More Than Just A Ghost Story
Skunk couldn’t find his wife anywhere. She was with him, her palm warm on his thigh throughout the duration of the service. Then, when everyone came streaming out after the casket, she was gobbled up by the crowd, lost in the sea of tears and anguish. Skunk called her name. He tapped the shoulders of strangers, inquiring if they’d seen his wife. It was as though she’d vanished―disintigrated before his eyes. Skunk rode alone to the cemetery, praying Mink was with a friend. She was no where to be seen at the graveside. Without her hand in his, Skunk could barely stand watching Spine Less’ casket disappear into its grave. What was worse, she wasn’t answering her cell phone. After the ceremony, Skunk called her more times than he could count on his fingers. Mink was gone.
Skunk felt like there was a scream trapped in his chest. His bed seemed far too large without her lying next to him, and the sheets were cold. He had nightmares every night, and when he looked in the mirror, he could see the result of his restlessness shadowed beneath his eyes. No matter how much coffee he drank during the day, he never felt truly awake.
“I hear Terence is a fairly well known artist in St. Louis du HA! HA!,” Officer Fanny Duster said. Sitting across from him in the white paneled interrogation room, was the curly-haired man, Ash Wilson, from Amigone Funeral Home.
“Yes, he’s quite talented,” Ash confirmed. Evidently the man had come straight from the funeral home as he was dressed immaculately in a black suit and tie.
Officer Fanny Duster twitched his mustache, “But not as talented as Spine Less?”
Ash laughed nervously in response to the question and licked his lips before answering, “Are you suggesting that Terence is behind the vandalism of Spine Less’ art?” Officer Fanny Duster nodded, his multiple chins folding like wet taffy.
Ash vouched incessantly for Terence’s innocence. He was a well-trained dog obeying his master. Skunk watched the interrogation from the corner of the room, his arms crossed. He felt like a ghost―like an unacknowledged presence haunting the atmosphere. After the disappearance of his wife, he certainly felt transparent. Nothing seemed to matter except finding Mink and persecuting whoever was responsible for the vandalisms as well as her kidnapping. Skunk knew the vandal and the kidnapper were some how linked. Every ounce of his gut told him so.
“Is Terence a womanizer?” Skunk jumped into the line of questioning. He suddenly remembered what Mr. Verdin had said about Terence’s exotic woman. A jolt of fear made Skunk’s insides squirm. What if Terence was with Mink right now? Skunk could see the man’s eyes hounding her, sizing her up the way a hunter stalks its prey.
Ash looked like he’d been slapped.
“Does he abuse women?!” Skunk shouted, pounding his fists on the table.
“No!” Ash shook his head adamantly, his curls bouncing in all directions. “He never talks about women or relationships.”
“I don’t believe you!” Skunk screamed. “Your coworker, Mr. Verdin, told us all about Terence’s exotic woman and the naughty things he does to her. What did he mean by that, Mr. Wilson?”
The man erupted into laughter.
“You find this funny, son?!” Officer Fanny Duster hollered. Ash sniffed and wiped a tear from the corner of his eye.
“That ‘exotic woman’ was Terence’s sphinx cat,” he explained.
“Are you telling me Terence is having intimate relations with his cat?!” Skunk had never seen Officer Fanny Duster so revolted before. His mustache was scowled into the shape of a sagging umbrella beneath his lip.
“I don’t think that’s what Mr. Wilson is suggesting at all, Officer.” Skunk placed a hand on the officer’s mammoth shoulder to calm him down. He whispered, “Get a warrant to search Terence’s house.” The officer nodded.
Turning his piggy eyes toward Ash he said, “Ok, we’re done here. You can scram now.”
Ash sighed and stroked his forehead. He suddenly looked exhausted under the interrogation room lights. Skunk remembered how exhausted Terence had looked―eyes brimmed like those of a raccoon.
“You work long hours, don’t you?” Skunk asked.
“Yes.” Ash smiled weakly.
Skunk couldn’t believe what he was about to ask. The Tale of the Three Morticians was obviously a silly ghost story. Skunk was desperate for even considering Rachelle’s mad theory. If a handshake could bring about visions of death to Skunk, it would certainly be enough to make him crazy―crazy enough to vandalize a town and certainly crazy enough to kidnap a woman.
“Does Terence have a problem with shaking hands?” The question made Ash pause strangely by the door.
