Saturday is the day of the satyr, a day for feasting and drinking after a week's hard work. The seventh day, the holy day on which God himself rested after creation of the earth. Also Saturday is the last day of the week, a day of endings, of having nothing to lose and looking forward to Sunday's forgiveness and absolution.
Friday is the final day of working struggle, the last day for war, but Saturday was more ominous, the day after war, the last day for life. Saturday was the day that decided the survivors from the casualties, the day on which the wounds of war were stitched shut or became infected beyond all repair.
Saturday is a closing door, the intersection of the shearing blades of a pair of scissors, the thick leather cover of a book slammed shut after a week of reading.
That was why Saturday was the day Caroline got Thug's phone call.
Caroline was at an emotional low. She didn't have a single friend she could trust with everything, and no one who could help her even if she did. Jaleesa was too closed-minded to understand. Raz, Todd, and Berry each had special reasons to avoid her during the past lonely Friday, and the last thing Caroline needed was an emotionally awkward night down at The Fool's Card fending off the likes of Straight Mike and his unnamed cross-dressing friends.
She'd spent the day alone in meditation, re-enacting the episode at Todd's house in her mind over and over. The episode at Lucille's grated at her as well, the events of the past piling up on top of her faster than she could make sense of them, like her life was a game of slow motion Tetris gone awry with bits and pieces coming in too fast for her to organize them.
It was sometime that afternoon then that Caroline finished washing up from a light but filling meal of eggs and fried rice to the sing-song sound of her cell phone going off. She reached down to her hip and checked it, but the incoming call was from an unknown source.
She answered it.
Thug's voice was cold and urbane like polished granite.
"Tonight's her last night."
"But I thought she had stabilized..."
Thug cut off her equivocation sharply.
"You knew she was going to die. "
"But I mean, there was hope, right?"
"No. Tonight. With or without you."
Caroline opened her mouth to a dead phone, Thug having punctuated his last words by hanging up. She stared at the glowing light display, cold steel climbing into her spine. Things had changed since Lucille, changed in subtle ways, visceral ways. To watch a person die, even one as distant and unsympathetic as Mrs. Black would once have been devastating to Caroline, and there was still a kernel of denial in her heart about the repercussions of what Thug had told her. There was a deeper instinct, a root in her blood now, that saw this death as a challenge. Having pulled life into this world with her awkwardly gnawed fingernails, it now felt natural for her to be there when one slipped away into the unknown.
Caroline drove her car calmly; keeping within the speed limit with tight precision on the off chance even a slight flaw on her part could ruin the spirit of the upcoming events in some illogical way. She held to her old path along cottage Church Lane, making all the unnecessary turns just to stay on a path she knew, just to deal with the familiar and mundane for a few more short minutes.
Lawns turned into hedges, hedges turned to fences, and soon Thug's slick black Cadillac cruised its way into view. Caroline strolled up the rose encrusted path to Mrs. Black's large wooden porch, savoring every step she took in the old world, the world where there was a larger guiding force, however malevolent. Every inch that close between her and that door was another chunk removed from the disconnect between Caroline and reality.
Unconsciously Caroline knew there was a mental innocence she was about to lose that she could never regain. Her older future self sent this knowledge back through her soul via one of the fiber-thin connections that had developed there since her spiritual awakening, a spiritual awakening that was not quite yet complete.
The door was so close she could smell the rosin in the antique wood, her right hand reluctant to turn the knob before the last possible moment.
The door swung open silently on well-oiled hinges like a million other doors, revealing the converted sanctuary as it had countless times before. All this repetition only served to reinforce the severity of the ending of a long, almost supernatural lifespan. Would these doors still open with their mistress gone? The logical answer was yes, but logic was no longer an ally to Caroline as her brain scrabbled to avoid the oppressive guilt of being the reason for Mrs. Black's suffering.
The house still wasn't familiar, but Caroline remembered the uncomplicated path to Mrs. Black's bedroom. It was a pleasant surprise then to see a smiling if unfamiliar face waiting patiently outside the door.
"Caroline Parker, is it?" the robust Italian said in a hearty voice that could easily have been the cousin to Pavarotti.
