I have always lived in the morgue. It is just as odd saying it loud as it is for you to hear it. You see, I was born in the hall upstairs. My father, the mortician at the time, delivered me. He would later call it the highlight of his career. Bringing life into the world, when he has always been surrounded by the dead.
Honestly, I wish he had left after I was born. Taken my mother and I into the city. Gotten her the help she needed for her postpartum psychosis. Proper help. Not the backwater treatment of, “Pray it away.” My father should have known. God has no place in medicine. But he clung to that cross until the day he died. I buried him next to mother. My faltering faith buried him.
That is how I became the head mortician of Glenda Green.
The cold sterility of the basement is comforting to me. The cheap fluorescent bulbs buzzing. Washing out the grey room. Everything in here is grey. The cement walls. The metal tables, and the large freezers that line the wall immediately to the left, when you first walk through the grey door at the bottom of the steps.
I walk over to the middle table. The only one occupied tonight. A girl I knew. I know them all of course. The town is suffocatingly small.
Mary Burnaby was in my graduating class. We had sleepovers as children on the floor right above my head. Those nights filled with horror movies and too much sugar that more often than not ended with her chickening out and calling her mom to pick her up.
I pulled back the sheet, like I had for the sheriff. The bruising around her eyes had already begun to heal when she died. The bruises around her neck would never get the chance. A tear slides down my cheek as I sit heavily into the rolling chair. The squeak of it echoing in the room. Taking a deep breath, I steady myself. Pulling out my phone I connect to the speakers and put on music full blast. I close my eyes, detach from the moment. When I open them, I look at her again, and begin my work.
Hours later and she is ready. She looks just like she had in life. The way I remembered her. Youthful glow to her cheeks and lips. Long dark lashes sweeping down.
After cleaning up and making sure everything was in order for her to be brought up to the parlor tomorrow morning. I locked the door into the morgue and made my way up the stairs. The white door seemed so far away. My sore body taking too long to get to the top. When I finally make my way through the door I’m greeted by darkness in the mudroom. Frowning, I pull the string that dangles from the ceiling above. The click resounded, but no light. The house and the morgue below work on separate power supplies, and the morgue has a system of three backup generators in the event of an extended power outage. If the power had gone out while I was down there, I wouldn’t even notice.
Swearing under my breath I stumble through the dark. Shedding my scrubs and tossing them blindly into the washer. Grabbing my robe from the hook on the back of the door into the kitchen. I double check and confirm that I locked the door down to the morgue, then I enter the kitchen. The time on the stove read 11:17 pm. I could have sworn I had just changed out the bulb in the mudroom. But maybe I was mistaken. Or the socket itself was having trouble.
At least it’s not a power outage. I can deal with a broken light tomorrow.
The spray of water spits out of the shower head. Cold at first, but then steadily warmer. I face the stream. Letting it fall down on me. I stand there for a while before reaching for the shampoo. As I open my eyes I freeze. I can see through the fogged glass of the standing shower into the bathroom. Into my bedroom beyond. I shouldn’t be able to see my bedroom though. That door was closed and locked. I’ve always locked every door behind me. I’m a woman in her early thirties living alone in a county where we have more bars than restaurants.
Looking around the bathroom I don’t see anyone there. Leaving the water running I slowly open the shower door. Stepping out onto the mat. I wrap my towel around me and slowly approach the door. All I can hear is the shower behind me. The fan, and the sound of the water dripping off of me onto the tile.
I step out onto the hardwood floor of my room. The bedroom door is also ajar. My wardrobe is on the far side of the room. I just needed to get to the wardrobe, pull out the drawer. Grab the shotgun and load it. My heart was beating painfully in my chest. My lungs burned from the strain of the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding. Easy as it sounded, it all depended on me getting past that door without the intruder knowing.
I ran for the door. Slamming all of my weight into it. It went without resistance. The force of the impact on the solid wood rattled in my teeth. I hit the lock into place and listened.
My ear pressed into the door. No sound came from behind it.