“Yes, actually.” The man’s eyes ogled Skunk curiously. “He’s a germaphobic.”
Skunk’s mouth went dry. He’d never heard of a funeral director being afraid of germs. He’d never heard of a funeral director who could foresee a person’s death either. Germaphobia was a far more plausible explanation for avoiding a handshake. Maybe that’s what Terence wanted people to think…
“Can I go now?” Ash stood by the door, his arms crossed.
“Is Terence well?” Skunk was grasping. He may as well just ask ‘Does your employer have supernatural abilities that are making him crazy?’
“No,” Ash answered. “Terence has been under a lot of stress lately.” Skunk hummed inquisitively.
“You can go now,” he said.
The waiting room smelled of popery. The mauve colour scheme of the room reminded Terence more of a recently renovated bathroom than a waiting room. The perimeter was lined with chairs―all of which were uncomfortable for a man of Terence’s stature.
“Mommy, is that a giant?” A toothless little boy gawked at Terence from across the room. Behind a magazine, the mother chastised her son with strained whispers. The other patients ruffled their newspapers and cleared their throats awkwardly, as if the boy hadn’t just articulated each of their thoughts. Terence hated the way people looked at him. For a frighteningly tall man, he often felt small.
His face burned behind the newspaper print. He felt so overwrought with anxiety, he was barely even cognizant of the words in front of him. It was as though the obituaries in the paper were written in another language. None of the names rang a bell to Terence, nor were any of the services to be held at Amigone Funeral Home. Except…
Cecil Bartholomew. Terence swallowed hard. It was the alcoholic who claimed to be a pianist. The man had shaken Terence’s hand. Now he was dead. Heart failure. Terence had witnessed every excruciating detail. The man died in his bathroom. Often times heart failure made a person feel nauseous. Now Terence was the one who felt nauseous.
“Terence Coon.” A receptionist called his name. Terence followed her down a narrow white hallway to an empty examination room.
“Mr. Pickler will see you soon,” she said. Terence nodded. He wiped a sheen of sweat from his forehead and discarded his coat. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his doctor. Murphy Pickler. The name reminded Terence of a boy he once knew from school. The boy had smelled of vinegar and picked his nose.
The doctor entered the room. He wore a black turtle neck and was slimmer than Terence remembered. His features were also smoother and more defined. The colour of his skin was similar to the colour of Terence’s breakfast tea. Mr.Pickler greeted Terence pleasantly, all the while examining a folder full of paperwork. When he looked up from his file, he eyed Terence with an air of pity. Though Terence wasn’t entirely sure it was pity. The man’s eyes were black and glimmered enigmatically. He sat in front of a computer screen, his eyes still on Terence. It was almost as if he was expecting Terence to confess his secret.
“What can I do for you today?” Mr. Pickler asked. There was a sly monotony about his voice that sent shivers down Terence’s spine. This wasn’t the Murphy Pickler Terence remembered. Terence took his time responding to the man. He picked a piece of lint from his sweater, pretended to admire a picture of a baby dressed as a cabbage…
“Is something troubling you, Mr. Coon?” Now the man was grinning. It was all but benevolent.
Terence swallowed hard, “You’re not my doctor.”
“Oh?” The man’s eyebrows rose in surprise. His eyes remained neutral. “Then who am I?”
Terence scrutinized the man’s features. There was an air of familiarity about his long face and dark, thin lips. He’d seen another man with a long face―hollow and withered like a walnut.
“Oh, God!” Terence gasped. It was Alabaster Bloom. His guts writhed like a ball of snakes as the memories ripped through his brain.
He was on call. He’d barely been home when his phone went off.
“My Father’s just passed away.” It was the voice of a young woman. Trisha Sparks. She was her father’s executor who lived in a cottage house on the cusp of the Glass Lake. Her father had been under hospice care for a number of years and was finally at rest.
“Do we have your permission to transfer your father and is he in excess of three hundred pounds?” Terence wasn’t one for softening his phraseology. Fortunately Mr. Bloom had been suffering from cachexia and was severely underweight. He was also, thank God, on the first floor of the house.
The Amigone policy dictated that two staff members must go to complete a house call. Terence scrawled Mr. Bloom’s address on a coffee stained scrap of paper, called Paul, and off they went to complete the transfer.
