Joe and the Mortician

“Good evening.” The mortician's voice was low and sturdy. He stood up gracefully to meet Joe and slothily held out his thin hand. To Joe’s surprise, his handshake was very firm. He wore a suit with a red handkerchief as an accent. His attire blended in with the musky decor. The room was sparsely decorated and the lights were turned down low. Each lampshade had a muffled blood-red illumination to it; not unlike light showing through skin. They complimented the beige walls nicely, Joe felt. There were various openings and doorways that lead out of the room and into other sections of the large repurposed mansion. The design was simplistic but the floorplan was dizzying. It gave Joe an odd type of vertigo when he thought about it. As he finished shaking the man’s hand, he glanced through one of the doorways and took note of an especially extravagant coffin, as well as its similarly branded urn on the shelf next to it. 

“Oh, hi there. My name’s Joe.”

“Mr. Lithe. Glad to have you here, Joe.”

“Glad to be - Nice to meet you.”

“What is it that I can do for you, Joe? Looking to buy? Rent? We have plenty of options available for both the near deceased and the most entrepreneurial of minds. Of course, some things we have here will suit most in due time.”  

Joe found himself distracted and looking at a different opening in the room. Faint flickers of a dark green light tinted the shadowy room at random intervals. As if there were sparks flying just through the doorway. Joe imagined a man with a welding mask on the other side using a torch to cement two body parts together. With a slack-jaw and his eyes still transfixed on the other doorway, he answered, “Well, I own a store in town, Mr. Strickham’s, you might have walked by it once or twice.”

“Ah, of course.” Mr. Lithe said and it startled Joe. When he had looked back from the green opening, he had found that Mr. Lithe was gone from his original spot and had quietly positioned himself elsewhere. “I have passed by your store once or twice. Truly a charming little place, I could image the inside being quite nice.” 

He had found the mortician in the other corner of the room; adjusting one of the urns on to be more centered on its shelf. Joe’s words had escaped him for a moment. He said, “Oh yes. Yes, quite a nice place on the inside. Me and my wife opened it a while ago and, oh, it’s got a lot of charm to it - “ he coughed and tried to grunt away some of the elderly mucus from his throat. When he opened his eyes from the coughing fit, the arenea-like mortician had moved to a new position. This time, he was closer. He stood with his arms behind his back and his torso leaning toward Joe. His head was tilted down and slightly to the left while his eyes peered up at Joe asking him to continue. “That’s exactly why I’m here, you see. We seem to be falling behind the times a little bit, I’m afraid. And, well you see, I’m trying to get my store online and I had heard that Statim uses -”

“Corpses, yes. Statim: what a clever little corporation.”

“Yes. Well, my son used to be around to help me out a lot but I’m afraid I can’t really rely on him to help me out with getting things online. I suppose I should say, he just is a little more vacant lately. And, oh, I need some way to help with the delivery fulfilment, you see, my knees are bad and I can’t handle - “

“You want to use some corpses for your business. Yes, I understand.” Mr. Lithe carried on at a poetic pace, “Your charming little store is little more than charmed. You need it to be enchanted. Vexed. Hexed. You wish to turn what has been antiquated into a strategy that’s a bit more... Articulated. No?”

Joe noticed the dark green spark bleeding its light into the shadows of the mysterious doorway once again. He tried not to look for fear of losing track of the unnerving gentleman he was trying to speak business with. Trying to decompress what he’d heard he took a second and then said, “that’s right, I suppose. What do you have for sale?” 

Mr. LIthe, still with his hands politely stowed behind his back, nodded and began walking toward the dark room that sporadically emanated the distracting emerald light. Hesitantly, Joe followed him. 

Joe asked, “can I ask you something?”

Mr. Lithe stopped his smooth march and peered over his shoulder, “of course.”

“I’ve been wondering. Where do you source your corpses from?”

“Are you afraid these are blood-corpses, Mr. Strickham? Farmed under ill-intentions? Wisped away - no - stolen from their rightful timeline?”

Joe cleared his throat. “Oh, sure. something like that.”

The lively mortician’s spindly fingers swam through the air as he made his points. “I can assure you, our bodies are locally sourced and treated with respect and care. Each person is a self-proclaimed donor; disrupting a life for a business is something that I wouldn’t dare.” He turned back to the door and walked through. 

“Locally sourced?” Joe asked, following him in with a knot forming in his stomach. As he entered the room himself he, at first, didn’t see Mr. Lithe. A green flash went off, forcing Joe to shield his eyes. When he put his elbow down he found Mr. Lithe flicking on a light bulb underneath one of the lamps and then making sure it was screwed in tight. The green light now stopped flickering and maintained a steady glow. 

Mr. Lithe said, “I must replace this lamp, but alas, there’s never enough time in life to fix everything. Besides, I find that this light has what you might call a charm of its own. I fear I’d miss it.”

