The Necrofancier Salon

by Matt Slaybaugh

1,800 words
2020

"Unbelievable!" I shouted, waving the parchment in the air. "These blasted illuminated manuscripts are so hard to read they can't even distinguish 'f' from 'm'?!"

"Honestly," said my solicitor, Bryanne. "First time I read it, I thought it said, 'Dracostroker'."

The other one, Kristoff, laughed. "Now that's a high-earning skill. High-risk, but you only need to do it once."

"Come again?" asked Bryanne.

"Can you please?" I demanded. "I'm no necromancer. How do I get out of this charge?"

Kristoff cleared his throat and looked around. We were standing in the back of my shop. Piles of cloth and thread and unfinished orders everywhere. "As a representative of the Church of Satan, I have to officially inform you that you are in violation..."

"Come on!" I screamed.

He raised his hand. "Ah. Ah... in violation of the statute requiring all necromancers in the district pay the permitting fee of 10,000 gold per annum."

"It's a typo!"

Bryanne spoke up. "Complaints and corrections can be submitted in writing to the magistrate, but the next session is not for another three months."

"And deadline for paying the permit fee expires in one week." Said Kristoff. "Look. If I were you, I would just pay it, get an official Necromancer license. Good for one year. See what you can do with it."

"And if you really have no interest," said Bryanne, "you can submit a request at the next magistrate session. Maybe get a partial refund."

The bell over the front door dinged and a customer walked in. A very old vampire.

"Good evening." I tried to smile.

"Got any hats. Big ones. Top hats. Stovepipes."

"Er, no. Sorry. The necrodasher is across the street, two doors down. He may not be open, though. He may have closed actually. Closed for good. Not much business in hats for the undead. Can't say I recall the last time I saw any of y... any of... any vampires wearing a hat."

The vampire sneered at me. "Human."

I said nothing and the vampire bared his teeth.

"Oi! Oi! Shouted Kristoff, walking in from the back room. Enough, Reginald. He says he's got no hats. Now bugger off!"

The vampire hissed and slinked out the door.

"Hats seem to be making a fashion comeback, you know." Kristoff muttered to me. "Saw two wights in bonnets yesterday."

We returned to the back room.

I sighed. "I believe I understand what you are saying. But I simply do not have 10,000 gold to pay the fee. My margins are thinner than the gauze on a Chloberian mummy!"

"Excuse me." Bryanne said quietly. "My mother was Chloberian."

"Sorry. But do you know how much my materials cost? The Wagner vampire clan only takes silk. Silk from black widow spiders. Do you know what a single skein of that costs?"

They shook their heads.

"And business has been terrible lately! You know the zombie fad these days of going 'au naturel'."

"Disgusting." Bryanne said.

"Yes. And bad for business," I said, and then paused for a moment. "Would um

either of you be able to lend the 10,000 to me? Or partially? Or could the church float a loan that could carry me three months from now?"

Bryanne and Kristoff cleared their throats and avoided eye contact with me until Kristoff finally spoke. "The answer is 'no' to all of those questions."

We said nothing for a moment, and then Bryanne said, "Kris? What about The Challenge?"

"Hmm? Oh! The Challenge!. Well... perhaps..."

"What's The Challenge?" I asked.

Kristoff rummaged through his valise. "The Church does have something of a 'back door' for membership and the granting of permits. Exactly for situations such as yours, where an aspiring necromancer wants to conduct his craft but doesn't have the necessary funds." He pulled out a scroll and handed it to me.

I unfurled the scroll and skimmed the first few items: 'Liquefy Three Ghasts', 'Housebreak a Hellhound', 'Unify the Goblin Clans'. "Firstly, no one will ever unify the Goblin clans. Secondly, these are all far too difficult. I can't do these! I'm not an aspiring necromancer!"

"Well, of course." Answered Kristoff. "That's why I didn't mention it. But I think Bryanne is right. Either find something on that list you can do

, or come up with the 10,000."

With that, they stood and drifted out the front door.

I spent the rest of the night attending to customers and poring over the scroll, searching for something, anything I might have a chance of doing.

# # #

It was shortly after dusk on the next night when a werewolf burst through the door and shouted, "Do you make clothes out of werewolf hair?!"

I looked behind me hoping there were no werewolf pelts in sight. "I... I... We... some of the bespoke vestments... it's a certain style..."

