The phone rang at 3:24am. “Well..that’s always pleasant news”, thought Manny, as he scrambled to his senses from a dead sleep.
“Mmmm…H-Hello…”, he said; rubbing his eyes and the back of his neck while he struggled to hang onto the phone itself. “Mr. Barnes?”, said a sharp, high-pitched voice on the other end, “Manfred Barnes?” it said again.
“Yes?” Manny said a little irritated now….”Who is this? Do you have any idea what time it…’–but before he could finish his sentence, he voice said, “I’m really sorry for disturbing you at such a late hour, Mr. Barnes. This is Graham Longpall, I’m the Funeral Director at Remembrance Acres. Your Aunt Ada has passed…”
“Aunt Ada?”, Manny said; “I didn’t hardly know her…why are you calling me?”
“Your Aunt Ada named you as her next of kin and sole beneficiary, Sir.”, Mr. Longpall said. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to come down to the mortuary and identify the body and also fill out the required forms.”.
Manny sat up, fully awake now, and thought to himself “What the hell? I hardly knew the woman. She was mom’s sister and kinda weird…kept to herself but always had that weird batch of cookies at Halloween and a presnt for me that year”. He had remembered the Halloween of his 13th year She ha dgiven him a really cool ring. Very old and heavy. “It’s Bronzzze…she said after noticeably , he remembered, dragging out the Z sound in the word. He remembered also putting iton and how heavy it was…and how warm to the touch it had been. She had then smiled at him and said “A perfect fit! And now I’ll just keep it for a special day….you’ll know when. And then it shall be permanently yours…”
That was a weird memory. However, he put it from his mind and went to get dressed. The morgue was across town and it was raining; of course. He would have to dress appropriately to view a body in the rain and then fill out papers for the experience.
He gathered himself together and got dressed. He stumbled across his living room, ramming his shin into the table and screeching. “Crap!” and finally got out of the door.
He drove to the mortuary and met Mr. Longpall, a balding, almost lurching, man of at least 6 foot 9 in height, with an unnervingly high-pitched voice. “Thank you for coming on such short notice,”, he said…”I know this is difficult”. He strode like a great spider across the floor. Manny noted he raised his legs up and down very highly as he walked, which unnerved him.
They arrived at the body. Mr. Longpall asked if Manny was ready and Manny nodded, rather shakily, that he was ready to view the corpse. The sheet was pulled back and Manny’s mouth fell open. It had to have been 22 years since he saw Aunt Ada but she hadn’t aged a DAY. She had the same hairstyle. her skin was tight and made up, and her eyes were open and looked as if she was just laying there almost pretending she had passed away.
“It was quite sudden you know”, Said Mr. Longpall. “Rigor and other factors still haven’t set in”.
Manny suddenly felt very afraid and unsure of what to do next, He asked for the papers that needed a signature from him and Mr. Longpall handed them over. Manny plowed through the signatures without reading anything and handed them back to the stilted, spider of a man. “May I go now?”, Manny asked. “Just one more thing, ” Mr. Longpall added, “she wanted you to have and wear this…” he opened the slender, tendrils of fingers and handed Manny the same ring he had seen on his birthday.
“I’m not sure I want that thing”, Manny told him. “It was her last wish, please he said.just take it for now and keep it safe.” Longpall said.
That wasn’t too bad a request Manny thought. So , slowly and carefully, he wrapped it in his handkerchief and placed it in his pocket. It was still warm to the touch, and he could feel it in his clothes.
He started to leave for home, but then turned and asked Mr. Longpall, “What about the Funeral? Don’t I need to plan that?” Mr. Longpall smiled a smile that should have been better suited for one of his deceased clientele; “No worries, Mr. Barnes…it’s all already taken care of”. “It will be the day after tomorrow at our Funeral Home at Remembrance Acres at 10:00pm…please make plans to join us and also bring the ring. She insisted in her instructions that you both be present”.
“You both”, he said to himself…that seemed unsettling He didn’t like it.
As he drove home, he looked at the ring and started to remember the times he had seen Aunt Ada over his life. She was not his mom’s favorite sister. Far from it, she was barely present when the “family” got together, and when she was there, all his mom and Ada did was fight and hurl obscenities at each other. Not, insults…obscenities. He had grown up being told to stay away from her, but each time she was there, she was kind—almost overly so, to him. Like the day she gave him that ring.
