THE MONSTER MORTICIAN UNIVERSE
Mrs. Ironfoot was a short, chunky dwarf drenched in leather, with just enough facial hair to be considered a stubble. Her husband, Oleg, was a weaponsmith whose head had an unfortunate meeting with an anvil.
I implored Mrs. Ironfoot to put him in a casket, preferably with the lid closed, but dwarves are very particular. She demanded Oleg be sent out to sea and burned on a funeral pyre like his mother and father had been before him. The service was scheduled for tomorrow, but Mrs. Ironfoot insisted on having a private viewing with her twenty-seven children today. (Dwarves don’t believe in contraception.)
Oleg’s portly body, caved-in face and all, was already set upon the pyre in the funeral parlor. He would have to be moved tomorrow, but for now, his wife leaned over him, weeping and wailing in typical grieving widow fashion. “Oleg! My Oleg! He's gone! Gone! GONE!”
I stood in the official funeral director’s pose, hands clasped in front of me, on the other side of the body. “I'm very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Ironfoot.”
She looked up with an abrupt sneer, her face drenched in huge tear globs. “Oh, that means nothing to me. I'm paying you to say that.”
“Actually, I offer condolences on the house,” I said with a gentle smile. “A hug is gonna cost you extra, though.”
That was my go-to line when some of my more combative clients accused me of profiting off the death of their loved ones. It usually got at least a much needed and tension breaking chuckle. Mrs. Ironfoot just snarled, ignoring me to turn her grief back to Oleg’s corpse. “He was such a good dwarf. A dedicated husband, father, and weapons maker. Not to mention unbelievable lover.”
"I really didn’t need to know that detail," I said, trying to think of pizza, cars, music, anything to keep myself from picturing the two wart-ridden dwarves entwined in a naked wrestling match.
It did explain the twenty-seven kids, though. I wasn’t particularly a fan of children to begin with, but these youngsters were exceptionally annoying. Only three of them, two teenage girls and a younger boy, were comforting their mother. The rest either looked bored out of their minds or ran around the parlor playing tag.
Mrs. Ironfoot didn’t seem to care, though, and let out another shrill wail of despair. “And he was only four hundred and thirty-seven years old! Oleg had his whole life ahead of him.”
She was entering the verbal diarrhea stage of mourning. Suffering through it was an unfortunate requirement of my job. I prepared myself for another helping when the bell at the front desk rang unexpectedly.
“We were supposed to take a trip to Shangri-La-La Land next month,” said Mrs. Ironfoot, drawing my attention back to her. “Now we’ll never get to go!”
The bell rang again. Twice this time.
I contemplated going to check on it, but Mrs. Ironfoot was a paying customer. As much as I would’ve loved to be saved by the bell, I had a professional reputation to uphold. My guest would just have to wait.
“Not to mention his business,” Mrs. Ironfoot lamented. “Who’s going to take it over? Certainly not one of these idiots behind me, that’s for damn sure.”
Ring. Ring. Ring. Whoever was by the front desk wasn’t going away.
After looking back and forth between the dwarf and the door to the lobby, I reluctantly turned to Mrs. Ironfoot and put on the best apologetic face I could muster. “I'm terribly sorry about this but just give me one moment. Please. I'll be right back.”
I quickly scuttled to the door, briefly glancing back over to the pyre before walking through to the lobby. I’m glad I did, too. Mrs. Ironfoot sneakily pulled something from her leather top and tucked it into the wood. She had her back to me and the object was small enough that I couldn’t see what it was. Obviously it was something she didn’t want me to know about. I couldn’t deal with that now, though, and simply reminded myself to check it out later.
I was surprised to find a striking, twenty-something-year-old woman waiting in the lobby by the front desk. I was even more surprised by her outfit. She wore a tank top and shorts way too inappropriate for a funeral home.
Every once in a while a human strolls in here looking for my services. Not that I blame them. I don’t exactly advertise as a “monster-only mortician,” so I politely tell them I’m not taking on any new customers and steer them away. I assumed this woman was here for the same purpose and had already prepared myself for turning her down as I approached.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
She turned around and I was almost knocked down by her beauty. She had long, curly red hair and the most striking green eyes I had ever seen. Her cheeks were flush with life yet perfectly smooth at the same time. I would’ve been turned on right then and there if not for the whiff I got from her hair as she spun around. It smelled like the ocean. But not the tropical beach kind. More like a noxious seaport of foul, rotten eggs. For all the money this girl spent on beauty care she really needed to buy a new shampoo.
“Oh, hi,” she said, her voice soft and nervous. “Ummm. My name is Clarissa and I was told this was Oleg Ironfoot's funeral.”
I guessed she wasn’t a customer, after all. If there was one thing I had learned in this business it was that looks could be deceiving. I should’ve known better than to write this girl off from the start.
Still, I had to disappoint her. “I’m sorry, but the funeral is actually tomorrow down by the harbor. This is just a private viewing for the family and they're not accepting guests.”
She twisted her lips into a grimace. “I see. Well, it's just that Oleg and I were pretty close and I needed to tell him one last goodbye.”
I wanted to say something but my mind was too distracted by that odor still lingering in the air. It smelled like rancid tuna and made my nose twitch.
“Is something wrong?” asked Clarissa, apparently concerned by my expression.
I tried to look her in the face but was distracted by her legs. It wasn’t that they were long and gorgeous, which they were, but there was something else that bothered me. It hurt my eyes to stare at them, almost as if I was straining to see what was right in front of me.
