‘It That Decays,’ appearing in CORPSE COLD: NEW AMERICAN FOLKLORE

books, short stories

ItThatDecays_01

Jim Patrick tried to relax during his dental exam, but the severe pain made it hard for him to think of anything else. It had begun as a dull toothache, only a few days prior, and Jim had delayed making an appointment with his dentist, Dr. Godbere. But that morning, he was in such agony that he had pleaded with the office receptionist to be seen immediately.

“Well, Jim, overall your teeth look great, as always. There’s just a small cavity on one of your bottom third molars,” said Dr. Godbere. “Christ, it’s rare that I come across a full set of wisdom teeth that have as much room as yours. You’ve got great genes.”

Jim grabbed his cheek and sighed. “I’ve never had a cavity before. I didn’t know it would hurt this much.”

“The amount of pain you’re experiencing is out of the ordinary. But in the realm of teeth, gums, and nerves, nothing surprises me anymore,” said the dentist. “We’ll drill it and fill it.”

“Go ahead and drill, Doc. I’d never thought I’d be saying that to a dentist.” Jim smiled faintly as the dentist clapped him on the shoulder.

“I’ve known these teeth since the 90s. You’re in good hands.”

Godbere began preparing for the minor dental procedure. Jim tried to distract himself with a daytime talk show on the exam room’s TV, but he was already beginning to sweat. He was neurotic about his dental care, and was disappointed in himself for having to undergo a procedure that was fully preventable.

“Jim, I’m surprised you have a cavity. Has your diet changed since the last time you were in?”

Jim threw up his hands. “That’s the thing, Doc — I’ve been eating healthier! More fruits, smoothies, even drinking this special kombucha — my son said it did wonders for his gut flora.”

“Ah, I see. Fruits and juices are really acidic, eat at the enamel — not to mention the sugar,” said Godbere. “I’ve heard kombucha can really stain the teeth — and that it might be more hocus pocus than digestive aid. But we can talk about your diet later.”

Godbere tested his drill; the whirring of the motor made Jim cringe. The dentist then retrieved a long needle from his assistant and prepared to inject Jim with some novocaine. “You ready?”

Jim nodded, gripping the armrests on the dental chair.

“Then let’s get to work.”

 

Jim returned home later that morning, satisfied that he had dealt with his tooth troubles. It wasn’t until the early afternoon that the novocaine wore off, and he again felt the dull ache in his jaw. Dr. Godbere had told Jim it might take a day or two for the pain to completely fade, and had given him a prescription for Percocet.

By the time Jim was ready for bed that evening, his pain was on par with what he had experienced before visiting the dentist. Jim took the medicine, and still he barely slept that night. He called the dentist during his lunch break the following day, as he had been forced to down multiple painkillers just to get through the morning.

Dr. Godbere managed to get Jim in for a late-afternoon appointment. “Jim, you look good. I can’t believe you’re still in pain — it really was just a surface cavity, which I normally wouldn’t even bother filling. We’ll do some x-rays and figure this thing out.”

After the x-rays were taken, Godbere went over them with Jim in the exam room. “Here. Here’s the filling we just did,” said the dentist, as he pointed at the black-and-white film.

Jim followed along with the dentist, but he also noticed another blemish further down the tooth, and pointed it out. “Doc, what’s this dark blotch here?”

Godbere leaned over Jim to get a closer view of the film. “It’s not a cavity, and it’s probably not on the tooth itself. You sometimes see this sort of thing with wisdom teeth. They tend to pull up extra tissue, since they rarely have enough room to fully irrupt without disturbing the canals. Wisdom teeth are what we call ‘vestigial structures.’ They serve no purpose; they’re evolutionary holdovers from millions of years ago.” Godbere sat back and wrote out a prescription. “I’m prescribing you a rinse that’s meant to treat serious gingivitis. It should alleviate the gum pain itself — if this is a gum issue.”

Jim left the dentist’s office that evening feeling like he had received no real answers. He filled his new prescription, followed the rinse regimen, and popped a Percocet before retiring for the night.

