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       A Pear-Shaped Funeral, p.1

           Dan Wells
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A Pear-Shaped Funeral





  A Pear-Shaped Funeral

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  About the Author


  Copyright 2015, Fearful Symmetry, LLC

  Cover design copyright 2015, Chersti Nieveen

  Cover art by Sarah Stapley

  eBook ISBN 978-1-944150-00-6


  License Note: This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, which we heartily encourage, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  Dan Wells. A Pear-Shaped Funeral.

  A Pear-Shaped Funeral

  by Frederick Whithers,

  as edited by Cecil G. Bagsworth III

  Restored and published by Dan Wells


  After discovering the historical documents heretofore published under the title “A Night of Blacker Darkness,” I did not expect to find any more of the writings of Frederick Whithers. Imagine my surprise when, while researching the pathfinding practices of a Cro-Magnon civilization, I found pressed between the pages of a book by Daniel Marlett the following account. The title is my own, but the handwriting and stylistic flourishes do indeed seem to be a match to Frederick Whithers. I have tested the ink and paper thoroughly, and confirmed that they are authentically dated to the Regency era, though I strongly suspect that their presence in the Marlett book is a much more recent development. I can only assume that someone is, at this point, actively seeding these documents for me to find, though who or for what purpose I cannot say.

  —Cecil G. Bagsworth III

  Postscript: At the risk of endangering their safety, I must thank the following people for their help in publishing this volume: Andrew H., James A., Tom P., Ben S., Shel & Jen D., Jole L., Dave T., Ed G., Jake C., Adam N., Ernest B., Jordan L., Alex T., Amanda P., Jason & Mike M., Wil R., and Eliza & Doug S. Their names have been shortened to protect, if not their innocence, at least their naivete.

  A Pear-Shaped Funeral

  being the 2nd memoir of

  Frederick Whithers

  as edited by

  Cecil G. Bagsworth III

  Chapter One

  "I'd like to arrange a funeral."

  The gentleman in my office was tall and thin, his sparse hair long ago gray, with a well-tailored suit I could only assume connected him to a significant bank account. I longed for a significant bank account. I'd been very close to one once—not my own, of course, for fate had seen fit to curse me with a shocking lack of wealthy relatives, and an overabundance of expensive friends—but I had lost the account at the last minute, thanks in part to a vampire, a poet, and a number of lady authors. It's a long story, and it doesn't really make any more sense if I tell it to you, so suffice it to say that instead of money I have a deeply indebted mortuary, which is really kind of the opposite. Fate, as they say, can go and boil its head.

  Wealthy gentlemen in well-tailored suits, on the other hand, can have as much of my time as they like, and so I cheerfully—yet solemnly, as mortuary appearances must be maintained—asked him what I assumed was a simple question.

  "Who," the simple question began, "is this funeral for?"

  "Myself," the gentleman replied.

  Perhaps not as simple as I had hoped.

  "We understand that you wish to arrange it," said John, my business partner, "but for whom is it to be arranged?"

  "For me," said the man.

  "It's possible we are not explaining ourselves clearly," I said. "Whose death is this funeral intended to honor? Who has passed away?"

  "I have," said the man. His voice, it should be noted, while not particularly strong, was also decidedly not dead. The same could be said of his body, given its insistence on sitting peacefully in my office instead of toppling to the floor in a heap.

  "This is so much more interesting than our normal funerals," said John cheerily.

  I frowned, studying the gentleman carefully. "You do realize that 'passed away' means 'died,' correct?"

  "Correct," he replied.

  "Am I to understand, then," I said, "that you wish to arrange today a funeral that will take place in the future, at some unforeseen and, if God is merciful, very distant occasion?"

  "I didn't say that I intend to die," said the gentleman. "I said that I have died, and I meant it. I am not one to misspeak."

