Dripping in Lies

Beads, lilac jewelry, green backgroundShe is dripping in lies.

There are so many that sometimes I wonder at the weight of them all. Lilac and turquoise beads decorate her wrists, amber at her throat, tiny diamonds pricking the corners of her eyes. Those last she has worn so long that I wonder if she, herself, even recognises them for what they truly are. Could she remove them? Have they become so deeply embedded in her skin that to do so would leave an angry scar?

They have different purposes. The bracelets whisper of competence and surety. Trust these hands, they say, they’ll hold you safe. There’s an emerald on one finger which murmurs, yes, yes, she can be trusted. Sometimes, when she raises her hand to her face, the green is reflected in her eyes.

Her footwear, she changes. There are some shoes that speak of elegance, and boots that shout of strength. Jewelled slippers that sigh with contentment, and simple, plain shoes that say, this story that I’m about to tell you? You’re going to love it.

Me? I have just one lie. My mother gave it to me before I left. We had not always seen eye to eye, but nevertheless, she wanted to protect her daughter. At least, I choose to believe that was her reason.

So this lie, she gave to me. Her eyes were too bright as it passed from her hand to mine. They might have been tears of relief.

It’s a flat, black disc which fits in the palm of my hand, long worn smooth from the touch of skin. I could have had it set into a necklace but… I prefer to hold it, and when I can’t hold it, I keep it in a pocket next to my body. I want to know where it is. I never want to forget it.

And I went to her, the one dripping in lies, and we’ve lived and worked and loved. Her lies are what she is and, in truth, I like what she is. She doesn’t know about my lie and… I decided long ago that it was for the best.

So I hold it, and I feel its rounded lines, and I hear its words.

I believe you.    


Author’s notes
Just an idea I’ve been playing with. By the way, did you catch my story at PseudoPod, Never Enough Pockets? I’ve also been narrating: why not listen to Food Man, by Lisa Tuttle?

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© Kat Day 2022

The Wilde Jagd

Don’t look up.

Yes, the sky twists with cerise and silver. Yes, it is pretty, but eyes forward, child.

Can you not simply observe a warning?

Very well! Because, on winter evenings such as these, when the air is cold and the moon is new, that is when the Wilde Jagd rides. Perhaps, if you listen, you will hear the ice-shod hooves, the flutter of blood-black wings, the demonic howls. They come from where the sky is bright, drip their hellish colours across the clouds, and they follow her.

And if you look up, they may decide to follow you.


Author’s notes
A drabble for the end of January. There’s more about the Wilde Jagd here. I promise something longer next month, and, in the meantime, Happy Lunar New Year!

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© Kat Day 2022

A Moment of Brightness in the Dark

Figure sitting in front of bright swirling smokeHave you ever wondered what ghosts are, really? It’s easy to say things like ‘unquiet souls’ and ‘memories of the past’, but then, why do we so often portray them as bright, glowing things?

A floating white sheet. A headless man limned with green fire, a black-haired girl in a brilliant white nightdress…

Lights in darkness, leaping up to say boo. Why? Is it just because the brightness stands out? Something sudden and different? A shock?

I’ve heard it said that stories tell us how we expect the world to work, that they follow familiar patterns. Maybe it’s half true. But what would be the joy in a tale that went: I got up, I ate some yoghurt, and I sat in front of a computer, and drank some coffee and ate some other things through the day, and eventually I went to bed?

None.

No, we want stories that take the everyday and give it a good shake. That jam a stick into the spokes of our wheels. Or someone’s wheels, anyway. The girl who’s walked the same path a hundred times one day meets a wolf. The screen a man has watched in safety for so many hours becomes a portal to something dark and dangerous. The person you thought was a trusted friend… turns out to be neither.

And we learn that the world is not always quite what we thought it was. It’s a darker place. A more complicated place. Different shades of shadow. Sometimes, in fact, there’s precious little light.

And in all this, here we are seeing ghosts as bright, glowing things. Moments of brightness in a dark world.

All of which begs the question…

Should I trust the ghost, do you think?


Author’s notes
A tiny ghostly thing for Halloween.
By the way, this year, PseudoPod has created a special, one-off original drama for Halloween called The Witching Hour. Do listen. We promise you, it’s true.

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© Kat Day 2021

At Least There Are No Shadows

The room is filled with the sorts of tiny sounds you don’t notice in the busyness of the day. The feathery sound of moving air, the almost-inaudible purr of something electronic. The soft, irregular peals of next-door’s wind chimes.

