Welcome to October
CHAPTER
1
An Accident Awful
The Mortimer Sisters were fearless and four until Nyx woke up one morning to find that Clara had not. Death is a funny thing until he pays a visit. Nyx and her sisters knew this better, perhaps, than anyone.
You see, the Mortimers were morticians which was fortunate because they lived in October— a town tame, a village vibrant— a place where anything could happen, where everything did and accidents happened all the time. Happily (at least for a mortician monetarily), Death more than sometimes happened to follow. In such a place, such a village, such a town (and in any place else), a mortician was usually useful. In October (quite obviously) it was luck to have four. Five, including their father. Five morticians happened to be heroes.
The Mortimers were young, but being raised by Dr. Down presented many many chances to learn all about the Downstairs: the cadaver-covered morgue. They all had seen the After. After the accident. After the end. But only Nyx and Clara had worked Upstairs with Mrs. Down. They all had seen the After, but it was only in the funeral home where one could see what happened after that.
Usually there was crying. Lots of hugging, lots of tears. Lots of people huddled together; lots of suits and skirts, dark black. A service in the Chapel where everyone in October would (usually) come to say goodbye. Outside, Mr. Wutsitz: to hold the doors open or hold them shut. Usually Nyx would watch Clara help Mrs. Down wade the crowd. Together, they’d orchestrate the service, consoling the grievers with their kindness killer. But sometimes the grievers would notice Nyx, too.
Usually Nyx would try, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
For some reason, though, the words never sounded quite the way she wanted them to. Though her elder sisters’ jobs were done AD, After Death, her job was to put the body in the ground. No one but Nyx knew how hard that was to do.
It meant that she saw what happened after the After. She saw the service. She saw the tears. And she was the last to see the body.
Nyx was the one who put the body in the ground.
So when Mrs. Down comforted the grievers grievous, they leaned on her. They knew she cared. But when Nyx comforted the grievers, they just nodded. She knew they were scared. They were scared of the After— of what happened After Them. They were scared not of Nyx, but of the place she’d put them after that. They were scared of Nyx, too, but they didn’t know it. Nyx, however, understood. And for that, Nyx was always sorry. For some reason, she could never sound quite as sorry as she always was.
And for some reason, she found Clara. Nyx had almost thought her asleep. If it weren’t for the bend of her legs, of the circle most crimson beneath her hair, dark black, Nyx might have kicked at her for lying unladylike at the base of the stairs. Even then, Nyx did not quite believe it. Clara pulled pranks often and it seemed a joke juvenile. Like Clara and Evie’s work.
So finding Clara in the morning wasn’t funny, but Nyx had almost laughed. She had reasons.
There were two.
She thought it was a joke, but seeing it wasn’t, she thought of something more amusing. Death, you see, had paid another Mortimer a visit.
And he put the body on the ground.
Clara looked almost peaceful. Like the day Leila Mortimer brought her corpse to the morgue. She didn’t want to call Clara a corpse but Clara was gone. And though Leila was the oldest, her youngest sister sadly was... not.
Not a person. Not the youngest. Not really here. Not alive.
Still, she was beautiful. Not even Death could challenge that.
Her now-youngest sister, Nyx, had found the body, but didn’t cry or shout. She looked at the body. Then she went to find the others. Then she found them in the dining room. Then she said, “There’s been an accident awful.”
Then Leila and Evie, Dr. D and Mrs. D, their kitten Jinx and her puppy Stein, and the smell of syrup sweet all in a line followed Nyx to Clara’s corpse. They all felt something different. Leila felt her heart in her throat.
“Oh dear,” said their adoptive father.
“Oh no,” concurred his wife.
“Oh, Clara,” replied Evie emotionally.
And Leila said nothing but a prayer.
Then she went out and rung the police.
Detective Abe and Detective Bee were experts exceptional at matters of fact. And in fact,
“This was an accident awful.”
Detective Bee agreed with Detective Abe. “A break most bad.”
“A casualty cruel,” concurred Abe with Bee.
“A death devastating.”
“Our Clara gone.”
Mrs. D let out a whimper and Detective Abe handed her his handkerchief. She used it. Detective Bee nodded nobly.
“We are sorry for your loss.”
As the oldest, Leila thanked them. For what, she couldn’t say. But as Nyx was saying nothing, as Evie was crying, and as the first assistant of Dr. D, Leila felt she ought to do something. So she thanked them.
Then she did her job.
She was what you might call a body snatcher. She took Not-bodies to the morgue. That was all she did, but it was the day before Clara’s funeral. So Leila found herself looking at her Not-sister once again.
On the tray, Clara looked peaceful. Almost peaceful. Peaceful, but not. She looked like Clara, still smiling, but Leila knew that she was not.
