Darria Savege is an undertaker's assistant. When her boss is killed, she assumes the job of undertaker and all the strange things that goes with it. She awakens a mummified hand named Omar. She works with a grim reaper named Oliver who collects the souls of the bodies she works on.

New and strange powers awaken within her. A dark nercomancer is after something in her morgue. All she has to do is avoid being killed by him or by some of the bodies she works on. But that's not the real dilemnia. Medusa is trying to get out of purgatroy and turn the world to stone and Darria is the only one who can stop her



PURPLE SWORD

AMAZON 

BARNES & NOBLE 

 KOBO 

 SMASHWORDS 


Excerpt from "A Deathly Undertaking

Chapter One

Darria ran her fingers over the porcelain cup, sipped at her coffee, and made a face. The acrid taste overpowered her senses. Her boss preferred it strong so she made it that way for him. Mr. Archer sat across from her at the white and yellow speckled Formica kitchen table in the house where he lived and worked. Maple syrup covered his plate from the pancake breakfast she had made him. Hers remained half eaten. Normally, she enjoyed blueberry flapjacks, but she had been unable to shake the dread that followed her from her dreams. She stifled a yawn and took another sip of her coffee, hoping it would help get her motivated for work.

“You should head down to the basement soon, Darria.” Her boss turned another page of the paper.

“I’ll go set up in a minute.” She squashed a blueberry with her fork.

“What’s on your mind?”

“When are you going to train me?”

He folded the paper and placed it on the table. “We’ve been over this before. You signed on knowing I’d teach you when it was time.”

“I know. But—”

“I understand you’re frustrated. I haven’t shown you what I actually do to the bodies. It’s the way I and other undertakers before me were taught.”

“What’s so secretive about it? Can’t you break the tradition of great undertakers before you? Let me in on a little more than what I already know?” Darria yearned to do more than the menial tasks he assigned her.

“I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll do this body and then you can shadow me on the next corpse. Okay?”
Jubilation rose within her chest and caught in her throat. Darria fought the urge to hug her employer.

“That would be wonderful. Thank you, Mr. Archer.”

“You’re welcome, dear. Now go downstairs and set up the workroom.”

Darria hid her smile. A bit of movement from the newspaper caught her eye. She peered at the front page. Below the headline about a declining stock market was the image of a teenage boy. The boy blinked and scowled at her. She jumped and her knee hit a table leg. Her plate hit the edge of the table and crashed onto the floor.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

Darria glanced at him and back at the paper. The photograph returned to normal. She shook her head, trying to clear the disturbing vision. “S-sorry. Thought I saw a spider.” She grabbed a rag to clean up the mess on the floor.

Mr. Archer knelt down and touched her arm. His warm smile relaxed her. “I’ll do that. You head downstairs. I’ll make sure the spider’s dead.”

“Thanks.”

“Darria.”

She turned back around. “Yeah.”

“Do you know why I take care of the bodies?”

“It’s your job.”

“Yes. It’s my job. One day it will also be yours. However, I do it because there are many things in the world that most people don’t see. We’re the lucky ones who get to see the other side. Do you know what I mean?”

“I do.” Where’s this coming from? He never opens up. A chill trickled along her back.

“Good. Then you understand the most important thing we do is handle the dead so they won’t cause any more trouble. And we make sure the objects in the Wunderkammer are secured. They could do more damage if they were left out in the public.”

She nodded. I’m going to know what goes along with the job. It’s about time the old man showed me. Mr. Archer sat back at the table and read the paper again. Darria opened the basement door and went down the steps. His words echoed in her mind about keeping people safe. If anything got free, then havoc would ensue and people would be in danger. Darria opened the heavier, second door at the bottom of the staircase that separated the cellar from the rest of the house. At last Abner would show her exactly what he did and that satisfied her. His words made sense. The levity of what he did settled in her mind. He helped protect others.

