An Undertaker Christmas
"Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la..."
The singing turned into joyous humming, the sounds seeping into stone walls filled with mold and the scent of death. Booted feet tapped softly in a miniature dance, its beat lost long ago. The staccato sound mingled with the squishing of internal organs, and Undertaker did a little spin, gracefully swooping the IV over his head before plunging it with expertise into the arm of its too-willing recipient.
Gleaming teeth peeked out from under bangs that hid nearly every feature of his face, its perpetual smile outshining the candles scattered about the room. Humming still, Undertaker plopped to a seat on a newly lacquered coffin and crossed his legs daintily.
Christmas was Undertaker's favourite time of the year. It was the time when two things happened, both of which tickled his fancy more than he may care to admit. A joyous spirit filled the streets of London around Christmastime, an underlying feeling of caring making it somehow into the hearts of even the coldest of men. Why, just the other day a Scroogeworthy businessman had discreetly slipped a coin into the hand of a poor and desolate begger whimpering outside his shop. People bustled around town, the rich carrying armfuls of brightly-wrapped packages, and the homeless and desperate gathering pennies for once-a-year feasts of ham and blood pudding. Oh, how he loved his pudding... But the merry feeling of December was only one of the things he absolutely adored. There was one more, a slight thing people generally didn't notice as much.
People died. A lot of people.
Business was booming in the colder months, as those without an abode to keep warm in froze on the street corners, and beggars desperate for food or fuel murdered their fellows for a few pennies. Family members fought, and older people tried and failed to hold out for one last Christmas spat. Children fell ill, their little lungs infected with sickness, the cold debilitating their wonderful healing capabilities enough to kill them. Houses caught on fire as mantles spat a little too far, and neighbour after neighbour lost their battle with this or that or another thing.
The problem here was that nothing made Undertaker happier than laughter and death. Two things most people would find oxymoronic, which he found aboslutely synonymous. He liked it when people could see that even in the darkest of times there was something to be grateful for, or at least something inside oneself to keep on about. But when a mother brought in a child, all in tears, begging for a tiny coffin for a moderate price since she would like to have a Christmas meal for the still-living family, he found it hard to smile. She wouldn't - how could he! And he didn't like it. A husband accompanying his wife of so many years, trying hard to keep from sobbing pathetically, as it was their fiftieth anniversary, and he had just sold her Christmas gift to pay for the funeral. It was tough not to tell him how lucky he was, when the policeman who came with was glaring at him as if he were the devil himself. Oh, no, Undertaker knew plenty of devils, and they weren't nearly as bad as he.
The young woman getting intravenously preserved at the moment was a mugging victim, and the scent all over her was sure - alcohol. She had been a prostitute, and an ugly one at that. What little money she'd had he was sure the Irish ring had taken from her, after "teaching her a lesson". In her case, she could be glad she'd been reaped so quickly. She wasn't even around for the pain of death; how kind. It made keeping his smile on even easier, as the silly song of decoration gave way to an older tale of a saintly King with magic footprints. He was really rather fond of that one.
After the fire, Undertaker had been forced to rebuild his shop, in a different part of town. He spent a great deal of time perfecting his doorway, painting up a new sign, and was soon decorating for the Christmas season once more. Tiny crystal snowflakes glittered around the wainscoting, the still-clean rafters hung heavy with pine and holly berries, and a four-foot Yule tree stood proudly in one corner, marking the doorway to Undertaker's personal room, in the back. It had bits of ribbon and lace, a few antique ornaments, and an exquisitely carved and painted fallen angel perched in the highest boughs, where it overlooked the scene with an expression of mild, complacent pity. He had been very glad to find his ornament box survived; it had taken him decades to collect most of these things. It would have been painful indeed to lose so many precious, rare, sentimental things.
It was this scene which greeted the young boy who peered into the shop, one tiny, grubby hand holding back the woven "door" a few inches; just enough to see inside. Humming still, Undertaker let a few words escape his lips softly, as his favourite verse came about. The singing grew louder, and he was up once more, twirling with his arms out back to the young woman to pull out her IV. Her husband wanted her preserved. Ooh, if he'd only known what she'd died of!