Then I remembered what I had just told myself not a minute earlier: looks could be deceiving. Her legs weren’t really there at all. They were a glamour caused by an illusion spell.
Combined with the fish stench permeating through the air, it was easy to put two and two together. “Oh, God. You're a mermaid.”
“What?” exclaimed Clarissa, embarrassed by unexpected accusation. “No! I... uhhh...”
She was caught off guard, but it wasn’t just the mermaid-thing that surprised her. There was a familiar guilt in her face that I actually saw pretty frequently in my line of work. It allowed me to realize why she was really here. “And you were sleeping with him?!”
Clarissa was too shy to deny it. She just smiled nervously and shrugged her shoulders. “ ‘Swimming with him,’ is what we call it. Skinny dipping, to be exact.”
“Thanks for the visual,” I said, rolling my eyes.
Clarissa didn’t register my sarcasm. “You’re welcome. Oleg was a very capable lover.”
“I'm hearing that a lot lately. Maybe his name should have been Iron-something else.”
Clarissa looked at me sideways as the joke went completely over her head. I didn’t have the patience to explain it to her and moved on to change the subject. “Listen, as much as I’d like to help you, his wife is having a tough time in there and I don't think bringing her dead husband's fishstress in to say ‘hi’ is a good idea right now.”
She widened her eyes like a puppy dog begging for a treat. “Please. I spent the last of my seashells paying for this glamour to come here. I just wanted to... ya know... finally meet his family."
The way she put her emphasis on the word “family” was my first trigger. The second was the guarded way she held her hands over her belly.
"You're kidding me?" I asked in disbelief.
Again, she confirmed my suspicions with a nervous smile. The mermaid was pregnant with the dwarf’s baby and I’m not ashamed to say my first thought was of what such a bizarre combination would look like.
“You're a mermaid,” I tried explaining to her. “You're supposed to seduce and then kill people. Not seduce and then bear their offspring.”
Clarissa held onto her sweetly innocent expression as she answered. “I know, but Oleg was special. He knew how to tinkle my fin in just the right way.”
The more I heard about Oleg the more I wished I could’ve gotten pointers from him while he was alive.
I rapidly tried thinking of how best to handle the situation when Mrs. Ironfoot’s voice bellowed from back inside the parlor. “Get out!”
That couldn’t have been anything good.
I turned back to Clarissa and held up a finger with a friendly smile. “Just give me one minute, okay? I'll see what I can do. I promise.”
“Thank you,” she said, sounding genuinely appreciative of my help.
I went back into the parlor and found Mrs. Ironfoot, with all twenty-seven kids behind her, facing off against a seven-foot-tall elf. He was dressed in a green tunic which, to be honest, I think is the only type of clothing elves own.
I didn’t have many elves as clients. They tended to be very secretive and took care of their ceremonies in-house. But when an elf funeral came my way… cha-ching! They spared no expense, even when burying someone they hated.
However that didn’t mean I was very happy to see one just suddenly appear out of thin air in my parlor. “What in seven hells is going on?”
Mrs. Ironfoot stuck a firm finger in the visitor’s chest. “Tell this stinkin' elf that he's not welcome.”
I didn’t know why Mrs. Ironfoot wanted him to leave, but dwarves and elves weren’t particularly fond of one another. So instead, my curiosity was focused on something else. “How did you even get in here?”
The elf looked shocked that I had asked the question and replied as if the answer was obvious. “Teleportation spell.”
“Great,” I said, rolling my eyes. “A mage.”
Despite the disdain in my tone, the elf proudly bowed. “Cryos Drexler at your service.”
I straightened up tall and put on my official funeral director’s voice. “Mr. Drexler, this is a private service. So unless the family requested your presence, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to—”
“GET OUT!” yelled Mrs. Ironfoot, finishing my sentence with a bit more… enthusiasm.
The elf kept his composure, replying in a modestly diplomatic manner. “I'm terribly sorry for the intrusion. It's just that Oleg and I were such good friends. I was hoping to express my sympathies to his family in private.”
“That's absurd,” scoffed Mrs. Ironfoot. “My Oleg would've never made friends with some uppity, good-for-nothin' elf.”
Despite being several feet taller than her, Cryos spoke softly to appear on equal footing with the dwarf. “We weren’t always cordial, ma'am. I'd been a customer of Oleg's for nearly a century before we started growing fond of one another. He often said he would save me some of his best creations, weapons that have prevented me from perishing on more than one occasion.”
“Well, yes,” said Mrs. Ironfoot, almost surprised by the elf’s sincerity. “That does sound like Oleg.”
Cryos clasped his hands gently in front of him, making his posture seem even more humble than before. “So I was wondering if... perhaps... he left anything behind in his workshop after he died... you know... maybe a dagger or crossbow... that wouldn't be too much trouble if I asked you to part with it?”
Aaaaaand there it was. The real reason he was here.
It was strange (and kind of amusing) to watch the soft features of Mrs. Ironfoot’s pudgy face morph into a hardened scowl. “You greedy, pointy-eared son of a banshee!”
She clenched her hand into a fist. Not that I thought she would actually punch him. Cryos could’ve taken her with just his pinky. But Mrs. Ironfoot wound up anyway, ready to strike, when Clarissa screamed from back in the lobby.
The door burst open a second later and Clarissa came running into the parlor followed by a clan of five orcs.
Great. This day just kept getting better.
