- November 4th, 1998:
- Dear Friends, Family, and Community,
- I knew I shouldn’t have come back to my hometown. This small, secluded place stuck in the hills of the Appalachia, where I know everyone, just wasn’t the right place to start my business.
- I’m sorry, Nadine.
- Love, Amelia Brown
That’s the note she left us. And that was the end of Amelia Laura Brown. We closed down the morgue, her morgue, and gave away her things. She was so proud of her business. Throughout town, they said she did the best work from Boone County to Nashville. The only strange part was that she always dressed her “patients,” as she used to call them, entirely in white. No colors sprawled over the icy corpse, no flashy makeup. A little red lipstick for the women, and a red rose for the men.
She was too young. Too young to die, too young to be in this business. Our parents told her that being a mortician was not a profession for a young lady, but her fascination with the dead overruled their complaints. She went on to Mortuary School, and then came back home to start a business. When asked, all she could say was, “I don’t think I fit in anywhere else,” which was saying a lot because she could hardly fit in anywhere. There was no niche in any part of school she could slide into, I guess not even when she went off to college and then to Mortuary School, where tons of people fascinated with the dead flock. At least, I think that’s why people go to Mortuary School. I’ve never been too curious about the outside world, though. I haven’t been out of Bryson City since I was a baby, and I never even finished high school. What do I need to know about the world? But Amelia had a passionate love for biology, always wanting to find out how humans worked, how we were born, and, later on, how we died.
Maybe it was fate that she became so infatuated with life. Maybe it was fate that led her back home. Maybe it was fate that killed Nadine Wiggins in that car crash. I’ve always been a firm believer in God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. I go by the bible. I pray every night and before my meals, I go to church every Sunday, all my babies are christened. It’s almost like Amelia and I were opposites in every way, and I may believe that statement. But damn, she was still my sister, and I still cared a whole lot about her. I know she felt the same way about me. I prayed for her soul every day, hoping she would turn around and see the beautiful light of Jesus Christ shining on her, and be entered by the Holy Spirit, and shout to the heavens for joy. I guess that some people are just not meant for God, though. My husband says they’re “Wrapped in sin,” but I knew enough about Amelia to see that there was no devil in her mind, just a loud machine full of gears. Like a clock, always ticking, ringing, whirring. On, and on, and on, and on. No wonder she snapped.
But last year, during November when we give thanks that Amelia had the chance to be on this earth for a while and change our lives, we decided to visit Amelia’s old home. A couple of my cousins had moved in, but they didn’t mind us, and we ate and drank and laughed. The kids ran around in the yard and built a bonfire, and we all sat around, telling stories.
I had heard a crash upstairs and yelling, and I figured the kids were rough-housing again so I went to check on them. I came in and fixed a few scratches, then booted them out the door. The problem was the broken bed. I didn’t want my cousins to know the kids broke their bed, so I tried to fix it myself. I lifted up the top end that had fallen, but it was too heavy so I let it go. It landed with a big thunk, and then I heard a softer thump as something fell from the end of the bed. I looked under to see a book lying on the floor, and I picked it up. It was titled "Agony In Black", and had a screaming girl with red eyes in inverted black and white on the cover. I was drunk so I got pretty scared, and I stuffed it inside my coat so the kids wouldn't get a hold of it. It was probably my cousin Frank's, I thought, he always liked to read comics.
Propping up the bed on a stool I found I started to feel dizzy, so I laid down on the bed and closed my eyes. Next thing I knew I woke up to the chirping of the birds, but the house was silent. I sat up and looked out the window to see the smoldering ashes of the fire, and then I started to hear faint snoring from some of the other rooms. I stood up, but as I did something fell out of my jacket. I looked down to see a white piece of paper, and picked it up, realizing it was the comic book with the screaming girl. I turned it over and looked at it again. It was in a plastic taped slip, and the white piece of paper covered up the back. Looking under the bed again, wondering where the hell this thing came from, I saw the tip of something sticking out of a hole in the mattress. I got underneath the bed and grabbed whatever the tip was and pulled it out. Sliding out from under the bed with my prize, I sat down again and looked at what I had snagged. It was titled in red letters "Serenity in White," and had a black and white photo of someone sleeping with red lipstick on. It was a book bound with twine, and the pages were yellowed and had some holes in them. In the upper corner someone had written in red pen, "Property of Amelia L. Brown".
