Prepaid Funeral, by Aaron Runyon
The first time I met him I realized the kid possessed that dark casual formality most often attributed to serial killers and career politicians. Not likability exactly, but the authoritative calm of someone in control. A reassurance that everything is fine, eyes that say: I’m taking care of you; how would you like to be eaten, with or without a marinade? So why hire him you may ask; because it’s hard to find a strong back to dig graves. I run a funeral home, and last year the bulldozer met its own fate, and I, with no money for repairs or replacement, had to return to the old morbid shovel. I am no young fit man, and in the name of full disclosure I will hide nothing from you. I’m an old fat drug addict who has surpassed any hope of rejuvenation or redemption. In the past two years I have sold prepaid funerals to about two dozen kind elderly folks who have no idea that their money is in my arm, and that when their time comes their stupid kids are still going to put their ass in an urn. I am an evil and worthless being; these are facts I have learned to accept. So it should not surprise you that hiring this creepy dark adolescent as my strong arm seemed like a good idea at the time.
He wanted insight into the business. I mean like hands on insight here. He wanted to hang out and observe every disgusting facet of my profession. He liked bodies; he liked death; and he made no attempt to hide his fascination. If ever there was a person borne for this job it would be Phineous, and by the God who hates me he could dig like a dirt throwing machine. He smoked a lot of weed, but it didn’t seem to hamper his breathing, and he had no complaints if he had to work after dark. He liked the cemetery, and he loved the mortuary. I swear he would have set up a cot in the coffin room had I let him. It was no surprise when he started sleeping on the couch in my office. What about good ole Phin’s parents you might ask? I’d wager they were just glad he was out of the house, and whatever dark little dungeon he called a room.
Now part of my job is sympathy. You have to at least fake some major compassion to get folks to shell out the big bucks for the service. This is my forte. I am a hell of liar, and I can shed a tear with the best of them. Phin? Well, let’s just say he was a bit lacking in this regard. I gave him a sheet with some lines written on it to practice in the mirror; I’m so sorry for your loss; finally their suffering has ended; at least we know he/she is in a better place…you know crap like that. Besides his lack of graveside manner he was doing great and business was booming. That is until last year when for some reason folks just weren’t dying. This was when Phin’s real talents started to show.
The kid was like a shadow; damn near invisible, and when I needed a few extra jobs he could deliver like a dream-or should I say a nightmare. I never asked for details. I never questioned how he was knocking them off without leaving a trace. I should have known it was something really dark and really weird. It wasn’t until I started catching him in the back room at night that I realized just how messed up my protégé was. Goddamn magic circle and candles lit in the corners of a God’s honest Key of Solomon style pentagram; old black book that looked like he conjured it from a Lovecraft story. Ya, that’s right; old Phineous was into the black magic pretty deep, and the whole deal was just a way to get access to his desired materials. But the little bastard had me by the balls, and when he asked me to give him the hearts of the corpses I was kind of in a jam. “What for?” I said as he stared back with that leering sarcastic smile of his.
“Food Willis, I’m gonna eat them.”
“Oh come on, Phin, that’s crazy. Whatta you think you’re going to get out of that?”
“Power Willis, the power over life and death. There’s a spirit on the other side in the darkness. It’s like a guardian at the gate of death, and if you do the right things, and make the right deals then he’ll give you things, Willis.”
“Oh my God, you are one sick little puppy Phin. You need a girlfriend.”
“I do this, and I can have any woman I want. I can have any thing I want. I could live forever, and no one will ever be able to tell me no. You do this and you’ll be set for life, Willis. You’ll have all the money and dope you could ever dream of.”
“Well, I was kind of looking to cut back.”
“You don’t have a choice, Willis. I can make you or break you. You’re working for me now so why don’t you just go with the flow, and enjoy the ride.”
I’d like to tell you that I proudly and defiantly threw his offer back in his pale bloodless little smirking face and then kicked his ass into the rain, but I promised that I wouldn’t lie. I jumped on that big black train and rode it all the way to the end of the line, folks. It was sweet ride while it lasted; that is if you can imagine a life of ghoulish acts, deception, and drug abuse as a sweet ride. Two years later I was lying in front of an enormous flat screen television on which played Tiny Toon Adventures with a syringe dangling like a Christmas ornament from my arm. Understand that an over dose is like a rainy day. You see the clouds rolling in; feel that cold damp breeze blowing all day long; and you know that eventually…at some point in that long bleak day the raindrops are gonna start falling. That night it was a downpour, and as the thunder rolled a single hit of super pure China White hit my heart and relaxed the little pumping muscles until they pumped no more. Willis Grickman, the respected town funeral home owner and mortician was dead as a doorknob. Story over.
But it wasn’t.
See, Phin was still too young to take over for me. He had two years left in high school, and still had to get his license after that. He still needed the job, and I’m real sorry to say he still needed me. So when I left my body and drifted off into the otherworld I was met by a great shadowy form who I could only guess was Phin’s horrific gatekeeper; the one he called the Cannibal Spirit, and do you know what? The thing was smiling when he sent me back. I woke up on that cold metal slab and there was good ole Phin, and boy was he proud of himself. He’d never made a Ju Ju before, and he was just as tickled as he could be when I sat up and felt the dreary ache of unlife creeping around me.
What’s it like to be a zombie? It’s a lot like being a drug addict, but there’s never any fix. It’s a lot like being tired, but never being able to sleep. It’s a lot like being hungry and never being able to eat. Perfectly preserved and just as fake as ever; except now even the movement of my chest is a lie. I still just stand there at the funeral in my suit. I’m so sorry for your loss. At least he/she is with the Lord now. His/her suffering is finally over. What kind of flowers did he/she prefer? Did she have a dress she wanted to wear? What faith was the deceased? Are you interested in a prepaid funeral for yourself? It could be a great blessing to your family in a time of loss and mourning.
I am a thirty six year old writer, father, and husband living in Missouri. My work has appeared at Fiction Vortex, Burial Day Books, and Dark Eclipse. I will have an upcoming publication at Acidic Fiction titled “Unlocking Fantasy.”
Posted on May 6, 2015, in Contest, Issue 16: Shinigami Stories—Reaping the Harvest of Souls and tagged contest, death, death reaper, e-zine, grim reaper, horror, shinigami, short stories, The Were-Traveler. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.