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Chapter Twelve

Archie's inertia carried him halfway into the garage between the hearse and the station wagon. He ran to the mortuary door. Flinging it open in total disbelieving panic, he discovered Roberta Eliot, standing just the other side in languid confusion. Just a couple steps behind the others in death as in life.

She staggered into the garage and Archie started to back away. There was pounding from the others on the garage door and it distracted poor Roberta, of course. Archie took the opportunity to tear the fire extinguisher from the wall. He covered the undead girl in icy carbon dioxide and she stopped, totally perplexed. Archie slipped by her and into the house.

He ran through the coffin room to the office, crashing at last into the desk and knocking over the phone. Crouching in the corner by the desk, he dialed. There were five agonizingly slow rings.

"Hello?" a sleepy voice said at last.

"Hello?"

"What is this, a joke?" There was a click and then silence.

"Shit!" said Archie, dialing again. There were several more rings and then a terrible connection.

"McCloud speaking."

Archie yelled over the static:

"It's Archie! I need help!"

"Archie," said McCloud, "Is that you?"

"Yes!"

"Who is this? Do you know what time it is?"

"It's Archie! At the mortuary!"

Static completely garbled McCloud's response, if indeed there was one.

"No no no no!" Archie struck the receiver against the floor in frustration. He tried dialing 911. Dead.

He hurried back into the display room and cautiously pulled the curtain back. Standing in the shadows to one side of the bay window there he looked outside. The was no sign of the kids, but in the distance he could hear Queenie's frantic barking.

He dashed from the coffin room across the foyer to the waiting room. Looking through the side window he could see the little pooch running back and forth. Cautiously, he moved into the chapel. Lightning flashed. He stepped to the window there and, trying to conceal himself, he peered outside.

Another bolt of lightning illuminated the empty lawn. Queenie's barking continued a moment. Then there was a snarl, some frantic yelping, and then an ominous silence. The thunder boomed long slow distant rolls.

Archie moved out of the chapel through the foyer and coffin room to the door of McCloud's office. He looked into the office, saw that it was still empty, and that the rear lawn was empty too.

Suddenly the burglar alarm sounded. Archie ran to the bottom of the stairs. He turned off the alarm with his key. They were inside now, he knew. There was the sound of broken glass crashing to the floor. He tip-toed quickly upstairs.

Archie crouched in the darkened hallway. He could just barely make out the sound of footsteps down below. There was nothing he could see from where he hid so he waited, listening.

Eventually it began to sound like a family of hungry mute chimpanzees had been set loose in the kitchen. Bottles and utensils crashed and clattered to the floor. Cabinet doors opened and closed. Were they looking for something?

And then there was…nothing. The words deathly quiet come to mind but then, we sorta know death isn't really quiet, is it? After a couple minutes of conflicted thoughts, slowly, very slowly, Archie began to descend the stairs.

He edged through the darkness. Down the hallway past the office. He peered into the coffin room. His heart ka-thumped like the Easter Bunny on amphetamines.

The sales room was lit by a shaft of light coming from the open door to the corridor connecting to the garage. Once again though there was no sign of moment.

Archie crept towards the kitchen door. It was closed and he couldn't hear any movement on the other side. He opened the door the smallest part of an inch and peered in.

It was very strange: Rog and Palumbo seemed to have been momentarily sidetracked by the liquor bottles sitting there on the counter. The scene was one of complete chaos and disorder, food and drink scattered all over the room, but there was something almost normal about the behavior of the two dead boys. They were trying to pour tequila shooters, but their movements were fumbling. Aimless. Like they'd already been drinking a long long time.

They were dressed in formal funeral attire, but their shirts and jackets of course were split down the back, revealing large triangular patches of skin. Rog's suspenders had come loose. His trousers hung loosely round his knees. He finally gave up on trying to pour and raised the bottle in a sort of toast to Palumbo, who'd managed to get the top off the bottle of Remy.

