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Duncan Long

Copyright © 2001
All Rights Reserved

Jake fought back his tears and stared at the casket lying at the front of the church. The shining coffin was bathed in a floodlight that looked like a beam of sunlight from heaven; the brightness formed a soft halo around the casket in which Maria lay, motionless as if she had simply fallen asleep and might awake at any moment. Jake ignored the organ prelude and simply stared at her body.

He continued to do so through the short service, as if at any moment she would take a deep breath and wake up. She would sit up, full of life, and tell everyone to go home, the whole thing had simply been a big mistake.

But she never awakened.

Death is the enemy, Jake thought when the service was finally over at the cemetery. He shook hands with the friends, relatives, and neighbors who mumbled cliches and then nervously fled from the graveyard, got into their cars, and sped away as if fearful they might be tainted by the death around them.

"It's time to go," Jake's brother-in-law finally told him, pulling him away from the grave site long after the others had gone. Jake let himself be led to the black limousine and climbed in without a word.

Jake spent the next six months away from his job, too upset to work. He lived off the funds he and Marie had saved during their ten years of marriage. His spent his time searching through the library and then through dusty bookshops, devouring the books on religion and then, not finding the answer he sought, delved into the white and then the black arts of magic.

Sitting in his kitchen, Jake pushed aside a leather-bound book and traced the cigarette burn on the smooth oak table with his finger. The burn had come with the table, put there by the previous owner decades before Maria had rescued it from the dusty corner of an antique shop.

Then he turned his attention to his steak, carving off a chunk before glancing up at his wife.

"So what's bothering you?" Maria asked. "Go ahead and tell me about it now. We'll break our rule about not talking shop at the table."

Jake put down his knife and hitched up his glasses. "This spell I've discovered. It's pretty complicated."

"That's okay, we've got all the time in the world." Maria maintained eye contact with him as she lifted a glass of water to her full lips.

"I think I could sit here and look into your dark eyes the rest of my life," Jake told her.

"Very romantic but don't change the subject."

"Okay," he said around a bite of steak. "What it boils down to is that the work I've been doing. . ."

"Your magic books?"

"Yeah. It's complicated - and yet so simple. It looks like - I know this is about impossible to believe." "Try me."

"It looks like it's possible to bring people back from the dead. I know that sounds crazy, but I've already done it with - ."

"It doesn't sound crazy at all. It makes perfect sense to me."

"Yeah, I guess it would," he said with a sheepish grin. "You were always going to church all the time and tried to make me feel guilty. You and your parents. Always conspiring to save my soul. Then you were in the accident and. . ."

"What's wrong?"

"It's weird," Jake said, putting down his fork. "I thought you were, uh, dead. But I guess I was wrong." He looked at her for some hint of what she was thinking, but her face was a mask.

"Let's not get side tracked," she said. "What's the problem with the book?"

"I've either got to falsify documents or somehow mislead people into thinking that. . . Well, if anyone knows I can raise people from the dead, it will be a disaster. The whole world will be at our doorstep. I just don't know."

"There's always a solution. All you need to do is think about it and talk it out."

The doorbell rang.

"Who could that be?" Jake asked.

"It's for you."

"Then I'll get it," Jake said, wondering how Marie could know it was for him. He pushed away from the table, stood up, wove his way past the china cabinet, crossing into the living room, his shoes clicking on the wooden floor. A reddish glow shone through the cut-glass windows on either side of the front door in the foyer. Jake gazed at the glass but couldn't see through it. Yet somehow nothing seemed out of the ordinary to the scientist. He grasped the doorknob and opened the door.

The startled scientist recoiled as the hooded figure pushed its way into the room. The thing's face was hidden in the shadow of its robes; its bony hand held a bloody sickle. "Why are you robbing me?" Death asked.

Jake stood speechless, unsure

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