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NINE/ƎИIИ 5. Twilight Coffin


Everyone gathered around Beth to look her phone. In the photo, they stood in a line all dressed in white blouses with black neckties, except for the kitchen staff, Boris wearing an apron over a polo and Crank in a Tee shirt. It was their first group photo of recently opened, Autumn Twilight. Barely visible in the background stood a coffin decorated with paper ghost and pumpkins for Hallowe’en.

The youngest waitress, Laura, waved as she buzzed for the door. She had school in the morning. Nine waved back, belatedly, as the front door banged shut. As others filed out, Nine waited patiently, fist-bumping Crank on his way out.

Nine had only one thing on her mind: the coffin, curiously delivered to Autumn Twilight by an anonymous sender. She had recognized the model, sold more often for vampire groupie fashion than for the actual dead, at least in her experience at the funeral home. Caskets are far more popular, and the manufacturer had recently discontinued this coffin model.

Spotting Peter studying the coffin, Nine rushed over and bumped shoulders with him.

“Want to open it now?” asked Nine.

She couldn’t help but grin at Peter’s consternation with the sealed coffin. Uncertain if the restaurant owner had heard her, she elbowed him and reminded him her tools were in the break room.

“Sure,” said Peter, appearing dubious.

On her way upstairs, Nine met Beth coming down onto the landing overlooking the stage.

“He’s a handsome one, isn’t he?” said Beth, grinning.

“Oh, sure,” said Nine. Cute, no doubt, but Peter was her boss. Uncertain how to respond, she shrugged, and words came out of her mouth anyway. “I think it’s great how he’s trying to continue his father’s dream running a restaurant.”

“Even though he’s terribly inexperienced?”

“Peter will get the hang of it,” said Nine, “with a little help.”

“Uh-huh,” said Beth, rolling her eyes. “Just try not to help him too much, sweetie.”

Eager to drop this line of chit-chat, Nine smiled politely and wished the woman a goodnight. There were far more important things on her mind. Fetching the tools from her locker, she hurried back downstairs.

Still standing in the same spot, Peter gazed at the coffin in dismay. Nine tried to think of something to ease his mind. Funeral home humor rarely went over well outside the funeral home, and thinking better of it, she got started on the task of breaking the seal. She handed one of the pry bars to Peter, and she sat down at the narrow end of the coffin. Peter gave the tool a queer look and knelt down on one knee at the head of the coffin.

“If we’re careful,” said Nine, “the damage will be minimal so we can sell this bad boy.” She set the twin-lever end into the crack of the lid and smacked it hard forcing the prongs in. “If you want to sell it, I mean.”

Imitating Nine’s effort, Peter wedged his pry bar in at his end. Nine counted to three, and together they leaned their weight on the bars. The seal crackled, but the lid held.

“Peter,” said Nine, “if we find a pile of candy in here I’m going to smack you for not opening it sooner.”

“Why’s that?”

“Think about it! Trick-or-treaters grabbing handfuls of candy from a coffin. We could have been the coolest business on the block.”

Instead, they had handed out candy from plastic jack-o-lantern buckets. Still fun, but grabbing candy from inside an actual coffin would be a blast. If only kids came trick-o-treating to the funeral home. None ever did.

Nine counted again, and on three, they pushed on the levers. A quiet snap, and the coffin groaned.

“It’s the seal,” said Nine. Noticing Peter’s concerned expression, she smiled. “We’d smell it if there was anything atrocious inside.”

Shipping a body requires a special container and must be shipped from a registered shipper. Certain destinations may require, or not allow, embalming before transport. Please see your funeral servicer for details and rates.

Note: any shipment request for a live person, including a person claiming to be, or accused of being, a vampire, will be refused.

Lid popping open, the coffin spewed find dust smelling like cinnamon and lavender. So much for candy. Setting the opener aside, Peter grasped the lid and lifted.

No padding inside, only a red liner. A rectangular silver canister sat in the middle nearly consuming the width. Hanging on the near side was what appeared to be samurai sword, perhaps some toy for men, thought Nine. A composition book caught her attention. Snatching it up, she began flipping through pages. Chemistry, mostly, and some dated journal entries.

Leaning over, Peter examined the canister lid sealed closed with clear tape. Brown tape held something attached on the side, which he poked at. Nine spotted a blue sticky at the corner of the canister and leaned in for a better look.

“Keep in freezer,” said Nine, reading the sticky. On the back side of the canister, more tape held something attached. She ripped it at once pulling a pair of items free. “And two syringes. What is this about, Peter?”

Peter shook his head.

Nine finished ripping the tape free and lifted the canister lid. Inside, she found two bags containing a red substance sitting on a bed of card ice pellets. According to the label on the bag, it contained blood. Someone had shipped biological contents without proper paperwork. Lifting the bag, she showed the label to Peter.

“Thank you for pointing out the obvious,” said Peter.

A bit rude, Nine thought and scowled at Peter. Turning her attention back on the canister, she found a third bag at the bottom. Squishing the bag pushed frosty bubbles around inside the clear liquid. Two bags of blood and mystery goo.

“Peter, this is one weird box of treats.”

The coffin appeared to be in great condition, though. Could fetch a nice price. “The red interior is divine.”

“Dammit,” said Peter, grinning. “Now I wish you had talked me into opening it sooner. A pile of candy in the coffin would have been sweet.”

Peter could be slow sometimes, thought Nine, but in his own cute way.

Note: this same scene from Peter’s perspective posted last year in “Coffin of Treats” includes one huge difference. Who is missing in Nine’s side of the story?