The Accidental Necromancer
I ALWAYS READ the last page of a book first. Some of my friends see that as a fault. What my English Lit teacher thought about it was more of a diatribe. But I don’t see it as something bad. It isn’t a quirk, or a thing I’ll grow out of. I don’t do it just to be that person. I do it because I genuinely don’t like surprises. Surprises never turn out how the perpetrator intends. Yes, perpetrator does imply bad intent. Mean. In my opinion, anyone who plans surprises has something wrong with their brain. They’re deluded. Generally, surprises disappoint, surprise parties being a prime example. If the person being surprised doesn’t react how you expect them to, you wonder what you did wrong. You probably didn’t do anything wrong. They’re just like me. They don’t like surprises. Look at it this way, if I know what happens at the end of the book, I can look forward to all the events leading up to that ending. If I know a party is being held for me, I can look happy when I enter the room.
It works for me.
The book I’m about to start reading is a little unusual. It’s not my regular type of book. It’s a spell book. Normally, I go for action, adventure. Sometimes, I snuggle down with a little bit of romance. Basically, I read fiction. This book is definitely not fiction. Unless it could be called that because I don’t believe in magic. Which I don’t. Obviously. The only reason I have it is because I was rummaging through a stack of books at the charity shop while Mum was looking for anything eighties for a work party she’s obliged to go to. She found this garish pink blouse that made my eyes go funny just looking at it. I did ask her if someone ever really wore that. It made her smile. It made me think she’d worn something like that before. She hasn’t done a lot of smiling recently. Actually, neither have I. Anyway, this book had probably been passed over by hundreds of people who only browsed the top couple of items. But I like to dig. Not literally. I’m no budding gardener. I like to find unusual things, and this was unusual. It was covered in dust, so much so it made the volunteer who served me sneeze. But underneath that dust was this beautiful cover, all leather and patterned, and bound with metal … clasps, I suppose you would call them. I was immediately drawn to it, before I even realised what it was, and once I’d fallen in love with the object, I had to have it, whatever it contained.
So, even though I know it isn’t a novel and I’m probably not going to be spoiling anything, I’m still going to read the last page first. The habit is just too hard to break.
I open the book and the pages crackle with age. A waft of something hits my nostrils and almost tickles them into a sneeze. I gasp in a breath to try to stop the sneeze and a dry oats taste hits the back of my throat. A slight choke stumbles out through my lips before I can recover. I hold the book a little further from my face and sit up on my bed, rather than holding the book over my head. It smells old. Not musty exactly. Actually, well, yes, musty, but not entirely unpleasant. Not like a house that hasn’t been opened up for years. More like a comfy, old armchair that sits in a rarely-used room. I almost gasp again as my eyes rest on the page. The writing is stunning. It’s not illuminated, or anything, but it is calligraphic in style. An alphabet that has scrolling letters that dip below the line in glorious curves. Maybe, it’s actually handwritten, but I would’ve thought something that old would usually be in a museum. Or hidden in an attic, I suppose. Perhaps, someone died and this was part of the clear out. The kind where you bag everything up and leave the charity shop to sort it out, because you don’t think there’s anything worth more than a few pence in the whole mess. I run my fingers across the paper and I can feel slight imperfections on its surface. This is definitely handmade paper. I know that because when I was younger, much younger, we each made a sheet of paper at school, in one of those rack-like things, where the water drains off. It felt exactly the same. You cannot make handmade paper perfectly smooth, I don’t think, there are always imperfections — that’s the charm of it. And this book is definitely charming.
Pretty appropriate for a book of spells.
My thoughts on magic and spells are that they are all hogwash, made up by people who have too much imagination, or people trying to trick others into believing it’s true. Because if spells did really exist, this world would be far better than it is. Or different, anyway. Everything you used would be enhanced with magic. People wouldn’t be able to stop themselves from using it to create a range of magical items, from delicious food to self-cleaning toilets. Not in the same room, of course.
