The Problem with Zombies.
Fog clung to the base of the tombstones arranged in rows on the gentle hillside. Names, some worn and other more recently carved, adorned the stones as tiny, individual monuments to the people who lay buried here. The public cemetery had no fences or gates to guard the grounds, and it was perfect for the purposes of the black robed man who trudged through the late gloom on the warm October evening.
Wisps of fog splashed silently against his legs as he approached his goal: A large, flat gravestone he could use as a lectern. He was happy to reach it, because the tome he carried was heavy enough to get off the shelf he'd found it on, let alone walk for eight blocks in the middle of the night down to the graveyard near the middle of town.
It would be worth it, though, he smiled to himself. He'd been picked on for years, and now, NOW he would get his revenge. Soon, when an armada of the dead swept through this town and slaughtered his enemies, yes, THEN the world would know he was a force to be reckoned with.
This train of thought demonstrated the first problem with most would-be necromancers: They are not a civic minded bunch. Any angry, self-important dweeb could raise an army from the nearest graveyard with the right tome in hand, thinking to himself in occasional capital letters about the horror and destruction he would sow to make his own bruised ego feel better. None of them ever really sat and thought about things. Not a single necromancer in the history of the multiverse set out with the express goal of creating the world's most efficient army of gardeners, for example. That such chances and ambition are wasted on those so petty and self-absorbed is truly the greatest evil they ever accomplish.
The black-clad figure set the book down and opened it with a wheeze of effort. Look at him now, thin and reedy, exactly the type of person who you'd expect to see wearing black, hiding under a hood, and about to chant mystical words in the hope for some attention. Pale skin and thick, round glasses only serve to fill in the narrative to the point of cliché. His parents might as well have named him 'Norbert,' just to twist the knife a little more.
Oh, wait, they HAD named him Norbert. Two weeks later, in one of the nicest acts that would ever be performed on his behalf by another human being, they had been killed in a car crash. Thin, nerdy Norbert spent his early formative years surrounded by foster parents and a growing collection of books. The books and the stories they contained were the only constant in his life as foster family after foster family had traded him in for better, more active children. Norbert had felt, when it occurred to him to do so, like an unwanted baseball card.
Six months ago, after settling into a new school with new bullies and new people who could ignore him at their convenience, he had met an elderly woman named Mrs. Zeego. She was strange and fantastic, and she spoke of voodoo and magic, and Norbert, unlike the others that filled his sad little world, had listened. She had encouraged his study of the dark aspects of power, and her intention was to twist young Norbert into a weapon to slay her enemies with. This had not panned out, and she was currently incarcerated, pending a hearing on cocaine possession charges, but that has very little bearing on our story here.
Mrs. Zeego's teachings had brought Norbert to this final, triumphant point in his life. At the immortal age of sixteen, how would raise an army and conquer the city, and his horde of rabid, brain-devouring minions would grow with every passing moment and soon he would control the world!
Because absolutely every decision you make at the age of sixteen works out well for you.
Using a flashlight to read the text through the night, Norbert began to chant the instructed words of power, quietly at first, and then louder and louder as his confidence... Yeah, sure, we'll call it confidence, why not... grew. Soon, he was squeaking mighty tones over the tombstones and waving his arms for what would most assuredly had been dramatic effect if anyone was watching.
And in response to his ritual, the fog around his feet began to twist and coil, and it took on a sickly green color. It climbed the stones and coated the grass, boiling angrily within itself and covering the graveyard like a vaporous cancer.
And as Norbert shouted the final words of the spell, the fog sank into the ground, and beneath the earth, a noise like a thousand pissed off cows began to rise. Norbert was shaking with excitement, looking for the first rotted hand to claw its way out of the ground and bring up a body ready to do his bidding.
He waited for a minute.
And then for five minutes.
After ten minutes, he closed the book and sat on the stone, waiting.
A half an hour later, the noise had died away. Norbert slapped himself in the face to stay awake.
And it dawned on him that he was now encountering the second problem with most necromancers: They do not plan ahead.
After an hour, Norbert thought he could hear something, on the edges of his mind. It almost sounded like something was being knocked. He got off the stone and looked around, but if he strayed away, the noise grew fainter. He stuck near the tome and the tombstone it rested on, trying desperately to figure out what was happening.
And then, without warning, the ground beneath his feet heaved. Or... something. Heaved is a strong word. More like... there's barely a word in English to do it justice. There was barely an action worth doing justice to, but nonetheless Norbert noticed it. He took an involuntary step backward, and this time saw the ground tremble where he'd stood as he shined his flashlight upon it.
