Late in the first quarter of the twenty-first century, the effect of climate change made magic stronger, strong enough to force it out of the shadows.
The weight burden on the earth's crust shifted as icecaps and glaciers melted, flowing from land to sea. Earthquake and volcanic violence and frequency increased. The earth’s axis wobbled and shifted through a four-degree arc. Initially considered insignificant, except for minor changes in the length of the longest and shortest days; scientists didn’t account for changes to rivers of magical energy flowing through the earth.
Untrained people began to exhibit magic and witches ventured into the open to inform scientists about the changes and dangers. Ley flows, rivers of magical energy, increased significantly and some even shifted like rivers changing course. Comparing the strongest Ley lines to rivers, their currents surged from the trudging Mississippi to become the torrent of the Amazon.
GLOBAL WARMING HEATS UP MAGIC. Chicago Post V3.1
Magic intensifies, spreads and goes public.
GOVERNMENTS REGULATE MAGIC. LA Tribune, 9.0.2
Danger from Dark Magic swells. Politicians panic.
Despite headlines from ten years ago, for most people, little changed in everyday life.
Sig’s footsteps, crackling through the thin snow crust, broke the silence. No clouds floated in the brightening blue arc of sky stretched across the Minnesota prairie.
Static electricity sizzled in the air. The hair on Sig’s forearm stood up. How would his horse react to a zap on his big, velvety nose? Sig smiled at the vision, but up close, the response from a three-quarter-ton horse wouldn’t be funny to watch.
Just outside the barn, the hair on the back of his neck bristled, a familiar feeling, not caused by low humidity. An involuntary snarl shaped his lips. He rotated his head to the right. Behind the white rail fence of the farm across the road, the Watchers faced him… again. Arrayed in an uneven line, five stood motionless, holding or leaning on farm tools. In the early sun, a mist surrounded them.
The Watchers were never clear, never quite in focus no matter how much he strained to see. The headache that erupted whenever he looked at them began to flow like molten lava.
Sig stared at them anyway, until they turned and moved away one-by-one. The mist followed.
When they vanished from sight behind the farmhouse, he rubbed his aching temples and turned back to the barn. He still had to prepare Bjørn, his stallion, for Grampa’s visit.
He glanced back before he opened the barn door. They were gone, but a sensation like the scent of decaying meat lingered.
He asked Mom and Grandfather Edward, her father, about them. Mom shrugged and shook her head whenever he brought them up. Grandfather Edward said they looked like underfed Eastern Europeans, but kept to themselves, a good quality for farm help, according to him. Even better, he liked that they kept the farm across the road clean. It had fallen into disrepair under the previous owners.
When Sig opened the barn door, his horse poked his head over his stall door, huffed, and nodded his head. Sig laughed despite the pain in his head, remembered to touch metal to dissipate static charge, and reached up to rub Bjørn’s nose and scratch his ears. “I guess the Watchers don’t bother you, big fella.”
At eighteen hands, or six feet tall at the withers, he stood the same height as Sig.
Bjørn sniffed and pulled at Sig's down vest with his lips while Sig curried him and checked his hooves. Finally, Sig reached into his pocket and pulled out the slices of dried apple that Bjørn had been begging for. While Bjørn munched, Sig thought about Grampa Thor.
Properly, Sig should call him Great-grandfather Thorval, but he had insisted, “Your mother calls me Grampa Thor. It’s good enough for her, so that’s what you’ll call me. Great-grandfather sounds ancient. I’m not ready to keel over yet.”
He certainly didn’t seem ready. When Grampa last came into town, he looked younger than his son, Grandfather Edward, did. That time he showed up for Dad’s funeral.
Today Great-grandfather Thorval arrived for Grandfather Edward’s funeral.
It wasn’t a surprise to Sig when Grandfather Edward died. He looked old, he moved old, and he smelled old. For goodness sake, he was 89. It didn’t have the shock of Dad’s death.
Sig leaned his head against Bjørn’s back and recalled the events surrounding Dad’s death a year ago.
Soon after the sold sign went up on the property across the road, the volunteer fire department extinguished a fire in the north hay field, before it spread to adjacent fields parched in the drought.
When done, they found the charred corpse of Martin Stromgard, Sig’s dad, at the edge of the field, near the old cemetery. Inexplicably, he had his shotgun with him. As the town’s banker, he conscientiously complied with hunting regulations and hunting season was closed.
The coroner concluded that lightning from a thunderstorm, miles away, killed him.
Sig sat quietly in the kitchen and listened while Captain Dahman explained the coroners report to his mother, Meredith, and Grandfather Edward. The captain called it a ‘bolt out of the blue’.
“A strike that far from a storm is rare, but not unheard of. It’s the only explanation for the scorched hole through Martin's chest. We’d like to close the case; it was an act of nature, Meredith.”
She looked at Captain Dahman with a furrowed brow. “I thought lightning went top to bottom or bottom to top, not through a person’s chest.”
“Check for crooks at Karstad’s funeral parlor. They charged full price for cremation. The lightning already did half their job,” Grandfather Edward complained.
Meredith closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and exhaled. She looked back to Captain Dahman.
“Without a witness; we don’t know what happened. Do you want the case left open?” He continued.
She shook her head. “No, I’d like closure.”
