I Play Music to the Dead, Today They Played One Back

📅 Published on May 30, 2021

“I Play Music to the Dead, Today They Played One Back”

Written by Grant Hinton
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 15 minutes

Rating: 8.33/10. From 3 votes.
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I’ve always found dead bodies fun to play with.  Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated.  The way the skin changes color, and the body deflates like it’s been emptied out.  How the eyes always creep open the teeniest bit when you really want them to stay shut.  It’s creepy, I know.

It was my uncle Tom who gave me this morbid curiosity when he died.  I was only twelve at the time.  I remember his open casket well.  Mum tried to shoo me away from his bloated body and ashen skin, but I saw.  She meant well, but from that point on, it was too late; I was hooked. Uncle Tom wasn’t glamorous in death; years of drinking and smoking aged his body from the inside out.  I’m surprised the mortician made him presentable.  He was a mess.  Not like Linda here.  She’s elegant, refined – equally as dead, mind you, but much more glamorous.

I put it down to my playlist.

As soon as Linda was brought into the morgue, I had visions of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday.  She was regally tall with an angled face and button nose.  Frank Sinatra’s “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” entered my mind, and I knew, in that instance, that it was perfect for her.

I played it on repeat when I prepared Linda for her funeral.  Since day one, I’ve found that every person has a song.  As I put the small spiked cups under their eyelids to keep them closed or superglue their mouth shut, their melodies create a perfect atmosphere.  A resonance to their deaths.

The lady next to me smiles and squeezes my hand.  I turn and smile back before Linda’s hand disappears from mine.  I rise from the chair amidst the grieving faces, the chair next to me now vacant, and leave the gallery and Linda’s funeral.  My job was apparent on the smiling, tear-tracked faces of her family.

“They’re going to find out that you’re not part of the party one day, Sean.”

I turn to see John, the funeral home owner and my employer, in his plain grey suit and tie.  His thin eyebrows rise, a look of mild concern clouds his face.

“They don’t see me,” I say noncommittally, motioning to the sea of people.  “Grief blinds them. Plus, I like to observe.”

I know John doesn’t mind; not really.  He just has to say it so he can protect himself from any complaints.

“I can understand you want to see your professionalism well-received, Sean.  But don’t you think the family deserves the courtesy of knowing it was you who made their loved ones so graceful in death?”

I don’t need to mull over the question.  I don’t like social interaction…well, not with the living, anyway.  “No, I don’t.”

John chuckles nervously, “I hope they give you the same respect you show them,” he says, handing me a plain brown folder.  “The dead, I mean.  Here, here’s your next one; he’s waiting downstairs for you.  Service is tomorrow at 10 am,” he says, stuffing his hand into his pockets.

I nod, and he rocks up onto his heels.  I know he feels uncomfortable around me.  Most people do.

“Okay.  Well, if you need anything, uh…” he stumbles, searching for the word behind his awkwardness.  Still waiting for the chance to bail he continues, “If you need any help, you know, with the, um, client, I’ll be here until 2 pm.  So…”

I nod again, and he shuffles off.  From my pocket, I take a ledger.  Written inside is my playlist. In neat letters next to “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” I write – Linda Schooner – then place it back inside my pocket.

The corridor displays calming picture quotes en route past the offices.

We know you’d be with us today if heaven wasn’t far away.

Give all your cares and worries to God, for he cares about you.

I’ve always found them artificial.

The elevator pings at my touch and opens.  I notice a picture missing off to the right.  The fresh square of paint is a window of age.  I don’t recall what was there before, instead deciding to shrug it off.

As I ride down, I open the folder; it details the next client, Jordan Grant, and the wishes for their presentation.  Outside the morgue is his economy package casket.  Compressed MDF wood with a rosewood timber veneer.  My hands inspect the cotton lining inside.  It’s simple, elegant, and much better than a sealed casket.  No one likes an exploding coffin.

Through a heavy lead-based door leads to my domain: The morgue.  It’s chilly, but I’ve become accustomed to it.  My hands are steadier in the cold, and it’s better to work with, too.  Jordan notices me as he sits in a chair off to the side.  His gaze flicks back to his earthly body lying on my table.

“W-What happens now?” he asks.

They all ask the same thing.  Something else I’ve become accustomed to.  I lay the folder on his chest and peel back the cloth over his face.  A small gasp escapes his lips.

