- 4 Pages
The rural town of Descourve was a town with a long, uneventful history. A brief stay as county seat is the closest it ever came to dignification. The glory days, though, were now long gone and the ambassadors and dignitaries never came anymore. The borough, for that’s what it is really classified as, is situated on the muddy and oft times flooded banks of the Ralapariso, more a stream than river. The population was stagnant, even decreasing as a minimal but noticeable stream of emigrants left for the warm, sunny beaches of Floridian climates or friendlier confines in a pleasant sun-touched community rather than the bleak pit in which squatted Descourve, ghost town while still alive.
The most suitable establishment for this town of no repute would be a funeral home and, as if by custom order, the very edifice resided on the mainstream of traffic, the Hostler Family Funeral Home. The Nazi architects themselves could not have designed a more forbidding building, one of shadows and rotting wood, wasp’s nests and broken shingles. To this house a man named Gustave Teratio commuted once a day, as he had every day for the last eleven dreary years. Today however, would be his first, last, and only break in routine- today was the day he submitted his resignation.
Toiling among cadavers is a gruesome at best business, not one that left much room for creativity. Gustave relied on his apparent strength of heart and bitter disposition to maintain his composure while he was on the clock. He had been mistreated as a child, often neglected, and had to resort to releasing his pent up emotions in a slow, steady stream of hostility. Quick to anger and always aloof he had kept out of schoolyard affairs, concentrating solely on survival until released into the outside world.
Today he would finally break free from the shackles and cast aside his shadows.
He punched in at precisely 8:30, the tedious time clock embossing his promptness on a small yellow card. The clock itself seemed almost a fixture, so long had it rested on the shelf above the cabinet where Gustave housed the tools of his particular trade. His tools. If he could call them such. They were merely simple implements any custodian would expect to wield, (a meager collection by popular standards) a weathered, soiled pair of gloves, a small trowel and other assorted cleaning and gardening accouterment, and finally a dust pan, used most frequently to aid in the disposal of the ashes of a cremated corpse. Leaning in the corner was its associate the broom.
Gustave filed his card with the others, pushing it to the back out of habit more than anything. He grabbed his broom and strode quickly and silently through the parlor, paused in the chapel (he always hesitated at the sight of a lifeless body, not a recommendable trait for his line) then moved into the garage slash crematorium. He glanced at the newspaper lying opened on the counter adjacent to the sink. There is something slightly disquieting about eulogies and Gustave always felt uneasy when he perused the obituary section. Nonetheless, here he was.
A whirl of movement and a thin gurgling vein of soundfrom the hulking cremation oven shifted his attention from one morbid thought to another, this new idea the more tangible. Quick, furtive glances to assure himself that he was alone and he crossed the floor in a few stalling heartbeats. Then he was face to face with the instrument responsible for so many ashes and charred bones stripped of flesh. Normally he would have shied away, and continued about his menial labor, but it only seemed right that he explore the workings of the machines before he left.
Dials were turned and switches were flipped as Gustave brought the heat to a bearable level and he pulled the massively heavy door. He failed to move it and due to his proximity, he was seared by the intense convective heat needed to evaporate human skin and organs in a bare twenty minutes. Footsteps echoed down the hallway (which led to the “embalming room”, he wasn’t allowed there) and he let his hand fall away from the door. Then he returned to work, but he could feel the air growing thicker to breathe by the second, he felt like he was on mescaline in a room with a cloyingly thick atmosphere.
Red. Red was the first thing recognizable, followed slowly by a thin soprano shrieking, like that of the proverbial banshee. Gustave incautiously let his thoughts wander but they recoiled sharply when images less appealing worked their way past his defensive barrier.
From nowhere he conjured up a peaceful scene, one of rising dawn in an isolated copse of redwood trees. Suddenly the vision changed yet he could feel that it was a gradual evolution; the once magnificent trees lay scattered around their crude stumps and the sun was now blood red, and hanging lazily in the sky as if the world was tired of fighting for a heartbeat. But it did retain some small piece of emotion. The sun laughed at its fate.
Gustave was awakened from the horrifying vision by an almost inaudible but conspicuous scratching coming from the direction of the simmering heat-chamber.
He lifted his head from the table he had collapsed onto at the onset of his personal apparitions and stared at the source of the ear shattering noise.
The cremation oven was rattling vehemently, the heat emanating from it intensified. Gustave let his mind tell him what was happening, and it took full creative liberties. Third grade had been a particularly tough year for Gustave. That was the year he had died. Oh, he wasn’t really dead yet, the doctors told his nonchalant parents, he’s in a coma. The standard procedure for this, uh, well â€¦ condition is to hook him up to an IV and play some Lawrence Welk in the background.
Lawrence Welk? Let’s go. Give me something I can use, thought Gustave. Of course, it really didn’t matter, he was dead already. And he couldn’t let old Lucifer hear about how much he hated Lawrence Welk.
“Man, I love Lawrence Welk. He’s my only catharsis, my only real escape from this hectic world we live in.” Reverse psychology. That ought to stick it to him. There weren’t many third graders who could outsmart the devil himself. In fact, there was only one fewer than Gustave thought there were.
Third grade. And he’s dead. So big whoop. His mother had volunteered him for random experimental testings. But, superficially protested the doctors, he’s not dead yet. Like fun he’s not, replied his mother, angry because there wasn’t a vending machine at her disposal. He’s only a ten year old boy, he was never good for nothing anyways, heck, now you can dissect his head, or whatever you science guys do in your spare time.
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that the doctors pushed their protests upon Gustave’s mother any longer. The next day he was sent to the cryogenics lab, packaged up in a freezer in the back room and left to sit. Gustave thought it was all very funny. In twenty years, they were going to thaw him out and ask him what he thought of the future. But Gustave knew that since he was dead when he went in the freezer, he certainly wasn’t going to become less dead because he spent the last twenty years drinking frozen daiquiris in Antarctica. He sort of wished he could see the looks on everybody’s faces when they found out that he had died, and they fired every janitor in the place for getting hammered and tampering with the equipment.
Satan and some homeless janitors.
Unfortunately for Gustave’s mother, he wasn’t really dead. She baked him a lopsided cake and bought him a tablet of drawing paper when he got out of the hospital, after being treated for all-encompassing death.
Gustave decided that, since his brain had suggested it first, he was going to brave the heat and look in the oven. The ageless door slowly yielded to Gustave’s advances, and the furnace within lept at the uncontrolled surge of oxygen. The flames took over his body; tongues lashed greedily at his unprotected mouth. He laughed riotously as the fire took over.
He had beaten death once already. Bring it on, Lucy. You and your Lawrence Welk.
The funeral director, Dan Howell, slipped into the garage, and immediately sensed that something was wrong. He walked briskly over to the cremation oven, and shut the heat off.
Ten minutes later he pulled the door open.
Ugh, he thought to himself, this one had gone badly. He stared past the crimson blood that had begun to burn off of the walls to the half consumed body that laid within. He stared at the grotesque form of a ten-year-old boy who had been brought in last week, the mouth horribly, but conspicuously forming a gurgling laughter.