Chapter 3: The aftermath a week later

Ainsley stayed hidden in her home for the better part of a week, constantly worrying that the police were coming to take her away. She hadn’t even made it back home before she heard the sirens blasting through the neighborhoods as she pedaled home.

In the following days she heard from the news reports that the police, the local military reserves, and finally a government emergency containment unit has been brought in to put a stop to the outbreak of the undead. It was reported several people had been attacked but there were surprisingly few deaths. Against all hope, among the reported dead, was Mike.

Ainsley grieved for days, constantly reliving the experience of Mike volunteering to be the conduit; Mike standing in the circle as she began the spell; and the undead horde shambling towards her.

It was the following day, when her parents noticed that her eyes had lightened to a shade of wintergreen. Knowing she had no way of hiding the change she quickly came up with what she thought was a plausible lie. When her parents asked Ainsley about what had happened, she told them that she had passed undead as it was coming down the street. She told them a phantom in the horde had touched her affinity and she saw the bones of Annie among them. They backed off after that, offering to talk about her experience if she wanted to share.

Things started to calm down and eventually the news moved on from the sudden outbreak of undead. School had begun again but a curfew was enacted for the supposed safety of the children.

Ainsley’s parents had contacted a medical hotline about her eye color change and were told that it can happen but it should go away. If not, contact their family doctor in the following weeks to get an assessment.

Mike’s parents had reached out to Ainsley about the disappearance of their son. Their meeting had taken a turn for the worse when Mike’s aggrieved parents tried to interrogate Ainsley about their son’s disappearance. They wanted to find someone with whom they could lay the blame. Ainsley’s parents had barred Mike’s parents from returning to their home.

The following evening Ainsley was lying in her bed when she became aware that she wasn’t alone. The air grew heavy with the smell of dust and earthy mold. Ainsley raised her head from her pillow catching sight of a faint outline of a phantom standing at the edge of her bed. His gaze was fixed on a point that appeared to be very far away.

“Mike?” she whispered quietly as she recognized him, unease growing in her chest. “You’re…dead…aren’t you?”

Mike’s ghost became opaque, his eyes focused and he lowered his gaze. “Yeah… I think so. I don’t really remember what happened though.” He frowned and his gaze returned to the point beyond her walls. “All I remember is that I was gone for what felt like weeks but I was drawn back here to be able to talk to you.”

Ainsley sat up and swung her legs over the side of her bed. She probably should have been surprised, or at least scared. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time she’d seen ghosts either. She looked down at her hands then back at Mike. “Why are you here Mike?”

Mike’s attention returned to Ainsley. “Something is calling for you Ainsley. I don’t know what it is but it seems to sense you. It feels you; you could say it even knows you. It… sings a song about a herald of the horn. It seems to think that that’s you. I don’t understand the music well, but enough to show you the way. It wants you to come.”

Ainsley shifted uncomfortably “I don’t know Mike. I’m scared. I somehow managed to summon a ton of skeletons by accidently…killing…you.” Her voice tapered off. “I just wanted Ashley back.” She whispered.

Pausing at her admission Mike looked off into the distance again. “It sings that it can bring me back Ainsley. It tells me that it can bring everything back as long as you blow the horn.” Mike’s countenance changed as he suddenly gave Ainsley a pleading look. “You want me back, don’t you?”

Ainsley’s eyes began to well up with tears. Maybe there was hope. Maybe she could fix her mistake. She nodded to Mike. “What do I need to do?”

Mike’s ghost closed his eyes in concentration. He began to hum a melody as if attuning to something beyond the range of Ainsley’s hearing. “First you must go North. Beyond the settlement, beyond the warnings to the place where they violated the forest. There you must seek out a long-abandoned gate. Pass between the markers and you will arrive to a copse of trees surrounded by flowers of bone. Look towards the will o’ wisps between the trees should you lose your way.

“The song repeats these instructions in different harmonics. I think that’s it” He shrugged seeming to return to himself. “Will you go then?”

Ainsley stammered out a response “I… yeah… yes, I will”

“Good” Mike smiled.

Ainsley blinked, wiping away her tears. When she looked back, Mike was gone.

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