"How did you know?" Caroline said, meeting his extended hand with one of her own.
"Oh, Mrs. Black mentioned you." The chubby man said energetically. "She said we'll be working together quite a bit from now own. By the way, I'm Dominick Borden. You can call me 'Dom', though."
"Well Dom, I'm sorry to have to meet you in these circumstances..." Caroline said politely, using vain pleasantries to distract her from what she was about to face.
"Hah! It happens to me more often than you'd think." Dom said with a merry twinkle in his eye.
The doorknob's lock spun as the other end completed the half turn it took to unlock it. Thug peered sheepishly through the door, shocked to find Dom there.
"You... You... You're too early..." Thug stammered in quiet shock.
"Please Thug, we're all old friends here. I may be here on business, but I'm not ONLY here on business."
Thug visibly relaxed. "Well, I guess there's no time to waste. She's ready to see you now."
Suddenly Dom and Caroline were standing on either side of Mrs. Black's bed. She lay under her covers, only her neck showing above clean cotton sheets. Mrs. Black was an odd mix of bloated and gaunt, the flesh of her face telling the tale of her gross internal struggle.
Dom took her hand graciously, like the hand of queen taken by a prince. He looked with open love into her eyes.
"Who'd have thought after all these years, it would be ME of all people here holding your hand."
Mrs. Black smiled weakly. "Well, they always said I was special. Thank you for coming under these terms. It's a greater compliment than you could know." Mrs. Black's voice strained, but she refused to allow that to detract from her eloquence.
Mrs. Black turned her eyes to Caroline.
"Caroline, this is Dom. He's here to give you your lesson on necromancy."
"Necromancy! But I though...I thought we were here... you know... to be with you..." Caroline stuttered.
"You'll never get a better opportunity than today, and I refuse to waste anything, even my own death and besides, there's no better teacher than Dom."
"You flatter me." Dom said with a smile incongruous to the subject at hand.
"Never the less," Mrs. Black soldiered on, "Necromancy is the magic of death, but not the magic of murder. It is the most conservative of the magical arts, and its techniques have a wide base in the medical industry."
Mrs. Black took a deep, savored breath.
"Today, you will watch me die. My death is not a worst-case scenario, but a best-case scenario. Have no sadness in this, because I have seen the alternatives, and I have chosen this."
Dom spoke up, sensing Mrs. Black's voice fading. "Everybody has to die, Caroline. Necromancy is a much older word for what a doctor might call hospice or palliative care. Necromancy can be used to revive the dead under the common name of CPR or First Aid. There are no zombies involved, just sick, dying people who want to use their last moments instead of wasting them."
"So, what are you going to show me?" Caroline instigated.
"Basic medicines, mainly. But towards the end, soul manipulation. Wait, has she..."
Dom turned to his patient as Mrs. Black's breaths began to become gasps. He scooped a white powder from a vial in his pocket in tiny sprinkles into Mrs. Black's open mouth.
"For example," he continued nonchalantly, "Methamphetamine. Nasty stuff for the mind, but it can give the dying just the jolt they need to stay lucid for a few more hours."
"Wait... you just gave Mrs. Black a bump of meth?" Caroline gasped incredulously.
"Basically. Pharmaceutical grade, though. She'll be talking again in under five minutes, tops. It shortens the death-span, but what good is being alive if you're not lucid?" Dom explained casually.
"Where did you learn this?" Caroline asked, dumbfounded.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you, but when I get more time, I will anyway. Let's just say me and Mrs. Black have worked out a lot of deals in the past and have been personal friends for many years."
The finely grained powder dissolved quickly on Mrs. Black's membranous tissues, osmosis pushing it into her blood stream almost as fast as if she'd injected it. Two minutes and sixteen seconds later the drug had fully infiltrated her brain.
"Ah, there we go." Dom intoned, self-satisfied, looking down at Mrs. Black's blinking eyes.
"Dom?" Mrs. Black asked sleepily.
"Yes?" He answered, warmly.
"Could you leave for a second?"
"Sure thing." He quipped, popping jauntily from the room.
"Caroline." Mrs. Black called.
"Yes?" Caroline answered, feeling formal for some reason.