She slipped on her apron and then set up the tools Mr. Archer used on his roll-around tray. Front right to left they were: pliers, a wrench, a blow torch, a stake, a mallet, a silver scalpel, and forceps. An open spot remained for the last implement she needed.

A corpse lay on the steel table in center of the workroom. This one looked normal enough with blond hair perfectly arranged around her head. The green smear of eye shadow on her lids matched her dress. Slightly marred pink lipstick stuck to the woman’s teeth. Her emerald dress showed her curves and covered her legs down to her calves. One of her black pumps was missing. However, the bullet hole in the center of her forehead was a dead giveaway that she was, well...dead. Faint curls of black smoke billowed from the wound where the silver bullet reacted with the cadaver’s flesh.

It was tough to believe this woman could turn into a ferocious beast on the full moon. Trying to picture her on all fours, covered with fur, brought back memories of the bad horror movies Darria had watched as a child. Silver could hurt or kill them. This was one of the varieties of creatures that passed through the undertaker’s cellar to be processed.

The remainder of the instruments were kept under lock and key, and she guarded that key with her life. Darria trailed her fingers over the inked form on the inside of her right elbow. The sleek lines of the ink defined the shapes in her tattoo. Darria played her fingers over the outline of the key until a violet shimmer appeared on her flesh. The key became solid and fell into her palm. The metal warmed as she held it. When she had accepted the job, the undertaker gave her a normal brass key she could have picked up at any hardware store.

Darria ran her finger over the three arches on the top of the key. A surge of energy arced along her skin, causing the small hairs to rise along her arm. It gave the ravens etched into her flesh an amethyst hue. It was nice to take a moment to admire the simple symmetry of her job and the duties that went with it.
The body waited for the undertaker to perform his duties. Then she would clean up. Rolling her shoulders, Darria Savege gazed around the room. Shrubs blocked off the cellar windows. A desk and an ancient gray filing cabinet sat off to her left. The large, stainless steel table was the centerpiece of the room. On the far wall was the curio cabinet. Her boss called it a Wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosities. The countless oddities on its shelves kept her guessing from where and when they had originated.

A shrunken head stared at her with an expression of utter fear frozen on its sewed lips. A long, black braid curled around its neck stump. A two-headed fetus with a horn sprouting from one head and a hoof for a left foot floated in a jar. An array of bottles and other Mason jars bursting with indiscernible things lined the top shelf. No matter how intense her curiosity, Darria dared not pull the containers out. Different kinds of human skulls lined the second shelf. One resembled a human but for the long, curved canines suggesting it might have been a vampire. Old-time medical instruments were on the third shelf. The fourth was a mishmash of oddities. A stained red, carved elephant tusk, a foot-long spiraled golden brown horn that her boss said came from a unicorn, a pin board filled with numerous insects, and a few other things she had no name for. The most important object in the whole collection was in a beat-up, black, tin box that looked like it had been kicked around a schoolyard one too many times.

Darria slid the key into the lock and turned it. The doors did not want to unlock at first.

“Come on,” she said the to the curio cabinet. “You gotta open up. Mr. Archer’s going to be pissed if you decide to be stubborn.”

It felt as though the large piece of furniture stared at her deciding if she was worthy. It might have been fashioned of wood and glass, but sometimes Darria thought it had consciousness. She couldn’t explain it, but the Wunderkammer had a mind of its own. Darria jiggled the key to make sure it wasn’t stuck. She turned it again. This time the doors decided to open.

“Thank you.” She stood on tiptoe and gingerly took a hold of the old tin. Darria slid it off the second shelf, careful not to disturb the other curiosities.

