It was seven thirty in the morning when Riley J. Kim was hit by a truck. At seven forty on the dot, Riley J. Kim was being rolled to the emergency room on a gurney. By eight o'clock in the morning, Riley Jean Kim was pronounced dead. Her spine shattered, her skull broken, brains mushed, and her left toe folding the wrong way. A single bus ticket in her crushed hand.
Indeed Riley J. Kim was as lifeless as a gas station in the middle of the dessert.
So it seemed odd to Riley J. Kim and the readers of this story when she woke up. Surrounded by dead bodies.
“Oh My God!” Riley screamed as she tumbled off her bed at the sight of poor French Hendricks, an old man who died of a heart attack after witnessing his cat shredding his floral curtains to itty bitty pieces. The man did not become death in the slightest and it was just perfect to send Riley scooting across the cement floor to press her back hard against the cold stone wall. Her breath hitched as her eyes surveyed the scene. Twelve beds with twelve dead bodies, one or two covered by a cloth while the rest were very well dressed stiffs. It had to be the most peculiar situations Riley J. Kim found herself in. She looked down at her own attire and for a moment thought she was prepared to attend a very drool party.
Riley J. Kim closed her eyes to focus on controlling her breathing. She didn't do well in stressful cases, horror movies and mystery novels were avoided like a plague for good reason. Murder and dead bodies set the poor young lady off. Closing her eyes helped Riley focus on her breath and her mind working. Funny thing though, her brain seemed to feel funny. It was the itch on that spot of your back that you can't reach. The eerie feeling of being watched or when you can't seem to remember something but it's on the tip of your tongue.
Being a sensible young woman, Riley decided to ignore the sensation and focus on the task at hand. She slowly opened her eyes and bared herself as she slowly rose. She used the wall as support as it felt her back would give out any second. Riley eyeballed Gertrude Douglass who was sporting a cashmere sweater and beautiful lime pearls. She feared Gertrude would wake any moment as it seemed the waking dead was normal around here. She turned to see a flight of boarded stairs and saw a light at the top. By the looks of the dark and cold room, Riley J. Kim determined it to be the basement. She was possibly in a house owned by a serial killer who kept his or her victims in his or her basement and dresses them up. Either way Riley J. Kim didn't want to find out. But she also didn't wish to stay at this corpse party to up the steps she went. As quietly and quickly as her panicked mind could manage that is.
Riley J. Kim stopped breathing when a loud creak cut through the silence like butter. She paused and when she was sure that nobody was coming or worse, waking up from the dead, she continued her ascent up the stairs. Every step betrayed poor frightened Riley J. Kim with squeals of delight and uncalled for excitement. Whoever belonged to this house really needed to fix these steps, Riley pondered for a moment leaving a note on her way out as a friendly reminder. Then she remembered her conclusion that this house may belong to a serial killer and quickly scribbled the mental note. As her imaginary note got thrown in the trash, Riley J. Kim felt a shooting pain in her big left toe and crumpled on the last few steps. So close, and yet so far from her goal, her back felt numb and it seemed to Riley J. Kim that her brains might leak out her ear.
Riley J. Kim felt nothing but pain as her heart beat slower and slower in her chest. What was happening!? Riley tried to think it over but it was difficult when she felt so dizzy. It must have been the spoiled eggs she accidentally ate for breakfast, or maybe even her horoscope which foretold her roommate would lie to her about eating the last of the ice cream. Through it was hard what a carton of ice cream had to do with finding herself falling asleep on a serial killer's rubbish stairs but it mattered little now. Riley J. Kim was dying all over again.
She closed her eyes and finally her breath left her, the cold didn't bother her so much and as the last of life left her Riley J. Kim realized it might not be so bad being dead.
It was where she was meant to be right?
Somebody disagreed with this thought, expressing their protest with a kiss on the lips. The heat of anther’s breath brought warmth to Riley's lips. Her chest filled up with foreign air and the cold was bitter again. There was no pain because only the sweet sensation of the kiss occupied Riley J. Kim's mushy brain which was slowly regaining it's years of wrinkles. She only returned the kiss and found herself slowly brushing her lips against a set of lips that belonged to a person she did not know. It must be a side effect of death that Riley J. Kim didn't care less who she was kissing.
But this little fantasy was broken short when she felt the rumbled of a deep voice. Snapping her back into reality, Riley shoved the man off her and stared wide eyed at the kissing stranger.
