“What the fuck is wrong with you?”
The summoner named Charlie Brown carefully picked herself up from the sidewalk, brushing dirt and gravel from the knees of her torn tights. Luckily, they were already torn in half a dozen other places, so the fresh tears were hardly noticeable. At least her bag cushioned her fall, and this time there weren’t any glass containers inside.
Every time she trips or stumbles, she tells herself to be more careful, to pay more attention, but it doesn’t work. There’s always some crack in the sidewalk, some pothole, or even just her own two feet. It earned her the most recognizable of names at Bela’s: The Disaster.
She almost tripped two more times before finally reaching work. She wrenched the front door open in frustration, and ended up stubbing her left big toe into the bottom of it. “GOD-FUCKING-DAMMIT!” she screamed into the dark, empty store. Mr. Schwartz, the store’s cat, meowed angrily from his perch near the cash register. Most people would’ve scolded the cat, but the rumor was that Schwartz was once a powerful wizard that accidentally traded bodies with his familiar and got stuck that way. Charlie didn’t want to push her luck.
She scratched the cat on his head and made her way into the back of the store. Wilhelm, the owner, sat at his desk in the back, surrounded by stacks of old books and boxes. He was a wiry old guy, bald with a long white beard. He didn’t even turn to look at Charlie as she hung up her coat and bag. “Stubbed your toe on the door again?”
She sighed. “Whatever makes you think that?”
“You yelled so loud, you upset Bertie. He’s not accustomed to that kind of language.” He leaned back, around the edge of the wall, and waved at the cat. The actual Bertram Schwartz had been his longtime lover of several decades, and when he suddenly disappeared, Wilhelm convinced himself that “Bertie” was now the cat.
Charlie just rolled her eyes at the old man and turned on the store lights. The neon “OPEN” sign slowly flickered to life. W.T. Vogel’s Used Books and Sundries was now open for business, such as it was. The used books was more or less a front for the “sundries”. If a customer came in mentioning their “friend” Aleister or Anton, they weren’t there for old, dusty books. They were immediately ushered to the back rooms, where all the goodies were kept.
If you practice any kind of magic; Voodoo, Orisha, Santeria, Wicca, you name it, Vogel’s had the supplies for every ritual under the sun. If you’re a dedicated customer, or just have loads of cash, anything can be bought there. Charlie had no qualms about selling items for potentially illegal activities. If you didn’t ask what they were being used for, you could always maintain plausible deniability.
The day went by like usual: putting books in the proper places on the shelves, sorting and organizing ritual candles, sweeping up cat hair. The only thing slightly different was that Charlie would be heading to Bela’s directly after work, instead of waiting for the weekend. She had a meeting with The Necromancer.
Bela’s was one of those dive bars/dance clubs where, unless you were looking for it, you would never find it. The entrance was down a dark side alley, sandwiched between an industrial laundromat and a Jewish deli. Between the noise, the steam, and the smells, it wasn’t a place where people would just naturally wander. Charlie wondered sometimes if there wasn't something cast on the alley or door to keep it hidden, but she knew it’s not worth asking about.
She made it in the door without tripping, for a change, and was immediately greeted with deafening death metal coming from the PA. The Necromancer’s band was having sound check before their show, which seemed pointless, since the sound system in the club sucked and made everybody sound terrible, regardless of talent or skill. Charlie politely waited for the band to finish whatever song they were playing, then signaled to the back room. The Necromancer threw a nod in her direction before turning back to his amp.
She walked into the back room and took a seat on one of the grungy old couches. It was still early, so there were only a few of the old guys hanging around, reading the paper or nursing a drink. She yawned and started tapping her foot impatiently. Eventually, the “music” from the stage stopped, and she could hear the clanks of instruments being laid down. After a minute, The Necromancer shuffled through the door and collapsed on the couch next to her.
Part of the rules of Bela’s was that, if you practiced, you didn’t use your real name there. You had a title. That way, if anything ever went sideways, the cops could ask about a person all day long and nobody would have to lie. “I don’t know anybody by that name, Officer.” Charlie’s title came from her clumsiness, but The Necromancer really lived up to his title.
He probably spent more time hanging out in graveyards than actual gravediggers. His clothes were always torn and dirty. He painted his face with makeup to make it look pale and rotting, complete with fake blood trickling down from his hair. He was actually handsome, and Charlie had developed a minor crush for about 5 minutes once. She made the mistake of standing really close to him, in an attempt to flirt, but then she inhaled and almost threw up.
He smelled of death. Not in a “got something on his clothes” kind of way, but in a “rotting from the inside-out” kind of way. She’d asked him about it once and, apparently, he’s in near-perfect health, despite all the chemicals he puts in his body. It’s just a side effect of practicing necromancy. “Only people that practice can smell it, so not many people comment on it.” He shrugged. “I just don’t think about it.”
That pretty much killed any romantic or sexual stirrings she had for him. That, and a few days later, she’d seen him by the dumpsters, enthusiastically giving some random guy a blowjob while jerking himself off. Charlie had seen him with a few girls before, but the zeal with which he performed led her to believe it was other men he preferred.