She set it exactly in the center of the roll-around tray and pried the lid open. A few rust flakes fluttered onto the shiny surface. What was inside the container was what really mattered. In the beat-up box were five rows of ancient silver coins stacked eight coins high in each column. On the face of each coin was a relief. It was difficult to tell if it was some ancient emperor or a faded silhouette of George Washington. In front of the coins were three silver needles. One was the thickness of a single hair, another, the width of a toothpick and curved, and the last was the size of a drinking straw. That one looked more like a weapon. Next to that were three spools of fine thread: silver, black, and purple.
Darria ran her finger over the cool fibers. They felt like metal, but were actual thread. Something clattered in the cabinet. A streak of black scuttled along the top shelf of the curio. One of the large mason jars rocked, but didn’t fall. Darria inspected the shelf, but didn’t see anything. She closed the glass doors, locked them, and placed the key along her inner arm. It glowed purple. The ink flowers and ivy wrapped around the key until it became an unnoticeable part of the tattoo once more. Something else moved inside of the Wunderkammer. When she checked, nothing seemed amiss.

“Make all the noise you want. I’m not opening you back up until Abner is ready for me to clean up,” she muttered to the cabinet.

She turned back to the woman on the slab. Smoke rose from the entry wound. Black lines of silver poisoning marred the dead woman’s skin. Darria touched the werewolf’s skin and found it warm. One of her fists remained clenched. She checked the doorway to make sure her boss wasn’t coming. When she didn’t hear any noise from above, Darria peeled back the stiff’s fingers. Inside of her fist was a small, black, shiny stone. She tried to pry it from the corpse’s hand, but the floorboards groaned above her. Abner was coming down to work. She pulled her hand away and tried to forget about the stone.
When she had been hired, her boss had told her this wouldn’t be an ordinary undertaker’s assistant position. At the time, Darria had no idea what an ordinary undertaker’s assistant did. She needed work. She needed to stop living out of the back of her car. She didn’t want to run anymore. Memories of the past plucked at her mind like a wake of feeding vultures, but she shoved them aside. Opening up doors she closed a long time ago would not help her in her current career path.

More heavy footfalls sounded overhead on the warped wooden floor. Sprinkles of plaster broke loose from the ceiling and peppered the cement floor. Darria took her customary place to the left of the table, leaving enough space for the undertaker to inspect her preparations. She brushed her apron free of grime and smoothed it out over her curves.

The footsteps stopped at the top of the stairs. The unmistakable shriek of hinges on the ancient cellar door filtered down from the first floor. She expected Abner to come down. However, the door shut again. More plaster cascaded from the ceiling as her boss walked away from the basement. Probably forgot something. He won’t start until he has everything. Darria asked him once what the importance was of the tools being in their proper place. She shivered as she remembered that day.

* * * *
Her boss turned to her with the lines in his forehead creased more than usual and a dark look in his green eyes. Mr. Archer stopped his tool inspection and a small but tense smile dimpled his cheeks. “I know you think my preparation is ritualistic and my tendency for ‘playing with dead things’ as I heard you tell your friend one day while you were on the phone—”

Her mouth dropped. “Sir, I didn’t mean any disrespect. I thought I was alone. I only mentioned it.”

“It’s okay. I understand how hard it is not to talk about the specifics of the job. In your position, it’s harder because the pain starts in your temples if you do.”

Darria nodded. “It won’t happen again. And I —”

His lips turned up into a meaningful grin. “It’s okay. Many years ago I used to be an apprentice myself and had the same questions you do.” Mr. Archer pulled an ancient wooden stool out from under the table and dusted it off before sitting down. He closed his eyes, seeming to take comfort in being off his feet. This was the first time she had seen him pause from his work. “Did I ever tell you about the woman who trained me?”

“No, sir.” The slight weight of the key working its way out of her tattoo made her arm feel heavier. Darria ran her fingers over her arm and felt the rounded edges of it raise up like ink from a new tat.

Mr. Archer took the tin from the tray and rested it on his lap with his hand on the cover. “My predecessor was a powerful woman with a proclivity for the dead. She had a…” He stroked the box lovingly, “a certain finesse with them that’s lost on me. I became her apprentice when I was younger than you. I kept scattering the instruments every time I set up for her. After a few months, she took me aside. I assumed she’d fire me. Sophia was a beauty. I was smitten with her, but she ignored my horrid attempts at flirting. And her hands.” He sighed like a schoolboy talking about his first crush. “I think I was in love with them just as much as her personality.”

