All Castor remembered of life was a rope scratching his neck and his sister’s voice in his ear, “I’ll bring you home again.” The promise stuck with him long after the ground fell away and the cold rushed to meet him and his own name became foreign. When he woke, he couldn’t remember who had said it or if it was real. So many things he saw weren’t real. The space around him looked familiar, but parts of the world would fade in and out of focus. Sometimes shadows would drift past. They were shapeless and if they spoke, their voices sounded distorted like speaking underwater. Castor wanted to engage with them, but if he approached, they would disappear. He couldn’t remember much, but when he was alive, real things didn’t disappear. I.e. the shadows weren’t real.

Though Castor didn’t have a clear body anymore, he could only see so much space at one time. He was connected to everything and nothing, and he was limited. He could travel to different locations but not instantly. Being dead was exponentially boring, so he traveled often. He tried to find other beings like him to no avail.

But he had recently heard a familiar voice calling to him. He couldn’t place how he knew her, but her voice cut more clearly through the veil than any other. Most of her words were mumbled. He caught “soon,” “flame…extinguish,” and “will be home.” This woman had made the promise. Castor couldn’t recall anything about her or his home, but that didn’t matter much. Anywhere would be better than the place he was.

 ***

Dead people don’t sleep, but paying attention for all of eternity grows old. To fill the void, Castor stops focusing. He lets himself settle in one spot and then looks past everything he sees until he’s no longer looking. This is exactly what Castor was doing when the moon goddess approached him. She appeared in the form of a shimmering silver orb. “Do you want to live again?” she asked him.

It took him a minute to register her words. “I’m sorry?” He doubted that she had that power.

“Do you want to return home?”

“If it were possible.” Saying yes felt like a trap.

“It is possible.” The orb burned brighter from pale blue to hot white.

“What do I have to do?”

“Nothing.”

“What does it cost?”

“Your sister’s, your relatives’, and your ancestors’ undying devotion to me.”

Castor didn’t understand. “How can I make them worship you?”

“You can’t, but you can give me permission to make them worship me.” The orb floated closer. “I’m a loving goddess. I don’t hurt my supporters. You have my word.”

“Why doesn’t everyone come back from the dead if it’s that easy?”

“Your sister has already made a sacrifice to me in your name. Not everyone will do what it takes.”

Castor considered. Did he have a sister? Why was she trying to reverse death? Necromancy is known to be the darkest of black magic.

“I don’t have much time, and I need your permission, your half of the deal. Don’t let your sister have suffered in vain.”

Castor wanted to refuse, but refusing a goddess is ill advised. It was already too late. His sister had started the mess. He couldn’t back out. “My sister, relatives, and ancestors will worship you above all other gods and goddess until their dying day.”

“No, I want their loyalty forever, even in death,” the orb snapped.

“They will worship you forever.”

It happened quickly. Castor was formless watching the orb rise into the air, and then an uncomfortable feeling of compression came over him. His being was being compounded into a shape again. The invisible force shoved him deep into the ground, pried open his coffin, and jolted him back into his body. Cold flesh trapped him. He tried to stretch in his skin, but everything was stiff and the dirt weighed down on the coffin lid. What good was coming back from the dead if he had to claw back to the surface?

Then the dirt rolled off the coffin as if made of water. The weight of the ground disappeared, and Castor pushed the lid open. The light from the moon shone too bright for Castor. He squinted up at the world of the living and suddenly it felt safer to be dead. What if his murderers returned? What if they killed him again? What if they tried to kill him again but he couldn’t die? People say nothing is worse than death, but these people don’t know torture.

Castor buried his fear, stepped out of the coffin, and rejoined the world. Memories from his life swirled in his brain, but the loudest one was the whisper from the woman, his sister. Her promise glowed in the graveyard and pushed him forward. If asked where his house was, he wouldn’t be able to answer, but his feet that night led him home.

Aurora had left the front door unlocked. He crossed the threshold, and the candle in the front room flickered out. “Aurora?” he called, moving from room to room. Her footsteps thundered down the steps and her arms were around him before he could turn to face her.

She shivered at his cool touch, but she didn’t let go. “You’re late. Ms. Freterer promised you’d be home before moonrise.”

“Ms. Freterer?” The name felt odd in his mouth.

“She owns the potions shop, don’t you remember?” Aurora stepped back to examine him. Her eyes lingered on the rope burn around his neck. “You still look dead.”

“I only remember certain things right now. I’d be surprised if I didn’t look like a corpse, my heart isn’t actually beating.”

“We can clean you up; it doesn’t matter as long as you’re home.” She tried to pull him towards his bedroom, but he wouldn’t move.

“Rora, what sacrifice did you have to make to the moon goddess?”

Aurora frowned. “Nothing. I just bought a potion, poured it out, and lit a candle.”

“That’s all? You swear?”

“Yes. What happened to you?”

“It’s nothing. Dying just makes you paranoid. On the other side, it was impossible to know what was real.”

“Well, this is real.” Aurora smiled and she showed him into his bedroom.

***

Aurora didn’t sleep that night. Instead she sat by her bedroom window and prayed to the moon goddess, thanking her for bringing Castor back. She prayed for Ms. Freterer and for Castor’s health. She lost hours just talking to the moon goddess, a one-sided conversation that always came back to Castor. Aurora had always been weary of necromancy, but this wasn’t scary. This wasn’t dark and evil and wrong. This was love.

To be continued…

*****

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