I snuggle my back into my pillow, ready to devour the words. There aren’t many of them. Then, I change my mind. From my limited knowledge of the (made-up) subject, I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to say spells out loud, not just read them in your head, and I like to do things properly, even if I don’t believe in them. Does that make me weird? It’s like making sure you get all the steps to a country dance right, even though you hate dancing and the country. There’s no title to the page, and as per my last-page procedure, I’m not allowed to look back to the penultimate page. This has to only be half a spell. It probably won’t make sense. I decide to read it anyway. I stand in front of the window as if I’m on a stage and the audience is down below. I clear my throat, I lift my head and I project the words, but not too loud in case Mum has a fit.
Thee who are are ensconced in dark slumber, let your bodies awaken. Let your limbs have vigour and your minds have aim.
By the power of these words, and the strength given to me by this tome, I declare that I am your saviour. Acquiesce at all times to my words and my wisdom. Your future is forever entwined with mine.
I’M NOT OFTEN woken up in the middle of the night by Mum screaming. In fact, I’m never woken up by that. It’s not because I’m a heavy sleeper, but because Mum isn’t wont to screaming fits in the middle of the night. Silent sobbing, yes. Full-blown rage in a piercing tone that could wake the dead, no. Except, this time, she is. It’s almost like she’s shouting at someone. I’m pretty sure I hear her say his name and it cuts me inside. Maybe, she is having a nightmare. Some nightmare to cause such a violent reaction. I lay there, immobile, my fingernails digging into the mattress, my ears tuned in to the sound. She did say his name, I’m sure of it. I can’t make up my mind whether I should intervene, or not. I imagine she’ll be embarrassed if I do. What parent wants their child to see how distressed they are?
I glance at my phone, not because I need to know the time, simply out of habit. I’ve been in bed for two hours. No wonder my eyelids feel like sandpaper.
It has to be a nightmare, that’s the most logical explanation. She’s dreaming about that day. The day of the car crash. The one where she survived and he didn’t. It was bound to happen. Perhaps, she’s finally letting out her grief, thinking about herself, rather than me. I can’t picture what it truly must have been like. I have an image in my head, so gruesome even my imagination turns my stomach, but it won’t be as horrific as what actually happened.
She cries out again. She’s hurting. I can’t leave it. The least I should do is make sure she’s all right.
I shout out, without getting up, “Mum? You okay?”
The response I receive is laboured, breathless. Panicked? “Macy, get out.”
So, she’s not asleep. I don’t understand the response, because I don’t understand the context. “Get out?”
Get out where? Without her? Why? What the hell is going on? All sorts of things run through my mind, the kind of things that freeze you to the spot. The kind of things that don’t revolve around nightmares, but around real dangers. Ones that involve axe murderers and thieves. I slough on my jeans and a dirty tee as quickly as I can and carefully open my bedroom door a crack. I try to work out what’s going on. There’s an odd smell that I can’t place. Dead rats comes to mind.
It’s times like these when I miss Dad. He would’ve known what to do in this kind of situation. We’re just two women on our own. How can we defend ourselves?
My worst fears are realised. I can clearly hear that there’s a struggle going on downstairs. My body goes rigid on the spot. Fear has gripped me and it isn’t letting me go. There’s someone else in the house and Mum’s, what? Fighting them? Bits of furniture scrape across the floor, things fall, some break. Yes, she’s fighting.
I want to have the courage to creep onto the landing, to put my foot on the top stair. I will myself to move, to overcome my feelings. My limbs move but they’re shaking so much that I swear my kneecaps are wobbling. I’m scared my legs will collapse beneath me if I try to go any further. And I can’t go down. She doesn’t want me to go down. She told me to get out. She’d never forgive me if I went down there after she’s said not to.
I can’t go down. So, I can’t get out. What does she want me to do? Jump out the window? And then, I really would be vulnerable. We’re a good hundred metres from the nearest house, and that’s the vicarage. They’re both in their eighties. Far too old to help out with an attacker.
I back up into my room and close the door. I flip the bolt across, and then stare at it. It’s nothing substantial. Dad only put it on there so I could have a little privacy, so they’d have to knock. Someone big would merely have to lean against the door and it’d break. Someone big. And Mum’s down there, on her own. I should … No. She doesn’t want that.
