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Necromancing Horatio Alger

Tori Bond


aul pried open the casket sitting on sawhorses in their two-car garage. In the silent language of couples, Nancy asked one last time if he was sure he wanted to resurrect his childhood hero.

He nodded. Nancy lit three candles on Paul’s workbench. “I need a beating heart.”

He stammered and scuffed a dirt clod with the toe of his AllCelebrity off-brand sneaker.

Nancy arranged amethyst, kyanite, and bloodstone crystals in a triangle and placed a tattered copy of Ragged Dick in the center. “I need a beating heart.”

He squeamishly offered a frog he’d caught in a nearby pond.

“That’ll have to do.” She grabbed it, made a slit from chin to groin, and pinched out its beating heart in one swift motion.

She scared him sometimes, but he loved her take charge attitude.

“I call on Hecate to recompose Horatio’s rotted composted disposition,” Nancy chanted. “Grant this charmer of virtuous words permission to cross back into the world of the living so he may right ungodly wrongs.”

The burning Solomon’s Seal and Wormwood incense, the incantations calling on unknown forces of life and death, including, Paul feared, the Devil himself, got mixed up in a nauseous sweaty haze. Next thing Paul knew, Horatio Alger was sitting on his couch dressed in sweatpants.

Paul wrung his hands anxiously. “I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”

Horatio looked down at his decaying body as if wondering which bone he was going to snatch. “Why am I here exactly?”

“Ragged Dick was my hero.” Paul flushed with excitement.

With what little flesh he had on his face, Horatio smiled proudly.

“I believed in Dick. I wanted to be Dick. Through hard work, honesty, and pluck, he pulled himself up from boot-black . . .”

“To clerk!” Nancy had entered the house from the garage. Her hands dripped a sanguine slime. “Ragged Dick pulled himself up to an honest hard-working clerk. And that was with the help of a wealthy gent.”

“He never stole or cheated anyone. He was frank and noble and frugal.” Paul spit his words at Nancy, relitigating an ancient argument.

Nancy directed her words at Horatio. “Virtues smirtues. You know what that got us? Fucked. That’s what, and it’s all your fault.” She pointed her finger at Horatio’s face.

Horatio jerked away from the spit spewing from her angry mouth.

Nancy glared at Paul. “I’ve got packing to do.” She headed for the stairs calling over her shoulder, “The sheriff is locking us out at sundown.”

“I think my work here is done.” Horatio attempted to stand.

“Whoa, we’re not done yet.” Paul paced the length of the couch. The only other furniture in the living room was a bare-bulbed lamp sitting on the floor. The rest had been burned for heat.

“Let me puzzle this out. You and your lovely wife,” Horatio paused to shudder, “Nancy, acquired an ancient book of magic and the first spell you attempt is raising the dead? Why not conjure a bag of gold or a genie to grant you three wishes?”

“Are you calling me stupid?”

Horatio tried to clear his throat, but it was much too dry for that. He managed a rasping growl. “I am too much of a gentleman for name calling, sir.”

Katie, Paul’s ten-year-old daughter, ran down the stairs screaming, “Mommy’s a witch!”

Paul hooked her arm. “Young lady, do not call your mother a bitch.”

“You do.”

Paul blinked.

“She did this to me!” Katie made urgent gestures around her head as if it were stuck inside an enormous ball. Her golden locks writhed and hissed. The motion of her hands excited the serpents rooted there.

Paul assured Katie that “Mother was only trying to help.”

Katie gave him the finger when he wasn’t looking.

A gigantic bubble floated down the stairs with Paul’s son, Boyd, trapped within its iridescent roundness.

“What is Mom working on now?” Paul said.

“I told Mom that I was hungry.” The bubble bounced on the ceiling.

Paul untangled three snakes from his neck.

“Ouch!” Katie smacked Paul’s hand. Five more snakes wove a chain around Paul’s neck.

Nancy appeared out of nowhere. “I can’t make the magic work without the right ingredients.”

Paul suggested Boyd eat beans from the overflowing pot in the kitchen.

“Nancy, I have agreed to do business with the Devil, but I draw the line at murder,” Paul said.

“No one would miss the ShopRite bum, dear!”

“I hate beans.” Boyd said.

“I love beans,” Katie said. “What’s wrong with beans?”

“Shut up Katie,” Boyd said.

“No, you shut up!”

Nancy sat next to Horatio, placed her arm around his shoulders. “You know what our biggest problem is? My husband doesn’t have the balls to procure the needed ingredients for conjuring what we need.”

“I hate generic no-name food!” Boyd said.

“Really Nancy, do you really think it’s necessary to air our dirty laundry in front of our guest?”

“Why can’t we be like normal people and eat hamburgers and fries from Burger World or five-foot hoagies from Sub World?” Boyd said as he tumbled angrily in his bubble.

