“You found her,” Nunny proclaimed when I passed the threshold of the Sunnyledge. “Thank god you’re both safe!” She grabbed Madison by the shoulders and clasped my sister in a warm embrace. “Are you hurt?” she asked as she examined my sister’s face. “And you, Charlie?” she added holding onto Madison while she looked for signs of trauma on my face.
“She’s fine,” I said to my grandmother. “I’m fine. We’re safe.”
“I’m okay,” Madison confirmed nodding her head, but avoiding eye contact with my grandmother. She wanted me to tell her about Martin. She couldn’t look my grandmother in the eyes until that happened. Nunny searched the room, but didn’t see her husband. Her smile faded when she realized he wasn’t with us.
“Nunny, I need to tell you something,” I started, but she cut me off.
“Where’s Martin?” she asked.
“We were lured into a trap,” I tried to explain. “We didn’t know what we were walking into.”
“Did Martin come back with you?” She asked, cutting me off again. “Don’t tell me Billy captured her too.”
I shook my head as she tried to process what I was trying to say. I rested my hands on her shoulders.
“Martin saved our lives,” I said fighting back my tears. “But, he didn’t make it back with us.”
She grabbed onto my shirt and pulled me into a heavy embrace with Madison. Her tears started before she let out her first sob. I helped my grandmother through the foyer and into the living room so she could sit down.
Diana walked in from the kitchen while I sat my grandmother on the couch. For the next ten minutes Nunny listened while I told her what had happened at the high school. I told her how Martin was brave, protecting us the entire time, and giving his life to do so.
We all sat together in the living room while we watched the sun rise through the large bay windows. We still needed to put an end to Billy’s rain of terror, but that could wait while we paid our respect. For the next hour I would let my grandmother grieve with the only family she had left.
On the couch, my grandmother clutched Madison, trying to hold onto her sanity. She wouldn’t break down until we were safe. We all needed to stay strong until we were able to stop Billy for good.
I was too anxious to sit still, so I started to build a fire to have something to occupy myself with. I grabbed logs off the wood pile and stacked them inside the hearth. I lit a piece of kindling and set it down on the lowest point in the pile of logs. I waited until the flame jumped and then set the kindling down. I encouraged the fire as it grew, engulfing everything around it.
“What do we do now?” My sister asked breaking the silence.
“You don’t do anything,” I simply answered. “I’m going to end this.”
“And do what?” Diana asked. “You said it yourself you are no match for Billy.”
“A part of me wanted to save him. I was latching on to the fact that he’s my brother. It wasn’t until after he took Madison I realized to what lengths Billy will go to get what he wants.”
“Do you really think Billy would have hurt me?” Madison asked.
“He killed his best friend, Madison,” I answered. “I don’t think anyone would be safe from him.”
“Think he’s going to stay at the high school?” Diana said from the arm chair.
“Now that we know about the high school I doubt he will go back there. Besides, he’ll want to be somewhere he can create a lot more nefari,” Madison said. “Maybe, a cemetery or morgue,” she added. “He’s going to make an army of them. When he had me alone he couldn’t stop talking about it.”
“We can cross off the morgue,” my grandmother answered, “It’s at the Sheriff’s station. It would only have one or two bodies anyway. Not enough for him to raise an army.”
“Is Matt here?” Diana asked. “He might know a place Billy would go.”
“He isn’t here,” I said. “I haven’t seen him since we got back.”
“We could split up,” my sister suggested. “Start with the closest cemetery and work our way out from there.”
“That’s going to take hours,” I said. “Any other suggestions?”
“I don’t see you coming up with any ideas,” my sister snapped at me. I could tell she felt ashamed the moment the words came out of her mouth. “Sorry, I didn’t mean that, Charlie.”
“It’s okay, Maddie,” I waved it away. “We’re all on edge.”
“Can you make nefari to fight him?” Diana asked.
“It’s a sin against nature every time a nefari is made. I promised Martin I would never create one and I’m going to stick to that promise.”
“What would Martin have done?”
“Martin would have tried to find another way,” I said. “He wouldn’t make a nefari to fight more nefari.” I paused. “Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I’m strong enough to reanimate more than one person.” It was difficult being honest, but I couldn’t pretend I was a match for Billy’s powers.
