01 Feb The Funeral Home I work at has a Strange List of Rules
I’m plagued by misfortune and death. It’s been like this since the day I was born, and it follows me everywhere I go.
My mother died during childbirth, and my father died in a tragic accident when I was only four years old. I lived with my grandparents following my father’s untimely death.
Life was typical for me, or at least as typical as an orphan’s life could be. That is until my grandparents died, leaving me alone in the world.
My grandfather went first when I was only nine, and my grandmother some years later when I was sixteen. I was alone in the world after that; I peered into the fathomless void of despair every day.
At least until I graduated from college.
Death had been the only thing I had ever known, and because of that, I became a mortician, or an undertaker if you will. God knows I had been to enough funerals. By the time I graduated, I found myself in near poverty, having spent my inheritances on attending college. Desperation set in and I began applying everywhere I could think of, it’s not like I had anything holding me back.
My job hunt eventually led me to a small funeral home in upstate New York, owned by a man named Gary Mullins. Gary was an interesting character. He appears as though he is a century old and his mental health is self-admittedly declining. He is a quiet man, but nothing livens him up more than talk of the dead.
Much like myself, Gary grew up alone and has no family. He inherited the funeral home after his father died when he was only thirteen. His uncle curated it until he came of age, and then his uncle tragically passed.
Mullins’ funeral home was an even more interesting place. The business itself operates out of a house that is 184 years old. It’s a large purple house with a wrought-iron fence around it. The local kids joke and say that ghosts haunt its halls. I have to give it to them; I used to think the same thing. Alas, no ghosts or ghouls prowl its decrepit old halls. What lurks here is much more… Corporeal.
I will never forget my first day of work at Mullins’ Funeral Home. I vividly remember Gary opening the front door to me and showing me with delight all the pictures of his family members that adorned the walls. The strange thing about this was that these were all post mortem pictures, taken at funerals and viewings. He spoke as if he was reminiscing on fond memories, but these would have been tragic moments for anyone else. I quickly realized that Gary was a little strange.
He made me an offer that I could not refuse, however. He would pay me a yearly salary and allow me to live upstairs in the home, so long as I learned from him and eventually took over the business. I couldn’t decline. I remember thinking to myself, “This couldn’t have gone any better!”
Naturally, I graciously accepted the old man’s offer. This was a great opportunity, I could easily have a career if I just stuck with it.
“Good, good.” He replied to my acceptance of the position, before adding; “The house always needs an undertaker,”
That statement baffled me, but I chalked it up as some old tradition that I wasn’t yet aware of. Gary told me I would start the following day and told me to go upstairs and get settled in. That wasn’t hard, I only had the few possessions that I had kept in my college dorm room. They were all piled in the back of my car, all I had to do was bring them upstairs.
Bringing my things inside was a more laborious task than expected. The house had a narrow, twisting spiral staircase leading only upstairs. Negotiating these staircases did not prove to be a straightforward task. I finally got all of my things up the stairs and chose a room to settle in to.
My room had high ceilings and beautiful hardwood floors. The furniture in there had to be original. It was as if I stepped into a Victorian time capsule. The room had a unique aroma to it, the scent that you would smell in an antique shop mixed with various herbs. I thought nothing of this smell, however. This was the nicest room I had ever had, it being inside a funeral home didn’t much bother me.
I don’t remember falling asleep, but I remember awaking to a knock on the door. It confused me, considering that the sun hadn’t even risen yet.
“Who could that be?” I thought to myself.
“Jason, It’s time to go to work” I heard Gary say through the heavy wooden door.
I quickly remembered that I live at work now. “Yes sir, I’ll be right there!” I yelled back, looking down at my phone to check the time. It was four in the morning. I stumbled out of bed and quickly threw some clothes on, then made my way to the door.
“Good morning, son!” Gary exclaimed, looking chipper as ever.
“Uh… Good morning, Sir,” I replied, “I didn’t realize that we started this early, I’ll make sure I’m up next time”
“Oh, it’s of no concern, today is a special day, that’s why we are up so early,” Gary replied, motioning for me to follow him downstairs.
As we navigated the winding staircases I asked “Why is it a special day, Gary?”
“Every Monday is a special day son, we get to meet so many fresh faces,” He replied
“Fresh faces?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s when the city morgue brings bodies over. Been that way for forty-six years.” He replied.
I would have been completely in shock if I didn’t share the same macabre sense of humor and enthusiasm for the dead. Instead, I was eager. I was excited to meet the new cadavers, excited to practice the skills I had spent the past four years learning, and excited to learn from Gary.
