The Necromancer and the Girl Edit
“You’re definitely sure that’s the one--the guy that killed you?”
“Yeah, definitely.” The woman nodded. The movement was slow and stilted. “You can’t let him get away with this.” There was nothing passionate in her cracked voice, nothing pleading, or vengeful, or resentful.
Even after five successful cases put behind us, Detective Jones’ department wouldn’t pay him the extra cash for a more nuanced raising. But I guessed in the eyes of the law, this was more than enough.
“Of course not,” said Detective Jones, polite, standing a short distance away from her. He took the photos in his hands and stuffed them back into his envelope, then he nodded at me. Time to put poor Miss Molly back to sleep.
Detective Jones stepped away as I touched her. Her skin was cold. What little life had been in her eyes trickled out until, finally, she slumped over. I caught the body and laid it gently back on the table. Already, I could feel the strength return to my limp fingers and heavy eyes.
“That went smoother than usual,” he said.
“Well, it helped that you managed to find her in one piece this time.” Two cases ago, we had to have a corpse pieced together enough to at least get the jaw and throat working properly. That one took a lot out of me while summoning. I wasn’t looking forward to doing anything like that anytime soon.
“I don’t exactly get to control that,” Detective Jones replied dryly. “He's getting sloppy--we’ll catch him soon.”
“I would hope so, considering she just identified him for you.”
“We have to stop going through this all the time, there's more to the process than just taking the word of some dead broad. Though I will say, it does help speed it up some.” He tilted his head as he looked at me. His eyes softened. “You look like shit.”
“Yeah, well, side-effects of the job. Raising the dead too much tends to kill a schmuck.”
His answering laugh was tinged with guilt as he opened the door of the morgue and stepped aside, hand still on the knob. “After you, Tisha.”
“Morticia,” I corrected.
He walked me home, since my apartment happened to be on his route back to the police station. The first time he contracted my services, he’d been cagey about it. I didn’t blame him--necromancy, though it hadn’t been illegal for some time, was still considered a fairly dodgy profession. My mother had been careful to keep all her papers up to date, and she’d been quick to make sure I would be just as legit.
We’re something like friends nowadays. You're probably on friendship status if you've seen somebody spew vomit at four in the morning from too much creamsicle vodka.
As usual, when we got to the door of my row house, he said he'd let me know about any new important updates. I waved him off, stepped inside, and came home to a mess.
Sitting on the kitchen counter, shamelessly uncaring of the maelstrom of shattered porcelain on the floor, was my stupid cat.
“God damn it, Chowder,” I said, bending over to pick up the scattered shards. “Why do you always have to be such a little shit.” Chowder blinked his milky eyes up at me before yawning, which nearly ripped his jaw open. You'd think he'd have learned after me having to stitch him back together last time, but I guess his brain had rotted a little too much. He tottered off, leaving me to deal with his mess yet again.
I sighed and swept the pieces up into the trash bin. That had to be the third cup this month. Honestly, I should've put him to rest years ago, especially after he started falling apart, but he'd been my first go at raising the dead.
I was just about to flop onto my couch when the doorbell rang. I stiffened. With another sigh, I trudged to the door. It was probably Detective Jones again. I couldn’t imagine what he’d have to say when it’s barely been a few minutes. It’s not as if he didn’t have my work phone number.
If my apartment didn’t double as my workplace, I probably would’ve ignored him. But alas. Some things just weren’t meant to be.
The knocking started up, faster and louder as I approached the door. “Jesus Christ, keep your shorts on,” I snapped, ripping it open. I blinked. Instead of Detective Jones, it was just a kid. She still had her arm lifted, fist frozen mid-knock.
We stared at each other for a moment. She was maybe thirteen or fourteen, reeking of a steady diet of nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When her voice came, it was high and quiet. “I saw the sign… are you Morticia Four?”
“It’s what it says on the door.” I frowned down at her. “Aren’t you a little young to be walking around by yourself this late?”
She shuffled from one foot to the next, slipping her hands into her pockets with practiced casualness. I didn’t know who she was trying to fool. “Probably. But it was the only time I had free today, so.”
Her eyes widened. I followed her gaze down to Chowder, who’d sauntered up to wind himself around my ankles. He meowed at her. That is to say he attempted to meow, which sounded more like a cross between a grunt and a wheeze these days. She recoiled as he padded closer to her. I picked him up and stepped back into my apartment. “Don’t mind him; he’s harmless.”
She followed me inside. “What’s wrong with him? He looks--weird.”