I remember saying aloud, "Oh my God," and then realizing that my cousins had kept all of Amelia's furniture in the house. Looking up I saw that the sun wasn't up yet, so everybody would take a while to wake. I set down Serenity in White and took Agony in Black out of it's cover. It was full of stories, horror stories I guess, and some weird vampire ads. This was apparently Amelia's, and she had circled a mailing address to buy a book titled "Poems for the Dead".
The strange thing was that Amelia had never been into comics. She preferred books over what she used to call, "Cheap-thrill rubbish." I guess this one had caught her attention, though. Flipping through it, I read that it had been published in the fall of 1997. I skimmed a couple of pages, but there was nothing else circled or underlined or marked in any way. I put it back in its cover, and then turned to "Serenity in White". Obviously she had chosen to mimic "Agony in Black" with the title and cover.
I opened it up to the first page, and as I read I realized it was Amelia's diary. Nobody had found it for sixteen years, and my shit-for-brains cousins hadn't even bothered to get rid of her stuff. The first date was June 7th, 1993.
- June 7th, 1993:
- I have finally finished school, and now I'm back home. My parents are begrudgingly proud of me, and I told them of my plans to open a morgue.
I skipped a few entries and got to the grand opening of the Brown Morgue.
- March 19th, 1994:
- I have done it, I have successfully started my own business! We had a party after I announced it was open, but soon enough I will have to start working. I already have a call from Mr. Waldroup that Mrs. Waldroup is dying, and he needs my services. I feel so sorry for the both of them, but I am excited for my first patient. She will be beautiful.
Amelia's morgue, being the only facility of its kind for another twenty miles, became the town's main spot for their dead to be handled. Amelia was so tender with her patients, and always helped the loved ones get through their losses. But by now I knew what I was looking for, and soon enough I found it.
- October 18th, 1997:
- I can't bear to think of it, yet alone write it down, but I must do both. My friend, my only friend, Nadine Wiggins, has perished. Her family called me yesterday in tears, telling me that she had been drunk and died in a car crash. The collision is what killed her. They say they know that I will take the best care of her body, and want me to be her mortician.
- October 19th, 1997:
- Oh, if only it were simple! If I could just detach myself from her mind, from her body, from her being, then I could face what lies in my basement. She has been down there for one day, and I can't sleep at all tonight. I have to start my work tomorrow, and I tell myself that soon enough it will be over.
I had no idea of what happened next. I knew she was depressed after Nadine died, and had taken to drinking, but I never, never had a clue how far her depression went. How far it stretched until it led into madness.
- October 20th, 1997:
- I sit with her body tonight.
- I lifted up her body and held her, though no tears came. Music swelled in my heart and we danced, and we were once more together, the dead and the living waltzing to a song only I can hear. She is in her white dress with her beautiful red lipstick on, and I am not ashamed to admit I let that rose color mine own lips. I imagine us dancing through a graveyard, both of us dead, colder than the night air, skin as pale as moonlight, skipping from gravestone to gravestone. Our eyes stare into hell, but no regrets lie behind them; only love, love as pure as the dew silencing grass over graves. How I wish I could bring you back, Nadine!
- October 21st, 1997:
- When I am buried I cannot dance with Nadine, for my body will be old and decrepit, and she will be dust. Maggots will have eaten out her eyes, those beautiful brown eyes, and her tongue, and all the soft parts. And I will turn to dust much sooner as an old woman.
- But… maybe we can dance. Maybe there is a way.
