“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.”
When she was 12, Charlie saw a demon.
Her parents took her to New Orleans for her grandmother’s 70th birthday party. Her father hadn’t been back since he left for college decades earlier, and he seemed pretty apprehensive about the trip. Whether it was because he’d become successful or he was bringing home a wife that was white, she wasn’t sure. All she knew was that there were plenty of people that seemed happy to see him until they met her or her mother. Then their faces got a sort-of pinched look, like they suddenly smelled something bad.
Her grandmother, whom everybody called Mamma, didn’t seem to care in the slightest. She was so proud of her only son, she wouldn’t hear a single bad word about him or his family. He busted his ass in high school, both academically and athletically, and managed to get a scholarship to Northwestern. Once there, he sought out tutors to make sure his GPA didn’t drop. Charlie’s mother was one of those tutors. After college, he could’ve gone pro, but he decided to get his law degree instead. They married in his second year of law school, after her mother started teaching high school math.
Obviously all of these achievements led to a considerable amount of resentment on the part of his extended family and friends, but he refused to apologize for any of it. “Maybe they should spend more time trying to better themselves, instead of worrying about whatever the hell I’m doing,” he used to say when Mamma would call. He’d sit and brood for a day or two afterwards, then be back to himself again. No matter how hard he tried, he still cared about what everybody back home thought about him.
Charlie thought the party was amazing. Everything about it was so different from the parties she’d been forced to attend with her parents. There was loud music, people dancing unabashedly, and the food…
She’d never had food that spicy or weird in her life, and she loved all of it. Her mother didn’t seem too adventurous when it came to the food. “Fried okra? Chitlins, whatever that is…Oh, my god, are those miniature lobsters?” “Those are crawfish, Mom. You know what the best part is?” Charlie held up one and twisted its head off. “The head!” She proceeded to suck the juicy, spicy pulp from the antennaed head, and her mother looked like she was going to vomit. Charlie spent the rest of the night over-dramatically sampling every dish, just to irritate her.
After the party, Charlie’s parents were ready to go back to their hotel room, but she insisted on staying at Mamma’s house. She found the old woman fascinating, and she wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. Mamma and her father shared a concerned look between them, but ultimately he relented and said it was ok.
Mamma prepared a guest bed for her on the couch, and sat down with her as she got ready for bed. “I have only one rule in this house, child: no matter what you see or hear outside, do not leave the house. Doesn’t matter what it is, you do…not…leave. Understand?” She nodded, not wanting to question her grandmother. Mamma kissed her forehead, tucked her in, and turned out the lights.
Sometime later, Charlie woke up to what sounded like singing behind Mamma’s house. The parish was in a more rural area on the edge of the city, but this was more than a few drunken neighbors. This sounded like Bourbon Street at midnight. She started wondering if maybe Mamma and her cousins, along with the entire neighborhood, just really liked to party. Maybe they were partaking in some not-so-legal substances, and Mamma just didn’t want her to see it.
She carefully got up from the couch and made her way to the back door. There were a ridiculous number of tiki torches set up all over the yard, along with a few small bonfires scattered about. She couldn’t believe how many people were there, it had to be close to a hundred. All dressed in white clothes. They were dancing, singing, chanting, throwing their arms in the air in what looked like praise or worship. For a moment, Charlie wondered if maybe this was some weird part of Catholicism she’d never heard of, since her father said Mamma was Catholic. She put her face up to the glass, to try and determine where Mamma was, and that’s when she saw him.
In the center of the crowd was a man in a chair. A large black man with skull paint on his face, wearing what looked like a tuxedo and top hat. He was smoking a cigar and laughing, waving his hands in time with the beat of the music. The more she looked at him, the more unsettling his appearance became. The top hat had mold on it. His nails were encrusted with dirt. The tuxedo jacket had long tears in it. Everything about this guy just screamed bad news.
Then he looked right at her, and she realized what was so off about him. The irises of his eyes were pure white. For reasons she wouldn’t understand for a long time, she was frozen in terror. She physically could not tear herself away from his gaze. Then he smiled, and she was only vaguely aware of the warm wetness coursing down her legs. She had peed herself. The last thing she remembered was putting her hand on the doorknob.
When Charlie came back to herself, her grandmother and aunt were both kneeling next to her on the floor, trying to shake her awake. Her clothes were soaked with urine, and she had a goose egg on the back of her head from where it hit the floor. They helped her up, got her out of the wet clothes, and ran her a warm bath. Mamma stayed with her, while Auntie cleaned the floor and started washing her clothes.
Mamma explained that what she had seen was Voodoo, that they were performing a ritual to summon Baron Samedi, the man in the chair. She said he wasn’t really a man, but a loa; an intermediary between The Creator and humans. He is the loa of resurrection and healing, and they had summoned him to ensure a particular soul could not be resurrected. A woman in the congregation had recently lost her abusive husband, and she didn’t want there to be any chance he could come back.
Of course Charlie had a million questions, but she only asked one. “Why did he want me to come outside, and why did you want me not to?”
Mamma sighed. “This has been in our family for generations, and it was only a matter of time before you either discovered the practice, or accidentally performed some kind of magic. Your daddy didn’t want you to come here and find out all of these things. He wants you to go on to college, become successful like he did. I’ll let you in a secret, though: while he is a very intelligent and hard-working man, the world often works against people like us. I know you’ve seen it, experienced it. Your daddy needed a little extra help, a little push…if you know what I’m saying. An advantage.”
“Are…are you saying that you used magic to help Daddy be successful?”
“I did. Of course, now that he’s a big-shot attorney, he can put his money where his mouth is. He doesn’t need me to be hexing people anymore.”
“Did he know?”
Mamma thought for a moment. “He’s never come right out and said it, but yes, I think he’s known the entire time. He’s far too proud to ever thank me for it, but I know he’s grateful. He never wanted any part of the practice, and he certainly doesn’t want you to get involved with it, either.”
Charlie leaned over and whispered, “If I study by myself, and don’t tell anybody, could I learn to do things like that? Summon…whatever?”
Mamma smiled and rested her hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “Child…that’s why the Baron was so eager to join us tonight. He sees potential in you, great potential. I didn’t want you to meet him yet, because….you deserve to be a little girl for as long as you can. They’re watching you now. And they’ll be waiting.”
Charlie, her grandmother, and her aunt never spoke a word of that night to her parents. They returned home, with the promise to visit more often. Her mother seemed glad that she wanted to spend more time with her father’s family, but he still had reservations. Charlie managed to convince him that she wanted to learn to cook traditional Creole and Cajun food from a master such as Mamma.
The next Spring Break she had from school, they allowed her to travel to New Orleans by herself, and that began the yearly tradition of “cooking lessons”. Charlie was not allowed to perform anything, she could watch and listen only. Mamma also made sure that, if there was to be a loa summoning while Charlie was visiting, it would not be done on her property.
Years later, sitting on the late bus with The Necromancer, she wondered what Mamma would make of him. Someone that so flagrantly used magic to do exactly the opposite of the Baron, to the point where he was almost like a loa himself. She turned away and smirked.
Mamma would poison him.
It took Charlie weeks to find all the proper ingredients for a summoning ritual. The correct salt, powders, oils, candles, all obtained through Vogel’s, but the rum and tobacco needed for an offering were much trickier. She was able to use work connections to special order them from New Orleans, and it seemed like they took forever to get to her. Of course, she could’ve asked Mamma to send them, but there would be a million questions attached, and she didn’t feel like explaining her entire thought process over the phone.
There was also the issue of a safe space to perform such rituals. Luckily, she’d found one when she moved into the building a couple of years earlier. There was an old greenhouse on the roof, still in great shape, but none of the other residents wanted to haul bags of dirt and potted plants all the way up there, so it was free for her to use as she pleased. She only performed rituals at night, because the temperature and humidity would turn the place into a subtropical nightmare. Candles wouldn’t stay lit, the salt would get all clumpy. At night, though, it felt just like being back at Mamma’s, minus the giant cockroaches.
The Necromancer had asked her why she felt the need to have a familiar, especially one as stereotypical as a cat.
“I always wanted a cat growing up, but my parents didn’t want something shedding hair or stinking up a room with a cat box. I thought about just going and getting a rescue or something, but a familiar will live much, much longer and not require so much upkeep. I’m not entirely sure what to feed it, but apparently they will let you know what they prefer to eat.”
“What about a litter box? I shudder to think about what horrors a conjured animal would leave behind.”
“I live on the second floor, I can just leave a window open a bit, and it can go pee wherever it wants.”
“And hopefully it won’t devour any souls while it’s out and about.”
“Stop spreading that bullshit rumor, they don’t do that. They act as servants, they help you out with things. If they also want cuddles, even better.”
“So…you just want something to cuddle?”
She picked at a tear in her tights. “….maybe.”
His face lit up with a shit-eating grin, and he held his arms open. “I’m always available!”
Charlie tried her best to remain serious, but couldn’t help smiling. “Bitch, you stink.”
The day of the ritual, Charlie cleaned her entire apartment with special road opener soap, to remove obstacles and bring luck. That night, she took a long bath with Crown of Success soap, also for luck. She figured you couldn’t have too much good luck, and she definitely needed it.
She carefully dressed herself in a white dress and belt that were not really appropriate for the weather, but the greenhouse would be warm, and the ritual itself would be taxing. She tied a white scarf around her head to cover her hair and keep the sweat from dripping into her eyes. Some practitioners believed that the more you covered your skin, the more protection it offered you, but she wasn’t putting out anything negative this time.
As a tribute to Baron Samedi, she painted her face in a similar way. No white skull makeup, but black makeup around her eyes and on her upper lip. It made the blue of her eyes appear almost white, like his.
She lugged her plastic tote full of supplies up 4 flights of stairs and into the greenhouse. It was toasty warm inside, and she was sweating like a pig by the time everything was set up. Within the giant circle of black salt, there was the makeshift altar; black, purple, and white candles, surrounded by binding salt, with the offerings to the loa in the center. A shot glass of rum, a small bag of tobacco, a bowl of Scotch bonnet peppers, and a very nice cigar.
The last piece of the puzzle was the music. When summoning a loa, the ritual is performed in 4 different parts, each involving a song. The songs could only be sung, and not played on any kind of device or instrument. Since Charlie wasn’t actually summoning the loa, just kind of giving them a heads-up and an offering to smooth things over, she decided that music streamed to her earbuds would be acceptable.
She synced the earbuds to her phone, and selected her dance playlist. No fast songs, as those were sure to make her trip or stumble. Only songs that had a beat slow enough for her to make each move deliberate. She put the earbuds in, set the playlist to start, and repeated a phrase that Mamma had taught her, the one that gave her the most confidence when beginning a ritual:
“Watch me become God in front of your eyes.“
The most important aspect to summoning is visualization. The practitioner must envision exactly what they want while performing the ritual. Any kind of distracting thoughts or images can throw the entire thing out of whack. Charlie found that dance music was perfect for keeping the mind on track. Your body would just naturally move to the beat, and you could concentrate on the mental aspects much easier.
As she danced around the altar inside the circle, she created pictures in her mind of what she wanted her familiar to look like. Mamma had showed her old photos of her own familiar, which had since died. It was a large brown and white rat, whom she named Zanmi, the Haitian Creole word for “friend”. Charlie thought the color of the rat’s fur was beautiful, and decided she wanted her cat to have the same coloring. She imagined green eyes and soft fur, cute ears and paws with black and pink toebeans.
As far as personality traits, she wanted those to remain somewhat vague. She didn’t want a creature that was completely independent from her, but she also didn’t want something so needy that it wouldn’t leave her side. She settled on the most important things, and decided to leave the rest up to chance.
Loyalty. Obedience. Companionship.
Charlie’s muscles ached and burned, the sweat was just pouring from everywhere, but the last song was finally reaching its climax. She began performing the movements to complete the ritual, and did not notice that her left foot dragged slightly in one of the last steps. Part of the black salt circle was disrupted. Her feet were so sweaty and she was so tired, she didn’t feel the salt sticking to her foot.
At the song’s climax, she stopped and held completely still, covering her eyes with her hands. A strong, cold wind suddenly blew through the greenhouse, extinguishing the candles and scattering the salt circle. Charlie remained perfectly still for several minutes, trying to catch her breath. Once her heart rate started returning to normal, she lowered her hands and bowed to the altar. She didn’t have to worry about anybody disturbing anything, so she decided to leave the cleanup for the next day.
Back in her apartment, she carefully removed the black paint from her eyes and mouth. She took a quick shower to rinse off all the sweat, and put on clean pajamas. She was just finishing putting her conditioning hair mask in, when she saw in the mirror, over her shoulder, a man walk through her bathroom wall.
At first Charlie wasn’t sure what she was seeing. As a practitioner of magic, she was used to seeing weird things, but she’d never seen someone just appear like that. She dug her fingernails into the palm of her hand, just to make sure she wasn’t in some kind of trance, and she definitely felt the pain. As a safety precaution, she didn’t turn around to face him. She just watched him in the mirror.
He wasn’t very tall, but he was slim. He was wearing what she could only describe as a skin-tight, white pimp suit with tails on the coat. The pants were so tight, she could see every little movement his muscular thighs made as he walked. The jacket had a strange symbol on the upper left chest, like an inverted cross. He wore white and black gloves that, for some reason, resembled cat paws. The outfit was topped off by a large black hat with a white band.
Once he had cleared the bathtub, he raised his head and looked around the room. Charlie’s stomach dropped when she saw his face. He was wearing the exact same makeup she just washed off. One eye was green, the same shade she had pictured for a cat’s eye, and the other was white. The mark of the Baron. This was her familiar.
She gripped the sides of her sink with both hands to keep from falling. She had no idea how the ritual could’ve gone so wrong. She had kept picturing a cat, over and over, in her mind. Except for at the beginning of the ritual. She had pictured her grandmother’s rat for just a moment, and when her familiar turned his head she noticed his nose and mustache made him look…rat-like.
He finally noticed she was there, and smiled at her reflection. He gently removed his hat and held it to his chest. His hair was the same shade of brown as her grandmother’s rat. She couldn’t place his accent at first. Eastern European? Maybe Italian?
“Hello…..how do you do?”
