About a Vampire(3)

By: Lynsay Sands

She should have been more relaxed now that she was inside. After all, the urns held only the ashes of the dead, which couldn’t spontaneously form into bodies to clamber after her in search of brains, but Holly found herself still anxious and jumpy. It didn’t take much thought to figure out why. She was about to head into the crematorium itself, where coffins holding the newly departed waited to be burned.

During that tour on her first day working here, the process of cremation had been explained to her in fine detail. Definitely more than she’d wanted to know, but apparently, the fact that she was a temp in the office to work on the taxes and wasn’t a sales associate didn’t remove the possibility of her having to explain things to customers. Holly hoped to God that never happened, because she would not want to explain those details to the loved ones of the newly deceased. It had all seemed gruesome to her.

Holly had never really thought much about cremation, but if she had, she would have assumed that the coffin was rolled into the retort, flames shot out and poof, a nice urn of ashes came out the other end. Not so. First of all, it took much longer than she’d imagined. Despite reaching temperatures of 1600 or 1700 degrees, the actual cremation could take two to three hours. And no neat little urn of ashes came out at the end. The ashes, which weren’t all ashes, remained in the retort to cool, and then a magnet was used to remove anything metal such as fillings and pins. Once cooled, the ashes were swept out onto a tray using a corn broom as if the remains were so much debris on the floor. They were then allowed to cool further before being placed into a cremulator, which looked much like a garbage disposal unit to Holly when she’d peered inside. There the remains, including some bone that didn’t break down completely, were pulverized to make it all smooth and ash-­like before it was placed in the urn if one was supplied. Otherwise it was bagged and boxed for the family to take away.

Gruesome, Holly thought as she pushed through another door into a short hall.

Here the dim lighting gave way to glaringly bright fluorescents overhead, and cinder-­block walls painted a pale cream. It was almost sterile in its lack of color, and Holly paused and blinked, the buzz of the fluorescents loud in her ears as her attention shifted to the door ahead.

John Byron worked the 4:30-­to-­12:30 shift and should still be on duty, she thought, glancing at her wristwatch. She’d met him several times and while he was a bit of a cynic, with a sarcastic, self-­deprecating sense of humor, he seemed a nice enough guy. She didn’t think he’d give her too hard a time, although she’d no doubt have to explain why she was at the offices this late. Holly hoped he was alone though and Rick Mexler hadn’t yet arrived. Rick was the man who took over the crematorium from 12:30 to 8:30. She didn’t start work until 9:00 so hadn’t yet met him, but had heard he was a grumpy S.O.B. who didn’t like ­people. That really wasn’t something she wanted to have to deal with, so she was a bit alarmed when she stepped through the door into the crematorium and heard two men’s voices.

The crematorium was a large long rectangle, but the cooler took up a ten-­by-­ten space along the left on entering. The rest of the room was a large L shape, with the retorts against the wall that was around the corner of the cooler, out of sight. That was where the voices were coming from, so she didn’t at first see the men. But Holly assumed it was John and Rick.

Her gaze slid to the front of the cooler as she started forward. The door was a metal roll-­up almost as wide as a garage door. It was open at the moment, leaving the contents on view—­ a set of tall wide shelves with various coffins on it. Two were cardboard boxes, two were the less expensive blue coffins, and three were actual oak coffins. She noted that the mini forklift was positioned in front of the open door as if John had been about to retrieve a casket when he’d been interrupted by Rick’s arrival.

Holly turned her gaze away from the cooler, trying not to think of the loved ones resting in the coffins . . . or their intended future. She’d nearly reached the corner when she realized that neither voice sounded like John Byron. Had he left already? And if so, who was Rick Mexler talking to? She slowed and then paused just out of sight around the corner to listen to the men’s conversation.

Justin Bricker rolled the gurney stacked with dead rogues in front of the retort. After kicking the wheel locks to keep it in place, he then glanced to Anders, his partner in tonight’s endeavor.

With his dark hair and skin and the black leather clothes he wore, Anders was like a shadow in the white room. He was presently looming over the crematorium technician who stood in the corner. The adult male mortal who had opened the back door at their knock now looked like little more than a naughty schoolboy put there for punishment by an irate teacher. Only the child’s resentment was missing . . . the man’s expression was blank as Anders worked to remove their arrival from his memory and keep him where he stood, safely out of the way.