Lodie plopped himself down on the cold tile floor and peeled off his rubber gloves with an irritated sigh. His hands hurt and he hated the way the latex made his prune-y fingers smell after a long day of dealing with dead bodies. Embalming was nasty business.
The deceased came to Lodie in all sorts of grotesque conditions. There was the unnaturally obese man who had quite literally eaten himself to death. The ferociousness of his final binge tore through not only his stomach but several inches of his upper intestine as well. The sight of thirteen partially digested hamburgers turned Lodie off of fast-food chains for months.
Then there was the woman who met an unfortunate demise when her car kissed a hundred-year oak just past the Sable River. Attempting to make her head appear like it was still attached was quite the challenge and he didn’t quite understand the family’s insistence on an open casket given the circumstances. However, to this day, it remained the one work Lodie was most proud of.
Though they did not frequently make their way through the silver swinging doors into Lodie’s domain, he found working with the bodies of children to be the most refreshing. Sure, it was tragic and untimely, and Lodie did not enjoy the sounds that the grieving families inevitably made in the reception area, but to an elf living in a human world, at least the size was familiar.
Lodie came to Medleson Funeral Parlor almost completely by accident. A very unlucky accident, he felt as time trudged on. It happened on a spring day as Lodie and his family were traveling to the Elfin Sanctuary for the triannual celebration of the Lotus Festival. Lodie loved this time of year! He was so thrilled at the prospect of seeing his cousins from Destinshire and just thinking of the incredible foods that awaited him made his mouth water with anticipation. Oh to taste the sweet and tartness of an apple-blossom crodent or lazily sip the syrup from a ripe sacumansa! Lodie could hardly stand to think of it now. Human food was bland in comparison to the wonders of a proper elfin feast.
Lodie’s mother had warned him of the dangers in making the pilgrimage to the sanctuary. Elves and humans had more or less coexisted peacefully since the Treaty of Conciliation nearly thirty years prior, but old beliefs can be slow to die and some humans still considered an elf found on their property to be their possession. The portal that Lodie’s family would travel through to reach the festival made several stops along human routes and he would need to stay close to the group in order to be safe. Once the portals closed, they would not open again until the following year when the Lotus celebration ended.
Frankly, Lodie had found his mother’s caution to be annoying. He was by all standards a grown elf and, though this was his first journey to the festival as such, he surely could care for himself without clinging to his mommy’s apron. Or so he believed. Naiveté has a way of humbling those within its grasp.
The first portal stop was uneventful, as was the second and the third, but by the final stretch, Lodie was looking for a bit of excitement. He knew the portal stayed open for exactly seven minutes which, at the time, seemed to provide ample opportunity to look around the funeral parlor. Lodie had seen many a live human in his day, but a dead one? That would be something to regale his cousins with over dinner tonight.
While Mama was distracted by the ever-arguing twins, Lodie slipped away from the huddled group and through the metal swinging doors. It was dark, as elves tended to travel at night to avoid human run-ins, so Lodie felt blindly for a wall switch. As his fingers found the toggle, he heard a click and his eyes were flooded with yellow light. The room was sterile, wall-to-wall tile with white walls and ceiling. The far side of the room was banked with upper and lower cabinets and a countertop that was surprisingly uncluttered. Lodie’s eyes traveled to the center of the room where a metal gurney stood. An elongated lump lay covered in a white sheet and Lodie’s heart quickened. Under that sheet was what remained of a human after their spirit had chosen to find a new resting place. Lodie hardly noticed his steps as he was suddenly tearing back the covering to find himself face-to-face with a real, live (well formerly live) corpse.
This man’s skin was grey, not like the pinkish or brownish hues he’d observed from living humans. The body was, in what Lodie would soon learn to be, the last stage of funeral preparation, before hair-styling and make-up attempted to paint artificial life back over the unmistakable death. Lodie reached out to touch the cheek. It was unnaturally cold and he felt a chill run down his own spine as he instinctually recoiled. His gaze traveled down the man’s chest, where a small incision blemished the otherwise uniformity of a torso. Lodie was taken aback by the apparent wholeness of the body. He didn’t expect death to look this undisruptive.
Lodie was so preoccupied in his discovery that he didn’t immediately recognize the sounds in his ears as his own name. When his brain finally registered the desperation in his mother’s voice, Lodie turned quickly on his heels and bolted out the swinging doors. He arrived in the hallway just in time to see his mother’s eyes disappear behind the portal wall. He had been left behind.