I knew the orc leading them, too. It was Braxen Forlog, a loyal customer of mine, although I wasn’t too happy about that. Orcs eat their dead as a way to mourn them. I have yet to get through one of their receptions without vomiting.
As a general rule of thumb, orcs were pretty much angry all of the time, though Braxen looked more peeved than usual. “Um looking fore rotten korpse of Oleg Ironfoot!”
“What are you doing here, Braxen?” I asked, more annoyed than frightened by his intrusion. “You know better than to burst in while I'm conducting a service. Especially with a clan behind you.”
He lifted up his green finger with a crusty, yellow fingernail and pointed it toward the pyre. “Extenuating sir-come-stances. That ded dwarf over their bought tons of iron frum me on kredit months ago and hasn't payed it back. Now I'm hear too c’llect what’s owed me.”
Mrs. Ironfoot spread her short arms out as wide as they could go to put a barrier between the orcs and the children behind her. “I put all my savings into this funeral. I don't have any money to give you.”
“A’right,” said Braxen with a devious grin. “I will just take won of thoze chill-dren in stead.”
A light wave of giddy laughter rushed over the orc clan, and Cryos stepped up to put himself in the middle of the confrontation. “If you even disturb a hair on those younglings' heads—”
Braixen shook a clenched fist in front of the elf’s face. “Stay outta this, tree-hugger.”
The parlor had seen its fair share of tension in the past, but the air in the room was getting a little too thick even for me. It was time to deescalate the situation. “How about everyone just take a deep breath and calm down?”
Braxen wasn’t having it. “I have bin com fore weeks while that to-timing dwarf hides from me. Now is time fore his wife too pay bill.”
“How dare you hold this woman accountable for her husband's mistakes,” Cryos said.
Mrs. Ironfoot stepped out from behind him to come to her own defense. “I can speak for myself, elf.”
She then noticed Clarissa standing awkwardly off to the side of the room and decided to include the (seemingly) out of place girl in the argument. “And who in tarnation is this floozy?”
Offended by the insult, the glamoured mermaid’s jaw fell open. “Floozy?!”
“E-nuff!” yelled Braxen, stomping his foot on the parlor’s hardwood floor. “If you want too d’fend Ironfoot's on her then you ken pay his debt.”
Cyros puffed out his chest, refusing to be intimidated. “I defend justice … which your whole species is an abomination of.”
Braxen snarled, bearing his thick tusks. He then reared back and lunged forward at the elf. Cyros quickly waved his hands, creating some sort of energy shield between him and his attacker.
Braxen was stuck in the spell and fought to break through while addressing the clan behind him. “Wut are you dewing just standing there?! Grab one of them chill-dren!”
The other orcs cackled hysterically as they took off after the young dwarves.
“Don't you touch my kids!” yelled Mrs. Ironfoot.
In an instant, chaos erupted around the parlor. Braxen continued to launch an onslaught of punches at Cyros, but the elf casually blocked every one with a series of magical defenses. Meanwhile, the orcs chased the twenty-seven dwarf children around the room. They ran between chairs, behind the pyre, and around Clarissa, who spun in circles and yelped whenever someone rushed by her. Mrs. Ironfoot tried her best to throw herself in the middle of the commotion to protect her children. She was just too slow, though, and wound up always a second behind her target.
I just stepped back and let the whole scene unfold. My father had taught me early on that humans, usually families, fought at funerals.
They were supposed to be events that brought people together. Occasionally it drove them apart. Monsters were no different.
Grief caused old resentments to bubble to the surface, and sometimes arguments just had to run their course. It made no sense trying to get in the middle of things. Especially if it meant losing a limb for the sake of keeping a few windows intact.
Besides, that was what goblin insurance was for.
It didn’t take long for one of the lumbering orcs to crash into the funeral pyre and knock poor Oleg to the floor. Nobody missed a beat, though. Everyone kept on doing what they were doing despite the corpse lying in the middle of everything.
Another orc, maybe even the same one, bumped into a table of flowers and spilled several vases. Unfortunately, Clarissa was close by and the water inside the vases splashed all over her. The glamour around her legs slowly faded, morphing them into a giant, scaly fin. Unable to keep herself standing, Clarissa flopped to the floor, drawing the attention of two of the orcs.
“A mer-made?!” said the first, his face lit with surprise.
The other chuckled as well, giddy with glee. “Hoo wants some sue-she?”
They crept forward with huge smiles on their faces, reaching out like children for candy.
“No!” screamed Clarissa, futilely trying to push herself away. “Please!”
Okay. Maybe now this was getting a little out of hand. I had to do something. But what?
That was when I noticed a silver and gold object next to Oleg’s body. I reached down to grab it and realized the object was some sort of steam pistol of dwarf design. This was probably what Mrs. Ironfoot had shoved under her husband’s body when I left the room.
Now it was time to put it to use.
I aimed and pulled the trigger just as the orc was about to grab ahold of Clarissa’s fin. The bolt of steam blew a hole in the floor right between the orc’s legs, causing him to jump back startled.
The shot caused the chaos to stop instantly, and I took advantage of having the attention of everyone in the room. “I would suggest everyone stay exactly where you are unless you want to become my next customer.”
Nobody moved a muscle or said a word, waiting for me to continue. “Now, Braxen. I seem to remember hosting your late Aunt Glonda's feast last year, correct?”
Braxen bowed his head. “May she rest in piece.”
“And did I or did I not bill you for the repairs on my roof after your cousins got drunk and lit it on fire?”