The werewolf growled. "Listen close. I'm not hateful by nature, but there are a few things I cannot tolerate. One of them is repeating myself." He waited for me, staring into my eyes and breathing into my face.

I turned toward fresher air. "I... I... Yes. Yes!"

"How do you get it?"

"Er... I don't source it myself... I work with a distributor..."

"How much for this?" The werewolf stepped back and gestured at the hair on his body.

I stared at him, relieved. I thought for a moment and recalled paying around four silvers per pound recently. But in my current financial state I couldn't afford to hand that much over. "Two silvers per pound." I said, standing up straight.

"I don't take silvers." The werewolf growled.

"Oh. Of course. Well, the exchange is something like nineteen coppers to one silver now, isn't it?" I had heard werewolves were terrible at math and I decided to test him. "Um... carry the two... er... twenty-nine coppers."

The werewolf hung his head. "Alright, I suppose. Thought it would be more."

"Well, it's just lying all over the ground in the morning, isn't it. Not in short supply. Just a matter of scooping it up."

"Yeah. Oh well. How do we get started?"

"What? Here? You want to shave yourself here?"

The werewolf pulled up his shirt and showed me the scars from where he had nicked himself. "I can't reach every part." He then showed me his massive paws. "Hard to keep hold of the razor with these mitts."

Something tickled my brain and an idea crawled inside my head. "Say." I asked. "How much were you hoping to get for your hair?"

"Dunno. Hundred coppers? Need it for the dentist. Got an impacted canine." He bared his teeth at me.

I peered into his mouth. "Oh yes. And I think you have some abscessing at the gumline."

"Are you a dentist?" His voice was as menacing as it had been when he had first walked into the store, but I could hear a note of hopeful trust in his tone.

"No. No. My mother used to always tell me to go into dentistry, though. Between the vampires and werewolves in this city... Look. Tell you what. If you can do me a small, tiny favor. I'll give you one whole gold piece for your hair."

He looked up. "Really? Wait. What's the favor?"

"When we're all finished, just take a walk with me."

"Like on a leash? I don't do that kind of kink anymore."

"No, no. Just see someone with me. Nothing weird."

"One gold piece."

"Yep."

"Not a half. A full piece of gold."

"Yes. A round disk with a picture of someone's head on it."

"Alright. Got any shears? Mine busted."

I looked among my drawers of tools until I found an old, somewhat rusted device used for smoothing the nap on carpets. I sharpened it on the whetstone I used for my scissors and told the werewolf to make himself comfortable. I turned the sign on the door to 'closed' and got started.

"Very coarse." I said feeling the hair between my fingers.

"Yeah. Itchy. Especially when it grows back."

"Well, it's good for me. When we cord it into yarn, the roughness helps hold it together."

We chatted as I shaved him. His name was Kevin. It was fascinating to hear his story, how he had first gotten bitten and how that had affected his job and his love life. I felt pity and genuine compassion for him, and I think he felt a connection with me as well. He was not one to give easy compliments, but I could tell he was pleased. He said he would tell the rest of his pack to come by. His growl made it sound like a threat, but I knew what he meant.

The downside is that he stank terribly. I should have made him bathe first. All that hair would be a hassle to wash. I gathered it in a cloth sack to dunk in a barrel of brine later.

It was nearly dawn when I had finished. He asked if I had a mirror and I told him no, since the vampires never asked for one. He wanted to know if he looked more human with no hair. In truth he was more frightening than before, but with a surprisingly babyish face like most men have after shaving.

He asked to borrow a cloak and we took a walk, as agreed. I led him to the Church of Satan and asked at the front desk for Kristoff. He came down the steps. Looked at us, and laughed. I handed him his scroll and pointed to line item #26: "Shave a Werewolf".

The Sun rose and Kevin feel asleep in the corner of the atrium. We watched him transform back into a man, clutching his single gold piece.

Kristoff asked me to go with him and we completed the necessary paperwork to void the accusation, and my name was entered into the annals of necromancy.

"So. What are you going to do with your new authority?" He asked. "Not many in this town actually have the license, you know."

"Honestly, you can keep it. I don't have the skills to do that. I like customer service."

"Going to keep dressing the dead? You had said business was horrible."

"It is. But I'm going to expand." I answered. "Tonight, I'm going to put some comfortable chairs in the front room, by the window. And I'll need a sign for my new side business: The Necrofancier and Werewolf Grooming Salon."

END