 

To say Jim woke in pain each morning following his visit with Dr. Godbere would be an understatement. He was taking so many pills that he could barely function. He was a zombie at work and slept at all hours when he was at home. Jim was worried about getting hooked on opioids — he had heard the horror stories — and worse, his whole jaw ached when he wasn’t loaded up with Percocet. He called around until he could make an appointment with a new dentist and get a second opinion on his condition. He no longer trusted Godbere’s judgment.

“So, you say you’ve had a cavity filled and now your jaw hurts?” asked Dr. Robinson, as he examined Jim at his private practice.

“Just look at the x-ray I brought, Doc. I don’t think Dr. Godbere got all of the cavity or something.”

Dr. Robinson picked up the film and looked it over briefly before setting it down. “We can get the filling out and take a look, clean up anything that needs to be corrected.” The dentist was all too eager to replace the filling and collect an easy $800. He knew Godbere was an experienced dentist and considered the possibility that he was dealing with a hypochondriac.  

Robinson’s office was built above a remodeled garage adjacent to his home. Jim certainly preferred the clean, modern, and professional setting of Dr. Godbere’s office, but he was desperate. The dentist employed one receptionist/hygienist, an older woman named Mary, who had greeted Jim earlier while chainsmoking in the driveway.

Mary entered the room, turned on a monitor, and laid out the tools of the dental trade on a pan over Jim’s lap, before telling Robinson that she was headed out for another cigarette.

“Okay, Mr. Patrick, I’m going to give you a shot to numb the area; then we’ll get the filling out and see what’s going on with my new camera.” Robinson lifted the long, thin camera and flicked its light on and off before attaching it to the drill. He placed the drill in Jim’s mouth and turned it on. “I can move the monitor if you don’t want to watch.”

“Oh, it’s fine, Doc. Do what you have to do.”

The dentist nodded and went to work. He soon had the filling out and was prodding around in the depression. “Jim, I think I’m going to have to drill more. There’s still some discoloration. I can see how Dr. Godbere may have missed this if he didn’t have a camera to really get in there.”

“Yeah, I don’t think he went down far enough,” said Jim, after the dentist had removed his tools. “Drill, baby drill!”

Robinson chuckled. “Okay, okay. I’m going to place this O-guard in your mouth, just to be safe.”

Soon enough, the drill was back in Jim’s mouth, the two men viewing its progress on the monitor. Jim watched as the drill slipped through the small hole, suddenly, and Robinson unceremoniously yanked it back out of his mouth.

“Shit!” said Robinson. “There may be some serious basal decay. The drill went all the way through and into the gum — as if the bottom of the tooth was hollow.”

“Wha’ now?” mumbled Jim, throatily, the guard in his mouth obstructing his speech.

“Well, let’s take a look,” said Robinson as he put the drill with its attached camera back into the man’s mouth.

They could see some blood pooling around the tooth and gum as the camera approached the rear of Jim’s mouth. When the device was placed into the opening in the tooth, the dentist gasped. Jim couldn’t quite make out what Dr. Robinson was seeing on the monitor. From Jim’s point of view, it looked like a dark, hairy patch in his tooth.

“This is unbelievable. Let me increase the magnification.” When Robinson magnified the hairy patch, Jim could make out a sickening mass of tiny, black worms living within his tooth and jaw!

Both men revolted, and the camera and monitor lost the image. Jim tried to say something, but he could only wrench out a shrill series of gasps.

“Bone worms?!” exclaimed Robinson, now incredibly curious. He maneuvered the drill back into place so they could again examine the issue. “Relax a minute, Jim. Let’s take another look.”

But before Robinson could get the drill into the tooth itself, both men spotted the worms emerging from the hole, snake-haired. The wriggling abominations had made a home of Jim’s mandible and seemed to be erupting, their hideout exposed. Jim panicked and grabbed the dentist’s hand and drill, and the drill whirred to life.

“No, Jim, don’t!”

It was too late. Jim had already jammed the drill toward the bewormed wisdom tooth. First missing and scraping a jagged line across the dentin of another molar, then adjusting and finding the mark — all while watching on the monitor above. It happened so fast; Robinson was powerless to stop the frenzied man from drilling into the tooth, then through the gum tissue, and eventually into the jaw, each of which had been hollowed as the worms progressed toward the surface. There was the whirr of the machine and the hideous crackle of broken bone and severed tissue. The drill easily broke through the passage made by the parasitic creatures, and Jim only ceased drilling when he had punctured through the flesh of his jaw.