  "It seems you're not one for a lot of things," I said, noting again the gentleman's distinct not-dead-ness. I paused, then, considering my next words carefully. On one hand, I did not wish to spend my precious remaining sanity, mingled, as it was, with a precariously small amount of patience, on a madman. On the other hand, the gentleman's rings and pocket watch were as expensive as his suit, and I hated poverty even more than I hated madmen. I adopted a suitably serious face, steepling my fingers in what I hoped was a gesturing bespeaking great wisdom and trustworthiness, and then proceeded to not having anything wise or trustworthy to say. I chose, in my discomfort, to say nothing.

  John leaned forward. "Mr. Crow, was it?"

  "Daniel Crow," said the gentleman with a nod.

  "I'm John Keats," said John, shaking Mr. Crow's hand. "A part-time funeral director, and full-time worshipper at the altar of love and beauty."

  "Excuse me?" said Mr. Crow.

  "It means he's a poet," I said. "Which is not to say that I speak poet fluently, but I can understand some of what he says when he talks slowly and points at the menu." I extended my own hand. "My name is Oliver Beard." My real name was Frederick Whithers, but seeing as that name was wanted by the police, I didn't use it often.

  "I believe we might be able to help you, Mr. Crow," said John, "but first might I be so bold as to enquire about the nature of your death?"

  "The typical situation," said Mr. Crow. "I was killed by my neighbor."

  "That's typical?" asked John.

  "You haven't met my neighbor," said Mr. Crow.

  "Murdered," I said with a grimace. "Not peacefully in your sleep, then?"

  "I'm afraid not."

  "Pity," I said, "I was hoping this would be easy."

  "How would that make it easy?" asked Mr. Crow.

  "If you've been murdered we'll have to involve the police," said John. "They bring too much paperwork, and they always want to look in the basement."

  "What's in the basement?" asked Mr. Crow.

  "Nothing of import," I said, which wasn't even a lie. The vampires in our basement were the least important people I've ever met. I looked at Mr. Crow closely. "Murdered or not, however, I recommend against involving the police—they usually prefer to take reports about murder victims rather than from them."

  "It's the fault of the forms, really," said John. "They've got separate spaces to fill out for victim and witness, so if you try to combine them there's nowhere to write it down."

  "I'm afraid I don't follow," said Mr. Crow.

  We needed this man's money, so I bit my tongue and continued as civilly as I could. "Perhaps your mind is hazy," I suggested, "from being so recently murdered?"

  "This neighbor," said John, "this Mr. . . .?"

  "Tolliver," said Crow.

  "Mr. Tolliver," said John. "He . . . stabbed you, perhaps? Somewhere inconspicuous? Your armpit?"

  Crow looked affronted. "Why would Mr. Tolliver stab me in my armpit?"

re you asking why he would stab you?" asked John, "or why he would choose to do it in your armpit?"

  "Why would he choose to do anything in my armpit?" demanded Crow. "Do you think I go around showing my armpit to the whole neighborhood?"

  "I'm not one to question the affairs of my elders," said John, "least of all our dear departed dead."

  "Your armpit is the least important part of the question," I said. "We are primarily concerned with. . . well, that's not quite true. That question was primarily concerned with how someone might kill you in a way that leaves no obvious mark. I am primarily concerned with how someone might kill you in a way that leaves no obvious death."

  "I'm undead," said Mr. Crow.

  "And there it is." I sighed, settling back into my chair. "I had very much hoped to make it through the day without any mention of the undead."

  "Only the day?" asked Crow.

  "We have vampires in the basement," said John. "The subject's not as easy to avoid as one might hope."

  "Vampires?" asked Crow, standing abruptly. His tone, rather than the shock I was accustomed to, was dripping with disgust. "I had been told this was a reputable establishment, but if that is the kind of the company you keep I shall take my business elsewhere—"

  "Wait!" I said, standing up quickly. Faced with the possibility that he might walk away I was forced to concede that in doing so he would take his money with him, and this was not a possibility I wished to entertain. "I assure you, sir, your contempt for vampires does more to endear you to me than anything that has passed between us thus far. We keep them less as company than as a matter of public safety: as long as they are downstairs with the rabbits, they're not outside with the defenseless maidens."

