Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 9: Miracle Cure

This week, the prompt was to write a story about having to face your greatest fear. The genre was horror. To me, horror does not necessarily have to include the supernatural. There are plenty of experiences that do not involve things that go bump in the night that would fill me with terror. Here is one.

Miracle Cure

What was in that drink? My head feels like it’s going to explode. Who knew an herbal cocktail from a shrink would be that potent? I don’t remember the rest of the session, much less leaving his office and driving home. How did I end up in my own be…

Wait a minute. What the Hell is going on here? Why can’t I sit up? Oh my God. I’m in some sort of a box. It’s dark and damp. That jerk is going to pay. By the time I get through with him in court, he won’t be able to practice anywhere on Earth.

Calm down, Jeannie Holcomb. Close your eyes and just reach up and push off the lid. Once you get out of this contraption, you’ll be able to take a deep breath of fresh air. When you open your eyes, you’ll see sunshine and blue skies. Okay. Push.

I can’t get the lid off. He’s probably got something on top of it. Screw the courts. I’m going to knock that bastard out and stuff him in this box. I need to get out of here. I can’t breathe right. I can’t think straight. I can’t…  Please…  Don’t let me…


“Miss Holcomb. I’m so glad you’ve come to see me. My views on therapy are considered controversial by some, but I’ve helped many conquer their fears. My recommendations may seem unusual, but I assure you, with your cooperation, it won’t be long before you will be free of the demons that haunt you.”

“Dr. Sullivan, I appreciate your seeing me on such short notice, but I can’t take this anymore. My friend at work, Susie, recommended you a few months ago. You were helping her with her fear of drowning. She must have moved because she doesn’t work there anymore, but when I last saw her, she seemed to be better at dealing with her fear. I didn’t think I needed therapy until I met this fella, and he was really terrific. I could see our relationship going somewhere; that is, until the other night. All was well until it was time for us to fall asleep. He turned out the lights and kissed me gently. Everything was fine until he started to move on top of me. I freaked. I could feel myself literally being smothered.

“He couldn’t take me home fast enough and I’m sure he’ll never call me again. I acted like a lunatic - crying and begging. I tried to tell myself I was being ridiculous, but I was so scared. It happens all the time when I’m covered with something and the lights are off.”

“Why don’t you sit back and try to relax. So, what you’re telling me is that you are claustrophobic – afraid of tight spaces?”

“Oh, no, doctor. You don’t understand. What I’m afraid of is that I’ll be buried alive.”

“I don’t see how…”

“Let me tell you how this all started. When I was little, my brother came in my room when I was sleeping. He took this huge Teddy Bear my dad had given me and pushed it on top of me and woke me up telling me that’s how it felt to be buried alive. He kept pushing it on my face over and over and I couldn’t breathe. He laughed and laughed, and told me that happened all the time. People were just sleeping very soundly or they weren’t well, but doctors thought they were dead and buried them. When they woke up in their coffins, they clawed and clawed, but they were underground so no one could hear them and they died.

“I told him no one was going to bury me alive, and he’d better get that bear off me because I was going to tell Mom and Daddy on him. Good luck going to the Skate Park next Saturday once they find out what he did to me. He told me if I told, next time they went out and left us at home, he would hit me on the head and then bury me in the back yard for real. I never told. But it didn’t end there. Every now and then, he would pull the same stunt, and not just with the bear. Sometimes he would use a pillow, but he would always put something on me or sit on me himself so I couldn’t move.”

“My, my, how terrible. Surely you realize that was just a cruel joke played by a sibling? Tell me how this has affected you.”

“Well, first, my Mom died a few years later. She had been very ill and died in the hospital. At her funeral, they wouldn’t open the coffin for me because they said that shouldn’t be my last memory of her. But I told them I had to make sure she was really dead. What if she woke up and clawed and clawed and no one could hear her? They said I was being disrespectful and no way were they going to violate her that way.

“When my father died, they wouldn’t open his either since he had been in an accident. My brother kept telling me neither of them were really dead and I would hear them clawing late at night. I do, you know, even with all the sleeping pills. When my brother died last month though, alcohol poisoning, I never asked for his coffin to be opened. I hoped he clawed his fingers raw.

“Now, I can’t stand to be in the dark even with blankets on me. You have to help me doctor. I need to get over this somehow.”