“You should be grateful you have beans to eat.” Paul untangled himself from Katie’s hair-snakes and escorted her out the door. “Go find some crickets? Your hair looks hungry.”

“You have no idea how hard it is to make a living.” It pained Paul to deny his children so much.

“Oh really? The neighbors have jobs. All my friends’ parents have jobs.” Boyd’s bubble danced around room. “You two are just lazy. It’s ruining my life!”

Paul batted the bubble toward the door. “Why don’t you get a job?” He wedged it into the open doorway.

Boyd crossed his arms. “Fine. I will.”

Paul kicked the bubble and was repelled backward. He then slammed his butt against it and the bubble broke loose and floated skyward.

“If you get stuck in a tree,” Paul yelled, “call one of your brand-named-sandwich-eating friends to come rescue you!”

“Don’t you think that was a bit harsh?” Horatio asked.

“He’s just a teenager, Paul,” Nancy said. It was strange for her to warm so quickly to Horatio. She never liked any of his other friends.

Paul stood in front of the pair with hands on hips. “We used to be partners. You’ve changed, Nancy.”

Nancy jumped to her feet. “Really? You think? My vows were for sickness and health. I didn’t sign up for crippling debt, home foreclosure, and long-term joblessness unless you call selling my body for food a career?” Nancy hunched like an animal ready to pounce.

Horatio inched to the far end of the couch.

Nancy’s eyes locked onto Paul’s, communicating her rage about fifteen years of failure and struggle, fifteen years of love transformed into a loathing hell that neither of them could escape due to their financial situation. “I am going to do something to save our family.” Her gritted teeth said more than her words. “I refuse to sit by idly and watch our family disintegrate because your factory job went on vacation and never came home. I refuse to surrender to the kids’ hunger because you spent every last penny of our savings, then borrowed even more, to learn computer programming in time to say bon voyage to the computer industry when it sailed to India.” She stomped up the stairs.

“Please be careful dear,” Paul called after her in a sweet voice.

Nancy turned and glared at both men. Paul stumbled backwards and landed on Horatio. There was a loud crack.

“Oh shit,” Paul said.

Nancy’s face tightened. “We’ve gone to a lot of trouble to bring him back from the dead and now you go and break him?”

Paul patted and smoothed Horatio’s arms and torso. “He’s fine. See. Everything’s okay.”

Horatio patted his legs, reached into his sweatpants and pulled out a thigh bone. “I’m fine. I’m okay. I probably don’t need this.”

Through gritted teeth, Nancy told Paul where to find the duct tape and she disappeared.

Paul instructed Horatio to hold his thigh bone in place while he wrapped it with tape. Horatio asked why they hadn’t resurrected him whole, with all of his flesh intact.

“Sorry man. We’re working on it.” Paul said. “We practiced on Mr. Tibbs.”

“I’d very much like to meet this distinguished Mr. Tibbs?”

Paul stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled. A black dog, with some of its fur intact, entered the room, dragging his hind legs.

“Good God, why would you bring this poor creature back from the abyss?” Horatio tried to raise an eyebrow, but he had none.

“You know, after losing our jobs and getting the house foreclosure notice, Nancy found a lump in her breast.” Paul sniffed back tears. “When Mr. Tibbs—” Paul paused and cleared his throat. “When Mr. Tibbs got hit by a car, we just couldn’t accept his loss. Nancy’s okay with raising the dead.” He reached down and scratched Mr. Tibbs’ ear causing the ear to drop off. “Her healing spells need work.” Paul spoke baby talk to the dog. “Isn’t that right Mr. Tibbs? Mommy’s going to fix your legs. Oh, yes she is.”

Mr. Tibbs sniffed at his dislocated ear and then dragged himself out of the room.

The shirpping tape sounds continued. “I brought you back to life because you seemed to have all the answers. Your robust formula for a good life worked for us. We bought this house and dreamed of sending the kids to community college. We even splurged once a month and ate at one of those name-brand fast-food restaurants Boyd loves.”

Something exploded upstairs. They stared at the ceiling.

“All clear,” Nancy yelled.

“What does that mean Nancy?” Paul yelled at the ceiling.

She appeared at the top of the stairs smoldering, with a blackened face and burn holes in her blouse. “I’m fine—I’m fine—But the cat didn’t make it.”

Paul dropped his chin. “As long as you’re okay, Honey.”

Nancy lingered a moment as if wanting to say more, then left.

“Things used to be pretty good. But now, Nancy says I’m not the man she fell in love with.”

Paul yanked a piece of tape from Horatio’s leg “You got to hold the bone steady.” He continued to mummify Horatio’s leg. “Hell, Nancy doesn’t see a man at all when she looks at me. We haven’t had sex in over a year.”

“That Nancy is a bit difficult to warm up to,” Horatio said.

“That’s my wife you’re talking about.”

“I didn’t mean to offend. I’m just saying—she is a bit scary,” Horatio said.

