Monday, July 27, 2015

Dead On Arrival: Short Fiction

Dead On Arrival
Chris Costello

The smoke in the speakeasy swirls between me and my date. She's dolled up with lipstick and a swell hat, but she'd be pretty without all that.

"You work as a court stenographer, right?" I ask, nervously fidgeting with my drink. We sit near the back, where the piano-man hammers out a rag. "You must hear fascinating stuff all day."

She smiles. "It's just work. Not bad work, but still."

"Oh." I sip my hooch, trying to figure out what I ought to say next. Just because Eddie keeps setting me up on blind dates doesn't mean I know how to carry on a conversation.

She saves me by asking the next question. "You were a necromancer in the war?" Her eyes flash with genuine interest and she blushes a little, like she's embarrassed to be so curious.

Eddie always says not to talk about the war, but with her eyes on me, I'm wishing I'd worn my uniform. "That is correct. 79th Infantry Division, ma'am."

She laughs. "Don't ma'am me. You fight at any big battles? Animate a hundred dead to fight those Germans?"

"Well, I was at the Battle of Argonne Forest, but I can't animate whole dead folks. My necromancy's a bit of an oddity, see."

Now she's forgotten her drink and leans over the table close to me. "Ooh. Something secret? You're a spy?"

"Even better." I lean forward too, finally relaxed. Here's something I can talk about. "I animate parts of people."

She blinks, then peers at me. "Parts?" she asks, like she heard wrong.

"Yeah. So if a fellow's got gangrene, I can turn that bit undead, see? And that means any bits of gangrene floating around his body, ready to turn him all clammy and kill him of septic shock, those get animated, too. Then I can pull the little bits back to the main site of gangrene and keep him from dying. And if you can wiggle your necrotic flesh, well, that gives a chance for the living blood and flesh to regrow in its place."

She pulls back and takes a quick swig of her drink. "That's, er, nice."

"I felt so useful in the war. Keeping folks from losing limbs or dying. It's mighty rewarding, being able to animate just part of a person."

"Right. Well, shall I tell you about stenography now?" she asks.

Not that she wants to talk about that long, either. She comes up with an excuse pretty soon about needing to run an errand for her sister, and how she forgot until just now, and she's got to skedaddle, so sorry.

I walk her out of the joint and say I had a real good time, even though I know there won't be a second.

Then I sit back down at my empty table with my empty cup. When I finally do head home to my apartment, Eddie will ask how the date went. He'll tell me I'm an idiot for talking about the war.

Maybe I am a sap for thinking it, but somewhere out there, there's got to be a girl who's more impressed by a man that can clean up gangrene than a man who can convince dead people to keep on killing each other. That's the first date I'm still hoping for.

I ask the barkeep for another drink and listen to the piano-man weave his music through the smoke.

“So, Tommy, how’d it go?” Right on cue, Eddie plonks himself down in the chair in front of me and pops the question.

I sit down next to him and pour myself another glass of cheap bourbon. “It’s over.” I say, taking a long pull on the drink.

Eddie winces. “That bad, huh?”

“Yeah. Court stenographers are so jumpy.”

Eddie narrows his eyes and slides the glass across the desk. It’s out of my reach now, but I don’t put up a fight. He’s right; I gotta lay off the hooch. “You didn’t mention the war, did you?”

I nod. “It seemed like a good conversation starter.”

“Jeez, Tom, what did I tell you.” Eddie lets out a long, slow sigh, like he’s a balloon running out of air. “Dames don’t like to hear about the war.”
“No,” I say, slamming my hand down hard on the desk. The rotting wood splinters with the impact of the blow. I keep telling Eddie, we gotta get a new desk. But money’s tight these days, so it’ll be a while. “They don’t like to hear about me.”

“Well, Christ, Tommy.” Eddie says. “Can you blame them?”

“What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?”

He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath. “You’re a goddamned necromancer, Tom. That’s not exactly the most romantic Gift, you know.”

I shrug. “She seemed pretty into it. Until I brought up the gangrene.”

“Well, there you fucking go. Stop bringing up the gangrene, then.”


Eddie silences me with a look. His eyes blaze with something dark, and I nod. I can’t tell if he’s Gifting me or not, but I don’t care. Eddie’s got something to say, and I can tell I’d better listen. “Look, I know you did some good work during the war. Hell, you saved my life at Argonne. But that’s over now. You gotta let that go. Here, your Gift isn’t necessary or heroic. It’s just...creepy.”

“Just ‘cause it freaks people out don’t mean it ain’t important.” I say.

“I know that, Tommy. But she doesn’t.”

“None of them do.” I say, standing up.

All Eddie can do is nod as I walk out the door and slam it behind me.

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