Death’s Hand is my oldest book. It’s also the book that went through the most iterations. I originally wrote it when I was seventeen or eighteen years old (my memory is no bueno), and it bounced through about five major redrafts before becoming the book that you read. It was fairly close to finished in 2010, but a few scenes fell under the ax, while other subplots were added (David Nicholas and his thugs, for instance).
One of the scenes that got excised in 2010 featured the necromancer “on the job” with her fiends. It didn’t add anything to the story and was a little bit like reading a Disney villain cackling over her evil plans, so it never graced the screen of a Kindle. But I do save everything that I cut.
I stumbled on the scene while digging around my computer and thought someone might appreciate reading about poor Richard Czynski (may he rest in peace), even if our necromancer here is extremely melodramatic. This would have been at the beginning of the book, after the initial flashbacks.
The Cemetery Sacrifice
Silence surrounded the cemetery. A blanket of low clouds swam across the sky, swollen with rain and the occasional spark of distant lightning. Old trees and a slope dotted with sagebrush sheltered a peaceful graveyard, while on the hill across the street, a two-story neon crucifix stared disapprovingly upon the rest of the city. It silently cast judgment upon the casinos jutting from a valley carpeted by trailer parks and failing businesses.
A car rumbled past, its headlights momentarily illuminating a monolithic sign and its fluorescent blue words: Our Mother of Sorrows. The car turned the corner, and darkness overtook the graveyard once more.
A thin figure moved along the cemetery’s path, his head ringed with thinning brown hair. His flashlight danced across plaques set amongst the grass, and he read the names silently to himself: Miguel Martinez. Katherine Reilly. Adalia Ruis. His mouth moved along with the words. “Beloved husband… brother… friend…” Sometimes he passed one marker too quickly to read it, but he would mouth the words from memory anyway.
“Catalina Torres, nineteen seventy-eight to two thousand six.”
Richard Czynski had been a temp guard five nights a week, four weeks a month, twelve months a year, for thirteen years now. His favorite jobs were cemeteries. The work was always brief – a knee-jerk reaction to vandals or trespassers – but it was peaceful. He had been working at Our Mother of Sorrows for a month to deter a revisit from a grave robber, but he hadn’t seen anything yet and didn’t expect to.
Czynski shuffled along, humming a low tune he couldn’t identify. He was careful not to miss a thing even though he knew there wouldn’t be a thing to miss. In all his thirteen years, he had only crossed actual robbers twice. He played out the scenes in his mind when he grew bored, imagining himself as one of the cops that had answered the call. When Czynski felt especially rambunctious, he imagined he was the robber instead.
Most nights, he was alone from nine at night to six in the morning when the gardeners arrived. Until then, his only company was the graves and the weeds that grew between them. Edwin Brewer. Amanda Brewer. Jeffrey Brewer. He smiled. Family graves were sweet.
He moved toward the back of the cemetery, where the path led up a short hill to the really good statues. The great angel for Amber Hackman was there, standing a spectral watch over the rest of the graveyard.
Czynski ran his light into the shadows behind the statue and under the trees. He finally recognized the tune he was humming and picked up the words. “Going on a bear hunt, but I’m not afraid…” he sang. “Got a real good friend by my side. Oh, what do I see? Oh look, a deep, dark cave… got to go in it…”
Something skittered. He aimed his light in its direction, catching a flash of something gray before it disappeared. Probably just a rabbit.
“Oh, it’s dark in here,” he went on, continuing his path between the markers. The faint breeze had died away at some point, and it was silent but for Czynski’s singing. “I feel something. It has lots of hair. It has sharp teeth…”
The guard shone the flashlight between two statues. This time, he saw more than a flash of gray. Someone – something – was hunched behind the stone angel.
He moved to get a better look, dropping a hand to the Taser on his belt. The intruder didn’t look like the usual Goth kid lurking in the cemeteries at night. Hell, it didn’t look human at all. Its small head was round and hairless and it had no ears. Something like tattoos were burned down its leathery arms.
The face that glared up at him was no more human than the towering statue beside it.
“…It’s a bear,” the guard trailed off, no longer singing.
Baleful eyes blinked at him. The last line of the song died from his lips.
“What the hell—?”
The security guard collapsed, and his flashlight bounced out of his hand, coming to rest facing the grave.
A woman stood behind him, clutching a stone cylinder in one fist. She gazed down at the old man to see if he would move again, but he didn’t. Blood matted the hair behind his left ear.
“It’s a bear, but I’m not afraid,” she finished, smiling. She waved toward the guard. “I’ll need him later. Please move him aside for now.”