“It’s never easy to see, but don’t worry, I’ll have you looking better than you did in life.”  I smooth back his hair tenderly.

He whimpers and buries his face in his hands.  “Tell me,” I ask, drawing him out of his misery, “what is the earliest thing you can remember?”  I take the iPod off the desk and scroll through the song marked Preparation Playlist.

Jordan looks about wildly and then stutters, “I-I don’t know, um, how about the fact that I’m dead!  That’s my body lying on the table.”

Anger.  I’ve become accustomed to that, too.  My finger hovers over a song.  Jordan shakes his head, his frustration abating.  “W-we had a swing in our backyard,” he says, eyes closed tight as if the image will slip away if his eyelids don’t hold onto the memory.  “My older brother used to push me when our parents were fighting.”

My finger continues to hover.  I know it’s the right song; I just need Jordan to know it, too.

“Once, they were having a huge argument.  Sam, my brother, took me out back and placed me on the swing.  I was too young to know why he did it, but I will always remember the sadness on his face.”

I let my finger drop, and the song starts.  “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.  Jordan looks up as the pluck of a guitar fills the air, the calming melody enlisting an irrevocable homely feeling inside.  He smiles and continues on.

“He must have really been worried that day because he pushed me a bit too hard, and I fell off the swing and broke my arm.  Our parents rushed out and took us to the hospital.  I think Sam saves our family that day.  Mom and Dad were so busy worrying about me that they stopped arguing.  I remember them looking at each other like it was the first time… “

“Did you save their marriage?”

“They are still together to this day if that’s what you mean.  But I don’t know; sometimes it’s like they’re existing.  I’ll always be grateful, though, for what Sam did.”

I let the silence fall.  I want Jordan to hear the song, and I want him to feel it.  My hands work at his face, extracting all the glop and goo from his death sweat.  Then I stuff the nostrils and throat with cotton and start sewing the mouth.  Jordan watches, but he doesn’t really see me. He’s lost in the song.

Suddenly it jolts to a stop.  The iPod loops, and it starts to play again.  We look at each other as the pluck of a guitar fills the air.  Tim begins to sing, and we relax.  It speaks of family, of hard work and good times.

“Will I go to heaven?” he asks.  I’ve had the question so many times that I don’t reciprocate.  It’s a dead-end for me.  If they were a parcel, I am the stamp; I don’t know where they are going, only that they will get there.

“You look like a good man, Jordan.  If I had to guess?  I wouldn’t be worried if I were you.”

He nods and continues to watch.

Suddenly the song jumps again.  I’m not ready for the second time; my hands, forever steady, pause mid-stitch.  Partially annoyed, I lay the thread down.  The song changes.  A pluck of a high string screams out.  A jarring vibration of gravelly bass next.  It sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before.  The notes are atonal almost, a peculiar screech of strings that aren’t tuned. Another pluck of a high-pitched note makes my hands jump.

Slowly, I near the iPod.  I’m freaking out.  More notes add a halting uneasy manner.  The hairs on my arm stand up; Jordan does likewise from his chair.  The haunting melody rises, voices add to the devilish tune.  Guttural moans and nightmarish screams weave into the melody.  As the song continues, I know it’s not one of mine.

Abruptly, it shuts off, and an echo of sirens stretches out.  I’m rooted to the spot, frozen in fear.

The sirens snap off.  My chest rises rapidly from the echoes of fright.

“That,” I say, sucking in a deep breath and turning to Jordan, “was very weird.”  But, as I glance around the morgue, it’s apparent he has vanished.

* * * * * *

Morning arrives in a shade of grey; the window blinds hide the slant of misery from penetrating my living room.  The stink of cat piss invades my senses, and I think about making tea.  Shabby, Tabby and Not-Too-Savvy lay around on various surfaces of the room.  The latter kicks cat litter over his morning ablutions and joins his brothers.  Three cats were probably a bad idea, but one could never fall out of love with a kitty.

Yesterday’s mishap still plays on my mind as the kettle boils.  I’ve never had a client pop out of existence until after the casket viewing.  Jordan’s disappearance troubles me, but not as much as the song.  I make a cup of tea and sit at my table, iPod in hand and ledger spread out before me.

