THE MONSTER MORTICIAN UNIVERSE
TRAVEL LOG: PUERTO RICO
Dealing with monsters and creatures of all kinds, I put up with a lot of crap from my clients, but if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s lying. Ironically, humans are the biggest liars of all. Unfortunately, by the time I find out they’re not being honest with me it’s too late and I’ve already been sucked into whatever nonsense they’ve got going on.
A trip I’ve taken to Puerto Rico immediately comes to mind. I received a call one summer from a man named Carlos Vargas looking to fly me out there for a vampire funeral. I should’ve known something was off from the start. I’d never heard of a Puerto Rican vampire before, but there was always a first time for everything. So I packed my bags and made the trip.
The address he gave me was for a farm in the hilly Puerto Rican countryside. The phrase “middle of nowhere” came to mind. A man who spoke zero English brought me to the house by motorcycle on a lone dirt road, and I immediately knew something was off when Mr. Vargas came out to greet me himself…in broad daylight. It didn’t take a monster expert to realize he hadn’t exactly been forthright about his vampire claim.
“Something tells me you brought me here under false pretenses, Mr. Vargas,” I said as I approached him.
He didn’t look like a man who had just gotten away with a deception, though. A thin layer of sweat coated his anxious face. If I didn’t know any better, I would say he was a nervous wreck rather than a con artist. “Por favor. Please…don’t leave.”
“I already spent a day and a half travelling to get here,” I replied with a shrug. “Might as well see what it’s all about.”
He breathed a sigh of relief, but his body remained tense. “We weren’t lying. We need you to preform a vampire funeral.”
I rolled my eyes. “I doubt that.”
“Well…it’s kinda like a vampire.”
Now he had my curiosity. “What’s kinda like a vampire?”
“It’ll be easier if I show you. Vienes conmigo.”
He opened up his body, waving me to follow him further onto the property. It wasn’t a big place. The house that sat on the middle of the farm was by no means a homestead. But the Vargas family seemed to have a fair amount of livestock. I saw pens for chickens, pigs, and goats.
Carlos brought me to a barn on the outskirts of the farm. Inside stood a wrinkled older woman. My guess was Carlos’s mother. Seated beside her on a bale of hay was a young girl about twelve years old. She didn’t look up as I entered. Instead, the girl’s sorrowful face was focused on the dead dog in her lap. It wasn’t until I got closer that I saw the dog’s full features. Its skinny, hairless body. Its razor sharp claws and snake-like fangs. The spines running down its back and the snout for a nose. That was when I realized it wasn’t a dog at all.
“That’s a frigging chupacabra!” I exclaimed.
The girl looked up at me with an offended sneer. “His name is Chewie!”
An interesting choice. I was actually kind of impressed. “From Star Wars? Not bad, kid.”
“What’s a Star Wars?” she asked confused.
I turned to Carlos with a glare. “Seriously? What are you teaching her out here?”
He ignored me to address the matter at hand. “Chewie is our family pet.”
I raised a skeptical eyebrow. “You have a chupacabra for a pet?”
“He was the sweetest,” the girl replied fondly while stroking the creature’s spiky, protruding spine.
“You do know they drink blood, right?” I asked.
Carlos nodded. “That’s what I meant by kinda like a vampire.”
“So you’ve been feeding him…blood?”
He nodded again. “Si. That’s how we met him. He was feeding on one of our goats.”
“And you didn’t think that kind of made him dangerous?”
“At first…yes. But he came back and was sweet and calm. Christina took him in, and before we know it, he made himself at home.”
Now my skepticism was turning to suspicion. I didn’t know much about these creatures. Some wild rumors said they weren’t even native to Earth, either aliens or inter-dimensional beings. But regardless, I’d never heard of one being domesticated before. “And the blood you were feeding him…that came from the goats, too?”
Carlos nodded a third time. “Si.”
Something seemed off. I looked around the barn for a clue and a shelf in the corner filled with boxes caught my eye. “What’s that over there?”
“Medicine,” Carlos replied. “For the goats. We give it to them every day. Why?”
My curiosity had raised Carlos’s suspicions, but I didn’t have an answer for him yet. I ventured over to the shelf and scanned the boxes. There were containers there, too. Syringes and vials along with a contaminated waste bin. I wasn’t a doctor, but I recognized enough to realize what was going on.
“Chewie’s not your pet,” I told them. “He’s your junkie.”
Confused, Carlos furrowed his brow. “What?”
“Chupacabras are savage, blood-thirsty fiends. Not adorable little lap dogs.”