"You may come in~!" Undertaker chimed absently, pausing between verses to sing out his greeting, letting the boy know he was available. The child, startled, dropped the fabric door and tried to hide himself against the outer wall. Undertaker laughed softly under his breath. Oh, how frightfully wonderful the little ones were! They were raised to be so afraid of death, so afraid of him. Sighing a little, he went back to humming, and cleaned up from the IV, laying a thin shroud back over the ugly maiden and turning back to the door, one hand on his hip, long nails beckoning the hiding child.
"Don't be afraid. You need something, hmm?" There was a bit of shuffling from outside, but no other response. Undertaker chortled behind one too-long sleeve, and reached for an urn. On silent feet, he moved toward his door, and grinned as he stuck out the now-uncovered urn.
"Cookie?" There was a squeal, as the boy turned from the jar of sweets and hid his face in his hands. Undertaker poked his head out, taking one of the delicious treats between his teeth and biting its head off. They were gingerbread men - specially baked for the season. Undertaker made everything he surrounded himself with, so that he knew for sure the quality of it all. Except the people. That he couldn't always be so sure of.
Slowly, the boy uncovered his face, turning to blink back at the face peering out at him. Its eyes were hidden, but the scar and the gleaming grin were enough; he was dreadfully scared. Shaking still, he opened his mouth and stuttered out an explanation.
"N-n-no-no thank you," he managed, and gulped. Undertaker tilted his head. The boy was obviously poor; he wore a tattered newsboy cap, a scarf with many holes. His shirt and pants were colourless and very dirty, and only one glove adorned his hands. On his feet were a pair of brown work boots much too big for him, and his scruffy black hair covered his shimmering eyes almost as much as Undertaker's own. Shimmering wet from newly-banished tears. "I-I-I'm h-here for my m-m...m-m-m..."
"Your mother," Undertaker offered, a half-question, and the boy nodded. His smile faded a little. This boy...such a weak aura. No happiness. Shame.
"P-p-p-p-please. Sh-sh-she's d-d-d-d,"
"Dead," Undertaker completed, nodding. "Hmn...I'll go to see her. Come inside for a moment, eh?" His natural drawl was a little clipped all of a sudden, as he turned back around and went inside. Setting the urn down on a spare, unpolished coffin, he went to wheel his latest customer into the storage room. The boy shuffled in behind him slowly, eyeing the place with a frightened, tear-rimmed gaze. Undertaker tried not to skip. He'd just thought of a way to cheer the kid up. The playful melody of "Jingle Bells" started off his lips, his smile returning in full force as he disappeared.
When he returned, he found the boy sucking absently on a cookie he'd been brave enough to fish out, the side of its head crumbling happily to the floor. He blinked huge eyes at Undertaker, as if he'd been caught, but the man just came to his side and patted his shoulder.
"I offered you one, eh? You can have as many as you want. Here, take the jar." And with that he pushed the urn into the boy's scrawny arms, patting him on the back to lead him as he did so. Silently, sucking still on his cookie, the boy walked forward, and the two left the shop together, Undertaker's happy melody trailing after them on their walk of doom.
"You came home to find her cold as a stone, right?" Undertaker sang out, leaning forward to open the door for the boy, who nodded a little, his expression calm and cold now as he pulled another cookie from the jar. The bobby who'd ended up coming with them was curious as to how the boy ended up at Undertaker's shop, but had shrugged it off and left moments earlier, after helpfully bringing them a stretcher with which to transport the woman's body. She had died of pneumonia, very plainly, and left the boy homeless and orphaned. This was the fourth time the boy had given his day's summary, and to be honest Undertaker was a little miffed by now. At least he'd cheered the kid up, and made sure to give him the money his mother had been hoarding instead of letting the police man take it. There was his happiness, and Undertaker was off, watched by the kid's big eyes as he carried the woman out to the streets and through the back alleys. She was only a block or so from his shop, so the bobby had generously left him for his own. The men of the law didn't like him, anyway, and that made him giggle a little. People were still too afraid of Death.
