Noob Necromancy on the Beach by Joel Spriggs
"It's no use," Jake said from the passenger seat, "there are no parking spots left." He looked over his blue-framed sunglasses at his twin sister Esmy.
"There's always one spot around here if you're willing to look," Esmy said to Jake. She didn't bother to return his glance, but peered around other cars through her own dark wire-rimmed sunglasses. She brushed her wavy long brown hair out of her face with one hand, while the other stayed on the wheel. "Why do I even bother to come with you every year?" She asked.
"Because, there is more than corn in Indiana, and the lake shore on Lake Michigan is the closest thing to a real beach in under a two-hour drive."
"Not very compelling," she dodged back out of a spot, and nearly flattened a moped with the middle-aged Nissan Stanza.
"OK, it's about the only time of the year I can yank you out of the house to get some sunlight, and I'd rather my sweet sister not turn into a pasty-faced ghoul that only goes to work and home."
"Nothing wrong with pasty-faced ghouls. I think if you asked Loki, he might know many worthwhile ghouls," replied Esmy. She pointed to an area ahead where a car pulled out of a spot.
"Sometimes I'm afraid to ask Loki exactly what kind of people he knows. There're parts of our great-grandfather's history we probably shouldn't ask."
"There," Esmy shouted and floored the accelerator. The Stanza shimmied and jumped suddenly as the transmission slipped. They launched into the parking spot, and Esmy slammed on the brake, Jake braced himself from slamming into the dashboard.
The twins hopped out of the car. Esmy tied her hair back in a loose pony tail, took off her Ramones t-shirt.
Jake leaned on the car, "really sis? A one piece?"
Esmy flipped him off. "I'm comfortable OK, and are those," she pointed to his unbuttoned short-sleeved button up shirt, "tiny pineapple?"
Jake rolled his eyes, "shut up." He walked to the back seat and started unloading some towels and a pair of umbrellas. "I'll carry the other gear, if you can grab the cooler."
Esmy went around to the trunk, slung a small backpack over her shoulder, and got the cooler out. She pulled the handle up and tilted it to drag the cooler by its wheels behind her. They headed through the parking lot out to the beach of Lake Michigan for their day in the sun.
The sand was packed with other Midwesterners having the same idea as the twins. "Like usual, you picked the busiest day of the year, Jake," said Esmy.
Jake pointed an umbrella to an opening in the sand. It sat between a dad ignoring three little girls who appeared to be burying their brother in the sand and an overweight sun-bathing octogenarian woman. He started to set up umbrellas and spread out the towels. Esmy finally caught up to him, dragging the cooler through the sand slowly with the wheels stuck.
Esmy scanned the horizon, "great view of the Chicago skyline from here." She flopped down on her towel and rummaged through her backpack. Esmy pulled out a box of Mike n' Ike candy and her tablet.
"I drag you out of the house for the first time in forever and you brought a book?" Asked Jake.
"Dude," Esmy replied, "I picked up some Dwarven Engineering Spellwork manuals recently and I can't wait to work on the car rebuild when the heat breaks."
Esmy laid out on the towel in her shorts and swimsuit, propped herself on her elbows to read the tablet screen in front of her. Jake fussed with him umbrella and finally settled onto his own towel.
"Hey, what did you bring in the cooler this time anyway?"
Esmy stared and flipped across pages, "UMM, I brought some beer, a few sandwiches. I mainly grabbed a bunch of crap from the fridge and shoved it in a cooler. Glad you tossed the ice in first though, thanks for that."
"What? I didn't put in any ice.”
Something inside the cooler bumped. Jake turned to it and waited. He turned back to face the lake when the cooler bumped again.
"Esmy, where did you find the cooler?"
"Breakfast nook," she answered, not looking up.
"Oh." Jake sighed. "Crap."
The lid of the cooler popped open. A duck's head popped out. It only had one eye and the solitary eye glowed glacial blue.
"Why? What's wrong with that cooler?" Esmy asked, still not looking up from her tablet.
The duck crooked his head to the side. It did not blink, but the duck opened its beak. A strained hiss came out. Esmy finally looked up from her screen, she hopped back away from the cooler. The duck quacked through a throat dry as a desert and scraped with razor blades.