“I can help you, Miss Holcomb. As I’ve said, my suggestions may seem odd, but the only way to conquer a fear is to face it head on. When you go home tonight, I want you to turn out all the lights and sleep under your bed. This will simulate a kind of burial, and when you awake in the morning, you will see there was nothing to fear.”

“What? I’m not going to sleep under my bed. That’s not odd, that’s crazy. There must be some other way.”

“Alright, what about spending the night in the trunk of your car safely locked in your garage? Make sure before you close it that you know where the release lever is.”

“That’s even more insane. What kind of therapy is that? I understand trying to face my fear, but setting myself up for a nervous breakdown isn’t what I was looking for.”

“Miss Holcomb, you need to trust me. These are unconventional to be sure, but they do work. Your co-worker Susie, for example. She faced her fear and is now very comfortable being in the water. My methods do work. Perhaps with you, we need to take a different approach. I’m going to give you an herbal drink. This will help you to relax, and we’ll talk further.”


A different approach? Sure was. He drugged me, then sealed me in a box and buried me. I have to try to calm down. Need to keep my eyes closed, and not get agitated. I can do this. It is getting harder to breathe though. Why would he…

“Miss Holcomb? This is Dr. Sullivan. I hear you breathing very heavily so I assume you are awake and have realized your setting. Let me explain. You are locked inside a coffin 12 feet underground below a building on one of the properties I own. I have many, and I use them for what I like to call extreme therapy. I could see this was necessary for you, as it was for your friend Susie and a few others. When a patient refuses to follow my recommendations, I must use the ‘tough love’ method. If you won’t do it on your own, I will do it for you.

“I placed Susie in the cistern on my property used for water phobias and after a few days, she no longer felt fear of any kind. I arranged for her final resting place to be Halpern Lake. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It is lovely there, and so peaceful. Quite fitting for her, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

“I’ll be back in a week for you. You’ll be surprised how smoothly and quickly the time will pass for you. If you breathe slowly and don’t panic, it will be much easier and you’ll have more time to realize how silly your fear really was. I’ll try to arrange a plot for you close to your family. Try not to worry. I cure my patients no matter what.”

Doctor, listen. I’m okay now. Really. Can you hear me? Oh God. Doctor? Please…

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 8: The Invitation

The prompt this week was promises, broken ones, that is. We were to make someone a promise, break it, and share what happens. The genre was open.

The Invitation

Growing up, I used to dream about being related to rich people. Pop died in a fire at his job right after I was born, and Mom would never tell me anything about his or her family. I would pretend their marriage displeased her father so he cut her out of his will, and that accounted for our financial struggles. When she died a year ago, I thought I was alone. Out of nowhere, I got a letter from Phillip Johnstone, an attorney, in some country I’d never heard of, informing me that I’m the long lost relative of a widow, Mrs. Carlysle. Apparently, she’d been searching for surviving family since her son, the only heir to her estate, died in a car accident a few months ago. That’s where I come in. Evidently, I’m the fifth cousin, three times removed, of one of my mother’s second aunts, or some such nonsense. I don’t understand all that, but it doesn’t matter. All I know is, removed or not, I’m now her heir.

The letter stated my aunt was ill and planning to try a controversial treatment. There was a chance she may not survive the procedure, and she wanted to get to know me before she left for the clinic. I was invited to stay at her home for the weekend. Along with the letter, the lawyer sent a plane ticket and instructions on how to get to her home. Not to sound like a vulture; I mean, I’m sorry about her being ill, but I got fired from my job and my landlord won’t wait any longer for the rent.

I took a flight to JFK. A man, with a letter of introduction signed by my aunt’s lawyer, drove me to an airstrip miles from the city, where I boarded a private jet. When we arrived at another private airstrip, it was early evening two days later. How many time zones we flew through I have no idea, and cared even less. My life was going to change forever and I was going to enjoy every glorious second of it. A limo was waiting for me and took me to the house. It was the size of several football fields. The driver took my suitcase and asked me to follow him in. The entry was huge, with staircases on both sides leading to the upper levels, marbled floors, crystal chandeliers, and more priceless stuff than my neighborhood pawnbroker could handle in three lifetimes.

I was led into a large room on the right where my new favorite relative and her lawyer waited. She was in a wheelchair, and small - probably no more than 5 feet tall, about 120 pounds, and ghastly pale. Her lawyer was a real hottie though – early 30’s, 6 feet tall, dark hair and eyes, and a leading man smile. Maybe something could be worked out between us after the reading of her will. Who knows what my future could bring…

“Come in, Annie, if I may address you in that familiar way. I’m Phillip Johnstone. I’m glad my letter found you well and that you were able to come on such short notice.”