He got home and went to to work late. He worked from home as a CAD artist for a major architectural firm, so missing work for the funeral wasn’t going to be bad or a hardship. In this time of pandemic, he had liked the fact he was single, could work from home, and had thought ahead and had walls built of toilet paper bundles.
As he worked, he kept the ring close. He felt like he needed to. He would not wear it, that seemed very off-putting to him as he had no idea from where it came or truly who wore it first. But he examined it. It was large and looked to be made of bronze; not gold or silver, or anything really precious, but a bronze like material which probably caused it to weigh so much. It had no outward markings or words, just a huge, oval jewel, brown in color like garnet, that caught the light in a way that made it look like movement was going on inside. “Like the old-time mood rings” he thought to himself.
He picked it up and weighed it with his plan, and then instantly put it back down in wonder and disgust. It was WARM. Very warm…and when he touched it, it undulated in his hand; like it wanted to crawl onto his finger and rest there. He vowed to himself he would not touch it with his fingers again; he would place it in a box with a pair of tongs if he had to, and then go to the funeral. That experience had been plenty for him.
He slept that night and dreamt of falling away into a deep hole, clawing and scratching at the sides of the hole which where a silky, shiny, amber color, hearing as he fell: “fall and rise! come and see! hold me to you and I shall be free!” over and over again and he fell faster and faster, the walls closing in until he was sealed in a vacuum of space where he saw nothing but eyes and space.
He woke, sore and late. He felt like someone had driven an icepick both between his eyes and into his chest simultaneously. He could barely move….but he remembered the dream. He got up, showered and began to dress when he noticed that his chest and his forehead had, indeed, two marks upon them, red and angry; like he had been touched by the end of a hot poker…or marked.
He strained through getting on his best funeral t-shirt and finest black jeans and then started at the ring. He went to the kitchen and did exactly as he had told himself he would do. He got the ice tongs from the bar he kept, and “boy he needed a drink for this one”, he thought to himself, and grasped the ring with the tongs and placed it into a small, wooden keepsake box he had found in his mom’s stuff when she had passed away. As he turned to get that shot of “Johnny Walker”, he did not notice the hiss that came from the box nor the small glow that burst forth when the ring settled inside.
He set off for Remembrance Acres. As was his experience with funerals, it just HAD to be raining; and it was. Buckets of rain were pouring out of the skies and he could hardly see his way to get up the highway to his exit; but, after some time and some pulling over, he made it.
Remembrance acres was a strange Funeral Home. It appeared that everything was carved, even the tombstones, out of the same , ebon like material. Being an architect, he was a little unnerved, but also fascinated. It also appeared, as he got out of the car, that for as far as he could see, all the grave markers, were all identical in shape and placement, making an almost precise geometric pattern under the skies. A pattern not in lines…but in connected waves of shapes, one in side the other, like a stacked pentagon. It was the strangest design he had ever seen in a graveyard let alone anything else.
What had seemed oddest of all was that the funeral was being held at night. At 10:00pm precisely; no one he could ever remember had a funeral at night especially that late–it was just bizarre…and he also realized, now, that as suddenly as it began, the rain had stopped.
“Mr. Barnes?” , came a voice from just a little in front of him, “Are you ready for the service?”. It was Mr. Longpall, and he was holding a torch. Not an electric one, but an old fashioned, oil one with a flame like one might see on an old Hammer film, and he was pointing to the graveyard.
“The service is outside?” wondered Barnes; “This late?”. “Yes Sir, ” said Mr. Longpall, and he bowed to Barnes oddly as if he were indeed a special guest. “We are running a bit behind time so, please, if you would follow me…” and he began to walk towards the cemetery.
Barnes saw that as they walked, and they were walking a deliberate path, torches along the path seemed to burst into flame as they approached them. They were following a path that led directly to the center of the Pentagon of a thousand headstones…the dead center of it. Torches burst and blazed as they walked solemnly towards what looked like a Summit in the middle of the Pentagon and Barnes could see the mourners gathered around an upright coffin containing the remains of his Aunt Ada.
This was odder than odd. Her coffin was propped up without a lid and she stood there in her finest dress with her corpse eyes open and a smile etched across her embalmed face. It was lie looking a t a lurid department store mannequin modeling the latest from “Hell Is Us” or something. She was surrounded by a group of about fifty people, they were all wearing the same type of two-piece suits, and hats–black and white striped with gray accents. Men and Women both. They two were smiling broadly in a way that did not look possible for the human face to acheive.