Then, I felt it. Air brushing my cheek, like a breath. I shrieked as I whipped around, slipping and falling. No one was behind me. The room just as empty as before. A movement to my left. I turned my head and watched the thick emerald green curtain sway heavily. Parting enough for me to see the window cracked open behind it. I got up and ran to the window. Slammed it shut and locked it. Quickly going around and checking the other two windows as well, and the door once more for good measure.
I pulled the shotgun out and loaded. Sitting on the bed I strained my ears, listening, but only hearing the wind outside. An owl in the distance. The creaking of the old oak outside my window. All familiar sounds. Ones I have listened to, and fallen asleep to, for decades.
I got up and went into the bathroom. Shutting off the shower. Setting the shotgun down on the vanity I quickly pulled on lounge pants and a tank top. Grabbing the shotgun once more I went back to my room and sat down on the bed. Nervously chewing my lip as I looked around the empty room.
My eyes snagged on my cell phone. I picked it up and made a call out to George, the local sheriff.
“Anna?” His worried voice answered on the second ring.
“I don’t know if I’m being paranoid, but I think someone is in my house.” The words poured out of me fast and shaky. I recounted the events of the night to him. He listened patiently as I went.
“I can have Steve stop by and check things out.” He spoke. I frowned. Steve was new to town and new to the police force.
“What about you, or Sara?”
“We are out on a call in Adams County right now.”
“Big fire, they needed all the hands they could get.” He covered the receiver with his hand. Said something I couldn’t make out to someone else. “We won’t be back for another three hours, at least. Do you really want to wait?”
“No,” I shuddered. “Go ahead and send Steve. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, Anna.” He paused. “I’m glad you called me.”
“How long do you think it will take for him to get here?”
“Minutes, I just asked Sara to call him.”
“Thank you, George.”
“Anytime, and I’ll stop over as soon as I am back in town.”
“You don’t have to.” I replied. “It’s probably nothing.”
“I do, and I will.” Someone called his name in the background. “I have to go. Steve will be there soon, and I will call you when I am on my way. Do you still have your dad’s shotgun?”
“Right here in my hand.”
“Good girl.” I could hear the smile in his voice. “You keep that close and sit tight in a locked room.”
I smile into the phone. “Already on it. Thank you again.”
“See you soon.”
I disconnected the phone. Anxiety knotting in my stomach. I reassured myself that it was a matter of minutes until Steve got here, and I’m probably just overreacting. It was a long day, and I haven’t slept well in weeks. My mind must be playing tricks on me.
A loud scrape at the door. My head whipped around. The bedside light flickered then went out. The scrapping happened once. The doorknob rattled.
“I have a gun.” I shouted. My voice sounded much more sure than I felt.
The rattling stopped.
“You….” A hoarse voice whispered. Soft and feminine through the door. “You…” The word was drawn out. With a harsh rasp in it.
I cocked the gun. The sound is loud and unmistakable.
“You … Get” I heard what sounded like a deep breath. The person behind the door began pounding at it. So hard the whole thing shook violently in the frame with each massive boom of fists pounding into it. “Out …” They shouted. Animalistic and dark. I’d never heard anything like it. It was barely even human sounding.
I screamed and backed away. Fear spreads like pins and needles through my body. The gun shook in my hand as the thing kept shrieking
“Get out, Get Out, GET OUT!”
The doorbell rang. It went silent. Floorboards creaking. As if they were shifting their weight from one foot to the other.
“Steve.” I let out a horrified gasp and ran to the window. Throwing it down I saw him at the front door. “Up here!” I shouted.
He took a step back and looked up at me. Confusion on his face. “It’s in the house!”
His brows furrowed together. The door crashed and splintered behind me. The gun slipped from my hands, falling to the floor. I screamed and threw my legs over the window sill.
He drew his gun with a curse. Pointing it at me. No, behind me.
“Get out of the way!” He shouted.
I leapt at the tree without a backwards glance. The bark biting into the flesh of my arms as I scrambled to get my footing. I slid and fell from the branch. Landing on my back. My vision tunneled. I could hear Steve yelling, but couldn’t understand him. What sounded like gun fire.
