by Ali Seay
He’d been eavesdropping again. Gregory stood there in the stark hallway as the daughter of the dearly departed talked to Mr. Moore.
“My father was an angry man. If a person could physically embody anger—it was my father.” A sniffle. A light blowing of her nose. “I don’t mean to sound derogatory to my own family.”
Mr. Moore—a pro at this—had tsked her worry away. “Of course not. Not at all.”
“But after years of the cancer, the pain, and the treatment. My God, that toxic cocktail of chemicals they put inside him. I can’t even—”
A wave of her hand. Another soft blow into the tissue.
Moore: “It is difficult.”
“Then of course the cost of being a living science experiment. By the end, he was just not himself. He’d become a very angry person. I am almost—” She sighed mightily. “I feel bad saying this, but I feel he will find a purifying peace in being cremated. For most of his life he wanted to be buried, but then in the end he told me he didn’t care. To do what I wanted.”
“You were his advocate and daughter. You’ll carry out his wishes,” Moore said with his warm butter voice.
The daughter nodded. “I feel like my only relief will come with his complete rest. I’ll scatter his ashes where my mother is buried.”
A nod from Moore and then Gregory had drifted off, light on his feet as always. Back to his embalming room and the soft camaraderie of his clients—the dearly departed.
When it was time for the father, Michael McDermott, to be prepared, there was no need to cut into him. But it was well after hours by then and no one in the building but Gregory and it made him happy—the cutting.
“An angry man, I heard,” he said softly, slicing into the meat of Michael’s chest.
He liked the clean line that appeared, the whisper of the scalpel.
He’d broken the breastplate open and turned away for a moment when he heard the first sly sound.
Gregory froze. Then he laughed. It wasn’t unusual to hear things that weren’t there. It was an embalming room. It was late at night. And even he, completely at home with the dead, psyched himself out from time to time.
Gregory whistled. He whistled the opening song of that old black and white show he’d watched as a kid. A jaunty tune.
But when he paused, he heard it again. A slippery but dry sound. A seeking sound?
He turned in time to see a leg? A tentacle? A finger? None of those really but the insinuation of one or all of them.
Gregory choked on his own spit and took a step back.
This time four of them peeked out of the wound. Black as night and somehow hard looking. Like obsidian. They wiggled and danced before pulling up a long cylindrical body. It reminded him of a bullet. But the bullet moved and produced four more long thin wicked looking legs. The thing blinked at him. Then it let out a sound much like an air raid siren but in a higher pitch. An enraged sound.
My father was an angry man…
Gregory clutched his ears and gagged, the sound was so intense. It hurt him. His ears, his jaw, even his teeth seemed to sing.
Taking another big step back, he collided with his stainless-steel implement tray and it banged to the floor. Tools and tape rolling around on the floor like spilled party prizes.
It moved fast. It skittered slick and vigorous, reminding him of a silverfish, which made his stomach turn. Very few things grossed him out. Silverfish did the trick.
It moved toward him like an oil slick. It’s body an arrow keeping its course.
“No!” he yelled.
Gregory turned and fled the room. But then as he got to the end of the hall he realized that if he was moving fast and breathing hard he couldn’t hear. That thing could go anywhere. Be anywhere.
It was small enough and fast enough and mean enough.
He froze. Standing there scanning the ancient tile. Cracked, faded, dirty in some spots, but no jet-black death bug. No anger vermin.
Cancer incarnate? Toxic cocktail reaction? Comic book radioactive side effect? Gregory didn’t know, and he didn’t care. He darted out the double swinging doors into the main area where the coffee pot, water cooler, and break table were.
He flipped the light switch. They came on reluctantly. Jumping and jiving in the ceiling making him feel like he was in a bad horror movie.
Then they were on and it was too bright.
“I’m sorry,” he said aloud to no one. Or maybe it was the bug he was talking to. Or Michael McDermott. Whatever. “I’m sorry I cut into you. That was wrong. I should have just…”
He heard something and shut up. He studied the baseboards, the tiled wall, the place where the coffee pot was plugged in. Hadn’t he read that bugs liked electricity?
He saw nothing.
Another slither-sliding-dry leaf sound.
He blathered on, walking slowly as he took in his surroundings. “I should have just prepared you and burned you the way your daughter wanted. I didn’t want to provoke your…” He cocked his head, ears searching for sound. “Anger. Your wrath. Whatever.”
He was in the dead center of the room now and heard it again. The urge to pee was overwhelming. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end as if some many legged thing already scurried there.
His ears did their job and pinpointed it. He looked up. Directly up above his head where the light fixture hung unassumingly.
And there it was. Black as void but somehow shiny, mouth opening, that air raid siren song, and when it dropped on him—that’s when he saw the stinger.
Wickedly long and dripping with wrath.
Gregory thought, I should have just burned him.