The white magic charms fought against the black magic spells cast on the pendant. The invisible battle raging inside the tiny, glass cylinder made it ice cold to everyone’s touch. Everyone except Goldie. Around her neck, the pendant radiated a tingling warmth that turned into a scorching poker whenever a zombie drew near—and they were coming for her.
I peeked out of my bedroom window for the hundredth time in hopes that the zombie traps would work.
“Ow! What did you do that for?”
Rita had closed the wooden blinds on my nose without warning. Obviously, she was oblivious to my pain because she casually twirled a teal lock of hair around her fingers and strutted away from the window. I meant to tell her that her choice of hair gel clashed with her fingernails—a bad paint job done in navy blue polish—but now wasn’t the time.
She bit her lip and squinted at me. “Goodness, Goldie. Stop worrying. That was awesome the way you handled the first zombie. Did the dude really look like Frankenstein and glow like a light bulb? I can’t believe he died from being smacked in the face with a salt packet. Who wouldn’t believe in zombies after that?”
“Really? You have to ask?” I twisted my out-of-control curls into a bun and secured them with a handy plastic bag clip from the empty pretzel bag. “I can name lots of people that still don’t. Seriously, Rita. Everyone thinks it died of a heart attack. Except for us, the Bokor, and voodoo enthusiasts. We know the truth—feeding a zombie salt frees its soul, and it drops dead. We already know that no one, even my dear sister, Gema, is going to believe what sounds like a wild tale spun by a fourteen-year-old.” I stroked the floppy ears of my little dog, Chanel, to try to work out my aggravation. “Whatever.”
Rita reached over and touched my pendant with one finger, but she pulled it right off. She rubbed her finger. “Geez. That’s too freaky. The glass froze my fingertip. By the way, what’s the magic number?”
I lifted the pendant to my face and turned it to admire the golden dust and nine black granules trapped inside the seamless cylinder. “Nine. Nine souls left to free. Nine zombies the Bokor has sent after me.” I breathed a deep sigh. “That’s okay, let them come. We know what to do now.”
Wide-eyed, Rita stammered. “We? We’re BFFs, but you are the chosen one. I don’t have magical powers.”
Rita was dingy, but she knew better. “I don’t either.”
“But you have a magical necklace.”
“Good point. Someone made sure I found the pendant. But who? And why?”
Rita shrugged and exaggerated a yawn, slipping into bed. “No idea. But you invited me to sleepover. It’s 3 a.m., and we haven’t seen a decent horror movie yet.”
I flopped on my bed and grabbed the TV remote. Chanel jumped up next to me and curled up into a furry black ball. “I don’t sleep normal anymore. Every night, I have zombie nightmares. I see…things…clues, I think, but I can’t piece it all together. Sometimes the Bokor appears. His face is always hidden under a black hood, but I feel like I know him. It’s weird.”
Rita pulled the blanket over her head. “Do me a favor. When you have another nightmare, be brave. Beat up the zombies. Face the Bokor dude. Yank that hood off. It’s a dream—they can’t hurt you.”
For a few minutes, I pondered the suggestion. “You’re right, but…”
Snoring rumbled from under the blanket.
I sat my glasses on the nightstand. “Never mind.”
Although I resisted sleep, it crept upon me like magic. I opened my eyes and shivered. I wasn’t in the familiar graveyard that inhabited my nightmares for weeks but a dark cavern. My footsteps echoed, breaking the silence, no matter how carefully I stepped. A chill rushed down my spine. Faint light from two hanging lanterns illuminated the walls, carved from a damp, reddish earth. It was a known fact to us zombie enthusiasts that zombies and mud went together like peanut butter and jelly. My breathing deepened and the steam it created rose like smoke into the cold blackness.
The sound of feet shuffling across the dirt floor brought on more chills. My body tingled from fear. I wanted to run, but the cavern grew darker up ahead, and I didn’t know what I’d be running into. This time, with salt packets crammed in my pocket, I was prepared to take down this zombie like I had the first one. With as much bravery as I could muster, I spun around. My body turned rigid. The Bokor had found me. As usual, I couldn’t see his face under the black hooded cape, only glowing red eyes that reminded me of hot coals in a fire pit.