The blanket on top of me is a heavy, soothing weight. I burrow a little further under it. Just so that my mouth is covered.

It’s not dark in this room, either. That’s okay, I suppose. I’ve always felt that full darkness—the kind where you’re not sure whether your eyes are open or shut—is unsettling. On the other hand, the not-completely-dark creates shadows. There’s one near the window. I’m fairly sure it’s just clothes, left near the curtain. It’s just that it seems a little too tall. A little too narrow. A little too… limbed.

And there’s a gentle thumping. It might be my heartbeat.

I tuck my nose under the blanket. The air is warm, thick and heavy. I can hear the blood rushing in my ears. Come further, I imagine the blanket murmuring. It’s safe, under here.

I’m tired, but I’m also not. I need sleep, but I also don’t welcome it. I want to stay in this world, where I can see and hear and touch. A place where, if I do A, then B happens.

At least, usually.

My mind spins thoughts. Over time I’ve learned—oh, not easily, but I have—how to step away from them. To notice the feelings and hopes and anxieties but not be caught in the rushing, crashing storm of them. But sometimes, in the dark and the quiet, I do wonder… what’s outside the thought?

Isn’t it just another layer? I’m still caught, aren’t I? Like a fly that can’t see beyond the web.

My head is fully under the blanket, now, and the air is dense, turbid, full of the faded, creamy scent of deodorant, half-forgotten motes of laundry detergent and the redolence of my own body. That thick fug of molecules that all living humans produce. It’s reassuring, in a way. My chemical reactions are still happening. I’m still here. I’m still alive.

Yes, whispers the blanket. It’s good. Stay here, where it’s too dark for shadows.

It’s not that it’s hard to breathe. The motion is easy. In, and out. It works. But the air isn’t quite satisfying. Like sips of warm water on a hot day when you’re craving gulps of something tall and icy. I imagine the air above, outside. Cool and sweet. I can almost taste it.

No, says the blanket. No. There are… things out there. Stay here, where it’s warm.

In and out. In and out. If I sleep, I think, I won’t need so much oxygen, and then I can stay safe. Under the blanket.

There’s music. Just something caught in my head, a worm in my ear. Moving, twisting. Squirming. Thumping.

Funny, though, I don’t remember the tune. My mind trips along with it, soothed by it. Come with me, it croons. Drift with me.

The air is so dense now it’s like a blanket of its own. A blanket of air under a blanket of cloth. I can hear… soughing. Yes, that’s a good word. And that soft, thudding beat, ever slower. Slower.

Sleep, says the blanket.

It’s so dark, I can’t tell if my eyes are open or shut.

But at least…

…there are no shadows.


Author’s notes
A little slice of something unsettling in recognition of the fact that, through July, August and September, I’ll be acting as Assistant Editor at the horror podcast, PseudoPod. If you’re not subscribed, please do. Oh, and by the way: we open for submissions in September. Sleep well.


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© Kat Day 2021

Instructions for the procurement of emotional supply from the sorcerer Ronald Vito’s personal notes, as uncovered by Ms Viola Arviragus, journalist

1) Choose your source. Intelligence is desirable—the larger the mind, the more to manipulate, and the better the supply. Resilience and a strong imagination are essential. Articulacy and a sharp sense of humour are good markers, and readily identified without the need to listen overmuch.

2) Collect five two-ounce candles, a shot glass of water, about three tablespoons of cornflour, two glass marbles, and a large piece of square paper.

3) Offer your source something. It need not necessarily be money or goods—indeed, this may be too obvious and arouse suspicion. Consider information—everyone wants to know something. Ideally, acquire several titbits that she has no way to access. It is easiest if it happens to be something involving your daily work—that way, you won’t have to spend valuable time reading or listening.

4) Fold the paper into five-pointed star. Instructions can be found on the attached page.

5) Offer your source the information. She may be initially cautious, but you must feign patience. When she inevitably bites, drip-feed. Something small each day for a week, perhaps.

6) Place one candle at each point of the paper star. You should allow them to burn for thirty minutes each day until they are used up. This will take approximately a month. You must pay close attention to your source during this time.

7) Converse often and be sure to mirror her words. If she says she likes something, claim to like it, too. Childhood memories are powerful—if she recounts a formative experience from her youth, you must immediately reply, “oh, me too!” Seem vulnerable. Imply that her thoughts are infinitely interesting, her ideas nothing less than genius.