Charlie tried to respond, but nothing came out of her mouth. She couldn’t stop running over the entire ritual in her head, trying to figure out what happened. Summoning a familiar spirit is not anywhere near the same as summoning an animal familiar. It’s more like adopting a child than adopting a pet. Even worse, this was someone who had once been alive, hence the mark of the Baron. Loa of resurrection and sick jokes, apparently.
He chuckled softly. “Are you all right, Miss?”
“No. You’re supposed to be a cat. I was trying to summon a cat for a familiar. Not a dead man.”
He suddenly looked confused. “I was dead? That would explain a lot.”
Charlie finally turned around and looked at him. He was holding a cane in his other hand, topped with a silver snake eating its own tail. The pimp look was complete, and she could not, for the life of her, figure out why he was dressed that way. Maybe that’s what he was wearing when he died.
“Do you remember your name?”
“Ah, yes! My name is Copia. And yours?”
“Charlotte Brown, but everybody calls me ‘Charlie’.”
He gasped and smiled. “Like ‘Peanuts’! The Great Pumpkin!”
She couldn’t help but smile. “Yeah, something like that. Trust me, I heard all the jokes growing up. Where exactly are you from?”
“Montalcino, a small village in Sienna.”
“Yes, yes, in Tuscany.”
“And…just out of curiosity…what year is it?”
He gave her a strange look. “You are asking me?”
“Yes, what year do you think it is?”
Charlie sighed heavily. “This is going to be a long night.”
The sun cleared the horizon and began peeking around the edges of the buildings, and Charlie was still sitting on her couch with Copia.
When the initial shock started to wear off, she walked past him into the living room and sat down. He just stood in the bathroom by himself for a second, before moving to the doorway. “How does this work,” she asked. “Do you read my mind, or do you just know what I want you to do?”
He hesitated for a moment. “I think…it feels like I just know. I don’t hear a voice in my head. I just know.”
As an experiment, she didn’t think to herself “sit down on the couch”; she just decided she wanted him to sit down, and he immediately walked forward and did it. Her eyes went wide. “That’s really weird.”
He nodded in agreement. “Very weird.”
While she considered her next move, she looked more closely at his face. There were wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, in the space between his eyebrows. He had to have been at least 40-something when he died. Her curiosity about his life was starting to get the better of her, but she wasn’t sure how to ask. She didn’t want to compel him unless absolutely necessary.
“So - you can just put the cane and stuff down on the table, that’s fine - what do you remember about your life? I’m honestly curious, how did you end up…here?”
“As I said, I’m from the village of Montalcino, in the hills of Tuscany. Very beautiful place, up on a very high hill. Lots of old ruins, always plenty of tourists wanting to see them, after the war. My family owned a store in town, we all worked there, but my older brother would be taking over it once they retired. I had no desire to spend my life…under his thumb, you know? I wasn’t very good in school, and I needed to find something to do with my life.
I was involved with the church from a young age, as an altar boy and all that. I loved singing hymns, and il padre was always telling me that my voice was made to serve God. So, when I turned 18, I entered seminary and took the vows…” He trailed off, sounding a bit sad.
“Did you not want to be a priest?”
“Well…I knew it would be a way to serve my village, but…I also thought it would help.”
She leaned forward expectantly. “….help what?”
“I had….urges. Ones that I was made to believe were…unnatural.”
She reared back. “I swear, if you tell me you were fucking kids, I will banish your ass so fast-”
He held his hands up, his face stricken. “NO! Nothing like that! Just…I liked men as much as I did women. They were just as beautiful…and sensual…*ahem*”
“Do you need a moment?” Charlie had to suppress a giggle.
He gave her a look that said he was not impressed with her amusement. “No.”
She gestured for him to continue.
“I struggled with these urges for sometime. I kept praying to God to take them away, to make me as pure in mind and body as my soul. Nothing helped. I grew to accept that they would always be there, a test of my faith. I simply had to pretend they weren’t there, and I would not disappoint God. Obviously, I failed.
I was seeking the monsignor’s approval for a few hymns I wanted the choir to practice, when I heard him arguing with a very upset young woman. She was very…large…with child. She was begging him for help. I could not understand why he was not sympathetic to her, until he told her that his bastards were not his responsibility. I could not believe he says this. He broke his vows, not just once, and did it without care.
He turned the woman away, and she left the church crying. I entered his office and pretended that I had not heard the argument. He didn’t even bother to deny any of it. ‘How could you break your vows, Monsignor? Are we not men of God, called to live as His Son did?’
He laughed in my face. ‘Rules are for those not in power, my child.’ I was sick, disgusted. He made a joke of our faith, and I have no doubt that it was not the first time, or the last. That night, I packed what few things I had and left. I could not be a part of those lies and hypocrisy. I took a bus to Siena, and hoped I’d be able to find work there.
When I stepped off the bus, I heard singing in a nearby taverna and decided to try my luck there. I told the man at the bar that I was in need of work and a place to stay, and he nodded to a man sitting towards the back. I sat at his table, and he was very…carismatico?”
“Charismatic?” Charlie offered.
“Yes, that’s it! Very…smooth. He offer me a job and place to live. He had a farm outside of town, many people work and live there. A good place for someone like me, he says. I go with him. It is so peaceful and calm there. People working very hard, but very happy. Happy to see me, as well. I felt more welcome than in my own home, or in the church.”
“Not to interrupt your train of thought, but was this…was it a hippie commune?”
“I suppose so, in a way.”
“What year was this?”
His brow furrowed in thought. “1968.”
She suddenly realized where she thought the story was going, but said nothing.
“The first week there was very hard, but rewarding. I felt like I was really…getting something done, you know? Really helping people. Even if it was just helping carry water or digging rocks out of a garden. My body ached, but I slept like a little baby every night. I thought it was perfect.”
“Did something happen to change that?”
“Oh, yes. Very much so. I offered to hold some kind of service on Sundays, since they knew I had been a priest, but they laughed…like there was something they knew that I didn’t. Some kind of joke. I try to laugh too, and try not to worry. That night, everybody goes to a building that always had a chain on the door. They say not to go in there except on Saturday, when everybody goes. I think ok, maybe they’re Jewish? I don’t know.
We go inside, and in the middle of a big room is a statue. I could not see it until they light candles everywhere. It was…an abomination. Head of a goat, body of a man, hooves for feet. Red and black candles at the bottom. Pillows for kneeling and praying on the ground. It was…il diavolo.”
“It was a statue of Satan? In a hippie commune?”
“Yes….they worshipped him. I became afraid, I thought they would sacrifice me, but they laughed at my fear. They wished me no harm, they said. They simply had a bet to see how I would react. The man in charge, he says there is nothing wrong with lust, with pride, with any sin. The church tells us they are wrong because they want control over us. The devil wants us to be free, to be happy, to be ourselves. Everyone on the farm helps themselves by helping others, and they do it in the name of Satan, and they are happy.
They understood that I could not bow or pray to such a thing yet, I was not ready. So they worship. They kneel and pray to the statue. They yell ‘Ave Satanas’ and dance and sing. Then…they start to undress. They start to kiss and touch each other. I try to leave, but a very pretty girl, whose name I cannot place, takes my hand. She lead me to a corner of the room where they couldn’t see. She took her clothes off. Then she took mine off. I broke my vows with her. And I didn’t regret it.
Over time, I grew to accept Satan as my master. I reveled in the freedom I was given, the pleasures of the flesh that I discovered. I took men and women to my bed, and felt no guilt. I never thought I could be so happy.”
He suddenly became very quiet. His gloved fingers twisted around each other in his lap.
“Can you tell me what happened? Did you leave?”
His head snapped up. “No, no…I don’t think so.” He looked confused. “Maybe…?”
“Just tell me the last thing you remember.”
“It was night. Someone screamed. I jumped out of bed, and there were flames coming from one of the buildings. We all ran to get water, but there were people outside. People we didn’t know. They had torches. I don’t know if someone went to town and said the wrong thing, or if they just decided they could not let the farm exist. We scattered, tried to run and hide. They started burning all the buildings. I ran to the locked building, climbed inside a window. I prayed to Satan to save us. He didn’t.
They’d started the fire outside the building, and when I realized it was burning, it was too late. Something heavy fell on my legs, and I couldn’t get up. There was so much smoke, I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see. I started to choke, and I was suddenly outside. Not at the farm. I was home, in my village. The streets were filled with fog, I could barely see anything. I started trying to walk home, and I thought I saw figures in the mist, but every time I turned to them, they disappeared.
I wandered for some time, until I saw a light near the graveyard. I walked towards it, and suddenly I was here. In your bathroom. In these…strange clothes.” He looked down at himself with a slight frown.
“Do you remember what year it was? You said earlier you thought it was 1974. What was the last big world-wide event that you remember, from newspapers or radio?”
“Ahh…..” He thought for a moment. “The end of the war in Vietnam. The Americans had lost and were leaving.”
She took a deep breath. “That was April of 1975. This is April of 2019. You’ve been in limbo for 44 years.”
His face paled. “I…I didn’t go to Heaven…or Hell?”
She shook her head. “You were murdered. Maybe you have unfinished business, and the devil is trying to do you a solid, make up for not saving you in the fire. Or maybe Baron Samedi is yanking my chain, yet again.”
“Voodoo spirit of resurrection. He likes to screw around with people. We go back quite a ways. I tried to summon an animal familiar, and instead I get a familiar spirit.”
“Why would he do that?”
“I’m not entirely sure.” Charlie glanced over at her front door, and that’s when she saw it. Scattered on the floor, just inside the doorway, was black salt from the circle. She knew she hadn’t stepped in any on her way out, it had to have been during the ritual itself. “God-fucking-dammit.”
Copia looked over at the door, then back at her. “What?”
She threw her hands up in the air in frustration. “I fucked up the circle. There’s supposed to be an unbroken circle of black salt, the altar is inside it. You’re not supposed to break the circle, or bad things can happen. My stupid fucking foot slipped and it broke the circle.”
He looked at her pensively. “So…that’s why you got me?”
She sighed heavily. “Looks like it. All I wanted was a fucking cat, you know? Something to go places with me, maybe snuggle up with it at night.”
“I am good for snuggles!” His face brightened and a big grin broke out across his face.
Charlie couldn’t help but laugh. “I appreciate that, but unless the heat goes out, I’m not gonna make you do that. I wanted a companion, not a slave.”
She turned and looked out the window by the kitchen. The sky was purplish-pink and there were birds out on the fire escape. “Jesus Christ, it’s dawn. We’ve been up all night. I’m supposed to work in like-” she checked her watch. “3 hours.” She groaned loudly.
“Can you not take a sick day? Stay home and sleep?”
“No, my boss is old and can’t get around very well. I’m the only other employee. I’m just going to have to drink obscene amounts of coffee, starting now.” She got up from the couch and went into the kitchen to start up the coffee pot. She busied herself with the coffee while Copia got up and went to the mirror next to the door.
“What, your outfit?”
“No, my face. I look pretty good for an 80 year-old man.”
Charlie did the math in her head. “You were only 36 when you died? Why do you have those wrinkles?”
He turned to her. “I spent a lot of time in the sun, working on the farm. How else do you think I got thighs like this?” He shifted his hips towards her, and smacked the outside of his thigh with his hand.
She simultaneously blushed and laughed hysterically. “Please don’t do that in front of other people. I’m trying to figure out how to explain why I have an Italian pimp following me around, I can’t deal with you smacking your ass or whatever too.”
“Oh, you want me to smack my ass? I can do that too!” He started to turn away.
After chugging two pots of coffee, and dealing with Copia’s reactions to modern television programming - “A station that plays nothing but news all day? Send me back to the void, please!” - Charlie left for work, with her new familiar tagging along behind her.
For once, she was glad it was such a big city that nobody really paid attention to each other. You’d think, especially during morning rush hour, that people would notice a man in a way-too-revealing white suit with a hat and cane walking down the street, but nobody did. He simply strolled along, marvelling at the skyscrapers and storefronts.
“Never did I think I’d see such things with my own eyes!”
“Yeah, and all you had to do was die and get resurrected as my own personal bitch boy. Fantastic.” Her sarcasm was on full display.
“Now, now. Let’s think positive on this. If you ever need a jar opened, or something off a high shelf, I can do that.”
“How? You are, at the most, 4 inches taller than me, and your arms look like they’d get broken by a stiff breeze.”
He looked a bit hurt when she insulted his physical strength. “I’m much stronger than I look,” he said, straightening his jacket.
“Like I said, I didn’t want a glorified pool boy, I wanted a companion. I’m not going to lay in bed all day and make you clean my apartment. Although…it would be nice to have someone that can run to the store for me…”
They reached a corner with a red light and stopped. Something suddenly occurred to Charlie.
“I want to try something. A small experiment. When I cross the street, you stay here.”
“I vaguely remember something about familiars not being able to go too far from their, for lack of a better word, masters. I want to see if it’s true.”
“Makes sense. How will we know?”
“I have no idea. Isn’t science fun?” The light turned green, and she gave him a little wave as she crossed the street. She was halfway across when she turned and looked over her shoulder. He was still standing there, waiting to see what happened. She made it to the other side of the street and kept going for a few steps. When she turned around, her stomach dropped.
Copia was leaning against the stoplight, his face absolutely white. He was clutching at his throat, like he couldn’t breathe. Without thinking, Charlie ran against the flow of the crowd and into the crosswalk. It earned her several angry honks from cars, but she ignored it. Once she reached him, his breathing seemed to get easier, and the color returned to his face.
She instinctively wrapped her arms around him, rubbing his back. “What happened? Are you ok?”
“C-couldn’t breathe…once you made it across. Felt like…like dying again.” He rested his head on her shoulder while he caught his breath.
“Well, I guess that answers that question. Typical street width is 25-30 feet, so…that’s it. We’ll figure out something.” He nodded in agreement.
Charlie only stumbled once on the way to Vogel’s, and when they reached the front door, Copia’s arm suddenly shot in front of her. He opened the door with a flourish, ensuring that it cleared her foot. “Don’t want you to stub your toe yet again, yes?”
She stared at him. “That’s….disturbing. But, thank you.”
They walked inside, and she said good morning to Mr. Schwartz. As soon as Copia saw the cat, he turned into a human-shaped marshmallow.
“OH MY! Look at you, gatto gattino! You are so lovely!” He reached a hand out to start petting him.
“UH, you might want to rethink that. The cat might be a powerful wizard stuck in the body of his familiar, so proceed with caution.”