“If I were Billy,” my sister started. “I would find a place I could store the recently deceased. A central location with a whole bunch of potential nefari waiting to attack.”
“We already ruled out the morgue,” Diana said.
“Right,” my sister replied, “But let’s say he doesn’t need them that fresh.” She raised her tablet and zoomed in on a news article. “Over the past month a whole bunch of bodies were stolen from a bunch of funeral homes in the region.”
“Charlie, remember a body went missing from my dad’s mortuary? I bet Billy was the one who took it.
“How could he keep a body for that long without a freezer?” I asked.
“In normal conditions a body starts to decompose right away after death,” Diana explained. It bloats and starts to break down after forty eight hours. It’s still going to take a month before any real decomposition starts to eat away from it.”
“But these aren’t normal conditions,” I said.
“Right, it’s been freezing outside all month. The bodies wouldn’t even start to decompose out there.”
“Why do you know that?” My sister asked.
“My dad runs the funeral home,” Diana explained. I think Billy has been collecting bodies for over a month now.” She looked at Madison in hopes she was correct. My sister nodded in confirmation.
“He’s already making his army,” I said when I realized what was happening. “What do I do against an army of nefari? How do we even find him again?”
“Diana was right. Matt might know where he would go,” my sister suggested. “Charlie, can you find Matt?”
“I don’t know where he is,” I replied.
“You just have to concentrate on him, Charlie,” my grandmother explained. “You’ll be able to find him. He made a connection with you when he jumped into your body. It’s a connection you’ll have your entire life.”
“Can he find Laura’s ghost the same way,” Diana asked.
“I’m afraid not. A connection like that takes a transfer of necromantic energy,” my grandmother explained.
“How do I do find him?” I asked my grandmother.
“Just concentrate on finding him and you will. See a picture of him in your mind. Your powers will lead you the rest of the way.”
I closed my eyes and thought about finding Matt. I focused my will and pictured Matt’s spirit. A moment later I could see from his ghostly eyes. It took me a second to recognize it, but once the image became clear I knew exactly where he was.
I found Matt in the Sunnyledge kitchen staring out of the window above the sink. “Matt, we could use your help,” I said as I approached him. “We’re trying to find Billy. I thought you might know where he would go if he left the high school.”
Matt didn’t respond or even acknowledge my presence. I stepped closer. It looked like he was holding something, but I couldn’t see what it was.
“A hiding place maybe?” I asked when Matt didn’t respond. “You okay?”
Matt was an one year old spirit. He shouldn’t have been able to interact with the real world or touch anything. Only older spirits could have the power to interact with the physical world. Unless a necromancer gave him the power, I thought.
When he turned towards me I was surprised to see a kitchen knife in his hand. His face was contorted into a scowl and black mist was swirling around the sockets of his eyes. In the deranged state he lunged at me with the knife. I backed up, but wasn’t fast enough. I watched Matt carve the knife through my forearm before I could pull away.
He lunged at me again and I sent my will to hold him back. He struggled against my power, continuing his effort to slash me to bits. He had gained more power than a spirit his age should have. The power I gave him would have only lasted several hours making him visible to anyone. This was different. This meant he was given more power by another necromancer.
I thought back to when he disappeared at Billy’s house. He went missing and somehow made it back to the Sunnyledge by himself. I don’t know why I didn’t think about it before. The time missing from his memory. He was being manipulated.
I could see Billy’s influence in Matt’s eyes. I knew Billy had somehow corrupted Matt’s spirit. That meant I would be able do the same with my own will. I sent my will to counter Billy’s.
“I’m sorry, Charlie,” Matt said while I held him back with my will. “I didn’t want to, but he’s making me.”
“Can you fight it?” I growled taking stock of my injury. A long slice bled along my forearm. It wasn’t deep, but if I didn’t get it sutured it would scar.
“I’m sorry,” Matt apologized while he tried slashing me again with the knife. “I would drop the knife if I could.”
He struggled against my will as he tried to do Billy’s bidding. I imagined he could keep this up all night if I let him.
Billy was sending me a message. It was simple. He could get me at any time and any place. He was telling me he could get to all of us if he wanted to.