“‘Abner, I know you value this profession. You do everything I ask. If you keep tossing my tools about and breaking my concentration, something disastrous will happen.’”

“I forced myself to take my time. In the ritual of arranging all these instruments, I became a little obsessed, but I ceased being clumsy. If I’m interrupted while I’m working on a body, then something catastrophic could happen. I don’t want you to get hurt.” He touched the scar on the left side of his face. It ran under his eye, the whole length of his cheek, to his neck, and disappeared underneath his shirt.
“What happened to you, sir?” Darria never dared ask before about his scar.

“That’s a story for another time. If you don’t mind, please remove yourself.” He set the tin back in its rightful place.

She left the cellar and went upstairs. From that moment on, Darria took more care on how she set things up.
* * * *
Muffled voices filled the house above her. Her boss had no appointments today because she tended his calendar. Any change in his schedule annoyed him to no end. He sent her to deal with anyone who came to the door for deliveries.

The muted voices gave way to shouting. Darria strained to pick up the conversation.

“…out. I told you to get out…” Mr. Archer shouted at the other person in the house.

The response was inaudible.

She stepped toward the door, ready to go back up and see if her boss needed help. Before she could, thunderous footfalls followed by a crash made the floor shake. The heavy shower of plaster made her jump. Darria clutched the side of the steel table and hoped Mr. Archer was okay. A wave of dread engulfed her.

A loud thud shook the entire floor.

All went silent.

Darria released the table and checked to make sure the key was secured in her tattoo. It couldn’t end up in the wrong hands. She waited for something else to happen, but the quiet remained. She made it halfway up the stairs when the hallway door bowed inward on its hinges as if it were breathing.
A cool breeze prickled her skin. She ran back down the steps into the basement. Darria peered around the corner and looked up at the door. The wood shrieked in protest. Her heart pounded along her ribs. Something was wrong. Darria tried to close the heavy metal door that separated the workroom from the stairs. It wouldn’t budge. Some unseen force held it in place. The wood screamed again from the hallway door. She tried once more to close the metal door. No good. Darria’s gaze swept across the workroom from the curio cabinet, to the cadaver atop the table, to her boss’ desk nestled in the corner of the room next to a rusting filing cabinet. Behind that were the oil tank and boiler. At the opposite end was a coal chute that she sometimes found bodies in. If she had more time, she might be able to get out that way. The bulkhead doors were padlocked on the outside so she couldn’t escape through there. A great whoosh of air blew down from the top of the stairs and made her stumble backward into the steel table. The corpse’s hand fell off the table and dangled over the side. An explosion shot splinters of wood around the cellar and lodged some in her skin. Darria held in her scream. She grabbed the tin, slammed the lid shut, and ran into the darkness. She shimmied between the wall and the boiler and hunched down next to the oil tank. The dank, musty stench stung her nose. A maze of cobwebs enveloped her as she slid down the wall with her knees drawn up to her chest, clutching the tin to protect it. From all the gossamer webbing covering her, she was surprised she wasn’t eye to eye with an arachnid.

Darria had a good view of the worktable. A figure clad in a tight fitting, black jacket shuffled into the workroom. The hood of his coat hid his face.

“What do we have here?”

Darria tried not to breathe too loudly. The intruder pulled the werewolf’s eyelids up and stared into the dead woman’s eyes. He hovered inches from her lips. A small chuckle echoed in the room. What the hell is he doing? He passed his hand over the wolf’s chest and rested it on the corpse’s stomach.

“Can’t let this go to waste.” He pried the stiff’s lips apart.