Sugar, you can address me any way you’d like. Frankly, I’d even let you undress me any way you’d like.

“I was happy to find out I had family. After my mother died, I was under the impression there was no one left but me.”

The old hag’s cough startled me. Don’t croak yet, dearie. I need some cash to catch up on my rent and my car needs a new engine. She reached out for me and I took her frail hand in mine.

“Promise,” she whispered. “Please.”

“We must be on our way, Annie. Mrs. Carlysle grows weaker. But, there is one important matter we must discuss first. We will be gone 7 days. While we are away, you’ll have the run of the house, and staff to attend to your needs. Your aunt asks only one thing. You may explore the house and the grounds, but you must never go into the room on the top floor. It is forbidden. We must have your promise – your word of honor.”

Promise not to go into a room at the top? It’s forbidden? I couldn’t wait for their car to pull away so I could run up there. She’s probably got jewelry or some other rich stuff in there.

“I promise,” I said.

“Promise what?” my aunt asked.

Rich people and their quirks.

“I promise not to go into the room on the top floor. You have my word of honor,” I responded. I’m surprised they didn’t ask me to swear on a stack of Bibles.

The old lady started coughing again, and I let go of her hand. A man, I assumed he was the butler, carried their suitcases to the car and Darling Phillip wheeled her out the front door. This sure was a meaningful reunion, all five minutes of it. Oh well. I’ve got the house all to myself. I’ll tell whatever staff is still here to take the rest of the night off. Then, up to the attic to explore. I know I promised; I even gave my word of honor. But, people promise stuff all the time and no one really takes that seriously anymore, do they? Maybe a hundred years ago before contracts and corporations when everything was finalized with a handshake. I won’t mess anything up. No one will know I went in, so it’s no big deal, right?

The butler, he was introduced to me as Ronald, had been the only staff in the house, so I sent him on his way. He told me that he, the maid and the cook would be back at dawn. Good riddance. I went up the four flights to the top level and at the end of a long hallway, there was the forbidden door, unlocked. Trusting bunch, weren’t they? The door was heavy, and the door frame had a second door within it. You could close one door and then another on top of it. I couldn’t wait to see what goodies were in there.

The room was dark. I stepped inside and while I was feeling around for a light switch, I heard something slam behind me and a light came on. The room was windowless and empty. I turned around and saw what the second door was that had closed. It was metal bars, like a jail cell door. I tried to slide it back into the frame, but it was latched onto the frame on the other side. There was a slit in the middle, like where guards slide the food trays to the inmates on the television shows. On the other side stood Phillip and a young woman.

“What the hell is going on? Who are you people - really?” I was in no position to make demands, but I had to give it a shot.

“I’m your old sickly aunt,” the woman said. “You probably don’t recognize me without the costume. My name is Belinda Carlysle, and his name really is Phillip, but it’s Carlysle, not Johnstone. He’s my husband. We brought you here for one of our special dinner parties. You and I are not related, obviously. With the Internet, these days it’s easy to find people with no family and few friends. Add in the inheritance angle, and no one thinks twice about boarding a plane to who knows where.

“Normally, we drug a cocktail and put the subject in the room you’re in. We thought we’d try something different to make it interesting and turn it into a challenge, and you failed miserably. We never left; we drove around and came in the back way. We’ve been in a hidden room on this floor waiting to see if you’d break your promise. It took you less than ten minutes. No wonder the world is going to Hell. Integrity these days is in short supply.”

“What would you have done if I had kept my word?” I wasn’t sure where this was going, so I tried to stall.

“We’d have let you return home with a substantial check and simply found another main cour...subject,” Phillip said. “We’ll be leaving you now. We must make the arrangements for our soirĂ©e. A week from today will be plenty of time for you to be ready. Once our friends arrive, they’ll be popping up to take a look at you. They always like to check out who they’ll be having for din…um…I mean, who will be our dinner…guest.

As the outer door was closed and I heard the locks engage, Belinda called out to me.

“Annie, when Ronald brings your meals, make sure you eat hearty…”

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 7: Ten Items or Less

This week, we were writers looking for a career-making story, who have been consistently rejected in the past. An editor includes a note on our latest rejection that suggests we observe people more closely, implying that may assist us with creating more three-dimensional characters. We decide to take that advice and head for a local store to scope out the shoppers. We observe someone with unusual items in their cart and decide to do a bit of surveillance--all in search of the perfect story. We were to share what the items were and what we found when we followed that person. The genre was mystery. 