The girl, who Carlos called Christina, started to protest. “But Chewie—”
“Has been high,” I interrupted. “The medication you give your goats is in their blood. That’s why he’s been so docile and cuddly. You keep him stoned all the time.”
Her jaw fell in shock as she turned to her father. “Es verdad?”
He looked just as surprised, and I could tell he didn’t realize what was happening. But now that I’d explained it, things were starting to make sense to him. Carlos’s face grew long as he nodded, confirming his daughter’s fears.
“I don’t care!” she shouted. “He loved me!”
When I arrived in Puerto Rico, this was not how I envisioned my trip going. The last thing I wanted was to ruin a girl’s relationship with her dead pet, chupacabra or not. Yet lying wasn’t my style either.
“I’m sure he did love you,” I told her as sympathetic as could be, “but I’m sorry. There’s nothing really for me to do here.”
Carlos still looked confused, though. “I thought you were a monster mortician, no? He’s a monster.”
I nodded with a regretful frown. “Yes, but I perform funerals for sentient creatures with cultures and rituals. A chupacabra is basically an animal. What you need is a pet cemetery.”
I was beginning to think Grandma Vargas was mute, until she suddenly yelled at her son. “Te dije. Necesitamos un brujo!”
Now that didn’t sound good. “It’s been a long time since I was in Spanish class, but I’m pretty sure she just said you guys need a witch.”
The confusion on Carlos’s face only deepened. “We thought you would do some kind of magic to make them stop coming.”
“To make who stop coming?” I asked, dreadfully.
Carlos opened his mouth to answer, but a loud, ominous snarl of a roar echoed across the farm before he could speak. The noise felt distant yet somehow just outside the cabin door. I’d heard a lot of strange sounds in my life, but that one was certainly a first.
“What was that?” I asked, once again dreadful of the response.
“The chupacabras,” Carlos stated as a simple matter of fact. “Ever since Chewie died a pack of them keeps attacking the house every night.”
“We figured once you do your burial ceremony or whatever,” Christina added, “they would stop coming.”
I nearly choked at how ridiculous this all sounded. “And you didn’t think to mention that over the phone?!”
Carlos appeared undeterred by my panic, heading deeper into the barn like a man on a mission. “I thought we had a couple hours before they arrive. Looks like they’re coming early tonight.”
He returned with two shotguns in hand. The kind you might see in an old western movie.
“Here,” he said handing one to me. Or at least trying to hand one to me. I firmly backed away.
“Oh, no. I deal with dead things, but I’m not the one who makes them that way.”
Carlos pressed the shotgun further in my direction. “You either fight or they eat you.”
It couldn’t have been that simple. Chupacabras were nasty, but they weren’t suicidal. Humans were a natural predator for them. That was why they preyed on goats and other smaller, defenseless creatures. They must’ve been attacking the house for a reason, which meant there was another way to solve this.
“There’s a third option,” I said. “We give them what they want.”
“Blood?” Carlos asked.
“No. If that were the case they would just attack your goats and be gone. I think what they really want is Chewie.”
Carlos turned to her daughter, who clutched the dead creature against her chest. “Christina considers Chewie part of our family. We can’t just give him up.”
“You will if you want the chupacabras to stop coming.”
“No!” Christina exclaimed as tears began swelling in her eyes.
More snarls echoed from outside the door. Many of them now, hissing and growling like a pack on the hunt. We were running out of time.
“Christina, please,” Carlos begged. “We can’t keep going through this every night.”
But Christina just hugged her dead pet even tighter, turning her shoulder to shield him from us. “Chewie isn’t some animal we can just toss away when things get hard. He deserves better than that.”
I had to admit I felt bad for the girl. Drug-addicted bloodthirsty beast or not, she loved that thing to her core. Tears of grief. Weeping for the dead. It was a scene I’d witnessed too many times before, which made those of my profession uniquely qualified to handle this situation.
“Christina,” I said softly as I approached and knelt down in front of her, “I’ve preformed hundreds of ceremonies and burial rituals for all sorts of monsters, creatures, and species you wouldn’t even believe exist. And you know what I’ve learned from all of them?”
She looked up, her crying eyes eager to hear the answer.
“Funerals are meaningless,” I told her.
The girl stopped sniveling long enough for her back to straighten, surprised by my answer.
“Sure,” I went on. “They help us say goodbye, but people don’t want to forget their loves ones. They want to remember them. And they do. Because the truth is nobody ever really leaves. They’ll always be with us. Right here.”
I reached out gently and touched the center of her chest. “And no fancy funeral with flowers and candles will make that happen. Only you can.”