Sig re-blanketed Bjørn while he remembered. Hunting or fishing didn’t hold interest for him since Dad died. Those had been their special times together. From him, Sig learned the ways of the land, to track, to read sign, to outthink a fish. Dad also taught him conservation, the importance of honesty, and his duty to be considerate to others. Lightning blasted a hole in Dad’s chest, and in Sig’s life.
Done for the time being, Sig patted Bjørn’s neck. He’d be back. Grampa Thor, the driving force behind Sig’s martial arts training, would want to see Sig put him through his paces. He called Dressage “schooling the Battle Horse”.
Mom should have breakfast ready now. His stomach growled in anticipation.
He stopped and looked across the road after he closed the barn door. The Watchers were out of sight, but he sensed their scrutiny.
Mom studied the Wall Street Journal financial pages at the kitchen table. She looked over the paper when he entered and smiled her radiant smile at him.
“Good morning dear.”
“'Mornin’ Mom.” Sig nodded at the paper. “Find any hot new stocks today?”
“None so far. I’ll keep looking.”
Mom took over the finances after Dad’s funeral and demonstrated an uncanny knack for picking stocks. In less than a year, she doubled the insurance money and was on her way to doubling it again. It meant she could keep the farm and the horses she loved and rode expertly.
He brought a large glass of OJ and a few tortillas to the table to go with the plate of Chorizo and Eggs that Mom dished up.
After Dad died, Sig dropped out of football and basketball and focused on individual competition. His teammates resented it. Expected to be the quarterback this year and their lead scorer in basketball, they felt that he let them down.
Friends who stuck through his moodiness all tended to show up around dinnertime. They didn't get anything like Mom’s cooking at home. Minnesota food tended towards shades of beige in color and flavor. She invested a gourmet touch in everything prepared in her kitchen.
After a second helping Sig asked, “What keeps Grampa traveling around the world?”
She put the paper down. “He say's that he’s an economic consultant, with a specialty in turbulent development and modification in third world nations.”
“I have no idea what you're talking about.” Sig said, with a perplexed expression.
She laughed sharply. “Grampa likes to go where there’s conflict and if there isn't any; I believe he starts some.”
“Where was he this time?”
“Hmm, he’ll find it there.” He looked pensive before he asked, “Do you think he’ll want to spar this time?”
“When has he not wanted to? He likes to check his investment after paying for all you martial arts training. I would have preferred help with carpool duty. There are carpools for football or hockey. Not for karate, kendo, or fencing.”
“I wonder which one he’ll want to do.”
“Steer him to fencing. He’ll be surprised you’re state champ after only two years.”
“My red belt in Karate didn’t keep him from kicking my butt last time.”
“Dear, that was almost a year ago. You’re bigger, faster, and a black belt now. You have a good chance to win this time.”
“Let’s hope so. I don’t think any of my friends get trounced by their great-grandfathers — or even their grandfathers.”
Sig paused, and then asked, “You know the … handymen… across the road. I haven’t seen them for a while, until today.”
His Mom looked up sharply. “The Watchers?”
He didn’t know she called them that too.
Her lips thinned and eyes narrowed. “I hate them. They were in dreams I had about your father burning — before he died.”
Another disturbing news flash. He didn’t mean to upset her.
“I probably never thanked you for all the rides you gave me to practices and meets. I’m sure you will be rewarded in heaven.” His mouth twitched in a smile as he continued toward the back door.
She grabbed a towel off the table and popped him on the butt with it before he got away.
He laughed over his shoulder, “A lot of good a black belt does me. I’m defenseless against a mother armed with a kitchen towel.”
As Sig dumped trash into the bin out back, he heard the clatter of a diesel engine. He finished up and jogged around to the front. A vintage Ford dually sat in front of the house when he rounded the corner. The engine pinged as it cooled. Grampa must already be inside.
A suitcase lay in the back seat. Anticipation built as Sig grabbed it and climbed the stairs to the wraparound porch. Grampa had been a pillar of strength after Sig’s dad died – every action strong and sure.
Sig swept into the kitchen with a big smile and then stopped, the smile frozen on his lips but gone from his eyes. Grampa sat at the kitchen table. Mom stood behind him looking down with concern. He looked like his son, Grandfather Edward, before the end.
Strong white teeth had yellowed. Skin, always tanned and ruddy, now sagged and looked ashen. His hair had thinned. Only his eyes, the same Persian blue as Meredith and Sig’s, looked the same.
Instead of springing to his feet, he used the table to lever himself up and held out his hands. The fingers were crooked and lumpy. “Come here and give me a hug young man. You're not too old to hug are you?”
Sig shook off his immobility, stepped forward into Grampa’s embrace, and hugged back. The formerly robust frame felt slight. Over Grampa's shoulder, uncertainty reflected from Mom’s eyes.
Grampa sat back down and rubbed his chest. Mom handed him a large white mug with a tea bag string hanging out. He stopped rubbing his chest, reached out with both callused hands for the mug and smiled up at her. “Thank you Meredith. A nice hot cup of green tea is just the thing to warm my bones.”
Sig blurted, “How are you feeling Grampa?”
Grampa Thor looked up at Meredith then at Sig. “Why does everybody keep asking me that? Can't a fellow grow old gracefully without being pestered?” A smile softened the cantankerous words. “I've been a little under the weather is all.” He waved his hand. “It'll pass, it'll pass. If you have to know, I’ve got a bit of a bug in my chest. Don’t worry about that and let’s catch up. How is fencing going?”
“Sig won the state championship this year – surprised a lot of people,” Mom interjected.
