Graveless in South Cynica
by Bob Friedman
|part 1 of 3|
Waldo Wilden’s final repose is disturbed by Huqabooloo Penntonian, a collection agent from Grimreaperco. Waldo’s descendants have defaulted on Waldo’s gravesite rental. Worse, they seem to have become Scrooge-type capitalists. What’s an old union organizer to do?
Waldo Wilden’s bones jumped to the far side of his modest coffin when the black-gloved non-corporeal hand intruded through the center of the casket lid.
“You scared the sphincter off of me,” said the drowsy, confused remains.
A black-hooded head and shoulders attached to the hand partially corporealized. “Sorry to disturb your slumber, Mister Wilden. My name is Huqabooloo Penntonian. I’m a collection agent for Grimreaperco. We have urgent business. Urgent indeed.”
Waldo’s skull sighed. If his sockets still retained eyeballs they surely would have rolled. He wondered what it would be like had he been buried at sea. With his luck, humans who perished at sea became the property of some whale- and dolphin-dominated consortia that employed sharks for security.
Waldo’s anxiety grew exponentially when the intruder fully materialized. Never much of a host during life, he now cared even less about being polite to the uninvited. He first thought he should have posted a “Do Not Disturb” sign on all sides of his coffin but rapidly realized it was doubtful any sign would have deterred this intruder.
Trying to ignore his claustrophobia, his mandibles spat out the words, “tell me what you want, then leave me in peace.”
“Very well, Mister Wilden. I’ll come straight to the point. You are in imminent danger of being exhumed.”
Earlessness made him wonder if he heard correctly. “What do you mean?”
“Dug up, disinterred, indecently exposed,” said the smirking black-robed figure with the white scythe company logo on his right breast. “Grimreaperco records indicate that your descendants breached their contract. It is not fair to those clients who pay fully and on time if you are permitted to remain at rest here indefinitely unpaid.”
“I understand fairness. I fought for justice my entire adult life. My parents raised me to care about my fellow human beings. This can’t be happening. It’s impossible.” Waldo feared the intruder could read his thoughts, maybe even influence them.
Huqabooloo shook its head. “Our records clearly show your next of kin terminated the contract. We have no option but to exhume and recycle your remains.”
“Goddamned greedy brats,” he said then felt embarrassed. He did not like bad-mouthing relatives, especially in front of outsiders. “My estate fully funded that contract for centuries. I know it has not been anywhere near that long.”
“Thirty-seven years, four months, six days, twenty-three hours, thirty-nine minutes and nineteen seconds; er, twenty seconds. Payments always used to arrive on average seventeen point six eight three days before they were due. That all changed three months ago when Marshall Wilden’s office ended the contract without explanation.”
“There must be a clerical error,” said Waldo, unsure of any other explanation.
“Perhaps, but our records indicate otherwise.”
“And they’ve never been wrong?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
Waldo doubted it would admit if the company had such an error-filled history. His finger bones went through Huqabooloo when they tried clutching its robe. “Well this has to be a mistake.” His grandkid, he imagined, was a spoiled brat who grew into a selfish adult. The guy probably liked appearing generous, always doing what he thought looked right, so long as it was deductible.
Waldo imagined Marshall would never risk the adverse publicity such an exhumation would cause. He laughed as he considered the possible tabloid headline: “Wilden family skeleton exhumed from closet.” The connotation made him uncomfortable.
“We’ve double-checked our records,” said Huqabooloo. “Trust me. We do not intrude in this dramatic a fashion except as a very last resort. We have notarized documentation from your grandson indicating he wished the account closed.”
“Was there an explanation?”
“Nothing about it in the files.”
“Did he leave town?”
Huqabooloo shook its head. “So far as we know, he still has a thriving practice and an estate in Upper East Cynica. All contact information is up to date. He chose to stop paying the bill. You need to accept that.”
“What do I do now?”
The entity shook its head, becoming partially decorporealized for an instant. “That is a matter best taken up with the living.”
Waldo rattled his bones so violently that the intruder entity fully lost corporeal mode except for the black glove. Its index finger pointed right between his eye sockets. “Either resolve the issue with the living or prepare for imminent exhumation.”
