by W.P. Gerace
A young woman realizes her new position comes with the ultimate price.
W. P. Gerace
Monique needed to walk before going to her highly stressful job at Peaks Point Bank. Who better to take with her than her obedient friend, her Golden Retriever Sparky. Sparky was all too willing to stroll on this early morning before the blistering heat inflicted upon the Phoenix suburb. Putting on her dark sunglasses, not wanting to be recognized by anyone, she was always fearful that one of the customers would come out and confront her about one of their accounts where she managed the state's third most prominent financial institution.
The new role was more than what she bargained for, Monique contemplated as she strolled through her quiet neighborhood with their petite rancher-style homes and trimmed green lawns. Moving to the new community of Points Peak nearly six months ago required more finance. She quickly jumped on the opening for a branch manager, not even thinking of the additional stress or workload.
Sparky, who rarely barked, interrupted her running thoughts, and made a bellowing howl. Pulling all one hundred and fifty pounds of his body weight on his green leash, Monique felt her arm about to be pulled out of her socket. They stopped in front of Points Peak Cemetery.
"Of all places, Sparky. A cemetery, really? You know how I feel about death and graves." Monique responded.
Points Peak Cemetery, a gorgeous spread of land with long golden gates and lush lawns, was neatly taken care of. The tombstones were petite, too, not those God-awful bulky grey slabs that reminded Monique of some graves from the Civil War era. No, this place was well-kept. Nestled along the back side of the Southern Mountains, its smallness was only noticed if you were actively looking for it. She was sure she had passed this place so many times.
Sparky's cheerful bark turned to a low guttural growl as if something deeply disturbed him. Taking off her shades, she almost thought she did not see what was in front of her. Walking down the cemetery's short stone-pebbled walkway, off to the left side, directly underneath a big old oak tree, was a tombstone. In the big lettering was the name Monique Henrietta Johnson. Born September 5, 1971 -Died August 30, 2024. This had to be an error: her name was spelled word for word, her birthday, and everything. The date of her supposed death was a year away.
"This has to be some sort of mistake. You know what we will do, we will find who takes care of this place. "Talking to Sparky, trying to keep everything in perspective, the dog started at her with wide brown eyes.
Monique noticed a small white building a few feet away. There was a black sign with the words Cemetery Caretaker Heinz Schmidt in big capital letters. Quickly walking up to the small building, she noticed the windows had no way to see inside. They were an opaque color with large brown shutters. Ringing the gold doorbell, the ringer echoed inside as if the place was empty.
A small old man appeared with petite dark eyes, his wrinkled, pale skin illuminating in the early sunlight. He was practically bald and had a tiny sliver of white fuzz on the top of his head. Wrapping a withered brown sweater that stunk of mothballs, Monique was quickly brought back to her grandma Pauline's house. She would sprinkle those things everywhere. Till now, she had forgotten how the stinging stench of those white balls burned her nostrils.
"Can I help you, young lady? "The old man asked in a shaky tone.
"Yes. This is a crazy question, sorry. By the way, my name is Monique Johnson. "
"Oh yes, Ms. Johnson. We have been waiting for you. Do come inside. I am Heinz Schmidt. I am the Caretaker here. Bring Sparky with you too. "Opening the door inside was nothing but darkness.
Hesitantly wanting to just run and leave, Monique's heart started hammering away as if she were involved in some marathon. Walking inside it was like being in a freezer in the meat department at the grocery store. A few feet away was a wobbly brown table, a rickety chair, and a large black book that sat on top.
"Please come, young lady. You have nothing to fear. "Heinz said, guiding her to the table.
Sitting down, she looked in the book and saw her name Monique Henrietta Johnson died on August 30, 2024. A gunshot wound to the head next to this scribbled in awful handwriting.
"What is this? This is not true. How can you do this, and how do you know my dog's name. "Monique stood up, regretting she even came inside this place.
Pulling out a long piece of paper from the depths of his inner pocket, the words Contract were clearly stated on the top. A contract between Monique and Heinz dating from nearly six months ago was signed. Monique recognized her handwriting but did not recall she had signed such a document.
"I know you're confused as we erased that part of you from your memory. You see, you did not qualify for promotion at the bank because you did not have enough experience at the time. But you sold your soul to death, and we gave you a year and a half to enjoy your new life. But the payback time is coming, child. "
Monique remembered this but had no idea she would be paying with her own life when the headhunter, who said he would help her get the job had her sign the dotted line. Blaring through her head, she could hear the boisterous sound of her alarm go off. Waking up in her bed, she was relieved that this was all a dream. That was until she saw the Contract lying next to her on her purple satin sheets.