Two thugs explore an abandoned funeral home for treasure.
Sean took a drag on his blunt and exhaled into the smoky atmosphere of the Camaro’s narrow cabin. “So you’re tellin’ me,” he waved a freckled arm towards the old brick building at the end of the lot. “There’s thousands ah dollars inside?”
His best friend, Micha, smacked the steering wheel and rocked back in his seat. “Bitch, that’s what I’m sayin’.” Micha shook his head, his dreadlocks bouncing like springs. “Ain’t no one round here not heard ‘bout the crazy ol’ woman what lives in there an' her treasure hid inside.”
“Well I never heard ‘bout it,” Sean complained. He handed Micha the blunt and took a sip of beer. “How in the world would some homeless chick come up with thousands ah bucks. An’ if she did have it, why would she live there?”
“Cause she crazy,” Micha wheezed taking a toke and doing his best to hold it in. After several seconds he puffed out a gray cloud and rolled down the window.
“Back in the seventies,” Micha said, “this place was makin’ money hand over fist. Then that bitches ol’ man got popped by the cops for runnin’ some kind ah kiddie porn ring. Guy committed suicide right in that building. Burned his self up in the basement ovens.”
“Whad’ya mean, basement ovens?” Sean asked.
“Place was a funeral parlor, homes. They cremated people in there. What you think that big ass chimney fo’ anyhow?”
Sean leaned forward and squinted into the gloom. The old abandoned mortuary was a single story structure with chain wrapped double doors and metal barred windows. On the far end of the building, a tall stone chimney jutted up like a gravestone.
“But you ain’t said nothin’ ‘bout the money,” Sean said. “How’d some homeless chick get so much money.”
“Well she weren't always homeless an’ crazy.” Micha rolled his eyes. “It weren’t til the IRS took all her shit that she moved into the funeral home. Bitch had no place to go. When she move in, she took everythin’ them government boys couldn’t lay their hands on. Cash and jewelry, that kinda thing.”
“How you know she was rich?” Sean asked. “Maybe she was broke an’ didn’t have nothin’ left.”
Micha pursed his lips. “Mm, mm, mm. Boy, you ain’t lived round here long nuff to learn much ‘bout this city.” He turned and bumped his head towards downtown. “You know that ol’ mansion on Cherry Street?” he said. “The one with all them flashin’ lights at Christmas?”
Sean’s eyes drifted to the ceiling in thought. “You mean the ol’ Blackstone mansion?”
“That’s the one,” Micah said. He raised an arm and pointed to an old woman crossing the street and entering the lot. She was hunched over a junk loaded shopping cart, her gaunt frame rounded by layers of filthy clothes. “Meet Miss Emma Blackstone.”
Sean stared into twilight’s deepening shadows at what appeared to be just another homeless old woman. “Shit, how you know that’s Emma Blackstone?”
“Man, everyone know her,” Micha said. “My momma told all us kids, ‘You stay ‘way from that Blackstone funeral parlor. That Blackstone woman a witch.’ Course mama just tryin’ to keep us kids from breakin’ in an’ shit. Hell, that what everyone tell their kids round here. Stay ‘way from that Blackstone place, she a witch.”
The old woman pushed her cart up to the side of the building and parked it beneath the chimney.
“If she’s so rich an’ got all that money and jewels hid inside,” Sean said, “why don’t we just grab her an' beat it outta her?”
“Cuz she’s also bat-shit crazy,” Micha said. “You ever get up next ta her an’ all she do is babble. Hell, she can’t even form a sentence that makes no sense.”
“Then how the hell we supposed ta find her stash?” Sean asked. “That’s a pretty god damn big building. It could be anywhere.”
“Cause I got this.” Micha pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket and unfolded it before passing it to Sean. It was a page torn from a journal. The paper was yellowed and brittle on the edges. At the top, printed in a neat, flowing script it read:
Nov 1, 1 am.
Feeling much better tonight. Still having trouble sleeping, but the nightmares seem to be letting up. I think the medicine might be helping.
I’ve been worried about the jewelry all week. I’m afraid I’ll forget where I’m going to hide it so I’m recording it in my journal. Hopefully, I’ll remember to look in here.
Below this was a drawing of a building with an arrow pointing to a room in the North West corner. Beneath the arrow was printed:
Urns -- second shelf. Diamonds are in the one labeled John Fike, the rest in the urn labeled Samantha Whippet.
“How’d you get this?” Sean asked handing back the page.
Micha laughed and stuffed the paper in his pocket. “Luck, plain dumb luck.”
Sean brushed a lock of his long red hair from his eyes and stared. “Well? You gonna tell me or ain't ya?”
Micha grinned and went on. “Two days ago, me, Lil’ Kee, an’ Peanut were all standin’ round shootin’ the shit when crazy ol’ Blackstone come walkin’ into the lot. Course we didn't pay her no attention until we hear her rantin’ and ravin’, yellin’ all kinda weird shit. Then she take this book outta her basket an’ start ripin' out pages an’ chuckin' em in the air.”
Headlights turned onto the road where they were parked and they ducked down waiting for it to pass. Micha pushed up in his seat and checked the rearview mirror before going on.
“Anyway, it was windy as hell an’ them pages come dancin’ crost the parkin’ lot, like drunken white birds, swirled round us like leaves. Then this one here,” Micha tapped his pocket and smiled, “stuck to my leg. So I pull it off an' take a look. I don't have ta tell ya I seen immediately what I had.”
