Ned the Necromancer and his otherworldly friends live in splendid isolation in the derelict Mortlake House. Unfortunately, they need a new tenant to pay the bills.
My name is Ned, and all my friends are dead.
Okay, I should probably rephrase that for the sake of clarity. My name is Ned, I’m a necromancer, and all my friends are un-dead.
We live together in a big house in Deptford, London. Mortlake House. The dilapidated one right on the Thames, surrounded by prime real estate.
The council have been trying to knock it down for years so they can build fancy flats. Unfortunately, every time they send the bailiffs round, Amy starts throwing shit at them. Slapping their faces. Pulling down their trousers. You should see them flee in terror. It’s hilarious. They must need counselling for years afterwards.
Amy, by the way, is our resident poltergeist.
Her parents bought the place in the nineties hoping to renovate it but moved out after Amy killed herself. She’s still pretty moody, but definitely useful to have around.
Then there’s Zombie Dan, my best mate growing up and first successful re-animation after he got hit by that car. He mostly lives in the fridge now, as he’s pretty badly decomposed, but we still play MarioKart sometimes.
Marlowe is a headless phantom that lived here in the Renaissance. He was a famous playwright, which he won’t shut up about. He was also a fairly outspoken homosexual, so they cut off his head and stuck it on London Bridge.
Then there’s Mrs O’Reilly. She’s a banshee. You get used to the screaming. Honestly. I don’t even hear it anymore.
Liam is the Deptford Vampire. He’s only been one since the seventies though, and his heart isn’t really in it. He’s a vegan.
Willow is a will-o-the-wisp. Doesn’t say much, but very useful in a power cut.
And finally Black Bart. He’s a skeleton. And a pirate. He’s quite annoying actually.
So that’s all of us. Well. Almost all of us.
Now there’s also Caroline.
The bane of all our deaths.
Perhaps I should explain.
“Guys. We need to have a house meeting.”
It was last November, and the weather had been diabolical. Rain, storms, snow. The roof was leaking, we were getting constant blackouts, and it was freezing cold.
Technically, being dead, the others don’t feel cold. But as the only truly flesh and blood member of our collective and therefore the one who generally has to do everything round here, I felt it was in their own interests that I had some basic mortal comforts.
I started moving the antiquated chairs into a circle in the drawing room. The one designated for house meetings and evocations.
It’s not like I’m the only one that can physically move chairs.
Amy is perfectly capable, if she can be bothered. Dan too technically has the motor skills, but it takes time to explain simple tasks to him so I generally find it’s not worth the effort of getting him out of the fridge. Or the smell. That leaves Liam, but he was currently out on a night flight. Plus I don’t like asking him to physically exert himself too much, what with being vegan and all.
“Guys. Come on!”
I rang the servant’s bell.
This summoned Mrs O’Reilly; her rather large frame materialising before me. She instantly started to scream, but stopped suddenly when she noticed the bell in my hand.
“Oh. It’s you,” she said, somewhat flummoxed, “I must stop falling for that one.”
I chuckled to myself. The brass bell was a relic from Mrs O’Reilly’s time in the house, when she was a parlour maid, before being brutally murdered.
In those days, this room was used for seances. The decor hadn’t changed much. Red velvet curtains, floral wallpaper, wood panelling, doilies. It was perfect. Half of all ceremonial magic is about the atmosphere, and this room had heaps of it.
The only thing that slightly spoiled the look was the large fridge in one corner, but I got tired of wheeling Dan in from the kitchen every time we had a house meeting.
A headless phantasm in doublet and hose stumbled through a wall.
“Forsooth, I’ve lost mine head again!” declared Marlowe, his voice somewhat muffled as he staggered about the room flailing his arms.
“Well, it’s clearly in here somewhere,” I said, hunting around. I quickly found his coiffured bonce under a cushion.
“But soft! What light beyond the pillow breaks!” exclaimed Marlowe.
“Stop it,” I said, picking up the head and balancing it on Marlowe’s oversized ruff.
“I wrote that line you know,” added Marlowe, ruefully.
“I don’t care,” I said, sliding open a window.
In flew a scrawny bat which flopped into one of the empty chairs, panting.
“Alright Liam,” I said.
The bat stretched grotesquely into human form. Pallid and lank haired, wearing mustard coloured corduroy flares, hemp shoes, and a knit tank top.
“Hey man,” drawled Liam.
Next, a bundle of light descended the chimney flue and pulsated across the room before disappearing into the teapot. Willow’s usual spot for these meetings.
