I helped Mr Grimley to his feet and together we stared at the gurney on which I had laid out his dead brother the previous night. It was some seconds before I realised it was down to me to break the awkward silence.

“He was there yesterday.”

Mr Grimley nodded, his tortoise-like eyes receding beneath deeply wrinkled lids.

“Are you sure this is…?”

The question hung in the air like an accusation, but we were a small outfit with space for only six and the mild autumn weather was still keeping people away. Discounting the insult to my professional pride, there was no possibility of an error as the elder Mr Grimley represented our entire business for the previous three weeks.

“It’s definitely the correct gurney, Mr Grimley.”

His grief appeared to battle something that was altogether more complex and, in horror, I remembered the last clause of our agreement.

“He can’t have gone far,” I said and recognised in my voice the same desperation that I had heard from countless customers, the same refusal to accept loss, the same anger, the same disbelief.

My wife had been pregnant with our first child when, over a decade ago, I first met the younger Mr Grimley. Any doubts I may have had about his precise terms were silenced by the unusually large advance and thoughts of the home it would enable me to secure for my family.

Yet, even now, I found it incredible that the ‘inability to bury’ clause might apply. There were rumours about the mysterious disappearance of seventy kilos of Mrs Whitstanley’s rockery on the day of her husband’s memorial, but that was with the crowd down the road. Things like this did not happen to professional undertakers, and I considered myself one of the best.

“You have disappointed me,” Mr Grimley said quietly as he steadied himself against the empty gurney with one hand. There was nothing more to say.

“Frank!” I heard a sonorous voice behind me.

“George!” Mr Grimley turned, as did I, to see the imposing figure of his brother somehow managing to look dignified despite wearing just a split blue robe and a brown paper tag on his right, big toe. The younger Mr Grimley smiled so that even the deep creases on his forehead seemed to turn up at the corners. “You’re looking… surprisingly… well.”

“Didn’t I tell you?”

“You told me lots of things.” There was an edge to Mr Grimley’s voice, a resentful edge.

“You aren’t still going on about that! Our wager was as clearly agreed as this one.” George marched over to embrace his brother affectionately. He turned to me. “I don’t suppose you know where my suit is?”

It was a somewhat irregular but not altogether unreasonable request. I nodded and went through to the office. A perverse masochism masquerading as hope made me check the Grimley file. The specificity of Mr Grimley’s terms began to make sense as I deciphered the complex wording of the punitive ‘failure to bury’ clause and realised I was liable for a multiple of the original advance. I didn’t need to calculate the effect of ten years of compound interest to know that I was ruined and I could not believe my foolishness as I located George’s personal effects.

They were deep in conversation when I returned and George began to dress without pausing, barely acknowledging my efforts.

“…you see, I was right. The elixir of eternal life has a simple formula and you have lost our little bet.” He paused for a triumphal smile. “You owe me five hundred thousand pounds.”

“I don’t think so.” Mr Grimley answered with a mischievous glint in his wizened eyes. “My definition of immortality doesn’t allow for,” he paused, looking around the mortuary with evident distaste, “a gap in service.”

“Really?” George’s voice changed, no longer warm, it was sharp, almost threatening. “So I presume you have come up with your own formula?”

The younger Mr Grimley’s eyes narrowed and the two distinguished old men, both now wearing identical pin-stripe suits, squared off against each other like boys in a playground. Their eyes locked and their rivalry was marked by cold aggression, the type a man might act from.

“You owe me five hundred thousand pounds,” George repeated.

“Or what?”

“Gents, please,” I said.

It wasn’t much, but our customers didn’t normally behave like this and I knew I had to do something. George and his brother looked at me, united by fraternal hatred of a profession they had good reason to despise now they could dispense with all need of it.

“This,” George declared, “has nothing to do with you.” He turned back to the argument. “Mortal or immortal, Frank? Your choice.”

“You’ll get your money,” Mr Grimley said, then turned to me, “I believe I’m due a refund.”

Gaius Coffey has written full outlines for two sit-coms, several novels, a couple of screen plays, a stage play and a radio play. He has even completed some of them. Currently, he is working on the final draft of a novel and flash fiction is just one of the many exciting and enjoyable diversions he has found to prevent him from actually finishing it. He lives in Dublin with his wife and two cats.

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 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Neat little piece of confusion, and I was with the poor mortician all the way.

    Felt a little like “The Odd Couple” and I could see Matthau in the le4ad role.


