An Irresistible Force

Mortuary Basement

My uncle epitomizes the freewheeling postwar American spirit. When he came of age, he rebuilt a beat-up motorcycle in my grandfather's backyard and hit the open highway. He rode from the Midwest to the West Coast, hopped a boat to Hawaii, and spent some time living in a tree house.

In time he returned to the mainland, made his fortune, and settled down with a wife and family around him. The spiritual disease that claimed many of his generation spared him. He worked for every cent he earned, and I'll have no man begrudge the fruits of his labor.

I heard the tale of his coming-of-age journey to paradise many times. Only the last time did he disclose a dark turn taken along the way.

My uncle arrived in Los Angeles in the late 60s. Soon after he rolled into town, he did a stint working odd jobs  to pay for passage to the islands.

Covering room and board while trying to sock away enough money for a ticket proved difficult, so it came as a relief when a local contractor hired him on for a relatively lucrative one-time piece of work.

My uncle was told to show up at a certain downtown address at a certain time. There he'd be filled in on the details.

Arriving at the specified time and place, he found that the site was a rather nondescript boxy building much like the others on the block, most of which dated back to the 20s. All signage had been stripped from the outside.

The contractor met my uncle in the alley out back and explained the nature of the work. The client wanted the building, which he'd recently purchased, totally gutted. No trace was to be left of the business that had formerly occupied the property. My uncle was to strip the basement down to the bare walls and floor, including tossing out a bunch of stuff the previous own had left behind. He'd get his pay when he was done.

My uncle headed down to the basement, crowbar in hand, sure he had it made. The pay on offer for such straightforward work promised to make this job well worth his time. As he descended the creaking steps into a basement redolent of mildew, he banished the gloom by imagining the tropical beach where he'd soon be resting from his labors.

The stairs led down to a narrow hallway. An open doorway gave on a large, long room beyond. The only light seeped in through narrow basement windows, but my uncle could make out some junk clustered throughout the room, including a few long boxes set against the white-paneled walls.

He stepped from the last stair and into the hall. It was the last forward step he'd take on that excursion.

Not because he saw or heard something that made him turn back. My uncle remained fully intent on reporting to his work site and doing his job.

He simply couldn't.

Some invisible, irresistible force kept my uncle from taking another step down that hallway. He described the feeling as trying to walk through a vertical wall of sand.

My uncle returned upstairs and tried to make sense of what he'd experienced. In the final analysis, he decided he had a job of work to do that needed doing.

He marched back downstairs. Again the phantom force stopped him. More annoyed than afraid, my uncle--a lapsed cradle Catholic--invoked the intercession of higher powers.

And went lurching forward as if a rope tethering him to the stairs had been cut.

The unseen obstacle--whatever it was--removed, my uncle set to work. He finished the job set out for him and presented himself to his employer.

The contractor looked impressed as his bent fingers counted out my uncle's pay. Neither of the two previous men he'd hired to clear out the basement had lasted an hour. Both had quit with hardly a word and fled the property as if chased by wild dogs.

My uncle mentioned the difficulty he'd had at the start and reported the constant feeling of being watched, but otherwise, he said, things had gone smoothly.

The contractor took my uncle aside, swore him to secrecy, and confided what he didn't dare tell the other men working on site.

The old building had been a mortuary notorious for its owners' less-than-ethical practices. Those shady owners had finally been forced to close up shop following scandalous goings-on that had been hushed up at considerable expense.

That basement room guarded by the unseen force had been a private viewing room reserved for funerals involving closed caskets, corpses produced under questionable circumstances whose families wanted no-questions-asked services, and mourners with reason to hide the proceedings from the press.

"Well," my uncle said, "that explains all the coffins I hauled out of there."

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Combat Frame XSeed: CY 40 Second Coming - Brian Niemeier


  1. Brian

    Wow. Once again Christendom's obligation to respect the dead and treat the bodies with dignity.
    An obligation also enshrined in laws.


    1. An obligation the establishment in question apparently neglected, to their sorrow.

  2. Got a happy story for you though.
    So, it's been a tough year overall, and a tough month, so on down. Money is tight and my daughter's idiot dog hurt himself. There goes our budget, and actually the extended family's budget; and I'm switching medications, mired in feelings of failure, and merciful God I could use a good book to read.

    On impulse I check my email, and there's a note from Mr Niemeier with TWO books attached. I wasn't expecting that before the Indiegogo paid out.

    Well, when you've had more than your share of persistent bad luck, things like this are an extra special treat; so I crack open Combat Frame XSeed.

    Outstanding! Had a funny visual epiphany while reading. Background: a few weeks back I was reading one of Anspach-Cole's books and I realised just from mannerisms that one of the support characters HAD to be visualised as Michael Biehn being Corporal Hicks. There wasn't a clear call-out, it was just necessary.

    Well I have ALSO discovered that all in-combat narration of shock, hesitation, anger, etc, in XSeed, must be visualized as Japanimation character emote moments. You know that spot in an anime (before chibi faces infected everything like the cancer they are) where you get the Super Serious Facial Expression for like 2 full seconds while the dub voice actor says "GHUHHHHHHHHHHHH!" or "HNNNNNNNNNNNN!"

    Anyway, I'm having a great time with that. Thanks mate!

    1. Thank you for reading and for sharing your personal story. Readers like you make my life worth living.

      You are not alone. Reach out to family and friends for emotional and material support if need be. Turn to God for all your needs, and trust in Him to provide. He sent me readers like yourself and a group of wonderful colleagues.

      You and your family are in my prayers.

    2. Much appreciated. I do have a lot of good people near me. Just got to constantly remember not to self-isolate; I do OK at that. Oh, just started CY40 and got my initial taste of your... unique... take on a "save the cat" moment!

    3. Take care wreckage. We’ll add you to our prayers here.

  3. Fascinating. While Law Enforcement, I have never worked in a municipality large enough or with a criminal element large enough to support such an underground business.

    I’m from the mountains and I suspect there are large backwoods grave sights and such. But I have never encountered them, nor do I really want to.

    1. I know what you mean. My father is a retired small town police officer.

      As for the mortuary in my uncle's story, it wasn't so much catering to organized crime--though there was some of that--as lesser showbiz figures who'd met with lethal and embarrassing misadventures.

      Then there was the gross dereliction of protocol concerning the storage and disposal of dead bodies. Every now and then a funeral home gets caught keeping human bones in Glad bags or hiding baby coffins in the drop ceiling. This was one such place.

  4. Criminals they may have been, and sinners certainly, but still they paid their respects to the dead.

    Society is society, and even a low, baseborn society such as criminals needs the rituals and trappings to continue.

    May God have mercy on their souls. And upon mine.

  5. Gets you to thinking about how many horror movies would be over in the first act if the protagonists were practicing Catholics.

    1. Or if the victim should just stopped running up stairs to be cornered on a third or fourth story...

      Horror movies would generally cease to exist if people made smart or moral decisions.

    2. It's true. This is why horror movies always turn into morality plays, no matter how woke the script might think it is.

    3. Depends on the horror movie. Mindless schlock written by hacks who don't understand/hate the Church? If they gave me veto power over the script, those movies would never happen because of their plots' sheer contradictory idiocy.

      On the other hand, a Catholic milieu makes for the best horror fiction. Consider Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula.

  6. Brian

    I wonder if the wilful neglect of the corporal mercy of burying the dead properly awakens the demons.
    I suspect it's a homing signal to prowl and infest a place when such disrespect for dead bodies is practiced.