“I don’t blame Nancy.” Paul wiped his dripping nose. “I failed her. All I want is to make her happy.”

Horatio placed his hand on Paul’s shoulder.

“Thanks man. I appreciate your trying to comfort me, but if you don’t mind,” Paul politely brushed Horatio’s hand from his shoulder. “Your hand smells really bad.”

Horatio tucked his hand under his sweatshirt. “I feel that I have led you astray. I would very much like to help restore your fortunes.”

“There’s nothing you can do. I’m an idiot for bringing you back,” Paul said. “I was just so mad. I needed to yell at someone.”

“Don’t give up, Paul. One of the most important virtues that Ragged Dick possessed was tenacity.”

“That and a rich benefactor,” Paul said. “Do you have any money?”

Horatio punched him playfully. His pinky fell off.

Paul winced. “Did that hurt?”

Horatio stared at the hole left by his absent digit. “Surprisingly, no.”

Paul taped the pinky back on. Horatio examined his mummified hand. “I think we should rob a bank. You still have banks, don’t you?”

“Ragged Dick would never rob a bank,” Paul said.

“Ragged Dick lived during a time when virtues meant something. It appears that my philosophies have failed you. Let’s rewrite your story, Paul. Do you have a get-away car?”


aul waited outside the WeOwnU FederalChina Bank for a fast get-a-way, but Horatio was taking much too long. They had argued about who should “proffer” the stick-up note. Horatio won. He had less to lose if he got caught, plus security wouldn’t be able to ID him, since he died long before face recognition software collected and profiled every single being on Earth via social media. Paul’s frustration boiled over when he tried to explain social media to Horatio. Then he tried to explain what “high-tech Big Brother” meant and finally said, “never mind, it wasn’t important.” Paul got out of the car and pressed his face to the glass doors. Horatio wrestled with something at the teller’s counter. Then it happened. His arms dropped off from the weight of the bag of cash. He then kicked the bag toward the door, moving it about five feet before grabbing his knee.

Paul motioned wildly for him to hurry. Horatio abandoned the bag of cash and hobbled to the door.

“What’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you kick the bag out the door?”

“It felt like my leg was coming loose.”

“This is no time to fall apart—get in the car. Just get in the car.”

Horatio apologized profusely until Paul told him to shut up. They cooked up the idea that Paul should rob a liquor store. They picked out a small place on a seedy street off Main, but Paul ultimately chickened out. Horatio reminded him that his hero, Ragged Dick, succeeded due to courage. Paul almost took his head off. “Stop with the virtues!”

“Fine,” Horatio said.

After a silent ride home, Paul pulled the car into their driveway. Nancy sat on the sofa in the front lawn with their refrigerator, toilet, and a small pile of clothes.

“It looks like the sheriff has been here.” Paul couldn’t move.

Katie sat on the couch feeding crickets to her hair. There was no sign of Boyd. Nancy paged frantically through the book of magic.

“Where are we going to live?” Horatio expressed his worry by picking at his fingers.

Paul knew that the finger picking would not end well but held his tongue. “What are you worried about? You’re dead.”

“Why must you keep reminding me?

“It’s the truth.” Paul waited for a response, but Horatio wouldn’t face him. “Okay. Fine. I’m sorry.”

“I may be dead but I’m still sentient,” Horatio’s voice quivered.

“Sentient? You with the big words. Sheesh.”

“You went to great lengths to bring me back and I have disappointed you. When I was alive, I remember how hard it was to support just myself. You have three other people to support—plus one.” Horatio sheepishly pointed to himself. “What are you going to do, my friend?”

“I got this strange feeling, right here.” Paul grabbed a handful of his belly fat. “Like I feel a little dead inside.”

“Are you making a joke at my expense?” Horatio said.

Paul sniffed and swallowed hard. “No man. I’m sorry I dragged you into the middle of my problems.”

Sirens blared in the distance and grew louder. “The police will be here soon,” Paul said.

“I think honesty is the best policy,” Horatio said. “When they get here, I will accept all responsibility for the attempted theft.”

“Falling on your sword isn’t gonna save me. I drove the get-away car.”

“Perhaps we can look for the silver lining in this situation. At least in jail we will have modest accommodations and basic meals,” Horatio said.

“If it were that simple, don’t you think we all would have committed heinous crimes by now? If I go to jail, they’ll make Nancy pay for my keep and she is so pissed at me already.”

Horatio winced.

They sat listening to the engine tick as it cooled down. Paul preferred dealing with the stench of Horatio’s rotting decay than facing Nancy’s rage.

Horatio let out an eek right before his head dropped into his lap. “Oh my,” he said and stared up at Paul with a bewildered look.

“It was selfish of me to wake you from your eternal nap.” Paul wanted to pat Horatio’s shoulder but was afraid something else might fall off. “You’d probably be better off dead.”

“From my vantage point, I’d say being fully dead is better off than half alive.”


Tori Bond