“Wha- who-” She fumbled over her words, “Who...” She covered her mouth and blinked at the stranger a few times. He was a very handsome gentleman wearing a simple button down velvet shirt and black pants. The dark attire did well to emphasize his yellow hair and pale pale skin, he was so pale that he might have been dead like Riley. The fire in his unique scarlet eyes said otherwise, a dangerous fire that screamed at Riley J. Kim to run. Run as fast as possible and never look back.
“How are you feeling Riley J. Kim?” He smiled at her and she only tilted her head.
“Who are you?”
“Sorry about the rude introduction, but I assure you it was necessary.” He help out his hand, Riley stared at his outstretched hand.
“Who are you, how do you know my name?”
“I'm the undertaker, I'm in charge of looking after your body.” He gestured to her take his hand but she only stared at him.
“Sorry who are you?”
“Do you feel dizzy or tired? Possibly pained or even...” The Undertaker bit his lip, “diarrhea?”
“Are you going to answer my question?”
“I'll explain everything.” The Undertaker took her hand and pulled her up the remaining steps. The hall they entered reminded Riley of a modern day vampire's apartment. The wallpaper was aged red vines and the floor was painted over in black. When he let go and they came into a room sadly lighted by candles and gas lights the hung from the ceiling. The wood floor creaked as Riley slowly walked to a torn red couch, filled of holes and stuffing blooming from tears.
“Have you ever heard of electricity?” Riley observed the old oak desk in one corner by a book case with shelves full of jars of different insects. The desk was a mess of papers and bottles filled of liquids Riley couldn't began to label. The Undertaker flipped through the mess and pulled out a tea set. He maneuvered his way through a mess of junk and boxes that separated his big desk chair and the coffee table at the foot of the couch and two arm chairs.
“How do you take your tea?” The Undertaker didn't wait for an answer as he poured a strange liquid into a tea cup. The consistency was reminiscent of the mud that used to produce on the flower beds of Riley J. Kim's apartment building. Her mouth dropped as he handed the cup to her.
“No thank you.” Riley placed the cup back on it's place and watched carefully as the Undertaker took the seat beside her. He put his hand on his cheek and stared back. “So...”
“Do you have any family Riley J. Kim?”
“No. And you can just call me Riley, don't have to use my full name every time.”
“I like the way it sounds, Riley J. Kim.” He scratched his chin.
“Are you insane?”
“Sitting here drinking tea with a dead woman and she thinks I'm the crazy one.”
“I'm not dead.”
“Yes you are- mostly are.”
“I can't be dead if I'm sitting here talking to you. That's not possible.”
“Is possible, otherwise I wouldn't be speaking to a dead woman. Do you have a boyfriend Riley J. Kim?”
“Riley, and no-wait,” Riley shook her head, “What do you mean mostly?”
“Exactly what I meant, you are mostly dead. Half alive, half dead.” The Undertaker paused to sip his dubious tea and Riley had to look away.
“I don't understand.”
“Stop talking and I'll explain it.”
“Hey now, I am really confused and scared now. I think I deserve some manners from you.”
“Have you ever heard of cheating death?”
“What like...” Riley lifted her hands, “Hiding from the grim reaper?”
“Death is a very serious thing, it's absolutely annoying. Crack a joke in a funeral and suddenly you're the insensitive one. What it's not your fault they died, why must you be the enemy!?”
“What does this have to do with me?”
“My job, Riley J. Kim, is to care for the dead. I've been dressing bodies before I could walk, it's a family trade, did you know that?”
“I don't know your name-”
“My father always thought it was a pity. He hated dressing younger bodies. You know, children and young ladies such as yourself. He always said, 'Undertaker, I wish this job could bring these souls back.'”
“He really called you Undertaker?” Riley glared the ridiculous man.
“From that day forward,” The Undertaker ignored Riley's bitter comment, “I committed myself to finding the formula that indeed could bring souls back to their bodies.”
“Wait, so you bring back the dead?” Riley shook her head, “I don't believe this.”
“I know, it's pretty amazing. Ever since I found the formula, the secret to life after death, I used it. Riley J. Kim you have no idea how many lives I've saved.”
“Oh I bet you did.” Riley muttered underneath her breath.
“But unfortunately there's a snag which can't be countered.”
“Do tell, please.”
“The matter of bringing the dead completely back.” The Undertaker shrugged, “See it goes against all of natures laws so there always a piece that is dead and the only way to fight the struggle that is death is a maiden's kiss.”