8) Continue to light your candles each day. Observe as the flame gradually consumes the wax.

9) Talk to your source about the future. Simple, but definite, statements such as, “when I show you,” or “when we meet [important person to whom you have access],” or simply, but powerfully, “when I see you.” This will encourage her to imagine a future that includes you.

10) When the candles are almost exhausted, mix the cornflour and water to make a thick slurry. Place the marbles on the surface of the mixture. Watch as they sink, gradually lost from view.

11) Sprinkle plenty of obvious, but inconsequential, lies into your conversation amongst clear truths. For example, jokingly insist you know something you clearly do not. Claim to be travelling when you could not possibly be. Imply your prize stallion was custom-bred for you at great expense, rather than, for example, admitting that you traded in your chestnut mare to buy it second-hand from a questionable dealer. The puzzle of why you’re lying about trivialities will keep her awake at night, and anything that keeps you in her thoughts serves your purpose.

12) Tell her you love her. Mixed with your other lies, this will cause both delight and confusion. Dispose of the cornflour and water, and burn the paper star. You can introduce a sexual component at this point if your preferences lie in that direction.

13) By now, if you have played your part with flair, she will be hooked. If you have other sources lined up, by all means withdraw. In fact, regular, mysterious disappearances, so long as they are terminated with warm and affectionate greetings, will only serve to strengthen the bond.

Your source will now be providing a regular flow of energy and will require little maintenance. Make contact every few days or so, but do not overdose. Naturally, you do not care about her mental well-being, but if you completely drain her she may respond by cutting off contact, which is contrary to your needs.

ADDENDA

  • It is most important that sources of supply remain unaware of this method, as prior knowledge will significantly reduce effectiveness. You must, of course, never mention sources to each other. Keep notes. If they know of each other’s existence, they may start talking.
  • Even-numbered steps are largely optional. If one finds oneself lacking in resources they may be omitted with only a small reduction in effectiveness.
  • It is to be noted that whilst intelligence is important, one must strive to avoid attempting these techniques on a witch, since they have a habit of seeing what isn’t shown and hearing what isn’t said. You must endeavour to listen, as this is the only way to identify warning signs such as a refusal to be interrupted, disregard for your brilliance, and querying your impeccable logic. Be aware that some witches engage in alternative occupations, for example, as journalists. Apply caution.

Author’s notes
This is speculative fiction. Unless it isn’t.
Eventually, they will start talking.


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© Kat Day 2021

The Magician’s Christmas Tree

The distant sound of carol singers caused the magician to look up from the silver bauble he was holding. Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly

He smiled. He liked that one.

The old man huffed on the sphere and rubbed in on his robe, then held it close to his face. The curved surface distorted his reflection, making his hands seem huge and his head tiny. Something inside the ball made a sound like a fox in the night.

Still smiling happily, the magician hung the bauble carefully on a branch.

A log hissed and popped in the grate. He paused in his tree decorating to stir the liquid in the cast-iron pot hanging over the fire. The smell of oranges, cinnamon and peppery spices filled the room. He sniffed appreciatively and added a generous measure of clear liquid from a glass bottle.

Returning to the tree he examined the lights which he’d wound around the branches. One sputtered and he flicked it impatiently with a fingernail. It squeaked faintly, then returned to producing its greenish light.

Humming fa-la-la-la-la he rummaged in the dusty wooden crate on the rug next to the tree. Over several branches he hooked curved, white objects which might have resembled candy-canes, although they lacked the traditional red stripes.

He let out a happy exclamation when he discovered the string of pearlescent, squarish objects with curiously sharp edges. These he draped all around, so that they shimmered in the firelight.

Then came a series of miniature figures. Reindeer with branching antlers twisted on their strings and butted at pine needles. The magician wagged a finger at them.

A selection of elves with curling shoes hung rather brokenly. At these, he sighed and shook his head sadly.

Another figure drawn from the box was an ugly thing; two pointed horns had been stuck to its forehead and it was dressed in dark, coarsely-woven clothing. It had baleful, light-brown, almost amber, eyes and carried a switch of wicked-looking branches. It hissed as the magician gently stroked it. He stared at it for a moment, looked back at the crate and then, cocking his head to one side, placed it towards the back of the tree.