Copia immediately withdrew his hand and stood up straight. He removed his hat and held it to his chest, bowing elegantly. Charlie rolled her eyes, and when she turned around, Wilhelm was standing right in front of her, his wispy hair standing straight up off his head.
“How did your…you know….go last night?”
She gestured over her shoulder. “I also haven’t slept, so if I’m a little out of it, don’t hold it against me.” Wilhelm peeked around her, only to see Copia trying in vain to introduce himself to the cat, who was uninterestedly licking its paw.
The old man smiled and gave a small gasp. “Mmm….that boy sure fills out those pants, doesn’t he?”
“Oh, dear Jesus,” Charlie muttered.
“As if you haven’t looked.”
“How could I not? He just appeared in my bathroom in the middle of the night, strutting like he’s the Italian John Shaft.”
“Well, wherever did you find him?”
“Limbo. Stuck there for over 40 years. He’d been living in a Satanic commune when the locals decided to torch it up. Remind me to never vacation in Tuscany.”
“I thought you were trying for a cat.”
“I was, but my stupid foot messed up the circle, and Samedi decided to have a laugh instead of just denying the request.”
“Hmm…seems like the Baron was doing you a favor, sending you that instead of a cat. The possibilities are endless….” The old man was practically drooling.
“Oh, my god. He’s an actual person, not a walking sex toy. I’m not that desperate.”
“Speak for yourself, sister.”
“I’m so fucking done with this conversation. Don’t you have ear hair to braid?”
After a few hours of sorting and filing, Charlie made a grim discovery: she needed to pee.
She headed back towards the bathroom, past Copia and his giant stack of old Italian novels, and as soon as she turned to close the door, there he was. “Ok, you are not coming in here with me. I don’t need help with this.”
His eyebrows shot up. “Oh! Yes, of course. Just…instinct, I guess.”
She closed the door between them. “We’re gonna have to work on that. You can’t just pop up every time a whim crosses my mind. I don’t really need that much help, and I don’t want you running around after me like a lap dog, you know?”
“That sounds fair. I have to admit…this new world, it frightens me a little. So much noise, so many people. I have much to learn, and it makes me feel…not safe. But I think if you could bring me back, you can protect me, yes? And I protect you?”
Charlie finished washing her hands and opened the door. “It’s a deal. But-” She held up a finger. “We have to figure out some way for you to either hide or turn invisible. You are, to say the least, very conspicuous. If there was some way for you to…I don’t know…latch onto me, like a tick on a dog? Then we don’t have to worry about being separated. And I won’t have to pay for two passengers in an Uber.”
“Don’t worry about it. There might have been a book around here regarding familiars, but it’s been ages and I have no idea where in this mess it is.”
“Would Wilhelm know?”
“He couldn’t find his ass with both hands and a flashlight, he’s not going to remember a book from years ago. Unless….”
Charlie looked over at the front register. Mr. Schwartz was still sitting on his perch, eyes surveying the store. She sighed to herself. “I’m gonna feel real dumb if this doesn’t work.”
She walked over to the cat and it looked up at her. “We’re trying to figure out how to make my familiar become invisible or something, so that we won’t get separated, and he can be incognito at times. Do you happen to remember where there might be a book that can help us?”
The cat regarded her for a moment, then made a chirping sound. He jumped off the counter and walked towards a small bookshelf on the far side of the store. He jumped onto the top, then flung himself down on his side, as though the trip was incredibly taxing. He let one paw hang down over the top of the shelf, and began batting at the spine of an old book. Charlie knelt down and looked at it.
“‘On Familiars’ it says. I think this is the one.” She and Copia both looked at the cat warily. “Thanks, Bertie.”
The cat meowed and then began licking its rear end. From the other side of the store, Wilhelm shouted, "I told you it was him!"
Charlie sat down on a step-stool in the back and began paging through the book. “’How to Summon’…’How to Banish’….’How to Possess’, ew….ah! Here we go. ‘How to Conceal Your Familiar’.”
In certain situations, it is best to have your familiar concealed. For this to happen, you must visualize the familiar as a part of your own body. Think of it as a limb, your arm or leg. Imagine moving it, controlling it, as though it was attached to you. Then, while visualizing, hold the limb close to your body, as close as you can. Imagine the familiar moving from the limb into your body, becoming one with you. Visualize breathing them into your lungs, swallowing them into your stomach.
If you have maintained the necessary concentration and focus, the familiar will no longer be visible. Their thoughts should be audible inside your mind, but they will not have free access to your thoughts; they will only hear you when you choose to speak to them. You can now move about freely, and your familiar will remain inside you until you command them to leave your body.
Once they have removed themselves, they will be able to re-enter your body upon command. The visualization will only need to be performed once.
“Ok..might as well give this a try. Stand in front of me, that’ll make this easier.”
Copia moved in front of her, holding his hat in one hand, cane in the other. She looked up into his white eye, the sign of their bond, then closed her eyes.
She thought back to the visualization techniques she learned when she first went to rehab for her leg. Thinking about how it feels, how it moves. She flexed her toes, rotated her foot in a circle, flexed the calf and thigh muscles. Once she was very aware of the entire leg, she flexed every muscle as hard as she could, while taking a deep breath. She imagined Copia coming apart into tiny little pieces, all of them borne on a current of air that went right up her nose.
When she heard his breathing quicken, and a small, fearful gasp escape his lips, she knew it was working. She leaned forward, bringing her left leg up to her chest, and continued to take deep breaths. After a minute, she could no longer hear Copia’s breaths. She opened her eyes, and he was gone.
“Copia? Where are you?”
“Still here…I think,” she heard from inside her own head.
She looked down at her hands. “What do you see?”
“Your hands. Our hands?”
“Close enough. Now…get out.”
The sensation was like having all of her skin pulled on at once, over her entire body. It only lasted a few seconds, and then he was standing in front of her again, hair a little messy, but all in one piece.
She gave him two thumbs-up. “Fantastic. Now I can sneak you into Bela’s no problem.”
“Bela…Lugosi?” He looked confused.
“He died in 1956. I don’t….never mind. It’s a dark, disgusting bar where lots of practitioners meet up. We network, we buy or sell or trade things. Since most of us live on what I would refer to as ‘the outskirts of society’, it’s a somewhat safe place for us to convene.”
“Why would you need to sneak me in?”
“Well…to be perfectly honest, there are people there that are…let’s just say…opportunistic and pushy. They don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. To them, you’re a new plaything, and they won’t like it if you rebuff their advances. It’s just easier to have you hide unless I need you.”
“It sounds like a dangerous place. Will you be safe?”
“Oh yeah, nobody messes with me. They call me The Disaster, and unless they want to get messed up, they stay away. The only person that really talks to me there is The Necromancer. He’ll be very excited to meet you.”
“Can he…can he do anything to me?”
Charlie shrugged. “Probably grab your ass. You have my permission to hit him.”
By the end of the day, after several rounds of practice (and one particularly horrifying moment where Copia’s arm was dangling out of her chest) Charlie felt confident enough to take him to Bela’s as a hidden passenger.
Walking around for more than a few minutes was going to take getting used to. Every time he said something, she would turn her head to answer, but he obviously wasn’t there. She asked him what it felt like to hide in someone else’s body.
“Like a puppet on strings. Hanging in the air.”
“But not painful?”
“No, no pain. It just feels weird.”
A few moments later, she stopped at a red light and, without thinking, reached into her dress to adjust her bra strap. As a force of habit, she looked down to make sure she wasn’t exposing herself, and she wasn’t. At least, not to the people she wasn’t currently sharing a body with.
“Dio mio…Forgive me! I-I don’t know how to not look!”
She sighed internally. “It’s fine, I’m sure you’re going to end up seeing a lot more than that, even when you’re not using my eyeballs. Just…don’t make comments or anything, ok? This will be one of those things we never talk about.”
“I swear, I will do my best to be a gentleman.”
“Damn well better, or you’ll soon find yourself bound to a dumpster.”
When they reached the entrance to Bela’s, Charlie stopped. “Ok, time to go over the ground rules. First and foremost, you do not show yourself unless either I tell you to, or there’s some kind of major emergency.”
“How will I know what is emergency?”
“Oh, you’ll know. This place is where all kinds of practitioners hang out, so there’s any number of weird things going on. Just to make it easy, an emergency would be if something bad were about to happen to me. I have the feeling that if I die, you go back to Limbo, so we both have something to lose.”
Copia’s silence told her that he knew she was serious.
“Second…and this is gonna sound weird, but…a lot of people here swing every way possible. If you are out, on your own, they’ll probably hit on you. A lot. If they try to touch you, or do anything that you don’t want, don’t be afraid to say no or defend yourself. Nobody’s gonna get mad because you don’t want to be treated like a thing, because some of them will see you as that: a thing. I can only do so much to protect you, so you have to meet me halfway, ok?”
“And for the love of Christ, don’t tell The Necromancer he stinks. I’ve already told him enough times. The smell won’t go away.”
The Necromancer’s band was playing again, but mercifully, the sound check was already over. Charlie paid the cover charge, got a beer from the bar, and headed into the back room. He was sitting at a small table with a makeup compact in his hand, trying to get the black and white face paint just right.
He showed no reaction when Charlie sat down across from him, so she proceeded to chug the entire beer in one go. She slammed the empty on the table, and was about to flag someone down to get her another, when he finally looked up. “Oh. Hellooooo.” He snapped the compact shut and gave her his best leering smile. “And how did the ritual go?”
“Not as expected.”
“There’s our Disaster, never getting it right the first time. What happened, did the cat explode? Did you get a lizard instead? Or did Samedi just laugh and say, ‘Nice try, dilettante’?”
“Questo stronzo….” She had no idea what this meant, but from Copia’s tone of voice, it was meant to be an insult.
She took a deep breath and tried to maintain some fragment of civility.
“Actually, it worked. Just not in the way I had intended.”
He leaned back in his chair and barked out a harsh laugh. “Ok…so where’s the familiar?”
She gave him a sweet, condescending smile. “You can come out now.”
The look on The Necromancer’s face was priceless as Copia slowly emerged from her, his right hand coming out of her chest to brace himself on the table while he stood. He straightened up to his full height, and very slowly approached the other man. He bent down close to his face, never breaking eye contact. “You do not speak to her this way. I do not allow it.”
The Necromancer let out a high-pitched, hysterical laugh. He seemed to be unable to decide if he was terrified, impressed, or extremely turned on. It was probably a mixture of all three.
“Don’t get too close to him,” Charlie warned. “He’ll try to get you to hit him.”
“And why is that?”
“That’s his version of foreplay.”
Copia stood back up and took a few steps backwards, until he was even with the back of Charlie’s chair. He quietly slipped behind her, standing guard and refusing to look at the other man. The Necromancer went full peacock, leaning back in his chair and manspreading as much as possible, openly leering at Copia.
“HEY!” Charlie snapped her fingers in his face. “Stop ogling my dude. He obviously doesn’t like it.”
“And what if I don’t?” He wiggled his eyebrows at her.
“I will punch you square in the dick, if I can manage to find it.”
Her insult seemed to rouse him from his lust-filled haze. He let out a cackling laugh, and raised his hand to signal for two more beers. Charlie turned and motioned to Copia to sit down while they waited.
“So…what are you gonna do with him?”
“I’m trying to resist the urge to make him my personal slave - NOT LIKE THAT.” She cut off his dirty thought process at the pass. “This is actually nicer than having a cat. At least he talks back.”
He peeked around her to look at Copia again. His eyes were constantly moving around the room, like he was trying to memorize it all.
“He doesn’t seem to be doing much talking.”
“You try spending 40 years in Limbo, then trying to make conversation. I haven’t even explained the Internet, yet. Last time he had a pulse, Microsoft was two nerds in a garage. He’s got a lot to take in and think about.” She looked over her shoulder at Copia. “Did you want anything?”
He shook his head. “I’m fine. A little tired, maybe.” His eyes did look a bit more sunken than they did earlier, and Charlie realized he also had not slept. She turned back to face Mr. Stinky.
“You drink those beers. I’m taking him home so we can figure out food and sleep.”
“Oh, and I’m supposed to pay for them?”
She dug in her bag and tossed a $5 on the table. “There, buy yourself something nice.”
He snatched it up and fanned his face with it. “My, my. Whatever did I do to deserve such a gift?”
“You didn’t whip your dick out at the table. I hate it when you do that.”
“So what food sounds good to you? I’m assuming pasta?”
Charlie decided to take a long route home, through a neighborhood with lots of restaurants and shops, so she and Copia could figure out what he should be eating.
“At home, and at the church, yes. Lots of pasta. Maybe too much.” He pinched his side, but there was almost nothing there to pinch. “On the farm, it was lots of vegetables. Sometimes chicken, but not often. Nobody liked having to kill them.”
She chuckled. “A group of devil-worshippers that didn’t like killing animals. That’s a new one.”
He looked at her with slight annoyance. “You say things sometimes, like you know more than I do. Why would you think we like killing?”
She put a hand on his shoulder. “Sorry, I’m not trying to be a smart-ass or anything. It’s just, in the last few decades, there have been tons of movies and tv shows about Satanists and devil-worshippers. Lots of stereotypes got started that way, and it’s just worked its way into everyone’s brains. One such stereotype is that you guys sacrifice animals to the devil, so when you say ‘nobody likes killing chickens’, it sounds strange. I’m not dissing you; I’m dissing the stupid ideas that other people have had about those groups. Does that make sense?”
He was quiet for a few moments. “I think so. It wasn’t Rosemary’s Baby, I can tell you that much.”
“Oh, so you guys didn’t stand around, naked, while Satan nutted in some poor girl?”
He turned to her, properly irritated. “See, I don’t like that word. You curse a lot, you say things a lady shouldn’t say.”
“I’m sorry, you find ‘nutted’ offensive? Would you rather I said ‘came’? Or how about ‘EJACULATED’!” She was practically yelling, trying to get a reaction out of him.
He tried to shush her, even putting his hand over her mouth. “No, no. You stop this now. Per favore, stai zitto.”
Now Charlie was giggling uncontrollably, trying to move her face away from Copia’s hand. “What does that even mean?”
He leaned in close. “It means ‘please shut the fuck up’.”
“HA! You tell me to stop talking about an orgasm, but you can tell me to shut the fuck up. Totally fair.”