I try to imagine what I’d be doing now if she’d asked me to help. The same?
She would never have asked me.
I consider using the trick with the chair against the door handle, but I have no faith in the concept. It never seemed like that would really stop someone getting into a room, even though it’s used in every cop drama going. I decide that my bed’s a better bet. More substantial. I drag it across. It’s even heavier than I thought. And I never imagined I’d be glad I don’t have carpet on the floor. I cringe at the noise I’m making. Once the bed’s in place, I pile all my books on top of it, as well as the bookcase. It still doesn’t seem like enough. I shuffle the wardrobe behind it. I probably should have put that in front.
There’s nothing else I can do to stop someone getting in. The trouble is, all my activity means that whoever is downstairs will be certain there’s someone else in the house. That can’t be helped.
I’m as secure as I can be.
I can always use the spell book to bash someone across the head. It’s heavy enough.
I try not to think about Mum and what she’s doing. I hope with all my heart that she’s okay, and that whoever it is doesn’t set the house on fire. I realise I need to do something else to help.
I pick up my mobile and dial 999.
I ask for the police. The operator stays on the line, talking to me. She’s going to do that until the police arrive. She can hear the noise downstairs. We both try to remain calm.
MY MIND, MY strength, my confidence, everything is shot by the time Officer Caines slips his ID under my bedroom door, because I won’t open it until he does. Even though I heard the siren and he has the right name, I still can’t relax. My feeling of insecurity is further heightened by the fact that the noises downstairs stopped before they got here. There was this enormous crash and a stifled scream from Mum and everything went silent. I crouch down and stretch my arm under the bed to grab the small, plasticised card. It looks authentic, but how would I know? I can’t stay in here forever. I thank the operator for talking to me and hang up. I think she was about to say something else, but I’ll never know now.
I’m not sure I really want to leave my room, but I pull the furniture back. It’s a lot more difficult to move now. The adrenalin rush has gone. My body feels weak. I manage to move everything far enough to open the door. It takes a few minutes. I only open it a crack. A man I assume is Officer Caines is standing there, waiting for me. He looks serious, but not severe. There’s only one question I want the answer to.
“Where’s my mum?” It’s like he doesn’t know what to say, because his mouth moves without any words coming out and then he drops his gaze to the floor. That’s no good to me. I need an answer. The truth is always better in the long run. “Please, tell me.”
Another officer moves into view. A woman. She looks too petite and vulnerable to be a police officer, hair pulled up into a ponytail, but she’s wearing the uniform. “We should get you out of here, Macy. I’m Sophie. Sophie Dale.”
First names? I prefer that. She must be the one who’s the, what do they call it? Victim Support Officer. They would be the ones to be friendly, comforting. Which means there’s a need for comfort.
Neither of them have answered my question yet. I can only think of one reason why that might be the case and why I might need Sophie to be here. “Is she … is she dead?” They exchange a look. “Just tell me. I’m going to find out soon enough, when I go downstairs.”
Sophie nods. I see her hands clench. “Your mother, she tried to fight him off—”
“Yes, her attacker was male. It looks like she put up a good fight, but … she didn’t survive. Neither of them survived.”
I back into my room, not quite believing what Sophie has said, but also knowing in my heart that it’s true. But they killed each other? That’s … odd. I can’t get my head around that.
“Macy, please. You can’t stay here,” says Sophie.
I voice the words that I don’t really believe. They come out automatically. I have no control over them. “No, she can’t be dead. She called out to me. She was alive. She was fighting.”
But I know the noises stopped before the police arrived. I know that Mum would’ve come to get me if she was all right, or called out, or something.
Sophie squeezes through the gap into my room. She takes hold of my hand. Firm, but gentle. “Come with us. When things are … sorted out, you can come back and get some of your stuff. You shouldn’t be here right now. This is a crime scene and we need to let the investigators in to see what they can find out. I know that might sound callous, but we need to know what happened here. You might not want to know now, but you will later.”