Last was the figure of a man, dressed in red and white and carrying a lumpy, hessian sack. This one made a soft sound that was almost a groan. The magician gazed at it as if it were a much-loved grandchild, and then hung it carefully on a branch at the very front.

He took a few steps back and examined his work. The figures swung gently on their strings and the lights twinkled most prettily. Faint groans and hisses filled the tree like the wind winding its fingers through a forest. It was, he decided, almost perfect.

Almost.

He reached into the box and drew out a silver star. He turned it over in his hand, frowning. What were stars, after all? Huge balls of flaming gas, seen from such a distance they were nothing more than dots. He would, he mused, much rather have a fairy on the pinnacle of his tree. He glanced at the string of squarish objects he had draped through the branches.

Yes, a fairy with pretty golden hair and glittering wings. That would be so much more in keeping with the true origins of the mid-winter festival.

The magician cocked his head. The singers had started up again, and they were louder. Very loud, in fact. Almost as if they were just outside his door.

They fell silent and their song was replaced by knocking.

Fa-la-la-la, hummed the magician.

He opened the door. Three women stood there, cheeks flushed from the cold. The middle one pushed a lock of blonde hair away from her eyes as they all burst into song.

The magician listened, a beatific smile on his face.

He clapped his hands as they finished. ‘Oh, that was wonderful. Wonderful! Why don’t you come in for a moment? I’ve got some mulled wine warming in the other room.’

They smiled at the kindly old man with the eyes that spoke of warmth and safety, and thought how bitterly cold it was. The carol singers agreed that, yes, it would be lovely to come inside. Just for a moment.

The magician ladled the dark, cinnamon scented liquid from the pot over the fire into cups and passed it to the singers as they admired his beautiful tree.

Yes, he thought, as they sipped. A fairy with beautiful golden hair. Perhaps she would even sing.

And he could always find room for more elves.


Author’s notes
COVID-19 has probably put an end to door-to-door carol singers this year, but just in case, beware kindly old men with strangely active Christmas ornaments… 😉


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© Kat Day 2020

A Pocket Void

I close my eyes and put my face in my hands: the tips of my ring fingers pressed into the corners of my eyes, forefingers on my temples, thumbs resting on my jaw. I can feel the tremble.

I force myself to breathe.

After a while I reopen my eyes and stare through the blurry pink triangle, slowly focusing on the cupboard door in front of me. I push myself to my feet, open it, reach in, and pick up the only object sitting on an otherwise empty shelf.

The round, gold-coloured tin says Sour Cherry Drops on its lid. A smaller circle proclaims that the contents are made with real fruit juice.

It’s a little larger than my palm, just the right size to allow my fingers and thumb to curl around the curved edge and hold it securely. I pull off the lid.

It does not contain icing-sugar-dusted boiled sweets.

The inside edges are the same brassy colour as the outside, but the base, or rather, the thing on the base, is black. Not dull painted-metal black but really black. The blackness of absence. Of nothing.

I reach in, wedge a fingernail underneath, and extract it. A circle of darkness that unfolds to something larger as I put the now empty—or perhaps fuller—tin back on the shelf.

I hold the void’s edges where it forms a sullen, uncomfortable boundary with the light and colour of the world around it. It’s heavy, yet light. A closure, but also an opening.

An end, and a beginning.

I gaze.

There’s something pacifying about nothingness. All my spinning, whirling thoughts drain into it. The deadline I worry I can’t meet. The neighbour who parks on our front path. The pain in my right arm. The world I fear might be broken. The person who refuses to call me by my chosen name. The long-sightedness that is not quite bad enough for reading glasses, but not quite good enough to focus without strain. The colleague to whom I wonder if I said the wrong thing. The friend to whom I definitely said the wrong thing. The love to whom I did not say enough.

I open my mouth and make a sound. A howl, a screak, a scream. A long thread of a thing, that gets drawn into the void and pulled away. Dissipating into a place where there is so much emptiness that, no matter what you send there, it rounds down to nothing.

It fades away.

I fold up the void, place it back in its tin, and close the cupboard door.

My brain, of course, will make the thoughts again. But now, for a while, there’s peace.


Author’s notes
I missed August. So, yeah.


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© Kat Day 2020

MRS GREN

The book is heavy, bound with oxblood leather, thin pages the colour of clotted cream, letters remarkably black and crisp.

Let us consider that there are seven characteristics of life, easily remembered with the mnemonic MRS GREN. All must be present. The first, M, is movement.

