Thursday, August 5, 2010

Binding Precedent - Part 11

This is Part 11 of a Serial Story.  The story began here.

“If you want my help, Matt, you have to tell me what’s going on,” I said.

Matt looked at me oddly and shook his head. “I can’t believe I’m about to do this. This story is so strange, so outlandish, that no one in their right mind would ever believe it,” he said.

I glared at him and said, “Insulting me doesn’t help you.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Matt said quickly. “I meant that…that…okay maybe I did mean it like that. Let’s just say that this is an uncommon situation and you have an uncommon brain.”

“Start talking or start walking.”

Matt nodded. “It started as a normal day,” he said. “I was reviewing some paperwork when Mr. Shanks came into the office and told me that Dr. S had been found dead in her apartment.

He looked a little odd when he said it, so I asked him if there was something I needed to know…implying the more specific question of how had she died. Herbert didn’t say anything. He just shook his head and gestured for me to follow him into the embalming room.

‘I don’t know how to describe this, Matt. Her skin is completely discolored and her eyes are…well. See for yourself,” Herbert said. He pulled the sheet back from Dr. S’s face.

I couldn’t look at her for longer than a few seconds. Her skin was dark green like the stalk of a plant, and her eyes were yellow. ‘Why haven’t you closed them,’ I said, pointing at the open eyes.

‘I did,’ Herbert said grimly. ‘Trust me, it’s better to leave then open.’

I didn’t believe him, so I reached out and closed Dr. S’s eyes with my hand. The yellow glow of her eyes shone through the eyelids like lit bulbs behind lampshades.”

“Creepy,” I acknowledged. “But about the green skin…did Herbert have any idea about what caused it?”

Matt shook his head. “The EMTs who found Dr. S and the coroner were baffled. They were hoping that Herbert could come up with an answer. The family was hoping that we could cover up the green skin before the funeral. It was going to be a long day.

Herbert started the embalming process. His plan was to test the fluids collected in the process. But there were no fluids. It didn’t make any sense. Looking at the corpse anyone would expect fluids to be present.”

Ew, I thought. I drank some more coffee and listened.

“The makeup problem was every bit as strange. Wherever makeup was applied the skin would shrivel. Within minutes of applying makeup to the face the skin was dry and taut like a mummy’s. Nothing was making sense.

I left the funeral home to pick up lunch. Not seeing Herbert in the office, I assumed that he had lost track of time and I went looking for him.

I walked into the embalming room. The place was a mess – tables and machines overturned, instruments scattered across the floor. ‘Mr. Shanks?' I called out.

Silence, followed by a distant thud. ‘Mr. Shanks? Where are you?’ I asked. I went back into the hall and looked around. There was a second thud and a heavy grinding sound from the dark corridor to the left.” Matt paused for a moment. “Do you know anything about the layout of Cherry Hill Funeral Home?” he asked me.

“I’m familiar with the parking lot and the front door,” I replied.

“Right,” Matt said. “I’ll have to describe the basement to you, or the rest of this won’t make much sense.

The cemetery next to Cherry Hill has been around for over a century. When the railroad was built across the plains some local merchants saw an opportunity to promote the city as a major trading center, and encourage more people to settle here. One of the businessmen contacted the Catholic bishop for the region and suggested that the archdiocese should be moved to the city. The bishop said the offer would be considered if the community would build a cathedral that would include a sepulchre to house the remains of deceased bishops. So this business man, Patrick Salt, started to raise money to build a church adjoining the cemetery. To say that the Baptists weren’t pleased would be a huge understatement. They did everything they could to stop Salt’s fundraising, and they nearly succeeded.

Salt collected enough money for a small chapel, most of it his own. He went ahead with the building, even including the sepulchre. But when the bishop saw the size of the chapel he refused to relocate, and left the city in a huff.

The chapel fell into disrepair, and over time the stone walls were torn down and the building materials reused in other structures. Cherry Hill Funeral Home was built next to the old church foundation. I don’t know if the builders first discovered the old sepulchre or if Herbert found it. By the time I started working there a hallway existed between the basement of the funeral home and the old sepulchre.”

“Wait, wait, wait. Are you telling me that the funeral home is corrected to some creepy old underground tomb?” I asked.

“Not a tomb, a sepulchre. And its just dark, not creepy. No one’s ever been buried there,” Matt said.

“Then what the heck does it have to do with this story?”

“I’m getting to that,” Matt said. “Be patient. Where was I?”

“Creepy noises from a dark hallway.”

“Right. I walked down the hallway to the old sepulchre, where I assumed the noises were coming from. There’s a heavy metal door between the ruins of the chapel and the funeral home, like the door on a safe in a bank. I had never seen it open before, but it was wide open that day. There was a faint light coming from the other side. I stepped through the entrance and called out for Mr. Shanks.

The light moved towards me, and I could see it was a beam from a flashlight. Soon Herbert stood before me. He was pale and shaking.

‘Hurry,” he said, tugging at my arm. ‘We must leave this place.’ He pulled me back into the funeral home and pushed vainly at the door. ‘I’m too weak. Help me,’ he pleaded.

We threw our shoulders against the door and forced it shut. I watched Herbert twist the wheeled handle, sealing the door shut.

‘What is going on?’ I asked.

‘Tell no one,’ Herbert ordered me, ‘And don’t let her out.’

‘Are you saying that…she’s…alive?’

Herbert nodded, too exhausted to say another word.

The next day Herbert went crazy…his mind snapped. He was dragged away to the mental hospital, screaming.

I went into the sepulchre to check on Dr. S. Herbert had forced her into a low tunnel in a wall and put a grate across the opening. I walked over to the grate and shined the flashlight into the tunnel. She was so still that I started to think Herbert had made a mistake. Then she lunged at me, her green arm thrusting between the metal bars as she tried to grab me. Her eyes glowed piercing yellow. Long after I had left the sepulchre I could feel those eyes burning my brain.

I don’t know what Dr. S has become or how it happened. I’ve read every book and article I could find. Nothing makes sense.

After everything that happened at the restaurant I decided to check on Dr. S again. The metal door between the funeral home and the sepulchre was lying on the ground, torn off the hinges. Bindweed vine trailed out into the passage and grew over the broken door. I followed the vine into the sepulchre…it was growing out of Dr. S’s tiny prison. She’s completely disappeared,” Matt finished.

Okay. After hearing all that I’ve got nothing.

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