Mr. Longpall stopped. He turned to face the mourners and Manny and said, “The service shall now commence. It shall be brief as in accordance with the wishes of Miss Ada.”, he sounded, “We shall remember he and her sacrifice for all eternity!” he shouted to the group.
“Sacrifice?” thought Manny, “What’s he on about? What sacrifice? She’s already dead?”…and then he felt a white hot flame of pain shoot from his pocket and flames began to shoot from where the ring had been tucked away in his pants. He instinctively grabbed for the ring and found his hand burning and in agony as he threw it onto the ground. The stone was alight with an amber fire all its own…and it was swirling with some sort of liquid inside, liquid that as he watched, was turning into face, after face, after face.
He got himself steadied and turned to run but then saw the mourners, smiling and now humming a grotesque and off-key version of “How Great Thou Art” in a key that sounded like a dying animal, had surrounded him. He felt icy hands grasp his body and hold him firm in their grip as the words “You see the stars, you hear the roaring thunder” were sung in that animal tone from the mourners as they restrained him and then began to lift him over their heads to Aunt Ada’s place of stance.
As he was lifted, he saw that the stars, indeed had begun to look different. It seemed that either they, or the vast array of headstones, all identical in shape and size, had lined up and were directly underneath each other. The mourners carried Manny to the base of where Aunt Ada’s body now was propped.
Manny now saw that Aunt Ada was not in a coffin. It was a capsule; an almost organic pod made of a black and tar-like substance that crawled and undulated around her. It looked as if it was melding with her dead body; her clown’s smile shining out form under the black sea of slime.
“And now, ” shouted Mr. Longpall; “Let the Ring of the Last Alignment be brought forth and let it be worn!” The mourners also placed the ring in their hands, and, hand over hand brought it forward to where Manny was held high and helpless.
Mr. Longpall came close to Manny and began to whisper, “Blessed are you Oh son of Ada the Last Key! You were raised afar from her to keep you safe and pure and now your time has come…the ring shall bring you forth unto your destiny and also open the gate to the Alignment of the Universe and the Beginning of the new World!”..
“You people are out of your minds!” he screamed as he fought and he strained against his captors, “I’m not her son!…she was my Aunt, not my mom. you’ve got the wrong person!”
“Oh no we don’t ” came a voice from, behind him…”You were my son, they just took you away from me so they could keep this day from coming to pass!” It was Aunt Ada…her dead, embalmed lips were moving, her eyes, now yellow, swollen, and pallid were gleaming at him…”You will take your place as the key to a new age…put the ring on his finger!” she commanded.
He struggled and pulled, he tugged against them and tried to wriggle free but to no avail; they had him. He felt the white hot sting of agony as the ring was slipped on his finger and his eyes flew open as a force more powerful than a thousand suns flew and shot through his body…and he stopped fighting.
He gazed up at the skies, skies that now spun, and danced and swam with color and flesh and solidity–a hole had formed directly above the grouping of headstones; the headstones, now shooting streams of light into the heavens matched the starts under which they stood and the entire heavens was rent asunder. Nothing was left save a whirlpool of green, noxious, pulsing that shot out light and thunder and a roar that could split planets…the graveyard shook with the force of a thousand aftershocks and the mourners let Manny go as they tumbled to their feet.
Over the roars and thunders, Manny screamed “WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO??!?” to the group of mourners, now just reduced to their true appearances; sloshing, multi-eyed things that slid and oozed across the ground….”WHAT DID YOU DO??”
“We started a new world, dear” smiled the newly re-animated Aunt Ada, with your help my son, Your father came through from the other side– you were the product of our love. They took you away thinking me mad, but I was given a special “privilege” through HIS influence on your 13th birthday to give you HIS ring….You are the key , You are HIS gateway.”
She lifted her head and laughed and pointed upwards, “Behold your father!” as she screamed. Manny looked up to see something huge, and bulbous and indescribable emerging from the hole in space….”MMmmyyy Chhillddd..” a voice boomed from On High….”Thou shhall bee mmyy ssson and heeirrr forreverr..”
And it came through. And Manny walked to embrace his father.