Erik and his mentor had fallen in love.
It’s a fairly straight forward means of how that happens. Working so close to someone you share a heavy and mutual attraction to can eventually flourish into a relationship. And mortuary science was no exception to the rule, despite its macabre environment. Even in the laboratory surrounded by corpses, a relationship was more than capable of growing. Of course, the proper term would be “affair”, as his mentor was quite married. This relationship was rather dangerous, for its secrets could very well cost them both their good standing and ruin Erik’s future as a mortician. But that knowledge, while terrifying, did little to stop him from answering an invitation to dinner at the funeral home where he apprenticed. He had been on vacation for a week visiting his parents and was quite excited to see his mentor again. Both husband and wife would be entertaining him for the night to discuss how he had been doing thus far and perhaps, he hoped, discussing taking the next steps in apprenticeship. He had to keep up appearances, despite any misgivings he may feel, even if that meant lying to someone else’s face.
Most people think of funeral homes sitting precariously atop a large hill, surrounded on all sides by a necropolis of its clientele. The truth of the matter was that this funeral home, while still attached to a graveyard, was in the middle of the city. Residential homes shared the fences on all three sides and a few commercial spots were just down block. Yes, it was still ostentatiously built with long white columns stretching in front of its imposing three stories. And to add to its pretentious look, a beautiful rose garden was kept in full bloom all year round in the front lawn. Beautiful white roses stretched from end to end across a miniature plain of permanently green sod. But even with all these things, it didn’t appear so much out of place as instead it seemed invitingly calm. It lacked the creepy feel than any Vincent Price or Amy Kinkaide movie would have you believe. But, even the most affected façade can still have secrets to be kept. And, even under the cover of a young night, the home was opening its welcome arms to one of its secrets.
Erik pulled into the driveway and checked himself in the mirror to ensure that he was presentable. Full suit and tie without a bit of lint, his brown hair neatly combed and cut, and thin black rimmed glasses cleaned to crystalline clarity. Once he was sure he looked up to par, he hopped out of the car and walked towards the double doors that served as the front entrance. With a sudden thought, he remembered to check his coat pocket. The switchblade he had hidden away was still there. He had brought it just in case of certain… things. He may trust the love he felt in his heart, but he never knew if it might come in handy depending on how things went with-
The door suddenly swung open.
“Erik, you’re right on time. We’ve been expecting you.” A tall, black haired man in a sharp gray suit and red tie stood in the doorway, holding it open. A face that looked like it had been lifted off of a roman statue looked back at him with a thin smile on his lips and cold, blue eyes that could pierce solid steel. “Come on in.”
“Mr. Tristen.” Erik said with a quaver in his voice. Mr. Roman Tristen had an air about him that made Erik always feel off. While not repulsive, Mr. Tristen could still instill a feeling of fear in Erik, due to what people had said about Mr. Tristen. One of the other secrets the funeral home held was that, supposedly, Mr. Tristen was a ghoul.
The scandalous rumor had been that Mr. Tristen would occasionally eat parts of his clientele if they were fresh enough and dependent upon their method of death. This urban legend had sprang up after a particularly emotional and rowdy funeral where for one reason or another, the casket holding a dearly departed grandmother had fallen over. Aside from the initial sorrow and terror her family felt at this last indignity she had suffered, there was a sudden cacophony of screams heard in the church. In her tumble out of the box, the deceased’s stocking wrapped leg had broken open. No fluids flowed out of her but instead saw dust. Upon closer inspection it was discovered that portions of her body had been cut out and replaced with packing.
When investigated, Mr. Tristen had simply stated that the shaper her body had been in did not allow for a normal embalming and he had to make due by removing the portions that were bad. He apologized to the family for not informing them, but, the damage had been done.
And the rumors spread like wildfire. Roman Tristen was a ghoul and was not to be trusted. As such, his wife, who had also been a mortician, took over the business and was the person to be seen. Mr. Tristen, as far the public knew, was not allowed to work on the cadavers and merely saw to the clerical work. Supposedly, he was not even allowed to take on apprentices himself.