“Mary! Get the hell in here, now!” screamed Dr. Robinson, as he finally unplugged the drill and restrained Jim from further injury.

Jim writhed madly and kicked the pan of tools set on the table hovering across his lap. Mary ran in, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, and helped the dentist keep Jim in the chair. Blood was running from the drill emerging from Jim’s jaw, dripping down his neck, even spurting when he turned his head too far.

“What the hell is that?” asked Mary, as worms as thin as human hair began finding their way out of Jim’s jaw, slinking down the drill itself and falling onto his shirt and into his lap.

 

When Jim passed out, Dr. Robinson and his assistant quickly contacted an ambulance. The ER doctors were able to remove the drill, Jim’s injuries were treated, and he was given a regimen of medications to kill off the parasitic worms.

The write-up on Jim Patrick’s diagnosis and treatment became a well-known case-study. It took time and effort on the part of the medical researchers, but they were able to determine that the worms had originated from a natural kombucha which Jim had purchased online from the Philippines, only weeks prior to his first symptoms.  

Order your copy of CORPSE COLD!

Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

Our store: Signed hardcover, $5.99 PDF download

REVIEW: ‘Scary Stories’ documentary is a nostalgic treat for longtime fans

Reviews

The time was ripe for a documentary on Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the popular children’s horror book series by Alvin Schwartz.

The Scary Stories books were published in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the original readers are now adults (many with their own children), 30- and 40-somethings who are likely nostalgic for the time they spent reading the likes of “Harold” and “One Sunday Morning,” under the covers, or with their friends at sleepovers. We definitely belong to that demographic, and as authors of books heavily inspired by the series, we were certainly excited to see it. And we’re glad we did; Scary Stories is a satisfying watch for fans of Alvin Schwartz the storyteller.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 12.16.30 PM

This dude’s cover of “The Hearse Song” is sick.

The documentary opens with an interview with musician Harley Poe, who has recorded a folksy, eerie rendition of “The Hearse Song” (a song from the first book in the series) which has racked up 625,000 views on YouTube. Poe was inspired by the Scary Stories series as a kid, and it’s a treat to hear him talk about it with such passion. Filmmaker Cody Meirick conducted approximately 40 interviews over a three-year period, and throughout the documentary, we learn that Poe’s experience isn’t uncommon.

The most noteworthy subject has to be Peter Schwartz, Alvin Schwartz’s son. Since Alvin died in 1992, we get to discover Alvin through Peter’s eyes. We learn of his father’s passion for documenting folklore, and get to know him as a man. 

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 12.25.45 PM.png

Peter Schwartz, son of Alvin Schwartz.

When it comes to the stories themselves, Meirick does a nice job discussing the folk tales and urban legends that inspired them. R.L. Stine himself, author of the mega-successful Goosebumps book series, even makes an appearance, discussing his admiration for Schwartz, who, unlike him, spent time researching stories for his books. And we learn, from folklorists and professors, the academic and mythic inspirations behind some of the stories, how they touch upon universal fears. For example, “The Red Spot,” in which a growing bump on a young woman’s face turns out to be a sac full of baby spiders, is actually analogous to the creation story of the Greek goddess Athena.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 12.21.24 PM

The original “Red Spot.”

It’s stories like “The Red Spot” that helped earn Scary Stories series the title of “most banned books of all time.” Meirick explores this aspect of the story well, featuring footage from actual protests in the 90s and interviews with those on both sides of the debate. He even convinced one of the biggest pro-ban advocates to sit down for a chat with Peter Schwartz.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 1.02.59 PM.png

This lady sort of hates Scary Stories.

