Author Guest Post & Short Story: R. M. Smith

Today’s Author shares an interesting short story plus information on his zombie novels

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The Dead Watch

(based on a true story)

It’s a chilly one tonight.  The cold goes right through the bones if you let it; but I shan’t let it.  I’m warm here in this small room with its small bed and small desk.  The light of the candle sitting beside me on the desk is fighting with the light of the fireplace behind me; a to and fro battle my shadow cannot win.  I’m sitting with my fingers firmly gripping my quill.  I plan to write my love Cynthia who has gone off to visit her family in New Brighton for the Christmas holiday.

Marty, the undertaker of the mortuary and my dear friend, asked me to take the dead watch for him tonight saying that he had previous plans with a visiting cousin.  With Cynthia gone, I had nothing else to do.  I suppose I could have run down to the tavern with some of the others or even asked to run along with Marty and his kin; but the cold kept me in.

During the dead watch I oversee the dead who have been brought here after Marty prepared them for viewing or burial, or a cremation which will take place the following day; or after a holiday.  I have watched the dead before, a few times, not much.  Most of my time is spent with my dear Cynthia.

The watch is quite simple, really.  I merely stay in a back room of the mortuary ensuring that the building is secure and no one breaks in during the night.  It is quiet.  No one disturbs me.

The only duty I must perform during the watch is to turn off lights situated above each occupied coffin.  The lights are perched above the head of the deceased incase a loved one or a policeman may drop by, perhaps an investigator.  Loved ones may stay with the deceased for some time before I must usher them off for the night whilst outside, trolley cars continue their rounds about the snowy city.

As soon as night has fallen, I lock the front hinged door of the mortuary, chain and bolt it, and then make my rounds turning off all of the lights in the building including those hanging over the deceased.

Back in my small room, I settle down with a few sheets of paper, my quill, and the fire warming my back.  The only light now is in the room with me, shoving my shadow here and there.  The dark open viewing area of the mortuary is through an open doorway to my room.

I begin to write Cynthia, my love.  My words of love for her easily flow through my quill.  Sometime later, a rap at the front door startles me.  Hurriedly I throw on my cloak and quickly walk to the bolted door.  I pass the coffins in the dark noticing that I left one of the lights on by one of the coffins near the far wall.  How silly of me.  I thought that I had turned it off.  With a slight laugh, I arrive at the front door, unlock it, and am surprised to see a night patrolman.

In a cold shivering whisper of a voice he asks, “Can I sit in by your fire for a bit, lad?” His moustache is covered in small bits of frozen ice.  His hat and shoulders are covered in fresh snow flakes.

“Sorry old boy,” I say.  “But I am not allowed to let anyone in now that visiting hours have passed.  You might try the tavern.  They may let you sit for a bit.”

He smiles.  “Well done.  Marty wanted me to check in on you.  I see he’s hired himself a good man.  Goodnight then.”

Graciously, I nod, closing the door on him and relocking it.  Of course Marty picked a good man for the job! I wasn’t going to let a good friend of mine down.  He had helped me on many different occasions.  Sitting here in the dark was not such a hard thing to do to repay a kindness, now was it? And not only that, Marty was going to have Cynthia and me over for dinner as payment.  His rabbit stew was such a treat.

With a shiver, I folded my arms and rubbed my sides as the front door sealed the cold away.  “God its bloody cold out there,” I said making my way back to my room past the coffins.  Entering the door to my room I stopped in my tracks.  “Ah, the light.”  I walked back to the one which was still lit, pulled the chain, and off it went.

The light of the fire beckoned to me.  Just that short time of talking to the night patrolmen had brought such a chill to my bones.  I could feel the cold air around my ankles.

Hurrying now, I entered my room and stood in front of the fire.  I pulled my hands out of my pockets and spread my fingers toward the heat of the flames.  The cold left my body and warmth filled me.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw that a light was coming from the room full of coffins.  With my head cocked, I walked back out into the coffin room and saw that indeed one of the lights was on over one of the coffins.  It was the same light that I had turned off only moments before…right after the night patrolman’s visit.

