Authors: S. B. Alexander
Before long, the truck slowed. We were turning onto a driveway. Neil shifted the truck into park. The neighborhood had several homes along one side of the street. Each one looked deserted. But it was one o’clock in the morning and it was difficult to get a clear idea of the area with the blowing snow.
As I stepped out of the car, a
sign on the front porch caught my eye. Just beyond the sign beneath the bare bulb of the porch light, a plaque was nailed to the wall. I read the sign and my jaw dropped, practically touching the ground.
Foster and Sons Funeral Home, est. 1962.
I took a hesitant step forward when Sam grabbed my arm.
“Not yet,” he whispered.
It was evident that Sam was not comfortable with the choice.
“Why here, Neil?” I asked.
“Well, for one, it’s a good distance from the hospital. Besides, nobody will find you here and it has heat and electricity.
I bet no one would find us here; it was what I was afraid of. The newspaper headlines would read,
Dead Bodies of Twin Siblings Found in Abandoned Funeral Home
“But a funeral home?”
“Better than the alternative, right?” Neil said, walking up the front steps.
What alternative was he talking about? Getting kidnapped or another foster home?
Great, I’m going to sleep with the dead tonight.
The tall streetlights, which lined the edges of the sidewalks, lit up the surrounding area. A local park dominated the block across the street with an ice rink covered in a thin layer of snow. It wouldn’t be too much longer before the ice rink turned into a roller hockey rink.
Sam and I were taking mental snapshots of the area when Neil waved to us.
“Sam. Jo,” he called out. “We need to get inside.”
The funeral home sat on a corner lot with a path from the sidewalk to the front porch, which led visitors to the entrance of the home. Sam walked along the driveway while I circled around the front of the truck.
“Sam, where’re you going?” I asked.
My brother had a suspicious nature about him and sometimes it drove me nuts. I couldn’t complain, though. His doubtful nature kept us out of trouble most of the time.
“I’ll be right there,” he said.
When I reached the door, Sam came walking up the path planting his footprints in the virgin snow.
“So, Mr. Paranoia, you satisfied?” I asked.
“For now,” he replied.
he funeral home had a
large foyer, which I imagined had welcomed guests at one time or another. Now dust hung in the air and tickled my nose. I sneezed once, then twice.
“Bless you,” Sam said.
A worn Oriental carpet runner, which covered the dusty wood floor, clashed with the chintzy flowered wallpaper. As we stood there, taking it all in, a spitting and rattling noise resounded.
“What’s that?” I turned towards Sam.
“Sounds like Neil’s tinkering with the heater,” he said.
I walked over to a sofa table that butted against the wall next to a set of double doors. A black book lay open, its pages filled with signatures.
This must be entries from the last wake or funeral.
A slight chill caressed my skin and I closed the book. As I did, more dust bunnies flew into the air. I sneezed again, dragging the back of my hand across my nose as I made my way towards Sam who was sitting on a red loveseat.
“Don’t sit down too fast unless you want more crap up your nose,” he warned.
Heeding Sam’s advice, I eased down onto the velvet cushion. Slowly, I leaned back and rested my head against the couch. I released a loud sigh, which echoed in the small foyer-like room.
“Now what?” I asked.
“Sleep,” Sam replied.
Sleep would be great, if only I could relax. I couldn’t get the image of the bandana guy out of my head. I hoped that he was still looking for us somewhere near the hospital. Not to mention that sleeping in a funeral home wasn’t high on my list of favorite things to do. In fact, it was creepy. I started tapping my foot as we waited for Neil to emerge from wherever he was in the building.
“Jo, stop it,” Sam said.
“Your foot. You do that when you get nervous. It drives me crazy, especially now.”
I blew out a breath and rose. I needed to do something. My mind wasn’t allowing me to relax. Curious as to what lay behind the double doors in front of me, I grabbed the doorknob and pushed in the door. I rooted around the wall, found the light switch and flicked on the lights. The room came to life. Centered against the back wall was a closed, shiny white coffin. A chill infused my whole body.
If this place has been vacant for over a year, what was a coffin doing in this room? Is there a dead person in it?
Not wanting to linger or even think about it, I switched off the light and scurried out. I had a feeling nightmares would be visiting me tonight.
“Anything interesting in there?” Sam asked.
“Nope,” I said as I sat in my original spot.
Another fifteen minutes passed before Neil emerged from somewhere in the building.
“I managed to get the heat on,” he said.
Sam jumped to his feet.
I didn’t move. After sitting for a few minutes, my body had grown stiff. My ribs throbbed as if someone had taken a sledgehammer and whacked me a few times.
“It should work through the night,” Neil said. “Let me show you around, then you guys can get some rest.”
Sam extended his hand and I grabbed it as he pulled me upright. We followed behind Neil to a set of stairs, which led to the second floor. On our way down the hall, we walked by two more viewing rooms, which had their doors open. Those rooms were empty—no coffins, thank God. The thought of dead people brought the image back of the man at the hospital with the long canine teeth.
Yep, I’m definitely going to have nightmares tonight.
At the end of the hallway, we climbed a set of stairs to the top floor.
“You can crash in my dad’s old office,” Neil said.
When we entered the room, two floral couches sat adjacent to one another. The tackiness of the bottom floor filtered upstairs into the office. With the exception of the windowed wall and the wall of books, the chintzy flowered wallpaper matched the two sofas.
In front of the floor-to-ceiling window, a large cherry wood desk commanded the room. A pair of dark red velvet curtains covered the window, making it look as if blood were streaming down. Blood. Now that conjured up all kinds of images, but none more powerful than the tingle in my stomach right now. I wanted to slap myself.