“Kid, you wouldn’t look so great if you were more than a decade past your expiration date too.” My Chowder looked fantastic, all things considered. I sat down behind my scratched up desk, setting him gingerly down onto the surface. She took a seat in the armchair in front of me. It had seen better days since I’ve lugged it from Goodwill, but it’d been a sight better than the last one. At least this chair didn’t have springs skewering your ass.
She glanced around, mouth pressed tight in a dubious line. “...do you live here?” she asked.
I grunted. My “office” was pretty much the whole space from the front door to the back of the wall. The bedroom was tucked away in the back, and I kept that off-limits to clients.
When I didn’t offer an explanation, she started to fidget. “So, um.” She tried to scoot the chair closer to the table. “How much for a, um--”
“A raising? That depends on how long you want them up and about.”
“How much for an hour?”
I didn’t get a lot of customers aside from Detective Jones, not regularly at least. Honestly my rates weren’t high enough to meet industry standard (what little industry there was for people in my line), but still it was nothing to scoff at. Especially for a kid.
I began slowly. “It depends. $100 is usually what I started off with. For that much, you can talk and interact with the dead, but they’re… not exactly all there in the head. Which is fine, depending on what exactly you’re looking to get out of the experience. You just need to know they’re not exactly going to be whoever they were before they. You know. Kicked the bucket.”
“Okay.” The kid didn’t look pleased about this. “How much if I wanted to talk to somebody normally. Like back when they were still alive. Still them.”
That’s when I probably should’ve stopped her. People that picked option one were looking for information. Stuff like access codes to safety vaults. Buried treasure. Banking numbers. The name or face of a murderer.
People interested in option two were here for more personal reason.
“Two hundred bucks.” I leaned back in my chair, expecting her to stutter, get up, thank me for my time and leave. But she stayed put, looking down at her small, dark hands.
I wondered what might have brought her here. It was obvious, I guess. Somebody close to her must have died and she missed them something awful. A parent probably, or a close caretaker. Maybe a friend.
Eventually, she looked up and inquired, “Would that make it only $100 for half an hour?”
“Tax, for raising the dead.” The kid snorts. “Right.”
“If you don’t have the money--” I started.
“No,” she cut me off. “I. I have it. Is it okay if we do this tonight?”
“You got a place in mind?” I asked. It was probably the graveyard.
“The graveyard a couple blocks down,” she answered. Bingo. I was still kind of tired from the summoning from earlier, but maybe I’d be able to wing this one without keeling over. At the very least, it’d be a short walk back home.
On our way to the cemetery, she introduced herself. The girl, Rosa, short for Dolorosa (I wondered if her family was Catholic) she said, brought me to a cemetery. We stopped in front of a grave, the dirt still freshly turned over. I glanced at the headstone, which belonged to Marussia Reyes, died just two weeks ago. “Is this okay?” she asked, rubbing her hands together nervously. “Should I have--does she need to be dug up?”
“She’ll be able to dig her way out of the grave, if that’s what you’re asking. She might not look as pretty by the time she’s done but--”
“Is there a less destructive option?” Rosa touched the headstone. “Could you, I don’t know, just call her spirit up?”
“If she’s still around.”
Rosa paused. “But she’s dead.”
I shrugged. Normally, I’d try to sell this really hard to a new customer. Explain that spirits, especially ones that died a violent or sudden death had a tendency to linger in this plane of existence. But Rosa had already paid me half the fee, and she wouldn’t be leaving without getting her money’s worth.
“If she’s around, she’ll come when called,” I said.
Rosa didn’t seem quite convinced, but didn’t say anything as I opened up my bag, starting to set up for the ritual. I stayed sitting down on the grave as I finished the spell. No talking corpses today. Just got to catch a ghost. Sounds like it ought to be easier than trying to animate a dead body, since you don’t have to tie the ghost down. But channeling energy to allow for actual communication? It’s hard work. Hard on the body, my body.
My head dipped. A dull ache pounded behind my temples. Even so, I could catch snippets of what Rosa was saying to her mother, as much as my headache tried to dissuade me from listening in.
It was exactly what I thought. Rosa missed her mom, was sorry she didn’t get to say good-bye one last time. She wished she hadn’t stayed away in those last few weeks before her mother died.
I started as little hands shook my shoulders. Rosa’s eyes were very large.
“Are you okay?” she asked. “You don’t look so good.”
“‘M fine,” I said, bracing myself on the headstone to stand up. My legs were shaking. Two summonings in a day. That probably wasn’t one of my brightest ideas. “Just tired. Haven’t been feeling so hot lately.”
Rosa bit her lip and gave me the rest of the cash. I thanked her and slipped it into my pocket.