The interviews regarding Schwartz’s perspective are great, but the most glaring omission is Stephen Gammell. His impact on young artists is told well, but there is only a short quote from him, regarding his methodology. You can’t properly talk about the Scary Stories books without mentioning the man, as half the appeal of the books is its sinister art. We’re treated to some neat black-and-white animations in the style of his work, and his original art appears throughout, but not Gammell. Gammell rarely holds interviews, and we can’t fault Meirick for that, but it would have been nice to hear from an agent, lawyer, publishing professional, someone who could speak about the artist’s involvement with some authority. In addition, we would have liked to have heard from someone in the publishing field, perhaps someone from Harper & Row, who helped produce or promote the book at the time. There was a period in the early 90s when the books sold phenomenally well.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 12.19.21 PM

Just one of several Gammell-inspired animations throughout.

Overall, we were pleased with Scary Stories and heartily recommend it to fans of the series. Despite Gammell’s absence, the documentary offers new information and is a great celebration for those of us who were there in the 80s and 90s and still love the series.

Find out more about the Scary Stories documentary at the official website

John Brhel and Joseph Sullivan are the co-authors of CORPSE COLD: NEW AMERICAN FOLKLORE, a fully illustrated book of short stories inspired by urban legends and folklore.

10 Real-Life Locations That Inspired The Stories in ‘Corpse Cold: New American Folklore’

Blog

We often base our tales in actual locations around our home state of New York. It’s fun to take everyday places, locations we’ve visited once, or often, and infuse them with our brand of lore.

Here are some of the illustrations from Corpse Cold: New American Folklore paired with their real-life inspirations!

“Amityville Beach”/Amityville Beach, Long Island

AmityvilleBeach_0123LIVING-AMITYVILLE-slide-NP1D-superJumbo

This popular beach is located in the Long Island village of Amityville, the setting of the infamous Amityville Horror, which is mentioned in our story.

“Friendship: Dead and Buried”/The Last Ride burial simulator

FriendshipDeadBuried_01

last ride

The character Kevin Morrissey in “Friendship: Dead and Buried” is treated to a “ride” on Six Feet Under, which “simulates” an actual burial. Six Feet Under was inspired by The Last Ride, a traveling amusement park attraction in the Northeast United States that offers a similarly visceral experience.

“The Big ‘M'”/Eagle Bay, N.Y.

BigM_01.jpg

foodland.PNG

The supermarket featured in the story “The Big ‘M’ was inspired by a now-closed grocery in Eagle Bay, N.Y., in the Adirondacks. This is a picture of the market as it appeared in the 1980s.

“Dracula’s Bride”/Ukranian Catholic Church

DraculasBride_01

4648

The chapel that the kids in “Dracula’s Bride” chase the elderly Mrs. Ellsic to is actually modeled after a Ukranian Catholic Church in Johnson City, N.Y. Corpse Cold co-author Joe Sullivan grew up in the same neighborhood, where the church still stands.

“Moss Lake Island”/Echo Island

MossLakeIsland_01

Echo Island

The small island featured in “Moss Lake Island” is inspired by Echo Island, situated on Big Moose Lake in N.Y. Big Moose Lake is only a short drive from Moss Lake.

“Two Visions, 1984″/Roscoe Diner

TwoVisions_02.jpg

rfl_23446

The Roscoe Diner, where journalist Ross Davie picks up the hitchhiker in “Two Visions, 1984,” is a popular diner in Roscoe, N.Y., located on Route 17.

“Woman on the Campus Green”/Wadsworth Auditorium

WomanCampusGreen_01

wadsworth.jpg

The entirety of “Woman on the Campus Green” takes place at SUNY Geneseo, where Joe Sullivan once attended college. A climactic scene in the story takes place in Wadsworth Auditorium, a performing arts venue on campus.

“The Blue Hole”/Peekamoose Blue Hole

BlueHole_02.jpg

Peekamoose-Blue-Hole-1706

“The Blue Hole” is inspired by a real swimming hole in Grahamsville, N.Y., in the Catskills.

“Jesup”/Tioughnioga River

Jesup_01

alligator.PNG

This story was inspired by actual alligator sightings during the summer of 2017 on the Tioughnioga River, which runs through Whitney Point and Lisle, N.Y. It was no urban legend, as two alligators were eventually caught.

“Last Train Home”/Buffalo, N.Y.

