- Edwin Bartholomew, 1911 -
Edwin’s heart hammered in his chest, the muzzle of the gun resting against his head. He didn’t shed a tear, instead, he masked the fear threatening to surface and glowered at the nightwalker before him.
“Aim for the heart,” the leader of the nightwalkers ordered.
A lad, no older than Lawrence, held the rifle that promised death. Taking his eyes from Edwin, he glanced over to the broad, towering leader for confirmation. Perhaps Edwin could reason with him.
Opening his mouth to protest, he immediately shut it when the shooter’s eyes hardened. Sweat dripped from the boy’s brow, splashing onto his quivering lip. Edwin could tell it was his first kill but had no idea what he would do if he was in this boy’s shoes. Would he be able to do it if things were reversed? He shook his head. It didn’t matter. If he was going to get out of there, this was his last chance.
The gunman licked his lips, his finger trembling against the trigger.
Lawrence wasn’t brave enough to come back and save him so he would have to do it himself. Edwin reached for the barrel of the gun.
The momentum of the shot propelled Edwin to the ground. He coughed when his back hit knobby twigs and roots. Blinking, he gasped for air that would never come. Something damp and cold heaved against his protesting lungs. Black splotches closed in around him, his breath catching, his eyes glazing over. Time turned into eternity, his heart thumping its last.
But then it beat again. How was this possible? Hadn’t he died? The flutter was unmistakable, but different somehow. Was he a ghost? He must’ve been.
His eyes flew open, gasping at the body lying in front of him. Dropping the gun, he had no idea how or why he was holding, Edwin jumped at the sound of it falling with a thud.
“No,” he gasped, an unfamiliar squawk escaping him, falling to his knees. “Wake up.” He pleaded to the dead body, recognizing the leather brown suspenders pulling at the blood-spattered button down. They were his favorite pair. His dad had given them to him.
Edwin shook his head. He couldn’t be dead. This couldn’t be.
He reached for his corpse, pulling back quickly when he was able to touch it, but with an unfamiliar freckled hand. Glancing at the gun he swore he’d been holding, he blinked rapidly trying to process all of this. What the hell was happening?
“What do you think you’re doing?” The leader growled, his meaty hand gripping Edwin’s shoulder. “Pick this trash up and let’s get packed up.”
Edwin sobbed, unable to look away from the stone-cold eyes of the body lying on the ground. His body. How was he looking at his own dead body?
“Did you hear me, boy?” The beady eyes of the hefty leader narrowed down at him.
“Y-yes,” Edwin stammered, frowning at the sound of his own voice. It wasn’t his at all.
The leader lifted a bushy brow and Edwin quickly corrected his mistake. “Yes, sir.”
“Sarge, look!” One of the nightwalkers shouted.
The man peered into the darkness and a woman’s form glistened behind a floating fireball hovering just above the palm of her hand. Edwin recognized her. It was the twins from the future. They were back to save him. He smiled widely, excited to see them beat up all of these nightwalkers.
“Hello!” His nasal voice called as he tried to get her attention.
“Shoot her!” Sarge hollered at the same time, reaching for the gun.
Before Sarge could shoot, the girl flung the fireball forward and the men scattered. Edwin ducked in time, it swooshing past and engulfing the dry leaves strewn across the forest floor. He was about to make an attempt to run after the twins when someone grabbed him.
“Help me get this carcass.” Sarge pushed Edwin towards his dead body.
What if his body burned? Would it kill his spirit, or whatever he was now, too?
He gulped. He was dead. All the things he wanted to do were now impossible and it was all because Lawrence had convinced him to go after that stupid journal. Tears stung his eyes when he realized the twins weren’t there to save him, but ensure they got their hands on Thomas Tompkin’s journal. They didn’t care about him at all. They were selfish, manipulative, and everything Edwin hated in this world. He swiped the moisture from his cheek. He wouldn’t let them see him cry.
The flames rose up around them, threatening to engulf everyone in its path. He had to get his body out of there. Taking a deep breath, he bent to pick up his body. His stomach lurched as he gripped his dead, limp shoulders. This couldn’t be happening.
“Here, let me help you.” Another nightwalker offered, grabbing the feet. “Can you lift?”
Edwin nodded, closing his eyes for a moment, repeating a mantra he desperately hoped to be true. This isn’t happening. It’s all a dream.
Edwin and the nightwalker carried his corpse away from the burning brush, their feet crunching against the undergrowth.
“You will reap what you sow,” a deep voice rumbled through the forest around them. “Not tonight, not even tomorrow, but when the blood of this school can be seen from the sky, we will rise. Both the light and dark. We will fight you. We will devour you. And we will triumph over you.”
The fire snapped and crackled, lapping at the trees as it swallowed the voice and everything in its grasp.
