I have a friend who organized a Facebook group with the intention of allowing it's members to practice their writing skills. He provides the prompts and we write. His first assignment was simple enough, kind of like painting fruit, I suppose. He asked us to describe one of five commonly encountered environments. I chose the one he misspelled, the Funeral Hopme. I really like the creep factor of the story and hope you do too.
The Funeral Hopme
by Edward Varga
“There it is, dad. See the sign?” The tattered scrap of plywood was nailed to a puckered and sour fencepost at an angle canted to the horizon. Dreary and faded paint applied by hand and obscured by endless days of fading at the hands of the sun beckoned the living pair and their cargo. At a distance, Paul believed it was just another impromptu advertisement for a prehistoric forest attraction left over from the pre-interstate days. The younger and sharper eyes of Paul’s son Jacob deciphered the words. “Funeral Home, two miles.” Below the words was a scratchy red arrow, arched from bottom corner to bottom corner of the wood, like a bridge from the roadway intersection to somewhere else. “Actually son,” Paul said with a know-it-all fatherly tone, “they misspelled home. It says ‘Hopme.’ Sounds like just the place.” For two-point-one miles, the only sound Paul and Jacob heard was the crunch of gravel under steel belted radial tires.
Through the dusty window, a yellowed backlit advertisement flickered with the joyful phrase, ‘Kodak film for color prints.’ The bikini clad woman pictured next to the words was nearly indistinguishable. Judging by the age of the device, Paul thought, she might not even be alive any more. The tinkling of the brass bell on the door was still polluting the stale air inside of the low ceilinged room when a gaunt figure in a black coat entered. “Well, I see you’ve made it.” He smiled and looked expectantly at the older man and his younger shadow. Paul stepped forward of Jacob defensively and said, “I’m sorry, we might be in the wrong place. We’re looking for the --”
“I know where you hope to be, and let me assure you, this is the place.” Jacob was studying the large metal carnival style letters on the wall and mentally counting how many of the individual round light bulbs had burned out. “What’s a, ‘Hopme?’” he asked with the impulsivity of youth. Paul saw it then too. The factory made letters spelled, ‘Hopme,’ this time without possible mistake. The man in black opened his arms wide and said, “This is a Hopme, a Funeral Hopme, to be specific.” Paul crossed his arms and said, “And… what is that?”
The man seemed disappointed in their ignorance. “The word, ‘Hopme’ means a few things, rest, justice, equality, ending, all rolled into one. It is hard to find an equal translation in most languages, so most of the time we say that Hope means, getting your just deserts. Now, before we can proceed,” the man stepped to a counter with a ledger, ”we need to have information for our register. She was your, wife, yes?” Paul stammered as he caught up with the conversation. “Um, yes, but… how do you --”
“Please, we are experienced with this sort of thing. She’s already been unloaded from your car and our staff is preparing for what comes next.” Jacob felt a breath of manhood enter his body and he said, “What does come next?” The man put down his pen. “Please young man, I see the worry on your face and I assure you there is no reason to be afraid. Well take care of your mother in exactly the way she deserves. Now, what I need from you, Paul, are any experiences we don’t already have in the file. I see here she and a former paramour had regular, um, interactions. There was hidden spending as well, the tendency to use physical intimacy as a weapon, and she spent quite a lot of time on the phone with you destroying your self esteem with ammunition provided by her mother. Anything else?” Paul shook his head, no. The man continued, this time looking deeply into Jacob’s eyes. “Unfortunately I don’t get to go over our files with you. It’s about your age. However, I can say this. You had a terrible mom.”
“So, with that sorted out, the rest of the process is quite simple. If you’d care to join me outside, it looks like everything is ready to go.” The man spread his arms again as if herding geese toward the door. “Oh, I almost forgot, do you want any souvenirs? Perhaps a picture or two? Our film is half price.” Jacob looked at the modest shelves covered with cypress wood toothpick holders and commemorative silver spoons. He wanted to indulge what remained of his childhood by looking for the miniature license plate with his name on it but decided against it. “I’m good, dad. Let’s go.”
The man in black’s heavy heels made hammering sounds on the plank floor in front of the Funeral Hopme. The horse hitched to the wagon next to Paul’s car twitched with each solid report. The three men looked over the fresh pinewood box. Paul and Jacob tried not to make eye contact with the driver on the buckboard. Chills grew as suddenly the desert air became as cold as the bottom of the ocean. “Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure servicing you today. Please do keep us in mind should you experience any other losses while you are on your trip.” The man in black was just about to signal to the wagon driver with his hand when Jacob spoke up. “Wait, I have a question. What comes next?” The man in black’s head turned as if on a swivel. “We are going to take your mother’s body into the desert, and provide her with her just deserts. Now be a good boy, and let us get to work.” The man signalled and the cart lurched forward.
Jacob sat next to his father in the car as they rode the two-point-one miles back to the highway. He smiled, recalling how festive the wood spoked wheels on the wagon looked as they rolled away.