Grampa Thor looked impressed and nodded. “Very good. I thought you had it in you.”
“Can I fix you something? I made Huevos con Chorizo, your favorite.” Mom asked.
“Thank you Meredith, but just some toast, if you would. My stomach is a little sensitive.”
“You must be under the weather. You usually eat at least as much as Sig does.” She patted him on the shoulder. “I’ll get some English muffins for you.”
“How long will you be able to stay with us this time?” Sig asked.
“A better question is how long can you put up with an old codger like me?”
Meredith set the muffins in front of him and said, “Grampa, stay as long as you'd like. Since you mentioned it, how old are you now?”
Grampa replied with a twinkle in his eye, “I feel every bit of 193 today, but what's a decade or two either way.”
Meredith laughed, but it sounded forced.
Grampa turned to Sig “Are you keeping up with your riding?”
“Come out and I’ll show Bjørn to you. I know he needs exercise.”
“Get him ready while I finish up this breakfast Meredith fixed me.” He gestured at the muffin. “I'll be out in a few minutes.”
Sig saddled Bjørn and rode him into the outdoor arena to warm him up and work off pent up energy. Even simulated battle moves on horseback are strenuous. It raised a sweat on both of them.
Grampa limped up to the arena as Bjørn made a half-pass to the left. A standard Dressage move, the horse advanced in a sideways slant. In battle, it allowed the rider to wield a sword or spear, without having to reach over or around the horse’s head.
As Sig spun him to return, Grampa Thor hollered out. “Well done. Does that critter have any other gears?”
Sig cued Bjørn into a passage, a showy, slow motion, suspended trot that demonstrated control. The horse seemed to float between each stride, as if trotting underwater.
After a circuit demonstrating the passage, Grampa yelled again. “Does he do a piaffe?”
Acknowledging the request with a salute, Sig brought Bjørn almost to a stop. While trotting in place with a slight pause in the suspension of each stride, Bjørn’s front hooves flared high. Steel shod hooves the size of platters sliced through air before slamming into the soil. It didn’t take much imagination to picture what they would do to an enemy infantryman.
Thor motioned Sig over. “Let me look at him.” He felt the horse’s legs, shoulders, and hips. “Yep, I can see Bjørn the bear in him; big, solidly muscled, a heavy haunch but light on his feet. Quite an athlete, made to carry a warrior into battle. A horse this size could carry a large warrior.”
Bjørn stretched out his neck and Grampa rubbed his nose. “Well Sigurd, it looks like you've been practicing and keeping him in shape.” After Sig led him back to his stall, Grampa dumped a coffee tin of oats into Bjørn's feed trough.
“He earned it.”
Sig snorted. “What about me?”
“Why, do you want some oats too?” Grampa looked at Bjørn, snuffling up the oats, before he said, “You can reach your hand in there, but watch out for your fingers.”
Grampa glanced up from under his thick eyebrows. “What are you planning to study in college?”
“Originally Computer Engineering, but the discoveries in magic are coming from Physics. I’ve been accepted at Northwestern to study the Physics of Magic.”
Sig took magic aptitude tests, like most kids whose parents could afford it. Disappointingly, he showed no ability at all. His dream of having magical power wasn't to be.
He gave up daydreaming about it. Like Dad said, we don’t come from a magical family. Nevertheless, he remained drawn to the subject.
“Have you noticed any magical phenomena, feelings, thoughts…?” Grampa asked.
“I wish. I took the MAT, Magical Aptitude Test. I didn't even score in the tenth percentile. I bought magical tricks. I got the top that spins for 48 hours, the disappearing glass, and the flaming toad. They weren't fake; they worked, but not for me. I gave them away to other kids who could make them work.”
He shook his head. “No, I have as much magic as Bjørn.”
Bjørn, finished snuffling up the oats in the trough, turned his head to Sig and, in a deep voice suited to a 1500-pound stallion drawled, “Do you have any more oats?”
Sig would swear that the horse quirked an eyebrow at him.
Sig's eyes grew large. He turned to his great-grandfather “Did you hear that?” He looked back at the horse apprehensively, as if expecting and fearing it would talk again.
Grampa narrowed his eyes. “I couldn't have. You said he doesn't have any magic.”
“You did it! You used ventriloquism.”
Grampa shrugged and shook his head.
Sig stared at him intently, and then an unpleasant feeling washed over him again. A feeling best compared with smelling a sauna filled with rotting garbage. The hairs on the back of his neck bristled and his nose wrinkled.
Noticing the reaction, Grampa asked, “What’s wrong?”
Sig turned his head towards the barn door. “The Watchers.”
Grampa Thor’s looked in the direction of Sig’s stare, an empty corner to the left of the barn door. He swung back with a puzzled look. “Watchers? What are Watchers?”
“The weird handymen across the road; they’re out there.”
“What do you mean, out there?”
“They’re outside the door.”
“Did you hear something?”
“No. I feel when they’re around, but I never see them clearly.”
Grampa Thor cocked his head sideways. “Never see them?”
“They always look blurry, like 3-D without the glasses. Two images shift back and forth. It hurts my head.”
Grampa frowned. “You say they’re weird. What do you mean?”
“Grandfather Edward said they look underfed.” Sig glanced at him out of the corner of his eyes. “Mom says she doesn’t like them because of dreams she had.”
Grampa Thor looked at him for a beat, before he asked, “OK, that’s their opinion. What about you?”