He inhaled until a fine silver mist snaked out of the werewolf’s mouth and into his. He slurped it up like a piece of spaghetti and stood. He straightened his jacket, rolled his shoulders, and cracked his neck. “Much better. Now where is it?” He walked over to the curio cabinet. He tried to open the doors, but a loud sizzle sounded in the room. The stench of burning flesh followed. He wrenched his hand back and screamed. He reached for the Wunderkammer again and an arch of purple energy scorched his palm.
“Son of a bitch.” He flipped the steel table over, sending the stiff to the floor. The stranger swiped his hand across the tray and flung the instruments she had carefully laid out. Whatever magic that held the cabinet closed prevented him from breaking into it. He needed the key. With all the objects in the Wunderkammer, he could have been after anything. However, she already knew the answer.

The tin.

She covered her mouth to stop the rising shriek from bursting over her lips. Her heart hammered against her ribcage. A trickle of sweat zigzagged down her forehead and along her cheek. Thoughts of escape rampaged in her mind, but Darria was pinned to the corner. The only way out was by the intruder and up the stairs. If she moved, he would find her. Right now, the shadows were her friends. Her stomach knotted in anticipation of what to do.

“Where did you hide it, old man?” The intruder strode over to the desk and yanked out the drawers, spreading papers across the floor. He hauled down the filing cabinet. When it crashed to the floor, she covered her mouth to keep from crying out. He would kill her if she was discovered. Maybe this man would do the same to her that he had done to the corpse.

Whatever the coins, needles, and thread meant to this man it was worth him barging into this place and…Oh God. Abner’s dead. This man probably killed him. That’s the loud noise I heard before the stranger entered the basement. She was alone with this maniac. For a split second, Darria thought about forking over the things she protected, but her gut churned in disgust at relinquishing the tin or the key. Mr. Archer told her the objects in the curio cabinet were to be protected. Some were cursed. Others were too dangerous to be circulated within the human population.

Something fell onto her shoulder. A small whimper left her lips. Darria bit her tongue harder to stop from crying out. Something scampered down her arm. She imagined it was a spider. The stranger turned in her direction and peered into the darkness. His eyes glowed orange. Her very soul went frigid. He stepped toward her and snickered. Darria imagined his smile curled from ear to ear underneath his hood. She could not take her eyes off him. Her pulse kept time with her hitching breath. A drop of sweat stung her left eye. Above her, the back door slammed. Plaster rained down from the ceiling, dropping bits onto the man’s black coat. Footfalls stopped by the cellar entrance. Whoever was upstairs must have discovered Mr. Archer. The intruder grumbled something too low for her to hear.

“Hello,” the newcomer called down from upstairs.

Darria recognized the voice: Oliver, her boss’s friend and the owner of the local graveyard. The prowler looked up at the direction of the voice. His hellish gaze found her again in the darkness. She held her breath and waited.

“Darria, you down there?”

Everything in Darria wanted to answer him. Her voice froze. The stranger took another step toward her hiding spot. The trespasser turned toward the rushing footsteps coming down the stairs. Oliver burst into the basement. Her insides twisted when the stranger turned his orange gaze onto the cemetery owner.

“You,” the prowler seethed.

“You have no right to be here, necromancer,” Oliver answered.

The stranger threw back his head and sniggered, shaking off his hood. His blond hair was shot through with black. “I’ve come to claim what’s mine.”

“There’s nothing here for you,” Oliver spat. “This isn’t your domain. Leave now, before I make you.”

He stepped back from Oliver. The lights in the work area dimmed, casting a shadow over the entire space. It seemed someone had walked atop her grave. She took in a small breath and caught the faint whiff of sulfur. The darkness thickened. It turned her stomach. Hot bile rose in her throat, but she swallowed it back down. Her pulse quickened the longer she remained stuffed in the confined space.

“I’ll be back, harvester. Then I will get what I came for.” The man pulled his hood over his head.

The inky shadows burned as they crept along her exposed skin. At the same time, the darkness wrapped around her and smothered her. She tried to pull the blackness from her, but she couldn’t get a hold of it. Darria tried to breathe, but her head grew light from lack of oxygen.

