As Augustus stepped inside the funeral chapel, the stench of rot set upon him in a furry. Even more disgusting than the odor was the thought of it gradually building during the services. What if someone had noticed? He took pride in his business. Everything had its place, and he kept his workplace clean. Whatever the source, the stench let on too strong and too sudden to be coming from all the way down in the morgue.
He quickly closed the door and scrambled as fast as his bad leg would allow, cane rapping across the floor to the side exit. He slid the door open and stormed into the showroom. The stench was stronger here. He flipped the wall switch, and the lights snapped on.
The display caskets were arranged at the sides leaving plenty of walking space in the center and out the two opposing exits. Most lids stood open revealing their plush interiors. Two were closed as he had left them. He couldn’t tell if the rot was coming from in here, but he knelt inspecting the floor around casket stands. It would be awful if a predator had dragged the carcass of a critter inside. Animals had a way of sneaking in within the foundation and turning up dead in the most inconvenient of places. He’d have to pay pest control extra to come out at night or on Sunday, and rip up the floorboards if it came to that. The floor still held its polished gleam, and nothing hid in the corners.
Too ripe not to have noticed a decaying animal stuck in the crawlspace earlier in the day. The corpse had to be a recent arrival. Chills raced down his back as he breathed in the pungent sweetness, too sweet for a critter corpse. Human. And it had to be nearby.
Augustus ran riding on his cane to the other door. His knee hurt like fire bursting from the inside. He crashed into the door, grabbed the handle and flung it sliding sideways with a bang. The stench struck him like a jab to the gut, and he clamped his mouth shut. Reaching over he smacked at the wall until he found the switch.
The light revealed Villeneuve sitting in the chair behind the desk. Only it wasn’t Villeneuve anymore, but advanced decay creating the grotesque visage of the old man’s former self. The face appeared like wax melting over jaw, dark empty pits where the eyes had been. And beside the desk sitting in another chair, that skinny fellow from the tavern. What was his name? A bag of bones now, his clothing hanging on by threads. And his face. It looked as though bugs had eaten most of it away.
A vile word spat through Augustus’s lips.
Slapping his hand over his mouth, Augustus glanced around the office searching to see if anyone had witnessed his slip. Hearing his voice utter that word shocked him as much, if not more, than the horror before his eyes.
He mumbled a prayer, a wishful hope, that this was all an hallucination. He begged God, but he knew the truth. Two men he had murdered back at the tavern in Bend had found him at last.
“The bartender,” said Augustus, sounding ragged. He had shot the big man in self-defense. As for the skinny drunk, he couldn’t recall how that poor twerp had died. He coughed clearing phlegm. “Where’s that goddamn fat bartender?”
His forehead turned slick with sweat, and he felt noxious. The room swayed, and he nearly lost his balance, jabbing the cane against the floor. He wished more and more he hadn’t taken the extra pain pill as the medication fogged his brain. He needed to think! Twirling around, he searched for another corpse. The bartender wasn’t here.
The sound of a rumbling car engine snapped Augustus to full attention. He stared at the closed front door, at the shaded window. Headlights flared against the curtain and dimmed. Outside, a car squealed to a stop.
Augustus scurried to the window, and plucked the curtain open for a peek. In the parking lot, a police cruiser grumbled in a fit, coughing, and fell silent. The fog swirled away from the car clearing a path for the knight. The driver’s side door popped open. As he watched the police officer emerge from the cruiser, tears blurred his vision and burned the corners of his eyes.
The nightmare had only begun.