but staying on his feet. He howled as he tried to return fire, though the shots went wild, Rodriguez’s shots throwing him off-balance, the overlapping barrage of gunfire pummeling my ears in this enclosed space.

Could zombies feel pain like humans? I didn’t know, but I had the feeling that was a question I was about to spend a whole lot of time asking myself. I dived out from cover as well, trying to keep the shield between him and us, and lashed out with magic. 

            Doctor Zombie was ripped off his feet, his body folding in half like a sandwich and his gun discharging into the ceiling, exploding an overhead light. He flew across the morgue, snarling, to slam against the brick wall on the far side. I heard his skull crack on impact. 

            It left a red smear on the wall, but that was about it. No sooner than he hit, he was hauling himself back up, shaking off a tangle of shattered lab equipment and trying to bring his gun to bear. Before he could open fire, I sent a gurney sailing across the room, fast enough for the wheels to hop off the ground, and it speared him in the gut, sending him against the wall, the gun going off again but missing us completely. 

            Then things got dangerous.

            A barrage of inhuman voices echoed from the room beyond, the morgue, I guess, where they keep all those big drawers. Then what could only be zombies came boiling through, jostling with one another, pale faces twisted with aggression, their eyes alert, focused, and entirely, supernaturally alien, with a faint red glow behind them. I’d never seen anything like that, and it froze my heart.

The inhuman tide surged, hands reaching to rip us to shreds, or convert us to zombieism, I didn’t know, but I didn’t care for it in the slightest, so I flung a wave of levitation into the mass. The zombies in front were lifted off their feet, slammed down into the ones behind them, sending them to the floor in a tangle. Something came crashing down off the walls. 

            “We should run,” I panted. Rodriguez fired another shot on principle, then we did.

Copyright © 2024 Daniel Meyer