LastTrainHome_02

IMG_5529

The train line featured in “Last Train Home” is based on the Buffalo Metro Rail system in Buffalo, N.Y.

Learn more about Corpse Cold: New American Folklore!

“Happy Death Day” Spoiler-Free Review: Fun But Not a True Slasher

Uncategorized

By Joe Sullivan

There has never been an era of the PG-13 slasher, for good reason. Violence, the shock and awe of any classic R-rated slasher, sells itself best to the most impressionable of minds. Halloween and Friday the 13th were carried into the iconography of our culture by 12-year-olds who bore witness to the sort of movie the MPAA deemed unsuitable for their eyes. There is no proper ‘best of’ list for PG-13 slasher films. Happy Death Day is no exception. PG-13 slasher movies can’t properly function as slasher movies. Yet, Happy Death Day is certainly a fun, flavorful movie in other regards.

Tree (Theresa) keeps waking up in Carter’s dorm room, and she relives the same Monday, over and over, which always culminates in her death at the hands of a baby-masked killer. The filmmakers have fun with the premise, and I did enjoy the Clue-style whodunit mystery. Tree eliminates a suspect with each subsequent revival, and I found myself anticipating a satisfactory resolution – that one of the cast of characters we’ve encountered, again and again, would finally be unmasked as the killer. So, I was let down when a new, Mrs. Voorhees-level-of-unknown was thrown into the cast of suspects late in the movie.

deathday

Happy Death Day revels in pop-culture snark, creates characters filmgoers wouldn’t mind see dying, and nearly gives Tree a proper character arc during her Sisyphean day. Carter, Tree’s sometimes assistant/sometimes love-interest, is easily the most likable character in the movie. When Carter is put into a risky situation, you genuinely want him to survive. However, the film will fail to convince many viewers regarding whether Tree should ultimately survive. She is too rotten of a person, and even on days she makes progress, she seems to undermine said personal improvements, with subsequent revivals.

The deaths in the movie were uninteresting, and this alone should alienate a large part of the genre fan base. Happy Death Day is by no means a slasher film, and certainly has no relationship to the day or month it came out. The movie has no ‘creepy’ factor, which seems to be what drives most genre movies released in October, or on Friday the 13ths.

Happy Death Day does have some suspenseful moments, and is a curiosity in its choice of story form. Ultimately, it feels like its audience might be the parents of thirteen-year-olds. Folks who grew up with Scream and such movies from the late-90s, and want to share something with an impressionable young mind in their household – without venturing into the world of the extremes we’ve come to expect from a genre slasher film like the upcoming Jigsaw.

hero_Happy-Death-Day-2017

Who would I recommend this movie to? Fans of late-90s R-rated slashers. It’s more fun than the When a Stranger Calls remake – more like watching a Jawbreaker/Urban Legend crossover.

Cover reveal for AT THE CEMETERY GATES: YEAR ONE!

Cover Reveals, Uncategorized

cemeterygatesone_final_cover

Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you the cover for our upcoming short story collection, AT THE CEMETERY GATES: YEAR ONE.

You might be wondering, “Year One? What the heck does that mean?” Valid question. Well, we’ve been writing stories for about a year now. A lot of those stories have been published in our two books (TALES FROM VALLEYVIEW CEMETERY and MARVELRY’S CURIOSITY SHOP), but we have plenty of stand-alone tales that need a proper home. Enter ATCG:Y1. From Poe-inspired unreliable narrators to masked killers to time-travel-meets-urban-legend yarns, our upcoming book has it all (minus sparkly vampires).

Chad Wehrle, the great artist who created the cover design for TFVVC, has returned to create the evocative, eerie image for ATCG:Y1. What does it all mean? The tree? The ghoul. Well, you’ll find out when our book comes out in October!

 

New story: Delaying Decay

short stories

Delaying Decay

by John Brhel and J. Sullivan

Like every other school-age kid in Lestershire, twin brothers Sean and Zack Grady were dreading the end of summer. It was Labor Day, and they only had a few more afternoons of freedom before their first day of the sixth grade. They had already spent their allowance and exhausted every possible avenue of fun at the carnival that weekend. Their parents’ jobs demanded they work the holiday — dad at the gas station, mom at the laundromat — so the two brothers rambled around town, free to do as they pleased.

