My brother worked as a mortician in Harpswell, Maine, a tiny sea side town that brought in loads of tourists even during the off season. During my summer break from college, I decided I wanted to visit him. I was studying human anatomy at the time and couldn’t decide if I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He told me to come up so I could shadow him for a night. I agreed and drove the 250 miles up north to Harpswell.
The funeral home my brother worked at was in an old Victorian home, built around the turn of the 20th Century. It was painted white, had a wrap-around porch, and sat on a property that over looked the ocean. As I pulled up the long driveway, my brother Andrew greeted me. He was wearing a long sleeve t-shirt and an apron with stains on it. I had not seen him since I started school a year ago.
“Mel! It’s so great to see you.” He squeezed me, not letting me catch a breath for air.
“It’s great to see you too.” I stood on my toes and kissed him on his cheek.
He directed me to the front doors and led me inside. I had never been in a place that was so extravagant before. He showed me the old ball room, library, and the cigar room where men would drink their brandy back in the day. I took in everything he told me.
“I have a list of chores I want you to do tonight.” He handed me a piece of paper that had directions on them. “Unfortunately, you can’t actually watch me perform the services due to state regulations, but I want you to see what is involved in this process besides taking care of…”
“Do you have a body tonight?” The words blurted out of my mouth before he even finished.
“I usually perform one to two services a night, depending on the body and what needs to be done,” he said, very matter of fact. “But your job is to get this place clean and organized for my clients tomorrow.”
I was willing to do anything to learn about this business, even if it was only for a night. Andrew showed me where the cleaning supplies were located and I started working immediately.
The ball room was the first room I went to. It was decorated with full length mirrors, tables and chairs lined up in an orderly fashion, and a small stage. I decided to turn on some music to make the process go by quicker. Frank Sinatra started booming off the walls of the grand room as I mentally stepped back in time. I danced around the grand room with my big broom while I sung Sinatra’s greatest hits.
As I finished up the long process, I turned off the music, and gathered all my cleaning supplies.
That’s when I first heard the giggling.
I looked at the mirrors in front of me, but I saw nothing. Confused, I turned around to see if there was anyone behind me. It sounded like it was coming from the hallway right outside of the ball room, so I grabbed my stuff and turned off the lights behind me.
“Hello?” I said loudly. I wanted to make sure that if we had a visitor in the front room, they would be able to hear me, but I got no response.
I dropped the cleaning supplies on the floor and headed into the front. I expected for someone to be waiting on me, but there was no one there. I shook my head as decided it was only my mind playing tricks on me.
“It must have been the music,” I told myself as I walked back to get the supplies.
I knew I would have some nervous jitters, especially being upstairs by myself. The morgue itself was located in the basement, so that’s where my brother would be all night. There was something creepy about this place, not because it was a funeral home, it was something else and I couldn’t put my finger on it. The lighting was off, so it made every room darker than usual. And then there was the ever present smell of the formaldehyde which underpinned every other scent in the house.
Andrew did a good job trying to mask the smell throughout the home, but there are some smells that you can’t quite cover up. I will never be able to forget that smell for as long as I live. It was one of those smells that stays with you, even if you aren’t near it and constantly reminded you that death was present in the house.
I grew my lady balls, took a deep breath, and continued on with my job. The next room I went to was the library. I turned on some tunes, this time I decided I wanted something a little more modern, and cleaned the bookshelves. When I was about done with my cleaning, the music turned off. I looked at my phone and noticed the screen was black. As I tried to turn it back on, the battery was dead which surprised me because I was sure I’d remembered charging it all the way.
Going back into the front room where my backpack was, I searched through the contents and found my charger. I hooked it up to the outlet near the, “Where do your loved ones go after death?” brochure. I picked one up and started reading it:
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4
I rolled my eyes, not really believing in that bullshit, and looked at my phone. It was taking longer to turn on than usual, I kept pressing the on/off button but it wouldn’t turn on. “Well shit,” I thought.
As I laid it down on the table, I heard footsteps behind me.