By then, Copia was starting to laugh himself. “Yes, these are the rules now. I make them up. I have to do what you say, but you…have to…” He drifted off, and Charlie turned to see what had broken his train of thought.
They were passing a candy store. The front window was filled with containers of handmade chocolates, saltwater taffy, jelly beans, just about every kind of candy you could imagine. Copia was glued to the window, like a kid looking in a toy store. He was practically drooling.
Charlie looked at him warily. “Does…does this look appetizing to you? Like, you want to get some candy?”
He didn’t turn his head, only his eyes, to look at her. “I’m starving. I need some, now.”
She shrugged. “Ok, if candy is what you need, let’s load up.”
After spending an ungodly amount of money at the candy store, they arrived home with arms filled with bag upon bag of candy. Copia had devoured an entire package of black licorice on the way back, and was now starting on a package of Red Vines.
His attitude had definitely improved, now that he’d eaten something. He seemed to be less lethargic, as well. Charlie had always assumed that familiars drank blood or sucked the life force out of people as sustenance, but if Copia could run on candy, that was fine with her.
She went into her bedroom to change out of her work clothes, and when she came back out, he had fallen asleep sitting on the couch, red licorice hanging out of his mouth. She walked over and stood in front of him, just watching for a few moments. He’d managed to take off his gloves and hat, and had unbuttoned his jacket a little. There was no way she could leave him to sleep like that, Charlie decided.
She knelt down and carefully removed his shoes, setting them under the coffee table. She finished unbuttoning his jacket, and slowly pulled one sleeve to free an arm. He started listing to one side, and she just barely caught him. His hair fell into his eyes a little, and she brushed it back with her fingers. It was much softer than she was expecting, and just to satisfy her own curiosity, she leaned forward and buried her nose in it, inhaling deeply.
He smelled like fresh air, like a summer night after your next door neighbor has mowed their lawn. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, maybe smoke or dirt or the same rotten stink that The Necromancer carried with him. This was comforting, for lack of a better word.
She managed to get his jacket off, and very gently eased him into laying down on the couch, a throw pillow under his head. She made a mental note to get him a proper pillow and blanket that weekend, but for now, he’d have to make do. With a hint of disgust, she pulled the unchewed licorice out of his mouth and Kobe’d it into the kitchen sink.
When she was satisfied that Copia was properly settled, Charlie finally climbed into bed and passed out. She didn’t remember any dreams that night, but at one point, she could’ve sworn someone was shushing her and rubbing her back.
“Shh…it’s ok, topolino. You are safe.”
After a few weeks, Charlie started wondering (and actually Googled) if it’s possible to die from sheer annoyance.
Things were going fine at first. Copia surprisingly turned out to be a great help at Vogel’s, especially whenever someone was looking for a book in Italian or Latin. He seemed to have a knack for customer service, practically charming the pants off everyone he spoke to. Charlie figured it was probably just the accent. At home, he was very eager to help wherever he could. He even started teaching Charlie traditional Italian dishes, not the kind of things that you’d find at Olive Garden.
Since the weather was getting colder, he focused on hearty soups with lots of beans and vegetables. He suggested something called “bread salad” to Charlie, and she recoiled in disgust, but he insisted she try it. After one bite, she decided that she could probably live off that stuff. It became a competition between the two of them, trying to come up with different variations of vegetables to put in it.
Everything was going pretty well. As long as Copia had his candy.
Apparently, that was the only thing he could eat. Everything else literally turned his stomach. He couldn’t even taste recipes while cooking, as they discovered pretty quickly. He had tried less than a teaspoon of a tomato soup, and suddenly he bent over the kitchen sink, clutching his stomach. “I-I think that wasn’t so smart,” he said, his face growing pale. He gagged, and a thin, stringy black substance dripped out of his mouth. He spat it out and looked around for something to get rid of the taste. After digging around in his candy drawer, he settled on a hard candy. He popped it into his mouth, and immediately the color returned to his face. “Much better!” he proclaimed.
Charlie quickly learned that the candy supply needed to stay at a certain level, or else Copia got….weird. He would zone out, mumbling in Italian, until she opened a chocolate wrapper near him. Then he would move his mouth like a baby expecting a bottle, lips smacking and eyes glazed over. Sometimes, he would develop an attitude problem, like a moody teenager. One morning in particular, she was showering before work, when the curtain was suddenly yanked open.
“Are we - stop screaming, it’s just me - are we out of Werther’s?”
“I DON’T KNOW, GET OUT!”
He got all huffy and stomped out of the bathroom. That was another problem: he didn’t seem to understand that she wanted privacy when in the bathroom. She once got shampoo in her eyes, and there he was, in the shower with her, trying to wipe her face off. “OUT!” Another time, she was on the toilet and realized that the new roll of toilet paper was too far for her to reach. He came strolling right through the wall, grabbed a roll from the linen closet, and handed it to her. “PRIVACY, PLEASE, FOR FUCK’S SAKE!”
The straw that almost broke the camel’s back (or in this case, Charlie’s face) was the one time she tried to have some “personal time” in the shower. She loved her adjustable shower head, and after not being able to get off with Copia lurking all the time, she felt she deserved a release. She just had to keep her mind as blank as possible, then he wouldn’t come rushing to obey.
Everything was going great, the shower head was doing its job well. A little bit too well, actually. Her orgasm was a bit more intense than Charlie was expecting, and her left foot gave out. It slipped under and behind her right foot, causing her to suddenly topple forward. She was about to land face-first on the faucet when she stopped in mid-air. At first, she thought she’d somehow caught herself with some kind of latent telekinesis. Then she realized there were two arms wrapped around her middle.
“Are you ok? Are you hurt?” Copia’s breath tickled the back of her ear, and she realized he was holding her so tight, the entire length of his body was pressed against her. She thought it would be weird or creepy, but it wasn’t. It actually felt good, comforting even. She would have been fine staying like that, but she was soaking wet, naked, and she realized his hands were precariously close to her breasts. It took him a moment to realize it as well, and then he started to panic. “OH! O-oh, no! I’m so sorry! I didn’t-you were falling! I didn’t think-”
Charlie grasped his forearms and took a slow, deep breath. “Please stand me back up.” He straightened up, and she was able to get her feet back under her. “Now…please go back into the living room.” He released his hold on her, and was instantly gone.
Once she had calmed down, dried off, and tried desperately to think of a way to get from the bathroom to her bedroom without having to see Copia, Charlie put on her bathrobe and hoped she could avoid the incredibly awkward conversation waiting for her in the living room.
He was watching something on tv, his head tipped to the side like a dog that just heard a recording of another dog. Charlie managed to slip out of the bathroom, and almost made it to her bedroom door.
“Can I ask a question?” He didn’t turn his head from the tv. She gritted her teeth for a moment before answering. “Sure, I guess.”
“What is the scar on your back? And the one on your hip? Is it to do with your foot? Why it doesn’t work sometimes?”
“That’s four questions.”
He chuckled to himself. “Yes, it is. But I am curious. You do not speak of yourself much. I would like to know about this.”
She stood there, fidgeting with the belt of her robe. She knew the conversation needed to be had, she just didn’t think it would be this soon. “Ok, fine. Stay there while I get dressed, please.”
“My parents are what you would call ‘over-achievers’. Nothing in life was impossible, as long as you basically worked yourself half to death for it. That always seemed to be their view on life. As an only child, that meant there was no room for mistakes. Everything I did reflected on them, blah blah blah. And it’s not like I did badly in school or anything, I was in like, the top 5 of my class? But I worked my ass off, and I was always so tired, and that’s the best I could do.
Once I started college, the expectation was that I was going to get at least a four-year degree. Which meant four more years of late night studying, cramming food in my mouth whenever I could, and having absolutely no social life. At the time, I was fine with that, since I’d gone to an all-girls high school and wasn’t into hanging out with any of them outside of school anyway. I figured I’d just be friends with my roommate, then I wouldn’t be disappointing anybody when I couldn’t hang out.
The majority of college freshmen start under the impression that college is just like high school, but with more drinking and less parents. Nope, dead wrong. It’s basically Hell on Earth, but with vomit-clogged showers and used condoms haphazardly thrown onto your stuff. I just kept my head down, concentrated on my classes, and counted down the days until semester break.”
Charlie had finished dressing and was sitting on the couch, with Copia intently listening to her. He’d even turned off the tv so she wouldn’t be interrupted. She took a deep breath before continuing.
“Finals week was insane, as you would expect. People scrambling to finish three months of work, and then pass a ball-breaking exam, all in a week…it was a horror show. That’s usually the time when freshmen drop out, once they’ve had a taste of what the next four years of their lives are going to be like. I was feeling pretty confident, I knew I’d put in the work, and that makes up a good part of the grade. I just needed to find out my final grades for the semester before heading home for Christmas. I’d already missed Thanksgiving, I stayed at school so I could study. I was so excited to show my parents how well I was doing.
I got the email that final semester grades had been posted, and I logged into my student account to see mine. Nothing but C’s and D’s. I’d worked myself almost to death for months, and I barely. Fucking. Passed. I’d lost at least 20 pounds from not eating -” She gestured to her body. “ - so imagine me riddled with cancer, and you’re probably not too far off. But I was completely dumbfounded. I had no idea where I went wrong. How could one person try so hard, and yet fail so spectacularly?
I remember sitting down at my desk, trying to figure out how to tell my parents that I did terribly, and would probably flunk out by spring. How do you completely crush their hopes and dreams for you? I suppose you know a little about that, don’t you?”
Copia nodded slowly. “They think of you one way, and you don’t want to show them they’re wrong. You don’t want to disappoint.”
“Exactly. So I’m sitting there, thinking about how angry and disappointed they’re going to be, how they’ll probably disown me or throw me out on the street, and my mind just went totally blank. Like, it was just empty. I was just empty. So I climbed onto my desk, opened the window, and jumped.”
Charlie let her statement hang in the air for a moment. She didn’t want to look at Copia’s reaction, considering his prior experience as a Catholic, she knew he wouldn’t react well.
“There was quite a bit of snow on the ground already, so it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. I didn’t lose consciousness for long, since I kind of landed on my left side. I felt someone tapping on my shoulder, trying to roll me onto my back. It was hard to open my eyes, because every part of my body felt like it was on fire, the pain was so bad. I figured it was another student, but…what?”
She had finally glanced at Copia, and even though his head was down, she could see his face was all pinched and distorted. She reached out a hand to him, and suddenly he was on his knees in front of her, his arms wrapping around her and his face buried in her belly. He was shaking and sobbing, soaking her shirt with his tears.
Charlie rubbed his back and stroked his hair, trying not to laugh at how ridiculous he was being. “Hey…I’m ok, obviously. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if I wasn’t. Hey, look at me…LOOK AT ME.” She had to wrench his head away with both hands from her stomach. He looked up at her so pathetically, she had to bite her lip to keep from tearing up. He seemed utterly devastated that she would do something like that.
“Come on…think of it this way: we probably would’ve ended up together in Limbo if I’d succeeded.”
Copia’s lip turned down into a pout. “I don’t want to be in Limbo with you, I want to be here with you. I can’t be without you. I just can’t.” He wasn’t pleading, it was a statement of fact. She wiped the tears off his cheeks with her thumbs. “Come sit by me. Let me finish.” He climbed back up onto the couch next to her, resting his head on the back.
“I was in so much pain, I thought I was hallucinating. It wasn’t a student that rolled me over. It was Baron Samedi. He was squatting over me, with a huge smile on his face, like he thought it was funny. ‘Look into these eyes, girl. You want death? Look at it.’ I have no idea if I actually saw anything or not, I just remember his eyes being as white as they were the first time, and still just as scary. I just laid there, staring at him. Then he laughed and said, ‘Not yet. You get another turn.’ And then he was gone. Not long after that, I heard people yelling and running over to me.
I woke up again later, in the hospital. My parents were there, of course. Once they knew I wasn’t paralyzed or dying, they went right into litigation mode. They automatically assumed that I’d fallen out the window, and I didn’t do anything to indicate otherwise. I figured my grades had already solidified me as a failure in their eyes, I didn’t need to add a suicide attempt to it. They sued the shit out of the school for negligence, and they settled out of court to avoid bad press.
Obviously, I didn’t go back to school. I had to spend months in the hospital getting rehab and learning to walk again. I’d broken two vertebrae in my back, had surgery to put a rod in place, and I’d also broken my hip, so I had to have a separate operation to put pins in it. There was nerve damage to my lower left leg that they’ve spent the last four years trying to fix, but it looks like it’s permanent. That’s why my foot doesn’t behave sometimes. Does that answer your questions?”
Copia nodded slowly, his head still resting on the couch. Charlie smoothed a few strands of his hair back into place, and wiped the remaining wetness from his cheek. “Nobody is going anywhere. Ok?” He smiled sadly, and she wished there was something she could do or say to reassure him.
That night, she asked him to stay in her room with her. Always the gentleman, he insisted on sleeping above the covers. Charlie got comfortable on her stomach, Copia laid his head on the pillow behind her, his arm draped over her but with the rest of his body a respectable distance away. The small amount of contact was comforting to them both, and Charlie almost fell asleep instantly.
“Are we still out of Werther’s?”
Holy balls, it's an update!
Sorry it's been so long, we had a death in the family, then a bunch of birthdays and overtime at work, and I just had zero time to work on this.
I think there's only two more chapters after this, so buckle up!
If there was anything in the world that Charlie dreaded more than dinner with her parents, she wasn’t aware of it.
“Why don’t you like dinner with your parents?” Copia asked as he watched her apply her makeup. “You never see them, never talk to them. Don’t you miss them?”
“I have a very different relationship with my parents, than you had with yours. At least yours had your older brother to hang all their hopes and dreams and expectations on. Mine only had me, and if I didn’t deliver, it was Disappointment City.”
“If you disappoint them so much, why do they want to see you?”
She sighed. “Probably because it’s coming up on the 4th anniversary of my ‘accident’, and they want to know when I plan on going back to school. Hate to break it to them, but that’s about half-past never.”
“There’s nothing you want to study?”
She stopped applying her lip liner and looked at him. “I’m perfectly happy where I am, thanks. Besides, wouldn’t you be bored to tears every day, stuck in classes with me?”
Copia’s cheeks pinked a little. “I belong with you. Where we are doesn’t matter, as long as we’re together.”