“Sarge!” The nightwalker helping Edwin cried, lumbering on. “We won’t make it!”
“Just get it down yonder to the”—Sarge coughed, the raging smoke sucking the air dry—“the wagon bed so we can finish this.”
Edwin let out a grunt, heaving his corpse from the woods. “Where are we going?”
The young man helping him let out a chuckle. “You’ll see.”
Emerging from the woods, the echoes of the other nightwalkers putting out the fire sent chills down his spine. He hoped they’d all burn for what they’d done.
“Dump the body in the back!” Sarge barked.
Edwin swallowed hard as he lifted his corpse over the wood ledge into the crate of the truck.
Tree sap crackled under the water the nightwalkers tamed the last bit of flames with. Once the trees were thoroughly extinguished, an ear-splitting whistle from Sarge sent spit flying, waving the nightwalkers on over.
“Sir, we weren’t able to find the others,” one of the men said.
“We’ll get ‘em next time, son.” Sarge slapped him on the back, chuckling in victory. “One down, one to go.”
“But who were the other two?” Another nightwalker chimed in. “The one who spoke to us and vanished before we could get to them?”
Sarge waved the man off. “A problem for another time. Let’s be proud of this victory. We faced these demons and won.”
Edwin gulped, taking a step back. How could this man call any of this a victory? It was a disaster. The sorrow he’d been keeping at bay rose, threatening to burst forth in a flood of tears. The heartbeat of Edwin’s brother was gone and with it the spark of power he’d once had. In their place, an emptiness throbbed within his chest.
“Let’s get ‘er packed up,” Sarge ordered and the nightwalkers dropped their rifles and pitchforks into the bed of the truck next to his dead body.
Edwin couldn’t move. His breathing uneven, his legs were frozen in place. The realization set in: he was dead and with it, his powers. The powers he wished he still had so he could teach these men a lesson. The nightwalkers and the school were the spawn of something hideous and, at that moment, he made a promise to himself. As long as he breathed, in this body or the next, he would do everything he could to tear them down. Brick by brick.
Can you hear me? A low, soothing voice whispered in Edwin’s mind, sending chills through him. It was the same voice who’d spoken through the fire.
“Yes,” Edwin whispered.
“What was that, Willie?” One of the men next to him asked, slinging an empty bucket over the wooden edge of the wagon. It still dripped from the spring water that extinguished the fire.
“Nothing,” he replied hastily.
Willie. Edwin pondered the name, the face of the one who shot him flashing before him. What a pathetic name.
But how was he in this body? What happened to Willie? Was Edwin possessing him? Or was Willie gone? If he was possessing someone would they make themselves known inside his mind? So far, the only voice was his own. And the voice from the fire, unless that was just a hallucination.
You’re asking the wrong questions. The voice came to Edwin again. You should be asking yourself where your brother went.
Edwin glanced over his shoulder, peering into the woods, hoping to see Lawrence coming to save him.
He’s not coming back, Edwin.
Bile rose in his throat. They’d always had each other’s backs. Why would Lawrence go and desert him now?
You were bound to your brother by birth, but sometimes the bonds of magic are stronger, the voice replied.
“You mean my brother abandoned me for the twins?” Edwin asked under his breath, too angry to notice as a couple of nightwalkers pulled a black cloth over his head. “Hey!”
He pushed against the arms grabbing him.
“Sorry, son,” Sarge’s gruff voice replied, carrying him away. “We can’t let you see where we’re going. Not until you’ve completed your pledge.”
Pledge? What were they talking about? Edwin twisted against the rough hands that dropped him over the ledge into the wagon bed like he was luggage. Something soft and uneven broke his fall, the musty iron scent making his stomach flop. He’d landed on his old body.
Someone pulled Edwin upright, binding his hands to prevent him from ripping off the sack. “Let me go!”
“Calm down there, sweetheart.” One of the nightwalkers snickered.
A horse neighed against the slap of a whip, jerking the crate forward. Everything jostled around him. The men cracking jokes at Edwin’s vulnerable state the entire ride.
Breathe. The soothing voice advised. Listen to me and I will help you. It will soon be over.
As if on cue, the rattling cart came to a halt. Edwin gasped, relief washing over him. How had the voice known? Was it possible this voice could help him? If he’d known the cart would stop, what else did it know?
He was quickly pulled from the wagon, his feet skidding against the gravel surface. The bag was pulled from his head and he blinked. Oil lamps illuminated a large, stone covered terrain at the base of a wide quarry. Edwin wasn’t sure how they’d gotten the horses down into this mining field but knew better than to ask.
Jagged, loose rocks surrounded him and by the height of the darkened treetops glistening in the starlight, he could tell it was a long way back to the main path.
