Hensley Paige liked their job well enough. Being a hearse driver wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it did have its perks.
A free car, for one. Hensley had never owned a car before. Hell, they didn’t even have a license. The funeral home director had carefully avoided asking.
When they brought the hearse home, their daddy asked, “You gotta get a permit now?”
Hensley had shrugged. “Don’t see no reason why. Who’s gonna pull over a hearse?”
The uniform was nice, too. Hensley just wore it all the time, even though funerals were planned, sometimes a week in advance. It was easy to get dressed every morning when you always wore the same thing. The black suit made their white skin even more pale, although their round cheeks kept them from looking gaunt. They were always a little wrinkled, jacket open, top two buttons undone, skinny tie slightly askew. The hair was easy too, just took it down with a number 4 clipper guard, once every couple of weeks.
But their driving skills (they did know how to drive, had been since they were tall enough to reach the pedals), and their personal appearance were not the reason they cinched the hearse-driving gig so easily. As Hensley liked to point out, “It most likely had to do with my ghosts.”
Hensley’s affinity had presented early, and after a short period of confusion, been easily enough identified. Hensley could see spirits and ghosts, but as they had been in life, not death.
There were no wispy spirits, or barely-there apparitions. They were nearly grown before Hensley had even known everyone they ran into wasn’t actually alive. Still, figuring it out was often a game of elimination. Did this person appear inside their house, even though they knew they’d locked the door? Were they suddenly inside of the hearse, going 60? Did they seem as confused as Hensley? Had Hensley attended their funeral three days prior? All good hints.
Having strangers unexpectedly appearing would have been unnerving, if Hensley hadn’t been experiencing it their entire life. It took a lot to unnerve them. A lot.
The only exception seemed to be the neighbor in Hensley’s tiny duplex, Erica Faith Johnson. The fact that she was absolutely the prettiest girl Hensley had ever laid eyes on, and sweet as spun sugar to boot, probably had a lot to do with that.
But that’s a different story, this one is about people that are more likely to pluck a nerve than a heart string.
Hensley had accidentally acquired an older ghost the last time they delivered a new resident to the cemetery. She’d been dogging them for a while.
Vera Mae Cobbles was a spiteful spirit; the scary church lady in her proper blue hat and dress that perfectly matched her eyes. She was angry about everything from how she died, to how she was treated after. Mostly that her kids never visited her grave. She was cranky as a mama coon dog whose pups had gotten too rowdy. And just as snippy.
She sat in their kitchen and complained the way they cooked wasn’t how she (and her mama) did it.
She criticized their driving. “You ever drive?” Hensley asked.
“Well, no. But my husband never drove this fast.”
Eventually, Hensley asked, “What exactly you expect from me here?”
“Take me to see my no-good kids.” Vera demanded.
Hensley wasn’t one to waste time arguing, so they did.
“Why we here?” Vera asked, as Hensley pulled in at the church, then continued past it.
Hensley reckoned pulling up to the graveyard was answer enough.
Vera sat quietly, for the first time since she had latched onto Hensley. “Are they all passed?” She finally asked.
“Yeah, been some time now.”
“They never come to see me, even when they could.” She insisted, half-heartedly.
“Bein’ alive is a busy business.”
“They coulda made time, if they really wanted.” Vera frowned.
“How much time you make for your dearly departed?”
Vera opened her mouth, closed it. “I got busy,” she finally admitted, quietly.
“Don’t reckon modern life done made nobody less busy.”
“Maybe.” She sighed resignedly. “No, I reckon not.”
Hensley ran their hands over the steering wheel. “Now what?”
“Now,” Vera began, then wilted, “I’m tuckered. Reckon maybe I really should rest.”
So, Hensley drove her home. They took the time to walk her to her grave. It was the mannerly thing to do, and they wanted to be sure she actually stayed there.
Vera turned to them, one last time. “That neighbor of yours, she’s a devil.”
Hensley thought for a bit, then shrugged and said, “Well, that would explain a lot, ‘cept I already knew.” Then they asked, “How do you know?”
“I hung around your house for days. Nice place, by the way. I saw a few things. Reckon cause I’m dead?” Hensley didn’t have an answer, so Vera turned away without speaking again.
Hensley was relieved when she disappeared, although they hadn’t actually disliked Vera so much. It was always bittersweet to finally lay someone to rest.
But as they were leaving, if they saw a familiar person hanging around a fresh grave, no one could have blamed them for putting their head down, and getting gone.
Stacy Noe lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, and enjoys writing about how magical it is. You can find them at StacyNoe.com, and on Twitter @proseyposey