“I get a bad feeling, like a putrid, greasy smell that’s not a smell, when they look at me, even when I don’t see them around.” He shook his head. “That sounds weird. I mean that when I get the feeling, if I look around, some of them are watching.”
“Let’s go look at them.” Grampa limped toward the barn door.
Sig scrambled and grabbed Grampa’s arm. “No, they never come on our property. But now, they’re right outside, near the corner of the barn.”
Grampa Thor looked at him speculatively. Then he pointed, “At the corner there?”
“C’mon.” Grampa entered an empty stall on that side of the barn and opened the upper half of the outside door. He peered out to the right.
Sig stood behind him and craned his head to see.
Six of them stood at the corner of the barn. Features rippled in his vision. His head began to ache.
Grampa raised an arm, made an unusual gesture with his fingers, and mumbled something. A light glowed around the handymen and at last, Sig saw them clearly. He wished he couldn’t.
Grampa grunted, rubbed his chest, and muttered, “Zombies… covered in simulacra spells. Get back.”
Decomposing corpses carrying pitchforks, shovels, and axes turned and shambled towards them. Grampa shoved him back and slammed the top of the door. It cut off the vision of rotted and peeling skin that hung and flopped as they approached.
Grampa Thor looked around. “You can’t kill them, they’re already dead. But, they respond to the laws of physics. Hack off a leg and they can’t walk. Lop off an arm and they can’t grab; a head and they can’t see. Is there anything in here we can use, an axe, pitchfork, machete, sledge hammer?”
Sig ran down the central aisle and into the storeroom, emerging with two pitchforks, two small sledgehammers and a machete. Grampa took a sledge, stuck it in his belt, and then grabbed the machete and a pitchfork. “Take those,” he said, leaving Sig with a sledge and a pitchfork.
“Use the pitchfork to keep them away from you. Jab with it; don’t stab. If it sticks, they’ll pull it out of your hands. Use the sledge to break bones; disable arms and legs.
“You can also smash their eyes so they can’t see. Works real well on a zombie that only has one eye. Let’s go out the back. Lead the way.”
Banging erupted from the stall where they had been. Horses screamed in fear. Sig heard Bjørn’s squeal.
“Come on, let’s get out of here. They won’t hurt the horses; they’ll follow us,” Grampa Thor said.
Bjørn needed him; he had to help.
Grampa Thor stepped closer and said calmly, “The horses will be better off if we leave.” Sig hesitated and then sprinted down the aisle to the back of the barn; Grampa limped behind.
Sig stopped at the back door, and then turned to the empty stall on the left. “Come this way. Zombies are outside the back door.” He opened the lower outer door on the stall and halted outside, holding it until Grampa ducked through, and then closed it quietly.
Grampa whispered, “Did you feel them again?”
“Do you feel any between us and the house?”
Sig moved his head around slowly, eyes unfocused. He whispered, “No, they’re over there and there”; motioning to the rear and far side of the barn.
“OK, let’s get to the house. Shotguns can disable them. Do you still have the katana I gave your Dad?”
Sig nodded. “It’s in the den.”
Sig ran to the house. On the front porch, he turned to see Grampa limping behind. A zombie appeared from around the barn on the right, lumbering after Grampa, moving almost as fast.
Grampa looked behind and then shouted at Sig, “Go get the samurai sword and shotguns. Don’t wait for me. Have Meredith grab a shotgun and shells. Then come back and help.”
Sig ran into the house shouting for his mother. He found her downstairs in the basement by the gun safe. She handed him the sword, and swung the safe door open. “I heard. Take what you need. I have my shotgun. I’ll guard the back from the kitchen.”
Sig nodded, gave her a strained smile, seized two shotguns, and stuffed four boxes of shells into his shooting vest and six more into a backpack. He heard Grampa’s curses and thumps from outside. He raced upstairs toting the shotguns, sword, and backpack. He paused at the front door to shove shells into the guns.
On the porch, Grampa held one zombie away with a pitchfork and chopped at another with the machete. A third, missing an arm and a leg on one side, twitched where it lay at the base of the steps. Several more advanced across the yard. Others came around the corner of the barn.
Sig remembered Grampa’s words as he raised his shotgun to blast the zombie on the end of the pitchfork in the head. At this distance, the head disintegrated as the blast knocked the zombie backwards. Chunks of brain sprinkled the snow. The zombie slid off the pitchfork, and fell backwards. It thrashed like an insect on its back trying to right itself.
With a last machete chop to the neck, Grampa severed the other zombie’s head. The head thumped as it bounced down the stairs. “Here give me a shotgun.”
Sig handed it over. “It’s loaded. Here’s a box of shells.” Grampa shot the headless zombie in the leg and it toppled over. He pointed at it with the shotgun and said to Sig, “Be careful of it. It might grab if it feels you near.”
Sig pointed his shotgun toward a zombie coming up the steps and blasted it in the head. It stumbled to a stop. It fell over when he blasted it again in a knee. Before he could push more shells into the shotgun, another zombie lurched across the porch at him from the right. He unsheathed the sword. With a single sweep, its keen edge sliced through the zombie’s neck. Its rotten state made the task easier. The zombie stumbled around aimlessly.
Sig reloaded. His next shot knocked the headless zombie over the porch rail. When Grampa bent to grab shells from the box at his feet to reload his shotgun, another zombie attacked. Sig shoved his shotgun toward Grampa. “Here.” Grampa dropped his shotgun, took Sig’s, and shot the zombie.