And then, as the two of them recommenced thrashing around the kitchen, two zombies on a midnight raid on the icebox, guzzling liquor, saying nothing—Archie's mind ran away with itself; of course they were saying nothing. Talking zombies? Whoever heard of talking zombies?—Archie furrowed his forehead, trying by force of sheer will to get them out of there.

Eventually they lurched out of the kitchen through the door at the far end which opened into the prep room. Archie opened the kitchen door and slipped inside. The place was a disgusting mess. Flour and condiments were strewn about and a ripped-apart package of store-bought cookies crunched under his feet. Archie carefully edged along the counter towards the prep room door, which they'd left ajar.

He could see Roberta, standing in front of the sink in her silken shroud. The sink was filled with soapy water, and Roberta was mechanically washing her face. She was scrubbing off the gobs of heavy wax and funereal makeup. She discovered that her jaw had been sewn shut. In a ghastly gesture, she bared her teeth and matter-of-factly picked and cut at the thread in her lips with a small fingernail scissors.

Archie was both repulsed and fascinated. It was as if he'd been glued to the spot.

In the meantime, Rog and Palumbo had discovered the make-up chest. They applied the make-up to their faces in a random, bizarre, fashion, spreading wide red circles of lipstick around their mouths. Palumbo stared in the mirror at his teeth. He tugged at the nylon thread that had sewn his jaws together. Perversely, once again, Archie wondered if once they got their mouths undone whether they'd be able to speak. And what in God's name would they say? Rog continued to suck on his tequila bottle. Party hearty, die high.

As if he were watching the next door neighbor in her morning shower, Archie peeped at the corpses through the crack in the door. He barely breathed. It was as if time had stopped for all of them; they inhabited an unreal world of animate decay set against porcelain and stainless steel.

There was a moment of complete and utter silence from the prep room and then—bbrrrrinnggg—the shrill call of the telephone. Reborn. Archie eyed the receiver at the other end of the kitchen. It rang again.

The dead ones stopped and stared at the prep room phone. It rang again and again. At last Rog moved to it and took the receiver off the hook. He stared dumbly at it. Archie could hear McCloud's voice:

"Hello? Archie is that you? Hello? Hel—"

Rog suddenly and violently ripped the telephone off the wall.

"Shit!" Archie whispered to himself. He crouched there in the darkness and waited. His leg was beginning to fall asleep and he shifted his position to try and help. He brushed against the counter, and the liquor bottles began to roll along the top of it. He barely caught one before it smashed to the floor. Two more bottles rolled to the edge and over, and he barely caught those too, but now his arms were full, and another bottle rolled and shattered on the floor.

Archie froze. For a moment there was complete silence, but suddenly Rog's hulking form careened through the doorway.

Archie scrambled, half-crawling, backwards over the debris of broken glass and crumbled cookies.

He ran through the funeral home, up the stairs and through the doorway of McCloud's apartment. He got to the bathroom and, bracing himself against the doorjamb, he fumbled the lock shut. He put his ear against the door and listened.

There was an inexorable creak of footsteps coming up the stairs. Archie kneeled and peered through the keyhole. He could make out movement in the darkness past the landing. Rog had stopped several steps from the top. He looked around, down below him, then turned and looked straight at the keyhole. He climbed the few remaining stairs, and approached the bathroom door. His form grew and grew in size through the keyhole. He moved right up to the door.

Archie pulled his eye away from the keyhole and leaned against the door. Perspiration ran down his forehead. He looked down at the doorknob. It turned slowly, back and forth. The foot steps started again. Archie relaxed. He peered through the keyhole: Rog was slowly and deliberately moving down the stairs.

Archie stood and took a deep breath. He turned around and lay the back of his head against the door. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the shower curtain move. He could barely make out the vague outline of a dark form—something definitely alive.

Archie swung around, but before he could comprehend what was happening, it burst out at him.

Joanie! She pulled him back towards the shower. He struggled, trying to fend her off, but her grip was superhumanly strong. Though her lips were still partially sewn together, she planted a disgusting, deathly, earthen-tasting kiss on his mouth.

With his free hand Archie reached behind himself for the faucet. He managed to turn "hot" on full and drenched both of them with water.