Ten Items or Less
Little did I know that when I opened a letter of rejection from yet another publisher, my life would be changed forever. The responses I usually received were all the same. They amounted to a form letter addressed to ‘Dear Sir’, with one sentence that read: ‘We appreciate your submission, but it does not fall within the parameters of our current publication plans going forward.’ What the Hell does that even mean? Okay, so the letter I received in yesterday’s mail was the same; but, with one glaring exception. The editor had taken the time to write a brief note. Addressing me by name, it read: ‘Evie, Your story has potential, but your characters are flat. They have no substance, nothing a reader can identify with. I suggest you observe people more closely, and get inside their heads; then build a story around them. I look forward to reviewing more of your work.’

I have to admit I was stunned. Someone actually liked my story idea. The appraisal of my characters was harsh, but right on the money. I don’t include too many personal details about my characters because of word count restrictions. I lean toward lavish descriptions of settings and events instead, but apparently, I’ve been heading in the wrong direction. It’s the characters my focus needs to be on, and their thoughts and feelings should fill the pages and drive the story.

I’ve done sci-fi, romance, historical fiction and horror and bombed every time. Since I was now going to become a voyeur, in a legal sense of course, I decided my next project would be a mystery. I would find an odd someone with an air of mystery about them and add my own finishing touches. Where would I find an odd someone? The answer to that was crystal clear. I would cruise the aisles of Dave’s Discount Domain. I’ve only been in there a couple of times, but believe me, there’s enough odd someones in every aisle to fill a volume with stories. I would begin my quest in the morning, as soon as Dave’s opened. By the end of the day, I should have a story that sizzles.

When the doors opened at 9am, I was the first one in, notebook and pen at the ready. I made my way to the home improvement section where my search for next primary character would begin. I was glad they didn’t open when it was still dark because the morning paper carried a very ominous headline. We didn’t usually have much in the way of violent crime in this one-horse town; murders, assaults and robberies were popular activities in the city 40 miles to the south. Recently however, several women had been abducted and found days later in pieces a couple of miles north of town by the lake. Parts of another body had been found last night. My mission to find the perfect man to lead my story would be confined to daylight hours.

The idea for a story about a fictional serial murderer was swirling around in my head. Whoever I fixated on would be the killer, and the purchases he made and actions I observed would define his persona. I was already anxious to receive the editor’s comments on my new style, with all the depth and insight into the murderer’s psyche I would provide. Roaming through the store, I wondered if the strange folks I had seen in the past were an aberration. Today, I knew everyone by name that I passed in each aisle. They were all neighbors, and were about as thrilling as a pan of warm dishwater. No sense wasting the morning when there were other stores I could visit.

I grabbed a pack of dishcloths and headed for the ten-items-or-less Express Lane. It was backed up because the checker, Connie, was glancing back and forth at the bag boy a couple of registers down. Out of boredom, I glanced into the cart of the elderly man who was before me in line. A loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a half-gallon of milk, a box of large size latex gloves, a power saw, a shovel, and a large tarp. Seven. Perfect. He followed the rules. But, wait. I looked over his items and my mind screamed THIS IS HIM! I’d never seen him before and this combination of food and some instruments of torture intrigued me. I made up my mind to follow him and watch what he did and craft my story accordingly. He’d never know so no harm done, right? He put his bags in the cart and headed for the exit. I reached across the counter and scanned my dishcloths myself, hit the total button, grabbed a bag and stuffed them in, handed a $10 bill to Connie, told her to keep the change and hurried to keep up with the old man.

Our cars were a row apart. I got in my car as he put his bags in his trunk, got in his car and headed for the highway. I followed. We drove north into a residential area, and he pulled into the driveway of a large house in the subdivision where all the homes had a lakeshore backyard and private docks. I passed his house and parked on the side of a vacant house a couple of blocks from his. In my notebook I listed the items my killer purchased and described the drive to his lair where a young woman, no doubt, waited in fear. I got out of my car and crept carefully through the adjoining yards until I could clearly see his. I watched him carry his purchases into his house—I wrote he would prepare a sandwich and glass of milk for his victim, to add another layer of confusion for the medical examiner should her remains ever be found. Evil personified, to be sure.