"Do you know what it means, what happened with Lucille?" Mrs. Black struggled to keep her voice audible, the drugs failing to provide more than symptomatic relief.
"I know what it means." Caroline said with more surety than she realized. "It means their blood is my blood. Our blood, now. That for better or for worse, I'm part of the family."
"And do you know what that implies?" Mrs. Black pressed.
"It implies that you chose me to replace you. That's why Lucille and Thug were so eager to have me as midwife."
Mrs. Black sighed.
"The nature of a witch is to bargain. We don't have any "power," only knowledge, which is better, because power can be spent, but knowledge can be remembered forever. Our bargain, between me and you, whether you accept it or not, was that I would spare you knowing what fate The Glass had for you. Through prophecy I made normal decisions, decisions anyone could make if they had my knowledge of prophecy. I knew the cost from the very beginning, but I knew you would never agree if you knew I would die for it."
"A life for a life, Caroline. Yours for mine. I die, you live. What you pay me for my life is you life. You serve my family as I would have had I lived. That is your price, and you're in too deep not to pay it now, may God Himself have mercy on me."
It wasn't even a shock, not anymore. Why else would Thug have been so nervous and polite since day one? Why else would anyone have been so secretive? But also, worse, was admitting that knowing what she did now, she would do it all again without a drop of remorse. That lack of remorse was hers, Caroline's, and it was there long before the first time Mrs. Black entered her dreams. It was there that first night with Todd.
Accepting this was who she was, who she wanted to be, and how she wanted to be remembered. Mrs. Black needed her, her family needed her, but there was no pity in this decision; only power. In the end, Caroline did this for herself, and for no one else.
It was Caroline's turn to be the witch, now.
Caroline gave Mrs. Black an innocent peck on the lips, like a four year old might give her grandmother.
"I didn't know then, but I know now. I know, and I accept. I accept because I have tasted power, and I refuse to ever be weak again."
Mrs. Black smiled a slow, knowing smile.
"We could have been sisters, you and I. Now call Dom back in here. There is one last thing I can teach you."
"Is it time already, Lil?" Dom said, using Mrs. Black's first name familiarly.
"Yeah, Dom, the crank's finally making my heart sputter. Next time use coke, it has a shorter duration and it's easier on the heart."
"A nit-picker to the end. They're going to miss you."
"Liar." Mrs. Black said, and then closed her eyes.
Dom nudged Caroline's shoulder conspiratorially.
"Get a good look now, while you still can."
Caroline took the hint immediately, her funeral home calm helping her to enter the trance state. Mrs. Black's soul seemed... furry, blurry, and inconsistent, like a threadbare blanket all-full of static from the dryer, clinging to a random sock for dear life. She looked at Dom through the rainbow static, and was shocked. Mrs. Black's soul existed in an avatar as an aura, but Dom... Dom was a round, black... hole, warping and distending the patterns around him, drawing them in and absorbing them.
"Dom, what are you?" Caroline projected through the dream space.
"Try not to think about it." He replied, chuckling through the void. "Quick, watch."
He pointed, almost puppy-like with enthusiasm.
Caroline changed her focus back to Mrs. Black. The fuzzy hairs on her soul were becoming longer, fewer, and more defined, the longest ones curving towards Dom.
"See those strands? They're little conduits, little escape holes for the soul. Eventually one will latch on. A simple, basic technique to stop this is to create an avatar bubble."
Dom demonstrated, slowly coalescing a ball of the rainbow ether just as Caroline had to spy on Todd. The ball first went opaque white, then clear as it hollowed and expanded. Finally it moved into position, encapsulating Mrs. Black and blunting the strands escaping from her soul.
"It can only hold for so long. A dying soul creates a kind of negative spiritual pressure. Because they exist being created from nothing but pure will, souls distort the world. When they die, the natural forces stop distorting. The avatar bubble artificially maintains this distortion, like the glass of a light bulb maintains a vacuum so the filament inside doesn't burn out. Once the soul is weak enough, though, you're basically trying to create a soul by your will alone, and that's like trying to pick up the entire universe. Needless to say, it doesn't work."
"So she's not dead yet?" Caroline queried.
"Not yet, but she's too weak to control her body anymore."