The water hit the top of Joanie's head, blasting away the clay and artificial scalp McCloud had so painstakingly applied. Joanie was distracted by it a bit, and with a supreme effort, as the water approached scalding temperature, Archie managed to break away. He unlocked the door, and, dripping wet, he ran into the bedroom.

Joanie stalked him, pulling the last of the thread from her lips and fumbling at her clothing. She did it with a perverse attempt at being seductive, leering crookedly at Archie. Wispy remnants of steam enveloped her as she tottered towards him.

Archie slid under the double bed, trying to hide. Joanie came closer. She managed to tug down the top of her shroud, tried awkwardly to cup her breasts, present them to Archie, like the Saturday special from Zombie Whole Life Foods.

Soon only her feet were visible as she teetered above the bed. She stepped clumsily out of her shoes. Her head appeared as she bent down. Her eyes were large and dilated and her mouth gaped open. Her breath reminded him of nightcrawlers in fresh wet soil in the dark before a fishing trip. She reached her hand under the bed. Groping. Groping.

Archie twisted away, cowering close to the wall. Joanie reached farther under. Her breasts swayed in the half light. She managed to grab Archie's belt, and slowly began to drag him towards her.

Another pair of feet appeared. Joanie released Archie. Her arm withdrew. The two pairs of feet turned towards each other and—for a few seconds—seemed to communicate. First Joanie's, then the second pair of feet left the floor. The mattress sagged under the weight of the shifting bodies. Shifting bodies…. Archie lay there frozen.

The bed began to sag and creak rhythmically. Archie waited a moment, then leaned carefully out to see if it was really happening. As he looked up, a glob of something dripped down onto his face.

He wiped whatever it was away and, gingerly, he slid out from under the bed and crawled backwards across the room. Joanie and Rog, it seemed, had gotten back together. Joanie's legs, either side of Rog, flopped this way and that, like an X-rated marionette. In the darkness the undead quarterback slowly and mechanically pumped away at the zombie prom queen.

Archie snuck down the hallway. A pool of water spread now from the bathroom and started to run down the stairs. Steam continued to billow from the bathroom door. Archie descended a few steps and looked down into the coffin room through the spindles of the railing.

Palumbo was staggering around down there, holding the cassette tape recorder to his ear with one hand. He had a bottle of whiskey in the other. Periodically he gulped from the bottle, though often as not the liquor ran down the front of his tux.

The recorder played the funeral dirge Archie had cued up earlier. Palumbo seemed almost to be dancing, in an oafish sort of way. Archie remembered that Dwyer had made all the football jocks study ballet one semester, to tighten up their agility. It seemed to have worked. For a stiff Palumbo moved good.

Palumbo lurched off balance during a pirouette and slammed through the swinging doors into the kitchen. There was a crash and the music suddenly stopped.

Archie knew a chance for escape when he saw it and he quickly scampered down the stairs, across the foyer, and over to the front door. Quietly, he unlocked the front door and slipped outside.

He trembled. He gasped for breath. He closed his eyes a second, then turned to run. Right into the arms of McCloud! Archie screamed!

"What in hell is going on here?!" demanded the mortician. Archie stammered and gurgled, unable to move. "Who's in there? The truth!" Archie, breathless, got it out:

Those…kids…but…"

"God damn it!" said McCloud. "I knew it! Outa my way!"

The old man flung the door open. He removed his belt, doubled it up, and smacked it in the palm of his hand.

"Teenagers!" he bellowed. "I've had it with those punks! They're animals!" Archie grabbed his arm:

"Don't go in there! I'm telling you—"

"I'm telling YOU!" screamed McCloud. "You're gonna see a little discipline in action. They'll wish they were never born! Punks!"

McCloud disappeared inside the mortuary, his home away from home, collateral for his Small Business Association loan, which—the Good Lord willing— he'd soon be paying off.


Next: Multiple complications and various travel plans

Forward

highway to hell in a handbasket
fill 'er up and check the oil
hell hounds on my trail
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Freeman and me and the rest of the world

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