Terence remembered Trisha. She was unusually tactful, considering the fact that she’d just watched her father die. What surprised Terence the most was her lack of reaction. Terence was an unusual looking person―a trait which most people were quick to acknowledge. His demeanor and speech was all but gentle.
“Did the doctor sign the medical?” Terence had asked, his hand outstretched to accept the document. Trisha had the paper in his hand before he’d even finished the inquiry. He handed off the paper to Paul for safe keeping and then asked if he could embalm her father. Trisha took a moment to think about her response and then nodded almost eagerly.
“I like her,” Terence had said to Paul while loading the stretcher into the transfer van. Paul had then made an inappropriate sexual comment which prompted a quick ‘shut-up and get in the van,’ from Terence.
In the prep room, Terence was more than pleased with his pre examination of Mr. Bloom’s body. He was freshly dead, meaning his skin was still warm to the touch. No smell. Very little livor mortis was present, and the rigor had barely even set in. The body would practically embalm itself. Best of all, his staff had all gone home and would not be present to disrupt him. Terence was the only live one in the funeral home…or so he thought.
The man’s skin was thicker than Terence anticipated. Most elderly bodies had skin like tissue paper. Using the clavicle as a cutting board, Terence made an incision at the base of the neck. He swore when the blood spilled out, black and hot. He turned his back to retrieve a wad of prep towel to soak up the chasm of blood occluding his sight of the artery. When Terence returned to face the body, he found the man upright and choking. His eyes were like saucers as he gaped at the angry wound coating him in his own blood. Dark eyes blazing with terror, and lips parched from his grating breath, the man spotted Terence. Shocked, Terence fainted, concussing himself on the linoleum floor.
“You faked your own death and paid some bum on the street to falsify your paperwork!” Terence exclaimed. The words were hard to pronounce, as he felt strangled with fury. “Who paid you to do this to me?!” He demanded. He’d stood up without realizing it. His hands were balled so tight he could feel his fingernails cutting into his palms. “The mayor of Belleville suspects me of vandalizing his town because of that medical certificate you planted.”
Mr. Bloom―or whoever he was―crossed his legs nonchalantly and scratched at his neck.
“These stitches are horribly itchy,” he stated. His silent chuckle infuriated Terence even more.
“You son of bitch―” A sensation of lightheadedness overcame Terence. He steadied himself on the corner of the examination table to stop from falling over.
“No one is out to get you, Terence,” The man stated simply. “We’re both lucky to have survived that night.”
Terence eased himself back into the chair.
“I don’t believe you,” he said. “You and Paul are working together. You’re working for someone who wants to make me look insane.”
“I don’t think you need any help looking insane.” The doctor yawned, as if Terence’s display of paranoid rage was boring him.
“I’m serious. You have an illness in your mind, whispering false postulations.” Terence sighed. The enigmatic doctor wasn’t the first to have suggested his delusion.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Murry. Put simply, I’m a detective.”
“What the hell did you do with my real doctor?”
“He’s on a vacation of sorts.”
Terence wanted to throw this so-called Murry out the window. His vague explanations and overly calm demeanor suggested he was an impulsive liar―and a manipulative one at that. He was probably a psychopath.
“Why don’t you go take a vacation to hell?!” Terence snapped. This entire escapade had to be Jaune’s doing. She was the one who suggested he see a doctor. Not only that, she hadn’t supported a single decision he’d made since becoming the operator of Amigone Funeral Home.
Murry grinned and pressed his hands together. He reminded Terence of a suave villain―the sort of character you’d see in a graphic novel.
“I know who’s behind the vandalisms in Belleville.”
Terence sniffed, unimpressed. “Then why haven’t you told anybody?”
“Because you have something I want.”
“You can’t have my cat.”
“I was referring to your gift.”
Terence felt his heart flutter in panic. How did Murry know about his ability?
“It’s a curse,” Terence rasped, his throat had gone dry.
“Every gift is a curse in itself. It just depends on your perspective.”
Jaw clenched, Terence grabbed his coat. He was sick and tired of this man’s game.
“There’s a date and address written on the back of the business card in your jacket pocket. If you want to rid yourself of your curse, and not be suspected for the vandalisms of Belleville, I suggest you show up.”
Terence paused―his nose inches away from the door.
“The only thing I’ll be showing you is my middle finger,” he retorted.