The orc slumped his shoulders, almost bashful by the reminder. “You did knot.”
“Well, I'm billing you now and passing that debt along to the Ironfoot family. That should make you even.”
The orc sneered but didn’t put up a fight. “Grrrr. I guess so.”
Mrs. Ironfoot smiled at me, looking surprised by the help. “Thank you.”
I smiled back but only briefly. There was still work that needed to be done. “And Cryos, you came looking for more of Oleg's weapons?”
The elf nodded. “I did.”
“Would this suffice?” I asked, holding out the steam pistol.
He smiled, ecstatic by the prospect of owning such a weapon. “Absolutely.”
“No!” protested Mrs. Ironfoot. “That gun was my husband's favorite. It should be burned along with him.”
“Maybe,” I responded, smugly. “But you should've asked me before sneaking it in here. There are no weapons allowed in my funeral parlor. Even the orcs respect that rule.”
Braxen, as well as the rest of his clan, all nodded. “We due.”
“Which means I'm confiscating it,” I told Mrs. Ironfoot. “Unless you want to set fire to Oleg yourself?”
All gratitude she had for me was gone, but I didn’t care. She agreed all the same. “Fine. Take it.”
I tossed Cyros the gun. “Good. Because I plan on trading it to the elf in exchange for his services as a mage.”
He caught it and was eager to hear the rest of my offer. “And what service shall that be?”
I motioned down to the helpless mermaid on the floor between us. “A simple glamour will suffice.”
Cyros smiled. “Consider it done.”
The elf casually waved his hand and a magical aura lifted Clarissa from the floor. The shimmering light then wrapped itself around her fin, transforming it back into the legs she had before.
“Better?” I asked.
She answered while doing a very uncoordinated dance. “Not as comfortable as a tail but it does help being upright. Thank you.”
I exchanged another brief smile with her before turning my attention back to the room as a whole and resuming my funeral director’s voice. “Now please. If you will all wait outside for a moment while I reassemble the pyre, it would be most appreciated.”
With the excitement over, everyone slowly made their way out of the destroyed parlor and back to the lobby. Everyone except Cryos, who teleported out of the room in a puff of smoke.
Mrs. Ironfoot and Clarissa were the last two people to leave the room and I followed them to the door. Once they were back in the lobby, I saw it as the best time to settle a promise.
“By the way, Mrs. Ironfoot...” She curiously turned back to me. “This is Clarissa and she's pregnant with your husband's minnow.”
I shut the door just as Clarissa’s face widened with surprise and the dwarf opened her mouth to scream. “WHAT?!”
Like I said: families sometimes fight at funerals.
I want to be upfront about something: I run a respectable upstanding business. My mortuary is fully licensed, bonded, and insured. That said, the supernatural aspect of my industry requires some... shady transactions on occasion. The existence of monsters is still not ready for public consumption, so many of my clients demand secrecy. Especially those that experience a sudden and unexpected bout with the supernatural.
Because of this you'd be surprised how often I get walk-ins with a dead body all ready to go. I once had one such gentleman pull up in front of the mortuary and park directly in the middle of the fire lane.
I was in my office when the screech of his tires first drew my attention. I then looked up and saw him speeding through the parking lot. By the time I stepped outside to confront him he was already getting out of his car.
“Sorry, sir,” I said as I approached. “You can’t park here.”
Of course, he was some kind of college bro wearing shades and a tank top.
“Okay,” he said as he came around the back of the car. “I’ll move it as soon as I unload her.”
I had to step up and stop him. “Unload who?”
“My girlfriend Zelda Romero. She’s dead in the trunk.”
And there was red flag number one.
“Whoa. Hold on a minute. I run a funeral home. Not the county morgue. You need to call the police.”
He shook his head so fast the sunglasses almost fell off, and I didn’t need to see his eyes to read the fear in his face. “I can’t.”
“Something…happened to her. And I heard you were the guy to talk to about this stuff.”
I took a slow, deep breath and actually felt kind of bad for the guy. This sort of stuff happens more than you think. I run a business, though, and can’t be helping out every sob, tragic story that comes my way.
“I’m sorry. But what exactly would you like me to do?”
He stood tall, fighting to push down the anxiety and stress clearly weighing heavy on his sweaty shoulders. “I want her to have a funeral. A real one. I’ll pay you. Whatever it costs. I just…don’t know what else to do.”
As I said, this wasn’t the first time a customer wanted me to take pity on them and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Normally, it was easy to tell monsters to get lost. I wasn’t operating a charity here. But humans managed to pull on my heartstrings in a way other creatures couldn’t. Mainly because this wasn’t their world. The majority of them fell into the supernatural by accident, which caused me to feel sorry for them.
“Fine,” I sighed. “Let’s have a look at her.”
The guy managed to crack a relieved smile as he popped open the trunk. I stepped up to look inside and nearly lost my lunch. His girlfriend looked like she died a week ago and smelt like it too. Her ghostly pale skin was molted and flaky. Not to mention the gigantic, puss-oozing gash in her head.
It was at this point I met red flag number two.
“Oh no,” I said backing away. “I don’t do zombies.”
Confused and dejected, the boyfriend’s jaw dropped open. “What? Why not?”
“I specialize in dead things. Zombies are very specifically undead. Not my field of expertise.”
He still didn’t understand, just kept gesturing at the rotting corpse in his trunk. “But she’s dead. Look at her.”
“Zombies are never dead. They’re just napping.”
