The air was dusty and I sneezed, wind forcing itself out of my mouth sharply. I blinked, looked at the mess the wind made, blew my nose with my handkerchief, then reached for the salt and poured some more to complete the circle once more. One of the dangers of necromancy is getting the summoning circle wrong. You don't want to do that if you want to keep living.
I sat back on my heels, eyes following the salt lines surrounding the body I had laid out. Seemed ok. I followed the lines again. One can never check a summoning circle too many times before beginning the ritual. Satisfied as much as I could be, I carefully stood up, fetched the matches, lit the candles, double-checked I hadn't disturbed the salt during the process, and began the chanting.
Two hours later, the body sat up and looked around. "Damn," it said, "I'm alive again. I was trying really hard to stay dead too, I was just in the middle of a really good dream I wanted to finish."
"Oh yes?" I asked, "What was it about?" I've raised enough dead people now to know you get no sense out of them for the first few minutes. It's easier to humour them while they adjust, then you can get down to business properly.
"I'm not completely sure, it's fading already. Something involving visiting my grandchildren, I think? It was snowing, and the sunflowers were blooming." The body stopped talking, and looked at me closer. "Sally? Is that you?"
"Hi Mum," I said.
"It is you! What are you doing, still summoning people back to life? Didn't I teach you better than that?"
"Yes Mum, you did."
"I told you last time, no more! No more bringing me back!"
"I know, Mum, I'm sorry."
"Dammit, let me stay dead, Sally!"
"I know, Mum, I'm sorry, I just had to speak with you."
She heard my voice break. "What's wrong, Sally?"
"It's Jenny, Mum. I couldn't save her. I can bring people back, but I can't keep them living. She died, Mum. I failed and she died and I can't bring her back and I needed to speak with you."
"Hold on Sally, slow down. Take a deep breath. Why can't you bring her back?"
"How can I bring her back, Mum? The body was too...too... The back of the car was hit too badly, her body was..."
Mum reached out and pulled me to her. I didn't mind the smell, it was so nice being hugged by my mum again. I was crying and I couldn't stop. She stroked my hair as I sobbed against her pallid skin. "Shhhhh, shhhhh." She rocked me until my sobs turned to sniffles.
"I need your help, Mum."
"What can I do?"
"If you see Jenny when you go back, tell her I'm sorry. Tell her I love her. Tell her Mummy wishes she'd spent more time with her. Tell her Mummy wishes she hadn't gotten distracted. I should have seen the truck! I could have done something, braked, sped up, I don't know, something! Tell her I wish I could have saved her, but I couldn't. Tell her I hope she forgives me and I hope she knows how much I love her. Will you do that?"
Mum looked at me. She kept her eyes fixed on mine, then reached out very deliberately and smudged the salt line before hugging me tightly again.
"What are you doing!?" I struggled in her embrace, trying to reach the salt and fix it.
"Shhhhh, trust me."
"No, Mum, I haven't dismiss the spell. It's killing me!"
"Shhhh, I know."
I struggled desperately but she held on tightly and I couldn't free myself. My struggles grew weaker, and the dark closed in.
The light slowly returned, red through my eyelids. I opened my eyes groggily, and saw Mum watching. My eyes flew open and darted to the salt line. It had been restored. My eyes snapped back to Mum. She was smiling at me.
"There now, what did I tell you?"
"What? What do you mean?" My mind was fuzzy, but I was certain of one thing. "You fucking tried to kill me, Mum, not fucking cool!"
"You're alive, aren't you? And it worked. I heard you mumbling while you were almost dead, so I know it worked."
"What worked? Almost dead? You're not making any sense." My head pounded, and the light was so damn bright.
"You saw Jenny."
"What? No, she's dead, Mum, I told you. I can't bring her back."
"No. You saw Jenny. You almost died, and she was able to meet you."
I stared at her. The back of my mind was trying to tell me something, but my head was just so fuzzy.
"You saw her. You told her everything yourself. You were able to say goodbye and tell her you loved her. She was waiting for you to contact her and you did. She's ok, you don't have to worry anymore."
The fuzziness in my mind was slowly fading, and I started to remember. "Oh my god," I whispered, "Oh my god." Tears spilled from my eyes again, this time in bittersweet happiness. "Oh my god. Mum. Oh my god. Thank you. Thank you so much, Mum."
"It's ok, Sally, it's ok. Only I'm tired now. Will you let me get back to being dead already?"
She startled a laugh from me with her dry tone. "Of course, of course I will, Mum. Oh my god, thank you."
"Ok then, Sally, send me back."
She lay back down.
I wiped my tears away with the back of my hand and smiled at her some more. Then, gathering my thoughts, nodding to myself and taking a deep breath, I began the chant to send her back. She smiled back at me, and her body died again.