|Note: This story is a part of a larger series of short stories and flash fiction. You can find these stories on the Oubliette home page.|
Pete knew that the funeral home was receiving Ms. Schmidt. It was not until he saw her lying in the preparation room did he truly realize it was his second-grade teacher. As he stood over her body with his hand on her shoulder, tears flowed down his cheeks onto the cold tile floor.
“Goodbye, Ms. Schmidt… I’m sorry, Beverly. You were a great teacher.”
Pete pulled his hand off her shoulder and closed his eyes. He took a couple deep breaths as he waited for the room to stop spinning. Once his head cleared, he pulled a small plastic bag from his pocket. Taking a pair of scissors from a nearby table, he snipped an inconspicuous lock of hair from her head. He slipped the bag back into his pocket after placing the hair in it.
He reached for a nearby broom and started sweeping the room. As he worked, his mind kept shifting between his distant memories of Ms. Schmidt and urgent thoughts about Griswold. Pete went back to his apartment earlier in the day but his car was not there. Nobody answered the door when he knocked. He did not know any more now than he did when he had lunch with the rest of the group. He concluded that if Griswold was not going to talk to him, he will certainly talk to his mother.
He had most of the dirt on the floor swept when a rancid smell hit him. It was a smell that was not familiar but with the chemicals his father kept, he could not be sure. He opened a cabinet and examined the bottles within it. None of them were open and he did not see any leaks. Pete nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard something metallic fall on the floor behind him.
He spun around and saw the naked body of Ms. Schmidt standing next to the table on which she was lying. Her body swayed back and forth as if she was having trouble keeping her balance. His eyes met hers. They were no longer clear and blue like he remembered them. They were coal black and sunken. Her mouth opened and instead of her calm reassuring voice he knew, she screeched an unholy noise that rattled Pete’s soul.
She began shuffling towards Pete and he ran for the door. He went through and pulled the door shut after him. He grabbed onto the handle of the door and pulled as hard as he could. He felt her pulling on the door trying to open it. When that stopped, he heard her slamming her fists on the door. Loud thumps followed one another as they echoed down the hall.
“What’s going on down there?”
Pete’s father came down the stairs and walked down the hall. Pete continued pulling the door shut.
“Ms. Schmidt, she’s trying to get out!”
His father stepped back and exclaimed, “Oh my God.”
He rushed to the door, pushing Pete out of the way, and opened it. Pete realized that the noise from inside the room stopped. As they both peered into the room, everything was as it should have been. Ms. Schmidt laid on the table covered with a sheet.
Pete stood there unable to move. His wide-open eyes alternated between his father and Ms. Schmidt. He had trouble forming words as he tried to talk.
His father placed a hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eyes, “I understand.”
Pete relaxed a bit as he continued, “It was not easy for me when I saw the first body of a person I knew. It changed my whole outlook on life and you never truly get over it.”
“I’m sorry,” Pete muttered.
“It’s okay,” his father smiled, “You do need to learn how to handle it. If you’re going to be part of the business, it will happen again.”
His father patted his shoulder, “How about you call it a night?”
Pete nodded and began to walk down the hall.
“Oh yeah, I came down to tell you. I saw Griswold standing outside.”
Pete found himself running up the stairs and out of the side entrance of the funeral home. He continued running around the building until he came to the front. He searched the street that ran in front of the funeral home. Griswold was nowhere to be found. Pete sighed as the cold winter wind whipped his unprotected arms.