Leila was the oldest so she knew that everything about Clara was Not. Not smiling, not here, not okay. Not ever again. And she had to hold on to something. Something that was; something real. Something like the Downs or the Mortimers or something— anything— else.
Sad and uncertain, she chose something else.
She chose the body because holding the body was what Leila knew to do. Leila liked knowing. That’s what big sisters were supposed to do. But as she held onto the hand of her sister Not-smiling, Leila still didn’t know what she what she was feeling. She still didn’t know what to say to Not-Clara. Still didn’t know what she should do.
But as the eldest, Leila knew that she ought to do something. So Leila simply said a prayer.
Then she managed a weak and wobbly, “Okeydoke.”
Evangeline was the only Mortimer who had cried at the loss of the youngest adopted Down. But the Downs cried more than she did. And Evie cried a lot.
They cried so much that it shocked Evie to her senses. Their crying, quite frankly, sucked all of her tears right up. And when Evie stopped crying, she found a black hole in her heart. Evie Mortimer feared that not even the tears of the Downs could fill that black hole up.
Evie had always thought Mrs. Down to be all-business. An automaton matron. A creature of the clock. Mrs. Down set breakfast out at 8, lunch at 12, dinner at 5, and she managed to bustle about the Upstairs at all hours odd and in between, making phone calls and arrangements, ordering Clara to prepare this and set that, and Evie was so used to this that she almost cried out for help when today there was no breakfast. There was no bustle. No Clara childishly giggling around the backside of Mrs. Down.
Mrs. Down who’d made arrangements for a father, a brother, and her first and only son, was nowhere to be found in the days of preparation for the function final of her youngest Mortimer girl. This left Mr. Mrs. Down to help make all the arrangements, but Mr. Mrs. Down was useless Upstairs, on top of being a Mr. Mrs. Downer.
Besides, Clara usually oversaw the Display Room. So there was no one to greet them when Evie and Leila dragged him Upstairs ultimately. They were in a scene most surreal and several times Evie wished that Clara had not collapsed conclusively— just so they’d have someone to show them inside from out.
How they needed someone to ask whether they preferred a full couch casket or wanted a viewing or preferred the casket closed. How she hated that they just weren’t sure if they should order lilies or hold a wake in the plaza or at their home. How it bothered her that they couldn’t decide between a public or private service. And how did Mrs. Down ever manage to choose a date that didn’t clash with the Reverend’s sermons? From her first call to the clergyman, it seemed Reverend Angel was always giving a sermon.
Evie Mortimer had stopped crying over the loss of Clara, but that was only because she was tired. And she was shocked. And she was hollow. Inside, Evie Mortimer was lost most ludicrously. And as she dressed her smallest sister in a dress brightest white, Evie really had to wonder if it was possible to escape a black hole. If she cried hard enough, long enough, and built a boat, would she— could she— possibly row her way out?
The Mortimer sisters were now tired and three, and on the day of Clara’s funeral, the threesome hardly spoke. They sat quietly through the service. Sat quietly as the town peeked into Clara’s open casket. And they held on to each other and to the Downs until the pallbearers stood to carry Clara out of the chapel. The Mortimers didn’t need to view the body. No Mortimer ever got the chance to properly say goodbye. And the Mortimers didn’t want to. Say goodbye. Not just yet.
And it was time for another service. The Commital. To the ground. That was Nyx’s job, but today she wasn’t sorry. She would do her duty diligently for her sister. For Clara clever and classic and for some reason, this was reason good enough.
She wouldn’t be sorry because October was sorry enough. She’d seen Leila and Evie and the Dr. and Mrs. Down shake hands with almost everyone and almost everyone was sorry for their loss.
But only the Brothers Beetle noticed Nyx and smiled. Like Nyx, the Beetle Brothers weren’t sorry at all. They were smiling and they were celebrating.
“Come on Nyxie Nyx,” said John.
“Let’s do this,” said Paul.
“We’re with you,” said Richard.
George clapped his hands. “Let’s send our Clara home.”
So the Brothers carried the casket and the family marched behind. But Nyx led the procession. To a hole in the ground.
Reverend Angel said a prayer and Nyx helped secure the casket on the lowering device. October sang a hymn and Nyx lowered the casket into the vault. Mrs. Down wept softly and Nyx put the vault into the ground. But today she wasn’t sorry. After the accident abhorring, she wasn’t much.
For a while she was not happy and not talking. She was sad and scared and lonely and she was missing Clara madly. But the Brothers Beetle had shown her that her task wasn’t totally terrible after all. For some, holes were actually homey. So she sent her sister home.
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