As we made it to the bottom of the stairs we approached a door, hidden by a curtain, behind the central room which is used to conduct services. Gary handed me an old, worn piece of paper before he opened the door.
“Jason, you’d best read these over before we start. If you follow these rules, you will have a very productive experience here.” Gary said as he handed over the piece of paper.
I began looking at the piece of paper. Scrawled at the top was “Mullins’ Funeral Home – Undertaker handbook”
Written under this were nine rules:
Always, and I mean always, close their eyes. If you don’t, you will not sleep for at least a week.
Keep all limb freezers locked at all times.
We deal with a very specific clientele. Always adhere to any last wishes the family may have. We don’t want any disgruntled customers.
Your workdays are Monday, 4 AM to 5 PM, and Tuesday thru Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM. Saturday is for fun, Sunday is for the Lord. You will always work these hours and must be out of the preparation area by nightfall.
I permit you to have guests, but they too must follow the next rule.
Don’t get caught in the halls between the hours of 11 PM and 1:31 AM.
The power will go out at exactly 3:36 AM. This will last until 3:42 AM. Do not search for the cause of the outage, you would rather not know.
Should you hear weeping, never, under any circumstances, search for the source, no matter how close it sounds. Should you look, you will die a most horrific death.
Should anyone knock on the door before or after business hours, DO NOT ANSWER IT.
“Uh, Gary, what do these mean?” I asked, in complete and utter confusion.
“Just ensure that you adhere to those. If you do, everything will be just fine.” He replied.
Before I could say anything else Gary opened the large metal door in front of us and began walking down the cellar stairs. The first thing that I noticed was that it was frigid. As we made our way into the cellar, I saw that it was a large, open room with several metal tables. Several large, metal limb freezers lined one wall.
Gary approached one of these freezers, opened the door, and swung it open. He pulled the end of the stretcher inside of the freezer and a corpse slid out. This one was male, mid-fifties. He had short, graying hair and a scruffy beard. I scrutinized the body, looking for what could have brought him to us.
“Heart attack,” Gary said while making eye contact with me.
Gary lowered the stretcher down and I helped him transfer the body onto a table. The body itself was heavy. Just dead weight. We finally got it on a table, and before we could go any further Gary closed the man’s eyes.
“Rule One,” I thought to myself.
We spent the next hour draining the blood and finally replacing it with the embalming fluid, as this was going to be an open casket funeral. After that, we diligently prepared the body with makeup and dressing it in the clothes it would wear forever.
“His name is Tony,” Gary said out of the blue.
“When is his service?” I asked.
“Why, it’s today.” He replied.
This took me by surprise. I hadn’t expected to run a service so soon. The look of confusion must have shown because Gary said “Well, they don’t die on our schedule” as he let out a chuckle.
Some time passed, but finally, we finished preparing the body. We went him upstairs in the small elevator that we use for cadavers. Next came positioning the casket in the service room and putting him in it. Once we finished this task, we had to prepare the home with artifacts the family had left to be displayed during the service.
I made a disturbing discovery when I was hanging photos of our client and his family. The photos they had provided us were all photos of Tony committing gruesome crimes, including mutilating various women. It repulsed me. What kind of monster was this man?
“Gary!” I yelled, looking around for my boss frantically.
“What’s the matter, son?” He said with concern in his eyes as he cleared a corner, hurrying towards me.
“These are what’s the matter! What kind of sick joke is this?” I demanded to know.
“Rule three, Jason.” He reminded me.
Shaken, I remembered rule three. I must always adhere to the client’s wishes. I had no way of knowing whether these depraved photos were real. I continued to hang the pictures and when the family finally arrived; I expected repulsion. But it delighted them! They talked openly about how Tony had loved to kill young women and how the world wouldn’t be the same without him.
I desperately wanted to call the police at that moment. I was in a room full of lunatics!
Suddenly I felt a hand grasp my shoulder, “You did well, Jason.” Gary said from behind me. “I know it can be hard, but we are just undertakers, we don’t ask questions.”
“This guy was a murderer, Gary!” I snapped back at him in a hushed tone.
“Was my dear Jason. Was.” He replied calmly.
Eventually, we transported the corpse to the cemetery and lowered it into the ground. I can’t say that I wasn’t happy to see that scumbag go underground. He was a sick, perverted psychopath. The world would be better off without him.
