Tale of the Three Morticians

By Sue Weber All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery / Thriller

The Search For Terence

Two days without Mink seemed like an eternity to Skunk. He’d barely eaten. He hadn’t shaved. What was the point? He couldn’t let another woman he loved disappear.

“Play the tape again,” Skunk requested. The light from the computer monitor cast a ghoulish glow on the surrounding walls. The Belleville library was a happening place. With the elegant fountain outside and the café inside, it seemed like a logical place for a security camera. People were always in and out. Snapping pictures of the building―which, historically, was once a jail cell. Skunk grew more and more embittered as his attempts to protect Belleville were continually thwarted.

“Right there.” Pollock, Skunk’s most burly guard, pointed his massive finger at a blurry speck on the screen. “That man enters the library an hour before closing and never comes out.”

“Are you certain of this?” Skunk asked.

“Absolutely,” Pollock answered. “Ninny and I skimmed over these tapes at least a dozen times after the service. We stayed up the whole night. I think we must have drank through four pots of coffee!”

So that’s where all the coffee had gone.

“Anything you can tell me about him?”

“Not a lot. His picture isn’t very clear on the tape. What we can tell is that he’s a Caucasian male with blonde hair and was wearing a black leather jacket, flip flops and sunglasses.”

“Flip flops and sunglasses?”

“Yeah, I know. In October. That’s the only way Ninny and I could pick him out of the crowd.”

“Did you ask anyone if they’d seen him?”

“Temaru asked around. A librarian named Macy said she saw him head toward the self help section on the second floor.” Pollock crossed his arms. They were so thick they were like tree trunks. “What do you want us to do now, Mr. Mayor?”

Skunk stroked his chin. His developing stubble felt like sandpaper. His new police squad had searched the interior of the library after the incident and found no sign of a man adorned in sunglasses and flip flops. How could he have vanished overnight? Did he escape through the open window they found? If so, how did he manage it from such a height?

“Get the librarians to search all the males who have checked out self help books in the last week or so,” Skunk ordered. There was a clamor at the door.

“We have a warrant to search the Undertaker’s house, Mr. Mayor.” It was Officer Fanny Duster.

This was it. Skunk’s opportunity to find his wife. What if she was injured? Or worse. The worry made Skunk’s insides feel as if they were melting. He quickly ran from the station to his vehicle, driving close behind Officer Fanny Duster’s cruiser.

With the warrant in hand, Officer Fanny Duster motioned for his team to back him at the door of Terence’s house. The building was both eerie and homey at the same time. The white paint on its exterior had yellowed over the years and the roof was missing a few shingles. It had a defenseless sort of look―like the look of a begging child. The house was both charming and sad.

The officer began by ringing the doorbell. He pounded his fist on the door when there was no answer.

“Open up, Undertaker! We have a warrant to search your house!”

A November chill tickled the back of Skunk’s neck. The bushes rustled and the sky was overcast. Still no answer.

“Maybe he’s not home,” Temaru suggested.

“Or maybe he’s just hiding from the law!” Officer Fanny Duster bellowed. He slammed loudly on the door―loud enough to attract the attention of a few dog-walkers. Skunk shushed him. He thought he heard a noise coming from inside the house. He pressed his ear to the door and listened carefully. It was faint, almost non existent, but it was there―the plea of a beautiful woman bound in strangling cloth.

“She’s in there!” Skunk exclaimed. “I heard her.” The police squad exchanged frantic looks.

“What are you waiting for you bunch of sissies?!” Officer Fanny Duster bellowed. “Break the door down!” The officer, Pollock, and Temaru braced themselves to charge into the door. Before impact, Ninny placed herself in their line of bombardment. The men stopped and watched in awe as she pulled two bobby pins from her updo and casually picked the lock. The door clicked open. Ninny bowed and waved the squad in.

The interior of Terence’s house was a wooden tundra. It was dark and smelled of a newly purchased car. A black iron staircase coiled up to a second floor.

“Mink!” Skunk called. “Where are you?” Strangled words emanated from above. She must have been gagged. Skunk climbed the curling steps―each one clanging coldly beneath the sole of his shoe. He dreaded what he would see at the top. His wife struggling beneath ropes as thick as snakes, one eye bruised and caked in blood and her innocent round face a smattering of brown, yellow, blue and purple. Skunk blasted through the first door he saw. Canvases were propped in every corner of the room. The wooden floors were stained with dried paint, but not a single drop appeared on any of the canvases. His wife was handcuffed to the post of Terence’s bed. A sigh ripped through Skunk’s chest. He tore the gag from her mouth and collapsed next to her.

“You look worse than me,” Mink laughed. It was a forced sound―not at all the same cheerful ring it used to be.

The rest of the squad rushed in. Ninny used her lock picking abilities to free Mink from her cuffs.

“You must show me how to do that sometime,” Mink said to her. There was a sadness, almost longing behind her usual cheery tone. Skunk took her tenderly by her shoulders. He touched her hair.

“Did he―” Skunk hesitated before continuing. “Did he do anything to you?”