Since the night Charlie told Copia about her leg, and he basically broke down in her lap, he’d been trying his very best to be more of a companion. He no longer came running for every whim that crossed her mind. The new rule became, “only if it’s serious/potentially life-ending, then it’s ok”. If Charlie forgot her razor in the medicine cabinet before getting in the bath, Copia had to wait until she asked him to get it for her. If a pot of water was about to boil over onto her hand, he could yank her away without having to ask first.
The rule particularly came in handy whenever they were spending time at Bela’s. A few drunken, rowdy jerks that got a bit too close ended up getting shoved away by a pair of gloved hands coming out of Charlie’s back. It also made her worry less about letting Copia be out on his own there. Once enough people had seen him emerge from her, they made sure to give him a wide berth.
He didn’t seem to really appreciate being left on his own at times, especially when Charlie was dancing with The Necromancer. Copia still wasn’t really crazy about him, and he never missed an opportunity to say so. “I do not like the way he touches you, the way he…rubs all over your behind when you dance with him.”
Charlie let out a loud cackle. “It doesn’t mean anything, you know. He’ll sleep with anything, but he obviously prefers other guys. He only does that to discourage his groupies.”
“What is a groupie?”
“Well, you’ve seen him play with his band, right?”
She pursed her lips in annoyance. “It’s not my bag either, but you can’t deny he’s talented. Just not at cookie monster metal. Anyway. There’s always a group of girls that think he’s cute and want to…show their appreciation, if you catch my drift. He wants them to just leave him alone. I also have a similar problem, if you haven’t noticed. Some guys just don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. So it solves both our problems: the girls don’t bother him if they think he’s with me, and the guys don’t bother me, because they think he’s creepy and insane.”
“But does he have to touch you so much?”
Charlie thought back to the last time they danced together. ‘I Feel You’ by Depeche Mode was playing. She had her back turned to him, and he was resting his head on her shoulder, his hands gripping her hips as he gently ground his crotch against her butt in time to the music. “Ok, I suppose that does look dirty, but it wasn’t. He might be touchy and flirty with me, but he’s never been nice to me. You know what he said when we first met? I told him my name, and he said I looked more like Snoopy.”
“Isn’t Snoopy the dog?”
“Exactly. He’s like a sibling’s annoying friend, whose ass you constantly want to kick.” She took Copia’s hand and rubbed it reassuringly. “You shouldn’t be jealous. It’s just you and me, remember?”
Once she had finished getting ready, and they had merged, Charlie headed out to dinner. She noticed that the restaurant her parents chose was just barely within walking distance of her apartment, meaning she could either get an Uber (which they would see as financially wasteful) or just suck it up and walk (which they would see as not taking good care of her hip and back). They seemed to really enjoy putting her in situations she was never going to win. Disappointment City, ticket for one.
By the time she got there, she wasn’t too tired or sore, but she was very hungry. She hoped that she could just stuff her face the entire time, and wouldn’t be expected to talk. She looked through the window and could see her parents seated at a table, facing her. It was a toss-up as to what was more shiny: her father’s dark skin or her mother’s bottle-blond hair. They were talking to someone sitting across the table, but Charlie couldn’t see who it was.
“Please, Lord.” She thought to herself. “Please don’t let it be a surprise blind date.”
“Would they do that?” Copia asked.
“I’ve learned to never underestimate them. Just when I think there’s something they’d never do, they prove me wrong. Just stay cool, and we’ll be out of here in no time.” She pulled open the door, making sure to drag her left foot out of the way, and went in. When she met her parents’ gaze, they immediately adopted their usual “loving but embarrassed” look that they always gave her. Of course they didn’t offer any kind of affection. They were in public, after all. That didn’t stop the third person at the table, though.
“My baby girl!” The old woman shouted, throwing her massive arms around Charlie and squeezing the daylights out of her.
“Mamma? What are you doing here?” She hadn’t seen her grandmother in almost 2 years, and she suddenly felt horribly guilty.
“I thought it was time I came up here to visit, seeing as it’s hard for you to-” She stopped mid-sentence, staring into Charlie’s eyes.
She knew. Charlie didn’t know how, or what she saw, but she knew there was someone else in there. Always the clever one, Mamma immediately switched to Haitian Creole, since neither of Charlie’s parents understood it.
“You’ve got someone in there, don’t you? Is it under control?”
“Yes, it’s fine. He’s…very precious to me. It’s not perfect, but that’s ok.”
Mamma smiled and patted her cheek. She switched back to English and turned to her son. “Now, I’m so damn hungry, this tablecloth’s starting to look good. Let’s eat!”
Charlie’s parents seemed content with letting Mamma run the dinner conversation. She was always full of stories about ladies from church, crazy animal run-ins, and the trouble her neighbors were always getting into. It was so comforting to be in her presence, Charlie almost forgot her parents were even there, until her father cleared his throat.
“Honey…I’m sure you’re well aware that it’s coming up on 4 years since your accident. Don’t you think it’s time that you stopped ‘resting’ and went back to school? You don’t have to go back into poli sci if there’s something else you’d rather study. You’re still young, you could easily get a Master’s, or even a PhD before you’re 30. That would give you plenty of time to work before settling down and having children.”
Charlie shifted in her chair, a growing discomfort building inside. “Tell him you don’t want to. Tell him to go to Hell. You don’t owe them anything. It’s not what you want, just say so!” Copia apparently took great offense to her father’s words. She closed her eyes and took several measured breaths before answering.
“I have no plans to go back to school. I’m happy with my job, with where I’m living. I’ve had access to the settlement money for over a year, and I haven’t touched a dime of it. I don’t need it. If it’s so important to you, or you think you have a better use for it, then you keep it.”
Charlie could feel her grandmother gearing up to defend her, as her father politely wiped his mouth with his napkin. He opened his mouth like he was going to speak, when there was suddenly a loud clattering behind them, and she heard a familiar voice muttering some kind of apology.
“Oh, god no. Please not now.” She clamped her eyes shut, hoping that it was just a trick her ears were playing on her. A hand suddenly plopped onto her shoulder and squeezed a bit too hard. She looked up, and there he was. Almost unrecognizable, but still the same odious Necromancer. He had showered, shaved, put on somewhat decent clothes, and didn’t apply any makeup other than eyeliner.
He gave her a shit-eating grin. “So sorry I’m late. If you don’t tell me what restaurant, that makes it hard to show up.” He turned around to the table next to them and clumsily grabbed a chair, dragging it to her end of the table and sitting down. Her parents exchanged a confused look, while her grandmother didn’t bother with politeness, covering her nose and mouth with her napkin.
“Maybe that’s because I didn’t invite you. I barely even mentioned it in your presence. That doesn’t mean ‘show up if you feel like it’.” She could feel Copia’s usual irritation towards him growing into outright anger, and she did her best to wordlessly keep him calm. Mamma even grabbed her arm, with a cautious look in her eye. Keep your man under control it said.
“I’m sorry, but who are you?” Charlie’s mother asked in confusion.
“You should be sorry, but not for that. I’m a friend of Charlie’s. Actually, I’m probably her only friend. Maybe if you hadn’t filled her head with bullshit from the time she was little, she might actually have some decent social skills.”
“I’m going to murder him.” She told Copia, who was still seething with rage. “I’m going to wait until we leave, then push him in front of a truck.”
“Not if I don’t strangle him first.”
Charlie could see her father’s face turning pink with anger, and her mother started to look afraid. Her father turned to face The Necromancer. “Listen up. I don’t know who you think you are-”
“I know exactly who I am. I used to be just like her.” He gestured to Charlie. “Always trying so desperately to not disappoint or embarrass the family, and failing miserably. Did I ever tell you what my family’s business is? Funeral homes. They own a bunch upstate. I was expected to work for them once I was out of school, so they let me hang out and observe ever since I was little. That’s how I discovered my gift.
I started reading all these different books on different cultures and how they view death, and I came across one that talked about the different death rites, how some cultures had holy men that would speak to the dead before burial. A way for the dead to have the last word, I guess. Or to get justice, if they were murdered. So I thought I’d give it a shot. And it worked.
We had a body come in, guy had been killed in a police chase, he’d kidnapped a little girl but they had no idea where the kid was. I snuck into the freezer, wheeled him into the prep room, and dragged him back into his body. It sure as shit wasn’t pretty, but I managed to find out where the kid was, and then sent him back to wherever he belonged. I made up some shit so it didn’t sound like I was in on it, said something to the cops hanging out in our parking lot. They found the kid a few hours later, she was hungry and dirty, but alive.
I didn’t get any credit from the cops, ‘cuz they’re assholes, so I told my family what I did. I was all excited, since this could open up a whole world of opportunities for me. Nope. I was banned from doing anything anywhere near the bodies. My job from then on was nothing but showing people where to sit in the chapel, and handing out programs. After a couple years of that, I just flat-out asked if they were ever going to let me take over the business when I was older. ‘Absolutely not. What you did was a desecration. Everything our family has ever worked for will be ruined if anybody finds out what you did.’ I said ‘fuck it’ and left. Came here, started using my gift purely for personal gain, and it’s worked out great.
Then-” He put his hand on Charlie’s arm. “I meet her. I see me when I was younger, trying so hard to appease people that will never give a shit. I see someone so broken, she feels like she has to conjure a companion, because nobody will ever love her unless they’re forced to. That’s on you dickheads.” He pointed a finger right in the other man’s face. “And you know-”
Charlie’s body suddenly lurched so violently, she almost fell from her chair. Mamma managed to help her get upright, just in time for a gloved fist to come swinging out of the middle of her chest, delivering a swift right hook to The Necromancer’s face. He was sent sprawling from his chair, knocking over a passing waiter.
Everything in the restaurant stopped. All eyes were on Charlie, and the 3rd arm sticking out of her body. The hand reached down to her lap, picked up her napkin, and set it on her plate. Then it withdrew back into her body, like it was never there. “Oh, honey.” Mamma said, rubbing her back. “Looks like this one has a temper.” She looked up at her mother, whose hands were clasped to her face in terror. Then her father, who was looking at his own mother in utter contempt.
“You been teaching her this shit all along? After I told you not to?”
“‘This shit’ saved my life after I jumped out that window.” Charlie looked her father dead in the eyes. “I changed my mind. I think I will take that money. I’m going to use it to get as far away from you as possible.” She stood up quickly, knocking her chair over backwards. “It was great to see you, Mamma. I’ll come visit you next time.” She turned and began to quickly walk towards the door, The Necromancer right on her heels. Before he could say anything to her, Copia’s fist came flying out of her back, nailing the other man directly in the stomach. He dropped to his knees, coughing violently.
The second she was out the door, Charlie hailed a cab and was gone.
The ride back to her apartment was blessedly silent, but internally she was boiling with fury. She wasn’t sure who she wanted to murder more, but since Copia was closer, she settled on him.
The moment she closed her apartment door, she started screaming. “GET OUT! RIGHT NOW! SHOW YOURSELF, YOU PIECE OF SHIT!” As soon as he had emerged enough for her to grab him, she started pulling and yanking on his clothes, anything to get him out of her. Once his head and torso were out, she shoved him hard against the nearest wall.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?! Huh?! What were you thinking?!”
“He was embarrassing you! Saying horrible things about you! He-”
“That is not your problem. I could’ve dealt with him on my own just fine, if you hadn’t decided to start swinging.”
“But it is my problem. It’s you and me, right? That was the agreement.”
At that point, Charlie’s anger had reach critical level. “Well, maybe I should break the agreement.” Her hand shot up to his throat, squeezing it and pinning him against the wall. Her other hand came up to his face, pushing her thumbnail into the inner corner of his white eye. If she dug it out, that would be it. He would be condemned back to Limbo forever. Copia stood motionless, gasping for air but not fighting her off.
She imagined the satisfaction it would give her, to sink her thumb into the jelly of his eyeball, and hear him scream in pain and terror. The feeling was immediately replaced with a crushing sense of loss. How could she banish him so flippantly? She couldn’t imagine never hearing him humming his little songs, nor feeling his arm draped over her in his sleep again.
She loved him. She was in love with him. And if he was willing to risk angering her in order to defend her, he must feel the same.
She slowly pulled her hands away, staring up into his eyes. She wanted to kiss him so badly, and the expression on his face made it clear that he was well aware of it. “Please…” he whispered. She gently grasped the front of his jacket, pulling him close and pressing her lips to his. The contact was so intense, a small moan escaped her, and Copia softly growled in response, wrapping his arms around her.
His lips were hot, his tongue like velvet as it brushed against hers, and it made her knees begin to wobble quite obviously. Charlie clutched at his shoulders, desperately trying to stay on her feet. In an instant, Copia had scooped her up and carried her to her room. He laid her on the bed, and after a few seconds, he joined her. He’d already shed his jacket and gloves, and his shirt was open, exposing his pale chest and rosy-pink nipples.
He propped himself up over her, one hand roaming under her dress while he sucked and nibbled at the space between her neck and shoulder. His hips thrust against her upper thigh, and she could feel his erection straining against his pants. Charlie reached down and grabbed his hips, guiding them over her leg to give him the most friction. Copia gasped and panted into the skin over her collarbone, his tongue tracing small patterns.
He moved his hand farther down her belly until it slipped between her legs. The instant his fingers touched her soaked underwear, he let out a loud whimper. He captured her mouth in another hungry kiss as he rubbed her flesh teasingly through the wet fabric. She moaned into his mouth, and frantically tried to push his hand down harder, but he kept slapping hers away. Now it was her turn to whimper, as the ache between her legs began to throb. His movements sped up, but the pressure did not increase, and it was driving her insane.
“Stop it!” she cried out, desperate for some kind of relief. Copia stopped moving completely, like he was frozen solid. A thought occurred to Charlie, and a black pit of anxiety started forming deep in her gut.
“Can you tell…if you’re doing this because you want to…or because I want you to?”
Copia appeared confused before looking away, his brow furrowed in thought. After a few seconds, he turned back.
Charlie covered her face with her hands, biting her bottom lip hard to keep from crying. She took a deep breath and let it out shakily. She started to turn onto her side, away from Copia, when he suddenly grabbed her wrists and pressed them to the bed.
“And I don’t care.”