Sig picked up the shotgun Grampa dropped and reloaded it with shells from his shooting vest.
They stood at the top of the stairs blasting advancing zombies. They continued firing and backed toward the house. The yard around the porch looked like a body part garage sale. Many still twitched, some even trying to rise.
Only two continued to advance toward them. Sig and Grampa rested and waited for them to climb onto the porch.
Sig heard a shotgun blast and looked to Grampa. Grampa looked at him. Neither had fired. Two blasts in rapid succession sounded from the back of the house.
Sig turned and ran through the house to the kitchen. Meredith stood in the back doorway and blasted again. She glanced back as Sig burst into the room. “I keep shooting and they keep coming.”
“Shoot them in the kneecaps. Then they can’t walk.”
She shoved two shotgun shells into her gun and fired again, aiming lower. “There, that works. Thanks.” She gave him a strained smile over her shoulder.
“Watch out if you get close to them. They can still grab you.” Over her shoulder, he saw a zombie on the ground, one headless zombie wandering aimlessly, and a third with gaping holes through its body trying to mount the steps. He put his hand on her shoulder. “Here let me through. I’ll disable it with this sword. Let’s save ammunition when we can.”
He sliced through a leg on each of the mobile corpses. They both collapsed, but the one with the head still tried to crawl up the steps. Sig severed the head and kicked it to roll erratically across the backyard.
Looking back up at his mother, he realized he didn’t hear any firing from the other side of the house. Carrying his sword and shotgun, he sprinted around the house. Rounding the corner to the front yard, he felt relief when he saw Grampa at the head of the stairs, kicking body parts off the porch.
He looked at Sig. “OK, now we chop them up some more to make sure they can’t move. Do you have axes?” Sig dashed off to get two axes from the woodshed behind the house.
Grampa took a double bladed ax and walked through the litter of bodies, dismembering corpses into smaller pieces. Sig reluctantly followed his lead with the other ax.
Meredith walked out of the house, “That’s all in back. I don’t see any others.”
Sig looked up just as a zombie followed her out of the house. “Mom! Look out behind you!”
She ducked and ran forward down the steps, pursued by the last one. Sig raised the axe and hurled it at the zombie. The blade sliced into its chest and knocked it backward onto the porch. The tip of the blade sticking out of its back pinned it to the porch floor.
Grampa hollered, “Good throw.”
Sig looked over at him. “Dad and I used to practice axe throwing. That’s the first time I’ve done it since…” He picked up the sword from where it leaned against the porch and walked over to chop the zombie on the porch into manageable pieces before it could free itself from the axe pinning it.
Meredith stood watch with her reloaded shotgun while Sig and Grampa continued dismembering barely mobile corpses.
Sig looked around and said, “Are we done? There are a lot more here than I thought worked across the road. There’s well over a dozen. Maybe fifteen or twenty.” Weird, all these bodies chopped up, and no blood on the snow.
“Count the feet and divide by two to figure out how many,” Grampa said,
Sig looked over at him, shook his head, and collapsed to sit on the porch steps.
Grampa walked over, plopped down next to Sig, and said, “What’s wrong? We just saved our bacon and wiped out more than a dozen zombies. You should be happy, not despondent.”
“I always wanted to have magic. Now this.” He waved at the body parts littering the yard. “This is terrible. It makes me feel like I’ve fallen into a septic tank. I’m glad I don’t have magic.” Sig looked at him. “But you have magic don’t you? You made Bjørn speak and you made the zombies visible.”
Grampa sighed. “There’s magic and there’s magic.” He nodded toward the zombies. “That’s black magic, evil magic… Necromancy. No, you don’t want that kind of magic.”
He gave Sig a measured look. “Yes, I have magic. I planned to let you know in a less dramatic fashion when I talked to you about your magic.”
Sig said. “I told you I don’t have any magic.”
Grampa clapped him on the shoulder. “Let’s check the inside of house before we clean up this mess out here. We can talk about it later.” He put a finger to his lips. “Don’t mention my magic to your mother.”
Sig drove the pickup truck with the hydraulic dump bed into the yard. Grampa used the pitchfork to pile body parts together. Mom watched from the porch as Sig pulled the front-loader out of the equipment barn. He scooped up the piles with it, and poured them into the dump bed of the pickup.
While he did that, Grampa spoke with Meredith. She went inside and Grampa hobbled over with a pitchfork and flipped the few left over parts into the dump bed. “Is Mom going to call the police, Grampa?” Sig asked.
“I clean up my own messes. Besides, chopped up zombies would ruin the police routine in this nice little town. I don’t want to put the police through that.”
“What are we going to do with all these body parts?”
“Isn’t this the land of 10,000 lakes?”
“Yeah, and all the lakes are frozen. They started thawing but this freeze hardened them again. Were you planning on dumping them on the ice and bet on when they fall through, like we do with old beater cars?”
Grampa got into the passenger seat of the dumper truck. “Take me to a good size lake that’s still well frozen; one with a public launch.”
Sig got in and started the truck. “What happens when someone finds them?” He received a snore in reply. Grampa’s chin rested on his chest. How can he sleep?
Twenty minutes later Sig eased the truck down a snow covered launch ramp at the biggest lake in the area. After Sig shook him awake, Grampa took the samurai sword and walked ahead of the truck. Sig followed for one hundred and fifty yards across the glistening white before Grampa signaled him to stop and turn the truck around. No lake cabins were visible through the leafless trees.