“I always said you was one lucky bastard,” Sean said. “But why you pick me to go with ya? Why don’t you just go in yourself an’ get them jewels?”
Micha paused and stared through the windshield, watching as the old woman sifted through her belongings. “You my best friend, man. I thought we’d share.”
Sean stared at him for a long while. “Shiiiit. You’re scared.”
“I ain’t scared ah nothin'!” Micha said.
“You scared ah all them witch stories you’re momma tol’ you when you was a kid,” Sean laughed. “Oh brother, that’s rich.”
“You want a piece of this or not?” Micha said angrily. “I can call Peanut an’ he’ll be down here in a minute.”
“Naw, man. I’m just yankin’ your chain.” Sean nodded towards the building. “How we supposed ta get in there anyway? Place is locked up tight.”
“Just watch,” Micha said. He grew quiet, leaning forward and gripping the steering wheel.
For several minutes, the old woman rummaged in her basket, taking out this and that. Suddenly she straightened, her eyes scanning the area and with an agility unexpected in one so old, she dropped to her knees and disappeared from sight.
“Where’d she go?” Sean asked.
“Come on,” Micha answered. He opened the door and stepped out. “I’ll show ya.”
Sean followed as they jogged across the lot.
“Man, pull up your hoodie,” Micha said glancing over. “Ain’t no one gonna notice another brother runnin’ down the street, but people remember a long haired white boy. Specially one as pale as you,” he laughed.
When they reached the building, Sean spotted a metal grate covering a hole in the wall. Micha pulled out two flashlights and handed one to Sean.
“I’ve been watchin’ her since I found that note,” Micha said. “I figure we follow the old bat inside, tie her up an’ grab her stash.”
“Just tie her up, right?”
“Yeah, man. We ain’t gonna hurt her. Just don’t want her sneakin’ up on us with a blade or somethin’ while we lookin’ round.”
Micha dropped to his knees and with a wide-eyed glance at Sean, scrambled inside. The crawl space beneath the building smelled of mold and rust, the powdery dry soil cool against Sean’s hands. In the pale glow of their lights, a bent rectangular air duct dangled from above, ramping down to the dirt floor.
“That must be how she gets in,” Micha whispered. He played his light across the two-foot tunnel of ductwork snaking into the darkness.
“You first,” Sean said. He gulped down a chill fear he couldn’t explain and cast a wishful eye to the dim square of fading light leading to the lot. Suddenly a treasure hunt didn’t sound like such a good idea.
Micha wormed his way inside, the duct-work popping with tinny metallic pings as he went. Sean waited for Micha's light to disappear before following him in.
“You back there?” Micha’s voice echoed.
“Yeah, man. Right behind ya.”
Sean crawled after the glow of Micha’s light for what seemed an eternity when the duct-work suddenly buckled beneath him. He slid downward tumbling out of the tube and landing with a thump on a hard metal grate. Before his light flickered out and sank him into darkness, he was covered in an explosion of powder.
Sean sat up, bumping his head on the low ceiling. He licked his lips and felt around. The powder covering him was sweet. He rubbed a finger across a dusty cheek and put it in his mouth. Sweet like sugar but with a spicy bite. What the hell’s going on? Sean’s heart hammered as he ran his hands against each wall. There was no opening, no exit.
A soft yellow glow at the end of his confined space drew his attention. A circular window the size of a fist with light just beyond. As he crawled across the grating to peer out, a face appeared on the other side. The face of a crook-nosed old woman. She held a candle in one hand and pressed a bright eye against the glass.
“Well, I’ll be,” she said. “A ginger ginger.”
The metal grating became suddenly hot beneath Sean’s hands. The cramped room filling with a cherry red glow. Then before the flames and searing pain exploded and plunged him into darkness, he heard the old woman chuckle.
“A ginger ginger.”
Sean awoke to a world of freakish dimensions. He stared up at a gigantic naked light bulb dangling from a ceiling hundreds of feet above. To his left, a drop of water the size of his fist dangled from a faucet two stories high. He tried to sit up, move his arms or legs but they were frozen, immobile. Almost as if they were encased in plaster.
“Ah, you’re done,” a gravelly voice boomed. An ancient face of colossal proportions hovered above him, the face of Ella Blackstone. The old woman’s milky gray eyes, close set above a hawkish nose and flabby wet lips, studied him with wolfish intensity.
“Nothing like fresh baked right out of the oven,” she said. Crooked pale fingers the size of tree trunks wrapped around his waist and hoisted him in the air.
This is not happening, Sean thought. I’m dreaming.
He strained to look down, his head pressing against the unseen restraint. On a metal baking pan far below, a gingerbread man lay. A gingerbread man that resembled Micha. A cookie whose face held the baked-on expression of terror.
The old woman shuffled across a room of vast proportions and dropped into a worn recliner. In her other hand she held a glass of milk the size of a refrigerator. For a moment she dangled Sean above the white surface.
It’s a dream, Sean told himself. A nightmare
Then his leg was dipped into the icy cold liquid. Any delusions of being a dream were washed away as the milk soaked his flesh.
“The best way to eat a gingerbread man,” the old woman cackled, her tongue licking along the back of his calf and sending a jolt of panic slithering up his spine. “is to save the head for last.”