In a flash, he’d moved between her legs, grinding his crotch against her. He kissed her ferociously, devouring her tongue. She was instantly so overwhelmed, she didn’t even notice the sound of his zipper or of ripping fabric. Only when the cool air hit her wet skin did she realize he’d torn her underwear. He pulled what was left of them out of the way, rubbing the tip of his cock up and down and around her folds, coating it with wetness. It was smooth and hot, and Charlie couldn’t help but thrust herself against it.
Copia pulled away from her lips long enough to say “Stop that”, then hilted himself in her with one smooth stroke. The stretch was so sudden, she almost forgot how to breathe. Her fingers dug into his shoulders as he planted small kisses along her jaw, all the way up to her ear. “Mio amore…” he whispered. “Are you ready?” Unable to speak, she could only nod.
His thrusts were slow and gentle, but deep. Every one elicited a breathless moan from Charlie, as she struggled to not completely lose her mind. Everything about him felt so fucking good: his lips on her cheek and neck, the scratch of his pubic hair against her mound, the perfect shape of his cock, and how it seemed to hit every pleasurable spot inside her.
Copia propped himself up slightly, smoothing a few stray curls from her sweaty forehead. “Tesoro…are you ok?”
“Yes” she gasped. “It’s just…you feel enormous.” She giggled breathlessly.
He chuckled at that. “I know I am not…but I am glad you think so.”
His thrusts began to get harder, his pelvis bumping slightly against hers. “Does that mean you like my cock?”
“Mmmm” was the only response Charlie could give.
“I think you have been thinking about it, yes? Imagining me fucking you?”
Her face blushed deep red. “Don’t tease me like that” she whimpered.
“I don’t mean to tease, tesoro. I’ve thought about you, as well. How warm…and wet…you must be.” It became more and more difficult for him to speak, the harder he thrusted.
Charlie could no longer speak at all. Between Copia’s dirty talk and his massive cock, she could barely think straight. All she could do was clutch at him, her head tossing uselessly back and forth.
“I-I think you need to cum…don’t you? My topolino…you need to cum?”
“Oh god, yes, please, please, fuck yes…” she pleaded, tears streaming from her eyes.
“You want it harder?”
“Yes! Please, Copia…please…”
He leaned down so he was almost completely laying on top of her. Sliding one arm under her head and neck, he grabbed her hip with his other hand in order to thrust even harder into her.
The pressure building inside was more than Charlie could take, and she began to cry in earnest. She’d been fucked silly by other men before, but it was nothing compared to this. She couldn’t believe that this weird, candy-obsessed man was, deep down, a sexual beast.
He kissed away the tears rolling down her cheeks. “Shh…it’s ok. Do you need me to stop?”
“Don’t you fucking dare!” She growled at him. Grabbing his face between her hands, she pressed her forehead to his. “I’m gonna cum all over your cock…oh fuck oh fuck…” She threw her head back, muscles tightening in anticipation of her release.
“Yes, yes, that’s it…cum for me, Charlotte..please.”
His use of her real name is what sent her over the edge, every muscle and fiber clenching and spasming as her orgasm tore through her. Her screams were so loud, he clamped his hand over her mouth to stifle them. Once she started to come down, he wrapped his arms around her, his thrusts slowed to almost nothing.
“You feel amazing.” He sighed into her ear. “We both needed that, I think.”
“B-but you didn’t cum…”
“No…but that’s ok.” He nuzzled the spot under her ear, still softly thrusting into her.
“What if I want you to?” Copia stopped moving, and she took advantage of it by rolling to the side, flipping him onto his back. Charlie sat up straight, yanking her dress over her head and tossing it on the floor. She tugged what was left of her underwear down her leg so it wasn’t in their way. “Just look at you.” she cooed as she rubbed her thumb over his swollen bottom lip. “I think you deserve a turn.”
She ran her hands down his bare chest, one hand stopping to lightly scrape her nails over a nipple. He gasped, his body twisting underneath her. She gently rubbed the end of her thumb around it, feeling it get hard from the stimulation. Leaning down, she began kissing a line from over his heart towards the other nipple. Once she reached it, she barely flicked her tongue over it, reveling in the moans flowing from Copia’s mouth. She latched her mouth onto it, sucking and nibbling gently. Before long, she noticed that his dick seemed to be getting even harder than it had been earlier.
She sat up, planting her hands on his chest, and began shifting her hips forward and back. “You know…I don’t think I’ve ever cum that hard in my life. I think I owe you the same. Don’t you agree?”
Copia nodded his head vigorously. “Y-yes, please.”
She took his hands and placed them on her hips, and began to softly bounce up and down. His cock was driving even deeper into her than before, and she couldn’t believe she could take it that far. As she gradually bounced harder and harder, Charlie wondered if she would beat him to orgasm, when suddenly her bad hip spasmed. She hissed in a breath, rubbing the muscle to try and calm it down.
“What happened? Are you hurt?” Copia sat up, frantically looking between her hip and her face.
“My bad hip, the broken one.” she groaned. “It doesn’t like me bouncing, I guess.”
He put his arms around her, running his hands up and down her back, ghosting his lips over her breasts. “Come here” he said, pulling her down with him. He held her tight against him as he drew up his knees and planted his feet into the mattress. Charlie laid her head down on his shoulder, and he turned to face her, their eyes locking as he thrust up into her. A loud moan escaped her mouth, which spurred him on, thrusting faster and faster. He dug his hands into the meat of her hips, pulling her down onto his cock as he thrusted upwards.
Charlie could feel the pressure building again in her pelvis, as Copia mercilessly fucked her again. She twisted her fingers into her sheets, clenching them in her fists until her knuckles turned white. “O-oh fu-ck please, please, please…” she pleaded as his thrusts became even harder. She looked up at his face, and his features were distorted by pleasure and physical effort.
“Cum with me, please…please, baby…”
He looked down at her, pupils blown and brow furrowed. “Yes…yes, mio amore, yes, OHH!”
Their bodies convulsed together as they clawed at and gripped each other, their cries almost deafening. Her muscles spasmed uncontrollably around him, as he shot pulse after pulse of cum, as deep as he could. They lay motionless, panting and gasping, for some time. When he could finally speak again, Copia muttered, “Now we are even.” Charlie started laughing, and he winced. “Ooh, please no. Very sensitive right now.”
She could start to feel liquid dribbling down her thigh a little. “We need to clean up. Let me go first, ok?” He nodded, and she quickly slid off, jogging to the bathroom with her thighs clenched together. Once in the shower, she gently bashed her forehead against the wall several times. Stupid, stupid, stupid, she thought. How could she let things go that far? She felt dirty and ashamed. If only there was a way to ensure Copia was acting on his own free will…
There was a way. It was dangerous and horrible and heartbreaking, but it was possible. Charlie hoped she had the strength to see it through because, for her, there was no other way.
Charlie sat patiently in the back room of Bela’s, slowly writing on a notepad without looking at it. She knew The Necromancer would be there sooner or later, it was just a question of how drunk he would be when he showed up. That didn’t matter in the slightest. They had unfinished business.
Breakfast the day after the dinner would have been pancakes, but Charlie was too busy getting bent over and thoroughly fucked against the kitchen counter. She rested her head on top of her crossed arms on the counter, a steady stream of moans and curse words spilling from her. The only other sounds were Copia’s grunts of effort and the slapping of his thighs against her rear end.
He draped his body over her back, his hands kneading her breasts and rolling her nipples between his fingers. “This is better than pancakes, no? I think you will taste better than them.” He nipped at the back of her ear, and she let out a high-pitched cry.
He tutted at her. “You make so much noise, cara. I’m not hurting you, am I?”
“Then why are you so loud? Hmm?” He seemed to really like dirty talk, but his favorite part was teasing her about how much she was enjoying herself.
“Because it’s really fucking good!” she exclaimed.
“Am I the best you’ve ever had?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes! What the fuck, are you trying to roast yourself?”
He giggled. “No, no….I just need to know I’m doing well….and I also like to tease.”
She groaned loudly in frustration. This was going to be a very long day.
That night, at Bela’s, Charlie discovered the chairs were far more uncomfortable than she ever realized. It really hurt to sit down. Once she was done writing, she flipped the notebook upside down on the table and waited. She let herself space out, staring at nothing in particular, until she heard the familiar clump of heavy biker boots. The sound stopped behind her, and she didn’t turn around. A few seconds passed, and eventually the boots shuffled their way to the chair next to her. The Necromancer slumped down in it, a massive shiner on his cheek.
They remained silent and still for almost a full minute. Eventually he broke, scratching his head and clearing his throat. “You’re probably the closest thing to a friend I have. I’m not gonna let them treat you like my family treated me. The-”
“Shh!” She cut him off, slowly pushing the notebook towards him. She looked down at it, then back up at him. He cautiously picked it up, and looked at it. His eyebrows shot up, and she placed a finger to her lips. He looked back down at the page. The words were partially written over each other, crooked and stilted.
DON’T READ OUT LOUD
COPIA CAN’T KNOW
GOING TO ITALY
RESTORE HIS BODY
PUT HIM BACK
YOU OWE ME
The Necromancer looked up at her, his face growing more and more pale by the second. “Are…are you fucking serious?”
She nodded. “I’m doing this. You’re helping me.”
He set the notebook down, resting his elbows on the table, and dropped his head into his hands. “Do you have any idea how crazy this is? How dangerous? The loa have let you get away with a lot of shit, but this is beyond anything I’ve ever done.”
“Are you saying you can’t do it? Or you won’t?”
“No! No, I’ll….I’ll do it. It’s just….I’m terrified. We’re strolling right into Samedi’s turf with this, and he won’t be happy. This could end up going very, very badly for us.”
“I understand, and I take full responsibility for whatever happens.”
He sighed. “I knew this was going to happen sooner or later. I saw it coming a mile away, but there was no point saying anything. You weren’t going to listen to me or anybody else.”
She let out a quiet laugh. “You’re right. I’m a major pain in the ass.”
“Finally, something we can agree on. Ok, Miss Pain in the Ass. Give me 24 hours. Then we do the scary thing.”
That night, once they were in bed and Copia was pulling off her pajama bottoms, Charlie asked him to be gentle, as she was still sore from that morning. He obliged, electing to use his mouth on her instead. He carefully and delicately coaxed orgasm after orgasm from her body, leaving her utterly exhausted. Only when she could no longer lift her legs did he finally emerge from under the covers, red-faced and sweaty, his hair sticking up all over.
She placed her hands on his head, guiding it down to lay on her chest. Her fingers wove through his soft hair, and she burrowed her nose in it. He still smelled like fresh air, and she tried her best not to think of what was to come.
The next morning, Charlie threw some clothes into an old backpack, along with a long black box from her supplies. She unplugged the majority of electronic devices and appliances in the apartment, and wrote down her parents’ phone number on a piece of paper she left on the coffee table. Copia seemed curious, but didn’t ask what she was doing. At Vogel’s, she was barely able to get any work done, constantly checking her phone for any message or missed call. When Wilhelm asked what was wrong, she made up an excuse about her grandmother not doing well, and that she might have to leave suddenly. Of course he would be sympathetic to that. If she’d told him what she was really doing, he probably would’ve chained her to a pipe until she came to her senses.
Just before lunch, she received a text.
“Ready. Meet me at Doctor Lame’s.”
Doctor Lame was a conjurer that was more well-known for his obsession with the MCU, especially the Doctor Strange movie, than his conjuring. He spent unhealthy amounts of time trying to make himself look the part, and that included his magical abilities. He could conjure weapons and shields, just like in the movie, but was always too much of a pussy to actually use them on anybody.
He lived above a Tibetan restaurant that always smelled faintly of gamy meat, probably goat or something like that. Charlie figured that’s what barnyards must smell like. She went up the back stairs and knocked on the door at the top. The chubby, unshaven Cumberbatch-wannabe greeted her, while wearing what had to be a Dracula cape dyed to look like the Cloak of Levitation. She’d wanted to ask him if it actually made him fly, but she could never find the right time.
The interior of the apartment was dark, but she could just barely make out The Necromancer sitting on the couch, spacing out in front of the tv. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days, and smelled like he’d eaten every sugary confection in the city. There was even sugar still stuck under his grimy fingernails. A shopping bag full of empty Red Bulls sat next to his foot on the floor.
“Are you trying to stay awake, or are you trying to see into the 5th dimension, with all this shit?”
“In theory, the 5th dimension is microscopic and can’t be detected with the human eye, no matter what chemicals are ingested.”
She was honestly surprised at his answer. “That might be the smartest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”
“It’s nothing compared to my post-coital pillow talk.”
She put up a hand. “I’ll take your word for it.”
He put his hands on his knees and, with great effort, pushed himself to standing. “So are we doing this or what?”
Doctor Lame reappeared from some dark corner, his hands clasped together. “Yes, yes. Now, where is the destination?”
Charlie dug her notebook out of her bag and, without looking at the page, wrote MONTALCINO, SIENA, TUSCANY, ITALY. She handed him the book, with a warning not to read it aloud. He nodded, knowing better than to ask questions. He scuttled over to a nearby table and typed a few things into a laptop. Apparently the Sorcerer Supreme needed Google Maps.
“Ahh, yes. I can get you there, no problem. There’s a 7 hour time difference, so the sun might already be set by now. Just so you know.” He looked at The Necromancer. “You have my number. Text me when you want to come back.” He walked over to the doorway to the kitchen, raised one hand in front of him, and began to spin his other arm in a circle. Exactly the same way they did it in the movie. Charlie and The Necromancer looked at each other and couldn’t help rolling their eyes. Hey, whatever works to get it done.
A ring of orange sparks began to appear in the air, and the space inside the ring started to shimmer. After a few seconds, it came back into focus, but it wasn’t Lame’s kitchen on the other side. It was a quiet street lined with old buildings, lit by street lamps. There didn’t seem to be anybody nearby, not even a car. He moved away from the ring. “Go now, before you’re seen. It’ll close behind you.”
The Necromancer went through first, quickly looking around for any witnesses or possible hiding places. He looked back and nodded, heading off to the left. Charlie stepped towards the ring, and that was when Copia decided to chime in.
“W-where are we going?” He sounded nervous. She hoped he didn’t recognize his hometown too soon, or else he was going to be difficult to handle. She took a deep breath and stepped through. There was immediately a hand on her arm. The Necromancer pulled her over to the sidewalk, in front of what looked like a bookstore that was closed for the night. They looked up and down the street, trying to get their bearings.