“Let’s go to the comic shop,” said Sean, the smaller of the two fraternal twins, as he and his brother strode down a quiet street on the town’s south side, far from the annual parade that had just begun. They passed the empty husks of former shoe factories as they walked the weed-infested sidewalk.

“It’s closed,” said Zack.

Sean sighed. “What about the arcade?”

“Everything’s closed. It’s a holiday,” said Zack as he and Sean crossed the train tracks, which divided the north and south sides of town. Half of Lestershire was at the Labor Day Parade, which ran the length of Main Street, then passed down Memorial Drive, through working-class neighborhoods and white-collar sections alike. People came out to watch the award-winning high school marching band and wave at local luminaries as they cruised by in floral-decorated floats.

“How come mom and dad have to work, then?”

Although Zack was the same age as Sean, he had taken on the role of an older brother. Sean had a learning disability and Zack often found himself in the role of protector of his undersized twin. Zack was already becoming aware of the social strata of Lestershire and his family’s place in it. “Cause mom and dad have shitty jobs, that’s why.”

They ventured further into the town’s north side and the houses became larger, the lawns more thoughtfully manicured. They passed the hospital and the town’s old high school and stopped outside Coleman’s Funeral Home. It was an attractive, well-kempt building — a clean shade of white with blue shutters and front doors with copper trim.

“They got real dead bodies in there?” asked Sean, his voice tinged with curiosity, and most certainly, fear.

Zack grinned. “Tons of them. They take them into the basement and suck all the blood out, inject them with a poison, and dress them up like dummies. It’s so weird. I saw a reality show about it once.”

“Sick! Why do they do that?”

“Preservation. It’s all about appearances. Nobody wants to see their loved ones all pale and cut up. Or worse — decapitated!” Zack grabbed his brother by the neck and shook it playfully.

“Stop!” said Sean, pushing his brother away, chortling.

They continued down the walk and turned the corner at a row of tall hedges. When they came to the other side of the funeral home, neither of them could help but notice that the back door was wide open, the screen door gently tapping against the jamb in the breeze.

“How about we pay a visit?” said Zack, grinning. “It’s no arcade, but I’m sure it’d be interesting.”

“Zack, no. What are you doing?”

“Don’t be a pussy. Don’t you want to see what they do with the bodies? The freak show?”

Sean shook his head. “Somebody’s gonna see us.”

“Everyone’s at the parade, man. You think they’re in there primping up bodies while everyone else is out having fun? They probably just stuff ‘em into the freezer and turn up the chiller extra high for the day. C’mon.” Zack laughed to himself.

Sean reluctantly followed Zack, scanning the area around the funeral home, making sure no one was watching.

They went up to the door and peeked through the screen. A long hallway with a rich navy-blue carpet and white satin curtains lay ahead. Several small lamps lined the wall, bathing the hallway in a soft yellow glow. There was no one around, no footsteps, voices, nor sounds of electronics running of any kind.

“Let’s go,” whispered Zack. He slowly pulled open the screen and tiptoed into the hallway. Sean followed close behind.

As they wandered into the funeral parlor, they were surprised to find that it did not reek of rotting flesh, like some kids at school had said, but had a rather benign smell, something more akin to a church. The place was solemn but had an air of class about it. At the end of the hallway was a long, rectangular room that contained rows of chairs, a lectern facing the chair audience, and beside the lectern, raised upon a decorative metal rack lie an elegant closed casket.

“There it is!” Sean gasped.

“Shhh! Quiet!” Zack grabbed his brother by the arm and practically dragged him down the center aisle, pausing before the prayer bench. The twin boys crept onto and perched upon the bench, hovering over the dark mahogany casket lid.

“Does it just come open?” asked Sean, trembling.

“I’m not sure,” replied Zack, feeling the smooth lid of the burial vessel.

They nervously felt around for a latch or grip to open the top portion of the lid. After some tinkering, Zack managed to pop it open an inch, pausing to take in his brother’s expression.

“On three…” said Zack.

“One…” began Sean.

“Two… Three!” the boys said in unison. They flipped the lid open and revealed…an empty casket.