“No. Seriously. I hit her in the head with my Louisville Slugger. Brain damage, right? That’s how you kill a zombie?”
He wasn’t exactly wrong. That was one of the few supernatural clichés movies actually got right.
Still, I cringed. “In theory…”
“Then the danger’s over,” he said, full of hope.
I leaned forward—very, very carefully—for a closer look at where the boyfriend played home run derby on her skull. He definitely made good contact. The wound was especially juicy with brain matter. I couldn’t exactly check the girl’s pulse, though. Zombies didn’t have a heartbeat. Or breathe. Or look remotely alive. But there didn’t appear to be any activity. She looked about as corpse-like as a corpse could get.
I stood up and shook my head at the bad decision I was about to make. “I know I’m going to regret this.”
College bro, whose named turned out to be George, pumped his fists as I went back inside to get a gurney. He was kind enough to help me load Zelda’s cold body on top of it, leaking brains and all.
“So what turned her into a brain eater?” I asked as we wheeled her inside.
His face twisted in complete confusion. “Huh?”
“Was it natural or magical?”
The expression remained as he shrugged. “There’s a difference?”
“Of course there’s a difference. Haven’t you ever watched a—?” I had to break with a sigh. It was either that or get a headache. “If it’s natural like a virus then you should probably find a new place to live. But if it’s magical—like, say a curse—then I have some incense I bought off a Haitian witch doctor that should do the trick.”
George shrugged again. “I’m not sure. I think she ate some bad pork.”
And finally, we encountered red flag number three.
“You think your girlfriend became a zombie from eating bad pork?”
“It’s possible, right?”
This poor boy was clueless. It was a miracle he wasn’t eaten.
We entered the preparation room and I immediately got to work trying to preserve rapidly decaying Zelda. “So the thing about zombies is they’re essentially walking corpses. That’s why they eat living flesh. To keep their own from decomposing. The trick with giving them a funeral is to keep the body from rotting long enough so my parlor doesn’t smell like a slaughterhouse for months. Will this be a private affair?”
George took his glasses off and just stared at me like a deer in headlights. “Excuse me?”
“Will there be guests attending? Friends? Family?”
He slowly shook his head in a stupor. “Nobody else knows that she turned into a…”
He couldn’t even finish the sentence.
“Don’t worry about that,” I assured him while grabbing a jar of embalming fluid from a cabinet.
“Won’t they think I killed her?”
“Well, you did.”
He put his hands up to declare his innocence and backed away from me, bumping into his girlfriend’s gurney. “Hey, man. I don’t want to go to prison or anything. She was a friggin’ zombie!”
“Relax. I have contacts on the police force that help with these kinds of things. It’ll be fine. She’ll get a legit death certificate with a natural cause of death listed. So there won’t be any investigation into her OH MY GOD LOOK OUT!!!”
George just looked at me surprised, which was unfortunate as Zelda suddenly sat up sunk her teeth into his neck. George, not surprisingly, screamed bloody murder, and I stumbled backwards. In an instant, Zelda was on top of her boyfriend and going to town on his flesh, ripping and tearing chunks of it by the mouthful. George's screams only lasted a few more seconds, and my eyes were already darting around the room looking for something to handle the situation. Unfortunately, there wasn't much.
When Zelda got bored with her meal she looked up and eyed me for dessert. Then George sat up with two glossy eyes and did the same. Crap. They both slowly lumbered to their feet and started the trademark zombie limp in my direction.
A normal person would've already been out of here by now, but I didn't have that luxury. This was my funeral parlor. I couldn't just leave two zombies alone to wreck the place, and without anything to bash or shoot their brains in I had to think of something. And fast.
That was when I recalled my customer for tomorrow. A toadman from a tribe that lived out in Ohio. Why Ohio? I have no idea. But there were rumors their skin contained hallucinogenic properties. I wasn’t about to lick one and find out, but my two hungry friends here would probably have no qualms about chomping down on some frog legs.
I sidestepped around the edge of the room, drawing their attention to the wall of storage cabinets. The zombies trudged towards me with their arms out, and I waited for them to be within striking distance before opening the cabinet and pulling out the shelf.
The zombies were instantly interested in the weird anthropomorphic toad on the rack in front of them. I could’ve sworn their eyes even grew wide a bit before they leaned over and began chowing down.
I stepped back from the action but still watched curiously. It wasn’t every day I got to see a couple undead go to town on the corpse of a man-like amphibian. They started with the meaty thighs before working their way up to his ribs, arms, and eventually his neck.
That was when I could tell the psychedelics kicked in.
Honestly, I had no idea if it would even work, but it made sense. Zombies were nothing but a brain with sensory input running on instinct. There was no reason why those senses couldn’t trip on drugs like the rest of us.
George and Zelda both looked around the room in a daze, high out of their minds. They didn’t even notice I was there, and I would’ve given anything to learn what zombies hallucinated about. Good thing whatever they were seeing was strong enough to overcome their craving for flesh.
It wasn’t long before the two of them were waddling around on the ground like a bunch of kittens on catnip. My guess was they would be like that for at least a couple of hours, long enough for their swiftly decomposing bodies to become too weak to move.
Another crisis averted. Now I just had to figure out how to tell the toadman’s family I fed his body to a pair of ravenous zombies. Didn’t I say something about regretting this?
