Chapter Two

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"So, let me get this straight," I said, avoiding a particularly muddy section of swamp land. I may have been dead, but I didn't want to be more gross than I already was. "A couple of witches came out to where my body was dumped, cast a spell on me to keep me from decomposing anymore, and then buried me so I wouldn't be found? Isn't that helping in a murder or something?"

"Kind of." Tommy grimaced as he held a branch back for me, leading me towards New Orleans. It was unclear how far away from the city we were, but it was apparently close enough to walk. There were footprints in the path, leading to and from where I'd woken up. He didn't appear to notice them, though, which made me think they had probably been made by him and his companions.

"And you were the one who found me?" Falling in line behind him, I kept my eyes on the ground, avoiding looking at myself. It didn't matter that my decomposition was mostly covered; I still knew what I looked like.

"I was." The answer was short and clipped, lending more speculation to the thought that he wasn't telling me everything. He still had that familiar sense around him, like someone I'd met before and forgotten.

"How?"

Sighing, he stopped, turning to look at me as he folded his arms. "There's a lot of stuff that you don't know about. Things that humans aren't supposed to be clued in on. Now that you're dead, you can know, but it's going to take a while to share."

"We are literally walking through a swamp and have nothing but time," I pointed out, raising my eyebrows again.

"Good point." Motioning for me to keep going, he started on the trail again, remaining silent for a minute or two before he spoke. "Have you ever heard a ghost story?"

"I live in New Orleans. Are you joking?"

"That's not what I meant," he replied, frustrated. "An old ghost story. From before the eighteen century."

"Is there a difference between the two?" I was confused, not having any idea why the distinction was important.

"Before the eighteenth century, people believed that ghosts returned in their bodies, not as the wispy, see through things they're portrayed as now."

"And that's important because . . . ?"

"Because it's true," he stated, smiling over his shoulder. "The dead could easily inhabit their bodies again and go to visit their family—or haunt their enemies. Monsters roamed the earth freely, able to do whatever they wished whenever they wanted. There's a reason that people in the past were so superstitious; they actually were living among the things they were terrified of."

"All of it was real?" Why was I so surprised? I was literally the walking dead at the moment. "You mean witches, ghosts, zombies, vampires, werewolves—"

"All of it," he cut in. "Every single thing. The world was a scary place, for both the living and the dead. Something needed to be done to reign it in, to protect the living from the dead and the monsters."

"I'm assuming something happened, since I haven't seen many zombies walking through the door lately."

"It did." He chuckled, nodding to a log that we were going to walk across. "Not everyone stayed in this realm when they passed on, human or beast. Only a few wanted to remain, and it was them that decided to set up a system to keep control. You are part of that system now."

As he told the story, I saw the scene unfolding in my head, taking place at a time of great fear and power.

The witches were the first to suggest something be done. For centuries, they had covertly supplied men of faith with the spells they needed to cast out demons and spirits, under the guise of blessings. It wasn't enough, though, not with the number of things lying in wait until they felt like emerging.

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