Gerald Coulson had been working at the Fairmont Hotel at the top of Nob Hill for 15 years. He started out as a bellboy whilst in culinary school, before moving up to working as a chef in the restaurants when he graduated. He often enjoyed the moments when the upscale tourists would ask to talk to him, and he could offer tips about other things to see and do while they were in town. He liked to recommend what some people perceived as a tourist trap in Fisherman’s Wharf, the San Francisco Dungeon, because he had a fascination with some of the underbelly history of the city. He also insisted people ride the cable car to get there from the hotel.
These days, Gerald lived in the Glen Park neighborhood, and his routine to get to work often included riding the the BART train to the Embarcadero station, and riding the California St cable car to the top of Nob Hill. He didn’t care that it cost $11 to ride the cable car now. It was worth it, because it made him feel connected to the city. When he moved to the Bay Area 15 years ago and took a sightseeing tour around the city, for some reason the story of Andrew Smith Hallidie, the inventor of the cable car in 1873, took root and made him want to use the cable cars regularly when he could afford to.
This was especially important now, because there had been rumours from City Hall about the possibility of finally removing the remaining 3 cable car lines from operation, because they were getting too expensive to run with increasing worker salaries and fewer tourists and locals willing to pay the increasing fares. An increase of $1 per ticket every two years over the past six years seemed ridiculous to most customers.
On the night of January 12th, an elderly couple had called him over to compliment him for their meals, and he gave his usual spiel about taking the cable cars.
The lady told him, “Oh, yes, we were planning to take the cable car tomorrow. We don’t want to miss the opportunity to be some of the last people to ride this historic transportation.”
“What do you mean, last people?” Gerald asked.
“Don’t you know?” the lady asked. “We read it in the paper this morning. They’re planning to dismantle the system next month.”
“I am saddened to hear that,” Gerald said, and took his leave.
Gerald determined that drastic measures would need to be taken to save the cable cars, and fast.
Over the last 10 years, Gerald had been dabbling in magic. Casting spells using special ingredients had been pretty similar to following recipes as a chef. He’d experiment with a little spell here and there to improve his day, or his life. Nothing too complicated to start off with, though he eventually progressed in his self-education, learning even how to bring life back to the plants on his balcony that he’d forgotten to water.
If he could bring plants back to life, Gerald wondered if he could also raise the dead. Andrew Smith Hallidie could be the only person able to change City Hall’s mind. He needed to return.
San Francisco is home to only two remaining cemeteries -- the one at Mission Dolores, the oldest church and building in San Francisco; and the Military cemetery in the Presidio, the part of San Francisco known for having been the longest continuously run military base in the United States (1776-1994). All the other former cemeteries in San Francisco were dug up and moved to a town south of San Francisco called Colma, which is purported to have 1,000 dead residents to every single living one.
Andrew Smith Hallidie’s final resting place is a crypt shared with about 35,000 other bodies whose families could not afford a more elaborate relocation.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays were Gerald’s typical days off, and Gerald opted for Wednesday as the day to cast his spell. Based on his observations on both Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park over the last two weeks, Wednesday was typically more deserted.
Gerald spent most of the day preparing all the necessary ingredients, packing them in a cooler to keep them fresh. The tools he needed for the spell were packed into a plain black backpack.
At 4pm, Gerald set off to catch the BART train south 3 stops to Colma. He walked to the cemetery and headed straight to the crypt as soon as he arrived.
Gerald glanced around, over his shoulders, to be sure no one was around. He turned on a flashlight, then let himself into the crypt. The place was enormous, and with 35,000 bodies, he knew it would take forever to specifically locate Hallidie’s remains. He figured as long as he named Hallidie in the spell, the spell would find the correct body, as long as it was in the general vicinity.
By the light of his flashlight, he made his way further into the crypt, making sure he didn’t bump into anything. He just wanted to be further away from the entrance just in case someone wandered past outside and noticed his lighting. When he was comfortable with how far he had travelled, he set his backpack and cooler down on the ground. He pulled some candles and a matchbox out of the backpack, and set them up around in a circle.
From the cooler, Gerald removed a ziploc bag full of sheep’s blood. He grabbed some scissors from his backpack and cut one of the corners of the ziploc bag, then painted a pentagram on the ground in a similar fashion as he would if he was spreading icing for a cake. When the blood was completely used, Gerald took a small ceramic mortar from his backpack and placed it in the middle of the pentagram. He removed the remaining ingredients from the cooler, all separated in their own ziploc bags, and one by one dropped them into the mortar. He removed a pestle from his backpack and smashed the ingredients together. Then he lit another match, and dropped it in the middle of the mortar.
Kneeling behind the mortar, Gerald whispered the spell he had written into the ether. “Oh great Lord of Death, Andrew Smith Hallidie is needed once more. Raise him unto me, and bring life back into this crypt.”
Gerald waited for the fire in the mortar to burn out. Nothing happened, until the ashes stopped smouldering. Suddenly, it was very loud in the crypt. A lot of banging from all over the place. A thud, which could have been the sound of the lid of a sarcophagus falling to the ground. Then the same sound came from different directions all around Gerald.
“Oh, shit,” Gerald whispered. “What have I done?”
He picked up his flashlight and turned it back on to help him scan the crypt. Hundreds of skeletons were clambering toward him, over tombs, and pushing past other skeletons. There was no clear path to an escape.
There was nothing else Gerald could do but accept his fate. He turned the flashlight off and blew out the candles. After kicking the mortar and pestle away from the pentagram, he laid down on top of it. He whispered one last wish into the ether, not knowing if it would have any impact as a spell. “Oh great Lord of Death. Before I am completely taken, give my body unto Andrew Smith Hallidie, so that my death will allow him to live again.”
As soon as he uttered his final word, those hundreds of skeletons descended upon his body, and drank his lifeforce away.