It had been a long day, and Hobson was glad that Mr. Weems would be his funeral home’s last client of the evening. The man was thin – approaching gaunt – and well dressed. He wore a bowler hat, which he took off to greet his host, revealing a thinning head of blond hair. Over one shoulder, he carried a zippered overnight bag.
The funereal music was playing through the overhead speakers as Hobson offered his client a chair. He took the other one, his back to several floor-model caskets on display. “I’d like to thank you for choosing Hobson Funeral Home in your time of need,” he began.
“Thank you,” Weems replied, “for agreeing to meet me after normal business hours.”
Hobson couldn’t place the man’s accent. German, perhaps? “Think nothing of it. Sorrow does not punch a time clock. We are all subject to death’s schedule. Many of my clients have day jobs and need to meet with me during nighttime hours.”
“Oh, that’s not the case at all.”
“Actually, I’m unemployed at the moment. I just thought it best that we meet at night.”
“May I take your bag?”
“No,” Weems answered quickly, clutching it to his lap. “I prefer to keep it. . . handy.”
“How may I help you?” a confused Hobson asked.
“I need to make funeral arrangements for my Uncle Gustav.”
“My condolences on your loss. I trust he lived a good, long life.”
“Oh, he certainly did,” Weems answered, oddly amused. He pointed to one of the caskets behind Hobson and said, “That one would do nicely.”
Hobson turned in his chair to see which casket his client was referring to and then launched into his sales pitch. “You have a keen eye, sir,” he recited from memory. “The Model 107I is of impeccable quality and made entirely here in the United States. I can get you one in –”
“I want that one.”
“But it’s a floor model.”
“There might be some nicks or scratches on –”
“Uncle Gustav will not mind.”
“I can understand your desire to make these arrangements as quickly as possible,” Hobson returned, growing even more confused, “but we simply do not allow our customers to purchase floor-model caskets. I can get you a brand-new 107I in just –”
“Can’t you sell me that one and replace it later on,” Weems asked, “even if it’s not the way you usually do business?”
“Well. . . ”
“I’ll pay full price.”
Hobson knew an easy buck when he saw one. “I suppose,” he said, “I could sell it to you – if you insist.”
“I’ll see what we can do about covering up any marks on it so the mourners –”
“There will be no mourners.”
“No one to grieve your uncle’s passing?” a surprised Hobson asked.
“Not a. . . soul.”
“Only me. . . and I choose not to mourn him for personal reasons.”
“Flowers?” Hobson wondered.
“I. . . see.”
“Is there a problem?” the client asked.
“No,” Hobson answered, “but I’ve seldom interred anyone in such a. . . thrifty manner.”
“If you cannot honor my wishes. . .” Weems returned, starting to rise from his chair.
“Please don’t think that, sir. I will honor your wishes for your uncle to the letter. To the letter!”
“Good.” He reached into an inside coat pocket and removed a card, which he handed to the funeral director. “On the reverse, you will find the address of my family’s local cemetery plot where Uncle Gustav is to be buried.”
Hobson noted the information and then placed the card in his shirt pocket. “Where can I find the body?” he asked.
“It should be here. . . presently.”
“Someone is bringing it by?”
Weems paused and replied, “Not exactly.”
Hobson noticed the smoke seeping in from under the door. He leapt to his feet, motioning for Weems to come with him – quickly. The client did not bother to even turn. “There is no fire,” he said calmly.
“But the smoke. . .”
“It’s mist,” Weems clarified. “There is no need to panic, I assure you.” He unzipped his bag and removed something odd, which he handed to his frightened companion. “You’ll want to put this on.”
Hobson sniffed at the thing. It was a garlic necklace. “Why would I. . .”
“Because that mist is Uncle Gustav.”
The mist dissipated into the figure of a portly, bald man dressed in a slightly too-small suit. His accent was like Weems’s. “He wants you to wear the garlic necklace, Mr. Hobson,” Gustav explained, “because I am a vampire.”
“It should keep you safe,” Weems told Hobson, who quickly put the smelly thing around his neck. “So. . . ‘nice’ to see you again, Uncle.”
“You’re a poor liar.”
“Still. . . hungry?”