Mr. Tristen looked Erik up and down and smiled.
“I am glad to see you take this all so seriously.” He turned and walked further into the home. “Come on then, dinner will be served in a moment.” His emphasis on the word dinner made Erik cringe a bit. If it hadn’t been for his investment into the affair and his future, his nerves would have made him left the apprenticeship. He followed with an overly stiffened gait.
As they walked into the foyer, Erik looked at the various paintings, certifications, and photographs that lined the walls. The certifications all held Mrs. Tristen’s name as opposed to her husband’s. Erik couldn’t help but walk towards his favorite photograph that hung on the wall: the photo of Mr. Tristen and his wife. Mrs. Tristen stood with her husband on the front lawn. The husband looked exactly as he did now; with piercing stare and marble face. He looked like a museum statue to Erik. His wife on the other hand, seemed to show life even through the stillness of the photo. Blonde hair that hung unstyled yet still fell in perfect place about her head. A blue dress decorated with accenting silver jewelry draped her small frame. Complimenting it all was her smiling beaming face.
“So, where is Maria?” Erik asked as he fell back in line to follow Mr. Tristen towards the dining room.
“Maria? I was unaware you had become on a first name basis already with my wife.” Mr. Tristen said as he entered the large room that served as a dining room.
“I guess it just slipped out. I’m sorry. Where is Mrs. Tristen?” Erik stammered.
“It’s quite alright, Erik. But, I would simply hate for you to speak her first name and insinuate that you had surpassed your need of the formalities already.” Mr. Tristen said. “But in answer, she will be with us momentarily. Sit, please.” Mr. Tristen opened his arm as if in welcome to the dining room.
A large dining table with a multitude of chairs sat below a well-lit chandelier. Sadly, it wasn’t candle light, but electric bulbs shaped like flames that lit the room. An open door sat opposite the entrance, presumably the way into the kitchen. Two settings were set at the table’s midsection so the two seated would be facing each other. Mr. Tristen walked over and pulled a chair out and motioned for him to sit down. Unspeaking and unnerved at the implications of only two seating’s for a dinner meant for three, Erik sat down. With a strength that hidden by his suit, Mr. Tristen pushed both chair and Erik inwards stopping just in time to keep from hitting his stomach on the tables edge.
Mr. Tristen smiled down at him as he began walking towards the other door.
“Erik, I have grand news for you. While you were away, Maria and I reviewed your work and numbers, and came to a wonderful realization: You’ve surpassed your required count of bodies prepared. Of course, it should come as no surprise that my wife, who always spoke highly of you, found you surpassing in your craftsmanship. Do you realize what this means?”
Erik looked up at him with a hopeful look.
“I thought as much. It means you have only to take your tests! Maria signed off on the documentations on Monday for you to be allowed to take your license test.”
He disappeared into the doorway and continued, his voice echoing in the kitchen beyond.
“Of course, sadly, Maria will not be seeing you complete your quest to become a full-fledged mortician, Erik.”
Erik gulped. “What… What do you mean? Is there something wrong with Mar- Mrs. Tristen?”
A clatter of metal and bowls came from the doorway followed by Mr. Tristen’s solemn response.
“Yes. I would say so. You see, Mrs. Tristen met with a rather unfortunate accident. She fell down the stairs and hurt herself quite badly.“
Mr. Tristen poked his head out of the doorway and with wells of tears in his eyes, he continued.
“I held her in my hands at the bottom of the steps. Blood mixed with her beautiful blonde hair. It was terrible but at the same time, I suppose it was due to her…” He finished with a dark tone, trailing off.
“What… what do you mean Mr. Tristen?”
Quickly, Mr. Tristen pulled in a long cart covered with burgundy cloth. As it closed in, Erik realized that it wasn’t a normal serving cart, but in fact a mortuary gurney. The bulges and mounds rolled across the burgundy cloth in the familiar form of a human body.
“… She had been having an affair.”
Erik gulped again. He was unsure how he should at feel at the moment, and at the hearing of this terrible news. Nervousness made the color disappear from his face. He began, involuntarily, to tremble. Wild thoughts of Mr. Tristen killing his wife and him serving her body up flashed into his mind.
