Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
“Do you think Mr. Grece is really a necomanner, Avice?”
My little sister’s hand felt a little more sweaty, a little harder to hold onto, in my grip.
“Necromancer. The word is necromancer.” I was trying to maintain the body language of someone marching forward with purpose. Which is difficult when you’re creeping more sideways than forward in the not-quite-black shadows before dawn, following a man who you’ve never said more than ‘Good Morning’ to before.
I took a deep breath, determined to maintain my role as big sister. The one in charge. “His name is pronounced Gree Ce.”
“Gracie,” she said. Her voice was quiet by her standards, but, oh, at a time like this it was still too loud.
“I know you could say it properly if you wanted to. Why do you persist in pretending that it’s adorable to not be clever, Beatrice?”
My eyes darted around everywhere as if they were expecting someone to be following us following him. Which was not complete paranoia. After recent events there were less than six hundred of us left. Five-hundred-and-eighty-eight. Everyone watched everyone else. We have to look after one another, they said. Are you dangerous? Could I kill you if I needed to? they thought.
And then he’d arrived. Or he’d always been here. But no one knew anyone who knew him. But no one could remember anyone who’d lived in the old End Cottage before him.
Beatrice’s singsong chanting bled through into my thoughts.
“Gracie Grecco Gracie Greasy Grecco…”
“Stop that!” I squeezed her hand in mine. Too tight. I knew and regretted immediately that she was hurting, by the fact she didn’t yell out, or whine. She stood up a little straighter and stared ahead.
It would have hurt her dignity to acknowledge her pain by an apology, instead I said, “We need to stay focused.”
“You believe he is can do… those things?” A visible tremor went through her body.
It surprised me that Beatrice who, when it suited her, could already swear in curses that made me blush, carried the village superstitions that talking in any detail about black magicks would damn your soul.
I didn’t tell my sister that she was asking the wrong question. That all questions were wrong. Because it was too late. It couldn’t benefit us to know what he’d want in exchange for raising the dead. It couldn’t make this journey any easier to be certain of what his necromancy involved. It would make it worse.
I knew in my heart that this cold morning shivering in pursuit of a stranger, with my sister’s hand in mine, could be the last moment of paradise for me.
“I explained to you. You know, that there are very precise rules about when you can approach a sorcerer and ask a favour.”
“Da says they’re just made-up stories to make life seem more interesting than it really is.”
“Well, we will ask Mr. Gre’ce and then we’ll know for sure, even if nothing else comes of this night.”
“Where is he?”
“Who? Where’s who?”
“The skinny Gracie man.”
I looked around desperately.
“You’ve lost him. You’ve lost him,” she said with real glee.
I managed to stop myself slapping her. “This was our chance. This was our chance. Don’t you understand, you stupid little girl?”
Something tapped me on the shoulder. It was definitely a something. I was slow to turn. Nothing there. But when I looked back at Beatrice, he was standing next to her, and he was holding her hand. I didn’t remember letting go.
“Perhaps your chance is still alive if you are a clever little girl.” His voice belonged to midnight, a sound that you hear waking from a nightmare in the darkest hours, something that you know you heard but you pretend was just imagination.
Before this moment I was certain we’d exchanged greetings before, the same as with any neighbour, but now it was as if I’d never heard or seen him before.
“We were following you,” Beatrice looked up into his face. “Did you know? Avice says we have to approach you at the exact right time to ask you our favour. If that’s right, can you change that time to after lunch. It’s too cold and too dark now.”
I wondered how she could gaze into those pale eyes without flinching.
“Were you going to the graveyard to dig up bodies for your magic? Or are you making an undead army?”
A second ago Beatrice would not have spoken such things aloud to me. Let alone someone worse than a stranger. Something had happened. And I’d missed it.
“Neither of those things,” he replied.
“You are a necromancer though, aren’t you? You do do black magicks, don’t you? I hope so, otherwise there’s no point us being here.”
“If you listen to the stars they always lead you to exactly where you’re meant to be.” In the shadows I caught a glimpse of what might have been a smile on his face.
I took a deep breath. Or rather I tried to take a deep breath. The cold night air did not touch my lungs. I felt for my pulse. There was nothing. On the outside I moved like normal, on the inside everything was completely still.
“What have you done?” I demanded.
“What do you wish me to do?” he replied.
I opened my mouth to scream at him to make me breathe again. But no. I had more restraint than to lose myself in front of a necromancer. I had to have. This was the moment. He had asked me what I wished for. The wording had to be perfect. Anything less than perfection would be… unthinkable. But I couldn’t think. All the words I had perfectly formed and polished and cared for and preserved awaiting this moment, all those words had turned immediately rotten and maggot ridden in his presence.
“My Daddy is dead,” I blurted out.
“I mean our father has passed. The… the thing that happened. He was one of the ones that got struck.”
He tilted his head. “So it was not a natural death.”
“Dad says all death is natural and nothing to worry about,” Beatrice piped in. “Dad knows…”
“She talks like he’s still alive, ignore her, she’s too young to understand,” I quickly interrupted her. “We need him back.”
The man clearly winked at Avice. She grinned back at him.
“Why not your mother?” The man turned his pale eyes on me. I almost preferred him winking at my little sister.
I swallowed. Except I didn’t. My mouth was dry as if all the water had been sucked out of me.
I had to say it. Nothing else would do. “Girls aren’t safe alone in this world. There’s people that’ll hurt girls if they think you’re not protected.”
He laughed, hearty and joyous. Beatrice giggled along with him. “I prefer women who know how to look after themselves, not ones that quiver in fear.”
If there was any water left in my body tears of rage would sting my eyes. “I don’t care what you prefer, just name your price and bring my father back.”
He continued to laugh, but his eyes flashed serious for an alarming moment. “What you are asking me, child, is against the universal laws of all land.”
“You don’t care about things like that, you are the scum who crawls along the bottom of misery and feeds on grief and deprivation.”
He shrugged the pointed bones of his shoulders. “You’re right, Avice, I don’t care.”
He walked away. With Beatrice happily skipping alongside him.
If I was capable of shouting, the whole world would have heard my cry.
Before the early morning mist swallowed them, Beatrice turned back and spoke in a voice of midnight wind. “The price has already been paid. Dad says he prefers being a ghost, but don’t worry I’ll talk him into returning to you.”
I fell to the ground and waited. I wouldn’t smile yet. But I was so lucky, there was no certainty that he would actually want the little brat. I had succeeded. I did smile.
Clarissa Pattern only exists when she writes. She writes through the night. Through the day she’s an essence in the mist of dreams. Her writing appears in books, online, and in little places where you’d least expect them. Email: clarissapattern[at]hotmail.com