The old buildings were crammed together tightly, almost like they were one giant mini-mall. The street lamps were few and far between, so they probably weren’t noticed, and hopefully Copia would not be able to determine where they were. They started walking down the street until it eventually opened onto a plaza with a huge clock tower at the other end. The setting sun shone on the very top of the tower, almost making it look like it had a large flame at the top.
“It’s….del Popolo…this is home. Why are we here? Why did you bring me home?” Copia’s voice became frantic, and Charlie could feel him getting antsy.
“Stay calm. Not here.”
They started aimlessly walking up and down the streets and, despite the darkness, Copia started recognizing more and more places. The old butcher shop that’s now a trendy cafe. A tourist trap store that used to be the home of a childhood friend. The farther and farther they went, the more memories he seemed to be recalling.
Eventually they found themselves in front of an old church. It had to be several hundred years old, based on the ancient, crumbling bricks. Charlie could feel Copia’s anxiety reach a fever pitch. “San Francesco. My church. I never realized how old it looked.”
Charlie and The Necromancer looked at each other. His shoulders dropped a little, and he nodded. They walked around the edge of the building, to what they knew would be behind it. The cemetery.
There were numerous rows of graves, with stones so old and weathered, there was almost no writing visible on them. Considering that Copia’s family had a long-running business, they probably had a prominent family stone marking their burial plot. It couldn’t be all that difficult to find his body. To their surprise, it was much easier than they’d anticipated.
Near the back, there were several small granite buildings. Family tombs. Charlie started walking towards them, but Copia was in now in full-blown panic, struggling and twisting within her. She had to stop, and she gestured for The Necromancer to keep going without her.
“Why are we here? What are you making me do?”
“I’m not making you do anything. Either stop wriggling or get out, I can’t stand it.”
He finally stopped fighting and stepped out of her, his hands twisted together in fear. “What if someone recognizes me? How do I explain?”
“You’ve been gone for over 40 years. I doubt anybody old enough to remember you as an adult is going to be hanging around the cemetery at dusk. Come on, let’s catch up.”
The Necromancer had stopped in front of one tomb, and was desperately trying to decipher the writing in the half-light. “Need a light?” Charlie called to him, tossing a flashlight she’d remembered to bring in her backpack. He shined it on the plaque above the door.
Copia Famiglia. The Copia family. Charlie heard a weird murmuring and turned around. “No no no no no no no…” Copia was clutching his face in his hands, whimpering and shaking his head.
“Hey…” She walked over to him, taking his hands in hers. “You don’t have to do anything. You can stand here, that’s fine.” She looked back over her shoulder. “You’ve got your tools?”
The Necromancer held up a small canvas bag, one she recognized from their many trips to cemeteries back home. All the necessary tools for breaking into a crypt. He unrolled the bag on the ground and started pulling out different implements while holding the flashlight in his mouth.
“I-I can’t-I can’t look in there. I can’t look at my body. I…”
“Shh, it’s ok.” She smoothed his hair down with her hand, placed a kiss on his lips, and pressed her forehead to his. “You won’t be here to see it.”
He didn’t seem to understand what she meant, until she reached into her backpack and pulled out the long, black case. When she opened it, the tiniest amount of available moonlight reflected off the blade, and it hurt her eyes to look at it. She took it out, dropping the case on the ground, and turned to Copia. Even in the darkness, she could see his heart breaking right before her eyes.
“No….no, please, please….please….” He clasped his hands together, as though he were praying. “Please don’t do this. I beg you. Please…”
Charlie lowered her hand to her side and walked towards him, hot tears pricking at her eyes as he fell to his knees.
“Please…please…I love you. I love you. You can’t do this, please.”
She reached out and wiped the tears from his cheek. “But is that you talking…or just want I want to hear? I asked you that the other night, and you didn’t know. It can’t go on like this, it just can’t.”
Copia grabbed at her, clutching her jacket in his hands. “D-don’t I-don’t I make you happy? Don’t I make you feel good? You said I was the best you’ve ever had. I can keep doing that, whenever you want, just please….” He pulled at her so hard, she stumbled and landed on her knees next to him. His pleads had turned into outright sobs, and he buried his face into her neck.
She set the knife down next to her, and wrapped her arms around him, breathing in his scent. She tried to memorize everything she could about him: his smile, his laugh, the softness of his lips, the weight of his body, his muscles rippling under her hands, the taste of his cum on her tongue. Her hands started to shake, and she knew she had to be quick or she’d lose her nerve.
“Hey…hey, look at me.” She pulled back, cupping his face in her hands and pointing it up at her. His eyes were red and bleary, his lips quivering. She leaned in and gently kissed his lips. He exhaled shakily against her face. She pressed her cheek to his and whispered, “I love you.” His entire body seemed to sag with relief.
With her free hand, she snatched the knife off the ground and plunged the blade into his white eye. The look of shock and betrayal on Copia’s face instantly crushed Charlie. “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…” she whispered. His body lurched and a horrible gurgling sound came out of him. His other eye rolled back in his head, and his mouth dropped open. There was a sudden cracking sound, and a split formed in the skin of his forehead, extending down to his chin. The color began to fade from his face, and suddenly his entire body crumbled to dust, and blew away on the wind.
She let her hand drop to the ground, her body too heavy to move. She sat back on her heels, head tipped to the sky. When she was sure she could get up, she struggled to her feet. They collapsed from under her, and she fell back to her knees, hard. Grief flooded through her, and she retched, but nothing came up. She waited another minute, then tried again. This time, her legs held. She turned around and looked toward the tombs.
The Necromancer was messily wiping at his nose with the back of his hand, sniffling and panting. His cheeks were wet, the tracks of tears cutting through his makeup. He looked up at Charlie, and pointed to the tomb. “Door’s open.”
She nodded and walked over to it. They stood next to each other for a few moments, not speaking. He held out his right hand to her, and she looked down at it, confused. “Mary, by the way. Mary Goore.” She grasped it with her own right hand and shook. She opened her mouth, but he cut her off.
“I swear to Christ, you make a single joke right now…”
“Actually, I was going to ask if it was short for something, but…yeah.”
He shined the flashlight into the small stone building. There were 4 plaques on the wall with names and dates. “Do you know which one is his?” Mary asked.
Charlie shook her head. “We have to go in anyway. Let’s get this over with.”
They crouched down and entered the tomb. It was actually warmer inside than outside, with the familiar smell of dust and bones that usually accompanied their time together. The writing on the plaques was Italian, so they estimated who was who based on the years. The top two, born 1918 and 1920. The parents. Bottom left, born 1935, no year of death. Charlie gasped in surprise. “His older brother is still alive.”
“If this works, we’re not having a family reunion.”
“No…of course not.”
The last plaque read 1939-1975. Vincenzo Copia.
“Vincenzo, huh?” Mary smirked.
“Don’t even start.”
“What, didn’t you know his first name?”
“No, he wouldn’t tell me. I dunno if he was embarrassed by it or something, but…he just never gave it up.”
He handed her a small crowbar. “Ladies first.”
They knelt down on the dusty floor and started prying the plaque off the wall. Behind it were two long bolts keeping the granite slab over the crypt. Charlie used a locking wrench to hold the nut in place while Mary turned the bolt with a socket wrench. The bolts hadn’t been turned in over 40 years, and were almost completed rusted together. Mary fished a small can of WD-40 out of his kit, and sprayed both bolts until the lubricant was running down the wall. A few more hard yanks, and the bolt finally started to turn. They loosened it about halfway, then went to work on the other bolt. Once they were both sufficiently loosened, they each removed one, tossing them into the corner. They then used the crowbars to pry the piece of granite from the wall. It landed with a loud thud, sending even more dust flying into the air.
Mary shined the flashlight into the crypt. Inside was a long wooden coffin, mercifully untouched by animals. He handed the flashlight to Charlie, reached in, and began to pull the box out. Once it was about halfway out, he got to his feet and pulled it out the rest of the way. There was a rustling sound from inside, and Charlie really hoped it wasn’t some kind of wildlife. Sensing her apprehension, Mary pried the hinges and lock off the coffin, then removed the lid and set it aside.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Come and look, then. There’s no animals or bugs.”
She kept her hands close to her face, in case it was too horrible for her to withstand. She stepped up to the box, and Mary shined the flashlight on the contents. The corpse inside was gnarled, the limbs twisted and blackened, curled up to the rest of the body. Charlie knew that was typical with deaths related to fire, but it still didn’t seem like a person to her. It looked more like a practice dummy or a special effects piece from a movie. She knelt down next to the coffin to get a better look, and she shoved her fist into her mouth to keep from screaming.
The body was naturally laying on its side, but when she got close, the other side of the face was visible. The unburned side. She’d seen it so many times, laying next to her in bed, she knew it immediately. She tried to back away quickly, but landed on her butt, sobbing around her fist. Mary knelt down in front of her and pulled her into his arms. “It’s easier when they don’t look like people. If you can pretend it’s an object, you don’t feel anything.”
They sat like that for a few minutes, until Charlie felt confident enough to continue. Mary took charge of preparing the body, while Charlie handed him things from his bag, trying not to look in the box. When he was ready, he instructed her to sit perfectly still and quiet. She closed her eyes, not wanting to see what he had to do. He started reciting words in a language unfamiliar to her, and after a few moments, there was a weird humming sound in the air. The hair on her arms stood on end, and she broke out in a cold sweat. Whatever he was communicating with, it was more powerful than anything she’d ever done.
After what seemed like an eternity, he tapped her on the shoulder. She opened her eyes, and he was holding her knife. “I need some of your blood, if you don’t mind.”
“A few drops should do it.”
She poked the end of her thumb with the knife, blood welling immediately. Mary took her hand and held it over a small bowl on the floor. As the drops of blood splashed into the liquid, it began to boil. He whispered something as he stirred it with what looked like a glass swizzle stick. The bubbling began to slow, and the liquid thickened until it became a tar-like substance. He dipped two fingers into the liquid and painted a symbol on Copia’s forehead with it. He then wiped his hand with a rag, and set the bowl aside.
“Now we wait.”
It was dead silent for several minutes. Charlie fought the urge to check her watch. She leaned over to whisper in Mary’s ear. “How will we know it’s working?” A second later, there was a strange creaking sound from inside the coffin. He pointed at it.
They slowly crept over and looked inside, and Charlie’s jaw dropped. The limbs were beginning to straighten on their own, the skin smoothing and becoming whiter. The muscles and tissue underneath began to fill in the sagging skin, plumping the body up and forcing it to roll into its back. Copia’s reddish-brown hair began to fill back in, his sideburns and mustache standing out against the pale skin of his face. Within minutes, he looked like he was merely sleeping, albeit in burned, torn shreds of clothing.
Charlie reached out to touch his face with a shaking hand. “He’s cold. He’s still dead. Is there something else you need to do?”
Mary’s mouth gawped like a fish. “I-pffft-I’ve got no idea, I’ve never completely restored a body, only enough for the essence to communicate through it. He should’ve been at least breathing by now.”
“Well…what the fuck, isn’t there something you can try? We can’t just leave him here like this.”
“I don’t know! It should be working! It’s like there’s something…blocking it….”
A low chuckle in the doorway made them scream and jump in surprise. Standing there, in a tattered purple tuxedo and top hat, with skull paint adorning his coal-black face, was Baron Samedi. Mary scooted up against the far wall as fast as he could, while Charlie leaned protectively over Copia’s body.
“Stop it.” She glared at him. “Let me have this one fucking thing.”
He tilted his head at her, and bent almost completely in half so he could enter the small tomb.
“You order me now? Ha! Who gave you that second chance when you jumped out the window, child? Who kept your body from breaking in half? And now you demand I give you back this boy? What do I get? I see no rum, no cigars, nothing. You want the blessing of the loa but give nothing in return? For shame.” He wagged a long-nailed finger at her. “You should know better.”
“W…wh…wha-what….what would please you?” Mary suddenly seemed to have found his voice.
Samedi looked around Charlie and smiled even wider. “Ahhh….yes. The Dead Boy. You would make a good loa…someday.”
He looked back to Charlie. “What would please me. So many things I could ask for.” He turned in a circle, tapping his cane on the stone floor. When he’d made a full rotation, he stopped and lifted his cane to rest on his shoulder.
“A life for a life. You want his heart to beat again? Give me one in return.”
Charlie looked at Mary, backed up against the wall. He stared back at her, then looked down at the floor. Her knife sat between them. She glanced down at it, then back at him. They both lunged for it, and each managed to get one hand on the handle. Mary was the stronger, but he didn’t anticipate her desperation. She wrested the knife from his grasp and, to his surprise, pushed him away as hard as she could.
She turned back to Samedi, who was watching with rapt interest. She smiled at him.
“I’m gonna get it right this time.”
She sat up straight, pulled her left arm back, and buried the blade in between her ribs. The pain was sudden and intense, but faded quickly. She was rapidly going into shock, and she needed to know it had worked before losing consciousness.
Samedi’s face broke into a huge grin of surprise and amusement. He laughed raucously, completely thrilled with the situation. Behind her, Charlie heard a loud gasp. With the last of her strength, she turned around and threw herself over the edge of the coffin. Copia was breathing: his chest heaved with loud, harsh breaths, but he was breathing again.
As her vision began to darken, she placed her head on his chest. The last thing she heard, before everything faded away, was his heart beating solidly again.
Everything was warm and bright. Something soft was underneath. Charlie wondered if it was possible that she was actually dead, and tried to take a breath out of curiosity. Pain flared all down her left side. Definitely not dead.
Her face scrunched in response to the pain, and she swallowed thickly. Her tongue was like a swollen chunk of sandpaper in her mouth. She was about to open her mouth to call out when she heard a tapping sound from where her feet should be. Like a cane tip hitting the floor.
“Mm-mm-mmm.” A deep voice hummed. “I don’t know what to do with you, child.”
Samedi. Sitting on her feet.
“Let me see if I understand this. You are lonely. You create a pet. You love this pet, and it loves you. Then you kill it. Then you try to make it a real boy, like Geppetto and Pinocchio. This is confusing.”
She could just barely whisper. “A person. Not a thing.”
“No, what you summoned was a thing. A spirit inside, yes, but still a thing. It made you happy. Why destroy it?”
“What wasn’t, the man or his feelings for you?”