The book does not move.

I could stop here, except, I feel the spine creak. I allow the pages to turn. On a short timescale, after all, one might imagine a plant does not move, and yet they gradually stretch to reach towards the sunlight.

So, let us continue along the list.

The second is respiration, which is not the same as breathing. Rather, it is the conversion of carbohydrates into energy. One could check for its occurrence by looking for carbon dioxide, but that gas is tasteless, colourless and odourless, and I certainly shall not be plunging the book into water to look for bubbles. This, we may have to put aside.

Sensitivity refers to environmental responses. Now, the book’s text does seem sharper when the light is brighter, but this only leads us to the perennial question of any good scientist: how does one distinguish changes in the observer from changes to the observation?

After MRS, we come to G, which stands for growth. I am certain the book has the same number of pages it had when I first found it, and is no thicker.

If it takes me longer to read now, well, it could be explained by my own reduced reading speed. The most obvious explanation is usually the correct one.

There may be more books on my shelves now than there were, but I very much doubt this constitutes reproduction, which is R. I daresay I have procured them.

Even if I don’t remember every acquisition.

Next is E for excretion… perhaps one might make a case for that. The scent of biblichor is  certainly present, although, my memory flags and I forget: is that inherent to books, or caused by some sort of secondary organism?

Finally, N, for nutrition. Plants use energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugars which they both store and use themselves during respiration. Animals consume those sugars when they eat.

The book does not eat.

It is not as if it could take ideas from my mind, and consume them, and use them to power itself. To flick its pages. Sharpen its text. Grow. Make new books.

In the face of limited evidence, I must conclude that the book is not alive.

It is not alive, and thus it is safe to open it again. Smell its scent. Feel the spine creak. Allow its pages to turn.

There are seven characteristics of life.

The first,

is movement.


Author’s notes
A creepy little piece of science-themed flash fiction. You won’t forget MRS GREN now, will you?


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© Kat Day 2020

Sympathetic Magic

I turned the book over in my hands. It felt all wrong.

A book like this ought to be bound in oxblood leather, with embossed lettering and crinkly pages that smelled of old chocolate. Mystical grimoires should not be heavy paperbacks with razor-cut pages and glossy covers.

Frowning, I opened it and studied the contents page.

#

My big sister is five years older than me, which doesn’t seem like much, now. But when I was four and she was nine, it was huge. It snowed that winter, and we were both desperate to go outside. Mum said she had to look after me. I wanted to throw snow and crash into things, because, hey, four. She wanted to make the perfect snowman so that she could take photos and post them on some social media thing.

Know what she did? She told me to lick the signpost near our house. And I did it, because, hey, four.

She left me there until she finished that blasted snowman.

#

I looked at the figure I’d been working on. I did a hand-building pottery class for a while, so it wasn’t terrible. Okay, it wasn’t going to win any awards: the legs were too thick, the shoulders were boxy and no matter what I did, the armpits weren’t quite right. But it was recognisably human, even somewhat feminine.

I picked up a wooden tool and cut a hole in the figure’s belly. I prodded strands of hair into the space, then pushed a piece of well-chewed gum in after them. There was nothing about chewing gum in the grimoire, but it had been in my sister’s mouth so that had to be a ‘link to the target,’ right?

I jammed the piece of clay back into the hole.

My sister told me Santa didn’t exist when I was five, stole the baby tooth that fell out when I was seven, broke my games console when I was nine, spilled red wine on my favourite jeans when I was thirteen.

I used the wetness from my eyes to damp the clay and smooth the edges.

I checked the time on my phone.

Then I picked up the old kitchen knife I’d been using and, glancing at the book, cut off the figure’s left breast.

My sister gave me her favourite doll when I was six, and money to buy cake at the school bake sale when I was eight. My eighteen year-old sister bought me fabulous new jeans that Mum hated. She spent a week teaching me integration before my maths exam. Whatever she said to that that boy who was hassling me, I never saw his face again.

My phone beeped.

My sister was out of surgery.

Again, I used the wetness from my eyes to smooth the clay over the cut and placed the figure in a shoebox filled with cotton wool.

Then I found my sister’s favourite song in my playlist and left it playing nearby.


Author’s notes
I had high hopes of selling this story but… it kept coming back to me. So. Here you are, lovely readers, you can have it. It’s too nice to keep in a box, I think. Coffee is, as always, very much appreciated ☺


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© Kat Day 2020

Charcoal and Ice

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, shivered and wrapped her cloak around her body. The fabric was turquoise. She’d never favoured the traditional black.