Stop thinking about all these terrifying images.
“Sam, here’s a spare key in case you need it. I’ll be back first thing in the morning with some food,” Neil said. “One more thing. Take this.” He handed Sam three twenty-dollar bills. “There’s a variety store a block north of here. It opens early in the morning. Get her something that fits better.”
As he walked to the door, I caught a better glimpse of the tattoo on his neck. The capital letter ‘P’ superimposed on top of the letter ‘L’ , and there was a red diagonal ring circling the black monogram letters. The ring reminded me of the planet Saturn with its outer band.
“I’ll see you in the morning,” Neil said as he padded down the stairs.
A few minutes later the front door shut and the lock clicked. His truck engine roared to life. Then silence.
Sam jumped onto one couch and dust flew in the air.
Ugh. I covered my nose so I wouldn’t sneeze.
I guess I get the other dusty couch.
“Did you notice the tattoo on Neil’s neck?” I asked.
Sam leaned his head back against the sofa and closed his eyes. “Uh huh,” he mumbled.
“What do you suppose it is?” I asked.
“Not now, Jo. I’m tired.”
“Do you think he’s working with the guy chasing us?
“Well, I don’t trust him,” I persisted.
“I do. Alright?” Sam took in a deep breath, and within seconds he was snoring.
His snoring grew louder.
Sam had the right idea, but sleep evaded me. I was still curious if the tattoo had any meaning. As I waited for sleep to takeover, the wind howling followed the sound of Sam snoring. In-between the snoring and the howling, the heater sputtered. It was as if I were listening to an orchestra.
After a few minutes, the orchestra muted and the pounding of my pulse thudded in my ears as a list of questions scrolled across the darkness.
Where are we going to go? Is the cop okay? Why is someone with long canines chasing us? Who is Neil? Why would a complete stranger help us?
As I pondered the answers to these questions, the noises around me faded, and a hot breeze caressed my neck, lulling me to sleep.
I woke up the next morning and the crick in my neck prevented me from moving it to the left. I eased my head from side to side to loosen it. The cracks reverberated in my ears and I shivered. I hated that sound. I inhaled, taking inventory of my body. The intake of air still burned and the pain in my ribs seemed more intense today than it did last night. I imagined it was going to take a while for my body to heal.
The other couch was empty. Where was Sam?
A loud bang sounded and I jumped off the couch, holding on to my mid-section as I ran out of the room. I peered over the banister.
He appeared from underneath the stairs and tilted up his head. “I’m trying to get this stupid heater to work. I’ll be up in a minute.”
I ambled back into the office and over to the window. I pulled aside one of the curtain panels and peered out. The snow blanketed the trees, roads, and the surrounding homes. The park across the street showed no signs of life, but then again its barren appearance matched the still life in the neighborhood. The gray sky threatened as if it were about to deliver its second strike of snowfall.
I looked down. The freshly fallen snow covered the footprints Sam had planted on the walkway last night. Even the driveway didn’t show any signs of Neil’s truck. I stood in front of the window, staring out, wondering what we were going to do today. We couldn’t stay here. Well, I didn’t want to stay here. Even in daylight, the place gave me the willies.
I lightly touched my left cheek. The bandage was dry, but my face ached. Yeah, well. There wasn’t much I could do about my bruises right now. I turned my attention from my Poor Me syndrome to the office space.
Five enormous bookshelves paneled the right wall. Each book was stacked neatly one against the other. I was glancing at the titles of the books on one of the shelves when the hallway stairs creaked and Sam walked in.
“You fixed the heater?” I asked as the warm air blew through the room.
“What time is it?”
Sam looked at his watch. “Six.”
Ugh! I’d tossed and turned all night. I was afraid to sleep, not only because of the macabre images of the man chasing us, but because my bruises and cuts were too painful to put pressure on. Plus, I had the feeling that someone was watching us while we slept.
“Well, we can’t stay here.” Sam stared at the books.
Great answer. I wouldn’t be the least bit disappointed if we never came back here.
“What was your first clue? The coffin in the room downstairs?”
“There’s a coffin?” Sam asked, surprise in his voice.
“Well, we’re in a funeral home.”
“Yeah, an abandoned one,” Sam replied.
“You think there’s a dead body in it?”
“Okay, okay. All the more reason to get out of here. And we need to get some help,” he said.
“Again, what’s your first clue?”
He pulled back a curtain panel and stared outside. “Jo, don’t get smart.”
“Anyone with a blue bandana walking around out there?” I asked.
I meant it rhetorically. I hadn’t seen anyone out there a minute ago. Still the hairs on my arms rose, waiting for his answer.
He shook his head.
“Well, what’re we going to do?” I asked as I shuddered a breath.
If we went back to the hospital, we could be accused of beating up the cop and running. Besides, the cops still wanted to question Sam about the incident with Cliff; he wasn’t out of the woods yet with the law. So the hospital was out of the question.
I bit the inside of my right cheek and sat down in the leather desk chair.
“I was thinking we could get Ben’s dad to help us,” he said.
“Mr. Jackson?” My jaw dropped. “You’ve got to be kidding, right?”
“He’ll understand. We don’t have anyone besides Neil, and I don’t want to stay here. This place is creepy.”
This place wasn’t creepy; it was downright terrifying. But I wasn’t so sure Mr. Jackson would understand. He might be the principal of the high school, but there had been a lot of crazy shit going on with us in the last two days that I couldn’t even wrap my mind around.
“I’m not so sure.”
“He just needs to look at you,” Sam said.
I was afraid to. Frankenstein’s monster had to look better than me.