Eventually, we made it back to the funeral home. When we went downstairs to make sure that everything was locked up we discovered that there was a limb freezer hanging wide open. I walked over to it to close it back up, but when I did I looked down and saw that it was the body of a little girl. My heart ached for her and her family when I saw her. She couldn’t have been over eight years old,
I noticed that her eyes were gray and cold. “Jason, no!” Gary yelled as he shoved me to the floor and slammed the freezer shut. It was too late. The little girl’s life flashed before my eyes. I could see every bad thing that had ever happened to her, I could feel all the pain she had ever experienced. And then I saw the world from her point of view, I saw myself looking into her eyes and the freezer slamming shut over me.
“Never look into their eyes! This is why we shut them.” Gary yelled.
“What… What was that?” I asked, frantically.
“You saw death, Jason. That is what awaits us all. So it’s best to avoid hastening it.” He responded.
“So, you mean that we can still see after death? We still experience reality?” I asked.
“So it would seem” Gary replied in a solemn tone.
We had lost track of time and neither of us had noticed that it was around 6 PM now. It was getting dark outside. The old man quickly rushed me up the stairs and locked the enormous iron door.
“Go to your room and lock the door. Now!” Gary barked at me.
I didn’t even ask why; I hurdled up the stairs to my room and locked the door behind me. This place was too weird for me. I had no intention of staying into the next day. I would leave before my shift began. This was madness.
I spent the night tossing and turning, unable to find sleep. Instead, I kept reliving that little girl’s death and subsequent afterlife. I decided that a walk would be best. I ventured from my room, down the hall, and towards the stairs. I made my way unto the spiral staircase and then I heard it; heavy sounding footsteps were moving towards me.
I looked down at my phone and saw that it was 12:56 AM. “Shit. Rule six” I thought to myself. My heart was pounding in my chest as I turned to run back to my room. Something was following me, chasing me back to my room. By the time I slammed the door shut behind me, the thunderous footsteps had been right behind me. The mysterious prowler of the hall continued to pace outside my door as I cowered in the corner for hours. I stayed lodged in the corner of my room long after the footsteps faded away back down the stairs.
Eventually, so many hours had passed that the lights went out. I remembered this time. Rule seven. “Stay put. Got it.” I thought to myself.
I continued to cower in the corner of my room. Come hell or high water, I would not leave the corner. Or so I thought. Not two minutes after the lights went out, I heard quiet sobbing from the other side of my bed. There was someone; or something in my room with me. I slowly crawled from my corner and navigated around the edge of the bed.
Craning my head around the corner of the bed, I strained my eyes to see the outline of a little girl. She was wearing an old-looking dress, tattered and dirty. She buried her face into her hands as she wept profusely. Before I could turn my avert my gaze, she lifted her head to look directly at me. Her eyes sockets were bloody caverns where eyes had once been, but she still stared directly through me. Her mouth opened wide, revealing only bloody, mangled gums as she let out a haunting shriek.
Suddenly, the battered little girl crawled towards me as she continued to scream. When she was around arm’s length from me a human hand, covered in blood, shot from her mouth and fixed itself to my throat. I tried to peel the hand away, but its grip was vice-like. I could feel the air being squeezed from my lungs as I stared into her hollow face. Remembering rule eight, I realized that I was going to die.
She continued to scream as I gasped for air. The world was going black around me when a flash of light assailed my eyes. Within an instant, I drew air into my lungs. She had vanished. The lights had come back on.
Thankfully, I survived the horrific encounter, and I immediately began packing my things. I would not spend another hour longer in that house. I marched my things down the stairs and towards the front door, but before I could open the door a voice called out to me, “Leaving so soon?” Gary’s voice called out from behind me.
“Yes, I’m leaving, you madman! What in the hell is this place?” I asked him in a harsh tone.
“Jason, just calm down for one moment and hear me out. That’s all I ask.” Gary pleaded.
“Hear you out? I was just attacked by a child from hell!” I responded.
“You looked? And you’re still alive? Interesting.” Gary said, his eyebrows raised as he spoke.
“What do you mean ‘I looked’?” I asked, now livid.
“Mary Baker. She got out of the limb freezer around thirty-eight years ago! That’s why we keep them locked,” He replied as if I should have known that.
“Ah yes. The corpse just woke up and got out. That makes perfect sense.” I barked sarcastically.
“There’s no need to be harsh, Jason. Obviously she is a handful. It’s not like I can just catch her. Avoiding her is just easier.” He replied before adding; “Jason, this place is special. It’s been in the family for generations. My grandmother built it when her husband died”
“So what? So far we have held a service for a serial murderer, I’ve been chased down the hall by something and attacked by an evil corpse!” I screamed at him.