“So that’s Willow, Dan, Liam, Marlowe and Mrs O’Reilly. Which leaves – ”
A blast of salty air and a snatch of accordion music heralded the arrival of Black Bart, stalking through the riverside wall. A skeletal spectre in a frayed frock coat and tricorn hat, cutlass rattling at his femur.
“Ahoy, me hearties!”
“Take a seat Bart.”
That just left Amy, last as usual, who finally stropped in and folded herself into a chair.
“This had better be good.”
“Okay guys,” I announced, “it can’t have escaped your notice that Mortlake House is literally collapsing around us. We need to pay for some serious home renovations. For that we need money. Actual, physical money. So, I propose, we find a new housemate. One that can pay actual rent.”
I let the information sink in.
The others looked at each other. Mrs O’Reilly started screaming. Amy put up her hand.
“Yes Amy?” I said, after Mrs O’Reilly had finished screaming.
“Can’t you just, like, do some spells or whatever to fix the roof and stuff?”
“I’m a necromancer Amy, not a fucking wizard. This isn’t Harry Potter. My ‘spells and whatever’ are strictly limited to invocations, evocations and re-animations. Not home improvements.”
“Bart be not against another hand to join our crew,” said Bart.
“Indeed, another fair soul to add to our fellowship of the damned.”
“Great. That’s Bart, Marlowe and Liam. Dan?”
“Brains!” came the stifled reply from the fridge.
“I’ll take that as a yes. Ladies?”
“As long as it’s another female, dear,” interjected Mrs O’Reilly “to even the stakes a bit. What do you say girls?” Mrs O’Reilly looked from Amy, to the teapot, then back to Amy, who shrugged.
“Excellent. A new housemate it is. On the condition that she is rich, female and dead. Should narrow it down. Well, shall we get searching right away, since we’re all here?”
The others agreed.
This was the fun part. I set about preparing the space right away, chalking the sigils and glyphs on the walls, and drawing out a protective circle in the middle of the room. Never quite sure what you will summon with evocation.
I dimmed the lights, donned my robes, lit the candles on the altar and got the incense going in the brazier. All the while, I jabbered excitedly, half to myself.
“The thing I’m wondering, is do we go for a corporeal or incorporeal entity? If it’s the latter, then it’s got to be someone very recently dead, whose bank balance hasn’t been sucked dry yet by their relatives. Unless it’s a wight or wraith with buried gold.”
“Yes Bart. Gold. Or we go the other route and get someone with an actual physical body. Maybe a ghoul. Someone who can help me fix the roof. Okay. I think we’re all good here. Everyone ready?”
I gave my robes a little flourish, and began to utter the Incantation of Evocation. The glyphs and markings on the walls and floor began to glow red. The room hummed.
A tropical rainforest materialised in the middle of the drawing room.
A hallucinogenic kaleidoscope of neon serpents and celestial jaguars. In the midst of which, sat a small brown man in faded football shorts and a feather head-dress. He extracted a tube of snuff from his nostril and frowned.
“Sorry Pablo,” I said, “wrong number!”
I banished the vision. Pablo the Shaman receded with the jungle. Me and Pablo cross wires sometimes. Awkward.
“Alright. Let’s try again!”
This time, an endless, silvery desert beneath a field of stars. A trickle of blue flame coalesced into winged, humanoid form, wreathed in azure fire.
“I am Malaketh, mightiest of the Djinn, release me, puny mortal, and I will – ”
“No thank you!” I said, hastily banishing the vision. Way too keen.
The evening continued in much the same vein. Summoning one immaterial entity after another, and none of them quite right for a housemate. There were a couple of suicides, a recent stabbing victim, an NDE, two imps, a succubus, a cardiac arrest, and that sweaty guy tripping on acid in a Berlin nightclub that wouldn’t stop dancing around the circle.
It was late, I was exhausted, and the others were losing patience.
One. Last. Go.
This time, the circle revealed a smiling, pint-sized female in her mid-twenties, with frizzy hair and round glasses, hands neatly folded in her lap.
She said her name was ‘Caroline’, an exchange student from Florida.
“You’re in London now though, Caroline, yes?” I asked, noticing the lights of Piccadilly Circus floating across the drawing room.
“Yeah!” said Caroline, a little over-enthusiastically, both thumbs in the air. Apparently her daddy had bought her a flat in Soho for her studies.
“But now, I want to be somewhere more…authentic. Living with real people.”
“Kerching!” said Amy, quietly.
“And you’re happy with the rent?” I said.