Waldo discerned the vague blue-green letters “NOW” briefly lingering after the glove vanished.
Always a jealous guard of his privacy, Waldo craved it now more than he ever had in life. The idea of losing it terrified him more than eternal necrotization.
“But I don’t want to be a ghost without a grave. Much as they deserve haunting, I’m not willing to impose it on them.”
Waldo feared thinking about being graveless. He had never met a graveless person. When he first heard about the problem becoming an epidemic he thought the graveless must have done something wrong to deserve that fate. Now he knew better. Yeah well, he thought. Die and learn. He dreaded finding out first bone.
Before Waldo had time to consider the implications, Huqabooloo stuck its head back into the coffin. “Perhaps another facility could take you in. Where is your spouse interred?”
Waldo did not want to think about Sharon, much less discuss her with some bimodal apparatchik. He had managed to avoid that painful subject ever since he first got interred. His neighbors never again asked for details after he growled, “With her second husband for eternity. Thank God.”
He trembled, making noises in his ulnas like flutes on helium, laughing when he thought about how things might have turned out had he remained with her. Waldo hoped his laughter masked his fear.
“You find this amusing?”
“Not really.” Waldo laughed, knowing he would have been in his grave a lot sooner had he stayed with Sharon. Thinking about how the kids and grandkids might have grown up differently, had he not divorced, made him feel guilty.
It was an open question for him if guilt mellowed with the years like fine bourbon or if it got more sour like cheap wine. There was, he realized, a distinct possibility that guilt mellowed and soured simultaneously. Maybe he would find out before his bone dust joined the Cynica Valley Mall annex foundation.
“I wish there were another way,” said Huqabooloo. “I truly do, sir.”
Waldo doubted the entity’s veracity but thanked it for the kind words. Veracity. Perhaps it was only ever an illusion. Perhaps truth, if it ever existed, was a species long extinct.
After his burial he felt out of place, like he would never fit in. Having lived in the same house for twenty-two years, the transition was truly traumatic. His neighbors warned him about the dangers of post-mortem depression. With their help he soon got over his PMD without involving company-provided counseling. Presently, he could not think of resting in peace in any other place.
Eclectic was how he best described his nearest neighbors. Though they sometimes got on his nerves, Waldo did not want to trade them for anything. Being graveless and separated from them terrified him.
“Unless the company receives payment in full by close of business Monday, expect the backhoe at first light Tuesday.”
“How can you do this to a poor defenseless corpse?”
“It takes years of desensitivity training. Most recruits wash out.”
“Couldn’t you make a better living breaking and entering?”
Huqabooloo laughed. “I can easily get into any safe or vault but could never get the valuables out. Trust me, Mister Wilden. Being bimodal is not as easy a life as the deceased might imagine. Nobody wants us around.” Its laugh made Waldo shudder as if his marrowless long bones were tornado-infested wind tunnels.
Waldo chided himself for having an instinctive tinge of sympathy. He was, after all, another under-compensated worker.
Huqabooloo turned bluish-green. “I am truly sorry, sir. If it were up to me, perhaps the policy would be different. I do not make the rules. I am only following orders. You can’t blame me. I’m just doing my job.”
“So was Josef Mengele.”
“Never mind.” Waldo resigned himself to the inherent idiocy of corporate stooges who did not have the sense to organize.
“It’s simple. There are many corpses-soon-to-be that have families who can afford these accommodations. Within two days of your departure this grave will be fully refurbished and a new resident will be interred with a tasteful temporary marker in place.”
Waldo groaned. “Without time and a half for overtime.”
“The diggers and drivers are paid very well. You ought to focus on your own problems. You have very little time. I suggest you contact the living. Plead your case to them. Perhaps you can convince them to arrange alternative financing.” The entity turned fully black again.
Waldo rolled his skull from side to side so emphatically that he almost became dizzy. “That is unlikely.”
Huqabooloo shimmered. “Unfortunate. In any case, there is nothing more I can do. Good luck Mister Wilden.” It flickered like a strobe light.
My kingdom for a pair of eyelids, thought Waldo until the intruder was gone. It left behind the pale green phrase “best of luck” that almost immediately faded away.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2008 by Bob Friedman