Rosa asked if I’d need to lean on her for support. I shook my head. As soon as we were back at my apartment, I had her sent back home in a cab. I watched as they drove off before heading in myself. Later, I’ll check my watch and realize she didn’t get the full half hour when we left the cemetery, that she paid me too much. I’ll give it back to her if she ever comes back.
“It’s not that--it’s not like I didn’t know,” Rosa said, “that she was dying.”
“As in she was dying slowly?”
It was the third time she visited my practice. She didn’t have any money this time, just like the last visit. I wondered if she was going to save up for another raising.
“No, more like.” She hesitated, hands fluttering uselessly to her lap. “I always knew. And she knew herself, too.”
“...you can predict deaths? The two of you?”
“Yeah, that’s itm,” she said. She seemed to slump in on herself. “Yeah.”
Chowder rubbed up against her, mewing until she lifted him up onto her lap.
I asked how long had she been predicting. Rosa thought for a moment, petting Chowder’s mangled ears absentmindedly. She’d been about four when she’d first noticed that something was different.
She hadn’t really understood it then, just assumed it was normal to watch people slowly gray out.
“Old people tend to be the darkest,” she said. “But I’ve seen some kids turn just as gray. There was um, this one kid Billy. Sixth grade. I never really noticed him until he just lost all his color. Didn’t come to school the next day.”
“Because he died.” I looked down at my skin, which was pale. Almost waxy. How gray did I look in her eyes? Honestly, I didn’t want to know. I probably wouldn’t like the answer.
Necromancy wasn’t exactly something that tended to lend a user like me a long life.
Rosa nodded. “Car accident. Least that’s what the principal said. We had a moment of silence for him.”
After a few more similar situations, her mother Marussia took Rosa aside and gently explained that she was different. They were different. What they could do was special, but it was also better not to let too many people know about it.
“Because people tend to get obsessed. Death happens and there’s nothing we can do to stop it from happening.” The words were recited. Her voice grew wistful. “Sometimes you can do something and put it off for a little while. But my mom. She was sick. There’s not much you can do about that.”
Sick. My mom had been something like that when she passed. It was a disease she brought on herself, practicing so much. But I guess she’d always been doomed in that regard. There’s nothing quite like the high of triumphing over death, even if it’s just for a short time.
“Does it ever get easier?” she asked. “Dealing with all of this.”
I hesitated. Thought about how sometimes I still turned around, talking to the air, expecting to still see my mother sorting through the mail or shooing Chowder away from batting at her nice lace curtains. When I’d be tempted to imbue her ashes with the lingering remnants of her spirit, just to hear a whisper of her voice.
“No,” I said.
“It’s not the same as what you do, but I didn’t know where else to go. I just saw your sign and I thought, maybe. Maybe she’d know something.”
Rosa started coming around more often. She lived with her dad and grandmother. The former was stuck working between three jobs, and she didn’t get to see him as much as she liked. The latter, she saw too often.
“Nana’s always on my case for something,” she’d complain. “I don’t think she likes me very much. I look like mom, and Nana definitely didn’t like her.”
She liked to hang about on my ugly, florid couch, munching whatever she could find rifling through my cupboards as she steamrolled through her homework. Most days, she tended to stay late. I’d make the two of us some mac and cheese, one of the few things I really bothered making for myself. She was always so surprised when I fed her.
She ended up with her own makeshift desk, set close to the door. At first, she had to make due with some sturdy cardboard I had lying around the place, but I eventually scrounged up a foldable table for her that the neighbors were planning on throwing out. Chowder had taken to curling up by her feet, yowling at her to pet him every so often.
New customers would glance over at her, look back at me, and then ask if she was my daughter. Rosa never complained, just ask them to sign in before meeting up up with me. The little secretary I never asked for but ended up getting.
“Congratulations on your adoption,” Detective Jones drawled, halfway through a Long Island Ice Tea. “She seems like a nice kid.”
I frowned at him. “She’s not my kid.”
“She’s taken an awful shine to you.”
“Still doesn’t make her mine.”
Detective Jones shrugged, taking another long sip. It’d been a long week for the two of us. Mountains of paperwork for him, and a journalist that kept trying to prove I was a fake for me. The guy was probably half the reason why business tended to be slow until Halloween popped around.
I was definitely more than a little pleased when Rosa accidentally-not-so-accidentally spilled piping hot coffee on him. I briefly mourned the loss of a perfectly good mug of instant coffee, but the sacrifice was well worth the way he’d screamed, spluttering his way out of the door. No doubt the next article about me and my practice would be scathing, but the smile me and that little runt shared felt like a goddamn victory.