In a great whoosh, the shadows withdrew. The burglar had vanished. Life-giving breath flowed into her lungs. A sharp pain traveled up her right leg as the muscles cramped. She moved a few inches, but her leg hit the oil tank. The hollow thud echoed in the cellar.

“Darria, is that you?” Oliver knelt down and held out his hand. “Come on out. It’s safe now.”

She stood slowly, trusting the certainty in his eyes and the sincerity in his voice. Questions swarmed in her mind like a nest of angry hornets. Darria hugged the tin to her chest and slipped out from behind the boiler, ignoring his outstretched hand. “What the hell happened? Who was that? Is Mr. Archer okay?”
His lips turned into a sorrowful smile. Oliver didn’t have to respond about her boss because the sadness in his eyes told her the answer. Her emotions raged until they formed a hot lump in her throat. The old man had been a godsend and saved her in a time of her life when she needed a place to stay. Darria couldn’t think about that now. Maybe he’s not dead. Maybe he’s just injured. Maybe Oliver’s expression is wrong. She shook her head and surveyed the damaged workroom.

“Mr. Archer’s going to be furious with this mess. I should clean up.” The scattered papers and the overturned furniture were out of place. Darria turned over the steel table then picked the body back up. This incredible feat came with her taking the job. It always amazed her when she lifted something twice her body weight and it was easy. Before her undertaker career she wouldn’t have thought of hefting a body. Now she laid the werewolf back on the table. Then she knelt down and gathered the strewn sheets from the concrete floor.

Oliver put his hand on her shoulder. “That can wait until later. Come, Darria, there isn’t much time left.” He helped her stand and set the papers on the roll-around cart.

Chapter Two

Darria made her way up the stairs, trying to avoid the door debris. Her boots crunched on the toothpick-sized splinters. Her boss lay slumped on the hallway floor. A scorch mark marred his starched, white shirt. She knelt beside him, thankful he remained alive after what happened. Mr. Archer’s eyes opened, but his glassy gaze resembled one of the corpses they worked on.

“Why haven’t you called an ambulance?” she asked Oliver.

Oliver’s hardened expression didn’t change. Darria could read it in his gaze. There was no hope for her boss. Mr. Archer didn’t have much time left. The older man’s hand twitched. Mr. Archer grabbed her arm. She jumped and the tin dropped out of her grip.

“Do you still have it?” he rasped.

Tears tumbled down her cheeks. “The tin and the key. He didn’t get them.”

Mr. Archer clutched her arm until it hurt. “Key…important. Office. Top drawer. Oliver…protect you. I’m sorry. Not enough time to t—”

“Protect me from what? What’s in your office in the top drawer? Not enough time for what? You can’t die and leave me all alone. Who’s going to take care of this place? I don’t know what to do with the bodies.” Darria stared at her boss, but his eyes were empty.

Oliver placed a hand on Abner’s forehead and one over his heart. His body relaxed. Mr. Archer’s hand fell away from hers. He was gone. Her inner arm burned. Purple energy raced along the vines and flowers etched into her skin. It crackled around her fingers before dissipating. The sudden surge filled her with more questions and an emptiness she could not quite understand.

“I’ll tend to him. Go downstairs and tidy up.”

“No,” she wiped her eyes. “You…he said you’d protect me. What’s going on? Downstairs that…man…—whatever the fuck he was—shrank back from you. You grew and overshadowed the room.” Frustration rolled through her. She nearly threw the tin across the room. Instead, Darria ran her fingers through her dark brown braids.

Oliver’s silver-blue eyes peered right into her soul. She had often shrunk from his stare, but now it didn’t intimidate her. A small smile grazed his lips. He dragged a hand over his face and pushed his shaggy brown hair out of his eyes. She had never noticed it was shot through with silver. Oliver always intrigued her. Now he commanded a presence she hadn’t noticed before. What did he and Mr. Archer talk about when they met? What am I going to do now? The idea of finding another job overwhelmed her. What about the key? Who would take care of the bodies and the tin? I can’t leave everything lying around for anyone to take. The man might return. The key, the tin, and the objects in the curio cabinet would be fair game.

