Another T.A.N. one here
I squinted at the well worn business card in my hand, making sure the address on it matched that of the house in front of me.
For the first time in ages, I felt a faint spark of emotion. I pondered it for a while. It was, I decided, apprehension. It fluttered in my chest for all of a second before the dullness returned.
I took it to be a good sign.
I walked up the porch steps and knocked on the door. Minutes passed with no answer.
Well, I thought, it is rather late. He may very well be asleep.
For a moment, I contemplated standing on the porch all night, waiting for morning to try again.
No, I thought eventually. Enough waiting.
I knocked again, harder.
"Coming," someone inside shouted. "Hang on."
There was the sound of general scuffling and the door was opened by a dark haired, youngish man who looked like he needed the sleep I'd robbed him of. If I could have managed it, I would have been surprised. I'd been expecting someone quite different.
"Yeah?" he said. "What? You just gonna stare?"
It occurred to me that I hadn't introduced myself.
"Are you Thomas Ascher?"
"Yeah. . . " he said, suspiciously. "Why?"
I held the card out to him. Since the afternoon I'd found it, I'd been reading and rereading it constantly; always taking it out of my pocket to look at it and ensure it was still there. I had it memorized.
Séances, Exorcisms, Resurrections, Reincarnation,
And Other Miscellanea
He took it from me and shook his head. In disbelief, I would assume, though I'm admittedly not the most reliable at identifying emotions.
"Where do you guys keep finding these things? Yeah, that's me. Why?"
"I would like to hire you."
"I figured." He rubbed his eyes. "I suppose it couldn't wait 'till morning?"
"Figured that, too." He sighed, then opened the door a little wider. "Alright, come on in. No funny business; I've got all sorts of self defense wards around the place."
I followed him inside the house.
He lead me through a skull-themed, obtrusively gothic living room and into a sunflower-themed, obtrusively cheerful kitchen. He began fiddling with a coffeepot. "You drink coffee?"
"Too bad, I do." For the first time he turned to look at me in the light.
"So, what exactly was it you- holy mother of Santachrist!" He stumbled backwards into the counter, pointing at me in accusation.
I shrugged. I'm not the most well preserved individual in the world.
"Dead," I said.
"Well yes," he said. He straightened up and brushed off his pajama shirt. "So," he said calmly. "What do you need?"
"I would like to know why I'm dead. Among other things."
"You don't remember?"
The coffee went off. He busied himself with that while I scrutinized the decor. There was quite a lot of sunflowers.
"Sit," he said, pulling out a chair of his own. "Tell."
So I did. I told him how I'd woken up in an unmarked grave nearly a year before. I told him how for the first two months, I had lived in a continuous stream of hallucinations and half-done images, and how after the third week I could remember nothing, not even my name.
He listened attentively, sipping from his mug and occasionally stopping me to ask a question.
Eventually, I finished. We sat in silence for a long while.
"Well," he finally said, "I can honestly say I have no idea what happened. If I didn't know better, I'd say someone brought you back on accident and made a mess of it."
"Can you fix me?"
He shook his head. "I don't think so. That bit of necromancy is sort of a one shot thing. I'm sorry."
I nodded. I'd expected as much. "Can you at least tell me how I died?"
"No, your body has -uh- changed, since your upraising." He got up and brought his dish to the sink. "I think there is something I can do for you, though."
"I might have something that can let you remember the last few minutes of your life. It's experimental- I haven't gotten to try it out on anyone but myself yet. It was originally just a spell to let me remember what I did when I was drunk, but I think with some tweaking it could work for you."
I thought about it. I had nothing to lose.
* * * *
He didn't have a spell on hand for what we wanted to do: allow me to remember the last few moments of my life. He figured that would be enough for the rest of it to come back to me. Maybe even give some insight as to why I had come back.
"I'll have to modify some things," he said, "but I think it'll work. I mean, there's no reason for it not to."