“Is something wrong Erik? You seem pale.”
“Oh… uh, nothing, Mr. Tristen.” Erik stammered out.
Mr. Tristen rolled the cart directly next to Erik. He placed a hand on the red cloth.
“Do you want to know who it was?” He asked.
“No. Not really. It’s none of my concern now I guess.” Erik said.
“No, I supposed you wouldn’t want to know. Why would you care?” Mr. Tristen smiled as he pulled the cloth up.
Underneath where Erik expected to see Maria Tristen’s face staring up at him with cold, dead eyes, where he thought a broken and mutilated body would be, were several silver serving dishes with large lids.
“I must say I’m sorry for having to use the gurney, but evidently our serving cart broke. I hope you don’t mind.” Mr. Tristen apologized as he quickly turned back and began to place the other dishes on the table and lifting their lids as he did so. Underneath were a salad, rolls, roasted potatoes, and a delicious looking cake. Mr. Tristen finished the serving, by placing a large covered plate at both settings. All the smells hit Erik with such aromatic flavor that it seemed to put his mind at least at peace for a moment. Enough to make him realize he had unconsciously grabbed the switch blade in his coat pocket. He did not let it go.
Mr. Tristen took his seat opposite Erik and regarded him for a moment with his glittering eyes. He wiped them quickly and nodded at Erik, “Go on, lift up the cover.” He said brokenly.
Erik did as he was told with his free hand, and beneath the cover was a large flank of oddly shaped steak. It was well seasoned and thoroughly cooked like a normal steak, however and the smell was intoxicating to Erik.
“So, where is your wife now, Mr. Tristen?” Erik asked cautiously.
“She is dead.” was the flat cold response.
Erik stared at the steak. Visions upon visions of butchery and murder filled his head. All perpetrated by the hands of Roman Tristen.
“Can I ask you a question, Mr. Tristen?” Erik asked timidly.
“You can always ask me anything Erik. You know full well I would never lie to you after all this time you’ve been with us.” Mr. Tristen said. He bore a sad smile on his face.
“Did you kill your wife and serve her up to me?” Erik asked. The sting of accusation roiled under his question.
Mr. Tristen looked positively offended. “My god Erik, no. I am no murderer. Maria passed away instantaneously. Her neck had snapped from the fall!”
Erik instantly regretted asking the question. Guilt and pain sunk into his heart and he looked at Mr. Tristen with apologetic eyes. “I-I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have accused you of that. I should know better by now. I promise, I will never insinuate that you’re in anyway a cannibalistic murderer.”
Mr. Tristen nodded, “Thank you, Erik.”
Mr. Tristen and Erik sat in a silence a moment. The memories of Mrs. Maria Tristen’s beautiful face in their heads.
“I certainly hope that the man who cuckolded you is aware, at least.” Erik said, shakily.
“He knows. I’ve already informed him.” Mr Tristen said.
“So what happens now?” Erik asked, still holding the knife in his hand.
“We eat.” And as if to punctuate the answer, Mr. Tristen cut into his meat and took a large bite. With a smile he added, “Of course, I am no murderer… but I am still a ghoul. And I would not let such a bounty of dead flesh go to waste… even if it was my adulterous wife.”
Erik stared down at his steak and back up to Mr. Tristen who was taking another bite. He took the switch blade slowly from his pocket and flipped it open.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Tristen. I am glad, at least, that my apprenticeship is over.” Erik said as resolutely as possible.
Mr. Tristen smiled at the Erik and looked at the blade with a gleam in his eyes. “Please, do not call me Mr. Tristen anymore.” He said as he got up.
The blade went down.
“There is no longer any need.” Mr. Tristen walked towards Erik.
It cut into the flesh.
“Call me Roman.” He placed his hands on Erik’s shoulders.
Erik lifted and took a bite.
“Your apprenticeship ends tonight.”
Erik chewed hungrily and swallowed as Roman Tristen, the ghoul, this eater of dead human flesh, leaned in for a kiss.