  "You shouldn't be harboring the vampires," said Mr. Crow, "you should be defending the maidens!"

  "I think you underestimate the level of defenselessness these vampires require," I said. "Have you ever met one?"

  "Most certainly not," said Mr. Crow, "and I sincerely hope never to do so."

  "Then I shall keep the door locked," I said.

  The door beside me opened.

  "Not that one, " I said quickly. “The one to the basement."

  "Mr. Beard," said Mr. Spilsbury, peering in from the hall. "I wonder if you—"

  I leaned to the side and closed the door, smiling at Mr. Crow as I did. "That man, for example, is not a vampire at all. Now. Obviously you are a man of unorthodox nature, more acquainted than most with the darker creatures in the corners of the world. I assure you that our mortuary, vampires notwithstanding, is better equipped to deal with these atypical realities than any other business you are likely to patronize. Let us start with the seemingly simple question of whether or not you intend to be buried?"

  "And in what kind of coffin?" asked John. "We have oak, cherrywood—very good for keeping out moths—"

  "The type of wood," I said," is somewhat less pressing of a concern than, if I may put this as delicately as possible, the fact that you are still walking and talking and, I assume, wish to continue doing so. Burial, while it does bring an enviable solitude, is rather restrictive when it comes to such activities as not being buried anymore. If you wish to arrange a funeral that appears to bury you but doesn't, or that actually buries you and then digs you up again after nightfall, I suspect you'll find very few other mortuaries capable of meeting such a request. We employ both a grave digger and a grave robber, not necessarily for this exact situation, but they will certainly come in handy."

  Let us note, at this point, that I did not in any way believe that Mr. Crow was dead, nor that his neighbor had killed him; my mind was awash with the complications that could arise if we were to actually go through with his funeral and/or burial. Would he want a viewing? Could he hold still that long, or would he prefer to walk among the guests shaking hands? Would he, in fact, insist on a burial, and was I prepared to bury a man alive? If we were caught by the police, would 'but he told us he was dead' be sufficient excuse to get us exonerated?

  Mr. Crow studied us for a moment, his eyes flicking back and forth between me, John, and the door, until at last he sighed and sat down again. "I suppose you're right. I shall simply have to add vampires to the list of inconveniences the wretched Mr. Tolliver has caused me."

  "At the risk of prompting you to enumerate that list," I said, "may we return to the question of your non-standard death?"

  "There's no sense concealing it," said Crow. "Mr. Tolliver is a necromancer."

  "I've never met a necromancer," said John.

  "Count yourself lucky," said Crow. "They're foul and noxious creatures, the stench of death clinging to them like vines on a fallen statue, nasty little minds wrapped in wretched little bodies, unfit for any company but the senseless dead. Mr. Tolliver's home is across the fence from mine; long has he lived there and long have I suspected his darker nature, for my keen wizard's senses have—"

  "Wait," I said. "You're a wizard?"

  "I just said I was a wizard," said Crow, "try to keep up. My keen wizard senses have felt unsavory ripples in the fabric of the mortal plane, and it was not hard to trace them to that hateful man and his hateful pe—"

  "Excuse me again," I said, "just for clarification. You're a wizard?"

  "I'll prove it to you," said Crow, and waved his fingers mysteriously. "Behold the eerie silence that falls over the building."

  We sat quietly, listening to the stillness, and heard Spilsbury still talking in the hallway. I leaned over and opened the door, revealing him in the same position as before, still relaying his message from earlier.

  ". . .which is why I sent the boy away with only half a penny—not a ha'penny, but a full penny that was cut in half, so then I . . ."

  I closed the door again. "That's your silence spell?"

  Crow nodded. "It grew so silent the poor man was forced to babble just to fill the aural void."