After a few minutes, he came out to the backyard, shovel in hand, and flowers in small pots on a rolling cart. He began to dig small holes and place each bloom in and pack the dirt around the stems. I wrote he wheeled out a cart containing pots filled with various body parts of his previous victims. His plan was to bury each one in his garden of death, and sit there in a lawn chair in the evenings and relive his crimes in his mind. He finished planting the flowers and went back into the house. I wrote that my killer went to make sure his victim had finished her last meal so he could remind her that the end was near.

When he came back to the yard, in one hand he held a peanut butter sandwich and in the other, a glass of milk. He sat on the porch, ate the sandwich in a couple of bites, gulped the milk down and went back inside. I wrote that his victim was already dead. He’d strangled her while wearing the gloves so as not to leave any DNA on the body. He put her on the tarp, and he was so cold and remorseless, he decided to have a snack before he used the saw to dismember her. This was really good stuff. I couldn’t wait to get home and flesh this out, type it up and send it to my new editor friend. I had enough material now for one of their monthly crime features. I jotted a note to remind myself to make sure to incorporate how he disposed of this new one, and put my notebook in my pocket. When I turned to go back to my car, the old man was in front of me with his empty cart.

“Why are you spying on me and my son?” he asked.

There’s a son?

“I’m sorry,” I said. “You see, I’m a writer, and I noticed you bought an unusual combination of items. I thought if I followed you and observed you that maybe there would be a story in it. Please accept my apology.”

“You followed me because of what I bought so you could write a story? What kind of story?”

I offered him my notebook, and he smiled as he glanced through it.

“You’re good,” he said. “Too bad no one else will read this.”

Yeah, right, old man. Go back to your flowers.

“Give me my notebook.”

I reached for it, but was grabbed from behind and a cloth was placed over my nose and mouth. As everything around me began to go black, I heard the old man one last time.

“Put her on the cart, son. You see, Miss, the gloves, tarp and saw were for him. This new saw is more powerful and slices through bone like butter. He usually has to hunt for victims; so nice to have one deliver herself. My boy’s a real cut up with the ladies…”

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 6: Brotherly Love

The prompt this week included the above photo. We lost our job to someone younger and less costly to the company, after having moved into an upscale apartment and purchasing a new car. Great timing, right?  Good news though. We got a response to our ad in Employment Wanted and were invited by the elderly owner, who is in poor health, to spend the weekend to discuss the live-in position in person. We decide we’ve got nothing to lose and go for it. So, what happens? Well, check out my story and you’ll find out.

Brotherly Love

Well, don’t that beat all!  I’ve been with this company for 18 years, worked weekends and overtime without pay so projects would be done on time, and this is the thanks I get. My excuse for a boss fires me, and hires a kid right out of high school with no experience to replace me. He said it was because with all the new technology, I was no longer qualified; but, the child is?  I should sue, but even if I won, I’d lose. Sure, I’d get my job back, but he would be sure to make all my days there a living Hell. That jerk isn’t worth the trouble, especially since the opportunity of a lifetime may be on the horizon for me.

As soon as I was liberated from my position, I went online and placed an ad in the Employment Wanted section of every paper in the state. Would I be willing to relocate, even though I just signed a two-year lease on my new apartment?  You betcha, as long as my future employer was willing to get me out of that contract. I just bought a new car too, so I’d be able to go anywhere I was needed, as long as the money was good so I could keep making the payments. It’s only been three days, but I’ve already received a response to my ad. It’s pretty vague right now, but I’m willing to get the deets on it.

The call was from a gentleman in his 80s, a Mr. Branson, who lives a little over 200 miles from where I live. He’s not in the best of health, and even though he didn’t provide specific duties over the phone, he did tell me the job would not be as his caregiver. He also said the job was a live-in position, and included room and board as well as a salary. I was invited to spend the weekend so he could provide me with a full description of the job face to face. He told me I could bring a companion if it would make me feel safer, but whoever I brought with me would need to be excluded from the interview process. I can handle a sickly old man. Besides, I’m sure he’d figure that I’d tell family and friends where I was going, so I doubt he has plans for me to disappear.

I packed my bag for the weekend and headed for Fair Haven. I had never been to that area before, but some of the homes there had been featured on a television show. It was full of the wealthy retired and all the houses were mansions. It was close enough to the city for shopping and entertainment, yet far enough away for crime-free living. I left around noon on Friday, and was very anxious for new beginnings.