“Andrew why aren’t your outlets working?” I said as I turned around, but no one was behind me. Confused, I walked into the kitchen thinking he came up to get something to eat.
“Andrew?” but he wasn’t in the kitchen. “I must be going crazy,” I muttered to myself. The house was old and the even slightest sound seemed to echo and amplify with even the smallest creak of the floor screaming at you.
I grabbed a soda from the refrigerator. Caffeine always helped me stay awake during long hours of studying, and on this particular night, I needed to stay awake and get my act together.
The table in the kitchen was long and narrow, it could seat around ten people or so. I pulled up a chair and sat my soda on the tabletop. When you didn’t move, the house was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. The silence unsettled me to the core.
I played with the can, pushed it back and forth on the wooden table to give me some noise to stay awake. But I could feel my body getting heavy and I started to close my eyes. As I felt myself drift off, loud music started playing in the main room. I jumped out of the seat and stared into the room. Frank Sinatra was singing the lovely song, “Fly Me to the Moon.” The lyrics, “let me play among the stars,” repeated over and over again. As I slowly made my way to the room, I was expecting to see someone standing there. But there was absolutely no one in sight. I grabbed my phone and turned off the music thinking it must have finally turned on by itself.
I reassured myself and rubbed my eyes to get awake. As I looked at the cuckoo clock that sat beside the front door, I realized it was already 1am.
I took the cleaning supplies and placed them neatly in the closet. What can I do now? I decided to go through some files in the library. I wanted to see how my brother operates the business and how financially stable it was. I knew it might be a little nosey but I had nothing else to do at 1am.
Sitting at his old desk propped up between two big bookshelves I took a look in the file cabinet. Inside, I found pictures of men, women, and children. Some pictures had family photos, some were just a single image, and others had random objects. Each file had dates and names, which really didn’t mean anything to me. But as I continued my search, I found a file that had that day’s date on it.
December 17th, 2015.
When I opened the file, pictures of a little girl fell out. She had to be around nine or so, with beautiful Shirley Temple curls and bright blue eyes. The name on the back of the photo said:
I went through all of the photos, they were mostly of her playing in the back yard with her dog. There were also a few school photos, a photo with her family, and a picture of her playing in the ocean.
As I analyzed the pictures, I heard laughing coming from down the hall. I dropped the pictures on the floor, immediately trying to put them back together. I closed the cabinet, leaving the file on the desk, and went out into the hallway, inching my way along step by step.
As I got closer to the room the laughter seemed to be coming from, it sounded like a child playing a game of sorts, giggling at their own enjoyment.
“Hello?” I said back to the laughter, hoping that it was only my imagination getting the best of me.
At that exact time, a young girl peeked her head out the door quickly. She stood there for a minute and looked at me. I could tell she had blonde hair and was wearing a blue dress, like the girl in the picture I saw.
“Hey what are you doing here?” I walked quickly down the hall to the room. The little girl waved and ran back into the ball room.
“You can’t be…” I said as I turned on the lights to the room, but she wasn’t there. “Little girl, where are you? Can I call your parents?”
I ran all over the house to search for her. I went into the parlor, living room, and then finally the kitchen. As I looked out the window to see if she went outside, I felt a large hand on my back. I screamed in shock as I turned around, almost losing my balance falling to the ground.
“Woah! What’s wrong with you!” Andrew was standing there with his hands up in air. “I’m sorry if I scared you, rough night?”
“Have you seen the little girl?” I asked him.
“What little girl? What are you talking about?” I grabbed his hand and motioned for him to come with me.
As I went into the office, I picked up the file sitting on the desk. I grabbed the picture of the little girl playing in the sand.
“This girl.” I gave him the picture. “She was just here, I found her playing in the ball room.”
There was silence.
“Mel, that is impossible.” He cleared his throat. “This girl right here is gone.” He pointed at the picture.
“I promise you, she was in the ball room just a little while ago.” I rummaged through the other photos.
“Mel, please stop and listen to me. That little girl right was brought into the morgue today.” He looked at me like I was crazy. “She drowned in the ocean yesterday afternoon.”