- October 22nd, 1997:
- I have worked on so many familiar faces. I wonder if it was worth it to come back home. Gregory Meyers, Jessica Dyer, Frederick Wilson and many more. All gone. So many of my schoolmates have passed away. Friendly faces are dead. I start to picture everyone with that pale skin, those eyes searching for life, the limp body. Whenever someone dresses in white I shudder. Red lipstick and red roses are no longer beautiful: they only symbolize an end.
- October 24th, 1997:
- I've always known that everyone will die one day. It's why I am so fascinated with death. How could one person, filled with so much energy and thought and feeling, simply collapse and mean nothing more? I try to bring out their beauty, show their passions, make known their names. I want to make the memory of them last for as long as it can. That's why I am a mortician. This is my destiny.
- Nadine still sits in my basement. She waits for her funeral.
- October 27th, 1997:
- I attended Nadine's viewing and funeral today, and everyone told me she looked beautiful. I hid her behind layers of white, and her red lipstick sat dully on her lips. What an ugly specimen. The worst I have ever done. Her family cannot see beyond what covers her. They cannot see Nadine for who she was. They only see my beauty.
- I am so selfish. My destiny is not to make beautiful your loved ones for rotting: it is to show my skills as an artist using a body.
I skipped ahead to a couple days before November 4th, 1998.
- October 31st, 1998:
- I wrap my hands around my throat and hope to a god I don’t believe in that this will be easier than I think. I’ve seen so many deaths, and I don’t know the best way to die. They are all messy. Oh, god, why do I even bother. I have to keep my family proud of me.
- I visited the Road to Nowhere today, and listened to the wind tell me I was going to die. It smelled like horse shit, and the graffiti on the walls was obscene. Life is so ugly.
- I've never been a very happy person, even as a child. Why wouldn’t I kill myself? I’ve seen enough sadness to pass a lifetime. What’s left for me now? An empty home and heart? I remember when cousin Carl took me up to the tunnel and raped me ‘til the floor was slick with blood. I remember members of the Klu Klux Klan following me home from school because I did not believe in God. All I know is horror, all I know is despair. That is my entire life. I am a walking tragedy.
- I visited Nadine’s grave as well. There were some dead flowers on it.
- November 1st, 1998:
- Nadine has been heavy on my mind this last year. The day she died was last month. The Anniversary of Her Death, you could say.
- I don’t eat anymore, I don’t go out anymore. I attend to my patients, and sometimes, from the aching in my heart that Nadine left, I dance with them. The men in their white suits prick my fingers with their roses, and blood drips down my arm. The women in their white dresses paint my lips red as my blood. But children I save the special dances for. We hop and skip, and I twirl the small girls around. They are all so perfect. So beautiful. I am truly an artist for the dead.
- November 2nd, 1998:
- My sister came by today. I told her I wanted to see her. This was my last goodbye to her. She has always been there for me, even though we are so different. She noticed my pricked fingers, and I told her it was from picking out all of the roses. She asked who my latest work was on, and I told her it was little Charlotte May. “Oh,” she said, “I remember how that girl loved to dance.” What I didn’t tell her is that she still does.
- November 3rd, 1998:
- Tomorrow is the big day. I’ve called up mother and father, and Charlotte May has been buried. Everything is neat and tidy in the house.
- I hung my rope from the top of the staircase. As long as I don’t receive any visitors, I will be fine.
- November 4th, 1998:
And there it ended.
The sun was only barely over the mountains. I prayed that Amelia was right and there was no heaven or hell, tucked the two books into my jacket, and then woke up my husband and the kids and went home.
That night, after everyone had fallen asleep, I drove out to the cemetery beside the school, and looked at Amelia’s grave. The flowers we had put down yesterday were wilted, and lay strewn across the ground. I looked around for Nadine’s grave and found it covered in live wild flowers. I looked at the moon, and behind me I heard the soft steps of the dead as they danced through the grass, their skin as pale as moonlight, their eyes searching a hell they didn't believe in, their howls of victory ringing through night air warmer than their blood.