Read The Dead (The Thaumaturge Series Book 1) Online

Authors: Cal Matthews

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The Dead (The Thaumaturge Series Book 1)

BOOK: The Dead (The Thaumaturge Series Book 1)
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Table of Contents

The Dead

 

 

 

 

 

Cal Matthews

 

Copyright © 2015 Cal Matthews

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons and places, except those that exist in the public domain, are unintentional and entirely coincidental.

 

 

All rights reserved.

 

 

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, contact the author.

 

Edited by Annetta Ribken. You can find her at www.wordwebbing.com

 

 

Cover Art by Natasha Snow © 2015

 

 

 

Dedication

 

For D.J. N.

 

Always for you.

Acknowledgements

 

 

Thank you to the amazing Annetta Ribken, for your thoughtful critiques and invaluable advice. I feel privileged to have worked with you.

 

Thank you to Marguerite Floyd, my talented and timely copy editor.

 

Thank you to Natasha Snow, for the gorgeous cover.

 

Thank you to my long-suffering but always supportive best friend and husband.

‘Till the wheels fall off, babe.

 

Thank you to my mom, for her unwavering support and love.

 

Chapter One

 

 

They brought me the dead girl ten minutes before closing time. I let them in with reluctance, frowning as the blood and slush slicked over the floor I had just mopped.

“Put her back there,” I said, motioning to the back of the shop. I looked longingly out at my truck, half buried under fresh snow. My breath plumed out into the crisp air and the palm of my hand burned from the touch of the icy glass door. The ride home would be a cold one. I closed the door and locked it. I pulled the chain on the blinking “open” sign and shut the blinds tight.

The three of them stood awkwardly behind me, the corpse slung between them. I gave them a cursory once over, but I had learned not to look too closely. I disliked recognizing these faces later.

Two teenagers - a boy, a girl - and an older man. The girl wept steadily, a hand clasped over her mouth and her eyes fixed on the small body held clumsily between the other two. The boy just stared with the glazed bewilderment of shock. Both of them had blood on their hands and coats, but the boy even had it in his hair and smeared across his face. I could have made assumptions based on that, but he looked like he was going to pass out. The man addressed me first.

“They said you could help,” he said, his voice gravelly, almost breaking. It sounded almost like an accusation.

“Put her back there,” I said, pointing to the large butcher-block counter. I watched them haul the body through the store and struggle to heave it up onto the table. I saw right away the body belonged to a girl - the long hair and the skinny legs clad in multi-colored tights gave it away. In spite of her small stature, they weren't having an easy time moving her. The boy kept jerking his hands away, like he could hardly stand to touch her. As I watched, they arranged her on the table and one of her arms flopped to the side, making them all jump. I wasn't without sympathy, but come on - getting her up there wasn't my job.

I fixed the old man with a steady gaze. He was nearing his sixties, from the look of him. Or the years hadn’t been kind. He looked like an aging bulldog, all jowls and runny eyes. He breathed heavily through pale lips ringed by a thick beard. The beard matched the thinning, salt and pepper hair clinging to his sweaty brow. When he wiped his hands on his flannel coat, I saw the ragged patches on the elbows. He looked like every other rural Montana guy I knew, minus all the blood.

“She your daughter?” I asked, though I knew she wasn’t.

His eyes shot to the boy and back to me in quick flashes.

“My boy’s girlfriend,” he said. “They were out at the reservoir “

I raised one hand. “I don’t need to know,” I said. “Let me look at her.”

They stepped away from me as I drew close, giving me space more out of fear than respect. Carefully, I pulled the soft knit scarf away from her face.

She was several hours dead and only just starting to stiffen, her eyes open and her jaw gone tight. For a moment I couldn’t see what had killed her; plenty of blood soaked her clothes and hands, but no wounds on her face or neck that I could see. It wasn’t until I pulled open her coat that I saw that her stomach gaped open and her guts trailed half-outside of her, like a puddle of chewed-up meat.

“Whoa!” I drew back with a hiss, and then let out a small, nervous laugh. The small crowd around me shuffled a bit, moving uneasily. They exchanged glances, getting nervous, wondering if they had made a mistake bringing her to me and if I was going to be a problem. They all wondered that.

“Sorry,” I said. “Surprised me.” I took a deep breath, then another, and looked back at her stomach, at the globs of Dinty Moore stew that had once been her organs. “I need a few materials,” I said to the old man, my voice louder than I intended, making him jump again.

“You – you can fix her?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said simply. “But it will cost you.”

I tried to say that as gently as possible, but it still came out a little harsh. We looked at each other for a moment, he and I, and there was accusation in his eyes now for real, and anger too, but mostly panic. Because she was dead, and obviously if she stayed that way there were going to be real problems. But they always blamed me, at least for a little while. Like I was the asshole for capitalizing on my one fucking marketable talent.

He nodded finally. His son stared at me with an open mouth, and the girl made strangled huffing noises, trying hard to get herself under control. I wondered which one of them had known about me, which one had heard the rumors and given them some consideration. I wondered how long these three had argued while the dead girl grew cold in their car before they finally caved and decided I was better than the police.