“Famished,” Gustav replied, rubbing his ample belly.
“Sorry, but my blood isn’t on the menu.”
“So you say. I will keep trying. One day, you’ll let your guard down. . . and I will be ready.”
“For years, I’ve been using every trick in the book to keep you from making a meal of me.”
“I know. I’ve found it most aggravating.”
“Why do you need his blood, sir?” Hobson asked nervously. “I thought any blood –”
“Not when your soul – if I still possess one – is seized with loneliness.”
“My immortality makes me terribly lonely,” Gustav went on, turning to face the funeral director.
“I need companionship, and my only living relative is him.” He took a step towards Weems. “Think about it, nephew,” he pleaded. “Together, we could rule over the night!”
“You’re forgetting that I would have to die first.”
“A mere technicality.”
“Maybe to you.” Weems rose to his feet, placing the bag on the chair. “You’ve been following me around since you died three years ago. I’m getting tired of it. Garlic and crosses aren’t cheap, you know. I can’t lead my life wondering if you’ll be around the next corner.” He reached into the bag and rummaged among its contents. “I need to put a stop to this.”
“This way.” Nonchalantly, he removed two items from the overnight bag: A wooden stake and a mallet.
Gustav chuckled as his nephew slowly walked towards him. “How quaint! Did you sharpen the stake yourself?”
“I did,” Weems answered. “The mallet is from the hardware store.”
Hobson sat dumbstruck, taking in the scene before him. “You’re not capable of killing me, nephew,” Gustav opined.
“You don’t have what it takes. You were always the shy, bookish type. You’re not man enough.”
“Times. . . change,” Weems replied deliberately. He charged his late uncle. They struggled briefly. Hobson couldn’t bring himself to intervene; however, when Weems was finally able to position the stake over Gustav’s heart, he did call out, “Mr. Weems! No!”
Blood spurted profusely about as Weems pounded on the stake with the mallet. Gustav let out several agonized cries before dropping to the floor, still. His nephew let go of the mallet. He stood silent for a moment in his blood-stained suit, trying to catch his breath from the exertion. Hobson rose from his chair, not believing what he had just seen. He walked to his client, looking down at Gustav’s body, the stake about halfway into his heart. “I. . . I’ve
never. . .”
“Help me pick him up,” Weems said matter-of-factly.
“Trust me, please!” Hobson reluctantly did as he was asked, grabbing the corpse’s feet while Weems took the hands. With difficulty, they picked up the body and, at the count of three, swung it into the 107I casket with a thud. “You can see now,” he explained, “why I wanted this coffin. I didn’t have the time to wait! I suspected Uncle would visit here while we were talking.” He briefly rubbed at some of the blood drying on his hands before looking up at the shocked Hobson. “Is something wrong?” he asked calmly.
Hobson was flabbergasted. “Is something wrong? You just murdered a man in my funeral home and you –”
“I murdered no one,” Weems corrected him. “He’s been dead for years. I sent a vampire to his eternal rest.”
“You expect me to believe that?”
“You saw him materialize out of the mist. Could a living person do that?”
“No, but –”
“Do you honestly think I would commit murder in front of a witness and on your security cameras?”
“I don’t. . . ”
“You will see to the burial?” Weems continued with irritating togetherness.
“I. . . I don’t know what to say,” Hobson stammered, looking down at the bleeding corpse at his feet.
“I will pay you handsomely for your services – twice your regular fee.”
“Mr. Weems. . .”
“You are a businessman, sir, and money is money. Is it not?” Ashamed, Hobson admitted that it was. “Also,” Weems continued, “you are in this very deeply yourself.”
“How would you explain what went on here this evening to the police? You did not try to stop me. You even helped me lift the body into the casket.” Weems had the funeral director right where he wanted him, and Hobson knew that. “I will require a death certificate indicating that dear Uncle Gustav passed on at,” he looked at the clock hanging on the wall, “9:17 p.m.”
“That’s not in my power. You’ll need a medical examiner or a doctor for that.”
“I don’t suppose you’ll have any trouble finding me one willing to keep his mouth shut for a price.”
Hobson sighed. “I can think of a couple,” he admitted.
