An Undertaker's Task
I hadn’t really expected the visitor’s center to look normal when we reached it. I just wasn’t really expecting it to have become a stepped pyramid either. They hadn’t fooled around with the color; they hadn’t mucked about with the size of the first floor.
However, there were now second, third, and fourth floors. Each one was an equally rectangular, boring little building stacked atop the other. Stairs ascended the side of the building, giving access to each layer of the still under construction pyramid.
The workers, unsurprisingly, appeared to be dead. They hustled tirelessly up and down ladders; nailing boards into place, welding in chunks steel. Among their number were a handful of werewolves like William and a handful of pale figures with too taut skin.
“My brother is quite proud of them. They work well but are better suited to detail. My boys are the heavy lifters.”
Two of William’s “boys” stood on either side of the center’s doors, arms folded across their chests, either one wearing a security guard uniform.
“Who’re these three boss?”
“I’m taking them to see Mr. Jackal. They have some information on the Stitches that might be useful.”
“Easier ways to pull them apart?”
“Doubtful but you never know.”
They nodded and held open the doors for us as I slogged forward with Rick on my shoulder and Amy at my side. He was certainly not getting any lighter.
The light inside made me wince as my eyes adjusted away from the dank dark outside. Even with as few changes as they had made to the outside, the interior was a vast improvement. Instead of the cold, brushed aluminum that pervaded most of the cemeteries everything had been giving a gleaming, golden sheen. A cloaked figure with paper white skin was painting hieroglyphics on wall with spidery fingers.
“My brother, Hugh.”
“I don’t see the family resemblance.”
“Adopted family. Went through a lot of shit together.”
I nodded and continued to follow William through a second set of double doors covered in cracking yellow paint. Sixteen stone tables with sixteen stone dead corpses were arranged in the rectangular room. An angular man with a black jackal head was bent over one of them, a dark-skinned woman, frowning intently. An individual that appeared to be as dead as the one on the table dabbed at his forehead. Another tended a cart with ceramic jars atop it.
Canopic jars. He was embalming them.
Suddenly, the body on the table started to shake, rustling noises coming out its throat. It was crying.
“Don’t worry Erin, it’ll be alright. We’ll finish putting you to rest soon. I promise.”
And in that moment, he looked up and saw me. And saw Amy. And saw Rick.
“William, can you please escort our guests to my office? I’ll be along shortly.”
William bowed his furred head silently and aimed our little parade through a non-descript black door. Inside, the little Egypt feel had been replaced by that of a doctor’s office. Beige walls, cherry wood desk, cushioned leather chairs.
I sat Rick down in one; careful to keep his hat perched on his head.
“I’ll stand Morgan. It doesn’t ever make a difference to me; you know that honey.”
I nodded and sank into one of the chairs to wait. My eyes flickered as I sat there and I reached into my pocket for more ProTabs.
“Those are terrible for your health, you know?”
Mr. Jackal slipped in through the door, wiping off his hands, slipping a white lab coat back over his shoulders. His head was no longer an animals’; it was that of a young Middle Eastern man with thick black stubble and meticulous hair.
I opened and swallowed a pair of packages anyway.
“I know. I’m just not worth much without them.”
He sat down in the rolling, leather chair on the opposite side of the desk and waved off William. William nodded silently once again and slipped away.
“I wouldn’t say that Mr. Chadwick. You got Mr. Hatter here safely.”
“You already know who we are. I suppose I shouldn’t suspect any less from a god.”
He smiled toothily.
“See there, I knew you were a quick one. Now, how can I help you?”
“Rick here woke up in this cemetery. We’re trying to figure out why. More important, I want to know who killed his family.”
“Well, to figure that out, I’ll need to examine Mr. Hatter more thoroughly. Will he be needing to go back to bed afterwards?”
“That’ll be up to him. When you’re family’s murdered, most likely to keep you from dethroning the current mayor, it might make you a bit… restless.”
Anubis’ lip twitched, his mouth flashing to a jackal’s for a moment. Then, he was back to being the quiet Mr. Jackal again.
“I hadn’t realized the situation. Do you have any leads?”
“The Sergeant that at least took responsibility for the kill was what William referred to as a Stitch.”
“How… detestable. Abusing the corpses of the fallen to keep multiple copies of a single individual alive. Worse than cloning personally. At least someone can earn a soul. These people are allowing fragments of souls to be brutally subjugated. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Society paid off Morelli by doing the deed for him. What happened to the Stitch?”
“Bodily? Cremated. Spiritually? Imprisoned by the pissed off souls in the Green Gates crematorium.”
The god sat there quietly, pursing his lips.
“Well deserved, I’m sure.”
I opened my mouth to agree when Rick started to stir.
“Good morning sleepyhead.”
“Where are we?”
“Talking to one of the Egyptian gods of the dead. How are you feeling?”
“He’s a doctor too. Care for a checkup?”
“Whatever you say Morgan.”
I nodded to Anubis and he stood reverently.
“Mr. Chadwick has alerted me to what happened to your family. I’m going to help you get to the bottom of this.”
“It’s what I do. I am the Master of Embalmers. Our job is to make sure the dead stay restful. That’s why we’re here in Perdido; in order to help everyone get back to sleep.”
That was the last bit I saw as my eyes slid shut. I didn’t need anyone’s help getting to sleep. I was doing just fine on my own.
“Morgan, honey, what’s wrong?”
“Gonna sleep now.”
“You just had your ProTabs.”
“I know, still sleepy.”
The pills in my pocket pulled me down into the pillow of sand that had been left for me and I slept. Night night.