Monday, 29 July 2013

Skeletons in the Closet: Part Two

It's part 2! Already gone further than the last time I tried to do this. Part 1 is here.

Crichton was right to be suspicious, for the gardener was no ordinary gardener. His name, as given upon his assumption of employment, was Harold Smith, but for most of his life he’d gone by another name: Cornelius Valdes, Necromancer.

Not, admittedly, for some time. In his youth, he had really raised hell; he’d conjure spirits for fun, often of the debauched kind, but wasn’t above using his abilities for more morally dubious purposes either. It’s surprising, for example, how many banks are built above old battlefields; all it takes is a little knowledge and three litres of goats’ blood and soon skeletal warriors are emptying the vault from the inside. But those days were long gone; Harold had been on the run for the last ten years, but luckily for him a life spent in graveyards had taught him how to appreciate the placing of flowers, so he’d applied for a job as the Tunnicliffe’s gardener, a post he was immediately granted after the sudden and untimely deaths of the previous three holders of the post.

Some habits, however, are hard to shake off. Beneath the copse of trees at the bottom of the Tunnicliffe’s expansive garden was the tomb of a long-forgotten lord and his most willing servants, a fact which Harold had immediately detected upon his first day on the job. He’d only given into temptation a couple of times so far, when the marigolds were being particularly troublesome, and once when that group of kids had kept uprooting his azaleas; but today was different. Today, he had been humiliated for the last time. Today, it was time for revenge.

It should be noted here that Harold was not, by most standards, an extraordinarily bad man. By and large, he kept himself to himself; he was never cruel to animals, and when he saw a beggar in the street he would almost always discharge any small change, as long as he wasn’t tired, hungry or in a bad mood. As you may have noticed, however, Louisa was an absolutely terrible mistress, quite apart from being a snob of the highest order, and years of abuse in her service had rendered Harold capable of some quite drastic measures. This latest humiliation was just the tipping-point; frankly, it is remarkable that he had not ordered his spectral minions to destroy the household already.

It should also be noted, however that Harold had never been an altogether competent necromancer even in his heyday, and ten years of barely any (mal)practice had not helped hone his skills. In hindsight, raising the dead in anger was never going to be a good idea; and doing so when you are a sixty-year-old gardener was always going to end in tears.

Harold reached the copse of trees, muttering to himself as he began the necessary preparations for his ritual. “Last bloody straw... who does she think she is, telling me... I was Cornelius Valdes! Bloody witch... serves her right... her and those bloody daughters, all of ‘em...” He drew a large pentacle on the ground and took out his small pruning scissors, nicking his right thumb and depositing three shining drops of blood on the ground, then, taking out a small trowel with his left hand whilst sucking his wounded appendage, dug five shallow pits around the tiny red stain. Straightening up, he threw out his hands in his most impressive pose, and shouted strange words to the cloudless sky, words which seemed to last longer than their own sounds as they twisted and turned in the air.

There was a low, almost inaudible, rumbling, and then the earth began to shake and split. Jagged fingernails scrabbled at the soil as grey-skinned shapes began to rise from the pit where they had been interred a thousand years ago, dead men pulling themselves back into a grotesque semblance of life. Out they came, blinking their glowing red eyes at the new sunlight, papery skin crackling in a wind they had not felt for what seemed like eternity. Their outlines flickered, as if they barely existed in the world; black shadows dancing across their naked chests as they stood, thirty newly animated corpses, in front of a now laughing Harold. With them, he would show his enemies! With them, he would take over this priggish mansion, this snobbish county, the whole pretentiously prancing country!

The tallest of the dead stepped forward. His eyes gleamed not only with the fires of Hell, but with a far more dangerous cunning, a cruel intelligence born of years spent in darkness and flame. He opened his black mouth, revealing sharp yellow teeth.

“Ah, that’s better,” he said.

“Bow before me, wretch! I abjure thee to do as I command!” shouted Harold, the old words of command coming back to him now. He felt almost drunk with his remembered power. Why had he ever given this up? These creatures were among the strongest he had ever raised, even in his heyday; the brightness of their eyes and the speed of their rise told him as much. It seemed his power had grown with age, not faded; he saw himself marching up the lawn with his new minions at his back, his hoe and spade forgotten, saw himself sitting in the hall of Tunnicliffe Mansion whilst those who had oppressed him grovelled at his rather calloused feet.

It should be remembered that Harold was a necromancer, and not a prophet.

The tall corpse gave him a cool glance, then closed his eyes and raised his head, sniffing the air with apparent delight. Harold felt his confidence drain like a bath with the mat of hair removed. The corpse turned his back on the now slightly paler necromancer and addressed his fellows.

“Life, once more! Life, as I promised you! Life, to enjoy, to cherish...” He turned back to Harold, a sneer creasing his face. “To take.”

Harold started to back away. The spell of binding! Surely he couldn’t have forgotten the spell of binding...

There is a reason why there are not very many necromancers around nowadays. Raising the dead is quite a tricky business, one that requires a great deal of intelligence, preparation and clarity of thought, three qualities that had been sorely lacking in Harold’s impromptu quest for revenge. As may have been guessed, the ravages of age and anger had caused Harold to forget to say the spell that bound the newly raised creatures’ wills to his own. They were powerful, all right; but they were not in his power.

“I am Lord Achan. And mortals such as you, old man, have no control over me.” The tall corpse’s sneer deepened as Harold lost control of his bladder, then turned to run, leaving a liquid trail behind him as he veered arthritically across the lawn. Achan turned once more to his fellows. “My warriors, we have been liberated from our prison. Let us remember how we lived our lives, and feel blessed that we have been given a second chance.” The warriors looked solemn for a moment. “And now, let us live these new lives to the fullest. Starting by removing that stupid old man from his.”

The warriors cheered and rushed forward in pursuit of the diminishing figure of Harold.

“And then,” Achan muttered to himself, striding forward after them, “we shall see about paying the world back for the wrongs it has done.”