“Why do you need a death certificate? Wasn’t one issued when your uncle passed on. . . for the first time?”
“Yes,” Weems continued, “but it was deemed in error by the authorities.”
“My family, sir, is from a small village in Germany,” Weems explained. “Its name is unimportant. When Uncle Gustav – as you put it – died for the first time, he left everything he had to me.”
“Was he a wealthy man?”
“Incredibly. However, the judge refused to honor the terms of Uncle’s will since Gustav had been seen by several good and true men walking the streets after his burial.”
“Not dead?” Hobson asked.
“Undead. The new death certificate – and Uncle’s absence from the village’s streets – will prove that he is now deceased in every way.”
“And verify that the terms of his will should finally be honored?”
“Precisely,” Weems said, smirking. “That is how I will be able to pay you and your doctor friend such exorbitant sums for your service. . . and silence.” The nephew looked at his finally dead uncle lying in the floor-model casket and gently, almost reverently, touched the stake protruding from his heart. “Be very careful with this, Mr. Hobson,” he advised. “You can file it down a bit if it prevents the coffin lid from closing, but do not remove it. I am not versed enough in vampire lore to know what that might do.”
“Of. . . Of course.”
“I would like Uncle to be buried after dark and as quietly as possible.”
“I can do that.”
“Finally, it would be unwise to draw attention to this matter.”
Hobson glanced around his parlor. “Who’d believe me?”
Weems chuckled. “Very true,” he replied. He stooped to retrieve the blood-soaked mallet from the floor and handed it to Hobson. “You’ll want to hold onto this.”
“Get it away from me!”
“But you may need it.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“In case Uncle. . . returns.”
The funeral director chuckled nervously before gingerly accepting the offered mallet. “You’re kidding. . . right?”
“I can’t be sure,” Weems admitted.
“But he’s dead,” Hobson continued, fright overtaking him, his insides growing chilly. “You drove a stake through his heart! I’ve seen enough movies to know that’s how you kill a vampire.”
“Usually, but there has never been a vampire quite like Uncle Gustav. I wouldn’t put it past him to find a way around that whole stake-through-the-heart thing.”
“You mean he. . . might come back to life?”
“Unlikely, but possible. I wouldn’t want you to become his latest victim if he does rise again.”
Hobson fingered the garlic necklace he had forgotten about. “You said this would protect me.”
“I said it should protect you. Uncle might find a way around that too. The mallet will best keep you safe.”
Hobson’s eyes darted between the corpse in the 147I and the crimson mallet in his right hand. “If you’re suggesting,” he began, incredulous, “that I pound the stake further into your uncle’s heart if I see him begin to move –”
“That’s exactly what I’m suggesting.”
“Even with the alternative – your ‘undeath?’”
Once again, Weems had the upper hand. “You. . . You have a point.”
“The wait shouldn’t be long – only until sunrise – and that’s at. . . ” he removed an index card from an inside coat pocket. “6:47 a.m.” For the years Gustav had been hunting his blood, Weems had made it a point to always know the times of the sun’s rise and set. “If he doesn’t stir before then,” he went on, putting the card back in its pocket, “you should be safe.”
“But I. . .”
Weems zipped up his bag and slung it over a shoulder. “Good evening, Mr. Hobson,” he went on, casually donning his bowler. “I will call you after sunrise to make certain all is well.”
He happily strode to the door and opened it. With pleasure, he listened to the sound of the crickets chirping and felt the cool of the autumn air. “What a glorious evening!” he exclaimed, happier than he had been in some time. “There’s no better feeling than having a tremendous weight finally lifted from your shoulders!” Without a look back, he strode out into the night, gently pulling the door shut behind him.
Mallet in one hand, Hobson looked around his parlor. He had a lot of cleaning to do. . . after sunrise. His free hand shaking, he pulled a chair up beside Gustav’s casket. He noticed the music playing over the speakers. Had it been on all this time?
He exhaled deeply and sat down, his legs quivering.
Momentarily, the sound came to his ears: The beating of a heart – his heart, he hoped – growing quicker and louder. He rocked uneasily in his chair, his eyes glued to the corpse beside him.
“Please stay dead, Uncle Gustav,” he murmured. “Please!”