(1 of 1. Originally posted on July 21, 2023 for the prompt “An Unexpected Visitor.”)
The doorbell chimed a muted, neutral tone. Phillipe flinched at the sound. Not because it startled him, but because it meant he had to deal with a customer. He worked the nightshift at the family funeral home so that he wouldn’t have to talk to people. He set down his novel and walked toward the entry. The wall clock showed a quarter past three.
The chime sounded again. It’s not locked. He made an effort to relax his face into the bland expression he used to avoid triggering effusive displays from bereaved clients. The chime sounded a third time just before he reached the door. The bereaved normally displayed more patience.
The door opened to reveal a respectable looking gentleman in an old but fashionable suit, complete with cape and top hat. Silver wingtips stood out from his black hair, and his dark eyes glittered like gemstones. He stood motionless, one gloved hand hanging in the air near the doorbell.
Phillipe gave himself a mental shake, chiding himself for letting the silence stretch too long. Something about the man’s eyes mesmerized him. “Welcome, sir.”
He stepped back and to the side, but the man still made no move to enter. “Please, come in.”
The visitor glided across the threshold.
“How can I help you, sir?” Phillipe suppressed a shiver. If he doesn’t say something soon, I’ll be tempted to touch him to be sure he’s not a ghost. The thought of touching the man made him feel giddy. It reminded him of the urge to leap when standing at the top of a cliff.
“I have need of a new coffin.” The gentleman’s voice sounded like that of a young man, deep and resonant.
Something about that voice made Phillipe want to hear it again. “Of course, sir. Are you looking for any special features? Removable lid, or hinged? Do you have a preference on material?”
“A hinged lid? Yes, that could be useful.” He steepled his hands in front of his chest while he considered. “I’m only familiar with wooden coffins. What other options do you offer?”
“Please, follow me to the display room.” Phillipe continued to talk as he led the way. “We have various metal caskets. Bronze and copper have a nice look. Stainless steel is the most durable, and we can cover it in a wood veneer if you prefer the woodgrain aesthetic…”
The man moved so silently, Phillipe had to fight the urge to look back to be sure he was following. He kept up a stream of chatter to cover his nerves.
That resonant voice cut through his prattle like a razor. “Stainless steel with wood veneer sounds lovely. Silk lining, of course, with extra cushioning on the bottom. I will need one that opens from the inside.”
Phillipe nearly stumbled. He replayed the comment in his mind to be sure he’d understood. “That is…an unusual request. It can be done, of course, but we’ll have to put in a special order. It’s really not necessary, but I understand that certain phobias persist in the older generation. We do our best to accommodate our clients’ wishes. If you could just fill out this form in detail…it could take a while to come in. Do you need it by a certain date?”
“No. But do not dally.” The man pulled a business card from an inner jacket pocket. “Here is the contact number for my assistant. Inform him as soon as it arrives, and he will arrange to have it picked up.”
With a flash of teeth and swirl of his cloak, the gentleman turned and glided toward the exit.
“Sir, the form…” Phillipe trailed off. The form was completed. When did he…? I must be tired. He shrugged, entered the order into the computer, then picked up his copy of Dracula and continued reading.