“I’m sorry. I know today’s events have shocked you, but certain things must be dealt with. Indulge me for a little while,” Oliver explained to her.

Darria nodded, picked up the tin, and descended back into the basement. The door splinters crackled like popcorn under her feet. Tears lined her eyes as the reality of her situation hit her. Mr. Archer was dead. He might have been gruff and set in his ways, but he had given her a chance. It didn’t matter to him that she had tattoos, dressed differently, or didn’t discuss her past. Once he had discovered she had slept in her car when she had first started, he had offered her the small apartment over the garage. It wasn’t much, but it was a roof over her head that became her home. Now that security had been destroyed. Mr. Archer deserves better than to lie up there with Oliver poking at him. She stopped halfway down the stairs, turned around, and crept back up a couple of steps so she could see into the hallway. Oliver leaned over her boss. He kissed his lips, his eyes, and when he looked up, Oliver’s eyes glowed dark purple. Something cold walked over her soul. Darria grew more frigid the longer she looked until she found the will to pull herself away from that indigo stare. She withdrew downstairs and the feeling returned to her body.

She surveyed the damage of the workroom. Everything else was in shambles. Darria sighed and collected the scattered papers. The majority were yellowed and badly faded. From what she deciphered of the script, they were death certificates dating back to the mid-seventeen hundreds. She placed them in a neat pile on Mr. Archer’s desk so whoever took over for him could sort them out later. She turned the filing cabinet right side up and closed all the drawers.

A few of the papers had slipped from the drawer. The dates on them were from the eighteen fifties. Mr. Archer’s signature was scrawled on every one of them. The same that signed her paychecks. It hadn’t changed. Maybe someone from his family had been an undertaker in the past. Emotions gathered in her throat and choked her up. Knowing Mr. Archer was gone hurt her heart. There’s nothing I can do until Oliver comes down and explains it all. What did Mr. Archer’s last words mean? It remained an enigma. Darria straightened up to keep her mind busy and tried not to fall further into despair.

Darria put the papers on top of the filing cabinet. She stopped, thinking what to do next, when she noticed one of the panels on the back of the desk was loose. She reached into the small alcove and pulled out the board. Stuffed in the hole was a bundle wrapped in a soft, red cloth tied with a purple ribbon. She ran her finger over the suede and tugged on the ribbon. The stubborn knot came undone after she tugged on it or a second, revealing a parcel of letters and a book. She set the correspondence aside and gingerly picked up the diary. The crackled, black leather, cover remained supple. Inside she found an old tintype of Mr. Archer and a woman she didn’t recognize. They posed on the front porch of the same house she was in. All smiled at the photographer. A notation on the side of the paper frame stated ‘1855 with Sophia.’ Dark hair curled down around the woman’s shoulders. Sophia came up to Mr. Archer’s chest. He was…had been a tall man, standing maybe six five. She must have been about five feet and five inches at the tallest. She wore a dress with a full skirt and ruffles that reminded Darria of a Southern belle. Oliver stood to the left of Sophia wearing old fashioned trousers with a vest and a pocket watch in his hand. Besides his clothing being different, he hadn’t aged.

“I see you found Abner’s journal.”

Darria turned. Oliver lingered in the doorway. His somber expression returned. A little bit of fear crept along her soul. He’s involved in this whole operation. I know it. Besides him owning the graveyard, his conversations with Abner, and their chess games, Darria didn’t know anything else about him. She had learned more about him in the last few minutes than she did in the years she had worked for Mr. Archer. His ageless appearance and his purple glare marked him for one of the supernatural beings they worked on. Dealing with creatures was par for the course, but they were on the slab. Seeing him in action was something else altogether.