“Well, now you will never know what was real or not. You kill the pet to resurrect the man, and you hope the man loves you back. What if he doesn’t? Did you think of that?”
“I’ll know. I’ll live.”
He exhaled a loud sigh. “Mon dieu. You are strong. Not so smart, but strong. Open your eyes.”
They felt like they’d been glued shut, but with effort, Charlie managed to open them. It was a small white room, and she was in a hospital bed. Samedi sat at the far end, legs crossed. What was frightening about him in the dark made him look utterly ridiculous in daylight, like a late-minute entry to a costume contest.
He pointed his cane at her, the tip almost touching the end of her nose. “No more second chances, child. This life, you ride it to whatever end. Understand?”
She nodded as best she could.
“Sleep then. And good luck.”
Sometime later, there was a weird wheezing, gurgling sound coming from next to her. They must have brought a really sick patient in next to her, because it sounded like someone choking to death on their own tongue. After a few minutes of it, she began wondering why someone wasn’t helping this person, then she realized what she was actually hearing.
Snoring. Really loud, obnoxious snoring. She opened her eyes and turned her head slightly. Mary sat in the chair next to her bed, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, arms crossed over his chest, head tipped back as far as it would go, and his mouth hanging completely open. Even asleep, he was annoying as hell.
She cautiously took a deep breath through her nose, careful not to strain her left side, and grimaced in confusion. She took another breath. He didn’t smell bad anymore. The gross, rotting meat scent was gone. “Either he miraculously doesn’t stink anymore” she thought to herself, “or I stink now, too. Fantastic.”
Desperate for some water, she started feeling around the bed for a call button, and her IV tubing clanked against the bed rail. The snoring became coughing, and Mary shot up straight in his chair. He looked like absolute shit run over by a dump truck a few times. “Well that was fucking dumb.”
“I’m inclined to agree. I’d kill for a sip of water right now.” She tried to push herself up in bed, but her arms were too weak and pushing down with her left arm made her side scream in agony.
“No, no, no. Let me get a nurse or something. If they aren’t all busy yammering with Casanova out there.”
She gave him a confused look. “Who’s that?”
“Vinnie” he said, sarcastically. “He’s the only one of us that speaks Italian, and he’s been spinning some shit about what we were doing in a graveyard in the middle of the night, and how you ended up with a knife sticking out of your chest. Whatever he said worked, ‘cuz no cops have shown up. Now we just need to get you some clothes, and I can text Doctor Fucknuts to open a portal so we can get the hell out of here.”
“Is he coming with us?”
“Copia. Have you talked to him? What happened after I…passed out?”
“Uhh, lots of panicking, lots of screaming at each other. He wanted to pull the knife out, I told him no, that would make you bleed out faster. He said he would go get help, since he spoke the language, but he was practically naked so I had to give him some of my clothes. I packed up our shit as much as I could, then carried you out to the road. He went to the church and got some priests to help, they called an ambulance. By some ‘miracle’, they didn’t know who he was, so we don’t have to worry about that hanging over our heads. He said he told the EMTs that someone tried to rob us, and they stabbed you when you refused to give them your backpack. After we got here, he handled talking to the doctors and shit, I just sat here.”
“How does he seem? Like….normal?”
“I think he’s been running on pure adrenaline since he woke up. He could’ve gone home at any time, his brother still lives in their parents’ house not far from here. I think he wants to make sure you’re ok before…deciding anything. For what it’s worth, he didn’t leave your side the entire time they patched you up. He was muttering to himself the whole time. I think he was praying. I’ll get you that water now.” He stood up and started walking towards the door. “Also…by some other ‘miracle’, that knife managed to avoid every organ and major artery in your chest. That shouldn’t be possible. A favor from friends in low places?”
“Something like that. No more, though. Next fuck-up is permanent.”
“Then stop doing stupid shit, ya dumbass.” He smirked at her before turning away.
She looked out the open window next to her. There were trees just outside, and she could hear birds singing. The scent of something cooking on the breeze drifting in. Compared to the cold, gray city, this place was almost magical. It made her sick to her stomach, but she could understand if Copia decided he wanted to stay. There were suddenly raised voices in the hall outside. She could hear Mary’s boots clomping.
“Tell them I’m taking her some water. She’s awake and she’s thirsty. She also needs clothes. Once the doc says she can go, we’re gone.”
Another man’s voice, frantically speaking Italian. Copia, right on Mary’s heels, translating as fast as he could. They stopped right outside her door.
“She didn’t say she wants to see you. She just wants some water right now. Sit your ass down, and the second she asks for you, I’ll let you know.”
“Don’t speak to me like that. I will knock you flat on your ass a second time, and you’ll be glad we’re in a hospital.”
Charlie managed to clear her throat. “I’m gonna send you both screaming to Hell if you don’t knock it off!”
Silence. The door opened. Mary walked in, set her cup of water on the bedside table, and went back to the door. “We’re not waiting for the doctor, we’re getting out of here before the cops show up asking questions. I’m gonna find her some clothes. You have until I get back.” His boots slapped against the linoleum as he walked away.
The door slowly inched open, and at first, Charlie didn’t recognize him. There was no black makeup, no white suit, no hat and gloves. He was wearing one of Mary’s death metal t-shirts and a pair of torn jeans. His hair was longer, his face thinner, but it was still Copia. He looked incredibly anxious, wringing his hands together in his telltale way.
Charlie could’ve cried with relief and happiness, but she didn’t want to aggravate her injury any more. She looked over at the table. “Could you please hand me the glass? I can’t really move my arm.”
“Oh! Yes, yes, of course.” He awkwardly scuttled over to the bedside table and placed the cup in her right hand. He shuffled between one foot and the other while she slowly sipped her water.
“Do you need to pee or something?”
“Hmm? No, no. At least, I don’t think so. It’s…taking a bit of getting used to, having my real body back. I can’t remember what hungry or thirsty feels like. I think I’m tired, I feel…heavy. I don’t know, it’s very…” He pressed his hands against his chest and stomach, like he was making sure they were still there. “Very weird.”
“I can’t imagine what it’s like. I’m just…relieved that it worked.”
He nodded, then turned and walked to the foot of the bed. “We don’t have much time, but…I just wanted….” He suddenly grasped the footboard of the bed with both hands. “You stabbed me in the fucking eye. You sent me back to the void. Then I’m pulled back into my body, which fucking hurt, by the way. And there you are, bleeding to death all over me. Why? Why all the bullshit? You said you loved me.”
Those last words stung. It took Charlie a moment to gather her thoughts.
“I do. I just couldn’t live with myself if your feelings for me were….not actually yours, only what I wanted them to be. You’re not my slave. The choice had to be yours. And I’m truly sorry about the eye. If it’s any consolation, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I understand if you’re angry, or if you want time apart….if you want to stay here. Like I said. The choice is yours.”
She let her head fall back on the pillow. Just this small bit of conversation was exhausting. Copia’s head hung down, as he appeared engrossed with the back of his own hands, avoiding her gaze. “Maybe…maybe that’s wise. Take some time….think about things.”
“Yeah,” she whispered, tears filling her eyes. She closed them, turning her head away so he wouldn’t see. The familiar clomp of boots started coming down the hall, and she started trying to push herself up to sitting one-handed. It was still too much, and she fell back against the pillows.
In the blink of an eye, Copia was at her side, grabbing her hand. “I’ve thought about it. I would rather die again than be without you. I want to go home. Let’s go home.”
Charlie squeezed her eyes shut and nodded, the tears now spilling down her cheeks. He leaned up and kissed them away before bringing his lips to hers. “No more stabbing me in the eye, though, yes?”
She couldn’t help but laugh. Looking at him up close, she noticed his left eye was still white, but there was no pupil. She tilted her head. “Can you see out of that eye?” He frowned in thought for a second, then covered his right eye.
“Huh. I can’t. It’s all black. There goes my professional sports career.”
She cackled loudly, then groaned as another wave of pain rippled through her side. “Maybe not so much with the jokes right now.” He smiled and kissed the back of her hand.
“Of course. There’s time for jokes later.” The door opened, and Mary stomped in, a pair of surgical scrubs in his hands.
“Put these on. I saw cops out in the parking lot, we’ve got like, 5 minutes at the most.” He pulled his phone out and began typing.
Copia yanked the blankets off the bed, and helped Charlie sit forward enough to undo the ties on her hospital gown. He helped get her arms and legs to the scrubs, then elbowed Mary in the side for help in standing her up. Together they stood her up and Mary held her while Copia pulled the pants up. She plopped back down on the bed while Mary grabbed their bags, just as a circle of orange sparks appeared on the wall next to them. Inside the circle was the conjurer’s dirty apartment, and he was definitely not expecting the scene in front of him.
“Holy shit, what happened to you guys? Who’s the other dude, is he coming with you?”
“You bet your ass,” Copia said, scooping Charlie up off the bed. He stepped through first, with Mary right behind him. Just as the portal closed, they heard voices shouting in Italian.
“That was way too fucking close,” Mary panted. He threw himself down on the couch. “I’m calling an Uber. You guys want in, or are you gonna carry her all the way home?”
The next week was difficult, but it would have been impossible without Copia. He insisted on carrying Charlie everywhere, even to the toilet. He gave her sponge baths so her stitches wouldn’t get wet. She managed to talk him through online grocery delivery, and he did all the cooking. He even made that weird bread salad that she liked.
Mary even stopped by a few times, usually bringing some kind of sugary snack. “We’re the talk of the town, apparently. Doctor Dicklick has been telling everybody within earshot of Bela’s what he thinks happened in Italy, which varies from an assassination attempt on the Pope, to participating in a Black Mass, to making bestiality porn.”
“Is bestiality porn legal in Italy?” Charlie asked. She and Mary both turned to look at Copia. He gave an irritated shrug. “What makes you think I would know?”
“You like fucking dogs. Right, Snoopy?” Mary gently elbowed Charlie in the ribs.
Things were still contentious between the two men. Mary didn’t appreciate the fact that Charlie almost killed herself to save Copia, and Copia didn’t appreciate Mary’s rude sense of humor. They were like two tomcats circling each other, with her in the middle. It got to the point where she risked pulling out her stitches just to get up and throw something or slap one of them on the arm. They would pout, mumble an apology, and go back to their respective corners.
The nights were the hardest. They would crawl into bed, completely exhausted but unable to keep their hands off each other. Charlie was too sore to move, and Copia was too afraid that her stitches would pull or the wound would tear. Their solution was simple: he would give her oral, then she would jerk him off as he sat between her legs. One night, it was just too much for her, seeing him so overcome and she quickly slipped him inside.
“Just go slow and be careful,” she panted. She actually came again, just watching him slowly rock his hips, his head thrown back in ecstasy.
“Ahh…my god, I love you so much…” he whimpered. He ended up leaving bruises on her thighs from the death grip he had on them. After cleaning them both up, he very carefully spooned up behind her.
“Seriously, though. Are we out of Werther’s? I still have a craving for them.”
SIX MONTHS LATER
The small crowd’s cheers scared the living daylights out of Charlie and Copia as they exited City Hall. The only person that knew they were there was Mary, but of course he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. The smug little fucker was actually wearing one of those tuxedo t-shirts with suspenders hooked to his ripped jeans.
At some point, he’d had a major attitude adjustment, and arranged fake citizenship papers for Copia. Charlie hadn’t even considered it, she figured he would just stay at the apartment all day and watch tv when she went back to work. Now that he could ‘legally’ work, he insisted on getting a job. He got hired almost immediately at a customer service call center, where he didn’t have to worry about people looking at him, since he went back to painting his upper lip black. His numbers were not that great, but his customer satisfaction rating was through the roof.
When Charlie finally went back to work, someone had already clued Wilhelm into what had happened, and he told her to just come in whenever she felt good enough, because he had another employee to cover for her. She was a bit confused, as she thought she was the only other employee. Her first day back, there was an older gentleman sitting at the register. The word that came to mind was ‘dandy’. He was reading a newspaper, and peeked over the top at her.
“Oh, hello Charlotte. Nice to see you back at work.”
She blinked. “Mr. Schwartz?”
“Who else would I be?” The last time she’d been at work, he was a cat. He’d apparently managed to switch back into his own body while she was gone. She just smiled and went in the back of the store.
She had not spoken to her parents since the disastrous dinner. Once she was well enough, she had gone to the bank where the settlement money was kept and moved it into her own account, where they couldn’t touch it. The bank was required by law to inform her parents in writing, and she said that was fine. They never said a word.
In the midst of a particularly enthusiastic love-making session, Copia suddenly exclaimed, “Marry me!”
Charlie stopped moving. “I’m sorry…what did you just say?”
He seemed just as surprised as her. “Uh….well…I want you to marry me. I have for some time. I just…didn’t expect to say it like that.”
She smiled at him slyly. “Ok, then.”
“Ok, then what?”
“Let’s do it. I’ll make an appointment at City Hall. Fill out some paperwork, go before a Justice of the Peace, and it’s done.”
“Bu-but…we don’t have any rings.”
She took his hand and placed it on the scar on her ribs. “I have this, you have a blind eye. Do we need anything else to symbolize our connection?”
He thought for a moment. “I suppose not. Although-” He leaned down to place a few kisses along her spine. “It would be nice to have something that shows you are mine.”
She raised her eyebrows at him. “Oh, really? We’re going there? I thought we were done with the whole ‘ownership’ thing. Besides, I think you’re forgetting your position, sir.” She squeezed her muscles in a way that usually drove him crazy.
He gasped loudly. “Fair enough.”
Their paperwork was completed in near record time, and in less than 20 minutes, it was done. Charlie had told Mary about the appointment, in confidence, but he took it upon himself to make it even more special. He’d managed to get together a group of regulars from Bela’s, along with Wilhelm and Mr. Schwartz, and they waited outside City Hall with balloons and noisemakers. Charlie shrieked with laughter while Copia looked like he was going to drop dead.
The other surprise was even better. Wilhelm and Mr. Schwartz let the others decorate the roof of Vogel’s with lights and streamers, turning it into a mini-reception hall. There was plenty of alcohol, and Mary even dragged his band’s shitty PA system up there, in order to blast tacky 80′s dance hits.
Everybody danced, not caring how stupid they looked. Charlie’s left foot gave out on her a few times, but Copia never let her fall.
That's it! We're done! Sorry for crushing everybody's hopes and dreams at the end of the last one, but it's all ok!