Sig turned the truck around and got out to watch. Grampa used the sword to etch a ten-foot circle in the ice. Then he scratched strange figures inside the circle. He held the sword out while he gestured with the other hand. Sig heard him mutter foreign sounding words
White haze, like steam, rose from the etched area. The fog intensified. When it drifted away in the light wind, Sig saw dark water where the circle had been. Grampa groaned and dropped to his knees, clutching his chest.
Sig rushed to his side. Grampa shook his head and pushed him away. “Dump the zombies in there before it freezes again. I’ll be OK. Look it’s already starting to freeze. Hurry.”
Sig backed the truck close and lifted the dump bed. Parts slid, splashed, and disappeared into the dark water. Those that missed the hole, he flipped into the water with a pitchfork. Through the pitchfork, he felt that some parts still twitched. They made crackling noises when they broke through the rime forming in the opening.
Sig got back into the truck to find Grampa snoring. He looked grayer and slept all the way home. At least he was breathing.
When they got back to the farm, Grampa yawned and stretched before getting out. He looked around the yard. “That’s the good thing about zombies; no blood to clean up.”
Sig grimaced. “I need a shower.”
“Good idea. Go up and shower and I’ll talk to Meredith. I’m sure she has many questions, probably more than I can answer. I’ll join you upstairs when you’re done.”
Sig finished dressing when Grampa knocked on his door. “Can I come in?”
“Sure, come on.”
Grampa scanned the room. Sig’s latest karate gi hung from a hook in the closet door; a black belt draped over the hanger. Grampa started Sig on martial arts at five years old. He first took Sig to karate, paying in advance for multiple years of lessons. Sig outgrew quite a few gi in twelve years since he started. He excelled and was the youngest to attain each belt rank.
On a later visit, he started Sig on kendo classes. His kendo practice shinai swords rested in a rack above his dresser along with his fencing swords.
Inside his bedroom door hung a poster with the top fifty Chuck Norris facts (such as “Chuck Norris counted to infinity – twice” and “Chuck Norris likes his ice like he likes his skulls… crushed.”) An Einstein poster, the one with his tongue out, hung on the wall.
Sig started to take the chair at the desk so Grampa could have the bed, but Grampa shooed him out of it and sat down. “I've been driving all night. If I lay down, I'll fall asleep.”
Sig sat on the bed, elbows on his knees, his forehead in his hands, dark brown hair hanging forward over his face. He massaged his temples then looked up. “Wow, I don’t know where to start. Zombies attacking… your magic… you say I have magic.”
“I’m not surprised you’re feeling overwhelmed. I talked to your Mom about the zombies. She said they’ve been around since the farm across the road sold. She dreamed about them before your father died and more recently about them falling apart on your farm.”
“Today is the first time she ever said anything about the dreams before Dad died. She dreamed about them falling apart too? Wow.”
“She didn’t want you to worry and didn’t know you felt their presence. You never said anything to her either”, he said drily. “It’s very rare in our family for women to have magic, but I think your mother might. It’s good you both have sensitivities for the zombies. That’s my biggest concern now.”
“Do you think they attacked today because you arrived?”
“I’ve thought of that. I could leave, but if I’m not the reason, I’d leave you two unprotected.”
“I’m glad you were here. You knew what to do. Do you think they’ll attack again?”
“Not soon, at least not zombies. From what I know about black magic, it takes a long time to raise that many, particularly zombies that operate somewhat independently like these did. We’ll have to watch for other kinds of attacks.”
“Should we leave?”
“It’s not in my nature to run from trouble. I'm a Battle Wizard. As you saw, I wield magic. That's why I could let Bjørn speak to you.”
Sig's eyes grew wider as his great-grandfather talked.
Grampa waved his hand dismissively “Don't worry, Bjørn won't keep on speaking. He wouldn't be much of a conversationalist if he did.” He chuckled.
Sig’s mind felt numb. “What’s a Battle Wizard?” He finally asked.
“We fight on the front lines in the war against black magic.’
“I’ve never heard of a Battle Wizard. Are there more of them?”
Grampa smiled wryly. “A few more, but not enough.
“I have greater magic in my battle form, in addition to being impervious to most magic — or so I thought.” Grampa’s face took on a sad expression. “I got careless. I knew magic had grown more powerful, after the world changed, but I was arrogant. Magic couldn't hurt me…
“Never believe your own press clippings. There's always someone out there more powerful. Do I look old to you?”
“You look older than you used to. You look like Grandfather Edward now.”
“I've been old for a long time, Sigurd. I turned 94 before Edward was born. However, that's not much; my great-grandfather lived to be 340.”
Sig did the math. “When you said 193 years old this morning, you weren't kidding; or are you kidding now?”
“I'm deadly serious. The time for kidding is over. I ran across someone with tricks I never encountered before. Changes have made access to dark magic easier; portals between dimensions are more open.”
“Grampa, that sounds scary.” Sig looked around.
“Good. Fear of black magic is healthy. Dark Mages face a terrible ending if they draw on it; but, the dark is addictive, and of course they think they’ll live forever.”
