Drawing of a coffin in a crematory oven. Caption reads: "There's a limit to how many bodies I can handle."

Quaaludes short story by Iris Carden

Mr Anderson’s funeral had gone smoothly. In the reception room afterwards, I was carrying a try of sandwiches, offering them to mourners, when I saw Mr Anderson’s great-grandson handing out tablets to a group of other twenty-somethings.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“They’re Quaaludes, from Great-granddad’s stash. I found them after he died. I thought it would be a great way to send him off.”

“Not here,” I said. “Anything you do on my property is my legal responsibility. Put them away. Have your own private party later if you want.”

Surprisingly, he actually complied. He took back the tablets from his friends, put them back in the bottle and pocketed the bottle.

Everyone left. I paid the caterers and started cleaning up. Then I got the call. Mr Anderson’s grandson had got himself in a situation, and I was the only person he’d ever met who knew anything about dead bodies.

I went to the address he gave me, a flat in an upmarket area. He led me to a room that was an open kitchen-dining-lounge area, with a writing desk in the corner.

He was clearly out of it, but his friends were dead. Six bodies. Sure he could have paid my usual unauthorised disposal fee of ten thousand per body. He could probably have paid ten times my usual fee. But I couldn’t handle six bodies at once.

“You need to call the police,” I said.

“I can’t call the police. I’ll go to jail. Can’t you just get rid of the bodies?”

“Not six at once. I need a death certificate for every time I fire up an oven. I can’t deal with this number. Either get someone else to help you, call the police, or make a run for it.”

That was when the kid made the biggest mistake of his short life. He yelled at me that I needed to help him or he’d kill me. He grabbed my throat.

I reached for whatever I could find to defend myself. Because we were right near the desk, what I found was a ball-point pen. It would do.

I don’t do embalming like you see on American television shows, but I do have a basic knowledge of anatomy. I went for a major blood vessel in his neck. Blood sprayed everywhere. He let go of my neck, and was dead in seconds.

The scene was a bloody mess, and I mean that literally. I was also covered. I cleaned myself up as best I could in his bathroom, and called a cleaner.

Then I bagged the body, went to the hearse for the gurney and loaded it.

The cleaner arrived in very short time. He looked around. “Wow,” he said. “You’re taking all of them?”

“No,” I said. “Those are the reason this one ran. I want you to clean up any sign he’s dead or that I was here. Make it look like he took off because he’d killed his friends.”

The cleaner nodded slowly. “Can do,” he said. “But give me his phone before you take him away.”

I unzipped the body bag, found the phone and handed it over.

The cleaner grabbed the corpse’s hand, then rubbed it. “The fingerprint needs to be warm, to seem alive, to unlock the phone,” he said. “Once it’s open, I can add my own fingerprint to unlock it. I’ll take the phone for a drive after this, before I pull out the sim card.”

I apologised, that I didn’t have cash with me, but would go and get it when I took the body away.

“We can contra it,” he said. “This pays for the next time I call you.”

It seemed fair enough to me. Then he told me to wait a minute, went out to his car and came back with jeans, teeshirt and shoes and socks.

“It’s all way too big for you, but go shower and change into this anyway. Leave me what you’re wearing now. I’ll dispose of it. Don’t worry, I’ll clean the bathroom as well. I know what I’m doing.”

I did as I was told, and made a mental note to always keep a change of clothes in the hearse in future, just in case.

I showered and handed over my clothes.

“First kill?” he asked. I didn’t answer. Not his business. He didn’t need to know I’d killed before in my own work room.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “It gets easier.”

I nodded. This certainly had been easier than last time, although last time* I’d actually liked the person I’d killed.

“Do you want to get a drink later?” His question surprised me. This had always been a completely professional relationship. We weren’t friends, or were we? I’d probably had more contact with him than any other human being since my father left.

“I don’t drink.”

“Coffee then?”

“I do drink coffee. Sure.”

We made a plan to catch up for coffee.

Mr Anderson’s body had not yet made it to the oven, but he already had a deluxe coffin, because of course that’s what his family ordered. I added his great-grandson to the coffin before firing up the oven.

Later, the police would question me because the kid had called me. I told them about the incident after the funeral with the quaaludes, and about how he’d called me later in the day, apparently high and ranting about something I didn’t quite understand.

*Last time relates to the story Kids.

The Funeral Director Stories

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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