“Welcome to Crusher,” Sarge said, puffing his chest out in pride.
“What is…” Edwin hesitated, unsure if he wanted to know. “Crusher?”
It’s the school's quarry,” the nightwalker who’d helped Edwin carry his body from the burning forest replied. “The name’s Frank.” The young lad tipped the bill of his ruddy brown cap.
“I know who you are.” Frank motioned for him to follow. “You’re Willie.”
Edwin blinked, forgetting he was in a new body, but glad Frank already knew who Willie was as he was about to introduce himself by his old name.
“You’re in my sister’s class.” Frank offered without being asked.
“Where are we going?” Edwin asked, his eyes darting between the nightwalkers flanking them with shovels in their hands, following Sarge into the darkness.
“You’re going to complete the last phase of your pledge.” A dimpled grin appearing on Frank’s pink face.
“And what do I have to do?”
Sarge came to a halt, throwing the shovel into the white dirt. “Come here, boy!” He motioned for Edwin to step by his side, the nightwalkers circling him.
Frank nudged Edwin forward.
“Gentlemen!” Sarge bellowed, clapping Edwin on the shoulder when he stumbled into the large man’s side. “Tonight, we will welcome our newest member into our clan.”
“Hurrah!” The nightwalkers hollered in unison, lifting their right fist into the air.
Edwin blinked back a surge of fear and anger as two men dragged his old body towards them.
“Willie here proved himself one of us”—Sarge nodded for the men carrying Edwin’s body to come forward—“when he shot this demon down. And before he goes before our noble leader, he shall complete the final step.”
Sarge let go of Edwin and picked up the shovel, drawing a line in the gravel. “Young Willie, do you pledge unwavering allegiance to your nightwalker brethren? To stand alongside us, hunting the beasts roaming this academy?”
“Sorry?” Edwin swallowed hard at the unusual sound that escaped him, eyes darting between the expectant nightwalkers surrounding them. There was nowhere to run.
Sarge frowned, bowing up to him. “Did you hear me, boy?”
Frank made a face, cocking his head to the side. Edwin knew he was making a scene, but he couldn’t do it. He didn’t want this life.
Eyeing the armed nightwalkers, their shovels all ready to pummel him if he didn’t agree. Did he have any choice? If they killed him, would he come back to life as someone else or would he die for good this time? Edwin’s heart sank, realizing he had no other choice.
With a simple nod, he accepted the heinous pledge and Sarge threw him the shovel. “Dig.”
The men holding Edwin’s old body threw it unceremoniously by his side. It landed with a thud on the uneven ground. He couldn’t bring himself to look at it, the need to puke growing with each passing minute.
“Dig now.” Sarge nodded towards the line he’d drawn.
Edwin sucked in one final breath before wrapping a shaky hand around the shovel, placing the hilt of it at the center of the line. He was about to dig his own grave.
As the metal plunged into the white powder, the nightwalkers knelt around Edwin in a circle, clapping to the rhythm of his shovel. Tears streamed down his cheek, the image of Lawrence deserting him etched in his memory.
How could he do this to me? Edwin wondered, dabbing the moisture away.
It’s not your brother’s fault, the voice whispered.
Edwin flared his nostrils, huffing in frustration. “What do you mean? Of course, it’s his fault.”
We both know he wasn’t powerful enough to save you. The voice reasoned. But there will be others who will come to this school. Together you will be more powerful than you could imagine.
“And how will that help me?”
Because, my dear child. The calm voice filled Edwin’s mind, distracting him from the scraping of his shovel and the taunting nightwalkers around him. When all my children have transitioned, when the past and the future have entwined, and all have drunk, they will stand with you. Together you will save me.
“But that doesn’t save me,” Edwin replied in a hushed tone.
“FOR FREEDOM!” Sarge shouted, pumping his fist in the air as the nightwalkers leaped up, grabbing shovels of their own and coming to dig alongside Edwin.
Edwin glanced around, growing silent when Frank took a spot by his side to dig.
“Way to go.” Frank patted his shoulder in approval. “You’re almost one of us.”
Edwin smiled half-heartedly as a lump formed in his throat. He couldn't’ believe he would be part of the same gang that orchestrated his murder.
Fear not, my dear Edwin, the voice replied. For when I return, I shall restore you to your original form.
A sliver of hope crept in, lifting Edwin’s spirits at the promise of being back in his own body. “Who are you?”
I’m Credan. I’m the reason your spirit is still alive, the reason you were given these powers in your true form.
Soon you will understand. Credan reassured him. For now, you need to blend in. You need to survive.
“How am I supposed to do that when I’m in this body?”
You’re like me. Credan’s melodic voice echoed. You’re a survivor. I will show you how.