The Necromancer's Sister
At dusk, the telephone in the bus driver’s apartment rang in its cradle. Her mother, far away on the other end, had bad news. The bus driver's twin sister had been in a car accident. She was not expected to live. These were their mother’s words: “She is not expected to live.”
The bus driver hurried out of bed, yanked on leggings, and took an Uber to the hospital. After meeting blank looks and confused typists unable to find records, a nurse ushered her several buildings away and several staircases down. The room was antiseptic, colder than the bus driver expected, and she could hear the roaring of a great furnace.
The necromancer lay on a railingless metal table, wrapped in a sheet, face peeking out. The bus driver remembered their childhood: her sister laughing, face emerging from the fake-fur-lined hood of a pink winter coat, tongue stuck out to catch snowflakes.
The necromancer half-smiled, half-grimaced when she saw her sister, but didn’t say anything. Underneath the folds and wrinkles of the sheet, the bus driver could see the outline of the map and the lure clutched in her sister’s hands. Their mother stood next to the table, rattling a small cup of ice chips. She gazed down at her dying daughter with dry, opaque eyes.
Finally, the necromancer looked up at the bus driver and smiled. "Hello, little sister,” she said. She'd been born five minutes earlier, so when their mother died, she inherited the necromancy. "It looks like you're about to get a promotion."
"I don’t want it. I never wanted it," said the bus driver. "I'll bring you back, then take sleeping pills and pass it to one of the cousins as quickly as possible. What are you going to do with your second life?"
There was a pause, and the shroud whispered like crinkling paper as the necromancer turned her head to look at their mother. “Don’t bring me back,” she said. "I don't want it."
There was a silence.
"Fuck you," said the bus driver.
The necromancer coughed interminably. Then she said, "I mean it. For every resurrected person sweeping their family into a hug, I bring back ten strangers with faces too hard, or too soft, or too distant. Those are lousy odds."
The bus driver turned to their mother. "Is this true?"
Mother shrugged. "Right as rain," she said.
"Some were so angry that they returned," said the necromancer.
"But," said the bus driver. “You asshole. You goddamn asshole. You’re going to die.”
"Yes," said the necromancer. A tear rolled down the side of her face and disappeared into the sheet. "I’ll miss you. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I won’t miss anything.” She hitched a breath. "The map and the lure are already becoming yours. You'll need a bigger purse, or a messenger bag, or more pockets. You know how to use them?"
"Fuck you. Fuck your messenger bag. Carry them yourself.”
The necromancer sighed. “Come on. You know how to use them.”
“I've seen you and mom do it," said the bus driver.
"Good, good. They’re yours. Jesus Christ, I’ll be glad when this stops hurting."
"Please," said the bus driver. "Please. I don't want to do any of this without you."
"Please don’t stop me,” said the necromancer. Then she said, “I love you.” Then she died. Her face slackened horribly. Her eyes didn’t close. Her ears seemed to move down on her face below the sheet.
"That's the way the cookie crumbles," said the mother, and rattled the ice.
The woman burst into tears and hugged her sister's body.
"No use crying over spilt milk," said their mother. She paused, shifted from foot to foot, ran a hand through her perfect hair. "It's not that I don't care," she said. "Please don't think I don't care. I care from a great distance. I care through a vast volume of water." She walked out of the room.
The woman fell to her knees next to the table, feeling her sister's body cooling. With a quiet paf sound, like bubblegum popping, the map and the lure appeared in her hands. She dropped them and, through gauzy eyes, watched them clatter on the linoleum floor.
The lure began to chime.