Each song in the ledger I know, as is each name alongside it.  I scroll through the playlist on the iPod, select “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s”, and hit delete.  In the ledger, I assign Jordan’s name to the song and sit musing over the rest.  My finger scrolls, my eyes search, but I cannot place the weird song.

* * * * * *

At work, the strangeness persists.  The morgue is colder than usual, and there’s a weird note in the air.  A high-pitched whistle that I cannot source.

I shuffle around for a while; Jordan is in his casket on the trolley, looking like the god I promised I would make him.  Something about him makes me stare.  It’s not his hair; not a strand is out of place.  His eyes closed and reserved.  His jaw is firm, sewed and glued; it gives his cheeks a roundness of welcome.  I edge nearer.  The suit is pressed, smart, black.  A striking contrast to the white cotton lining, but it doesn’t detract from my work.

The next step sets my nerves on end.  The sound has grown.  Dubiously, I lay my head on Jordan’s chest and suck in my breath.  The whistle is louder, hollow, and inside him.  I can’t help but slowly hitch up his chest to his neck and then his mouth.  It’s stronger there, like a kettle on full steam.  A drawer clatters open; I blindly search for a knife.

I glance at Jordan’s impassive face and the amendable smile I have created.  With inexorable slowness, I lower the scalpel to nick each stitch on the inside of his lips, but I don’t want to undo my work.  Instead, I remove his tie, unbutton the shirt and push the blade through his trachea.

A note quivers out like the screech of a deflating balloon.  Seconds turn to minutes as I wait for something to happen.  But nothing does.  I swallow the fear and redress Jordan for his service.

* * * * * *

I could count the number of times I’ve missed a service, but the truth is I don’t need to.  I never have.  Even now, with no ghost beside me, I sit at the back of the meager congregation.  A lady, his mother, dressed in black, moves forward and cries unabashedly into his chest.  A younger lady, possibly his sister, supports the woman and lends her tears.

I glance at the seat beside me; its emptiness is troubling.  Jordan should be sitting with me, seeing his family grieve, but he’s not.  That I cannot understand.  I don’t hear the song playing softly through the house speakers; my mind is too confused, too stuffed with questions I can’t answer.

The service concludes, and I stand up to leave utterly unsatisfied.  The office corridor blends with grey carpets and whitewashed walls.  The uplifting messages still in frames try to coax me out of my stupor, but I don’t want to be brightened up.  I want the gloom.  I want the agony of not fulfilling my service.  I want the punishment for not letting Jordan have the resolution he would have wanted.

“Sean?”  John’s head pops out of his office door, his body slows following.  “I’ve got a new one for you,” he says, holding out a red folder.

“A transfer?” I ask, puzzled.

“Yeah, it’s not one of ours, Sean.  This is a favor for my buddy over at Thamesmead Prison. Convict suicide.  This needs to be done ASAP.  The details are in there,” he says, stabbing a finger at the folder.  Before I can say any more, John slips back inside his office and shuts the door.

The folder is unusually heavy.  Normally it’s a page detailing the attire, casket type – open or close, coffin type, special details and service requirements, but this is stacked with what looks like photos.  The elevator bings, and the doors slide open.  I step inside.  Just before the door closes, I notice another square patch of old paint from another missing picture.  I don’t remember which one or what it used to say.  To the left are two more missing frames, and to the right, only one message remains.

Give all your cares and worries to God, for he deserves them.

The doors close, and I ride down with my troubled thoughts.

The morgue echoes with my footsteps.  I place the folder on the bench and heave a sigh.  The preparation table is clear of the client, and I wonder where he’s been put.

“I’m in there,” says a voice that slides up my spine and tingles my neck.  A shiver races back down like I’ve seen spiders crawl out of someone’s mouth.

A man is sitting casually in my desk chair.  His skinny, hairy forearm propping up a bored, unkempt face.  Mats of brown hair frame a brutish set of eyes and a sneering mouth.  He’s short – I can see that by how his legs dangle off the chair – but I can also see that that has never affected this man.  I’m instantly on edge like a fly caught in a web.

“How very rude of them,” I say with a lump in my throat.  I feel like the slightest remark will set this guy off.  The metal door clinks open, and I pull the sliding bed out.  A stench I’ve only known twice greets me.  The first person was homeless; her burial was paid for by a Good Samaritan.  The second was a Jane Doe paid for by some charity.  The smell makes my eyes water.  I know now why they put him away.

