“Now, what kind of ceremony did you have in mind? Did you want a traditional burial or a reawakening?”
The two women, mother and daughter, exchanged a look. “We’re very traditional people,” the mother, Elizabeth Reed, said. “I think we’ll just go with a burial.”
I nodded. “I understand,” I said, keeping my voice soft and even, trying not to show how desperately I needed this to work out. The rising of the dead had not been easy on my business. After the cemeteries had opened, sending the dead staggering out onto our grounds, destroying the property, most of the family had left. Once, we’d been Walters, Gambol, and Sons. Now, it was just me, Rebecca Gambol, not even one of the sons. It figured.
“I understand,” I continued, “but I have to tell you a little about the burial ceremonies before we proceed. Now, I don’t mean to be insensitive, but you should know the truth.”
I stood. “If you’ll come with me, I’ll show you what I mean.”
Elizabeth and her daughter, an attractive but vacant eyed girl in her late teens, followed me into the showroom. I crossed the room to one of the coffins, a heavy stainless steel model, and opened it. Elizabeth gasped, and her daughter had to steady her. I felt a bit guilty about my theatrics, but I had to make a point.
“What is that?” she asked.
“This is a standard, government-sanctioned burial unit.” I tugged on the chains inside of the coffin. They clinked loudly. “These restraints are titanium,” I explained. “A bit more than is needed, the dead aren’t that strong, but the government is very serious about burial safety.”
I was bluffing a bit. Actually, close-fitting leather restraints, not unlike an old-fashioned strait-jacket, or coffins fitted with a special lock were viable alternatives, but the chains and cuffs were showier.
Elizabeth was beginning to weep, leaning heavily on her daughter, and I knew that my exhibition had worked. “Come,” I said gently. “Let’s go back and sit down.”
We returned to my office. Elizabeth sat heavily in one of the overstuffed chairs, and I handed her a box of tissues. I waited in silence while Elizabeth regained her composure.
“I’m sorry I had to show you that,” I said. “”But I need you to understand that burial isn’t the most humane option these days.”
She shook her head. “How long does it take for them to…” she trailed off.
“About a month,” I said. “They pass in about a month.”
“They starve, you mean. They starve, strapped into a cold, dark metal box, all alone.” She began to cry again. “I don’t think I can take that.”
I laid a hand on her arm. “I know, Mrs. Reed. Your husband deserves better than that. That’s why there are alternatives.”
“But I don’t believe in cremation,” she said.
“Nor do I.” Well, my father hadn’t, at least, and hadn’t ever installed a crematorium, which had forced me out of business for the months when the army had been enforcing cremations. Only in the last few weeks had I been able to reopen the funeral home, and even now I had to be creative to stay in business. “Which is why we now offer reawakenings for your loved ones.”
“I’ve heard of those,” she said. “Aren’t they dangerous?”
“It’s perfectly safe if done right. Your husband will be partially embalmed and heavily sedated, which will keep him docile. We can repair all the damage from the accident. And with regular re-embalming sessions he should remain relatively fresh.”
She was nodding, now, and I continued. “And it’s a beautiful ceremony. So much more hopeful than a burial or cremation. Your husband will be returning to your lives instead of leaving you.”
She looked at her daughter again, and the girl nodded. I wondered a little if she could speak. “Yes,” Elizabeth said. “That sounds lovely. How much more is it?”
I began to arrange the paperwork, handing her a pen. “It’s affordable,” I said. “There are some additional costs like safe housing, sedatives treatments , and re-embalming fees. You have to remember that reawakening is a long term investment. But we have payment plans and I know that it’ll be worth it to have your husband back. If you’ll just sign here…”
Elizabeth’s hesitated, pen poised just above the paper. “I don’t know,” she began.
“Do keep in mind,” I said, “that they’re working on a cure for the virus. There’s still a chance that the dead can be completely restored. If they do, won’t you be happy you’re husband has been maintained?”
That did it. She signed and pushed the papers back towards me. “Okay Ms. Gambol, we’re in your hands.”
A loud groan came suddenly from the back room, followed by a crash and a muffled curse. Elizabeth jumped a little at the noise.
“One of my assistants must have knocked something over,” I said, forcing a smile. I stood and gently began to usher her and her daughter outside. “I promise that we’ll take good care of your family. I’ll be in contact soon to work out the details of the ceremony.”
As soon as they were gone, I rushed to the back room. Mr. Reed was strapped to a gurney, his face still mangled from the car crash, bits of glass protruding from his cheeks and forehead. He began to thrash when I entered the room. Steven, the last of my cousins to stay in the business, was sitting on the floor beside the gurney, holding a blood-soaked towel to his face.
He waved his hand dismissively at my look of concern. “Nose,” he said in a muffled voice. “He kicked me when I was securing him. Strong, that one. The sedative should kick in soon, though.”
“You should be more careful,” I rebuked him, “at least when we have patrons.”
I began to prepare my tools as the dead man slowly stopped thrashing and slouched back into the gurney’s harnesses.
“So you really think this will work?” Steven asked.
I smiled and began to pick glass from Mr. Reed’s face. “I do. I think we might just be back in business.”
Robb Walker is a writer of speculative fiction and poetry. His works have appeared in a number of publications including Niteblade, MicroHorror, and Every Day Poets.