Pulling up in front of the house took my breath away. This one was more impressive than the ones that had been featured on the TV program. I parked in the driveway to the side of the front entrance to the house, grabbed my bag and rang the bell. A man in a three-piece suit opened the door, took my suitcase from me and motioned for me to enter. The front entry was the size of a football field, with staircases on both sides of the area leading to the upper floors, statues, paintings, and marbled floors. This wasn’t a mansion; it was more like a castle from a fairy tale. He said Mr. Branson was waiting for me in the study and pointed the way. I took a deep breath and went in to meet my new boss.

“Please come in and make yourself comfortable, Miss Harper. Charles, please bring Miss Harper whatever she would like to drink.”

Mr. Branson was in a wheelchair, quite emaciated and very pale. I prayed whatever he had wasn’t contagious.

“Before our dinner, let me tell you about the position. If I’m rushing you, I apologize, but I am not well as I’m sure you can see, and I tire easily. My attorneys did a background check on you and informed me you are of excellent character, honest and completely trustworthy. This was necessary because should you choose not to accept the position, the affairs of my family must remain confidential.”

I knew it. All the secrecy and saying so little on the phone. I couldn’t place him, but he must have been one of the top men in some syndicate. The affairs of his family must remain confidential?  I’ll bet they must. In other words, keep your mouth shut Suzanne Harper or you’ll be fitted for cement overshoes. It was scary, but at the same time, kind of oddly exciting. I could be a gangster’s moll.

“The salary is $5,000 a month,” he continued. “Room and board are included, and I will pay out any current lease or debits you may have. You are, of course, free to come and go as you please, so long as your duties have been fulfilled. What I am seeking is someone who will…”

“Make sure the bodies stay buried!  You can count on me, Mr. Branson. This is so cool. I never dreamed I’d work for the syndicate. What do I have to do?  Do I need to make payoffs or collect them?  When your enforcers come to the house, how will I recognize them or will Charles know?  Oh, yes, I’ll take the job. I’m sorry to interrupt you, but this is more than I never dreamed of. I have spent the last 18 years sitting behind a desk with my calculator and so bored I could…”

The irritated look on his face stopped me cold. Cement bodysuit, here I come.

“I believe there has been a misunderstanding, Miss,” he said quietly. “I am not part of any syndicate and have no enforcers. I do not wish to keep the bodies buried. I want them disinterred and brought here so that my brothers may eat.”

Um. What?

“Let me explain. I have twin brothers, older than I, who are still alive and well…perhaps saying they are well is not altogether accurate, but they are definitely alive in their own way. During their college days, they experimented with the supernatural and participated in the gruesome practice of dining on human flesh to enhance their strength. Suffice to say, at the last ceremony they attended, they were transformed into what is called ghouls. I keep them locked up in the basement. They get coffee and plain water each morning, and once a month, they each get a corpse on which to feed.”

Um. What?

“Every month, I search the newspapers and look online for recent burials and send Hector to retrieve the remains. You haven’t met him yet. The bodies are obtained from other counties so as not to draw attention, and there must always be two. You see, if they both are not adequately fed each month, they will attempt to feed on each other, and I cannot allow that to happen. They are my family and I must protect them. Unfortunately, I am very ill and don’t have much time. We have no other living relatives, so I must seek assistance from outside. What I need from you, Miss Harper, is to take over my role as protector of my brothers. Every morning, they must each have a cup of black coffee and a cup of plain water. That is an unusual requirement, but necessary for their survival. Then, once per month, they must each have a reasonably fresh corpse to eat.

“Charles and his wife, Charlene, take care of the house, grounds, and prepare the meals. They go home each evening and return each morning. Hector has a room in the basement and keeps the area in good order. Hector is not capable of complex reasoning or tasks, but will follow orders perfectly. I would instruct him to follow yours, and you will not find a more loyal or obedient servant. Hector will always be available for you since he is one of the undead. He is in a class by himself and how I obtained him is not relevant, but have no fear. He will never harm you. He will serve their…uh, meals, and the beverages, but you will need to get the water and coffee ready for him.

“This would be a lifelong position, Miss, and you would also be responsible for finding your replacement when you become too old or become unwell. My family’s law firm would assist you in that regard. You haven’t said a word, Miss. What are you thinking?”

I’m thinking, do I want to live in the same house with one of the undead and two ghouls that snack on the recently dug up dead, and get paid $5,000 a month for it?

“Mr. Branson, I can start immediately.”