So last night was reading night for Bloody Parchment at The Book Lounge. I met some fantastic people, and heard awesome words, and also drank wine because hey.
Luckily I went second so that I could settle back to enjoy everyone else’s reading. I’m clever that way. I read the opening of Death Kid (the theme was horror, for hallowe’en, obv, but I don’t exactly write horror. What I did have was the start of a kid’s book about being dead.)
In the Death Kid, George Cary is an illegal 13-year-old necromancer who doesn’t want to grow up because that means people are going to start calling her Georgina and expecting her to wear training bras and shit like that. Worse, dead people have started following her around, and if it comes to light that she can raise the dead, then the men in the blue bus are going to come and well…remove her.
Then she dies.
And shit gets weird.
But this is before all that.
Jay Bonne is watching me from across the cafeteria as he tells his stupid joke. He’s doing it all sly-like, waiting for me to show him that I notice, that I care.
Instead, I turn my back on him and stab my thumbs into my peanut butter sandwich. Jabbing over and over until I’ve made a grinning face in my lunch.
“So what do you call a guy who goes on a Long Vacation with two hookers?” Jay says loud enough for half the school to hear.
I’m concentrating hard on ignoring the girl at my table. She keeps tapping her left hand across the grubby Formica, inching closer toward me. Then before she can actually touch my arm, she draws back again. Tik-tik-tik her fingernails go, then a dry squeak as she draws back.
“A lucky stiff.”
The kids around Jay all start laughing and hushing each other. People only laugh at Jay’s stupid little jokes because they think it makes them subversive and cool.
“Go. Away.” I say to the girl, trying not to raise my head and catch even the slightest glimpse of her face. What if I recognise her?
Tik tik tik
If she touches me, I might lose it completely and start screaming in the middle of the cafeteria. The school counsellor, Ms. Hoole, is ready to whisk me off for psych the moment I show any cracks. Better to play normal. I pinch off the last pieces of crust and roll them into grubby balls.
Finally, my skull face is done. Still not looking up, I push the skullwich away from me, toward the girl and her tapping fingers.
She pauses, caught out of her loop by the offering.
“Take it.” I try move my mouth as little as possible.
She touches the bread.
There’s a silent boom like a peace-bomb just went off, and all the sound in the cafeteria flicks out. My ears feel stuffed full of wet cottonwool. Only, no-one else will have noticed it. Just me. When I look up, I know the ghost will be gone.
Nothing. No-one. I shiver with relief. The sound filters back in and Jay Bonne is telling another joke. My sandwich has gone grey and mouldy like it was made last week instead of this morning. Carefully, I cover it up with a paper napkin and take the disgusting lump to the bin. Perfect. Another hungry afternoon. The bell rings just as my lunch thuds in among the rest of the litter.
Five years ago there was a war. It lasted one day.
I was almost eight. In fact, my birthday was three days later, but it didn’t really happen because no-one felt like celebrating and besides, there was hardly any power.
No clean power, anyway. The city was still getting us hooked back on to the old grid, and trying to work out how to use coal again. So mom never baked me a birthday cake, and I cried more about my stupid ruined party than about all the dead. The dead-dead and the really-recently-dead. Gimme a break though, I was just a baby.
Now I’m a lot older. I know what’s important, what you cry about and what you don’t. And I know better than most that whatever happens, you don’t tell anyone if you start seeing ghosts. That’s a one way ticket to a Long Vacation.
A few weeks after the war, my dad got arrested. They came for him in a pale blue bus, and he was only half-dressed. He tucked in his shirt, and put on shoes without bothering to get socks. They didn’t allow him to fetch a jacket.
They didn’t allow him to say goodbye.
My last memory was of him smiling down from one of the bus-windows and waving at me like he was a tourist, while the sprinkler whirred and clicked and made the lawn smell sweet and green. I turned away. Water hit my face, and my mother knelt on the grass, pulling up weeds and sobbing quietly.
After a while, people stopped asking me questions about when my dad was coming back. They pretended that there’d only ever been the three of us – Mom, me, and my little sister Verica. If they did have to talk about it they’d say: Quiet chap. Accountant, wasn’t he? And then they’d all know by some secret code to move onto a new subject.
My dad was the last of the necromancers, and it’s because of him that no-one dies.