Morticians aren’t particularly known for making house calls. A monster mortician, however, works almost as much in the field as they do at the parlor. And there’s never one reason for it, either. A shocked mother kills a rabid dog in the backyard only to discover her son’s a werewolf. A dead gargoyle turns to stone on the roof and is too heavy to get off. There’s no supernatural police force or paranormal public works department to take care of this stuff. So, naturally I get called in to sort things out and make sure arrangements are made for the deceased.
And then there’s issues I get dragged into simply because people don’t know who else to call. The “weird” stuff…even by my standards.
Take Arthur Wells, for example. Amateur scientist, inventor, and overall kook. The man filed nearly a hundred patents in his life. Everything from the fart identifier (which does exactly what it sounds like it does) to a robotic shaving razor. More than a few lawsuits came out of that one.
Arthur’s greatest accomplishment, however, the world will never know. Primarily because it killed him. For all his half-baked ideas and eye-rolling schemes, Arthur often had a flash of brilliance. In fact, he achieved something I thought impossible, which is quite impressive given all I have witnessed in my life. Once someone watches a minotaur ride a centaur they think they’ve seen it all. The late Arthur Wells proved me wrong.
His wife acquired my number from a mutual friend and called to ask for my advice regarding his…condition. It was hard to give it, though. She was quite cagey over the phone and refused to give any details about her husband’s demise, insisting I come over immediately and see it for myself. A part of me thought to hang up and get on with my day. But what can I say? One doesn’t last long in this line of work without a little curiosity in them.
Mrs. Wells looked to be a perfectly normal human being when she answered the door. At least, from what I could see of her. She hid most of herself behind the wall as she poked her head outside.
“You're the mortician, right?” she said with shifty eyes.
The old woman appeared anxious, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Her husband did just die, after all.
“What gave it away?” I said, slyly, and gestured to the hearse in the driveway. “My sweet ride?”
The worry etched into her face only deepened. Maybe the joke was a mistake.
“Sorry,” I lamented. “I try to lighten the mood when I can.”
Mrs. Wells forced an awkward smile as she opened the door further. “It's all right. Come on in.”
The house was an old, brick Victorian, something you might get to visit on a ghost tour. The interior decor was just as dated as the outside. Hard wood floor, stained glass chandeliers, and antique lamps galore.
Mrs. Wells led me into a parlor room off of the foyer, what she called her husband’s study. To say the place was a mess would be an understatement. There were papers and folders in stacks all along the perimeter. A single desk was tucked into the corner, filled with so much crap I couldn’t even see the surface. A bookcase was pressed against the wall with ancient tomes sporadically tossed on the shelves. Come to think of it, the room might’ve actually been organized in Arthur’s own chaotic way.
I strolled around the space, trying to take it all in. “So on the phone you were telling me about your husband…?”
“Yes.” Mrs. Wells grabbed her chest to fight back a frown. “Arthur. He—He's dead.”
"Yeah. I get that, lady. Otherwise you wouldn't have called me," was exactly what I didn't say. I went with the standard, "sorry for your loss" instead.
I stopped and turned to her. Now it was time to get to work. “You mind me asking where he is?”
Her eyes immediately darted to the floor. “You're standing in front of him.”
I looked down at the hardwood. Needless to say, there was nothing there. “Excuse me?”
“He's right there on the floor. Alan rendered his body transparent.”
It took me a moment to translate what she actually meant. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. “He's invisible?!”
“Yes. It was a formula he'd been trying to crack for years. He was so excited when it finally worked. At least for the three minutes he was alive before he had an aneurysm.”
I had to take a moment and breath. I’d heard of ancient relics and magic spells that could turn someone invisible, but it was all myth and rumor. Never did I imagine it was real, let alone could be achieved by science.
I wasn’t even sure if this fell within my purview. It was weird, for sure, but Arthur Wells didn’t exactly turn himself into a monster. He was still human, technically. Then again, who was I to turn away a sweet old lady looking to say goodbye to her invisible husband?
Not quite sure what to do, I bent down slowly and reached my hand out into the air, hoping to hit a body. “Okay then. Now let me just…”
But oddly, my palm went straight to the floor without touching anything. “He—He’s not here.”
Mrs. Wells looked completely baffled. “What?”
“Your husband’s body isn’t here.”
“Any more impossible than him turning himself invisible in the first place?” was another thing I probably shouldn’t have said…but this time I did it anyway.
She glared at me, and I deserved it.
“Are you sure you didn’t move him?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Of course I didn’t.”
“How about misplaced then?”
Mrs. Wells scrunched her brow. She seemed to be doubting herself. “I—I don’t think so.”
At this point I had to take a deep breath. It was time to consider a scary alternative. “Now, Mrs. Wells, I just have one more question for you.”
Her expression went blank in anticipation.
“How do you know your husband’s really dead?”
The old lady’s jaw fell slowly as her face turned white.
“Arthur!” she screamed, running out of the room. “Arthur, are you home?”
Well ain’t that great. An invisible man was loose in the house, and I was pretty sure this was how horror movies started.
I spun in circles with my arms out, trying to get my bearings around the room. My eyes scanned every corner, looking for something, anything that might be out of the ordinary. A misplaced book. An odd footprint. If Arthur Wells was still in his study then perhaps—
My train of thought was interrupted as I backed into something, tripped over, and fell awkwardly to the floor. I looked up, but nothing was there. My legs were propped up on air.
“Never mind,” I shouted to Mrs. Wells. “Found him.”
She came running into the room with a relieved smile, which if I’m being honest is an odd expression to have upon discovering your spouse isn’t still alive.