The hunched figure carried him out of the woman’s path. She watched it work, absently rubbing some of the blood off her stone bludgeon. Another creature slunk to her side, resting its head on her thigh. The clouds parted, letting the moon illuminate the graveyard once more, and the beast hid its face in her jacket to protect its bulging eyes.
“Calm down, little fiend,” she said, patting its shoulder. “It’s not the sun.” She pointed at the grave at the angel’s feet. “I want that one.”
The creature ran to the grave on its knuckles, and a third shuffled from its hiding place behind a bush, gazing eagerly at the woman. She swept to the side of Amber Hackman’s grave, letting the bag fall from her shoulder as she knelt.
“Get that coffin out.”
The fiends began digging with their three-fingered hands as the woman emptied her bag on the ground beside Czynski. She arranged a jar of herbs and a small skull beside the stone cylinder, withdrawing a knife from her sleeve before standing once more.
Tracing a path around the grave, she closed the circle with a clap of her hands. A clump of dirt flung by the diggers hit the guard in the face, and he twitched without awakening. The woman spared him a glance, and then returned to the objects she had laid out. She removed a few leaves from the jar, rubbed them over the bloody stone cylinder, and continued murmuring to herself.
“Berald, Beroald, Balbin, Gab, Gabor, Agaba,” she muttered, smearing a small amount of blood between her fingers. “Berald, Beroald, Balbin…” The fiends dug faster, hauling up large clumps of cold soil and flinging them into the air. The woman pushed back her sleeve to check her watch. “Hurry, guys. We’ve gotta be out of here before one.”
They acknowledged by digging faster. One jumped into the rapidly-growing hole to work at the center. Strings of drool dangled from its lips, and its breath came fast. The veins cording its arms beat in time with its pounding heart. A line of blood trailed from a torn brand on another demon’s back.
She opened the guard’s mouth, placing a leaf on his tongue. Blood stained the edge of her fingernails, chewed to the quick.
In a single motion, she ran her knife under the buttons of his shirt to tear it open, and then sliced his undershirt apart as well, baring a chest with a few straggly gray hairs and purple age marks like permanent bruises. His skin was thin, papery, almost see-through in the pale moonlight. His ribs seemed eager to tear open his skin.
She crushed the owl’s skull over his chest with a crack, humming the song the guard had been singing. One of the fiends gave a triumphant growl. They had found a wooden surface—the coffin.
“Break it open.”
The fiends began smashing their fists into the rotten wood, and the woman stood over the grave, examining the corpse within as it became exposed. Its gray, shriveled cheeks were hollow and the remaining flesh was flaky: the body was mummifying.
She swore. “This one’s too old. Damn it. She’ll have to do—move aside.”
The fiends scattered, hiding behind the statue and clinging to the angel’s ankles and wings. The woman raised the dagger in one hand and the stone in the other.
“By the powers vested in me by the flames of Hell, I conjure and exorcise thee, Amber Hackman, to present thyself here.” Annoyance touched the too-formal words. She rested her dagger on the guard’s chest and touched the other hand to the grave dirt. “I conjure and bind thee.”
The air changed. Thunder rolled in the distance, and the clouds shifted over the moon again. Oppressive darkness, greater than night, fell upon the graveyard. The faint, distant sounds of the city disappeared. The globular eyes of the fiends remained fixed on the woman, lips quivering and hands flexing.
“I conjure thee that thou do immediately enter into thy body again and answer to my demands. I command thee, on pain of torment and wandering of thrice and seven years. By thy sighs and groans I command thee to utter thy voice. By thy flesh and bone I command thee to move. By thy blood and breath I command thee to live… or some semblance of it, anyway.”
She raised the dagger over the guard’s chest.
“Live,” she repeated, gazing deep into the corpse’s face.
Her hand came down. The knife buried into the man’s flesh with a thump. His eyes flew open, and his mouth gasped for air.
Amber Hackman’s body arched. Fresh blood spurted from her eye sockets and the decayed hole in her stomach. She sucked air through clenched teeth, and a long wail ripped from deep within her chest. Her scream shook the earth piled around her grave and sang around the demons, and they trembled with excitement.
“Live!” the witch commanded.
The old man’s eyes focused on the inside of his skull. Blood spilled over Amber Hackman’s lip. His lungs drew a breath, and hers received the oxygen. Her skin filled out. Her hair grew anew. Her heart began to beat. And finally, when the man was nothing but a dried husk, he slumped.
The security guard’s heart gave its last beat, and the corpse of Amber Hackman came alive.