“Goddamnit!” exclaimed Zack, immediately cupping his own mouth at his outburst.

“It sure is a nice one, though,” replied Sean, quietly content that corpses lay elsewhere. He leaned over the casket and fingered the silk interior and patted the velvet pillow. “This one must be for someone really rich.”

Sean shuddered when he felt a hand on his shoulder abruptly shove him into the open casket, legs dangling over the side. “Ahhh!” He closed his eyes and grit his teeth, willing to accept whatever his punishment would be for trespassing.

He was relieved to hear Zack’s loud, obnoxious guffaw in his ear. “Get the hell out of there, dummy.” Zack pulled Sean from the casket and they got down off the prayer bench.

“Well, if anyone’s here they definitely would’ve heard you scream like a little bitch, dude.”

“Dick move, Zack…”

Zack slapped his brother on the shoulder and told him it was just a joke. “Come on, no one’s here — let’s have a look around.”

Zack and Sean wandered through another parlor, this one sans casket. They peeked into an office and a meeting room, then found the casket room, admiring the variety of coffin.

“What do you think these are for?” asked Sean as he knocked two metal urns together. The lid slipped off one and a small plume of dust wafted into the air.

“What are you doing?!” said Zack, giggling and coughing from the dust. “Those are urns. You just dumped a bit of someone’s cremated body onto the rug.”

Sean looked down at the streak of dust on the rug. He picked up the lid and gently placed it back on the urn and put it back where he got it. “Gross. What’d it taste like?” asked Sean, looking at his brother rubbing his mouth.

“Dirt,” replied Zack, smirking. “Listen, we probably should get out of here. I don’t think they have any bodies today.”

The boys were about to return to the hallway when they heard the screen door open and close. “Shit! Someone’s here!” whispered Zack. They hurried into a few different rooms and hallways, looking for a way out, or at least a good hiding place.

“Look!” said Zack, pointing to an open door. Let’s just go downstairs and wait for him to leave.”

They hurried down into the basement and were surprised by the clinical nature of the room that they found. Gone were the warm lights and soft shades of blue of the first floor and in their place was a cold, white room, brightly lit, that looked like it belonged in a hospital. In the center of the room was a flat, metallic table, on which lay the body of an elderly woman dressed in a prim blue dress.

Zack quickly cupped his hand over Sean’s mouth before he could scream. They both recognized the woman as Joy Petcosky, the mayor’s wife. Her pale, expressionless face, bereft of its normally heavy layer of makeup, chilled the pair, as they were used to seeing her wide smile at town gatherings.

“Mrs. Petcosky is dead?!” whispered Zack, as he grasped his brother’s shoulder for support.

Sean, in shock from their discovery, made to run back upstairs, but froze at the sound of heavy footsteps hitting the first few steps.

“Oh, shit!” Zack looked around the room and considered their predicament. He quickly recognized a hiding spot and yanked his brother over to a small alcove beneath the stairs. They crouched down behind a filing cabinet and a pair of red 55-gallon drums.

A man in a long, blue smock hurried down the stairs and over to the metal table which held the woman. “Okay, Mrs. Petcosky, I’ve retrieved the correct-sized siphon pump, and we’ll finish up here and have you ready to face your friends and family.”

Zack and Sean watched with unsettling curiosity as the undertaker turned on the pump and attached it to a hose, which fed into a clear, glass cylinder. The machine broke the still quiet of the room with its heavy vrooming sound. Sean gasped as the man unceremoniously lodged the pointed end of the tube into the side of Mrs. Petcosky’s neck.

“Is he sucking out her blood?” whispered Sean

“No, that’s not blood. It’s some sort of pink goo,” replied Zack. The pump made such a racket that they had no trouble conversing in low whispers.

“Oh, nasty. It looks like her face is turning into a prune,” said Sean. He laughed to himself as Sean grabbed his own mouth, gagging at the grotesque scene before them.

The twins remained hidden as the undertaker filled the cylinder with the pink sludge and poked and prodded at different veins and arteries of the old woman’s body. When he turned the pump off he removed the glass container and replaced it with a full cylinder. Zack and Sean were speechless at the specter of the withered woman, who now looked utterly unfamiliar to their eyes. Her skin was taut to her skull and bones.

