Skunk chewed his tongue in order to stifle his laughter. That morning he’d asked his wife about the Tale of the Three Morticians, only to have her cart him off to her looney Aunt Rachelle’s. He hadn’t even had a chance to finish his coffee! Now he was sitting―more like sinking―in the over plump couch of his wife’s psychic aunt, squinting at a newspaper from 1948.
“I sense cynicism in you,” Rachelle droned. Sitting across from Skunk was the most ridiculous looking woman he’d ever seen. She was wrapped head to toe in colourful scarves. The only part of her that wasn’t covered was her dark eyes―further darkened by the layers of eyeliner she wore. Every time she moved, the rows of beads and bangles around her wrist jingled.
Skunk tossed the newspaper onto the coffee table in front of him, next to a pot of funky smelling oil.
“This article is about an elderly gentleman who supposedly vanished from the face of the earth,” Skunk stated. “And you want me to believe that a bunch of undertakers were responsible?! That’s ridiculous.” Rachelle called for Mink to bring her a dusty box from a display case. The oddly shaped glass jars that stood on the shelves contained miscellaneous trinkets of which Skunk could not identify.
“This box has at least another twenty articles from after the second world war. All of them tell a similar story.” Rachelle took the box from Mink and turned it upside down. Faded articles flooded the floor, along with charcoal drawings of three heavily-browed men in long black coats. Rachelle plucked the drawing from the mess of browning newsprint.
“This is a drawing I did when I was a young woman. I saw these men―these morticians―in a vision. They were brothers. All with a gift, passed from generation to generation in their family.” Rachelle leaned so close to Skunk, he could see the makeup caked in the wrinkles around her mouth. “Legend has it, these men could see human lifelines. They could predict when a loved one would pass.” Skunk took the drawing from Rachelle’s hideously long fingernails. It depicted three gaunt faces, long and pale. The men almost looked inhuman with their colourless eyes.
“So, you’re trying to tell me that these morticians could predict when a person was going to die, and they were responsible for all the disappearances back then?” Skunk shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I’m still not buying it.”
Rachelle smiled, “You will.” She produced a lighter from beneath her scarves and lit the pot of fragrant oil. She then took the charcoal sketch and allowed it to curl over the heat.
“Imagine,” she said, “shaking the hands of friends only to see their bodies aged and broken on their death beds. The brothers’ gift was a curse, and it drove them to madness. Everyone who went missing eventually turned up as a name on a tombstone. Their bodies were exhumed and their identities confirmed.” Rachelle crunched the drawing in her palm. It fell away to ashes and floated into Skunk’s face. For a split second, Skunk saw the smoky entrails of his father, spasming and screaming in agony.
“You did this to me!” his voice shrieked. The haunting whisper was sharp in Skunk’s ear.
“Alright!” Skunk shouted, waving away the tendrils of sickeningly sweet smoke. “So what became of these so-called cursed morticians?” Rachelle shrugged.
“Nobody knows for sure. Some say their curse caused them to commit suicide. Others say they fled into isolation, away from people. Dying is something people do, you know.”
Skunk looked to his wife. She appeared to be distracted by her aunt’s fluffy one-eyed cat curled on the cushion next to her. Skunk wondered if she’d only brought him there as an excuse to maul the creature. Surely someone as clever as Mink didn’t believe the ramblings of her crazy aunt.
“What can you tell me about Terence?” Skunk asked, averting his eyes from his wife―who was now teasing the cat with a thread from her blouse.
“Ah, yes,” Rachelle purred, “Terence is a descendent of the three. I would not be surprised if he, too, possesses the curse.”
Though he doubted the man was cursed, Skunk wanted less and less to visit Terence. He’d had enough dealings with funeral directors throughout his lifetime. They were sad, scary, and morbid individuals. Skunk was still having difficulty forgetting the funeral director who arranged his mother’s funeral. He had been overweight, sweating, and in an awful rush to complete the arrangements. The conniving glint in his father’s eye as the funeral director more than eagerly scribbled down every overpriced selection…
Skunk could feel his phone buzzing in his pocket. He stepped out onto the porch to answer the call. Skunk was thankful for the excuse to leave the stuffy house. His head was beginning to swim with all of Aunt Rachelle’s spicy fragments.
“Mayor Skunk,” Officer Fanny Duster’s voice wheezed. The man sounded as though he was having an asthma attack.
“What is it?”
“Spine Less,” the officer managed to breath. “His body’s been found. If word gets out, people will be wild.” Skunk couldn’t help but recollect Spine Less’ distraught mother, clawing at him in her grief.
“Has his family been notified?” Skunk asked. Officer Fanny Duster confirmed they had.
“They’re making funeral arrangements as we speak,” he said. “They don’t want the entire town to see Spine Less. As I understand it, he’s in a bit of a mess. The fish had their way with his body and―”
“I understand. We’ll keep things on the down low. If anyone asks just tell them the truth: the family appreciates the concern, but would like to have some private time with Spine Less during the funeral.” Another question came to Skunk just then. “Which funeral home are they at?” The officer’s answer was instantaneous.
“The place in St. Louis du HA! HA!”
Skunk groaned, “Is that the place with the cursed guy?”
“Terence? Yeah, that’s the guy.” Skunk didn’t respond right away. He heard a pair of birds squabbling in a knobby spray of branches somewhere over his head, and looked to see them. He suddenly wanted nothing more than to just sit and watch the birds tangle their feathers in the trees. The fate of an entire town was resting on his shoulders, and Skunk wasn’t sure he liked it.
“Oh, and Mr. Diggory,” the officer said.
“The family wants you to say a few words at the funeral.”
“Fine,” Skunk agreed, and then said good-bye.
It was settled. He owed it to Spine Less’ woebegone mother and family to pay his respects, and find the man responsible for the decimation of their lives. Cursed or not, Skunk had to meet Terence.