“Is that her third one?” I whisper to Ben as I eye the middle-aged woman throwing back the Christmas cocktails as if they were shots.
“I think it is,” he murmurs.
I let out a sigh, shaking my head. I can’t help but think that I could’ve made a killing if I had made it a paid bar. I didn’t because this is supposed to be an open house for my business, Gótthos Funeral Home & Cemetery. “We need to keep an eye on that one. We’re probably going to have to take her keys away from her before the night is up.”
Turning back to face the rest of the room, I pull a hand from the warmth of my fur muff to check the time on my Victorian style pocket watch. I will give it a few more minutes before I start the tour, I think to myself. People have been steadily trickling in, much to my delight. There are upwards of twenty people and counting here already. I honestly wasn’t expecting this much of a turnout. I’ve poured so much of my love and attention into this place. It warms my little black heart that so many are interested in it.
I smile, greeting my guests with a warmth I admittedly don’t usually feel anymore. Before I renovated it, the building used to be an old gothic style church. As people walk in, the space opens up into a large foyer. Christmas music plays softly in the background, and I watch as their eyes widen in wonder as they take in the fine architecture lit with a sprinkling of gold lights. However, the real showstopper is the centerpiece, a grand black Christmas tree. Sugar skulls, snowflakes, candy canes, and skeleton nutcracker ornaments adorn it amidst the twinkling lights and silver tinsel. It’s truly a sight to behold.
Crossing the room, the train of my burgundy Victorian gown, complete with fur trim and bustles galore, trails after me. I make a beeline for my receptionist Nicole, who’s manning the front door. “I would like you to stay up here while Ben and I take the people on a tour, just in case we have any stragglers. Don’t let them go beyond the foyer or showroom. I don’t want anyone roaming around in places they shouldn’t be. It’s too much of a safety hazard.”
“Yes, of course, Ms. Mel,” she replies, ever the polite young lady. With waves of brunette hair that fall just past her shoulders, warm brown eyes, and a hundred-watt smile, she brings warmth to a place that’s often somber most days. I give her a grateful nod of my head before heading back the way I came.
“I think this is more than enough people for a tour,” I announce to the room. I give a nod in Ben’s direction, and he takes my cue. He ushers people toward the first stop, the showroom where all our various options of caskets are displayed. I stop beside the woman from earlier, who is quickly polishing off her third cocktail, and clear my throat. “Please leave the drinks here, ma’am, if you wish to join us.”
She looks at me for a long moment before relenting with a disappointed sigh. As she goes to dispose of her drink, she wobbles and trips. Without thinking, I reach out and grab her, steadying her on her feet. My heart goes into my throat as I feel a smidge of my power release. I remove my hands from her as quickly as possible and back up several steps as if she’s bound to blow up any second. However, nothing happens, and she seems the same as she was before. I let out a heavy breath, shaking my head at myself. You worry far too much, Melpomene.
I gesture for the woman to follow the others, keeping a close eye on her. By the looks of it, she’s already tipsy. As we catch up, I see that Ben has already picked up the slack and is telling people about the various style caskets we offer. He’s more charismatic than I am, so I let him do most of the talking. Besides, it’s good practice for him. He’ll make a fine funeral director one day.
After the showroom, we head down a corridor to the auditorium, which is easily my favorite part of the entire building. It has a vaulted ceiling covered in decorative wood paneling and lanterns hanging above the rows of pews. There are stained glass windows on all sides, the largest of which is at the back above an overhanging balcony. I spin in a slow circle, taking it all in as if it is my first time. As Ben talks about the history of the building, I add a few tidbits of my own, a certain girlish joy seeping unbidden into my voice.
Eventually, we move on, leaving behind the breathtaking beauty of the auditorium to the more clinical embalming room and crematorium. I take over this portion, explaining all the steps taken from the moment we receive a body to when their loved one is laid in their final resting place. I open a side door, leading them out into the cool night air for a tour of the cemetery.
As we stroll amongst the tombstones, both new and old, my gaze caresses them with a certain reverence. Some of the plots were already filled when I bought this place, marked by large gothic style tombstones dating back to the Victorian era. I treat them with the same level of respect and dutifulness as I would my clients’ plots.
I try to keep the tour short as the cold quickly seeps into our bones. Or perhaps there’s another reason why their faces seem to grow paler by the second? The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and I can feel a static sensation in the air as the temperature drops several degrees. We’re not alone, I realize, and bite my lip to keep from grinning. Now, now, don’t scare the mortals.
I accept the fact that not everyone’s ready to explore the supernatural, so for their sake, I wrap things up. I’m soon ushering them back into the warmth of the funeral home. I smile as we walk back into the foyer. “That went better than I could’ve possibly hoped!” I exclaim, turning to Ben as he catches up to me.
“That it did! High five!” I laugh as he gives me a big high five.
“Hey, watch out!” Someone yells. We turn around in time to see that same damn woman rushing through the crowd, looking like she’s going to throw up. She bumps into an old lady, sending the poor fragile woman careening right into—
“Noooo!!” I scream, lunging forwards. Time seems to slow as the elderly woman crashes into the Christmas tree. Screaming and chaos fills the air as people run in a frenzied panic, trying to avoid getting taken out by the tree that’s now falling like a log. I throw my hands out as if I can stop the inevitable, but even I am powerless to the call of tragedy.
The tree hits the ground with an ominous thud, and the old woman collapsed across it, bleeding from a gash on her head. I vaguely note the song “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” playing on the radio as I run to the woman’s side. Shards of glass dig into my skin as I kneel beside her, but I ignore the pain. “Ma’am, try to stay calm and remain as still as you can.” I try to reassure her as I look her over for any other wounds besides the head gash. I hesitate to touch her. I’ve done enough damage already.
I hear the crunch of glass beside me and look to my side. My gaze meets Ben’s. His concern mirrors my own. I pull out a handkerchief and shove it into his hand. “Press it to the wound to try to stop the bleeding. And don’t move her. I’ll go call an ambulance.”
I stand up, shaking as I back away. Turning, I stop short as I make eye contact with the tipsy woman. Her face was ghostly pale. “It should be you splayed out on that tree.” A voice that isn’t quite my own leaves my lips, and by the look on her face, you would’ve thought that I had slapped her. Without another word, I race out of the room to use the office phone, only stopping to short out the radio still blasting that insidious tune.
###I watch in silence as the strobe lights of the ambulance slowly disappear from view. The paramedics think the old lady avoided sustaining any critical injuries, but they’re taking her to the hospital as a precaution. As for the drunkard, she left in handcuffs. A part of me, the darker side of me, thinks she deserves way worse than just a little jail time. I rub my temples before heading back inside to help Ben and Nicole clean up the mess. Merry Christmas to us.