Case File: Arthur Wells
Morticians aren’t particularly known for making house calls. A monster mortician, however, works almost as much in the field as they do at the parlor. And there’s never one reason for it, either. A shocked mother kills a rabid dog in the backyard only to discover her son’s a werewolf. A dead gargoyle turns to stone on the roof and is too heavy to get off. There’s no supernatural police force or paranormal public works department to take care of this stuff. So, naturally I get called in to sort things out and make sure arrangements are made for the deceased.
And then there’s issues I get dragged into simply because people don’t know who else to call. The “weird” stuff…even by my standards.
Take Arthur Wells, for example. Amateur scientist, inventor, and overall kook. The man filed nearly a hundred patents in his life. Everything from the fart identifier (which does exactly what it sounds like it does) to a robotic shaving razor. More than a few lawsuits came out of that one.
Arthur’s greatest accomplishment, however, the world will never know. Primarily because it killed him. For all his half-baked ideas and eye-rolling schemes, Arthur often had a flash of brilliance. In fact, he achieved something I thought impossible, which is quite impressive given all I have witnessed in my life. Once someone watches a minotaur ride a centaur they think they’ve seen it all. The late Arthur Wells proved me wrong.
His wife acquired my number from a mutual friend and called to ask for my advice regarding his…condition. It was hard to give it, though. She was quite cagey over the phone and refused to give any details about her husband’s demise, insisting I come over immediately and see it for myself. A part of me thought to hang up and get on with my day. But what can I say? One doesn’t last long in this line of work without a little curiosity in them.
Mrs. Wells looked to be a perfectly normal human being when she answered the door. At least, from what I could see of her. She hid most of herself behind the wall as she poked her head outside.
“You're the mortician, right?” she said with shifty eyes.
The old woman appeared anxious, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Her husband did just die, after all.
“What gave it away?” I said, slyly, and gestured to the hearse in the driveway. “My sweet ride?”
The worry etched into her face only deepened. Maybe the joke was a mistake.
“Sorry,” I lamented. “I try to lighten the mood when I can.”
Mrs. Wells forced an awkward smile as she opened the door further. “It's all right. Come on in.”
The house was an old, brick Victorian, something you might get to visit on a ghost tour. The interior decor was just as dated as the outside. Hard wood floor, stained glass chandeliers, and antique lamps galore.
Mrs. Wells led me into a parlor room off of the foyer, what she called her husband’s study. To say the place was a mess would be an understatement. There were papers and folders in stacks all along the perimeter. A single desk was tucked into the corner, filled with so much crap I couldn’t even see the surface. A bookcase was pressed against the wall with ancient tomes sporadically tossed on the shelves. Come to think of it, the room might’ve actually been organized in Arthur’s own chaotic way.
I strolled around the space, trying to take it all in. “So on the phone you were telling me about your husband…?”
“Yes.” Mrs. Wells grabbed her chest to fight back a frown. “Arthur. He—He's dead.”
"Yeah. I get that, lady. Otherwise you wouldn't have called me," was exactly what I didn't say. I went with the standard, "sorry for your loss" instead.
I stopped and turned to her. Now it was time to get to work. “You mind me asking where he is?”
Her eyes immediately darted to the floor. “You're standing in front of him.”
I looked down at the hardwood. Needless to say, there was nothing there. “Excuse me?”
“He's right there on the floor. Alan rendered his body transparent.”
It took me a moment to translate what she actually meant. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. “He's invisible?!”
“Yes. It was a formula he'd been trying to crack for years. He was so excited when it finally worked. At least for the three minutes he was alive before he had an aneurysm.”
I had to take a moment and breath. I’d heard of ancient relics and magic spells that could turn someone invisible, but it was all myth and rumor. Never did I imagine it was real, let alone could be achieved by science.
I wasn’t even sure if this fell within my purview. It was weird, for sure, but Arthur Wells didn’t exactly turn himself into a monster. He was still human, technically. Then again, who was I to turn away a sweet old lady looking to say goodbye to her invisible husband?
Not quite sure what to do, I bent down slowly and reached my hand out into the air, hoping to hit a body. “Okay then. Now let me just…”
But oddly, my palm went straight to the floor without touching anything. “He—He’s not here.”
Mrs. Wells looked completely baffled. “What?”
“Your husband’s body isn’t here.”
“Any more impossible than him turning himself invisible in the first place?” was another thing I probably shouldn’t have said…but this time I did it anyway.
She glared at me, and I deserved it.
“Are you sure you didn’t move him?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Of course I didn’t.”
“How about misplaced then?”
Mrs. Wells scrunched her brow. She seemed to be doubting herself. “I—I don’t think so.”
At this point I had to take a deep breath. It was time to consider a scary alternative. “Now, Mrs. Wells, I just have one more question for you.”
Her expression went blank in anticipation.
“How do you know your husband’s really dead?”
The old lady’s jaw fell slowly as her face turned white.
“Arthur!” she screamed, running out of the room. “Arthur, are you home?”
Well ain’t that great. An invisible man was loose in the house, and I was pretty sure this was how horror movies started.