Mink shook her head, “No. He was actually very kind.” Her words astounded Skunk. Kind?!

“What do you mean by that, Mrs. Diggory?” Temaru asked politely. Mink answered his question, but directed her response toward Skunk. She took his hands.

“It’s true, Skunkie. The Tale of the Three Morticians. Terence is cursed.” Skunk pulled away from her. She couldn’t be serious. “I know it sounds crazy, Dear, but you have to believe me. Terence kidnapped me for my own good. He saved me.”

Skunk sat down. His head was so full of hysteria he thought he was going to explode. In the few days she was imprisoned, could his wife―his strong willed, clever wife―develop Stockholm Syndrome?

Mink’s voice was a dull ache in Skunk’s ears. She droned on in a way that was uncharacteristic of her. Terence knew Mink was going to die. She couldn’t remember when he’d shaken her hand, but he must have. It was the only way he’d have seen her death.

“Where is he now?” Skunk asked. His voice was an angry whisper.

“Rachelle’s,” Mink responded. “Terence is tired of living in anguish from his curse. I told him if anyone would be able to lift the curse from him it would be her.”

Skunk left the house without another word. Terence had put his wife under some sort of spell. She was mesmerized by him. Terence wasn’t a hero. He kidnapped Mink. He toyed with her mind. His wife was a pale silhouette of what she once was. Skunk didn’t know what the man could possibly want with Rachelle. Perhaps he wanted her for his own sick amusement too. Was Terence connected to the vandal? Skunk didn’t know. What he did know was his own hatred. It burned his insides, turning each organ to stew. He wouldn’t rest until he’d brought Terence to justice. He’d undertake that undertaker if it was the last thing he did.

***

His current location made Terence very uneasy. Wilson’s presence didn’t help any.

“This place is weird,” Wilson said. His hands were draped in the pockets of his beige overcoat.

“What did you expect, Disney World?” Terence croaked.

A gravel path twisted to the entrance of the house from the road. A heavy wind rustled through the brush on either side of the path. Terence could hear the water on the beaches below crashing against the rocks. He crossed his arms against the gale and gazed up at the charcoal sky.

“They’re calling for thunderstorms today,” Ash declared.

“They most certainly are,” a voice rang from behind. The two of them turned to see a woman so heavily shrouded in multi-coloured scarves, she resembled a tie-dyed mummy. “Come,” she beckoned, “we must get you out of this weather.”

As they approached the house, the sound of wind chimes became clear. The ringing contraptions were latched onto the tree branches and swayed harmoniously in the wind. The woman caught Terence staring at them and announced they were her connection to the spirit world.

“If you listen close enough to the chimes, you will begin to hear voices. The voices will guide you and tell you what is to come.” She paused by the entrance of the house. “Only if you let them, that is.”

The house was made of stones, so covered in moss and vines, one could barely distinguish it as a house. Terence was beginning to regret listening to Murry. The man was probably a bluffing cook who had escaped from an asylum, along with this crazy witch lady. Ash didn’t look too thrilled either. The man was an idiot for wasting his one day off to accompany Terence.

The interior of the house was more bizarre than the exterior. Beaded curtains replaced doors and every piece of furniture was disguised in an array of intricately embroidered drapes. Curled on a ratty, silk pillow, was a one-eyed cat. Terence took a seat next to the scruffy creature. The sofa cushions felt as though they were filled with a gelatinous substance. Terence sank into them and felt as though he would never escape the plush prison.

“What, may I ask, brings you both here today?” Rachelle asked. As if she didn’t know. She lit a pot of oil and the smell immediately made Terence’s head swim. Terence shifted uncomfortably on the sofa. Beside him, Wilson sat pretty on a wicker chair. Terence wished he had taken the wicker chair.

“A man named Murry sent me here,” Terence said.

“Did he threaten you?”

“Yes.”

Rachelle clucked her tongue, “He covets your gift.”

“He can have it,” Terence scoffed, “I’ll even wrap it in a pretty little bow for him.” The cat next to him yawned and splayed its claws. Terence scratched the feline behind its ear. It began to purr and rub its flat face against Terence’s hand.

“Gypsy likes you,” Rachelle said. Terence snickered. The cat’s name was befitting.

“Okay. There’s one thing I’m not getting here.” Ash leaned forward in his chair.

“What’s that, Dear?”

“From what I’ve heard, it sounds like this Murry guy wants to steal Terence’s ability. How is that possible? How is it even possible to get rid of a curse? How is it even possible that he’s cursed in the first place?”

Rachelle laughed, “Your questions are my question, Dear. Terence’s curse has been floating through his family tree for generations. I guess you could say it’s genetic to some degree―like this accursed hooked nose of mine!”

Terence groaned and dragged himself from the sinking cushions. If he sat any longer the sofa would undoubtedly swallow him whole.

“Well, this has been a giant waste of time,” Terence declared, cracking his back. “Thanks for nothing and give my regards to Murry. Tell that asshole he can inherit my curse when I die.”

A crack of lightning split the sky in two. Then the rain came. Everything went dark.

“I’m afraid, Dear Mr. Coon, that is the only way he can.”



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