“Yeah. And all the death certificates from the 1800’s with his signature on them.” She gestured to the desk. “Was he really a hundred and fifty-eight? What about you? What the hell are you?”

“I’m sure by now you figured out this is no ordinary job.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not a fool. We work on bodies with silver bullets pumped into them or stakes lodged in their chests. Some have no heads whatsoever. I’ve seen all manner of things I can’t explain. When anyone asks me the specifics of my job, all I can tell them is I’m an undertaker’s assistant. Nonetheless, I’m not really preparing a body by applying makeup or dressing it for a service. I set up tools, do a little bit of paperwork, and some housekeeping. I’ve seen some crazy shit. Maybe it’s because of the magic key that becomes part of my fucking tattoo every time I put it on my skin. Before this, I never believed in the supernatural. Obviously, I was wrong. Mr. Archer’s dead. I’ll give you the key and the tin. You protect it from now on because I’m done.” She slammed her fist down on the desk and the piles of death certificates slid over the surface.

Oliver touched the dead werewolf’s forehead. The pained look in his eyes showed Darria he cared in his own way about the corpse. “It’s a disgrace she wasn’t put to rest. I’ve always taken pride in sending their souls into the afterlife. Abner prepared their bodies in the same manner as many before him did. She was due for peace. I wish I could’ve stopped him. Abner was my friend.”

“Him? Necromancer?” She recalled what Oliver had said to the prowler. “That’s what you called him in the basement.”

“Yes.”

“Don’t they use entrails to read the future?”

“No. Well…some do. Necros need souls to drive their magic. Supernatural creatures are the best fuel.”
“That’s what the silver wisp was that he sucked out of her.”

A flash of loss moved across Oliver’s face. He pushed a strand of blond hair from the stiff’s forehead. “Yes.”

“This necromancer came here looking for souls? The key or maybe what was in the tin?”

“Are you done with her body?” He avoided her question.

“I’m not going to use it for decoration.”

Oliver gave her half a chuckle before placing his lips right over the bullet wound. He didn’t take his gaze from her. His eyes glowed amethyst once more and that same foreboding marched down her spine. A cold heat radiated from the steel table. The corpse’s ashen flesh smoldered until it ignited. Purple flames the same hue as Oliver’s eyes covered the body. The fire parted around Oliver and never touched him. The inferno grew along the table until it consumed the werewolf. It died down and left a fine layer of ash on the polished surface. Oliver’s eyes returned to normal. He pulled open a filing cabinet drawer and fished out a small cardboard box. He swept the ashes into the container. He picked up the flattened silver bullet that killed the woman and held it out to Darria.

“For you.”

“A souvenir?”

“Whatever you want it for.”

She stared at his outstretched hand. Everything in her went still. She heard the spider spinning its web in the corner above the coal chute. Even the steady river of blood rushing through her veins. Darria held her breath and waited for Oliver’s eyes to glow once more, but they remained silver-blue and tantalizing. When she didn’t move, he took her hand, and let the silver bullet plop into her palm. It was warm and cold at the same time.

“Is this supposed to do something? Are you going to light me on fire with a kiss and burn me away to ash, too? What are you going to do with her remains?” Darria heard the slight tremor of dread within her voice.

Oliver curled her fingers around the bullet. “No, Darria. No fire. I promise. I’ll bury the ashes in my graveyard. I know this is confusing. You have a right to have your questions answered, but...” He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. His skin was cooler than what she had thought it would be. “But I don’t remember the last time an undertaker was killed on the job. Something must be stirring for the necros to attack an undertaker. Come to think about it, I’ve heard rumors about other undertakers being killed. I didn’t put any stock into it. I guess I was wrong. I’ll look into it.”

The room began to spin as she tried to make sense of everything. All the grief and the events of the day crashed down around her. She gripped the edge of the desk and tried to keep from falling out of the chair.

“Are you okay?” Oliver asked.

She tried to get up, but the room became fuzzy around the edges. When she took one step, she fainted away and didn’t feel when Oliver caught her.

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