"Boys and girls~!" he sang out as he pulled the corpse into the shop, stopping for a moment to grin around at the other occupants of the storage room. "I'd like you all to meet Poppy. Poppy, this is Louisa, George, the lovely Miss Maybell (she prefers her last name, honey), and of course old Lily Abbot. You'll be lying here for now," after introducing everyone, he moved around to slip his arms under the limp body, carrying it over the few inches to its stone bed, "until we get you fitted and under the ground. You'll be getting the best of service here, I assure you, a nice cedar coffin since I have one laying around. Oh, but it won't be polished, I'm afraid." He stopped to place a finger against his lips, and think. "Shame. But, what can I do! I gave your last pennies to your little boy. Looked like he needed it." Humming tunelessly once more, Undertaker moved around to fold up the stretcher and pile it with the others he knew the bobbys wouldn't come back for. How nice of them to give him Christmas presents! How very thoughtful!
Once finished, Undertaker moved into the main part of the shop, and gazed around a bit with a smile. The day's work done! Now for a nice cup of hot spiced cocoa, and a bit of minced pie. His very own Christmas eve treat, though he would be having little else for Christmas dinner. Perhaps he would make a last-minute batch of boiled cranberries, and of course he needed his pudding. But that was all, and he sang to himself once more as he bustled around his makeshift kitchen, heating this and that over the stove, making up a place for himself on the small round table, as well as a place for his guest. Two plates, two thin slices of pie (he had to make this one last, he wouldn't be getting meat again until the new year!), two cups of cider, two small ones of cocoa, and the extra chair pulled out from its corner by the bookshelf. There! Finished, Undertaker took his own seat, lit the candle in the middle of the table, and folded his hands to wait.
It was only a moment until the scuffling of booted feet made its way to the doorway, the sleeves of a much-patched jacket catching on the miniature pine and shedding a few needles. Head down, cap in hand, the boy made his way toward the smell of food, and Undertaker smiled at him warmly. It wouldn't do to have the child alone on Christmas eve; the least he could do was feed him.
"I-I-I b-brought back your..." He didn't know the proper name for the thing; cookie jar wasn't quite right, it was a bit too elaborate. Or maybe this man was richer than he thought. Carefully, he pulled the item out from under the folds of his jacket, offering it up, and recoiling just slightly at the sight of curved black nails. Like claws they were, but the man's bright grin made him peer up curiously, eyes on him instead of the food, though he very much wanted to attack the warm, good-smelling offering. He must be waiting for someone, though.
"Urn," Undertaker finished for him, placing the article on the opposite side of the table from the guest chair, where its glazed ceramic surface gleamed black and silver. "It's called an urn." That perpetual smile gave way to a sweeping gesture of his arm, the folds on his sleeve falling back so as to just miss the flame of the candle as he showed the boy to the meal. "Sit, please. Your pie will get cold."
Those big eyes got even bigger, as he blinked at the man in disbelief. Though he couldn't see his eyes, the boy didn't want to doubt that happy grin. He only hesitated for a moment, before jumping up into the rickety wooden chair, and making for the food. Undertaker smacked his hand sharply before he could grab it, though. The boy turned to blink at him again, in confusion once more, and saw that smile half-melted, before it came back, softer.
"Not yet," he chastised gently, before taking the boy's hand, putting his spare one out palm-up, his lips closing on his smile, until the boy bowed his head, his other hand imitating Undertaker's. "We are grateful for this food, and this company, on this late-Yule celebration. Now, eat." Blinking his eyes open, the boy dug into his food, grateful for the taste of meat, so rare in his life. Undertaker hesitated a moment, head tilting slightly as he smiled genuinely, watching the boy. Now this was Christmas happiness.