“Well, my grandmother couldn’t let go of her husband, and when he died, she took up witchcraft. Locals said that she made a deal with the devil to keep him around, forever. I guess you could say some of that magic rubbed off on the house.”
“Wait, so the man who chased me up the stairs was also a ghost?” I asked, still angry but exhausted now.
“No boy, we don’t deal in ghosts. We deal in cadavers, Uncle Bartholomew is very much a physical being. And a real doozy at that. He was grandmother’s least favorite.” He calmly replied before adding, “And that is why it is imperative you follow the rules I gave you.”
Just then a knock at the front door interrupted our conversation. Gary and I looked at each other and in unison, we said, “Rule nine.”
We stood there frozen for a minute, just looking at each other.
“Gary, who is that?” I asked in a quiet, exasperated whisper.
“Sometimes the devil likes to come to check on the place. He was very fond of this house when my grandmother was alive.” Gary replied in a hushed tone before adding. “Please think about what I said. I would love for you to stay.”
I believed the strange old man. I knew, without a doubt, that Satan was standing on the front porch. I promptly went back upstairs and waited until daybreak, still unable to sleep. I stuck around until business hours so I could talk to Gary.
“Gary, if I follow the rules to the letter, will I stay alive?” I asked plainly.
“I’m one-hundred and sixty-six years old and still kicking,” He replied.
“Come again?” I asked.
“I was born on June 14th, 1853.” He said.
The only certain things in life are taxes and death. Fortunately for me, we can only avoid one of those.
I am a recent college graduate; and I recently began my career. I was fortunate enough to land my dream job straight out of college; an undertaker. Since graduation I have learned one very important lesson; always follow the rules at Mullins’ Funeral Home.
In college, they teach most people to avoid stepping on toes. They taught me to tag them instead. This has proven to be an arduous task thus far because they never told me that the toes may still be moving.
The lines between life and death at Mullins’ Funeral Home blur. So much so that my boss is a literal dead man. That’s right, my mentor, Gary Mullins, is one hundred and sixty-seven years young.
After a tumultuous first day, during which I broke seven of the nine established rules, I settled in rather well. During the following weeks, I adhered to all the rules. I didn’t forget a single one!
I broke my streak last Monday, though. I woke up at 3 AM like every Monday to meet all the fresh faces and begin planning services for the day. By the time 4 AM rolled around, I was waiting outside for the city morgue workers to arrive with our new clients.
An hour passed. They were late. Gary was inside preparing the basement for today’s work.
“Well, this is new,” I thought to myself.
They were never late. I waited around for another half hour before Gary came outside looking for me. They must not have had any bodies for us this week.
“This is strange,” He said, walking up beside me before adding, “I can’t remember a time when they didn’t have any bodies for us. Well, we are almost at capacity, anyway.”
Following this realization, we went back inside to prepare for today’s service. It seemed like a straightforward one. A younger man, maybe mid-thirties, totally mangled from a car accident. That fact he had no eyes to close gave me a strange sense of relief.
The last time I didn’t close a client’s eyes, I didn’t sleep for a week. Horrible visions haunted me every time I closed my eyes. I had to relive the client’s brutal death every time I blinked.
“What a mess.” Gary declared as he heaped what remained of the man into a coffin.
This would bewilder most morticians. Mangled remains are typically cremated; alas, I had become very accustomed to our unique client base. An open casket viewing was nothing new.
As I helped Gary slop the human gruel into the coffin, we heard something strange. Weeping. I hadn’t heard weeping in weeks, not since Mary had tried to kill me. The weeping was coming from directly beneath the table we were working on.
It took me aback when Gary bellowed, “Scary Mary, shut the fuck up!”
This shocked me. I had never heard Gary so much as raise his voice, let alone scream profanities.
Just then a hand reached up from under the table, then another, and then another. I almost barfed. The memory of her third arm bursting from her mouth had almost faded by that point.
With her three arms, she rocked the table and let out a horrific wail. This was an unfamiliar experience for me. I turned to Gary and saw a look of fright on his face. I asked him what was happening, and he told me this is common when you stay in the basement after nightfall, but not this early. The sun was even beginning to come up.
“Keep working. She won’t come out unless you look at her,” Gary said calmly.
That was all I needed to here. I continued placing viscera and mangled remains into the coffin. We had to get this done. It was nearing 7 AM and our funeral was starting at 9. Still, though, Gary worked with such care and fervor. His experienced truly showed.