  "You've certainly sold me," said John. "How does one become a wizard? Does it take any special training, or do you just kind of be born with it and point a stick at people?"

  "Is it safe to assume," I asked, "that your neighbor Mr. Tolliver killed you in your sleep, through magic, with no outward evidence or signs of struggle?"

  "It seems you are more experienced with supernatural force than I suspected," said Mr. Crow. "It happened precisely as you describe: the foul Mr. Tolliver cast his dark magic last night, killing me so softly I didn't even know it had happened until I woke up this morning."

  "And how did you wake up if you were dead?"

  "He turned me into an undead thrall."

  "Then why aren't you following him around obeying his whims?" asked John, but then his eyes went wide. "You used your magic!"

  "Correct again," said Crow. "I weave a web of protective spells over my bed chamber each night, to protect me from just such an attack. He tried to turn me into an undead thrall, but my sorcery protected me—I'm still undead, but not a thrall."

  As much as I wanted the money, I had to ask: "Have you considered that your neighbor did not, in fact, cast a spell on you at all?"

  "Then how did he kill me?"

  "Have you checked your armpits?" asked John.

  Mr. Crow dismissed the notion with a wave. "Obviously he's a necromancer, or I wouldn't be dead, and obviously I'm a wizard or I wouldn't be not-dead."

  "Have you considered that maybe you are not-dead?"

  "Don't doubt me," said Crow. "Who's the wizard here, anyway?"

  "I have decided that we no longer need to know the details of your death," I said. "It's not exactly a standard funeral question anyway. Let's talk about your future, instead: what, precisely, do you expect to gain from a funeral? Your son or your nephew, if you have them, I can see their interest in it—fill out some paperwork, get the corpse out from under foot, maybe inherit an estate or two—but what will you get out it? Are you going to flee? Run off to Rome while Mr. Tolliver thinks you're dead?"

  "Run away?" asked Mr. Crow. "Are you mad? The funeral
is to lure him here, away from the wards and spells that keep him safe in his lair. Mr. Beard, your mortuary is going to be the site of a magic duel the likes of which the world has never seen before."

  "Oh, good," I said. "I was hoping for one of those."

  Chapter Two

  "This should be easy," said Mary. Her skirts were caked with mud, which would be odd on anyone else, but with Mary it just meant I didn't have to ask her how she spent her night. She set her bag on the work table, its contents squishing slightly, and leaned her shovel against the wall. "Invite a few professional mourners—the desperate ones who won't ask questions—and then let the old men wiggle their fingers at each other for an hour. What's the worst that could happen?"

  "How's your book coming?" asked John.

  "Still preparing," said Mary, patting the bag. "I know I shouldn't focus too much on the research, but it's just so fun."

  "Nothing," I said.

  "I follow strict rules," said Mary. "I have to write five pages a day, and if I don't hit my goal I can't go out to the cemetery that night."

  "I never follow rules," said John. "They're too restrictive—my spirit must be free to go where its wildest whims might lead."

  "But you rhyme," said Mary, "and you follow meter."

  "You asked a question," I said. "What's the worst that could happen? Nothing. Nothing could happen, and that would be the worst."

  "Rhyme's not a rule," said John, "it's an expression of my soul made manifest in the physical realm. It's a kind of magic, really, like Mr. Crow's."

  "Mr. Crow is not magic," I said. "He is a lunatic, possibly a madman, and most definitely delusional. The only magic he practices are the ancient arts of senile dementia. He's a dementiamancer. And Mr. Tolliver is no better, assuming he's even aware of this insanity. Our best case scenario is that he doesn't know a thing about it—he'll come to the funeral, ask a few pointed questions about why the body in the coffin keeps talking to him, and go home. Worst case, they're both lunatics, they have their mock battle, and Mr. Crow is no better off at the end of it than he is now: his purpose in coming here will have failed. How likely do you think he'll be to pay us, in that event?"

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