He watched in awe as, finally, a finger poked out of the ground, followed by a hand. Gray and lifeless, the fingernails caked black with grime, the hand scrabbled a little against the earth before finding more purchase. It was an energetic combination of digging and shoving that produced a second hand, and before long a shoulder. And a voice.
"Nope!" came the muffled, raspy, but above all else ANGRY voice. "Don't help me! That would be too damn much!"
Norbert was shocked, but overcame it quickly enough to grab one of the cold arms and pull. This produced no measurable effect, as Norbert was... athletically disinclined, let's say, but it drew a fresh round of swearing and anger from the body trying to break new ground for itself.
"A shovel! You didn't bring a damn shovel? Brilliant plan!"
Norbert locked his jaw and heaved, and finally the other shoulder and head were surrendered by the graveyard's soil. The new zombie wore a dirty, wrinkled suit with a snappy tie. His features were still strong with a minimal amount of decay, although his mouth had wrinkled terribly in the absence of moisture. His eyes, thought quick and darting, were glazed over and dead-looking. None of this should have surprised a rational person but... well, this was Norbert.
"Hey, you don't look very dead," Norbert said. It was all he could think of.
"Paid good money for that coffin," the zombie growled as he, with Norbert's 'help' began to pull his legs free. "Sturdy, inedible outside, soft cozy interior. Had a door handle on the inside and everything. Was almost sure they'd try to bury me before I died! Ha! Who's paranoid now, eh?"
"What day is it, lad?" the zombie asked. It was only now that it began to dawn on Norbert that he did not have total control of the situation. And that his spell had re-animated a man with a vaguely Irish accent.
"Um... Tuesday?" Norbert ventured, and then remembered what time he'd left his foster home. "Or Wednesday."
"Oh, I've been out less than a week then! Excellent!" The zombie stood up and stretched, every conceivable joint cracking and popping as he did so. The noise of it sent a shock down Norbert's spine. "Tell me, lad," the zombie continued, "What brings you out here in the middle of the night?"
Norbert looked down at his shoes. "Um... raising the dead?" he ventured meekly.
"What was that?"
"I... uh... I was raising the dead."
The zombie gave him a critical look. Now that he was free, he stood quite a lot taller than Norbert, and had broad shoulders to match his square jaw. His hair was all but missing entirely, but most of the rest of him was still intact, right down to a pair of finely tailored shoes. He brushed a small percentage of the total amount of dirt on him off his sleeve and straightened his coat. "One of THOSE people, are you?"
"One of those Dungeons and Dragons players with your magic and your monster games. Can't say I approve much, but whatever floats your flotation device, I suppose." He straightened his tie and looked around. "Still, it's good you were here, or I might have been stuck down there for... another five or six minutes."
"Now if you'll excuse me, I have some people to upset with the fact that I am still alive," the zombie grinned. "Ta, boyo."
"Hey, don't leave!" Norbert said, still very unsure of himself. "I raised you! You're mine to control! That's what the book says!"
"Don't believe everything you read kiddo," the zombie chuckled as he began to walk away.
"I said get back here!" Norbert snapped angrily, not really meaning to.
"Go home to your mother, kid," the zombie snapped back as he turned around and walked back toward Norbert. Both parties looked equally shocked as the zombie stood before the... I guess we have to call him a necromancer now. He successfully manced this particular necro, after all.
"How the bloody hell...?" the zombie started.
"See?" Norbert said, recovering well. "You died, and I raised you. You're a zombie and I'm your master!"
"Zombie?" the dead man asked incredulously. "Boy, to be a zombie, I'd have to be dead first, and while I may have been in a deep sleep, I am most certainly not dead!"
Norbert looked up at him, and then around himself. And then at the tombstone. He pointed.
"What the hell?" the zombie asked, craning his neck to see. "Oh, they even got me a tombstone. That was fast."
"This says your name is Edward Tolliver," Norbert said.
"That's right enough," Edward Tolliver nodded.
"And that you died in 1993."
"Well, I didn't die-"
"That was 19 years ago," Norbert told him.
Edward looked down at Norbert, confusion climbing his features like a rabid squirrel. "Pull the other one, kid, it's got bells on it."
"You must be joking me, you slack jawed idiot!"
"But if I REALLY died... and you really... and then I..." the light of understanding began to break upon Edward's withered features. "Oh."
Edward stared at the ground for a while. "Is there a pay phone around here? I'd like to make a call."
"There aren't any pay phones anymore. Most people have cell phones," Norbert shrugged.
"Like a Star Trek communicator," Norbert supplied helpfully, cementing his nerd-like status.
"You've lost me," Edward replied.
"It's a phone you can carry around!"
"Like one of those wireless things?"
Norbert took a moment to be exasperated. "Yes, but you can take it with you anywhere!"
Edward considered this. "That'd probably work. Can I borrow yours?"