I stood with my fingers on my lips, my thumb under my chin.  “I thought I just turned that light out,” I said quietly.

So cold.  The room was so damned cold.  It felt like the chill of death in here.

I walked back over to the coffin.  I pulled the chain down and the light went out.  I stood for a moment – or at least as long as I could until the cold pushed me back to my stateroom and the warm fire waiting there.

“I know it’s out now,” I said with my hand on the back of my chair preparing to sit down.  Instead I went back to the door of my room.  The room full of coffins was dark.

With a sigh I took off my cloak, laid it on the bed and returned to my desk.  I thought that I should at least finish the letter before retiring.  I picked up the quill; feeling the warmth of the fire on my back; and continued the letter.

A bit later, I felt a whisp of cold around my ankles.

“Did someone come in?” I asked.  They couldn’t have.  The front door was locked with a bolt and chain.  Still, it felt like wind was blowing around my feet.

I pushed back from the chair.  Putting my cloak on once again, I stopped in my steps when I stepped into the room of coffins.

The light was on again over the same coffin.

The pull chain was swinging slightly.

“Is someone playing tricks?” I asked to the cold room.  “Come out now.  There’s no time for this.”

No one said anything, just the icy wind blowing outside through shutters, between the barren trees, over the rafters.

‘Now, I know I have been turning this off,” I said in an angry whisper.

I walked over to the coffin.

In it, an old dead man lay, his hands folded over his chest.  His hair was white.  His face clean shaven.  I could see tiny ice crystals covering his skin.  I thought about closing the lid of the coffin, but Marty distinctly told me to leave the coffins open.  He didn’t say why, however.  I just assumed that it was for the undertaker to do before the bodies were transported away from here.

I stood looking down at the old man.

Was he really not dead? Was this one of Marty’s friends playing a trick – his cousin? Or a different night patrolman? No.  It couldn’t be.  No man could lay in a coffin so long, especially not in this cold.  The man was only wearing a suit.  He wore no cloak!

I could see my breath pluming out in front of me.

The old man was not breathing.

“I will make sure this light stays out,” I said pulling down on the chain.  The light went off.  “There.  It’s out.”

Back at the door to my room, I turned around to look back.

It was dark.

I stood in front of the fire, again warming my hands.  I kept turning my head to see if the light was on again in the other room.  It wasn’t.  It stayed off.

“Ok.  It’s off,” I said, sitting and tapping my quill on the desk.  The letter to my love sat unfinished.  I wouldn’t be able to finish it now.  My mind was racing too fast.  I couldn’t understand how the damned light kept coming on!

“I won’t get this letter done tonight,” I said to myself.  “I can finish in the morning.”

I leaned over the desk and blew out the candle.  Now the only light was from the fireplace.  Shadows danced on the wall.

I slipped off my shoes and got into bed leaving the rest of my clothing on.  It would be too cold to sleep in the buff, and I also wasn’t certain if a night patrolman might stop by.

Pulling the covers up to my chin, I closed my eyes then shot them open again seeing a reflection of white light on the ceiling above me.  The fire wasn’t emitting a white light.  It must have been from out in the coffin room.

“No,” I whispered.  “It cannot be.”

I threw the covers back, slipped on my shoes and walked over to the doorway.  I stood, my hands on either side of me resting at shoulder height on the door jambs.  I stared into the darkness, my eyes stuck on the single light.

“It can only come on if someone pulls the chain,” I said, my breath short.  “Who is pulling the chain? Who is out there?”

Only the wind outside answered me.

“Who is out there?” I said louder.  “Who is out there?”

It was deathly quiet.

Quickly turning around I marched over to my desk and plopped down in the chair.  “No one is pulling the chain.  How can the light be coming on?”