She forced a smile and nodded before standing. The tears remained on her cheeks, but only because her arms were too occupied holding Chewie to wipe them away. The girl walked forward towards the barn door and the rest of us, Carlos, Grandma Vargas, and myself, followed several steps behind.
Christina led the way out into the sunset light, where a pack of chupacabras crouched, surrounding the barn and waiting to pounce. I sensed Carlos at the ready, gripping the shotgun tight in his hands, but he otherwise remained on the defensive. The creatures weren’t attacking, and Carlos rightly didn’t want to fire before they did.
It was a tense situation even by my standards, but Christina fearflessly approached the chupacabra closest to the door. She knelt down upon reaching it and placed Chewie’s corpse at the creature’s feet before backing away.
The chupacabra didn’t growl, didn’t snarl, just sniffed Chewie’s body before using its mouth to lift him carefully by the neck and retreated. The rest of the chupacabras, over a dozen of them, followed into the forest. And just like that, they were gone, and the danger had passed.
That didn’t matter to Christina, though. She broke down crying into her hands. Her father and grandmother rushed over to comfort her in a big hug, and I’d been in this scenario enough times to stand out of the way and let the family grieve.
I didn’t know the girl well. Who was I kidding? She was a stranger to me. Yet I felt oddly proud of what she just accomplished. Most adults weren’t able to face their grief like that in a time of crisis, yet the she handled it with grace and poise.
Carlos knew it, too, for he turned to me with a grateful smile. “How can we ever repay you?”
Seeing Christina with her family really touched my heart. I was almost tempted to tell him it was on the house. Then I remembered the asshole lied to get me here.
“I’ll send you a bill,” I told him. “Travel included.”
TRAVEL LOG: NORWAY
For some reason, no one ever asks me what the most difficult funeral to perform is. If anyone ever does though, I wouldn’t have to think hard for the answer. It’s troll funerals. Always troll funerals.
Fortunately, I’ve only had to conduct one in my lifetime. Probably because there aren’t that many of them and the bloody things live so damn long. Hundreds of years, in fact. (Some might claim to be over a thousand, but I think they’re full of it.)
It wasn’t the traveling that made things difficult, though it certainly was a hike in and of itself just to find them. Trolls lived in remote isolated parts of Norway where there were often no roads or means of transportation other than walking. It was beautiful, though, and the journey allowed me time to clear my head. But the traveling was linked to why troll funerals were so difficult. The reason they stayed so far away from human civilization was on account of their size. Trolls were huge by any stretch of the imagination.
Unlike people, trolls continued to grow after childhood all the way up to their death. A newborn troll is about the size of a tall human. Most adults hover around the height of a two-story house. But some legendary trolls have reached as big as mountains. Tulgar Yorin just happened to be one such troll. In fact, when I walked up to his clan of about a dozen or so gathered at the base of a cliff and asked where he was they just pointed to the cliff. Turned out it was his toe. To be fair, we were in an actual mountain range. So it was an honest mistake.
How does one perform a funeral for something so big? The same way you would for most creatures. You bury them. Now the obvious follow up question is how do you bury them? That is a little trickier. In the olden days troll clans would spend years if not decades toiling up the ground to get the job done, all while chanting and performing other cultural ceremonies. Over time the earth would settle and become mountains. Chances were hundreds of climbers looking for a good time have even scaled a summit not realizing the peak was in fact a dead troll.
But who really wants to do that kind of manual labor of digging and moving rocks in the modern age of cell phones and spaceships? Not even trolls have that kind of time anymore. That was why Tulgar’s clan called me. To figure out another way, and I did with just one word: avalanche.
The plan was simple: detonate charges at the top of the mountain causing a rockslide that would roll over Tulgar’s body. It was dangerous, but luckily, I was able to clear this with the Norwegian government beforehand, who have been aware of trolls’ existence for centuries. Every couple decades or so there would be a debate on whether or not to make the trolls public. Many politicians argued it would be a boon to the tourism industry, but the last thing they needed was as international incident because some obnoxious American got eaten. I think they made the right decision.
I had hoped that one of Tulgar’s relatives would happily give me a lift to the top of the mountain if not help me plant the charges. All they had to do was pick me up and scale what to them was no more than a tiny hill. But the ugly giants insisted on staying with the body, leaving me to scale the crag all by my lonesome.
I got started right away and it wasn’t long before my mind was already wandering. I had some experience mountain climbing. Before his untimely demise, my father bestowed upon me an important part of being a monster mortician was having a wide variety of skills. Since monsters came in many shapes and sizes and resided in all corners of the globe, it helped to be prepared for anything. From hiking through the desert to swimming in the middle of the ocean. And yes, even climbing up the side of a mountain. The key was patience, persistence and—
NOT SLIPPING LIKE MY FOOT JUST DID!