I nodded back at him and moved to the shelves along the side of my store, pulling down jars and gathering various items. I had already turned off the front lights by the time they showed up. The only illumination was from the office, and the gentle blue glow from the under shelf lighting. I didn’t need light to see what I grabbed. I knew this place by touch and memory, every jar, every box.

They watched in silence, even the girl quieting down, her sobs turned down to soft hiccups. I felt no looks pass between them now. I had their full attention.

“Step back, please,” I said, coming back to stand beside the dead girl with my arms laden. They did, moving together as they did so, shoulder to shoulder as though to present a united front.

“She’ll be okay?” the young Romeo asked suddenly. I looked at him, his face so pale even his lips were bloodless. I recognized him, I realized, noticing the scattering of birthmarks along the left side of his neck, like a constellation. I watched them ripple as he struggled to swallow. He worked the window at the drive-through burger joint.

“She’s dead,” I said to him harshly, and he made a tiny, breathless noise. The old man put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, and the girl gave another sob, her face crumpling like a tissue.

“But I can fix it,” I said, and smiled.

 

I laid a circle of salt around her, murmuring prayers as I did so. “For protection from evil spirits” I said to them, and their eyes went wide.

“You mean – something else could come back instead?” the old man asked, an interesting assumption, and the first time I noted any sort of trepidation.

“Best to be safe,” I replied, and spread rosemary over her as well, sprinkling it liberally on her torso. I tried to ignore how the herbs settled down in the globby, congealed blood, like I was seasoning a piece of pot roast. That was not a visual I wanted to take home with me. Everyone else carefully looked away from that big red gash with the coiled tubes of intestines hanging out. Fortunately, the light was dim enough to ignore those mounds of guts. You could almost dismiss them as abstract shapes. Almost.

I'd had the girl light some candles, and they made a soft white glow in the room. Next I lit a bundle of sage and wafted the aromatic smoke around the room, paying particular attention to the doorways.

“Was she Catholic?” I asked the boyfriend. It was a safe bet; most people around here were.

“I don’t know, I think so,” he stammered, looking around wildly as though someone else could give him the answer.

“Her folks go to Saint Lawrence’s,” the old man supplied, which was what I’d expected. My family did, too. My mom guilted me into going every Christmas. I’d probably stood in the communion line with this poor dead girl. I just nodded though, keeping my face blank, and took a crucifix from a velvet pouch, laying her stiffening fingers over it. Her lifeless limbs remained pliable enough to move around, but the rubbery texture of dead flesh made me want to throw up. I let go of her hand as quickly as I could.

This was part of the show, part of what they paid for. Ritual put them at ease, even rituals that they didn’t understand. The candles, the herbs, the burning sage – all of it part of a production. I had found out the hard way that it had to look like work. But I needed none of it.

“I need you to be completely quiet now,” I told them. “Don’t talk to me, don’t talk to each other. It could go wrong, you understand?” More bullshit. There could have been a marching band playing a rousing rendition of “Tequila” and it wouldn't have made a bit of difference.

They nodded, though, obedient and slack-jawed.

“What was her name?” I asked.

The boy swallowed heavily, his throat working hard to get the spit down. “Aubrey,” he said.

“Okay. Quiet now.”

I turned back to her, laying rose quartz crystals in a line across her chest.

“Aubrey,” I whispered, spreading my hand across the ruin of her belly.

“Come back now, Aubrey,” I said, feeling only vaguely ridiculous. “I humbly pray, come back to us from the Gates of Heaven, to this Earth where you are still needed. Aubrey, come back now by the will of the saints and all the archangels. God our Father, light the way, in company with Christ, to bring Aubrey home.”

I didn't always say the same thing. I tailored it, as best I could, to each person. Because I was all about customer service.

No more needed to be said. My audience stood as silent and as still as the dead themselves, frozen in fascination and horror. I bowed my head over the dead girl, like a genuflection, almost touching my forehead to hers. And I opened the part of myself that could work this magic, that could reach into Death’s very heart. I wouldn’t say it was like entering a trance – rather than sinking into a deep meditative state, I felt myself lifted. I could see a little farther from up there.

I turned my attention to the ghastly wound on her stomach. It wasn’t the worst I had seen. Gunshots were bad – one so bad that I hadn’t been able to help. Car wrecks were usually pretty awful, with body parts smashed and torn away. The one house fire I’d attended had been unsalvageable. Sometimes I couldn’t heal the body, and sometimes the soul didn’t want to come back. I couldn’t blame them for that.

But this one was still pretty unpleasant, the loose entrails falling out of the open gash below her naval, the jagged lips of the serrated skin. Generally, I didn't ask questions, but I couldn’t help but wonder how the hell this poor girl ended up disemboweled after an after school drive to lovers' lane. I would say that I couldn’t have imagined the scared-shitless boyfriend doing anything to her, but truthfully, nothing surprised me. Humans were animals, after all.
We bite.

Motes swum in the air in front of my face, tiny reflective shimmers of light that may or may not have existed on the lower planes. As I watched, they came together into a clump, the glowing pinpricks crawling over and around each other as though they were alive. The clump condensed, then stretched, and I lifted a hand to guide the clump down onto the girl’s belly.

BOOK: The Dead (The Thaumaturge Series Book 1)
11.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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