  • Written like a classic tale! Had to give five atleast!

  • Chuck

    And of course they all end up in court and their is a sensational trial and the only ones that really win are the lawyers and court staff since they get paid no matter what.

    Nice story! Made me think which I enjoyed since I don’t get to think very often.

  • I’m sorry, I got lost. The plot felt disconnected and I couldn’t figure out who they were, what they were doing, where they were going with each other, and why.

    The plot was muddled, but the writing was nice.

  • Not a bad story, but …

    First, I got confused early on, had to go back and start over, once I realized the body was missing. I think “gurney” in the first sentence should be changed to “empty gurney” so we find out that we are dealing with a missing body rather than just a corpse.

    Also, I found some of the conversation hard to follow … not always clear who was talking. I know a lot of the books say to cut down on the attributions in dialog, but here, with three characters, you need more “George said,: “Mr. Grimley said,” etc. to keep it obvious who said what.

    Four gurneys (some editing might get it to a five).

  • fishlovesca

    Yeah, I didn’t enjoy it. Confusing, and too much going on.

  • Poor mortician!

  • An original and very entertaining story, Gaius. I do agree with Jim H (comment 5) on both his points – and the scoring.

    🙂 scar

  • Jen

    I finally got it, but I was mostly confused through the story and finally figuring out what happened did add any enjoymwnt to it.

  • Lisa C.

    I had no idea what was happening for the entire first half — lack of definitive setting made me think it was a hospital. Seems like we’re missing the word “empty” in the (awkward) first sentence — that would have cleared some of the early confusion considerably.

    But it wouldn’t have helped the rest. There’s too many wasted words (pregnant wife, the rockery), too much obfuscation, and I was left scratching my head.

  • Bob

    A very clever idea. George hedged his bet with his brother by placing a punitive clause in his contract with the undertaker.

    However, it took four close readings to figure that out. This work is in serious need of simplification – in dialogue and exposition.

    Great idea, poor execution – sorry, the most I can do is two stars.

  • Very interesting plot, but the dialogue was hard to follow – since there were two Mr. Grimleys with similar objectives, it was hard for me to figure out who was speaking when. A little clarification would make this story a lot stronger.

  • Sarah

    Very dark – thanks for the read!

  • Fehmida

    Enjoyed the read 🙂

  • Alvin

    It’s distracting and confusing when I have to guess who is talking. I sure like the story idea though … and the betting reminded me of Randolph and Mortimer Duke in the movie Trading Places. (except they would only bet $1)

    A bit of tightening up and this one’s a go!

  • Jen S

    I felt sorry for the poor mortician – I hope he has a clause in his insurance to cover loss due to elixir of life. Nice writing.

  • Paul

    The opening is very good, the writing style is enjoyable but I got confused in the middle. Still enjoyed it, though I had to re-read a few bits.

  • kathy k

    Too confusing.

  • I’m afraid I was also confused; but am glad I’m not alone. I think that this type of problem is solved most easily by getting someone else to read and comment on a story in the final draft stages.

  • Margie

    As so many other have said it took more than oe read through to understand it all. Loved the idea, but, you need to K.I.S.S. 🙂

  • I thought the undertaker and the other brother were going to bury the revived brother anyway. After all, if that killed him they would have had the perfect cover what with a certified death, and if he clawed his way out regardless there would have been no harm done and technically the contract would have been complied with. Though I do wonder if he could have survived embalming or cremation (there’s a joke about a man who received a telegram from an undertaker telling him his mother-in-law had died and asking if he wanted her buried, embalmed or cremated, to which he replied “Take no chances. Do all three.”).

  • J.C. Towler

    Put me in with the slightly confounded crowd. Everything else needing saying has been said.


  • Okay, i’m in for confounded as well. and not ina good way.

  • Gaius

    Firstly, thanks everyone for reading and commenting.(Especially Bob who read it _four_ times!) I am starting to detect a theme in what you are all saying and have taken it on board…

    As an FYI, I initially had “empty gurney” in the first sentence and took out “empty” to build the impact of the first line of dialogue. Also, the lack of attribution for prose is the result of writing to a (self-imposed) wordcount… Although said wordcount went right out of the window when I got Camille’s excellent suggestions to improve this, I never got around to reintroducing the attributions.

    But, when all is said and done, I’m quite pleased with the voting on this, my first outing at EDF!

    Thanks again,