Tom wiped the sweat off his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt, took a step back from the corpse and admired his handiwork.
The late Mr. Williamson was resting on a metal table that was just large enough to support his ample frame without bits of him hanging over the side. Tom's dribbly black candles were scattered around the usually pristine embalming room at seemingly random intervals. Their weak light was flickering in a way the seller had assured him would be dramatic.
Next time, he thought, I'm using the birthday candles, drama be damned.
The black ones might have been more impressive than the rainbow ones he normally used, but that didn't mean squat if their flame kept sputtering out. At least the birthday ones were stable.
Done with his breather and trying to ignore the crick in his neck (It had been left to Tom to move Mr. Williamson's rather large corpse onto the table, something he really hadn't been counting on doing and with luck wouldn't have to do again), he dug through his pockets and brought out his little knife. Biting his lip and turning his head, he cut a small line on the tip of his index finger.
Had conditions been better and tradition been followed, the knife would have been made of silver and the index finger would have been the throat of a young virgin maid, but seeing as how Tom couldn't afford silver and had trouble simply talking to girls, never mind going into detail about their sexual encounters and murdering them, he made due with the little knife and his own blood. It was all just for formality's sake, anyway. He could probably get away with squashing an ant or something, but sometimes the stodgier spirits got insulted if there wasn't any human blood.
It took a little coaxing to get an entire drop of blood to well up, but when it did he allowed it to slide off his finger and fall to the ground. The drop landed on the morgue's linoleum floor, dead center in one of his chalk-drawn circles.
Humming Hotel California under his breath (he always hummed while he worked. It helped him focus), he closed his eyes and let the magic wake up inside of him. Supposedly the power came from his blood (or, more specifically, the magical energy held in it), but he always imagined it coming from just behind his belly button.
The energy coursed through him and for a moment the whole world was beautiful. It was as though a fog had been lifted and now he was truly seeing colors and light for the first time. Even the cold, clinical mortuary looked brilliant.
Someone was giggling, and it took him a moment to realize it was himself. Tom bit his lip -hard- and struggled to compose himself. He loved the magic, but damn if it didn't make him goofy. It was like the world's greatest adrenaline rush, only without the troublesome skydiving or bomb defusing to go with it.
Once he'd gotten himself under control, he went to Mr. Williamson's corpse and lightly touched the dead man's forehead. White fire left his fingertips and flowed into the man's skull without burning flesh. Mr. Williamson's eyes flicked open, unfocused and dull.
Next, Tom placed a hand on his chest. The fire poured into the corpse's heart and jolted it into action. Tom held steady, letting the fire flow through the man's body, releasing it from the effects of rigormortis and replacing anything that might've become damaged upon death. After a few moments that seemed to drag on forever, Mr. Williamson took a deep, shuddering breath and officially lost his status of 'corpse' in lieu of the illustrious title 'zombie'.
There was only one thing left for Tom to do before Mr. Williamson could become a regular (if spiritually well traveled) human being again.
He had to call back the soul.
Tom always felt a little uncomfortable with the next bit. Nothing put a damper on faith like first hand proof, and while it was nice knowing that there was a continued existence after death, he couldn't help but feel embarrassed when he stole its business. He hoped whatever ran the afterlife would know that he had to make ends meet and not hold it against him when he 'liberated' its clientèle.
He backed up a bit and held out his arms, beseeching the ceiling. The drop of blood on the floor began to glow green. The circles began glowing purple- the color of the chalk he had used. A slight wind kicked up, causing the candles to flicker even more.
Definitely going with the birthday candles next time, he thought.
He was just about to make the connection to the spirit world when the door opened.
"Hello? Mr. Ascher? Are you done in there?"
He let out the breath he'd been holding and the wind around him died.
"Mrs. Williamson," he said in his best patient voice. "I asked not to be disturbed."
The woman standing in the doorway was upper middle-aged and middle upper-class. She emitted the kind of quiet fierceness typically displayed by women her age while hunting for bargains or playing bingo, and right now she was looking past Tom at the corpse of her late husband with sharp interest.
"I'm sorry. I just wanted to see how things were going. Is he alive?"
"Technically," said Tom awkwardly. He wasn't used to people asking him about his job. "Er, he's breathing and will walk around if you tell him to, but he's not himself yet. He still needs his soul. I was just getting to that bit. . . "
Miranda Williamson didn't catch the hint, or if she did, she quickly released it. Instead, she flicked on the lights and invited herself in.
"Geoffrey," she said to the corpse, "Geoffrey can you hear me?"
"His body can hear you, Mrs. Williamson, but it isn't really him. Now, uh, could you take a step back from the table, please?"
Miranda chose not to hear him.
"Geoffrey, sit up this instant."
The body did as it was told.
"Geoffrey, say something."
The body grunted something that may have been 'hello'. Miranda smiled, and Tom had a sinking feeling in his stomach.
"You know, Mr. Ascher, I think I'll keep him this way."
Tom wasn't sure he'd heard right.
"Take him as is."
"But Mrs. Williamson, that's not-"
Miranda Williamson drew herself up to her full height (which was still a head shorter than him) and gave him her best glare.
"Young man, I've been married thirty five years. What did I end up with? A lovely house. Three beautiful, fully grown children, and a husband who ignored every word I said until the day he took it upon himself to drop dead. A husband who went out drinking all hours of the night, who- who slept around with anything that moved up to and including the nanny, the maid and my sister."
She was crying now. Part of Tom wanted to ask her desperately to stop and the other part felt like a worm for not trying to comfort her. The two parts converged and left him too surprised to do anything more than nod and listen.
"Now, after all this time, I can finally have my turn. You say he'll do what I want? Perfect." She smiled at the technically-not-a-corpse and gently touched its arm. "He'll listen to me now. And he'll keep his mouth shut. He'll keep his manhood in his pants, and he'll keep his money in my account. He'll finally be a good husband."
She began digging through her purse. "Of course, Mr. Ascher, you will be paid. Double, in fact, for services rendered." She quickly wrote him a check. "Thank you," she said, more or less forcing the paper into his hands and ushering him hastily out the door. "Thank you for giving me the husband I've been wanting for the past thirty years. Don't trouble yourself about the mortuary staff, I'll take care of it."
It wasn't until he was almost at the main exit that Tom's brain began functioning properly again. "But-"
The door was shut as politely as could be managed in his face, and he was left standing out on the steps. It was dark out save for the occasional streetlight.
He stared dumbly at the check in his hands. It was twice the original price, and more than enough to cover the rent for the next couple months.
"But that's . . . not right," he said to the closed door. After a moment, he shook his head and headed out towards his car.
Well, I guess that's all right then, he reasoned. I mean, she got what she wanted, I got what I wanted, and Mr. Williamson's probably too busy to care if his body's walking around or not. Sure, why not? Happy endings all around.
His conscience wouldn't let him be. He had just created a zombie. Sure, it wasn't storming the streets and out for flesh, but it was still a zombie. And, he realized with a chill, that was exactly what Mrs. Williamson had wanted; a mindless drone she could pretend was a person.
What kind of person do you have to be to think that way? He shuddered involuntarily and got into the car, suddenly wanting very much to be back home where life was simple.
Thomas Ascher, necromancer, drove home and tried not to think about all the Miranda Williamson's in the world.
A week or so later