The clouds above my head can float down and smother mountain tops
they can wrap themselves around the tallest trees and cling to the sides of hills
without making a sound.
Sometimes they drift down and stroll through dark alleys and there is not denying it-
Clouds may look puffy and sweet like sweet little lambs drifting through a field of blue grass covering golden yellow fields in the morning and red and orange in the evening
but do you know what I think?
I think they’re wicked.
Sometimes, just because they can, I think they dive into the ocean and when they break they turn into waves
unforgiving towering walls of water that can break bone, shatter ships made of metal and wood and their hands can sweep whales to the shore as easily as they can pry open your jaws and fill your lungs with-
Some people collect coins, other people collect art, back in the day my Grandma used to collect recipes that she clipped from magazines and kept in a pink hat box with flowers artfully embossed on its sides. I think there were cupids flying around the lid. I honestly don’t remember.
Let me tell you about the oddest- not the strangest- but the oddest collector I have ever known.
His name is Iain Bates.
Iain Bates collects death the way a few people kill and mount butterflies. but Iain Bates is for the most part the nice guy who will let you walk through the doorway first even if he has to stand out in the rain with no umbrella and you are carrying one which means he has to stand there getting soaking wet while you put your stuff away. He is the kind of guy you could trust to feed your cat when you go on vacation- Iain would never collect anyone else’s death.
That would be bad manners, so Iain collects his own deaths.
Among his many murders, Iain has been shot by a three year old who found a gun under the seat of his parent’s car as Iain was walking by with his dog, Scooter. He has been eaten by the notorious cannibal / serial killer Julian Frick and once he was shoved in front of a train by persons unknown.
With each of his murders, with each of his deaths Iain Bates always ends up at the same funeral home, he is always put back together by the same funeral director and he is always buried by the same grave diggers.
I know all of this because I am the receptionist and Leaning Birches Funeral Home and Cemetery and nothing goes on here without my knowing about it.
Yesterday Sunny Longyear, whose family owns the Home, was at her desk that faces a blank pale beige wall. All she had to stare at was her phone and she trying to pretend she wasn’t staring at her phone when I looked over at her.
” It’s about that time, isn’t it?” I said.
” For what Mavis?” Sunny asked.
I’ll have to hand it to her. She’s pretty good at throwing on the ‘ huh what are you talking about face’ on cue. On the other hand, she’s been a Funeral Director for over half of her life so mastering the art of facial expressions comes natural to her.
” For our appointment with Mr Bates. ”
” You mean my appointment with Mr. Bates.” She said darkly.
” Why don’t you pass him off to that our new Apprentice who is it, oh yes. Your cousin Hamish. Or maybe your Aunt will take care of him.”
” I went through the roster last time. All eight of them said no. No. They all said they’d rather eat rat poison sprinkled over a sautéed batch of Destroying Angels nestled on top of a steak riddled with mad cow disease then work with Mr. Bates. They mean it too. They would. And they told me I’d be all alone at Christmas eating a frozen turkey meal for one that you microwave and the stuffing always dries out around the edges no matter how carefully you stand there and watch it.”
” Wow. They’re serious. ”
Sunny poked at her phone with her finger. ” Go on. Ring. Yeah. I can’t believe they’d curse me with a rotten microwave meal at Christmas.”
” That is pretty low.”
” Do you ever wonder how he does it? ” I asked Sunny.
” Don’t care.” she said
She had pushed her chair back from her desk and began twirling herself in slow circles. ” I mean, would you want to know how to get murdered and come back over and over again? What kind of messed up photo gallery does he have on his phone? It’s probably full of pictures before of him at the beach with his dog before got run over by that woman who thought he was her husband, or there’s probably some of him at a birthday party before Mr. Cranfield killed him for his eyes. And think about it. Can you ever get rid of the taste of embalming fluid out of your mouth?”
” I suppose I hadn’t thought of that but I do wonder about one thing. You’re there with him after he’s died. So what does it look like. That thing he collects. His death.”
Sunny stopped twirling. She pushed herself over to my desk and looked around the room to make sure no one else was around. ” You know those prizes that you get in Cracker Jack Boxes from the old days? Those little plastic toys?”
I wanted to nod but I couldn’t.
” They look like that, only not as well made.”
” So, when you die your death turns out to look like a cheap toy from a box of mummified caramel corn?”
I was stunned. I don’t do stunned. Ever.