I spun in circles with my arms out, trying to get my bearings around the room. My eyes scanned every corner, looking for something, anything that might be out of the ordinary. A misplaced book. An odd footprint. If Arthur Wells was still in his study then perhaps—
My train of thought was interrupted as I backed into something, tripped over, and fell awkwardly to the floor. I looked up, but nothing was there. My legs were propped up on air.
“Never mind,” I shouted to Mrs. Wells. “Found him.”
She came running into the room with a relieved smile, which if I’m being honest is an odd expression to have upon discovering your spouse isn’t still alive.
I stood up and brushed myself off. Then, to make sure we didn’t lose track of the bastard again, I grabbed the closest thing to me, which happened to be small hula dancer trinket, and placed it on his chest. Or at least what I thought was his chest. In retrospect it could’ve been anything.
“So what exactly would you like me to do here, Mrs. Wells?”
She delicately clasped her hands in front of her. “Arthur has to have a funeral, right?”
“Is that what your husband wanted?”
She nodded. “As far as I knew.”
Truthfully, I didn’t even know how that would happen. An invisible corpse was certainly a first for me.
“Do you have any idea how we accomplish that?” I asked her.
Her head titled, curiously examining me. “I thought that was your area of expertise.”
Uh-oh. I’d never really been called out on my own specialty before and puffed out my chest with a false sense of confidence. “Yes. Of course. I just…wanted to see if you had any requests.”
“Just try to make him as presentable as possible,” she said, smiling fondly. “You know, for friends and family.”
Great. That meant there would be a viewing. “So open casket?”
Mrs. Wells nodded. “Uh-huh.”
Judging by her grin, I doubted Mrs. Wells registered the sarcasm in my voice.
The next twenty-fours were interesting to say the least. I spray painted the body to keep better track of it. And yes, it confirmed my suspicions. Mr. Wells was indeed in his birthday suit.
Once I got him back to the mortuary I had to figure out ways to cover his skin. Mrs. Wells was very clear. Nobody was to know about her husband’s…condition. That was pretty much the only reason she called me. My discretion.
As one might’ve imagined, embalming Mr. Wells was a nightmare. How did you work on the inside of a body you couldn’t see? Carefully was the answer. I used different color paint to differentiate the organs and injected him with a dye that spread throughout his blood vessels. The results were…creepy.
After that, it was just a matter of getting him dressed for viewing. Ninety percent of it was easy. A suit, clothes, and socks covered up the majority of his invisible body. Most people aren’t buried with white gloves on but the guests wouldn’t question that too much.
The rest of him was a bit trickier. A semi-convincing wig covered the top of his head, but the face had to be perfect. Nobody was going to get close enough to a dead body to tell if there was something wrong, but if Arthur had somebody else’s nose and cheekbones then there would certainly be some interesting questions raised.
My solution for such a conundrum was something I was particularly proud of. I took a mold of his features and fabricated a thin mask using a synthetic polymer crafted to resemble human flesh. I had to buy such a machine for a client with a skin condition (don’t ask) but was happy to get more use out of it.
The timing was cutting it close, though. The funeral was getting ready to start any minute, and I had to move Arthur’s body into the viewing room before his face had a chance to dry. It was finished with just moments to spare.
I carefully grabbed the face, ran through the curtain into the viewing area, and prepared to put it on when Mrs. Wells walked in behind me.
“Oh, he looks so handsome,” she gushed.
Considering he was still just a body with a weird set of hair floating on top of nothingness, I just had to roll my eyes. “Sure, he does. Just gotta put on his face and—”
“I’ll do it.”
Mrs. Wells leapt up beside me and grabbed ahold of the mask.
“No, Mrs. Wells! The material is very delicate and—”
And… it ripped. Because why would anything run smoothly up to the last minute?
“Look what you did!” she screamed at me.
“What I did? You’re the one that—”
I was getting ready to give the old lady a piece of my mind when the sound of muffled voices interrupted me.
“Oh, no. The guests are arriving.”
Mrs. Wells gasped. “They’re going to expect to see Arthur.”
“Maybe we should just make it a closed casket instead,” I suggested.
“No!” she cursed, crossing her arms firmly in front of her black dress. “My husband will not be hidden from the world.”
“Then we need something to cover his face with.” My eyes drifted off as I began running through the inventory I had in the back. “A mask. A mask. Where can I find a—?”
Then it hit me. “Aha!”
I scooted out from behind the curtain and returned thirty seconds later with the most beautiful clown mask the world had ever known. “It’s the only one I have.”
The base of the mask was a stark white, but every other feature was a rainbow of colors. Rounded purple eyebrows. Bulging green nose. Sparkling yelling cheeks. And a gigantic red grin that would put Ronald McDonald to shame.
Where I acquired the mask and why I needed it in the first place was a story for another time. For now, it seemed to satisfy Mrs. Wells’s fears.
“It’ll have to do,” she said with a firm nod.
And that was that. The mask was placed on Arthur’s face, the curtain was pulled back, and the packed house of grieving mourners all gasped in unison. There was a brief paused of uncomfortable silence before the light sound of chuckles fluttered across the room.
As it turned out, Arthur Wells was a bit of a jokester, which was probably why his wife so easily went along with putting a clown mask on her husband’s body. Everyone just assumed it was Arthur being Arthur, which seemed fitting in an ironic kind of way. Nobody could take their eyes off the invisible man at his own funeral.