I stood up and brushed myself off. Then, to make sure we didn’t lose track of the bastard again, I grabbed the closest thing to me, which happened to be small hula dancer trinket, and placed it on his chest. Or at least what I thought was his chest. In retrospect it could’ve been anything.
“So what exactly would you like me to do here, Mrs. Wells?”
She delicately clasped her hands in front of her. “Arthur has to have a funeral, right?”
“Is that what your husband wanted?”
She nodded. “As far as I knew.”
Truthfully, I didn’t even know how that would happen. An invisible corpse was certainly a first for me.
“Do you have any idea how we accomplish that?” I asked her.
Her head titled, curiously examining me. “I thought that was your area of expertise.”
Uh-oh. I’d never really been called out on my own specialty before and puffed out my chest with a false sense of confidence. “Yes. Of course. I just…wanted to see if you had any requests.”
“Just try to make him as presentable as possible,” she said, smiling fondly. “You know, for friends and family.”
Great. That meant there would be a viewing. “So open casket?”
Mrs. Wells nodded. “Uh-huh.”
Judging by her grin, I doubted Mrs. Wells registered the sarcasm in my voice.
The next twenty-fours were interesting to say the least. I spray painted the body to keep better track of it. And yes, it confirmed my suspicions. Mr. Wells was indeed in his birthday suit.
Once I got him back to the mortuary I had to figure out ways to cover his skin. Mrs. Wells was very clear. Nobody was to know about her husband’s…condition. That was pretty much the only reason she called me. My discretion.
As one might’ve imagined, embalming Mr. Wells was a nightmare. How did you work on the inside of a body you couldn’t see? Carefully was the answer. I used different color paint to differentiate the organs and injected him with a dye that spread throughout his blood vessels. The results were…creepy.
After that, it was just a matter of getting him dressed for viewing. Ninety percent of it was easy. A suit, clothes, and socks covered up the majority of his invisible body. Most people aren’t buried with white gloves on but the guests wouldn’t question that too much.
The rest of him was a bit trickier. A semi-convincing wig covered the top of his head, but the face had to be perfect. Nobody was going to get close enough to a dead body to tell if there was something wrong, but if Arthur had somebody else’s nose and cheekbones then there would certainly be some interesting questions raised.
My solution for such a conundrum was something I was particularly proud of. I took a mold of his features and fabricated a thin mask using a synthetic polymer crafted to resemble human flesh. I had to buy such a machine for a client with a skin condition (don’t ask) but was happy to get more use out of it.
The timing was cutting it close, though. The funeral was getting ready to start any minute, and I had to move Arthur’s body into the viewing room before his face had a chance to dry. It was finished with just moments to spare.
I carefully grabbed the face, ran through the curtain into the viewing area, and prepared to put it on when Mrs. Wells walked in behind me.
“Oh, he looks so handsome,” she gushed.
Considering he was still just a body with a weird set of hair floating on top of nothingness, I just had to roll my eyes. “Sure, he does. Just gotta put on his face and—”
“I’ll do it.”
Mrs. Wells leapt up beside me and grabbed ahold of the mask.
“No, Mrs. Wells! The material is very delicate and—”
And… it ripped. Because why would anything run smoothly up to the last minute?
“Look what you did!” she screamed at me.
“What I did? You’re the one that—”
I was getting ready to give the old lady a piece of my mind when the sound of muffled voices interrupted me.
“Oh, no. The guests are arriving.”
Mrs. Wells gasped. “They’re going to expect to see Arthur.”
“Maybe we should just make it a closed casket instead,” I suggested.
“No!” she cursed, crossing her arms firmly in front of her black dress. “My husband will not be hidden from the world.”
“Then we need something to cover his face with.” My eyes drifted off as I began running through the inventory I had in the back. “A mask. A mask. Where can I find a—?”
Then it hit me. “Aha!”
I scooted out from behind the curtain and returned thirty seconds later with the most beautiful clown mask the world had ever known. “It’s the only one I have.”
The base of the mask was a stark white, but every other feature was a rainbow of colors. Rounded purple eyebrows. Bulging green nose. Sparkling yelling cheeks. And a gigantic red grin that would put Ronald McDonald to shame.
Where I acquired the mask and why I needed it in the first place was a story for another time. For now, it seemed to satisfy Mrs. Wells’s fears.
“It’ll have to do,” she said with a firm nod.
And that was that. The mask was placed on Arthur’s face, the curtain was pulled back, and the packed house of grieving mourners all gasped in unison. There was a brief paused of uncomfortable silence before the light sound of chuckles fluttered across the room.
As it turned out, Arthur Wells was a bit of a jokester, which was probably why his wife so easily went along with putting a clown mask on her husband’s body. Everyone just assumed it was Arthur being Arthur, which seemed fitting in an ironic kind of way. Nobody could take their eyes off the invisible man at his own funeral.
TRIXIE THE FAIRY
I rather enjoy having fairies as customers. The dead one’s at least. They have tiny bodies with tiny coffins and tiny funerals. It’s the live ones I can’t stand. All sass and drama like they’re the most important creatures in the world. A fine example of this was when three fairies brought me the body of one of their dead fairy brethren one sunny afternoon.
“She’s dead!” the three of them shouted in their high-pitched, annoying voices as they came flying into the parlor. “She’s dead!”
“Hello,” I replied in such a cordial manner it could only be interpreted as sarcastic. “Good morning. Welcome. What can I do for you?”
It didn’t register with them, though. They flew right up to me and dropped the tiny fairy corpse on the counter. “It’s Trixie. She’s dead!”
