I’ve become accustomed to being watched.
Hollow, sightless eyes boring into me from beyond. Gaping gazes trying to swallow me up, their seeking ravenous for every last scrap. For anything that could fill the empty spaces. Make them a little less like windows without torches.
It’s ever-night where they are. Nana said one evening while I was studying the intricacies of incantation intonation at the table, her knobby knuckles knocking a suspiciously rhythmic beat against the window’s wooden sill. Cloudy and shadowed… Dark. So very dark. She paused then, considering before revealing, Like the inside of a sealed jar.
Pandora‘s? I remember asking, looking up from the large, dense tome laid before me. Myths and folklore were the only non-educational reads Nana allowed in the house.
Yes. Nana offered me a rare smile, resuming her rhythm. And, we’re their only company. Understand what that means, Thana? I did, then. Still do, sometimes.
Gotta keep the lights on.
Feeling observed, the sensation of it–goose-flesh and a vague, all-over tingling–is familiar. Constant. My companion. If not entirely welcome as a guest, accepted as a ward with nowhere else to go.
There is a difference, though, between what must be suffered in silent acceptance and what can stand not to be. A degree of tingling, more piercing than passively probing. Too weighty for any starving set of sightless sockets.
Not gluttonous enough for a pair of sockets filled fathomless like mine, either.
“Are you here to collect my soul, Reaper?” I don’t turn from the tombstone I stand before, despite the approach I can hear behind me. Steps soft for the weight of their owner’s gaze. “Or, just to stare?” Like you have been.
“Neither.” A low voice, strong but subdued. Quiet footfalls cease just short of being intrusive. “My business can wait, though, till yours is complete.” I don’t have to look to know the Reaper’s bowed their head–to match my position. I do anyway. Just a peek.
A slight glance reveals their scythe–nothing vague about its shape this close–similarly crooked in posture. Reverence may be the tool’s first lesson.
I return to my vigil.
Since I began working for Ms. Redding, once a week finds me facing off with her late husband–his grave, at this hour–a bundle of roses in hand. Gotta keep the lights on. Got to try.
Another moment of silence disturbed only by the hushed sounds of breathing and I lay my meager offering down. Then–a controlled breath–I face the Reaper standing a respectful distance away, finally able to observe them as I have been observed these past few nights. (Getting a good look at a Reaper is usually a final act.)
They are tall–enough to be imposing if they desired–and clothed in black, a long cloak obscuring much of their person from view. What I can see is utilitarian–boots, pants with knees patched many-times-over tucked snug into them. The hilt of some secondary weapon juts outward from the hip. Can’t imagine why it’s needed. My focus wanders to the promise of the Reaper’s scythe. From point to heel, its blade must be longer than I am.
Lowering the hood of their cloak, the Reaper reveals themselves to be a young man with a head of hair less kept than his discipline would seem to allow. As if conscious of the fact, he runs his free hand through his shaggy mane, attempting unsuccessfully to smooth fly- aways. In the day’s fading light, his locks look almost like raven feathers–deep black but shiny, iridescent at the right angle. Like the feather braided in my hair.
He’s striking, yes, but he might easily have been any guy I crossed paths with on campus if it weren’t for the eyes–solid white. No pupils. No irises. Like freshly fallen snow without the glare. Barely a sheen of life to them.
A slow, measured blink and I wonder if he’s not entirely blind? Was the added sense of tingling just my imagination? The shiver, my paranoia…?
“I can see.” The Reaper responds to my unvoiced suspicions, startling me out of what I belatedly realize is a lengthy once-over. “More than you I believe, Necromancer.” It is purely a statement of fact, no underlying haughtiness to it. Still.
“Sure acute vision is handy.” Again, my sight cuts to the scythe. “For aim.”
Another slow, measured blink and then, “Are you finished with your business?” He tosses a blank yet decidedly pointed glance at the solitary white bloom peeking out from its covert hiding place in my coat. A lily. Nana’s favourite. None of this Reaper’s concern.
“Done enough.” I stuff one hand in a pocket, use the other to brush through my ponytail, find the dark feather in the silvery mix. “Onto what business you’ve with me, Reaper.”
“Hayden.” I lift a disbelieving brow. “I know who you are Thana, acting Necromancer of Deadwood territory since the former….moved on. It’s only fair you know who I am.”
“You don’t know me.” I clench the fist in my pocket. Remember Nana’s lily resting in the other and what happened to the similarly innocent hydrangeas earlier at the shoppe. To the dahlias Hel took a liking to. Breathe, Thana. “I’m no acting Necromancer.” I relax my fist, stifling the wince as blood flow returns. “That would require official recognition of my being one at all.”
“By the Circle.” The Reaper–Hayden, I correct–clarifies. “They came to see you today,” A hesitant pause, almost trepid. “…much to your displeasure.”
“In the living world, following someone without their knowledge and/or permission is called stalking.” Again, I crook a brow. “Know that?”
“I thought I’d misjudged you.” He points to his feather hanging in my hair. “And, you were selling out the ghost.”
“I’d have to be on a side to do that.”
“And, the Circle doesn’t want you on theirs?”
“They’ve made Their preferences abundantly clear.” Gar’s not you echoes in my ears, like a throbbing pulse. I shake my head, look Hayden dead in his dead eyes. “As I’m sure you heard.” From whatever shadows you crept within.
“I heard them ask you to be on the look-out for rogue Reapers.”
“Yeah,” I tilt my head. “know any?”