I was tired of fighting and decided to drain the remaining energy from Billy’s manipulation and freed Matt from the dark necromancer’s hold. The knife fell through his ghostly fingers and rattled against the ceramic tile. When the black mist faded from his eyes and the normal blue returned.
“I’m sorry, Charlie,” Matt said. “I couldn’t stop myself.”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” I replied. “Billy manipulates every one he comes into contact with. It wasn’t your fault.”
“He’s going to kill you if he finds you again,” Matt said. “Take Madison and leave town, Charlie. You don’t have a chance. He’s to powerful.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“Not exactly,” Matt answered, “But I remember seeing a swing set.”
“Like the one in his back yard?” I asked.
“No, its somewhere else and made of rusted metal.”
“The first time I met Billy was at the park,” my sister said from behind me. The others were watching my from the hallway, unable to see Matt. I wasn’t sure when they came downstairs. “I ran into them that first night when I got into town. Sara, Stan, and Billy were smoking at the jungle gym in the park.”
Diana knew where that park was. “You’re talking about Reece Park down the road from the town hall. The county is culling deer there. Every couple of years they try to trim the size of the heard. We used to hang out there all the time. The park is somewhat isolated, except for the large interstate running in the valley below it.”
It was a perfect location for Billy if he wanted to unleash hell on earth. He could have buried the bodies at night when no one was around. When everyone stood up to get ready, I put my hands up.
“I’m going alone,” I said to everyone. “None of you are coming with me this time.”
“You can’t do this alone,” Madison snapped. “He’s going to kill you, Charlie. You need guns and the police with you.”
“I’m not putting any of you in any more danger,” I replied. “Billy has done enough damage to the people I love,” I said while I looked around the room. “I’ve already been through this with Nunny and Martin before. We can’t involve the police. Bullets can’t stop these things. I’m the only one who can do it.”
“Charlie, this doesn’t have to be your fight,” my grandmother suggested. “You can walk away. Leave Dumont and don’t come back. It’s not your responsibility to stop him. You didn’t even know about us a couple of months ago”
I looked at my grandmother. She barely had time to grieve for her husband and she was trying to protect me. Billy ripped Martin away from us. He has destroyed everything in his path and will never stop unless someone does something. My grandmother was wrong. This was my fight and only my fight.
I looked at Diana. Two of her best friends were killed in cold blood a year apart. Even in death they weren’t safe from Billy. What’s to say he doesn’t kill the rest of you? Who is going to stop him? Who else is left to stop my brother from harming my friends and family?
Without Martin I didn’t know how I can win, but I have to try. That’s what it came down to. Martin was the real hero and now he’s gone. I was just along for the ride, getting the hang of this. He did all of the hard work along the way. I was only a newb. I was only a freshman in this fight. Martin freed Matt from that personal hell he was trapped in. He sacrificed himself to protect Madison. I wouldn’t put her in danger again. She was my little sister. I couldn’t let anything bad happen to her.
I decided to make Matt stay at home. He would be no use against Billy. As a ghost he could only be a liability. Billy had already shown how easy it would be to corrupt him. The last thing I needed was for him to stab me in the back.
It was up to me to stop Billy. He was my responsibility now. As the only other living necromancer, I had to stop Billy. No one else would be able to do it.
I loaded Murat’s sword in the back of the truck and climbed into the front seat. Diana approached the old Chevy and closed the door for me. I turned the ignition and the engine roared to life. Of course the engine would turn when I wasn’t being rushed.
“You don’t have to do this, Charlie. We could get out of here. Run off to New York. Let someone else deal with Billy.”
“He’s my responsibility,” I repeated.
“Damn, that. You didn’t even know any of this existed until three weeks ago. We were strangers. You don’t owe us anything.”
“He’s my brother, Diana. If I don’t stop him, who will?”
“That’s not your problem,” she pleaded.
“I’m sorry,” I replied as I gazed into her eyes.
She kissed me on the lips, and whispered in my ear, “Please, come back alive.”
I smiled and said, “I’ll try.”
“That’s not funny,” Diana snapped. “Just be safe, okay?” I nodded in agreement. She noticed the bed of the truck and asked me, “What’s under the tarp?”
“A surprise for Billy,” I said.