He practically threw himself down onto the couch, and Charlie had to breathe through her mouth for a few seconds. He definitely looked like a punk rock singer: old t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, torn, super-tight jeans held up with a large, studded belt, biker boots so large, it was a miracle they didn’t just fall off. He fiddled with the leather bracelet on his left wrist before turning to look at her.
“So….Disaster. Are we on for tonight?”
She sighed. “Yeah, I guess. I’m tired, but if all you need is a lookout, I can handle that.”
He grinned at her, and she noticed some of his black lipstick had come off on his teeth. She rubbed her finger on her own teeth, and he just shrugged. “Not like I’m trying to be pretty or anything.”
“Got that right,” she muttered under her breath. He gave her the finger with his left hand, while using his right to dig a battered pack of cigarettes out of his pocket.
“Let’s head out. I wanna have a smoke before the bus gets here.”
The bus ride was long and miserable. Full of the typical drunks, junkies, and crazies. Charlie and The Necromancer sat all the way at the back, trying to avoid eye contact with everybody else. It was difficult for her to stand the smell, but it wasn't safe to sit very far apart.
The garish lights on the bus made him look even more ghoulish, Charlie noted, and her own reflection in the windows looked off as well. The frizzy brown curls on top of her head were tinged green, and her skin looked yellowed and sickly. She really wished she’d brought a hat. Ever since that unfortunate incident with the candles, and most of her hair had burned beyond saving, her head was always cold.
The idea of standing outside a crypt late at night wasn’t high on her list of favorite things to do, but The Necromancer’s “hobby” often provided Vogel’s with supplies that were hard to come by, and most often, illegal to obtain. If he needed someone to watch his back while he does his thing, it’s the least she can do, considering how much they’ll charge for the items later.
The bus finally reached their stop, and they shuffled off into the dark. It definitely was not the best of neighborhoods, but there were still old cemeteries dating back to the early 1800′s that hadn't been dug up for condos yet. The old crypts had been broken into, and any material wealth had been stolen from the corpses ages ago, but that’s not why they were there. The Necromancer didn’t just take from the bodies, he took from their souls as well.
He’d done his research, and knew exactly which mausoleums he wanted to visit. One was a former banking magnate, the other the head of an old labor union. Both died under mysterious circumstances, and both had large amounts of physical assets that were never found. Instead of digging in random places, or chiseling open locked safes on live TV, The Necromancer had a rather ingenious idea: just ask them where it is.
They located the banker’s crypt quite easily, and he set to work picking open the padlock on the door. Charlie stood behind him, effectively blocking him from view. Once he had the lock and chains off, he managed to just barely squeeze his scrawny frame through the door. Charlie put the chains and lock back through the handle of the door, so as not to arouse suspicion, and began whispering a phrase, one she’d been using for years.
“Sicut patet in speculo…sicut patet in speculo…sicut patet in speculo“
Her body began to turn transparent, until she was no longer visible. Much easier to be someone’s lookout when you can’t be seen. She could hear The Necromancer’s quiet chanting, the snapping of bones, and the pathetic moaning of a recently resurrected spirit. She thought it must be like being woken up from a very deep sleep. Nobody enjoys that.
After a few minutes of urgent whispering and gasping, it suddenly went silent. One down, one to go. She opened the door to let him out, and he squeezed back through, with a black cloth bag in his hand. He shook it for her, and it rattled. “Fingers, toes, and teeth. All for you.”
“Fantastic, can we move on? I don’t want to be out here all fucking night.” She pulled the collar of her coat tighter around her neck, but it did nothing to keep the chill away. They walked a few hundred yards to the other crypt, and repeated the process. He emerged with yet another bag of bones, and a surprise: two deformed bullets from the chest cavity. “Guess his death wasn’t so ‘suspicious’ after all,” he chuckled.
“Lovely. Great. Smashing. We’re leaving.”
“Ok, Princess. Pull the panties out of your crack.”
“Eat my entire ass, you pathetic Sid Vicious cosplayer.”
He gasped sarcastically, waving his hand at his face like he’d just had the vapors. The look of fake outrage on his face was too much for Charlie, and she had to stifle a giggling fit. The Necromancer just smiled and began walking back to the bus stop.
Once they were heading home, he placed the bags in her lap, and she almost threw them on the floor. “Don’t give me those, bring them into the store tomorrow or whenever. I don’t want them in my apartment.”
“I still don’t get your problem with bones. You handle them at the shop, what’s the difference?”
“They have power in them, and I’d sleep much better knowing that they were safely locked up somewhere and not just sitting on my coffee table.”
“Oh, so it’s ok for me to keep them in my pigsty, but not at your place? Totally fair.” His dainty upper lip curled in a sarcastic sneer.
“Also, I’m trying to keep my place as ‘clear’ as possible. I’ve got something coming up and I don’t want to take any chances.”
“You gonna light your hair on fire again?”
“Fuck you, dude. I tripped. You know the deal.”
He nodded, thoughtfully. “Seriously, though. What are you doing?”
She turned to him and smiled. “I’m going to summon a familiar. A cat.”