“Right,” Joe agreed, feeling more tense, though he didn’t understand why. It wasn’t Mr. Lithe’s knowledgeable gaze that unsettled him. It was in the way that he looked away from the stare to focus on other things. The mortician took his hand from the lamp and opened up to point to a display of three coffins lined up horizontally on the wall. They were one above the other with their lid taken off and they were tilted outward as to allow people to see the contents inside. Each one was black and lined with red velvet and purple stitching. Tagged onto each of the morbid displays was a small price-tag. Of course, Joe’s eyes were drawn to the products inside them: Corpses.

Mr. Lithe asked, “what are you thinking Mr. Strickham?”

Joe’s stomach felt colder. “Oh, I suppose I imagined that they would have different faces?”

“Yes. That would be a correct assumption. But as you know, we use corpses of people that lived, or course, and this raises the chances of seeing someone you love when you shouldn’t be seeing them if you understand what I mean. One’s mind is a fickle thing and silly things can go awry in our heads. Though, in an honest fact, to be human is to be dead; sometimes we can’t tease this apart from our wish to be alive. And you’ll kindly excuse me for the rant, but we believe that it’s best to maintain the corpses as corpses and the dead as dead, if you understand what I mean.”

Mr. Lithe’s words tangled Joe’s brain and made his eyes wander back and forth between the three matching corpses on display. He looked back to where Mr. Lithe’s voice had been coming from only to find that he had moved again. In a startled fashion, Joe turned around to scan the room. The shifty mortician was nowhere to be found. He darted his head in one direction and before he could dart it back to make a full scan of the room, his eye was caught by another doorway. His mind tried to do a recount of the doorways and he felt like the math wasn’t adding up. The disconnect only pushed his tangled brain into a knot. The lamp with the green light began to flicker again. The room was lit but the faulty green light dominated the soft ambience and each strobe stabbed his concentration.

“So how many did you want for your store, Mr. Strickham. How many do you think will resurrect your charming business?” Mr. Lithe asked.

Turning around, having gone full circle by now, Joe found Mr. Lithe planted calmly next to the display with his hands politely stowed behind his back. He was leaning forward again with his brows raised in a question. Frozen by his twisted thoughts, he started to speak and then cleared his throat before trying again, “oh, Donna was telling me that - well, I suppose two would do the - do you have a recommendation? I think two.”

“A charming little store the size of yours? I believe two will do nicely.” he leaned back to a straight posture. One of his appeared from behind his back and he walked two of his fingers along the rim of one of the coffins. “Besides, you wouldn’t want to have one corpse. It may get lonely.” His eyes opened as they stared back at Joe and his face gave off the essence of a smile.

Joe wondered if he was a corpse. He stuttered to fill the air but didn’t know what to say. 

“It’s just a joke Mr. Strickham. One develops quite the unexpected humor in an occupation such as this.”

“Oh, that’s. That’s good.”

“I suggest our meaker and more modest model,” he said as he stopped walking his fingers and placed his hand delicately on the rim of the coffin in question. “You won’t be needing our more industrial packages. Yes. This will suit you well.”

The bottom coffin contained a daintier and notably weaker corpse. “Oh, that would be fine, I suppose. Well, will this be able to carry - well, yeah. What’s the price differe - “ Joe put on his glasses and leaned forward to look for himself. He nodded his head and said, “Yep. Yes. This model will do.” 

“Splendid.”

Mr. Lithe walked back to the front office and Joe stuck closely behind him. On the mortician’s desk was a point-of-sales tablet that they began using to finalize the deal. They walked through the disclaimers, best practices and standard uses of the corpses. It was new to Joe but the process was much easier than learning how to use the internet; which he was thankful for. 

“Can I have these things do typing for me?” Joe inquired mid-way through the process.

“Yes, but they will need a good deal of instruction on what to type. They are not known for thinking, you see, Mr. Strickham.”

“Sure.”

They carried on the process. 

“And of course, here are the blocks that you will need to charge every month or so.” Mr. Lithe stacked three wooden blocks with the usual amount intricate carvings on on the desk and pushed them toward Joe. 

“Why three again?”

“Best to have an extra to have lying around just in case.” The mortician’s business was doing well, but he knew that selling more was always better than selling less. 

“Oh, I suppose that is a good idea. Now, are these full?”

“No. Because we aren’t allowed to store full demon blocks here at the store, you will have to fill these at one of the warehouses yourself.”

“Okay.”

“And all I require from you is a final few signatures, here.”

The tablet had swiveled back and forth between the two of them and Joe was prompted to put in multiple signatures throughout the process. Each time, his hand gave off the impression that all of his fingers, save for his index finger, were scared of the new-age device. After putting in the final signature, Mr. Lithe turned the tablet back to face him and said, “thank you, Mr. Strickham. Surely, you made the right choice here. I do hope that you are able to return your charming little boutique into the productive plant that you need it to be.”

Still on edge, Joe said, “thank you.”

“We’ll have the corpses prepared and delivered to your store by Monday morning.”