The black strands writhed within the bottle, growing longer and more distinct. There was a popping blackhead quality to it, the purulent material of a dying soul being pushed out of the universe in cohesive strands. Unlike a blackhead, though, these strands were alive, like the flagella of microorganisms.
"By the way, always remember to reinforce the bubble. As the pressure increases, it can overcome your will and escape, resulting in the death of your patient." As Dom said this, he added a second coat of coalesced static to the capsule.
"Now, there's another technique that can strengthen the soul. Well, several, really, but they're all based on the same principal."
There was something ominous in Dom's tone as he conveyed this.
"If you have another soul, something I sadly lack, you can combine the dying one with the living one using an umbilical, only a purely spiritual one as opposed to a physical one. Two pieces of a soul make a whole new soul, whether one is incomplete because it is dying, or because that piece is a sexual extension. Basically, sex is the extension of two pieces of soul to create a new third self-sustaining one. Her piece will eventually die and break the connection, but this can buy you a little more time."
Caroline saw his point immediately, but with her own twist. An umbilical chord, yes, but also in a way a phallus, if it was to extend externally into another soul.
Herself, with a phallus extending from her containing a tendril of soul, just like the tendrils writhing inside of Dom's avatar bubble.
It was then that she noticed how easy it was to distort her avatar in the trance. With the image fully formed in her mind, the avatar flowed into it with the force of will it took to force out something gastrointestinal. The umbilical formed at her navel as she continued to push, driving it closer to Mrs. Black's dying soul.
"Impressive. No wonder you were so easy to find. It normally takes watching three deaths to figure out the trick of it. When I release the bubble, let one of the tendrils attach. It'll hurt, but if you hold on she may regain strength." Dom informed.
Dom's black-hole avatar drifted behind Caroline's in proportion to Mrs. Black in the defined dream-space. The bubble dissipated, reabsorbed into the rainbow static. Suddenly the tendrils escaped and surged, latching onto Caroline's umbilical.
The sensation was icy, burning cold, like having bare flesh frozen to a piece of metal. Instantly Caroline felt detached and weak, almost the exact opposite of a fever. Mrs. Black's avatar reformed, the tendrils sucking back inside leaving only the umbilical connecting them.
Mrs. Black was reborn; the only sign of her sickness the tendril that connected her to Caroline.
"This technique can be dangerous, Caroline. This can also be used to steal a soul to keep a dying mind alive, or worse, to absorb a second soul. Also, demons and the soulless can use this technique to acquire a soul in various ways." Mrs. Black spoke immediately.
Dom cut in. "I was hoping we wouldn't get this far. Very few people can even form an umbilical, let alone on the first try."
All this was barely registered to Caroline, now wrapped in an increasing torrent of burning, frigid, paralyzing pain, the feeling of a numb limb regaining sensation coursed through her body, tingling every nerve electrically.
It was too much. The umbilical was sucking the life out of her. She had to kill it, before she was too weak to fight back. Her mind formed the image of her separate once again, and with a mental wrench she broke the connection.
Mrs. Black's soul exploded in escaping rays, each one reaching hungrily past Caroline towards the lack of existence that was Dom in the spirit world.
"Caroline!" Dom projected, straining for some reason. "Watch closely! Once I do this, there's no going back!"
Caroline wavered in the trance, her weakness causing reality to fade back into view. She recovered to find a black bar with a shining silver tip radiating light. The bar extended straight from Dom's avatar like an axe handle, the tip making a right angle and hooking towards him almost as long as the handle.
A lump traveled up the tendril, a lump, Caroline realized, that was the bulk of Mrs. Black's soul, with just a thin strand connecting it to her motionless avatar.
"This is the last secret of necromancy, although there are others you still have not learned. Once a soul has been contacted by God's messenger and separated from its body, or its avatar here, it can never return, although it can still be manipulated for a time before it is reclaimed and judged."
There was a pregnant pause.
"This is what it looks like."
The silver tip, now a blade, sliced through the last weak strands holding Mrs. Black to her avatar. The tendrils connecting her soul to Dom drew it towards him, finally being sucked into that space-warping vacuum. With that, Mrs. Black was gone.