I stare into Sophie’s eyes. My eyes feel like they’re glazed.
Mum is dead. She died downstairs, fighting for her life, while I stayed in my bedroom and listened. I should have done something. I don’t care that she didn’t want me to. I should’ve been brave. I failed her. This is all my fault. Except, it isn’t. I’m not the one who killed her.
“I want to see her.”
Sophie shakes her head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Which means what I’ll see isn’t pretty. I know that already.
“I want to see her. I mean it.”
She sighs. “Okay, but, let me get a sheet and—”
“No. I want to see what happened. It won’t be real if I don’t.”
There’s a long pause. “If you do, you won’t ever be able to forget what you’ve seen. Is that something you’re sure you can live with? Wouldn’t it be better to remember your mum how she was, not how she is now?”
I move toward the door. There’s only one way to find out.
WE WALK DOWN to the kitchen together, her leading me like a little kid. A paramedic is down there, waiting. We stop at the bottom of the stairs and she turns toward me. “Just tell me again that you’re sure about this?”
There’s a slight wobble in my gut, but I push it down. “I’m sure.”
She leads me over to the kitchen door. I already know the back door is open, because I can feel the breeze on my face and can smell the wet grass, freshly cut yesterday afternoon. That must be the way he came in. We don’t lock the back door until we go to bed. The garden’s surrounded by a fence. I guess, fences can be climbed. I take in a deep breath and step into the doorway. I lower my gaze to the floor. They’re lying there, on the floor, together. Limbs meshed. His head turned to one side, hers to another. My breath hitches. It feels like my heart has stopped. There’s blood. So much blood. I could almost believe that they died peacefully in each other’s arms, if it wasn’t for the blood. There’s a knife in her hand. I can’t see any weapon in his.
And my eyes are transfixed. I can’t turn my gaze away.
This is not what I expected. What I’m seeing is impossible. I begin to shake, my body won’t respond to my efforts to stop it, but I don’t feel sick anymore. I should, after seeing this.
Sophie takes my arm and pulls me, stumbling, back across the hallway and into the lounge. I try to resist, but I don’t have the strength. She sits us down on the sofa, supplies me with copious tissues, which I don’t need, I’m not crying, and waits until I’m a little more composed. I can sense she’s dying to ask me something.
She takes my hand and gives it a quick squeeze in preparation.
“I know this is difficult, but I don’t suppose you recognise the man?” she asks.
I look up at the ceiling, trying to bite back the words. If I say the words, it’ll be real and I don’t want that. But what else can I do? I know the truth. My eyes weren’t lying to me when I saw them there. I’ll never forget what he looked … looks like. I nod. I gather up a breath, and I blurt it out.
“He’s my dad.”
Sophie looks up from the pad she was about to write upon, a little shocked, but not as much as you’d imagine. I know as well as her that many crimes of this type are perpetrated by family members. In fact, I think more often than not a family member is involved. But this case isn’t typical, and she doesn’t know that yet. It’s so atypical, it’s unbelievable. “Your dad?”
I hold my lips between my teeth, gripping hard and nod again, avoiding her eyes.
“I’m sorry. I had no idea,” she says.
There’s a pause, as if she’s trying to gauge whether or not to say something else. I save her the bother. “He’s dead.”
This time she takes both my hands in hers and kneels in front of me. “They’re both dead, Macy.”
She doesn’t get it.
“No. He died two months ago. We buried him. We were just beginning to cope again and then …”
She shakes her head. Her voice softens so much it’s almost musical. “You must have been mistaken.”
About my own dad? “No. He died. I went to the funeral. He was buried in the graveyard behind the house.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean that. I meant, it can’t be your dad in there. It must be someone else. Someone who looks quite like him. It was the shock. Shock does that sometimes. Makes people see things that aren’t real. Messes with their mind.”
I shake my head. She’s wrong. I know she’s wrong. I’m certain. Nothing is messing with my mind, not in that way. It is my dad. He’s wearing the clothes we buried him in. There is no doubt. My dad rose from his grave and killed my mum.
And there are two questions uppermost in my mind. How? And why?