The Professional Crier


[Necromancy: the art or practice of supposedly conjuring up the dead, especially in order to obtain from them knowledge of the future]

My name is Penny Circe.

If I had any friends, I’d want them to call me P.C.  It would be funny, you know?  ‘Cause I’m not really that politically correct.

But I don’t have any friends.  Can’t blame ‘em.  I probably wouldn’t be friends with me, either.

My school counselor calls me P.C., but not to my face.  I overheard her once, whispering to the secretary when I was waiting in her office.  “The Professional Crier is back.”  I could detect the exasperation in her voice, like maybe she wanted me to hear her.

Of course I was back.  After all, Randy Metz, the school quarterback, had died in an ATV accident.  And anytime one of my classmates died, I had to cry.

Because my tears can bring back the dead.  At least, temporarily.

Don’t get me wrong. I cry out of genuine sadness, too.  How could Mrs. Gants not get that?  After all, I am the only daughter of our town’s only mortician.  (Correction.  I was the only daughter of our town’s only mortician.)  And dying has always been good business in our town.

The mortuary has been in our family for generations.  Literally.  We run it out of the house my great-grandfather built after the Civil War.  The same house we’ve lived in my whole life.  Death has been my playmate ever since I can remember.  Nothing to be afraid of.  But I’ve also seen the grief in the loved ones when he came around to play.

And I’ve seen the bodies left behind.  And I’ve cried over them, just like I did with Randy Metz.  But it never does any good.  They never stay.

Sitting on my bed in the dark, I can only hope it works tonight.  It hadn’t worked with Randy last Fall, and I haven’t tried it since.

The trick is to get to the bodies before the mortician.  My father had a curious ritual when someone brought him a body to prepare.  After a few minutes alone with the deceased, he would leave the house without saying a word.  I never knew where he went, but I have a few guesses.  He was never gone more than an hour, but it provided the time I needed.  You have to get to them before the eyelids are glued shut or the jaw sewn together.

I learned this early on.

After they had “delivered” Randy Metz and my dad had left, I went down to the parlor.  Randy wasn’t the cutest boy in school.  But he wasn’t bad looking.  He had even looked at me a couple of times.  Most people just ignore me.

He didn’t look so good that day.  Kind of grayish-blue.  Scraped up pretty bad, and his neck was one big bruise where the four-wheeler landed on him.

The tears came then.  I can’t really control them, but at least I finally I figured out what I can do with them.

As with every classmate who made their next-to-last stop here, after I had wiped my tears on his face, Randy opened his eyes in shock.  And just like every other time, I thought I had done it… brought someone back from the dead.

Some, like Randy, would even sit up and look at me.  Color would seep back into their flesh.  After the initial shock, there would usually be a look of placid calm.  Relief, maybe.  But before they could say a word, they would get that terrified look again.  Their eyes would return to a hazy, milky color as they seemed to look right through me, wide-eyed and staring at something I couldn’t see.

My old playmate probably.

And then Death would take them.  Again.  And I would cry.  Again.  But this time because I had failed.

But I can’t fail tonight.  Tonight is more important than any other time.  Tonight it’s my daddy.

I found him just after midnight.  I had awoken from a particularly nasty nightmare and gone to his room.  It had been a year since the last time this happened, but I knew he would still let me climb into bed next to him.  But the bed was cold, even when I curled up alongside him.

I came back to my room and sat on my bed.  But I haven’t cried, even though I really want to.  I have to save my tears. I have to try one more time.

Daddy lost a lot of weight over the past year, so I’m able to carry him downstairs.  His cosmetic effects are all there.   And the cold steel table, scalpel, and tools for removing the blood.

I lay him on the table.  Finally I let myself cry.  Harder than ever.  Puddles of tears fill my palms, and I rub them across my daddy’s face.

He opens his eyes.

But there is no shock.  He smiles as color rushes back into his cheeks.  He pushes himself into a sitting position.  “My sweet Penny,” he says.  My breath catches in my chest.

He spoke.

He reaches out a hand and wipes my tears away with his thumb.  “I have the answers you have been seeking.”

Then it hits me.  Hard.  Like a book-filled backpack “accidentally” swung in your direction in a crowded hallway.

Suddenly I realize that I haven’t been trying to beat death all these years.  I wasn’t reanimating my classmates because I loved them or anything (well, Randy Metz…)  It wasn’t about them.  It was about me.  I’ve been wanting answers… to know what they discovered.  Was there an end to this pain?  Or would it be better if I just ended it myself?

Now here was my answer.

But all I want is my daddy back.

But before he can say another word, he gets that terrified look.  His handsome blue eyes turn milky and hazy, and he looks right through me, wide-eyed and staring at something behind me.

My old playmate probably.

When he drops back on the table, I reach for the scalpel.

* * *

For an author afterword explaining where this story came from, as well as the other stories in “Free Five,” download the full collection for free at AmazonBarnes and NobleSmashwords.

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