“Chilling, isn’t it?  And to think, I rather liked my body.  I like this one better,” he says, rolling a pen across the desk.  My heart grows cold watching.  Quickly, to take my mind away from it, I open the folder and read off the report.  I gag halfway through.

“Not pretty, is it?  I probably deserved it, though,” he says, swinging his legs under the chair.

The man hasn’t been dead long; five, maybe six hours.  The trauma of his death lingers in the red burns around his neck and wrists.  Across his forearms, thick welts ooze putrid pus.  The marks continue up and over his chest meeting above the sternum, but it’s his back that makes the breakfast in my stomach bubble.  Carved into it is a pentagram, glyphs of some description ring around it like a clock.  Each one is festering with maggots like he’s been dead for days.

I swallow my growing dread.

“It-it says here, Cillian, t-that you committed suicide, but it doesn’t look like that.”  My breakfast lunges again.  I’ve never been squeamish before, but this is too much.  To hide my unprofessionalism, I cover my face with a mask and place protective glasses on my face and go to the cupboard for supplies.

“That’s right.  I had to, you know.”  He makes a slicing gesture across his neck.  “To get to meet you.”

I stop midway through gathering the chemicals I need to purge the body.

“Me?” I ask.  “Why me?”

“Ah, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?  See, I heard through the laundry lines that there’s this guy that does these funerals, and he can see the people he’s burying.”  Cillian idly plays with my teacup.

“Me,” I say, placing the components on a rolling tray.  “I don’t bury, I make ready.”  I chuckle nervously at my rhythm, but it dies in my throat.  “W-w-whom have I prepared for you before?”

“That’s just it,” he says, watching his knees extend as they swing.  “No one.  But, I just knew I had to meet you.  So I killed myself,” he smirks.

Something feels wrong.  The air is heavy and imposing.  The room’s warmth adds to the oppressiveness of it all.  Cillian’s arrogant confession fills me with loathing and disgust.  It’s like he’s happy to be dead, and I think he is. I glance at the folder on the bench and remember the details written inside.  I suddenly let my protesting feelings out.

“I’m sorry, Cillian, but I won’t be preparing you today.  I will speak to my employer and get someone else to see you very shortly.”

I make to leave when he stands, and the chair flies backward.  I stop, frozen with fear.  I can see the dead, make contact with them physically, but never has one been able to affect my surroundings before.

“As you can see and have probably read in that file, I’m very good with my hands.  Killing comes naturally to me.  Like your song choices.  You will prepare me, or I’ll have to kill again.  Who I kill, however, will be your choice.”

My feet grind around.  The last thing I want is anyone to die.  This man’s record shows he’s not only capable of living out his threat, but he would also enjoy it.

“So, what music are you going to play for me, then?” he asks, twirling my iPod.  I dash forward and snatch it out of his hands.

“That’s not for you to touch.”  I realize the close proximity and step away, all the while his mouth hangs open ever so slightly either in shock or mild curiosity.

The iPod’s reel is warm and sweaty when it should be cold and unmolested.  I wipe the taint down my trousers and bring the thing to life.  The scrolling is endless, song after song, everyone the same, unrecognizable title.  I click out of Recent and into Playlists, scrolling down to Preparation, and spin through the selections.  Again, each song is the same.  Each playlist, each grouping, every single track, the same, unrecognizable title.  I throw it angrily on the metal desk, which clangs in sympathy.

“What have you done?”

Cillian snickers and snatches up the iPod.

“Well, that’s the other thing I’ve heard.  You play a song for the dead.  Something that sums them up, resonant with them.  Well, this is my song.”  He hooks it up to the speakers and presses play.

A pluck of a high string sets my nerves on end.  I’ve heard that note before.  A jarring vibration of gravelly base tells me I’m right.  It’s the song I heard before.  The notes are atonal almost, a peculiar screech of strings that aren’t tuned.  A high-pitched scream, a deep bass, and something else.  Something I missed last time.

“I made this just for you, or should I say they did,” Cillian says, watching for my reaction.

