Dr. Henry Holiday sat in his laboratory, fanning through his annotated collector’s edition of Abdul Alhazred’s Necronomicon, muttering the title of each chapter as he scoured the book for the incantation he needed. On the workbench beside him sat a metal dish resembling an ash tray, in which a pile of chalky, bluish powder sat waiting.
Edna Bishop entered the lab without knocking, as always looking like a tall, slender Egyptian supermodel. She paused as she entered to recoil from the smell: the room was thick with a strong and inexplicably fruity odor that tickled her nose. She eyed the doctor’s suspiciously moist and muddied loafers.
“Didn’t know you were back already,” said Edna. “How was your cousin’s funeral?”
“Depressing,” he said with disinterest.
Edna moved to the tray on the workbench and poked her fingers in the blue powder, stirred it around, then smelled it on her hand. She winced as the same fruity smell assaulted her nostrils. “What are you doing?”
Dr. Holiday grabbed Edna’s sweater sleeve and gently pulled her backward with a look of mild annoyance on his face. “Ah, don’t…touch those salts, please.”
He stared at her in bewilderment for a moment, as if she had a giant, alien bug crawling on her head. Her raven black hair, despite being expertly cut just below the jawline, still bounced with almost unnatural downy softness.
“Your hair is different,” said the doctor.
Edna cocked an eyebrow. “It’s been different for two weeks.”
“I never noticed.”
“Shock and awe.” She gestured to the blue powder. “What are these, bath salts?”
“They’re Cousin Friday’s salts,” the doctor explained. “I need to call her up and ask a few important questions.”
Edna blinked, still wiping her hand on her slacks. “Whaddaya mean, ‘Cousin Friday’s salts?'”
“Unfortunately,” said the Doctor, still irritably fanning through the tome to find the incantation he was looking for, “she’s kinda hard to reach at the moment, being dead and all.”
Edna suddenly went very pale and her eyes became the size of golf balls. She held out her salt-soiled hand in horror, as if it had turned into a monster. “Whaddaya mean, ‘Cousin Friday‘s salts?!’”
Dr. Holiday looked at his partner as if the woman had just asked where poop came from. “I refined her former vessel into summoning salts so I can contact her spirit from across the astral plane. How else am I supposed to talk to her without swimming through endless Infernal Red Tape?”
Edna pointed at the blue dust. “That’s your cousin Friday?”
“No, those are her summoning salts. Friday is sitting in relative comfort on the first circle of Inferno by now, where all benign fools go after death. What I’m doing is similar to recovering her old, discarded phone, hotwiring it, and using it to send her a text.”
“You ground her corpse into a powder, and now you’re gonna call up her ghost!”
“I only borrowed a finger! You know how hard it is to make an effective summoning salt from one measly finger? It’s tedious and time-consuming enough, even without drawing the protection circle, which I don’t want in this case because I actually want her to recognize me. She’ll be panicky enough when I call her up.”
Edna threw up her hands and stormed out of the lab.
Dr. Holiday sighed and muttered, “Nobody appreciates necromancy anymore.”
When he found the incantation, Dr. Holiday punched it into his Triumph XP — the most expensive and sought-after digital fetish on the market, a hybrid of wand and spellbook. No sooner had the device uttered the incantation in its grainy digital voice, a trail of green smoke rose slowly from the blue salts and gradually formed the spectral shape of Cousin Friday, still wearing the chic party dress she wore in death. The dainty twenty-year-old redhead looked, to put it lightly, horrifically distressed.
“D-Doctor…?” whimpered Friday. “Is…is that you?! Oh thank god! You gotta get me outta here!”
“Friday, calm down. I need to ask you–”
Friday didn’t hear him over her own shrill voice. “They got me locked up in a tiny cage in Hell, and it smells godawful, and there’s millions of other caged people all around me, and they keep makin’ with this pitiful wailin’ and mopin’! I dunno how I got here, and I’m really scared and I just wanna come home!”
“Friday, you’re dead. You can’t come home. Now please–”
Friday did a dead-on impression of a sad-eyed basset hound. “Can’t come home?! Ain’t you, like, a wizard? Ain’t that how you called me? What am I doin’ in Hell, anyway?” She covered her mouth with a start. “Is it ‘cos I never went to church?”
Dr. Holiday removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Friday–”
“Or is it ‘cos of Angie? It wasn’t my fault Angie died! I mean, yeah, I coulda called 911 and maybe it woulda saved her, but I didn’t, like, murder her! I wouldn’t figure–!”
“Friday, calm down. It is perfectly normal to end up in Hell first thing. Everyone goes to hell for at least a week or so. I’m just calling on your mother’s behalf, to straighten out a few financial messes you left for her to clean up. For starters–”
Both ghost and necromancer froze, and stared blankly at one-another for a long, silent moment.
Dr. Holiday slowly pointed his finger at his spectral cousin. “Hang on a sec…you told me you found Angie dead.”
Friday squinted at him. “Hang on a sec, you mean everyone goes to Hell? What kinda bullshit system is that?”
“Don’t change the subject,” said the Doctor, leaning closer to the ghost. “You mean Angie was alive when you found her? Not dead?”
The ghost looked at the Doctor, then at the floor, then back at the Doctor. “……Yeah…”
“And you could’ve called for help, and could’ve saved her life?”
The ghost looked at the floor. “…..I guess so…”
“But you didn’t?”
“She was a bitch!”
Dr. Holiday held his head in his hands and let out a long, tired sigh. “‘Fraid that complicates things a bit, Friday.”
The shadows of the laboratory leapt off the walls and took the tall, robed shapes of three Infernal Harvesters, each breathing plumes of smoke from their blackened, skullish faces. Dr. Holiday made no motions or gestures to suggest he was the least bit surprised.
The first Harvester said in a hollow voice, “THIS SOUL IS DAMNED BY ORDER OF HIS EXCELLENCY MINOS. DO YOU KNOW THE PENALTY FOR VOLUNTARY NECROMANCY?”
The term “damned” was a serious one in Inferno: it referred to non-Limburbians, or inmates who were sentenced to the city of Dis, comprised of circles Six through Nine. As in, people who were being punished for genuinely evil acts.
Dr. Holiday cleaned his glasses nonchalantly. “This is all just a big misunderstanding, fellas. If you’ll just let me exp–”
The rest of his sentence came out in a wheeze as the first Harvester slugged him in the stomach. The other two stuffed his barely-conscious form into a large black sack.
“THAT’S WHAT THEY ALL SAY.”