Mistakes in Death

The doorbell rang, interrupting the necromancer’s spell. Furrowing his brow, he answered it and accepted the mail. The carrier, red as a radish from the storm, asked to be let in, and oh why not? The witch was as dead as she was going to be.

Magic has an element of random chance — this is one of the things that separates it from electricity and magnetism and other natural forces. Training, practice, spell components, rituals, and talent all work on suppressing the randomness and the possibility of literally awesome results (a healing spell duplicating limbs, for instance). Mail delivery is equally equipped with random chance, which is why a spell interrupted by the mail is a most eventful opportunity, a perfect invitation for Something to happen.

The witch had died at a ripe old age, leaving behind a tremendous library and little else. She had lived a long, contended life, and in death, was destined too…

“…oh… dear…” the necromancer said after seeing the mail carrier off once the storm had passed. Had it been so long? Where does time go?

…destined to get lost, apparently. The witch’s ghost, unbound to body or memory, wandered out of the cottage and into the endless expanse of the Netherworld to find her new place within it.

For a month, the necromancer spent every waking minute attempting to call the ghost home, and during the hours his energy faded, cataloging her possessions down to the final bookmark.

The next year of the necromancer’s life was spent writing to every colleague he could name or resurrect. The following two years were spent tracing down every hint possible to the ghost’s location to no avail. Gone. She is gone and it is my fault.

The librarian held the necromancer’s hand, squeezing tightly. Ten fraught years had passed and the witch’s old cottage was ready to be claimed by its forest. “You have done all you possibly could,” the librarian said gently.

“You will store them all together? I do not want them to get lonely,” the necromancer pleaded, eying crate upon crate of books.

“We are taking the shelves themselves with us,” the librarian promised. “The books have all been marked and will be returned to their original order as folks check them out and bring them back.”

It was hopeless to try one last time, to call to the witch’s ghost, but the necromancer did anyway. Without result.

Frowning at a decade of failures, he removed the cottage’s key from around his neck and placed it in the final book box. A goblin sealed the box, lifted it upon his back, and trudged out the door.

The necromancer helped with the last few remaining baubles, closed the door, and knocked upon it. The cottage would be gone in a lunar cycle, reclaimed by the forest. The necromancer stayed local — just in case — but was eventually convinced by friends to move on.

All libraries are haunted. Usually by at least one ghost per hundred or so books, so the larger the library, the more often the haunting ghosts change. They come and go based on their needs, called by the promise of stories and leaving when they have caught up with those currently available.

“I would like to enroll for a library card, please,” a ghost told the librarian at the circulation desk one day.

“Gladly, please just sign in the ledger.”

“I am afraid I have lost my name, dear. May I still register a card until I find it? Do you have a guest policy?” the ghost asked earnestly. “I am afraid it has been quite some time since I have known it.”

“Oh! It is not a problem. Just sign Ghost and when you find it, we will update the records.”

After the spirit signed, the librarian turned the ledger around to complete the record. That familiar handwriting! “Are you in much of a hurry? I have some books you might be interested in.” The librarian wrote the witch’s name into the ledger and on the lending card. “Right this way, please.”

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