Grampa Thor shook his head. “I didn’t have enough fear. That's why I don’t have much time left. I went up against a Dark Sorcerer who invoked a demon. I should have shielded against it and didn’t. Now the demon feeds off my magic. Every time I invoke magic, he sucks more out of me, even the normally insignificant part I use to stay young. My reservoir empties faster than I can replenish it. You’re looking at the result.”
The thought of losing Grampa so soon after Dad and Grandfather Edward, rocked Sig to his core. “There must be something that can be done!”
“I've found nothing that isn’t worse than the disease. Google doesn't have much on magic yet; maybe I’ll find something before I die of early old age.” His face twisted into a smile.
“My biggest concern now is for you, Sigurd. I must pass the sword to you as my grandfather did to me. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to train you as he did me, before passing it along. After he trained me, he lived for another one hundred years and managed his investments. It's the Battle Wizard retirement plan.”
“Grampa isn't there something I can do?”
Grampa impatiently shook his head. “Pay attention. Do everything I tell you. Make the transition as easy as possible.”
“But… I don’t have any magic.”
“I've always sensed magic in you; deep and powerful. Edward didn’t have it, but you do.”
“You can sense magic? If it's in me, it has to be very deep. You're kidding aren't you?”
“In some it takes longer to mature. I keep expecting yours to blossom, but I can’t wait any longer. There are things I must show you.”
“Maybe if you don't show me, you can last longer.”
“Not enough to make a difference. I wanted the privacy of your room, so I can show you. I didn’t want to do it in the barn. It might scare the horses.”
Sig frowned. “What makes you think that I'll be any less scared than the horses?”
“You may be scared, but you won't cause as much trouble because you don't weigh over 500 pounds like they do, yet.”
Sig’s forehead creased. Yet?
“You asked what a Battle Wizard is. I’ll show you first, and then I’ll explain.”
Grampa Thor reached into his shirt collar, took a gold chain from around his neck, and handed it to Sig. “Have you seen the medallion I wear? It is Aðalbrandr.” It sounded like he said A-dul-bronder. “It focuses my magic. Aðalbrandr means noble sword or first sword. Family legend says it’s the very first battle talisman. It makes me a Battle Wizard.”
Sig held it up by the chain and peered closely at a perfectly formed miniature long sword. The hilt, pommel, and curved cross-guard were golden. The silver double-edged blade with a single groove down the center sparkled in the light. At the cross guard, a blue stone gleamed. A link attached the pommel to the gold chain.
Grampa took it back, gripped the miniature sword in his fist, the chain trailing down his forearm, and looked at Sig. “I can't do many more of these, so watch and listen.”
Sig watched him close his eyes and say “Aðalbrandr.” The air around Grampa Thor coruscated and he blurred. The blur expanded. Quickly it cleared and a huge Viking warrior stood in place of Grampa. The tips of the horns on his battle helm almost touched the ceiling. Brown hair salted with gray, the same color as Grampa‘s, flowed thickly to his shoulders. Wolf pelts draped his muscular torso, and he held an immense double-edged two-handed sword that looked just like the one on Grampa’s necklace ? but this sword was four feet long. The warrior carried it easily in one hand. Much broader than a regular human, his arms were sheathed in muscle.
The sword extended almost to the wall when he spread his arms. “This is what a Battle Wizard looks like”, he growled. Lowering the sword, he turned around. “How tall do I appear?” The floor creaked as he pivoted.
Sig realized his mouth hung open and snapped it shut. He stood and said, “A little over seven feet, not counting the horns. They almost touch the roof.”
The warrior frowned. “I was afraid of that. I used to be almost eight feet tall. I’ll change back. You get the idea.” He held the sword in front of him with two hands, tip on the ground and said “Koma aftur.”
The air shimmered; the warrior blurred and shrank until Grampa Thor stood in front of Sig, holding the talisman in his hand. Grampa slumped back into the chair.
He lifted the chain. “Here this is yours.” He sounded tired.
Sig stared numbly at it. Grampa shook the chain at him “Take it. It won't bite.”
Sig eased forward, but stopped. Grampa leaned forward and draped it across Sig's left hand. “Take it!”
Sig clenched the chain and raised the dangling medallion to a level with his eyes, looking for secrets, fearing that there wouldn’t be any for him.
“Go ahead, hold the medallion.” Thor said.
Sig reached up with his right hand, grasped the amulet, and jerked his hand back.
Thor peered at the hand with the amulet. “What happened?”
“It felt warm, and tingly; like it's humming.”
“Warm and tingly? Interesting. Other than sensing the zombies, you show no signs of magic. Grasp the amulet and say Aðalbrandr. See if the feeling in your hand changes at all.”
“Are you sure?”
“What's the worst that could happen — you turn into a midget warrior? With no magic, I don't expect anything to happen. Go ahead.”
Skeptical, Sig shrugged, stood up, and muttered, “Aðalbrandr.”
The room blurred and receded. He started to drop the amulet when something slammed into his head and knocked him to his knees. A thunderous boom followed the sound of wood breaking. He threw his hands up and the sword in his right hand, stabbed into the ceiling.
Grampa hollered, “Holy Crap!” and stepped away from Sig. Feet pounded up the stairs and his door swung open.
“What in the world is going…?” Mom said. She looked Sig in the eye then backed out of the room. How can she look me in the eye? I'm on my knees.
Grampa stepped in front of him, hands up, also looking him in the eyes. “Don't move. Don't get up. Lower the sword slowly.”