I shot a look over my shoulder, fear gripping me, causing goose pimples to run up and down my body.

“Unless…unless the old man is reaching up and turning on the light himself.”

I stood up quickly.

“I must find out.  I will stand and watch him.”

Quietly, I walked back into the dark room over to the lit coffin.  I stood over it, my arms folded, my breath freezing in front of me.

I reached out and pulled the chain down.

The light went out.

I waited.

There was no sound, only the wind.  I didn’t hear a grunt or a sad, or perhaps angry moan from the old man in the coffin.  He didn’t sit up in the coffin and grab my neck, strangle me, yell in my face with his rotting voice “Leave my light on!”

It remained dark.

“I’ve been hallucinating,” I whispered.  “This has been my imagination.  I am standing here in this dark room expecting a dead man to turn on a light.”  I laughed with a cold shiver.  “I am a fool.”

I went back to my room.  Entering, my body was lit from behind as the light came on once again.

“No.”

The dead man lay with his hands folded over his chest.

With fear shaking me, I went back into my room, kicked off my shoes, and jumped under the covers.

I was not cold.

I was not shivering from the cold.

I was afraid.  Fear was holding me tight.

“How can this be happening?”

Loud rapping on the door woke me the next morning.  Groggily shaking my head, I hopped out of bed, threw on my cloak, put on my shoes and went to the door.

My eyes never left the coffin as I passed it.

The light was still on.

Marty stood outside the door.  He was looking around, his breath pluming out in front of him.  He held a large Christmas wreath.

He met me with a smile as I opened the door.  “Good morning, James.”

I nodded to him.  “Good morning.”

He asked, “How was your night?”

“Fine.  Fine.”  I didn’t want to tell him about the man turning the light on in the coffin.

Shaking snow from his shoulders he came into the room.  He looked around.  “Oh, that damn light,” he said with a sniff.

“What about it?” I asked.

“The damn thing has a short.  Every time a trolley goes by outside, it comes on,” he said.  “Didn’t you notice?”

“No,” I said in the calmest voice I could muster.  “I didn’t even see it.”

Marty laughed and nodded toward the open doorway.

I turned.

“Merry Christmas, James,” a sweet voice said.  Cynthia stood in the snow shivering, her arms wrapped around her.  She had a large red Christmas bow tied around her waist.  She came in and kissed my cheek.

Marty slapped me on the back with a grand smile.  “Merry Christmas, old boy! When would the two of you like to come over for dinner?”

 

Review:

Right away I could see this story was set in the past, which was interesting. A different time,  when the dead were treated in a different manner. As the tale progressed, I first thought the dead man wasn’t really dead, and that he was turning the light off. As those who know history realize, people were sometimes buried when unfortunately, still alive. Perhaps they were in a coma; hence the discovery of nails scratches inside coffins. And the reason they started attaching bells situated above ground, which could be rung with a string from inside the coffin. A horrifying thought, but better than being buried alive.

So, I wondered if this mortuary did a “dead watch” for the same reasoning – just to be sure the person is truly dead before burial. I really did not figure out what was going on, but the ending was funny and unexpected. I think if I were that young man I would have run off in fear! And to top off the enjoyment of this little tale, it is based on a true story. Sweet.:) A recommended read for a short Christmas time read, if you love horror/suspense.

 

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One of author ‘s books I’ll be reviewing in a future post:

 

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Amazon

 

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Bio:

M. Smith has had a love for horror since reading ‘The Shining’ by Stephen King in 1977. At 20 years old, R. M. Smith had his first horror short story, “The Bedlamp” accepted for publication in ‘New Blood’ magazine. He originally wrote his novel “The Wicked Game” when he was in his mid 20s.  Now at the age of 52, R. M. Smith lives in Kansas with his wife Karen.  They have four children and 6 grand-children.

He has been self-publishing his books through Create Space, Kindle and Audible since 2014.

Links

@rmsmithbooks – twitter

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005901979183