I was nine years old the first time I saw it, a week before Thanksgiving in 1953. I heard it first, a car idling outside the house. Something was wrong with its motor, like its pistons churned slower than they should. I stared into the shadows for a while, listening to that slow growling engine. Then my curiosity got the better of me.
That winter was a record breaker for cold and I caught a chill the second my feet hit the floor. I looked out my window and saw it parked on the street below, a new hearse. The street lights gave its black paint a dark glimmer. Every other car on the street wore a layer of wet grime, but the hearse was pristine. Must have just rolled off the assembly line, I thought, and that’s all I remember about the first time. I’m not even sure how long I stood at the window, watching it chug grey exhaust into the night air.
I woke up to my mother nudging me out of sleep.
“I have to tell you something bad, honey,” she said. “Your granddaddy passed away during the night.”
I remember how my eyes immediately watered as my mind fixated on the black hearse.
“If you’d like to see him for a minute,” my mom said, “he’s still in his room.”
I nodded, wrestling with what I’d seen and what had happened.
“Your brother doesn’t know yet,” she added.
My father had worked the night shift. He was still in his police uniform, sitting next to grandpa’s body.
“I closed his eyes,” he said.
I took in the complete stillness of Grandpa’s face and the bruised hand that was above his quilt.
“Every day is precious,” my dad said. “You know that now, don’t you?”
Mr. Bell, the town’s undertaker, showed up later in his own hearse, which was clean but much older than the one I’d seen last night. I was a bright enough boy to figure out what had happened. My grandpa had been sick. I’d been worried about him. The worry had parked a spooky hearse in my dreams. I almost told my parents about it. They were busy, though, and grieving. At some point, I forgot all about the nightmare hearse. I didn’t think about it again until 1975.
By that time, I’d followed in my father’s footsteps and gone to work for the state as a trooper. That night in April of ‘75 I had worked a seven car accident on the interstate. I was heading home late, irritated that I’d missed dinner with my family and that my plate would have to be reheated. You were ten years old and we lived in that nice three-bedroom with the wide driveway, and that’s where the damn thing was waiting for me.
It looked bran new again. Sleek and black, all of its chrome buffed to a high shine. But I knew it was the same hearse. I recognized the off kilter engine. The sight of it made me jam the brake pedal damn near through the floor board. Law enforcement types don’t freeze. Not ever. But I locked up right then, every memory from that cold night in ’53 flooding back to me in a clammy whoosh.
I gawked at that hearse, its taillights gleaming red in the night, and one thought went screeching through my mind. Not the boy. I sat there a few moments longer, my heart galloping and my throat too tight to swallow. Then I got a hold of myself. I’d chased bad guys at a hundred miles per hour and been in gun fights with career criminals. I was the wrong man to mess with and, in my mind, the hearse was about to find that out.
Not my boy.
I swung out of the car, my right hand already on my service weapon, and a second later I was at that hearse’s driver’s side window, gun raised, finger on the trigger. You get out of here. Nobody’s leaving with you tonight.
I heard the front door of our house open. Looked to my left for just a second. Saw your mother in the doorway and thought she looked so beautiful, like she had the first time I’d laid eyes on her. I started to yell, “Stay inside.” She didn’t need to see whatever I was about to yank out of that hearse. And when I looked back to the driveway the car was gone. I’d only glanced in her direction a fraction of a second. I was sure that I’d kept that awful car and its illegally blackened windows in my peripheral vision the entire time. Yet, it had gotten away.
“What are you doing?”
I must’ve looked like the biggest fool to her, standing there with my .45 aimed at the empty driveway, my cruiser in the street with its door open. I put the gun away quick.
“Are you all right?”
“Uh huh,” I told her. “I’ll explain later.”
I told her I was running a scenario in my head. Cop stuff, I said. She didn’t believe it. Your mom was too smart for a line of bull like that. Her instinct must’ve told her to let it go, though, because she didn’t press me about it. I was happy to be home with my wife and son. I went to your room, kissed your head. I was still watching you sleep when my mother called and gave me the bad news. My father had died.
I’m not ashamed to tell you that even as I wept for my dad I was glad that it was him and not you. He’d gotten to be everything a husband, a father and a lawman should be. It was not lost on me though that both my granddaddy and my daddy had died in their own beds. I told myself that any man who gets to go while under his own covers is a lucky soul indeed.
Your grandmother passed away two years later. The cancer had gnawed her into skin and bones, but her death still came as a shock; there’d been no terrible hearse to warn me. The next time I saw it was in 1982. By then I’d become a Field Training Officer and most days I had a rookie trooper riding shotgun, learning the trade. It was a clear day in June when the nightmare hearse, cleaner than any car on the showroom floor, pulled up beside me. The rookie didn’t know what lurked beside us. I suppose the hearse just wasn’t his to see.
A few miles down the road it leapt ahead, its clomping engine grinding in a hot wail. I watched it creep into my lane and disappear. I swear, that car left as easily as a light fades once its switch is flipped off.
My heart stayed in my stomach as I ran all the facts through my head; my grandfather in ‘48, my father in ‘75… Again, all I could think about was my family, especially you. He’s still a kid. Please, not my boy. Dispatch gave us a 10-19 – return to station. When we got there, the lieutenant told me to phone home and your mom told me what had happened to my brother.
Your Uncle Bill had never been the law enforcement type, but he’d done well with the work he’d chosen. He was a senior vice president for an advertising agency. He liked the job so much that he hardly ever took a day off. When he cancelled all his appointments and stayed home with a flu four days in a row, it was only right that one of his colleagues would check on him. It hadn’t been the flu after all. It’d been an infection around his heart. Bill was only forty two.
In the years that followed, I wondered why it hadn’t shown up when your grandmother died. Then, when your mother left this world and there’d been no black hearse to foreshadow the heart attack, I understood. Both of those good women had taken the name Harrington, but they hadn’t been a Harrington by blood. It only comes for us, son. It’s our omen. I bet it’s been in our family since it was a horse and buggy, trailing us, waiting for our days to end.
Now I know something else about that car. I learned it tonight when your youngest boy was talking our heads off. He wasn’t making up stories the way little kids do sometimes. You see, son, the hearse skips a generation. It must because you looked so surprised when he described it.
“Like they use at funerals, it was there… Honest.”
I should’ve asked him if it was a new. I’m pretty sure it was. I think it’s always new and impossibly perfect. If you can figure out what that means, then you’re a smarter man than me. Maybe one day, when your boy’s a little older, you can show him this letter. Maybe he’ll know.
That’s all I have to tell you, son, so I’m calling it a night. Time for me to get some rest. I’m the right kind of tired and that makes me unafraid. I love you. I hope you’ve always known that. In the end, I guess that’s all we really have before the hearse takes us away.
Hell, my own bed… I’m a lucky man.
Copyright © 2016 by Lake Lopez. All Rights Reserved.
D I S C L A I M E R
This horror story is a work of fiction. All of the characters, places and events portrayed in this horror story are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to people, living or dead, is purely coincidental.