‘So,’ said the King, indicating the body in front of them, ‘bring him back.’

Jori stepped closer to the corpse of Malek Angevin. His skin, once a warm brown, was now ashen, almost grey. His eyes were closed, arms by his side. The King’s aides, since dismissed, had packed ice around his body. Easy to do, given that he’d helpfully collapsed in his own icehouse. She inhaled the crisp, metallic air and her breath clouded in front of her face when she exhaled again. ‘He died an hour ago, in here?’

‘Yes,’ said the King, ‘he came in here for some sort of foodstuff apparently. Heaven knows what. Probably something for that wretched animal.’ He added, glaring without heat at the brown cat currently winding around Jori’s ankles. She bent and scratched its head, letting her professional awareness flow over Angevin’s body.

He was dead, there was no doubt. His heart had stopped—it happened without warning sometimes—but she thought he could still be reached, largely thanks to the King’s orders not to have him moved. The King liked to play the role of buffoon, but the truth was that he had a mind sharp enough to fillet the steaks stacked on the wooden shelves in the chilly room. He employed experts, and he paid attention. He had an experienced, and extremely discrete, physician on standby, and she had been quickly informed of her very urgent appointment.

‘You understand, Sire,’ she said cautiously, ‘that bringing someone back to full consciousness isn’t always possible? Even if the death is recent.’ And she had never done it, although she wasn’t about to admit that. It was rare that the conditions were right. Usually the body was too badly broken, or its organs too damaged by illness or age, or too much time had passed and the spirit was simply gone.

The standard necromantic trick of raising the long-dead was different. That was merely pushing a little energy into the right place. A simple matter of animation. The things that rose had no ability to think for themselves. Once she let them out of her mind’s grip they fell back to the ground, puppets with their strings cut. She had worked that dark magic for the King on both small and large scale, several times.

He had never asked her to try this before.

The King looked at her, eyes as icy as the blocks stacked around the room. ‘Can you do it or not?’

She dared to avoid his question. ‘May I ask why? You’ve lost plenty of good people before.’

He stared at her and for a moment she thought he would snap that it wasn’t her place to question his motivation. Then he seemed to deflate, looking away from her to Angevin’s body. When he did speak, his voice was surprisingly soft. ‘I need my Vertex Minister back, Castroflame.’

Something about his tone and use of the title tugged at her. Her mind whirled.

He turned his head to look at her again. Jori couldn’t help noticing his fists were clenched at his sides.

‘No one lives forever, Sire,’ she ventured, quietly. ‘His heart stopped once. It might again. Even with the care of your physician.’

‘Dammit! Get him back!’ The King pushed his hands through his blonde hair, a gesture she’d never seen him make before. ‘Do, do…’ he stuttered over the words. She could almost feel him changing tack. ‘There was an expensive election. I gave the people a vote. It was decided. The will of the people was done! I will not have it undone by an inconvenient death!’

He stopped speaking and silence spread uneasily through the small room. The only sounds were his ragged breathing and the wet noises of the cat cleaning itself.

‘I had the right man. In. In place,’ the King said eventually, eyes turned away.

Jori reached out and touched his arm. It was an action that went against protocol, but they were alone and the King was, after all, just a man. ‘I’ll try,’ she said.

‘Thank you,’ he said. Her hand dropped as something in his demeanour changed. The mask that had slipped falling back into place. His voice became crisp and formal. ‘Hurry up and get on with it. I may not have your talents, but I am aware of the theory. The more time that passes the more difficult this becomes.’

She nodded. ‘Best you wait outside, Sire.’

To her relief, he didn’t question or argue. She watched until the heavy door closed behind him, then she shook herself and reached into her leather bag.

She rejected the pouch of salt, knowing what it would do to the ice, and instead opted for charcoal. It didn’t matter, really. Salt was traditional, but power was more important than props. Ten minutes later, she’d created a sequence of sigils around the body, and a larger, unbroken circle around that, the black standing out sharply against the frosty granite floor of the icehouse.

She stared at the black symbols for a few long moments, gathering her focus. Then she glanced thoughtfully at the cat.

Jori stepped into the circle and closed her eyes.