Sig looked up to where it pierced the ceiling, tugged it out, and set it on the bed. It stretched almost as long as his bed — longer than when Grampa held it. Plaster dust drifted downward from another hole in the ceiling. An exposed, fractured ceiling beam had a bowl shaped dent in it.
“What happened? Who hit me?” His voice sounded funny. It rumbled.
Mom peered around the room. She looked at his closed closet door and said “Sigurd?”
She looked back at him and said “Oh, my god!” She stepped back and sagged against the hallway wall. “Did he say someone hit him?”
Grampa Thor walked over, put a hand on her arm, and looked back at Sig. “He's OK. Hit himself on the ceiling. It didn’t hurt; it just surprised him. I'm sorry.” Mom looked at the hole in the ceiling and her eyes widened.
Grampa patted her arm. “I had no idea this would happen. Why don't you go downstairs? I'll get this cleaned up, then Sig and I will come down, and we can talk. You'll probably need a drink. While you're doing that, I'll take a Stoli on the rocks with a lemon twist.” Taking her arm, he led her to the stairway and then closed the bedroom door.
He leaned against the door, looked at Sig, and shook his head. “You're going to need a bigger horse.”
Grampa Thor pushed off from the door and spread his arms wide as he stepped over to put his hands on Sig's shoulders.
“OK, grab the sword. Leave it on the bed. Don’t wipe out the room with it. Hold the grip and repeat after me. Koma aftur. It means return.”
Sig repeated it. The room blurred and grew around him. Grampa Thor grew; arms still extended but his hands no longer touched Sig's shoulders.
Grampa stepped back and dropped into the chair; leaving Sig kneeling in the middle of the room, holding the sword shaped amulet in his right hand.
Sig got up from his knees. “What happened?”
Grampa looked at Sig, as if staring through him. Sig sat on the bed and asked the question again.
Grampa jerked, and his eyes focused. He looked at Sig, really looked at him. Sig felt uncomfortable under the penetrating stare.
Grampa sighed. “Well, those tests they gave you for magic are a crock. You have magic, powerful magic.” He looked up at the fractured beam showing through the hole smashed in the ceiling plaster.
“At my most powerful, my battle helm would have brushed an eight-foot ceiling like this, or maybe the horns would have dented it a little. You, young man, were going right through the ceiling — if you hadn't run into that beam.”
He raised his eyebrows and said. “I would guess you are nine feet tall. There's never been a nine-foot Battle Wizard. I was the tallest and the biggest.”
Grampa patted his chest and grimaced, “Until my recent problem. It’s true what they say, size matters. For Battle Wizards size is proportional to magical strength.”
Grampa Thor's words echoed in his head. He heard them but they didn't make sense. Finally, he said. “I have magic? How could that be? I've never felt magic; never done anything magical.”
Grampa barked out a laugh. “What do you call what just happened?”
Taken aback, Sig felt his face redden. “I didn't do that; this did.” He held up the amulet.
Grampa shook his head. “Remember, I said Aðalbrandr focuses your magic.”
At the sword’s name, Sig’s eyes widened in apprehension, and he looked between Grampa and the amulet.
Thor waved a hand. “Don't worry, it won't happen unless you say his name while you're holding him, so everything is cool. That’s lesson number two — don't say his name if you don't want to change. As you saw, it happens quickly and impressively; if I do say so myself.” A smile quirked his lips.
“You keep referring to it as 'him'. Why is that?”
“Hmmm. Never thought about it. It’s always been a him, long before my time. Maybe because it focuses our magic and Battle Wizards are always men. Or maybe because it’s a sword.”
Sig held out the amulet. “Why don’t you keep this and give me another one? Don’t you need this?”
“There isn’t another to give you. The mountain dwarf who made them, over a thousand years ago, took the secret of the sword to his grave. Each family that has one guards it jealously. Only one family gave theirs away after no child born to their line had magic to take the sword up. I thought that would happen to our family. Edward had no magic and Meredith was his only child.”
“But you said she had magic.”
“She doesn’t have magic to control Aðalbrandr. I feared I would be the last in my line with magic. But the first time I held you, I knew you had it.”
“Where is it?”
“In some it takes longer to develop, but I don’t have longer. Your training starts now. Third lesson ? if you remain a Battle Wizard for an extended period, the more likely you are to develop a battle rage.”
“Have you ever heard of Viking berserkers?”
Sig nodded. “Living in Minnesota? You'd have to live under a rock not to have heard of berserkers.”
“Berserkers were often Battle Wizards too long in battle shape, or Vikings following them into battle. Some of those early Vikings were nuts.” He chuckled. “Hell, some of the current Vikings are nuts from what I see at football games.”
His face grew serious. “How are you feeling now? The first change can be a shock, especially if you aren't adequately prepared for it by someone knowledgeable.” He looked remorseful.
“We've kept your mother in suspense long enough. If you're up to it, we should join her downstairs.”
Sig took a deep breath then exhaled forcefully. He nodded and got up from the bed. “Let's do it before I lose my courage.”
Grampa clapped him on the shoulder. “That's the spirit. Forward, into the valley of death.”
Sig didn’t like the sound of that.
The End of The Excerpt of
Go the Wizard Dawning page to purchase.
Aðalbrandr – Ah´-dul-bronder
Andras – Ahn´-dras
Giselle – Ji-zel´ (not the German Gee´-zel-uh, Gee as in Geek)
Sigurd – Cig´-erd (as in cigarette)
Thorval – Thor´-vul