My vision cleared as I was looking up at my window. The glass shattered. The wind moved the curtains just enough for me to see the thing that had burst through the splintered glass.
Mary Burnaby. In her finest blue dress. Staring down at me with clouded eyes. Her lips were moving. I couldn’t hear her over the sound of my own blood rushing through my head.
“Is that Mary?” Steve shouted as he ran to my side. “That can’t be Mary. Mary is dead. What is that?” The words poured from his mouth in a waterfall of nervousness. Each word crashing into the next.
“Oh…” He looked behind me. “Dear God.” His face paled as he looked out. I turned my head. The movement makes me want to vomit. I clenched my eyes closed. Pain dancing and swirling through my temples. I opened them, and quickly wished I hadn’t.
I was looking at the cemetery next door. The iron fence. The freckling of headstones, and lumbering bodies crawling through the dirt and grass.
Steve clawed at me to get up. Practically dragging me to his cruiser where he unceremoniously dumped me in the front passenger seat. He was running to the other side when the earth shook. I heard a massive crack as he froze in front of the car. The headlights showcased the fear on his face as he seemed to jerk down. The booming cracking noise fading into a loud crumbling sound as the earth gave way beneath his feet.
The cruiser door flew open. Boney fingers clawed at me as I screamed and kicked. They pulled me from the car, dragging me across the lawn towards the cemetery. My hands grappled at the ground. Pulling up the grass. My nails scraped on the roots of the oak. They dragged me through the open gates into the graveyard.
“D..Don’t fight.” Mary’s face came into view. “Don’t f…fight.” She breathed out.
The hands lifted me. I was being carried by at least three of the dead.
I looked back at my house. My home. As the earth shifted. It cracked in two. One large crack that spiderwebbed out. The house crumbling in on itself. Then sinking into the great maw that had opened. That had swallowed Steve whole.
I watched the town lights from down the hill flicker and go black. As a wave rippled down. The rumbling roar as it was swallowed.
The dead carried me deeper into the heart of the cemetery. I had a sudden realization of where they were headed. To the two unassuming headstones just off the main path. I twisted to look at the creatures that held me. Mary at my head. A larger hulking mass at my side. In a familiar tweed suit he saved for Sunday services. A smaller, more decayed body at my feet. With a silver cross at its neck. A cross I remember watching twinkle in the light when I was still small. Now reflected by the light of the moon.
“Mom? Dad?” I croaked. My voice sore from screaming.
“Shhh …” My mother hissed as she lowered me into the patch of dirt between their turned graves. The sound is hardly discernible through teeth and bone.
“I don’t understand.” I cried.
Mary sat. Leaning her head on the headstone. He sightless eyes looking out at the ruin of the town as it continued to crumble and frown.
She whispered to me. Her voice strained against her battered vocal cords.
I looked at my parents. My father’s corpse nodding. It sounded like the crunching of dried leaves.
My eyes shifted to the town of Glenda Green as it was swallowed into the giant sinkhole.
A warm hand caresses my cheek. Fluttering down, pressing two fingers to my throat.
“She’s cold, her pulse is weak but it’s there.”
“George?” My voice came out a whisper. I tried to open my eyes. Groaned at the pain and the bile that rose in my throat.
“It’s okay Anna. You’re okay.” His hand brushed through my hair. My eyes finally opened and I looked up at him. The dark circles beneath his eyes. The lines on his face are too deep for someone his age. My eyes shifted behind him to his sister, Sara. She held a phone to her ear. Her hat off. Hair a mess of curls like her brothers.
I looked around me. At the field of grass and stone. Beautiful in the morning light. Completely undisturbed. Sitting up slowly, with George’s help. I looked out at the great whole that stopped a few yards from the cemetery gate.
“What happened?” I asked. I clenched my fists, and felt the bite of metal against my palm. Opening my hand, I looked down. The small tarnished silver cross of my mothers. The chain wrapped loosely around my hand.
“Sinkhole.” George said. Looking out into the distance. He looked back at me quizzically. “How did you get out of here?”
I thought back to the night before. Mary’s voice echoing in my head.
“The dead take care of their own.”