I’m freaking out as other more peculiar notes add a halting uneasy manner to the song.  The hairs on my arm stand up as a scream pierce the morgue.  Cillian closes his eyes and swings his hands like a conductor in an orchestra.  The haunting melody rises, voices randomly enter; a scream here, a moan there.  Guttural throats and nightmarish screams weave the melody in a grotesque fashion.

“Each one of my victims gave their voice to make this piece,” he says, rocking to the diabolical tune.  “I made them scream.  Made them bleed and plead and beg.”  A maniacal grin spreads across his face as he dances around the morgue.  I shuffle to the cooler doors and press against them, covering my ears.

The song rises and falls with each desperate voice.  Women scream for their life, men plead and break down into sobs.  The high notes I thought were strings sing out again.  But they’re not strings.  They’re the scream of a child.

I can’t breathe, can’t think.  I want the song to end.

Think! I tell myself.  What can you do to stop this?

From deep inside, an old song bubbles up.  I grasp onto it.  It’s one my father would sing to me when we went camping.  The melody is thin, like a ghost.  A few notes I vaguely remember.  I hum them, finger in my ears.  More of the melody comes back.  My fractal hum turns louder. Loud enough for me to hear it in my ears.

Suddenly, there another voice and a cold grasp at my wrist.  My eyes fly open to see Jordan standing next to me.  We lock eyes, and he encourages me to hum with him.  I do, and I feel another hand at my shoulder.  Linda smiles and hums.  The evil song drowns a little, but Cillian still spins like a madman.  I dig deep.  The tune vibrates in my throat.  The first verse, a happy time with family.  Another set of hands lay on my back.  Another soul to help.  The chorus plays in my head.  It speaks of love and hope and the bond of time.  More hands aid me; more voices sing my song.

Cillian realizes what’s happening; the music is too loud, it drowns out his one.  But not only that; there are people surrounding him.  Angry people.  Disfigured, mangled people.

“Close your eyes,” Linda’s hand pulls my chin around to face her.  She smiles softly.  “Close your eyes, Sean.  You don’t need to see this.”

My eyes close, but I still feel them surrounding me.  Their song…my song weaves in and out. The chords are joyous, the words catchy.  I let it build in me as Cillian’s screams pierce the air. Then, slowly they die like the wail of a siren.

My song ends.  The bass note drifts out and stills.  When I open my eyes, everyone’s gone.

I sit in the stillness.  The air is clean and smells like blossoms.  My heart rapidly calms.  I can’t help but wonder why this happened to me?  What did Cillian want from me?  Was it just to torture me for being able to give the dead peace?  Or did he think I could give him the same peace even though he was a cruel man?

I glance at his still body on the metal tray.  There’s only one thing I can give him.

The wheels of the metal bed rattle down the corridor.  I stoop under the low arch leading to the furnaces.  I turn one on and slide Cillian’s body into the flames.  The red folder on his chests smolders with the intense heat, the edges of the photos curling with yellow.

“Sean?  What are you doing?”

John stands behind me, hand on hips.  His thin eyebrows lowered in agitation.

“Cremation,” I say, thinking fast.

“His files said burial, Sean.”

I glance into the furnace.  The flames encapsulate Cillian’s body.  The file is almost gone.

“Are you sure?” I ask with pretend surprise.  “I’ve never been wrong before?”

John’s eyebrows relax, and he looks up, thinking.  “Yeah, you’ve actually never made a mistake. Where’s the file?  Let me check just in case.”

“It’s right here,” I say, searching the metal bed.  “Oh, wait,” I say, glancing into the furnace.

John crouches and looks into the flames.  “You burnt them?  They were my only records, Sean. How am I going to bill the prison now?”

I faint an apologetic smile.  “Maybe you can ask your friend if they have another record, or you can just trust me and bill them for a cremation?” I say, shrugging one shoulder.

John chews on his lip and then nods.  “If you say it was a cremation, I’m good with that, but next time, please be a bit more careful?”

I nod as a wave of relief washes over me.  “Yes, sir, I’ll make sure to be more careful.”

John nods, “when you’re done, I have another client waiting for you.”

I nod back, and John leaves me alone, staring into the flames.  Cillian’s body pops with bursts of green-tinged flames.  I hope that the fires that burn him are eternal for what he did to those people.  I wait until the body is entirely gone before going back to the morgue and the new body to dress.

Rating: 8.33/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Grant Hinton
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Grant Hinton


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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