“You’re smiling,” Detective Jones says smugly. “I think you’re definitely attached.”
Sometimes, I tried to teach Rosa what Mom had taught me. She’d be silent during those lessons, attentive as we poured over my mother’s old tomes, learning my mother’s most effective symbols, the importance of proper setups, the careful intonation of spellwork.
“Hey, Ms. Morticia? Have you ever thought about doing something that isn’t,” Rosa waved her hand about my office, “this?”
I eyed her over my mug of coffee. It was the third one that day. My hands were shaking. I made sure to keep them away from my mother’s old books. “What brought this on?”
“Nothing.” She sunk lower on my couch, biting forcefully into her sandwich. She set it down. “I was just. Thinking.”
She went silent, stuffing her mouth with the rest of the sandwich.
I sighed, and set down my coffee. In the past few months since I met her and accidentally took her on as my unofficial intern, the one thing I never asked her was when I was going to die.
It’d be a lie to say that I wasn’t curious, but Rosa didn’t like to talk very much about her ability, and for the most part, I tried not to put her on the spot. But I had to ask now.
I don’t think she ever actually expected me to say the words. She didn’t look up at me, but she had gone pale.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I mean. I’m not surprised. My mom didn’t live very long either. I’m kind of surprised I lasted this long.”
“Ms. Morticia, you’re not even forty yet.”
“How’d you know that? I don’t remember telling you that.” I stopped her before she could explain and shook my head. “Never mind. Just. How long do I got?”
She wouldn’t tell me. “Look, iit’s not set in stone or whatever. If you quit--”
“Kid, if I could just quit necromancy, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
She scowled at me. “You wouldn’t be dying so fast if you just stopped. I just, I don’t get it. Why would anyone choose to do this?”
When I was twenty, my mom breathed her last. She was buried without much ceremony, and for days afterwards, I would think about digging her back up and tying her ghost to her bones, at least for a short while. There’ve been necromancers in the past that have done similar, keeping a corpse fueled and aware and almost themselves, but those masters hardly ever lived past a few more years, despite whatever you might’ve read in a book.
And the thing about necromancy is, is that it really is a gift. Just, not a nice one. But it’s one I didn’t know how to live without. I could, but I never had to.
Rosa stared at me. The longer I didn’t, couldn’t answer, the sadder her eyes grew. She shook her head. “I can’t watch you go on like this,” she said. “Ms. Morticia, I’m gonna miss you.” And then she left.
I stared at the door long after it was closed.
All necromancers like to think they’re pretty chummy with the concept of death. But the funny thing about dying is that well, it’s actually not all that funny. At all. Especially right after a summoning. If I thought getting the shakes and headaches was lousy enough, it didn’t hold a candle to when I started hacking up blood.
I stared at the blood smattered on my palm, brackish in the flickering bathroom light. I thought I would be okay. I thought when Death decided to show their ugly mug at my door, I’d take their hand. But I was shaking, my throat burning, and I wasn’t ready.
Even Mom had been older when she left me.
So I took on fewer cases, turned them down unless if it was Detective Jones doing the asking, or if in moment of pity, I was reminded of my almost-apprentice.
Years later, sometimes I still thought about that girl. She never came around again. Was she eating okay? Did she still struggle with math? Could she still tell when people were about to die?
I waited at the crossroads for the light to flash white before I walked. I hadn’t even gotten to take a full step forward when a car sped past. I swear I could have felt its chrome surface brush my leg. But somebody had clamped their hand around my elbow, keeping death at bay for another day longer. I looked up, about to thank the stranger, and there she was.
Rosa froze and we stared at each other. “You look… better,” she said eventually. I thought you’d be dead by now, I imagined her not saying.
“Yeah, well. I’ve been taking it easier,” I said. “How’re you doing?”
She shuffled. “Fine. I guess. Nana’s been easier to bear with recently.”
I smiled. “That’s good,” I said. “I’m glad you’re doing better.”
I looked her over, aching with the years I have missed. She’s taller and older now, still so very solemn in the face. She was wearing the same expression she had the day when she last said goodbye to her mother.
“It was nice seeing you,” I said eventually, and then I turned away, expecting that this would be the last time I’d see her.
But then she called out. Asked if I still lived in the same place. The words wouldn’t come--I was too surprised. So I nodded, watched as she swallowed and then waved, uncertain, before dashing down the street.
I’ll see her later, outside my apartment, waiting for me like she used to. And I’ll unlock the door, and she’ll sit on my couch, waiting for a cat that had been already buried.