I only freefell for a second, but it was enough to make my throat clench. I was grateful the rope caught me. Except…I hadn’t hammered in the next nail just yet.
It wasn’t until I looked down and saw a rounded troll face staring back at me that I realized what actually happened. I was caught. The face wasn’t that big, either. This troll must’ve been a child.
“Thanks for the save, kid,” I said after a long grateful sigh.
“You got it,” he replied in a surprisingly chipper voice. “Want me to take you the rest of the way?”
I looked up the mountain and saw I was only about halfway. “If you don’t mind.”
His smile grew even wider. “Top floor. Coming right up.”
The young troll starting climbing the mountain with ease. I felt almost embarrassed that it would take me nearly an hour to scale something he conquered in a single step. It made me wonder why I even had to climb this far by myself in the first place.
“How come you didn’t offer to take me when I asked the first time?”
The troll’s lumpy face looked ugly when it frowned. “My parents wouldn’t let me.”
I looked over his shoulder and recognized some bit of resemblance to the dead troll lying on the ground far below. “You’re Tulgar’s grandson, aren’t you?”
“Yup,” he said, turning the frown back into a smile. “Name’s Ekon.”
Most of Tulgar’s clan spoke slow and had trouble putting emphasis on the right words, but if I didn’t know any better, I could’ve mistaken Ekon for a regular kid. “You don’t really sound like a troll. Anybody ever tell you that?”
“All the time. I don’t want to be a troll, either. I want to go to the city and hang out with people. But no. I have to stay here and eat rocks for the rest of my life.”
I didn’t realize how much the climb made me nostalgic for my father. I haven’t thought about him much since he died, but swap out the “being a troll” and “eating rocks” parts and that could’ve been something I said to my old man when he was still alive. The thought made me chuckle.
“Hey!” the troll snapped, bashfully. “Don’t laugh at me!”
“I’m not laughing at you, Ekon. I’m laughing at myself.”
His face twisted in confusion yet he never broke his stride. “Huh?”
“You just remind me a lot of when I was your age. My dad wanted me to be a monster mortician like him, and I didn’t want to be. I wanted to go to movies and play sports. And you know what I learned?”
“Humans are boring. Being around monsters and creatures like yourself is what makes the world an interesting place. You should be proud of who you are.”
Ekon smiled again, but it was softer and relaxed, more natural. He felt genuinely happy. Something I don’t usually experience from customers in my line of work.
“Now come on,” I told him. “Let’s bury your grandpa.”
A few more steps and we reached the summit. From there I had to walk the ridgeline setting charges for demolition. Properly handling explosives was NOT one of the things my father taunt me during the course of my training, but a three hour class and I was as about as certified to blow up the side of a mountain as I was going to get. Come to think of it, the ease of the whole thing kind of made me nervous.
Ekon asked several times to help, and his long reach would’ve cut the time in half. But I wasn’t exactly about to hand explosives over to a kid, even one that was probably older than me.
By the time I was finished the sun was just about to set. I took out my radio to call down below and tell them I was ready. Tulgar’s clan obviously couldn’t respond, but they heard me well enough and gave a wave. It was show time.
Ekon took a seat on the peak and lifted me up onto his shoulder. It was actually quite comfortable and gave a great view of the mountainous countryside.
“You ready?” I asked.
Ekon gave a strange half-smile, half-frown and nodded.
I nodded back and pressed the detonator. All at once, small pops erupted out from the side of the mountain. They weren’t large explosions, but big enough to dislodge a wave of hefty rocks and boulders. The avalanche cascaded fast down the cliffs, eventually tumbling over Tulgar’s body. The gargantuan troll disappeared beneath a cloud of dust, and when it finally dissipated into the twilight sky, the troll was nowhere to be seen. There was a just a mound of rock, what seemed nothing more than an outcropping of the mountain itself.
“Goodbye, Papa Tulgar,” Ekon lamented through his sorrowful expression, a tear dripping down his lumpy, rounded cheek.
Being a monster mortician, I often fall victim to the antics of the supernatural or find myself stuck in a dilemma I never asked for. There are haggling goblins and drunken orcs. Arrogant elves and high-maintenance vampires. But not every adventure has to be a disastrous one. Sometimes a funeral is just a funeral. Watching Ekon, I’m reminded of why I do what I do. That no matter how ostracized or scary, everyone, even monsters, deserve a chance to say goodbye.
Nathan would never venture to an establishment of this sorts, but for a gig. Especially one to get his career back on track, he’s willing to take the risk.