We agreed to try it out the next day, after he'd gotten some sleep. I let him think I had a place to stay. In truth, I just stood outside on the front porch until dawn came. I suppose that's a benefit of death: no sleep. No being cold. You're always room temperature.
"Oh, you're early," he said when I knocked on his door. "I just called Terra- she's an associate of mine. I'll need her help for today. Come on in."
Terra arrived exactly ten minutes later, carrying a case for an instrument I didn't recognize. She was taller than he was. Her hair was curly and brown, and I got the distinct impression that I should be attracted to her, but couldn't be bothered to.
"So you're a zombie, huh?"
We were in Tom's study. He was making chalk marks on the floor, leaving me and Terra to talk.
"It appears so." I peered over at the makings. There were three small circles stationed around one rather large one.
"Sweet. You have any urge to eat our brains?"
"Will you two stop chatting for a minute and help me? Someone hand me my marker. The yellow one."
Terra sighed and rolled her eyes. She went over to a cluttered desk off in the corner. I could tell by the way she knew exactly which drawer it was in that she'd been through this before.
"Here," she said, handing him what looked like a regular yellow highlighter.
"Thanks," he said. He removed the cap and the pen began glowing with a bright yellow light.
"Magic marker," he said, almost apologetically. He started scribbling small, intricate designs all around the chalk circles he’d made. The signs gave of a steady, yellow glow. I almost managed to be impressed.
"Okay," he said, dusting off his pants where he’d kneeled in chalk. "Now, you just stand in the middle," he gestured to the largest circle. "And I'll start up on the spell."
I did as I was bid. When I passed though the circle, I felt a sharp tug at my chest, like I had walked into something.
Tom pulled out a small penknife.
"Alrighty, Terra? If you'd be so kind?"
Terra smiled and opened up the case from before and brought out her instrument.
"A banjo?" I said.
She shrugged. "There isn't enough banjo love, if you ask me."
"I need it to keep me tethered," said Tom. "Playing with dead things like this is tricky mental business. No offense."
"None taken," I said.
I watched as he sliced the tips of both his thumbs with the penknife. There wasn't much blood, but what little of it there was he welled up and dabbed into the remaining three circles. As soon as the drops touched the floor, the yellow markings grew brighter.
"Terra," said Tom, wiping his hands off on his shirt. "Make sure I don't stay under too long, okay? This is sort of a new one-"
"Gotcha," she said. She pulled up a grungy swivel chair and sat. I watch with mild interest as she began plucking on the banjo strings.
It was a simple tune, only a few chords. It should have been pretty. I should have found myself enjoying the music, but I couldn't. it was just noise- sounds caused by vibrations in the air reaching what remaining auditory receptors I had and causing reactions in my brain. Just noise.
It seemed to be having an effect on him, though.
He was standing, but just barely. He swayed back and forth and looked as though he would pass out. His head lolled and his eyes were rolled back inside his head. He made some odd, keening noises. I think he may have been giggling.
Then he shouted and a burst of white light shot out his chest. Terra didn't falter once.
All that happened to me was my nose began to itch.
Well, I thought. This was a waste.
I disliked that. It had taken me almost a year to find the card, and almost three months to actually track the man down. Now that I was here, it wasn't going to work.
It took me a few moments of fuming before I realized what was going on: I was angry. Not the faded, half remembered shades I usually had, but an actual, definable emotion.
Then it hit me. I doubled over from the force of nostalgia- it got me right in the gut. The feeling was incredible, and almost familiar. it was so natural, something so intrinsic, so ground in that I couldn't believe I'd ever managed without it.
It was, I realized, life. My life. It had been beautiful- not the memories or actions or any of that, but the act of breathing for sustenance rather than out of habit, the absentminded beating of a heart, and being able to feel things with sensations rather than just to know where they were. Life. It had been beautiful. And I'd never have it back again.
Then Tom collapsed and the memory was gone. Once again I was back to normal.
"Did it work?" said Terra. She didn't stop strumming on the banjo.