I couldn’t believe the coincidence. “Your friend’s name is Trixie?”
“Trixie the pixie?”
All their faces dropped in horrified shock.
“We’re not pixies, you ingrate!”
“Yeah. Those things are mean, nasty, and looking nothing like us.”
“You should know that, mister ‘monster expert.’ ”
I rolled my eyes at the actual use of air quotes. The differences between a pixie and a fairy were minute, almost indecipherable to those who weren’t looking for them, like confusing a crocodile with a gator or a tortoise with a turtle. A simple mistake. No need to get all prissy about it.
But who was I kidding? Fairies were born prissy.
The one in charge crossed her arms and scowled at me. “Just like you should know that one of us dies every time someone says they don’t believe in fairies.”
I scoffed. “One of you doesn’t die every time someone says I don’t believe in fairies.”
The fairy to left of me abruptly grabbed his throat like he was choking. He then spun around in the air several times, rather dramatically I might add, before collapsing on the counter next to his dead friend.
“Ah!” the leader exclaimed in horrified shock. “You killed Gary!”
“Gary the fairy?” I said through a chuckle. “Now you’re just messing with me.”
“Does it look like we’re messing with you?” the other fairy said. She looked rather appalled. “Two of us are dead!”
“Gary’s not dead.”
“Sure he is.”
I pointed to the “dead” fairy’s chest that was steadily moving up and down despite his eyes being closed and his tongue hanging out of his mouth. “I can clearly see him breathing.”
The leader fairy leaned forward to examine Gary. “He’s just twitching.”
I pointed to the other fairy’s body, which still lay motionless on the counter. “Trixie, on the other hand, is obviously dead for real. What happened to her?”
“She was flying and then stopped,” the second fairy explained. “Said she was having trouble breathing.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah,” the leader fairy agreed rather excitedly. “ And her hands got all tingly.”
“Uh-huh,” the other added. “And then she grabbed her chest and fell down and died.”
“Sounds like Trixie had a heart attack,” I muttered.
The leader fairy gasped offended. “That’s impossible. Fairies don’t have heart attacks.”
“Do you have a heart?” I asked.
She looked rather confused by the question. “Well…yeah.”
“Then you can have a heart attack.”
“No way,” the other fairy chimed in. “Fairies have the strongest hearts in the world.”
I felt like I was having a conversation with a small, flying toddler. “You do know there’s a difference between a metaphorical heart and an actual, real-live, beating heart, right?”
Again, the leader looked confused. “What does ‘met-a-four-pickle’ mean?”
The other one just smiled. “I don’t know but it sounds delicious.”
“I need a vacation,” I sighed while rubbing my temples. “All right. So you want a standard fairy funeral for your friend?”
The leader shook her head. “No. Thanks to you now we need two.”
“I’m not giving your pretend-dead-friend a funeral.”
“Then you’re gonna have to bring him back to life.”
“Do I look like a doctor to you?”
She threw her hands up, suddenly ecstatic. “That’s the great thing about fairy medicine! You don’t need to be a doctor. All you need to do is believe in fairies and we’re healed.”
Needless to say, I shook my head. “I’m not saying it.”
“So you’re just going to leave them dead.”
“How cruel!” the second fairy barked with an exaggerated frown.
“You’re heartless, you know that?” the leader fairy piled on. “Nothing but a cold, insensitive big fat meanie.”
“Fine!” I exclaimed. Fairies, leprechauns, and gremlins. It was useless arguing with any of them.
“I believe in fairies,” I muttered, begrudgingly.
Gary gasped and his eyes shot open. “I’m—I’m alive!”
“Gary!” The two fairies collapsed on him in a group hug. “It’s a miracle.”
After a moment of unnecessary squeezing, the leader fairy turned to their comrade that was still lying on the counter. “Uh…Why isn’t Trixie waking up?”
“It’s probably because the mortician wasn’t the one who said it when she died,” the other fairy suggested.
The leader nodded as if that made complete sense. “Right. Of course. Have could I have forgotten?”
“So sad,” Gary said, his face clenched like he was fighting to form a tear.
The other fairies joined him, and they all started bawling and wailing in synch with each other. This lasted a good thirty seconds, yet none of them were actually crying.
“Great,” I shouted loud enough to interrupt them. “So now that we’ve established your friend is really dead can we talk about pricing?”
The leader turned to me, wiped the non-existent tears from her cheeks, and pouted. “Oh, we don’t have any money.”
The other fairy came up beside her. “Yeah. We were hoping you would do it out of the kindness of your heart.”
“You know,” Gary finally added, “to make up for killing me.”
I could feel the stress clenching my jaw and was oddly reminded that I had a fly swatter in the back that could be put to good use right about now. But they weren’t worth the aggravation.
I stared them down, hoping they would just pick up their friend and leave on their own. But they didn’t. The three pitiful fairies just stared right back at me with sad eyes and whimpering frowns.
There was only one way to deal with them.
“I don’t believe in fairies. I don’t believe in fairies. I don’t believe in fairies.”
They all choked in unison and grabbed onto their necks, struggling for every breath. Their tiny bodies fell onto the counter and started crawling around. It was amusing at first, but the little buggers dragged their demise on so long I actually became bored with it.
I eventually left to head back into the office, where I could hear them “dying” for another thirty minutes before they were ready to talk business. Don’t ever let them tell you they’re broke. Fairies are hoarders by nature. Every one of them is rich.