Esmy scowled at the cooler and turned on Jake. Esmy pointed at the duck, she spoke in a soft but agitated tone. "Is that one of your zombie ducks?"
Jake winced and nodded.
"Is this one weaponized?" She asked and raised an eyebrow.
Jake grimaced and nodded again.
Esmy shook her head and huffed a breath. She threw up her hands, "for fart's sake Jake, I thought you gave up on necromancy?"
He pointed a finger at her, "no, I specifically said I was going to try something else. I didn't say my next project wouldn't still be necromancy."
"Something else?" She asked. "That is one of the same ducks you made before, and still weaponized to breath ice!"
"Now, in my defense, you always said I should weaponize them.”
The duck took advantage of the argument and hopped out of the cooler, flopped flat on its face in the sand. It squawked out an unearthly quack again, and took flight.
"Great, Jake,"Esmy said and waved an arm at the duck. "Now we've got a zombie duck loose over Lake Michigan. Happy?"
Jake shrugged. "Can you fly out over the Lake and nip him from the air?"
Esmy's eyes went wide. "Oh no! I can't believe I forgot my broomstick! Loki asked to borrow it last night!"
The lid popped open on the cooler again. Little furry fingers gripped the lid and a raccoon with glowing green eyes skittered out. It hobbled to make a getaway, missing one of its back legs. A squirrel with a flattened rib cage and a hedgehog followed the raccoon. The three little mammals with the glowing green eyes scampered in different directions through the crowds of kids and sunbathers on the beach.
"Those were the something else?" Esmy asked as they trailed off.
The raccoon hopped on the stomach of the obese geriatric woman in the bikini sunbathing near them. When she tried to swat the little beast from her, it bit her hand before running off. The old woman sat up and stared at the raccoon trailing off through the crowds. She threw herself back to the towel and began convulsing.
Esmy and Jake both stared at the seizing woman. "Jake, is that normal?"
"I have no idea, I've never seen what happens when they bite."
"Don't you have any way to control them? Like a drum beat or something?"
"Well, I need a charm that has them bound to my will. It matches the one I sewed inside of the animals."
"Back at the house," they both said at the same time.
"Look, I didn't think you were going to grab my cooler with my necromancy projects," said Jake.
"Me?" Esmy screamed pushing Jake. "What about you? Making zombies out of roadkill and leaving them in a cooler in the kitchen? Who does that Jake? Why leave them in a cooler?"
"Because you told me I couldn't keep them in the freezer!"
"Well, excuse me for thinking leaving your zombie duck next to my Rocky Road is a tad nasty!"
They turned away from each other and took some deep breaths. Jake watched the old woman. She stopped shaking and stood slowly. She opened her eyes and they glowed a soft green.
"Eyes like gimlets," he said softly. "Esmy, I think we have to do something. I think the bites can cause people to become zombies."
Esmy massaged her temple in her fingers. "How fast?"
Jake gulped, "um, about the span of an argument."
She turned back to her brother. Esmy looked out over the beach. Other people rising with a ghostly green glow to their eyes. The glow came from sockets of couples, from little children, even from a lifeguard.
"OK," Esmy said surveying the crowd. "New plan, you find some way to catch the little undead woodland critters you've made and stop them from spreading this further. I'll call Loki and check if he has any idea how to stop this and reverse it all."
Jake nodded. He slipped his flip-flops back on and started off in the direction of the raccoon and the squirrel. Racing past a picnic table, he stopped and ran back. Some family stopped halfway through slicing up a watermelon when the raccoon bit them, and they left a massive knife in the fruit. He grabbed the knife and kept running.
Esmy grabbed her phone and scrolled through the favorites on the contacts screen past Jake, Mom, Dad, and clicked the button on Great-Grampa. The line rang and rolled over to a voicemail, "you've reached Loki, trickster God of Asgard. I'm not home right now." Esmy hit the end call button and immediately dialed again. The surrounding zombies started to walk around now, and seemed to be attacking the uninfected. Esmy took off in a jog back towards her car.
After a few tries, Loki finally answered. "Hello?" He sounded groggy and tired.
"Loki, need a favor, know anything about zombie infections?" Esmy yelled huffing.