The man changed his latex gloves, placed a different hose on the new cylinder, and again jammed it into Mrs. Petcosky’s neck. When he turned on the pump, something wasn’t quite right. The crimson liquid began spurting out onto Mrs. Petcosky’s face and even onto the undertaker’s mask and glasses. He rushed to correct his error, then wiped his brow, relieved to see the liquid being returned to the body.

“My apologies, Mrs. Petcosky,” said the man.

“Is that blood?” asked Sean. “Aren’t they supposed to be sucking it out and not putting it back in?”

“Yeah, that looks like blood,” replied Zack. “This doesn’t make sense.”

Next the undertaker pulled out a long, slim wire from a spool beside the table. He ran it through the woman’s nose and throughout the different cavities of her face.

“I can’t watch. Tell me when it’s over,” said Sean, covering his eyes and turning his head.

When the undertaker had finished wiring Mrs. Petcosky and pumping the red liquid back into her, he cleaned up his work area and retrieved a mask connected to a gas tank. He straightened the elderly woman’s blue dress, snapping back up various buttons, and placed the mask over her face. The undertaker then turned the release on the gas tank.

Zack nudged his brother so he’d look. Sean reluctantly uncovered his face and watched the undertaker pump Mrs. Petcosky full of some sort of gas. When the corpse abruptly sat up the boys both gasped, but the undertaker seemed not to hear as he was busy trying to wrangle Mrs. Petcosky back down onto the table.

Zack covered Sean’s mouth, as he knew his brother was about to scream. Sean bit down on his brother’s hand as they watched the man wrangle and press the elderly woman back down to the table.

“Mrs. Petcosky, your treatment is over. You are coming to,” stated the undertaker, calmly, to the flailing octanagerian.

Eventually the woman was subdued and sat up of her own accord. The boys were astonished as they had witnessed Mrs. Petcosky go from pale and corpselike, to a withered, empty husk, and now looked to be her normal, everyday self.

As if he were seeing out a client at a beauty salon, the undertaker handed the old woman her heavy blazer and a hand mirror. She examined herself in the mirror. “Well, I do feel much better now, Robert. Yesterday I looked like death itself.”

“Yes, madam. I’m not just patting my own back,” replied Robert. “You already look twenty years younger.”

“Hand me my pocketbook, Robert. I’ll have to write you a check this month,” said Mrs. Petcosky. She wrote out his exorbitant check while he retrieved her shoes. “Are we still set for my special annual treatment next month, dear?”

“Yes, ma’am. I will receive my Guatemalan shipment mid-month.”

Mrs. Petcosky stood with assistance from the undertaker, still wobbly from the aftereffects of her treatment. “Robert, how often have you been seeing Julia Wheeler? She has been looking more supple than normal. You aren’t giving her my special treatment, are you?”

“Oh, no, no, Mrs. Petcosky. You are my best client and my first priority.”

“I’m sure, Robert. Thank you very much.” The undertaker assisted the old woman to the stairs and past the hidden twin boys.

“There are so many new advancements in mortuary science, but we here at Coleman Funerary Services are on the cutting edge,” stated Robert as they walked up the stairs. “It is a very experimental science, and therefore expensive — but we feel that serving the mayor’s wife, giving her the best treatments we have to offer — is very much our civic duty.”

Zack and Sean heard the door close and listened for the footsteps to fade into another part of the house before they came out from their hiding spot.

“What the hell was that?!” exclaimed Sean.

Zack shrugged. “Let’s get out of here while he’s taking her to her car.”

The pair crept up the stairs, listening for footsteps. “You think what they’re doing is illegal, Zack?”

“Probably. Sounds like an underground, black market type of thing.”

When they reached the landing they slowly opened the door. Seeing that the hallway was clear they hurried toward the rear of the house. Zack threw open the screen door and the brothers ran like their hair was on fire. As they headed for the safety of home, they passed by dozens of familiar faces leaving the parade and wondered how many other of Lestershire’s upper crust were partaking in Coleman Funeral Home’s special treatments.