“A maiden's kiss?” Riley touched her lips, “What do you mean?”
“Through trial and error I've found that without a kiss a day from your beloved you will lose your consciousness.”
“I'll die again!”
“No you'll become undead,” The Undertaker shifted in his seat, “Like Henry.”
“Him.” The Undertaker pointed to a casket standing up against the opposite wall. The top half was open and a man who was unearthly pale and dead looking was glaring at Riley with hungry eyes.
“What's wrong with him?”
“Poor fellow couldn't find a beloved and became a mindless hungry fellow. Pity I can't find anything for him to eat, he has a strange appetite for nothing but brains.”
“He's a zombie?” Riley pointed at Henry who grunted. She jumped slightly in her seat and turned back to the Undertaker, “is this a sick joke?”
“Without the life giving force and desire of a beloved to keep you tethered to this world, the formula spoils and you become undead.”
“That's enough!” Riley stood up and put her hands on her hips, “If you expect me to believe any of this nonsense you're going to have to show me some proof.”
“I have already- I kissed you.”
“Kiss-” Riley shut her mouth at the memory of the shameful act that took on those risky steps. Indeed Riley felt like she was dying until the moment the Undertaker stole a kiss. But could she really believe in all this? A crazy dashing man who rose the dead and kept a zombie in a casket? The whole thing sounded like a cheesy sitcom to Riley J. Kim, it was too unbelievable. When she glanced at Henry, Riley felt like she didn't want to risk it. If she ran away from the Undertaker and didn't heed his words then Riley would become the undead she had ignored in life. The whole thing was too complicated and ridiculous for simple Riley J. Kim who had plans to go to the shop that morning. She was going to buy more ice cream and some milk. Riley J. Kim was going to make a milk shake and watch reruns on the telly of Tom and Jerry while finishing a crossword puzzle. How could one life be utterly destroyed in a signal second? When did thinks become so twisted, when did fate shake her for it's own dark humor?
“Riley J. Kim,” The Undertaker whispered subtly, “I know you are cooping right now but we have bigger problems right now.”
“Like?” Riley replied in a hoarse voice.
“You don't have a boyfriend... so you are a hero without a maiden to kiss.”
“Why don't you just do it? Isn't that what you did earlier?”
“That was an emergency, I'm only a substitute for the real thing and I assure you that it won't work everyday unless you fell in love with me.” The Undertaker snorted at his own joke. Riley sighed in frustration and glared at him. He coughed once and sipped his tea in an awkward attempt to rewrite the poor joke.
“What's the point,” Riley found herself saying, “I'm supposed to be dead anyways.”
“Don't say that!” The Undertaker stood up and straightened a wrinkle on his shirt.
“No really, don't say that.” He walked around to face her, “Thoughts of death are a side effect of mostly dead.”
“Diarrhea and thoughts of death? Really?”
“It's the grim reaper's way of making you regret cheating death. The old man could never stand to lose.” The Undertaker stared off in space thinking about the mysterious figure, “I like to call him Grumps, he hates it.”
“So he knows you well?”
“We go way back.”
“Undertaker,” Riley's mouth twitched up in a smile, “how alive are you?”
“Not the task at hand Riley J. Kim! Come we have maiden hunting to do.” He reached past Riley and she leaned back with a blush on her cheeks. She didn't understand the reaction herself and tried to hide it as the Undertaker slipped in a simple black coat, “I will tell you know that Grumps likes to pay a visit when I steal a soul away from him. That being said he will have a big influence on you so be on your toes.”
“'Be on your toes?' that's the best advice you can give me?”
“Just hold on,” The Undertaker raised his fist to Riley, “Hold on to what keeps you alive. Family, friends, pets, a stranger you just met!” He bounced his way to the front door and gestured to Riley to follow.
“I don't even know your name. How can I trust I won't become like Henry?”
“Riley J. Kim, you don't need to know my name to trust me. I brought life to you, don't waste this precious gift by sitting in my living room with your arms crossed. It's a slap in the face to the dead I didn't choose to save.”
“Why did you save me?”
“Because you are,” The Undertaker taped his fingers on the door, “a very attractive young lady.”
“You have to be joking.”
“Father would have approved! Now hurry up Riley J. Kim!” And he disappeared out the door. Riley J. Kim snorted her disgust and looked again at Henry who raised his black lips in a grin.
“Wait for me!” Riley J. Kim bounded out the door. It closed with an audible click.