Entertainingly Evil
21
Jan

The Business is Dying by Dantzel Cherry

Quentin turned on the lights in the embalming room to find the first body he’d seen there in weeks. It was his father, twitching on the floor with a gaping hole in his head, the gun a few inches from his fingers. He was already one of the undead he had resented so much in the last 18 months of his life – shuffling, clumsy bodies that only took a bite if you got too close.

On the counter was a handling pole, made to fit a human neck. Next to it sat a handwritten note, lightly sprinkled red.

Dear Quentin,

I’m sorry you’ll be the one to find me. The gun is supposed to take you pretty quick. I guess I’ll find out soon. I want you to take me to the zoo to be with your mother, and then get a real job – forget the family business. I hear the zoo is hiring.

Love,
Dad

Quentin dried his eyes on his sleeve and picked up the handling pole.

“Apocalypses can’t last forever,” he muttered, and snagged his dad’s neck. “Let’s go for a walk, Dad.”

Two shambling hours later, they stood by the old wallaby exhibit turned Deceased Last Names A-H Enclosure. The head zookeeper chewed a piece of hay and looked Quentin and his father up and down. A peacock cried in the distance. It was silenced, one way or another, by the moan of a zombie.

“So this is Henry the mortician,” the zookeeper said. “Were you his apprentice?”

Quentin dropped his gaze and nodded. “And his son.”

He whistled. “I’m sorry, kid. I’m Jack, by the way.” They shook hands. “You know how to hold a water hose?”

Quentin looked at the green hose and back at Jack.

“Can’t be harder than inserting a syringe into a squirrely vein,” he said.

Jack traded the hose for the handling pole, and pulled Henry toward the wallaby exhibit.

“They seem to like getting sprayed down every so often. Must feel good in this heat. Just keep ’em well watered and they’ll be happy enough.”

That day and for the rest of the week Quentin watered the zombies, built shelters to give the undead refuge from the sun, and took the most restless on long walks, collared with a six foot handling pole. On Saturday Jack presented him with an undead red parrot. It squawked and tried to bite through the cage.

“Freshly dead,” Jack said. “He’s always been a vicious thing. I figured you could – you know – use your mortician skills to hold his nasty little beak shut. Or something.”

“Not a bad idea,” Quentin said, and reached out to pick up a stray feather. He snatched his hand back from the snapping beak just in time. “Nothing a needle can’t fix.”

He brought the parrot back the next day with the beak sewed shut. With its most powerful weapon neutralized, the parrot gave up the fight and rode Quentin’s shoulder. He only occasionally dug his claws into Quentin’s skin as payback.

After several weeks Quentin felt comfortable walking two undead at a time, and soon after he worked up the nerve to hunt down his parents.

“Come on, Dad,” Quentin coaxed Henry.

He was jerked to the right and dragged forward several steps before reining his undead mother in. The parrot let out a muffled squawk in protest.

“Whoa now, Mom, we’re not going that way. You’re going to – well, not choke yourself, but it can’t feel very good. We can’t eat the monkeys today. Walk this way. That’s right, follow the parrot, just through this gate…”

Walking both parents meant double the pauses. They were easily distracted by birds chirping, flies buzzing, or any other reminders of tasty, living creatures, but eventually all three were safely home and Quentin had his father’s body strapped onto the embalming table. The old man wouldn’t rise anytime soon. Bloated, rotting hands scrabbled on the table, possibly seeking the comforting touch of his son, perhaps looking for lunch. Quentin chose to believe the former.

He checked that his mother was still secured in the corner and set the parrot down on the counter, out of reach of any grasping fingers. He gripped his father’s hand and steadied the arterial needle.

“I figured it out, Dad,” Quentin said, smiling into Henry’s bulging, darting eyes. “It took thirty tries over the last few weeks, but I did it. I can save the family business and give you peace at the same time. Just had to rearrange the embalming order a bit.”

He gave the pale hand a squeeze then slipped the needle into place. The formaldehyde forced the long-sluggish blood to action. Quentin opened a vein nearby and the blood spilled out, clotted but freed. Henry exhaled loudly and closed his eyes.

Quentin’s mother moaned from the corner.

“Don’t worry, Mom. You’re next.” Quentin smiled as his mother clumsily clapped her hands.

#

Within days of reopening the business, Quentin lost track of how many calls he’d received, and yet another call was coming in while he was teetering on the ladder, hammering a new sign above the mortuary door. He let it go to voicemail.

Quentin looked at the parrot and raised his eyebrows.

“Nothing a needle can’t fix.”

Quentin pounded a final nail into the sign, and climbed down the ladder to take a look.

– ETERNAL REST MORTUARY –
Ensuring your final rest stays FINAL
Now making house calls

The parrot made a muffled squawk.

“I like it too,” Quentin said, stroking the bird’s head. A few red feathers came away in his hand.


By day, Dantzel Cherry teaches Pilates and raises her daughter, and by night/naptime she writes. She is prone to dance as the need arises, and it often does. Her work has appeared in Fireside and Galaxy’s Edge. She can be found on Facebook and Twitter (@dantzelcherry) or her website at www.dantzelcherry.com. This story was previously published in Penumbra.





- Back to Blog Home -