Emerson Cod, private detective, prospective children’s book writer, and, in less professional matters, knitter, understood a great many things about the earth that others did not. That there were people out there who had powers that others did not, that there were numerous petty, ridiculous reasons to kill a person, and that money was the source and solution to all problems. So when a strange man with sunken eyes, dirty clothes, and white hair came and hired him, speaking like he came from an entirely different time period—possibly the fourteenth century—Emerson was greatly reminded of the first points of the above in quick succession. And then the man offered him an absurd amount of money and he was reminded of the last.
Which is how he ended up standing next to a man named Ned, a pie maker, and a lonely tourist and dead girl named Charlotte Charles, who Emerson called ‘dead girl’ and Ned called ‘Chuck.’ Chuck shifted from side to side, staring down at the body below. “He looks so...alive.” And so he did; it was a point that was making them each independently very uncomfortable in varying degrees. The corpse had a name, but Emerson’s job was predicated on his ability to not think about how this body had been a person, so he wasn’t going to call him by it. This man would be the corpse, or the man, and that’s how it would work until the interaction was done.
While Emerson spoke decisively, and Chuck spoke as if she considered each word carefully, Ned spoke as if his words were being chased and if there was any stop between them at all they would be caught and murdered. “That’s the coroner—that’s what they do. I mean, it’s what the funeral parlor does. They take corpses and do...something and make them look more,” Ned gave a vague gesture that could mean a number of things and most likely meant it was just a vague gesture, “alive. You know, for the people. For the, families.” His voice dropped at the word families and he swallowed.
Chuck did not reach out and take his hand, she couldn’t, so she clasped her own instead. “Honey…” she paused and Ned shook his head. “I don’t think anybody’s done anything with it yet.” Ned held his own hand back.
Emerson Cod was just about done with that. “Could you just,” Emerson waived his hand in a way that could mean many things and in this case meant ‘raise the dead,’ “do what you do?”
Now, Ned was a pie maker by trade, who made the most delicious pies known to humankind*, but as people have a tendency to be more than one thing at once, he had a second, less official job. By the time he was seven, Ned learned he could raise the dead. If he touched something dead once, they rose up. If he touched them a second time, they went back down. Chuck came up, stayed for longer than a minute, and never came back down and some else died in her stead. It was an interesting concept, the type television shows were made out of, but Ned, for the most part, used them to make the fruit he baked into pies as fresh as possible, and to help Emerson Cod, private investigator, speak with the dead.
And so Ned got on with it. The man on the table sat up and gave a loud gasp. “Fucking! Hastur!”
The British was unexpected, to Ned and Chuck at least. As was the frantic way he reached for his face as if something was missing. Most people, out of the limited number of people raised from the dead for a temporary period, tended to reach more to the hole in their stomach once they noticed them but the man looked down and looked back up and seemed to be more bothered about whatever was off about his face. The man looked around and Ned met a pair of very strange yellow eyes and instinctively took a step back. “Who are you lot? What happened?”
“You were murdered. Do you know who did it? Who’s Has-er?” Emerson sounded out the word. He’d learned, long ago, that a minute was much less time than he used to think and it was better to get things done as quickly as possible. “And do you have any last requests?” Chuck chimed in. She had learned, less long ago, that when you’re dead it’s easiest to crystallized what you really need.
The man on the table blinked and Chuck and Emerson finally focused in on his eyes. “I mean, I know I got murdered. Hastur freaking disincorporated me. But this doesn’t look like Hell.” The man leaned forward. “And you don’t look like demons.” Chuck blinked to match his blink. She didn’t have time to figure out all of that but if this man needed reassurance… “You’re not in Hell, sir. You’re in Massachusetts.”**
The man gave her an utterly disbelieving look. “Yeah, I know.” The man looked around. “How did I get here again? Is this a fucking morgue? Oh, I hope you didn’t do anything to my body. That’s disgusting.”
“Thirty second.” Ned warned and Emerson attempted to steer them back onto something resembling track.
“You said you got killed by Haser. You got a full name? Address? Physical description?” Emerson was all about making murderers as easy to solve as possible.
“Has-tur.” The man corrected. “Look, this is fun and everything but, I need to go find my angel. So,” he seemed to struggle to find a word for a moment, “toodaloo.” He swung his legs around the side and attempted to stand up. Chuck and Emerson immediately grabbed him. “Ned!”
Ned left forward, fifteen seconds left and touched the man’s hand. And nothing happened. The man looked between each of them. “Okay, well then, I’m just going to go if you don’t mind.” The man stood. There were eight seconds left on the clock. Ned touched the man again, this time on his face. He stayed solidly upright. He reached out, slowly, toward the man’s face when he batted his hand away. “Stop that! Poking my cheek, honestly, that’s really rude who goes in a room and starts feeling up a corpse, you know that’s freaky—“ and then a minute was up.
Three frozen figures stood stock still as the formerly dead man flipped himself around so he could sauntered out the room.
A moment passed.
Another moment passed.
The clock sounded very loud in the room.
“Imunmady” said Emerson Cod, a sentence which stretched out, translated to “I’m going to die,” which, while true, was not as relevant to the situation at hand as he thought. Sense of self preservation fully in place, he walked around the room, ringing his hands together, trying to think of something that could save him. Normally, he would have run but with his limited understanding of how Ned’s powers actually worked, an understanding brought about by repeated exposure with trial and error not any certain knowledge, innate or learned, that wouldn’t work. The dead body had already left the room and the most dangerous place he could be was close to the body. “I am going. To die!” This knowledge did not particularly alleviate his immediate concerns.
Chuck, less concerned with the prospect of death herself, looked to the man on her left (alive) and the man on her right (alive) and felt the nonexistent blood drain of her face. “The coroner.” Emerson stopped. Ned turned to her, horrified and Chuck all but threw open the doors as she rushed out of the room.
And found herself faced with a very living, very loopy coroner, sitting behind his desk, leaning back, head to the sky. He looked at Chuck. Chuck looked at him. “Um.” She said. “Hi.”
The coroner had never spoken to Chuck before. She waved at him, he stared back, she went into the morgue, he stared when she left. It was a comfortable habit they’d fallen into. So when he spoke, it was in a higher voice than she expected. “I just saw the strangest thing.”
“Was it that man who used to be dead walk past you?” Ned asked and Emerson whacked him. “Ow.”
“No, I think I saw a…” The coroner's voice trailed off and he snapped back to them, shaking his head and staring at something behind them they couldn’t see. Ned checked behind them just in case.
And, all as alive as they would ever be, a little shaken, Chuck, Ned, and Emerson made their way out of the morgue, following the path of, from what they need, was a newly living dead man.
It was a sunny day.