"Esmy?" Loki asked. "Aren't you out at the beach with Jake?"
"Yeah, we have a bit of an incident."
"Shouldn't Jake be able to handle this? He's been tinkering with the necromancy for a while now."
"You'd think," she chuckled reaching the car and catching her breath. "Thing is, Jake left his notes and the little charm that controls his pet projects at the house, but apparently the little bastards were in the cooler I used for beer. Now they're running amok at Lake Michigan."
"Yeah," Esmy said into the phone, "Oh. They started biting people and now those people are turning to zombies too."
"Easy," Loki said with a yawn. "Either cut the source zombie's head off or pull the charm from its belly. The rest will be history, people go back to normal, yadda yadda yadda."
"Yadda yadda yadda?"
"Give me a beak, I stayed up til six this morning.”
"Iron Chef marathon?"
The line went silent with acknowledgment.
"Look, is there anyway you can send my broom to me?"
"No problem. I left it in the trunk of the Stanza."
"Sweet! Thanks Great-Grampa Loki!" She hung up the phone and popped the trunk. Esmy threw her phone into the trunk and searched around. She pulled out the long branch of Spellwork stenciled ash from a tree struck by lightning. She threw a leg over and kicked off from the ground.
Esmy flew low over the crowd, hunting for Jake. At the edge of the zombie crowd, people ran and backed away from something. She approached and found Jake in flip-flops and his open shirt wielding a carving knife against a snarling raccoon with glowing green eyes. The raccoon leaped at Jake, but caught sight of Esmy mid-jump. Jake took advantage of the distraction and sliced the head clean off.
"Take that, trash panda," he yelled triumphantly.
Esmy flew down to him. "Loki left this in my trunk after all. He said we need to cut the animals heads off or cut the charm out of their belly you used to raise them. Everyone should go back to normal after that."
Jake nodded. "One down, three to go. You want to go after the duck while I take the ground critters?"
"Sound like a plan," and she swept away once more.
Esmy flew back towards their tent, she stopped for a second, looking around for a weapon of some kind to use. A scream erupted from down the shore a way. She grabbed the first thing in the cooler, a bottle of beer. Esmy popped it open and took to the sky again.
She drank the beer with one hand while steering her broomstick with the other, following the sounds of screams eastward nearer to the sand dunes. She pulled up over a tall dune and found the undead duck laying arcs of icy breath over hikers working their way up a trail. The bird flew lazily, and Esmy caught up to it quickly. She turned downward. Sweeping past the ground, she broke her empty beer bottle on a large rock before swinging the broomstick back up. Esmy flew straight up at the duck.
The duck attempted to open its mouth to blast her with ice, but never got the chance. Esmy buried the broken bottle deep in its belly. She twisted the broken glass around, holding the fowl with her momentum as she flew. When she finally did pull the bottle out, the charm and all the birds rotted guts flew out, spraying the beach below them. The blue eyes went out like candles being snuffed and the bird fell dead again.
Esmy caught up with Jake. He held a headless squirrel and cutting the charm free from its stomach near a picnic table.
"You catch them all?" She asked.
Jake tossed the rest of the squirrel into a trash can, but pocketed the charm. "Yeah, I think so. Everyone seems to be back to normal."
"You think so?"
He frowned. "I couldn't find the hedgehog. But, all I can figure is he either couldn't bite anyone from the size of his teeth, or he got pulled out to the lake. Maybe picked up by a gull."
Esmy shrugged. "I'll call it a win. Let's head home, I don't think I feel like being at the beach anymore."
Jake nodded. They packed up their towels and cooler in the Stanza. Esmy tossed the keys to Jake. "You're driving, I need a nap," she said.
Esmy lay back in her seat. Jake pulled up to a stoplight and turned on his signal to hop onto a highway. Esmy looked into a car next to her. It was the family with the little girls burying their brother near her and Jake at the beach.
Through rolled down windows she heard the strangest thing. One of the little girls told her younger sister, "You don't expect to find a hedgehog at the beach, but isn't he just the cutest little fluff ball?"
Esmy sat up quickly, but only caught a brief site of eyes, glowing green like gimlets, before the family turned the opposite way, and they headed in different directions.