All humans are inherently close to death. She had more power than most, but this part actually required very little. She wasn’t trying to go far—it was like looking through the window before you decided to throw your shoulder against the door.

Jori felt a jolt, not unlike the sensation of jerking awake as you start to fall asleep, and she opened her eyes.

Everything looked much the same, except for a slight purple hue, as though she was looking through tinted glass.

Malek Angevin sat up. At least, something of him sat up. A dark shadow remained on the ground, a man-shaped, oily pool that glinted in the dim light. He looked down at it, and then up at Jori, eyes wide in question.

‘Your heart stopped,’ she explained.

‘Ah,’ he paused. ‘My father died the same way,’ he added after a few moments.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Jori.

He sighed. ‘You’re the necromancer.’

‘I am. And you’re Vertex Minister Angevin, and the King wants you back.’

‘Malek,’ he said. ‘No point in formalities at this point, is there? And I suppose he would. Terribly inconvenient I imagine, my death.’ There was a trace of bitterness in his voice.

‘I won’t force you,’ she said.

‘But you could.’

‘I could,’ she agreed.

‘It felt… peaceful,’ he said wistfully, looking down at the oily pool.

The cat jumped carelessly over the edge of the circle and into Malek’s lap, which seemed to be solid enough, for the cat at least. He scratched its ears. ‘Hello, Cinnabar. I’m sorry you never got your dinner.’

Jori looked at the animal. ‘I voted for you,’ she said to Malek, not really knowing why.

He laughed. ‘Thank you?’

‘The King said he had the right man in place.’

He looked at her. His eyes were translucent. She could see faint lines of shelving through them. ‘Did he now?’

Jori bit her lip, wondering how much to say. ‘I think… I don’t think he meant just… politically.’

Malek raised an eyebrow. ‘Not like him to make his feelings clear.’

She felt a pang of relief that she hadn’t entirely misjudged the situation. ‘Well. You were dead. Are dead. Sort of.’

He sighed. ‘It won’t change anything.’

‘Perhaps not.’

‘I suppose you’ve had a lot of conversations like this.’

‘No, not really. Usually they’re long gone by the time I get involved.’

‘Special case, am I?’

‘He went to a lot of trouble to make sure of it.’

Malek rubbed Cinnabar’s head again. The dark man-shaped pool on the floor began to shimmer, glittering white and red. A soft humming sound started up. Or perhaps only became loud enough to hear.

‘It’s your choice,’ said Jori. ‘I don’t know what lies on the other side, truly. No one does. I know what’s here, though.’

‘Oh? And what’s that?’

‘A man who has found his priorities suddenly clarified, I suspect.’

Malek gave a small laugh.

The humming sound became louder. Ripples flowed across the surface of the pool, creating patterns where they hit the edges and rebounded. Jori looked at it, thinking. ‘Life is a fire that burns and scars us from the moment we’re born,’ she said eventually. ‘But it’s also bright and warm, and it gives us the chance to see and feel.’

He looked up. ‘And will I be truly alive? Not some kind of… zombie?’

‘No. Your body is undamaged and well-preserved. The King has a healer on standby. Think of it as more of a second chance.’

Malek looked wistfully and the rippling pool.

‘I suppose someone has to feed my cat, eh?’ he said with a weak smile.

‘Absolutely.’

‘He pretends not to like her,’ said Malek, nodding at Cinnabar, ‘but I caught him stroking her the other day.’

Jori smiled. ‘Still,’ she said, ‘I’m not sure you can count on the King to take on cat-caring duties.’

‘Ha. No. This is going to hurt.’

‘Yes. Sorry.’

He set his jaw. ‘Like you said, price of life. Pain.’

She pressed her lips together in agreement.

He sighed. ‘Very well, necromancer. Do your worst.’

Jori threw her metaphysical shoulder against the door.

The King pushed past her when she used her somewhat less powerful physical hand to open the door of the icehouse. She let him, but found herself blocking the path of the physician. ‘He’ll be fine for a few minutes,’ she said.

The healer, who was after all very discrete, smiled thinly. ‘I don’t approve of necromancy,’ she said, glancing over Jori’s shoulder. ‘But… well done.’

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, returned the smile, somewhat more warmly. Then she pulled the hood of her turquoise cloak over her head and walked into the dusk.


Author’s notes
I meant to write a creepy story about my favourite necromancer. I accidentally wrote a slightly soft and fluffy story instead. Oh well. Stories are what they are.


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© Kat Day 2019