I sat up. I hadn't even noticed that I'd fallen. "I doubt it." I looked over at Tom, who was curled up in a ball and crooning to himself. "Will he be alright?"
"In a minute." She peered over at him, but stayed seated. "I always get worried when he does this. I keep telling him, shredding bits of soul can't be healthy, but he insists-"
Tom jolted upright suddenly. "Did it work?" he said. Then, "How long was I under?"
"Less than a minute," said Terra. She stopped playing and stood up to stretch.
"I don't think so," I said.
Tom struggled to his feet, leaning on the table for support. He was drenched in sweat. "Nothing at all? No memories or flashes or anything?"
He sighed. "Damn. I was sure I was onto something that time." He touched his chest where the light had come out of absently.
I don't know why I didn't tell them about the spark. No, that's a lie. I didn't want to share it with them. I didn't want to let the precious, painful memory go out into the world- part of me believed if I told anyone, I'd never get it back. It was something sacred, something to be guarded.
"Well, look." He went over to his desk and started looking through the papers. "I'm sorry the memory thing didn't work out, but I can still try tracking down the guy who did this to you. Would you want that?"
I almost said no. I didn't care about why I was around or who'd done it to me, I just wanted to go back to my cemetery and think about the spark.
But, of course, that would be the illogical thing to do. Instead, I nodded.
"Yes, I would like that."
Tom smiled weakly and took a deep breath.
"Okay. I can try to trace whoever did this using the residual magic he left on you. Er, in you. To do this, I'm gonna need a drop of blood and maybe a peek at your soul -just to see if everything's intact. Is that okay? Do I have your permission?"
I shrugged. "You're the necromancer."
"Yeah, but I need you to say I have permission. It's a formality thing to stop me from screwing up the universe."
"You have my permission to do whatever you believe is necessary to find an explanation concerning my condition. Will that work?"
"Yes." He took out the little penknife again and made a small incision on the back of my hand.
No blood came out. It didn't even hurt. All that happened was that I got a cut. It looked odd, seeing my flesh sliced so cleanly like that. In all the time I'd been walking the earth, so to speak, I'd never actually sustained any sort of damage. I had been careful.
"Damn," he said. I'll have to do this the hard way." He reopened the cut on his thumb and dabbed it into the cut on my hand.
Once again, I felt the spark of life. This time, though, it wasn't mine. For a brief moment I saw things from his perspective. I saw myself- an unnaturally thin figure. Sunken eyes in gray skin set along sharp features. For a moment, I felt what he felt: pain. Absolute agony. His own spark was being scattered and shredded, and it would continue to shred each time he used his gift.
Then he broke contact and I was myself again.
Tom staggered backwards and Terra caught him before he fell.
"Thanks," he mumbled. Terra held him steady and he said, "I don't know whose signature that was. Never seen it before. But if I ever come across it again, I'll recognize it."
"That's good," I said. "Thank you."
He tried to see me to the door, but both Terra and I wound up dropping him off on the living room couch.
"I'm sorry we couldn't do more for you," she said.
Part of me wanted to run from the house and go back to my borrowed grave, back to the safety of the cemetery where I could mull over the memory of my spark. The rest of me, however, knew that would be useless, stupid and utterly rude of me.
I tried to smile at her. I could tell just by the way the muscles contracted that I wasn't doing a very good job of it, but she was too polite to mention. "You did more than I could have hoped for."
"Do you have a place where we could find you? You know, if anything does come up."
I gave her the address of the cemetery. It wasn't really mine: I wasn't buried there, but it was the closest thing to home I had.
We said goodbye and I left, still thinking about the spark.
I wandered aimlessly until I found myself back at the cemetery. It's an old, overgrown one on the outskirts of town. Nobody but me ever visits it these days, save for the squirrels and cats.
I climbed over the wrought iron gate and found a half rotten bench where I could sit and think.
The spark. I miss it. Now that I know what I've lost, I don't think I'll stop missing it.
I don't know if that is a good thing, or a bad thing.