We finished the task in the nick of time. With exactly thirty minutes before the service, we made it upstairs. Our execution was flawless. The ‘body’ placed in the service room, as we set up the decorations. Many of the decorations were pieces of the dead man’s vehicle. The vehicle he died in.
I can’t pretend that this didn’t disturb me slightly. That was a very macabre touch.
Soon after we finished setting up the decorations, family and friends trickled in. They praised us for a job well done as they admired what we had done with their loved one’s remains. At one point, a woman approached me and said that the presentation was impeccable. It confused me when she left me with a phone number. Was she trying to get a date?
Before I could ask Gary pulled me aside; “Listen, Jason, something is wrong. All the limb freezers are open. We need to get this service out of here,” He said, concern permeating his voice.
I didn’t even need to ask. I knew that all the cadavers had escaped and that four of our six freezers had been full.
My mind raced at a million-miles per-minute as I pondered what they could do.
Gary decided that we would have to approach the mourners and tell them that the service would have to end. This was an unfortunate violation of rule three, but it was for the safety of all involved.
As expected, they were livid, at least until the cadaver named sally wondered into the service. Sally was sixty-one years old and had died in a mugging gone wrong. She was an angry one.
The mourners scattered as Sally rampaged through them, attacking them with the only weapon she had; her teeth. All hell was breaking loose as Sally fumbled through the crowd, taking bites of human flesh along her way. Eventually, she made eye contact with me.
My heart pounded as she came directly for me. But before she could sink her teeth into my neck, someone knocked her to the ground.
It was the corpse we called “Tank”. Tank was a massive mound of muscle. It was obvious he wanted to prove his dominance, seeing as he pounded away at Sally’s bloated form with his lunchbox sized fists.
By this point, all the funeral guests had made a run for the door.
Suddenly, Gary pulled me up the stairs. I panted profusely as he calmly spoke to me, “Listen, Jason. This has only happened once before in my tenure here. These kinds of things only happen when my grandmother comes home to visit.”
“W-What?” I stammered.
“My grandmother. She will not appreciate me hiring someone who isn’t blood. It is imperative that we hide you from her. But first, we need to clean up this mess.”
By this point, my stomach had formed a sharp knot. What was he even talking about?
Gary gave me a detailed plan describing how we would deal with the cadavers that were currently roaming the halls. It involved separating them and luring them into rooms, which we would then lock.
I ran back downstairs to deal with Tank first. By that point, he had crushed Sally into a pulp and was searching for another opponent. The chair I smashed over this back got his attention. As he lumbered towards me I dove behind the casket and behind the curtain and threw the heavy basement door open.
He followed, tearing the curtain down as he went. He lumbered straight down the stairs, not realizing that I had hidden under the casket at the precise moment the curtain had obstructed his vision. Not sparing a second, I slammed the heavy iron door shut behind him.
That was two down. As I approached the main room I was Gary descending the stairs, holding the cadaver of a baby by the leg. It was lunging at him, trying to bite him, but to no avail. He held the little guy at arm’s length.
“Good. Another one down.” I thought to myself.
We tossed the baby into the basement with Tank, knowing that they would both eventually just give up and go back to a more manageable state. The only task that remained was tracking down the next corpse.
The situation terrified me. This is not what I had signed up for.
After hours of searching the house for this last cadaver, all hell broke loose, literally. There was a sharp knock at the front door; which led me to answer it. Standing at the door was a tall, older man wearing all black and a black fedora.
“Can I help you, sir?” I asked, exhausted, and terrified at this point.
“Do you happen to have the time, son?” he asked, in a smooth voice.
“Uh… It’s 5:02,” I replied.
His lips curled into a smirk. “Excellent, son. I’m meeting someone soon,” He said.
Great. I had just broken rule nine. The most important rule.
Before I could slam the door on Satan’s face, all the lights in the house went out and Mary started weeping from an unknown location.
“Jason!” Gary’s voice boomed through the house as he rushed down the stairs behind me.
He was more than a little pissed. I let the devil in the house.
A sharp wailing echoed through the house, and a fountain of rotten, coagulated blood suddenly blasted all over me. Our last cadaver had found Scary Mary.
The house shook violently as if the very foundation was being rocked side to side. The lights flickered back on for a moment before every bulb in the house exploded, sending shards of glass everywhere.
“Oh, God. She’s here.” Gary said with a sigh as he waved me upstairs.