"I said 'most people' have them."
"Yeah, and?" Edward said impatiently. Norbert waved his arms in the air in a wild gesture to just about everything. Edward's features fell. "Oh. I see."
"I'm an orphan without a dime to my name. Why do you think I'm trying to raise the undead?"
"... chicks?" Edward ventured, only slightly sarcastically.
Norbert sighed. "Why are YOU the only one I got, anyway? There must be hundreds of people buried here, why didn't they ALL come back?"
Edward shrugged. "My bet would be muscular dystrophy and tissue decay. Not everyone goes to the grave as well preserved as I was. Maybe you do have more zombies, they just don't have the strength to stand up. Or climb out."
"If you don't use them, you lose them, kid," Edward sighed. "Or, in your case, if you don't at all anything ever."
"I used to be a doctor, you know."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Little to nothing," Edward admitted. "Look, why can't I move my legs? This is ridiculous!"
"Because I told you to come here," Norbert said. "Your mind and your mouth may not be under my control, but your body certainly is. So nyah,"he said, sticking his tongue out at the zombie.
"What are you, six?" Edward growled.
"Sixteen," Norbert corrected him, "AND I'm your master, so you have to do what I say."
Edward rolled his eyes. "This is stupid. I don't want to do this."
"Too bad. You didn't want to die either, and that worked out well for you."
"Tell me about it," Edward grumbled.
"So let's get to work. You may be alone but you're still zombie, right?" Norbert said in a valiant attempt to make the best of a situation.
Norbert drew his arms up dramatically again. "Then I command you, minion-"
"-to go devour the brains of my enemies!"
Edward winced, and then looked down at his motionless feet. "Why aren't you going yet?" Norbert demanded.
"Well, I have no idea who your enemies are," Edward told him. "Also, brains? Eugh, no thanks."
"But... but you're a zombie!" Norbert wailed. "Eating brains is what zombies DO!"
"Look, kid, have you ever met a zombie?"
Norbert sniffed. "Well... no."
Edward sighed. "Me neither, but for the time being, let's assume I'm less a mindless killing machine and more a... non-living person, okay?"
"Besides," Edward said, his voice heavy with fatigue, "looks like I can't go anywhere without your say so anyway, so I guess I'm stuck with you."
Norbert looked up into Edward's dead eyes. Edward, for his part, felt at least a little sorry for the young man. Life had obviously not treated him well, and the last thing a fragile teenaged ego with dark magical power needed was a kick from Edward Tolliver, former M.D.
"Sorry," Norbert said through a sniffle.
Edward literally cracked a smile. "Hey, look, it can't be all bad, right? I mean, you've got a friend now, whether we like it or not. I've been dead for a while, you know the landscape. I'm sure we can manage some way of cheering you up."
"I'm actually really tired," Norbert said stifling a yawn. "Can we do stuff tomorrow?"
Edward looked around a little nervously. "Um, do I burst into flames in the sunlight or something?"
"That's vampires, not zombies."
"Oh," Edward said, brightening up, "good. Yeah. Let's do that."
Norbert started to leave, but then turned around. Edward was still standing by his gravestone. "Hey, do you sleep?" he asked the zombie.
Edward shrugged. Norbert sighed. "Okay. Come with me, then. My foster parents have a shed they barely use, you can... I don't know, wait in there I guess." He gathered up the flashlight and book, grunting a little under it weight.
"Oh joy," Edward said flatly.
"Maybe we can use some of my foster mom's makeup to fix your complexion so you can go out on the town or something with me."
"I don't hate that idea," Edward admitted. "But can I make a phone call? There's someone I want to talk to..."
"We can take care of that later," Norbert assured him, "anyone you might call would probably be asleep right now. We'll try tomorrow, okay?"
"Who do you want to call, anyway?"
Edward smiled sheepishly. "Er... my wife."
"You were married?"
"Six years, kid," Edward said as his legs began to work and his body jogged to catch up to its new master.
"How was that?" Norbert asked as they left the graveyard.
"It was murder," Edward replied.
Norbert's wheezing laughter trailed after them as they faded into the darkness.
"No, really," Edward insisted, "it was."
And then, like the fog that had enshrouded the cemetery earlier, the necromancer and his zombie minion were gone. The only evidence they left behind was a desecrated grave and, alone in his coffin, Maximillian Zellner, a 40 year dead oil tycoon who had banged on his coffin lid, shouted at everyone to keep the noise down, and then rolled over. The fact that this coincided with the total failure of his oil company was a happy accident, and in no way affects the story that has just been told, nor does it have any bearing on the adventures Norbert and his zombie Edward would one day embark upon.
But those are different tales for different times. For now, let's just leave it with a simple To Be Continued...