Cassie sat still in the living room of Sam’s house, trying not to be a bother while he freshened up and while his mother got Rebbekah tidied up for the trip to the mausoleum. Sam’s mother was pretty and harried, and Cassie thought this elemental state perhaps made her all the more lovely. Sam’s father had died many years ago; Cassie didn’t remember ever meeting him, and she knew that looking after both Sam and Rebbekah must be time consuming. She admired Sam’s mom, and tried to help out whenever she could, even coming over to help Sam babysit his younger sister, who admitted herself that she could be quite a handful.
The small family came into the room, Rebbekah in a fresh dress, with her hair tied back, and Sam in slacks and a button-down shirt. Cassie felt suddenly self-conscious about her own clothes.
“Mrs. Jacobsen, I’m sorry…” she trailed off, looking down at her overalls.
“Don’t you worry about it, Cassandra, I wouldn’t change you for all the tea in China,” she said, with a reassuring smile.
The Mausoleum was a short drive from Sam’s house, in the civic complex downtown. It was a large rectangle, faced in black glass, and looked anachronistic nestled between the library and the courthouse. The technology the Mausoleums used was relatively new, but over the last decade they had been going in all over the country, first in smaller towns, where it was less expensive to build them, but also in larger cities. The bigger cities usually needed several, just like old fashioned graveyards.
Cassie had never been to the Mausoleum before, and she found the sleek facade intimidating. She held back behind Sam and his mom, holding Rebbekah’s hand as much for her own comfort as for the child’s. She couldn’t turn back now, though… to do so would be to allow her fear to limit her curiosity. She had a burning need to know, to understand, a need that would smolder in the back of her brain until she satisfied it. Such curiosities sometimes kept her up nights, lying in bed in her dark bedroom, turning things over in her head again and again.
The doors were near-silent as they opened to admit the family and their hanger-on, and Sam’s mother checked them in at the front counter. Inside the lobby it was much brighter than Cassie had expected, given the dark color of the glass from the outside. It was a peaceful place, with comfortable chairs for waiting in, a discrete fountain burbling in the corner, and potted plants growing in any unobtrusive spot. Everything was decorated in dark neutral tones, and the lobby had a complete lack of electronic screens. There were signs on the wall every so often reminding visitors to be respectful of those who were there to see dead loved ones.
They all had visitor badges pinned neatly to their clothes, even tiny Rebbekah, and they were escorted back. The staff member guided them to a screen labeled “231,” and told them to wait. Cassie could see that the wall hosted similar screens all down the length of the visitor’s hall, some dark, and some casting their blue glow over the faces of attendant family and friends. They sat in the provided chairs and waited. It was only a few minutes before the screen brightened.
The image resolved into an image of Sam’s father. It was a face she’d seen in family photos. She thought the image was moving, and as she watched she was proven correct. The eyebrows, the eyes themselves quivered in the way that living things do, never still, always moving.
“Hello, Jim,” Sam’s mom said, with an expression on her face that spoke of both sadness and happiness.
The lips on the screen moved, but there was no sound, and Cassie couldn’t interpret the movements into anything sensible. The entire visitor’s hall was strangely quiet… there was the occasional hiss of a whisper, and somewhere the soft clatter of something accidentally falling to the floor.
Cassie quietly got up and slipped away from the family. She walked back out to the lobby and up to the desk.
“Excuse me,” she said politely to the woman at the desk, standing on her toes in an effort to seem older than she was, “I have some questions about the Mausoleum.”
The woman smiled. “Yes, of course. We have an informational pamphlet here, and I can also have a guide show you around.”
Cassie reached out and took the pamphlet. The woman had bright red nails. “I think I’d like a guide as well, please.”
“If you’ll have a seat for just a moment, I’ll have someone right out for you.”
Cassie took her pamphlet and sat in one of the chairs in the lobby. The copy filling the glossy pages was intended for mourning families, and took pains to emphasize that the services offered by the Mausoleum were “tasteful” and “respectful.” The photos that accompanied the copy were of beautiful model families, a husband and wife and two kids, a boy and a girl, all neatly dressed and all smiling, but not smiling too much; no distasteful displays of happiness to disturb grieving clients.
She looked up from the pamphlet to see a young man in well tailored slacks and a button down shirt.
“Oh hello,” she said.
“I understand that you requested a guide,” he said with a smile. “My name’s Cody, and I’d be happy to show you around.”