by Kent Fletcher
After I got out of the Navy from my first hitch in April, 1974, the country was still in a recession, and jobs were darned hard to come by. The Navy and the Pentagon had beat my brains to a pulp, and I was mentally as well as physically exhausted after 3˝ years of running around the puzzle palace. All I wanted to do was go home and sleep for the next 20 years or so. So I went home -- back to Cleveland, Mississippi.
My family owned Fletcher Funeral Home then, and for a while I volunteered to spend the night at the funeral home with the body or bodies, to make sure there weren't any break-ins or fires or any other mishaps that could possibly ruin the business. Besides, I was still single, not even looking, and I had one bodacious stereo system at the time. I set the system up in the funeral home chapel, and after the visiting hours were over and all the friends and family had left for the evening, the dearly departed and I would party hardy until the wee hours of the morning. Ah, I can hear the music now, Eric Clapton and Buffalo Springfield, Tom Rush, Bob Dylan, Moody Blues, all the really good music from the early 70s.
Sometimes, if the night were warm, I opened the front doors to the funeral home, having already cranked up the volume on the stereo, and walked out on Cotton Row and just listened. Sure, the cops drove by from time to time and looked at me and waved, but no one ever said anything. Probably thought I was shell shocked or something, you know, maybe a brick shy of a load after my tour in the Navy.
After a while I eventually shut the system down, said goodnight to the dearly departed, and headed for the front of the home, where I slept on one of the couches.
One night I was reading a book, must have been around one in the morning. Talk about quiet. Ever been in a funeral home, by yourself, in the wee hours of the night? Quiet. Deathly quiet.
Yep, another "psssst." This time I got up, put on my clothes, and decided to make a quick perimeter check around the inside of the funeral home. I went into the chapel, turning on all the lights. I even checked the casket, you know, just to make sure the dearly departed was still lying in repose. I went on to the back of the building, behind the chapel, in the old garage area, again turning on all the lights, making sure no one had snuck in and was hiding somewhere.
I came back through the embalming room and checked the window (as far as I knew, it hadn't been opened in years). No problem, yet. Walked into the casket showroom, checked a couple of caskets, even looked under the caskets that were on casket trucks. Nothing. Nada. Nyet. Nil.
I swung back into the chapel and turned the lights out there. Then I walked back into the main room where the seating area was. I checked in a little side room, checked the door, checked the ladies' room. Walked back out into the main room, went up to the front of the building, off to the left and checked the men's room. There wasn't a door there, but there was a very small window. It was painted shut. Then I walked back into the foyer and double-checked the front door. Securing that, I went into the office, and double-checked that door, too. Checked the windows, no problem. Went into the back office, all the windows were closed as well. The air conditioning unit was right outside the back office, and the internal fans and workings were inside the back office. No problems anywhere. No doors open or appearing to be jimmied, no windows open or appearing to be opened.
Okay, I thought, now what the heck is going on? I've been from one end of this building to the other and nothing is amiss. What the heck is that "psssst" sound? Here I am, 27 years old, getting shaky in a place I virtually grew up in!
I guess the covers muffled the sound enough that I finally slept. I didn't say anything to anyone about my ordeal for a couple of days. I was just plain stumped about it all.
Well, Madeline, Jack, Whit, and I were sitting on the couches after lunch one day, just talking, and guess what? Right. "Psssst!"
I nearly jumped out of my skin. I hopped up and said, "What is that noise?" Jack looked at me and asked, "What noise?" I told him about the "psssst" noise. He said he didn't hear anything. So I kind of blew it off, but again in a minute or so: "Psssst!"
"There it is, there it is again! What is it?"
Then Jack and Madeline finally figured out what I was hearing, and pointed the culprit out to me. High on a wall, just in front of the air conditioning vent was a battery-operated atomizer. I wanted to jump up and rip that thing right off the wall!
After settling down for a few minutes, I related what had happened to me a few nights before. Madeline, Jack, and Whit had tears in their eyes and were holding their sides from laughing so hard. I felt about a foot high. Here I was, a grown man, totally unnerved by a simple little thing like . . . an air freshener.
Kent Fletcher, native Mississippian and retired military, now lives in Texas.
Contact Kent at this e-mail address.
Read more of Kent’s “meanderings”:
Speaking of Tunica
Hotrods and high school
Raisin’ Delta cain
Roguing beans and a ‘39 Plymouth
A Sea Story
Age of Convenience
Ghosts of Christmas Past
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