That earns me a faint smirk, a corner sharpened so minutely to a point it’s almost missed before it smooths back into a mask of impassivity.
“Look,” I start after a length of comfortable silence. “I don’t want any trouble. So, if you want to go now, I’ll forget I ever saw you. If not… Well, again, I don’t want trouble.”
“We’ve dead unaccounted for.” Hayden takes a step forward, still not intrusive. Just toeing the line. “It’s why we’re out of sorts. We’re searching.”
“You think you’ll find some hiding here?” I question, slightly taken aback–both by his directness and the possibility of an accusation. “That’d violate our agreements.” Between Reapers and Necromancers. No playing keepsies with the spirits. It disturbs the order. Tips the scales off kilter.
“You misunderstand.” Hayden shakes his head, feathery locks hanging in his face. “We’ve dead coming to us for whom no record or their reaping exists.” Uncomprehending, I blink at him. “If you haven’t been reaped, you haven’t died.”
Too many. Not too few.
“So… you’ve got dead-but-not-dead on your hands?” I try to piece together what I’ve learned. “And, you’re not sure where they’re coming from? Or, more importantly, how they’re getting to you?”
Hayden nods, more shiny strands falling in his face.
“That sounds like trouble.” More than I want and certainly than I need. “And, not particularly my problem.” The so why are you telling me it like it is? goes without saying.
“It would help our search greatly is we could speak with one of these…. undead. But,” Hayden’s blank eyes find mine. “as you undoubtedly know, death doesn’t lend itself to discussion so much as it does to–”
“Screaming.” I finish and Hayden bows his head. From somewhere above us, a crow caws. “You need someone who can summon the dead from your world to mine.” A Necromancer.
“Lots of trouble.” I remove my hand from my coat so I can rub my now pounding temple. “That’s lots of trouble.”
“It’ll be worse than troublesome if this problem isn’t rectified soon. The veil between realms is already showing signs of stress.” Hayden raises his head, blank gaze imploring. “My kind are too proud and, admittedly, too wary to ask your Circle to interfere in these matters. But, you are not Circle, Thana.”
“And, you are not overly proud, Hayden?”
“My only pride is in my work.” Hayden’s fingers flex on the snath of his scythe. “It is my purpose. Something or someone playing it for a fool cannot be tolerated.”
“I’m not a Necromancer.” Not officially. “Or one’s apprentice.” Not anymore. “It’d be a punishable offense for me to perform a summoning. Harshly punishable. Today’s earlier guests would see to that. I could be stripped of this territory.” That’s belonged to Nana’s blood for longer than the Circle’s had any to its name. “Stripped of worse if I’m discovered.”
“Were the stakes not worth the risks, I would be not but a shadow on your horizon.” Hayden intones, as solemn as the scythe at his side. “The dead deserve better, Thana. Ends proper. You know that.”
I look away, undecided on whether or not blank eyes are preferable to hollow stares. Both want so much.
One hand runs its fingers along a silky feather’s bristles. The other, along soft, white petals. So do I–want. Other sensations have become muted–to touch and sight.
It’s getting dark.
In the sky, the sun sags, fog appearing like manifested dream to drag it under. Soon, the screaming will start. Sockets will delineate themselves from night.
From nightmare. Pair up to hunt. Scratch at the glass. Desperate.
Gotta keep the lights on.
They‘ll feel less alone, Thana. Nana told me, something that can’t be taught through any tome coloring her tone. Less abandoned if there’s a little light. You too.
“I know.” Hayden’s should-be soulless eyes meet mine, hopeful. Their sheen reminds me of the sparkle Nana’s starless set seemed to hold. “I’ll need some supplies. Time to prepare, too.”
“How long?” Is that a hint of impatience I detect?
“By all means, feel free to play that other card you’ve got up your cloak.” That seems to silence any further complaints. “No? Then, I‘ll need a day or two.” Mentally, I expand upon that grocery list I never got around to today. Unexpected company, what can you do? Thinking of…
“You wouldn’t happen to have a place where I can…work, would you?” I look at Hayden. “Somewhere secluded. Not too small. Preferably near hallowed ground.” In case.
“How big?” I can’t help but grin. That’s always the first question, Nana clucked her tongue. Though the answer should be obvious.
“Enough for a body.”
For his part, Hayden remains seemingly unfazed, contemplative, perhaps, but his features more neutral than mine must’ve been when the truth of the matter was made apparent to me. After a moment to think, I raise my eyebrows.
“I’ve a place in mind.” Hayden reveals, the white of his eyes taking on a crimson tint as dusk dies. “I take it blood and bone don’t bother you?”
Another grin I can’t devour.
“It’ll save me time,” My flesh begins to tingle, nearly hum as the last vestiges of my peace sink into dark surround me. A crow’s cry becomes the beginnings of a wail–for company. Mine. “not having to collect either myself.”
Shrieks settle in my ears. Empty sockets on my skin.
It’s going to be a long night.
Better light that torch.
Can you guess who we’re going to meet next time?? I wonder…
If anyone has any interesting reads on necromancy or death deities or tarot, please feel free to share ^.^ I’m interested in incorporating as many as I can in this little series here…. Is that too much of a hint for who to expect next week….?? Guess we’ll find out!
Thanks as always for reading!
All my stories can be found under the Killing It tag ^.^
(Yes, I drew the featured image and the other skull drawing in this post. The featured image is a piece I’m working on for a class. It’s done using charcoal. My fave~~)