” Mr, Bates made a deal with heaven knows what so each time he is murdered, he gets a little plastic toy. His favorite one is a little dog with a compass stuck to it’s side. But he thinks they’re all great. He keeps them in a Tupperware containers.
” He goes through so much for so little.” I said with more regret in my voice then I intended to express.
Sunny who is probably the only one of us to see Iain Bates Tupperware container full of plastic charms and toys- and has not only seen, but touched what he’s gone through to get them did not agree with me.
The phone rang, Sunny slid herself to her desk and she went to work.
The two women in brightly colored hiking gear were walking on a trail through a sunny park named after a Priest.
The Sun was shining in a cloudless sky and it was warm- warm enough for the two of them to break a little sweat but not so warm that they had to break out their water bottles.
They strolled by a pond full of lily pads and frogs, further down the trail there was another pond where a family of ducks swam in leisurely circles and dog walkers passed by them and smiled wide beautiful smiles.
Not the people.
” I can show you were the monsters live ” she told her friend who’s name is Tabitha.
Tabitha stopped and decided to play along with her friend’s joke. ” No way. No way do monsters live here. It’s to- it just to beautiful for them.”
” Well. There is a lot of room for-” her voice trailed off and she put her hand to her throat.
Tabitha thought that the flush she saw raising up from her friend’s neck to her cheeks was from the heat. She supposed it had gotten to her a little. ” For what? ” she laughed.
Felicity’s face turned red and little beads of sweat popped out on her cheeks.
” Here. Have some water, you look a little warm.”
Felicity shook her head. ” Oh no. It’s not that. I just feel a little foolish. What a thing for an adult to say. I’m so embarrassed. I was just being-”
” Fanciful?” Tabitha offered as she started back up the trail.
Felicity let her friend walk a little ahead of her and when Tabitha was a few feet away, Felicity reached behind her back and pulled something off of her belt clip.
Tabitha heard a sharp metal click and guessed Felicity was going to have that drink of water after all.
” Monsters wouldn’t live here. Too many mosquitos and who needs the competition? Felicity asked. ” It is a nice little hike all the same. Like I said, there’s lots of room to pretty much do whatever you want. Anyway, I could use a snack right now. Is that ok?”
Tabitha was going to answer, in fact she tried to-
but the cut that Felicity made on the front of Tabitha’ neck from ear to ear after she snuck up behind her, bumping into Tabitha just a little bit as she grabbed the back of her head by her ponytail, made it impossible for her to say anything at all.
Japanese professor Kenri Kodaka of Nagoya City University has created “Bodiject Fingers”, a rather disconcerting optical illusion in which disembodied human fingers appear out of a wooden table and take on bone and mind bending shapes and patterns.
what you smelled like, what you saw before your eyes stopped talking to your brain who you called out for, under your breath, in the end.
Death keeps those secrets under lock and key in a room with a single chair made of oak and a window that looks out over a river and it’s dark red water reflects the sun and moon as they die every night together.
The Mortician who dressed you, the Apprentice who embalmed you, the Receptionist
who helped put your in your coffin that day
do not work in secret.
Sometimes they listen to music when they work and sometimes they worry about the drive home at the end of the day and will the traffic be bad? What’s for dinner, they will say to each other and sometimes to you.
When everyone goes home and leave you to rest under a cool blanket of Earth and sod there in the dark, will you dream? Will you mourn for what used to be, will Death visit you again for a chat? Will your new neighbors ask you to rise up and join them for a stroll to the river where you can watch the Sun and the Moon die together every night?
How will it make you feel? Will you laugh? Will you cry? Will the sight of it give you nightmares?
Death knows your secrets and it keeps them under lock and key.
The idea came to her on a drive when her car hit a patch of ice and she nearly skidded off the road and into a line of trees- dark monstrous trees, their limbs coated with snow and ice.
She imagined the trees reaching down with their twisted arms and tearing their way into the driver’s compartment through the roof, smashing their way through the windshield- gouging out her eyes and smashing the delicate bones of her face to a paste of blood and flesh.
Maybe with a bit of doing they’d take her head and fling it up into the sky and it would fall back down and land with a soft thud and maybe it would roll a little before it stopped- face up she guessed.
It was just a lonely and lost idea hiding in the dark, hiding in the cold all alone in the world , that crawled into her head that night on the road, many years ago.
Now when it dreams of bone an ice and dark roads and the trips and dark deeds they’ve brought into the world since that split second when they first met -they laugh.