“Absolutely!” said Caroline.
“Well. I think we’ve all heard enough.”
The others nodded. It had been a long night.
“O spirit Caroline, we invoke you to be our new housemate. You may step out of the circle.”
“Awesome!” squealed Caroline, “I think I’m here now.”
Then, the entity known as Caroline did something very strange.
She stood up, raised her index finger, and pressed it through the wall of the magic circle.
Caroline suddenly dissipated.
“Was that the doorbell, dear?” asked Mrs O’Reilly.
“Yep.” winced Amy. Her parents had installed the wretched thing in the nineties. It had been years since I’d heard it.
I backed out of the drawing room, leaving the others still sitting, dumbfounded, in a circle. I walked down the long corridor to the front door, as if in a dream.
Behind the stained glass, there was a shadowy figure.
I opened the door.
“Hello Edward. I’m Caroline!” proclaimed the apparition, extending a hand. I took it automatically, before recoiling in horror.
The hand was solid.
Which meant only one thing…
Over Caroline’s shoulder, a London taxi screeched into the night.
“H – how did you find us?” I stammered.
“Oh. This awesome Shamanic App,” she said, waving her iPhone at me, “haven’t you heard of it? It uses binaural beats and hypnotic imagery to change the brain’s theta waves into a super perceptive state so you can access inter-dimensional … ”
I had stopped listening.
Of course I had heard of the app. The one that turns any halfwit into an occultist. My decades of study, my library of books, the fortune I had spent on talismans, potions and ritual objects, all condensed into a mobile app that any idiot could operate.
Caroline was still jabbering as I led her into the drawing room.
“Everyone. Meet Caroline. Our new housemate,” I said through gritted teeth, “and she appears to be… alive.”
“Hey everyone!” beamed Caroline.
The effect on the others was one of utter transmutation.
Marlowe went white as a sheet, then his head dropped off. Willow short-circuited all the lights. Bart collapsed into a pile of bones. Amy had a hissy fit and started to smash stuff. Dan burst out of the fridge, careened through the door and tumbled down the stairs. Liam morphed into a bat, flew into a closed window and concussed himself, while Mrs O’Reilly started screaming and wouldn’t stop.
* * *
I cant believe I’d introduced a living tenant to Mortlake House. The others are barely okay with me, and I’m between worlds. And if things got off to a bad start, they only got worse from there.
First, Caroline demanded that she got dibs on bedrooms.
“As I’m the only one paying rent.”
Of course she chose my room. The one with the four poster bed. I moved into the loft. With the hole in the roof and Liam’s droppings everywhere.
That’s when things got really bad.
She started killing off my housemates.
Zombie Dan was the first to go. She ‘accidentally’ turned off his fridge. The smell was just too much in the end. I wept as I poured him into the bio-waste disposal unit.
Liam was next. I heard a feeble scream, and dashed into the basement to see my friend disintegrating into a pile of dust. With a fork in it.
“What? I wanted him to try my vegan risotto!”
“Duh, it’s risotto.”
I glared at her.
Next was Amy. That was no accident. Those two did not get on. One has OCD, the other is a poltergeist.
“It was just a simple exorcism!” explained Caroline.
“Where did you learn that?”
“My Shamanic App!”
That fucking app.
A few days later, and the house was eerily quiet.
“What have you done with Mrs O’Reilly?” I demanded.
“Relax! Want some coffee?”
“Mrs O’Reilly is at peace now.”
“I don’t like the sound of that euphemism.”
It turns out they had had a nice girly chat. About boys and stuff. All that screaming was just repressed Victorian sexuality. Once indulged, she’d merged with the cosmic ether. Poor thing.
“Similar deal. I gave him a copy of his own Complete Works.”
“That bitch? I bottled her up and threw her in the Thames.”
My hand flew to my mouth.
“You’re a monster!”
“No. I’m a ghostbuster.”
“That’s not even a thing!”
“Please. And a necromancer is? If you don’t like it you can get out of my house.”
“It’s not your house!”
“Actually, it is.”
She flashed some paperwork at me. I stared in disbelief. Apparently, Amy’s parent’s had signed over the deeds to Mortlake House. Caroline’s dad was going to turn the whole area into real estate. That’s what this was about. That’s what this had always been about.
I felt physically sick.
“And now, I just have one more pesky little ghost to bust.”
“Erm. I hate to point this out Caroline, but technically, I’m not dead.”
“A minor detail,” she smiled saccharinely. “How’s your coffee?”
My name’s Ned, and I’m dead.