The Creative Obituaries

May 4, 2008
As Francis Hucklebee put his pen to his paper, he smiled thinking of the next story he was about to write. He pushed up his spectacles that had fallen down from the bridge of his nose so he could focus his eyes through the perfectly rounded lenses while he wheezed in excitement. “David Miller, age 67, heart attack,” he scrawled at the top of his paper. He continued to scribble down purposely ambiguous details under the heading: survived by no one, found alone in his house, retired. He put his pen down for a moment, grabbing for his handkerchief to wipe the sweat off the bald patch on his head that seemed to get bigger every week. He always got excited when he was on to something good. His addition to last week’s paper had been one of his favorites: a woman, Amy Gladstone, age 43, died during childbirth, his most creative piece yet. He had added that she was divorced and had two other children, James and Jenna. He rubbed his hands together anxiously and allowed a shudder to run up his spine as he thought of the details of the fictitious life of David Miller.

Every week, Francis wrote the obituaries for the Los Angeles Times, and every week, he allowed his imagination to get the best of him. He always added an extra person, whose life and death he alone had the power to fabricate. It usually went unnoticed, using common names that would show up about forty times in the Los Angeles phone directory or names he was pretty sure none of the readers had. Francis hated the reality of his job and hated coming to work everyday. Writing obituaries had not been the same since his sister got into a car accident and fell into a coma. For the past four years, he half-expected to see a file with her name on it lying on his desk every morning he came to work. Creating fake obituaries was the only way Francis could keep his mind off just how real his job was. Once in a while his boss, Stanley Fishman, would catch him doing it. On such occasions, Francis usually had to undergo a lengthy process for having received a write-up about his inappropriate workplace behavior. One time, Francis had made up an elaborate story about a child named Julianne Smith who had died after getting hit by a car while she was riding her bike. The Los Angeles Times office received so many phone calls about the article that day wanting more details and wanting to know if the culprit had been caught or if it was a hit-and-run that Stanley Fishman could not help but do something about the situation. He, too, had superiors at the newspaper firm and had already warned Francis Hucklebee many times. The incident had involved much more paperwork than Stanley wanted to complete ever again, so he kept a close watch on Francis to make sure things in the obituary department were running smoothly. Francis, however, took it as a challenge to create even sneakier stories so that they would pass slickly by his editor.

Francis Hucklebee continued to labor on his latest work of genius. Hunched over and gripping his pen like it was his only lifeline, he explored the details of this newly invented character, David Miller. “David Miller was a dedicated fireman at the Kern County Police and Fire Department for thirty seven years. In his leisure time, he enjoyed sailing, fly-fishing, and hunting.” Francis let out a squeaking laugh of delight that shook his perfectly rotund belly. He put the last finishing touches on his latest work of art. “Known by many for his generosity and service to others, David Miller was a major part of his community and a great friend to all.” When he finished, Francis waddled over to his desktop to begin typing up his masterpiece to be mixed in with the rest of the obituaries to send to his editor.

Meanwhile, in northern Los Angeles, David Miller was just finishing making his usual morning coffee. As he poured himself a steaming mug, he glanced at the kitchen counter and saw his birthday cards he had received for his 67th birthday three weeks ago. He smiled sadly, all from old friends at the firehouse. Even though he had been retired for six years now, his old firefighter buddies were the only family he had left. He turned slowly, careful not to put too much weight on his bad hip. As he hobbled to his breakfast table, David began to feel winded. He was slightly dizzy by the time he was able to sit down, so he closed his eyes and waited for the room to stop spinning. “I must really be getting old quickly,” he thought to himself. He finished his coffee and began to feel the caffeine slowly oil the rusty hinges of his arthritic joints. He stood to carry his empty mug to the sink, but had taken little more than three steps when it happened. David Miller began to feel his chest tighten until he couldn’t breathe. It was as though an animal with large, ferocious talons were ripping him apart, trying to escape from his chest cavity. The mug shattered on the cold, tile floor as David’s 67 year old legs failed to hold him anymore. He collapsed on the ground, dead within minutes.

The next day, Francis Hucklebee flipped on the lights to his small, dusty office as he tried to catch his breath from hauling his short, heavy frame up three flights of stairs. “Damn you, broken elevator,” he cursed, as his oily hands reached for his inhaler. Surveying the cramped office, Francis scowled at the thought of Stanley Fishman sitting undeservedly in a large office with windows overlooking the Los Angeles traffic on main city streets. He spat on the floor at the thought and lumbered to his “magic making” chair, as he liked to refer to it. Along with old fast food wrappers and empty soda cans that lay on his desk, there was a manila envelope. Francis opened it to read through the preliminary information he was given about each recently deceased person before he organized them into nicely written articles. Thumbing through the pages, he first looked for Stella Hucklebee, but found nothing. After a sigh of relief, he then looked for anything that would be catch his interest, anything besides the ordinary “passed away after battling cancer” or “unexpected stroke.” It was rare that he got anything too fascinating because all the good deaths were more widely covered by actual news stories.
Just as he expected, nothing this week was too exciting. The most interesting death he saw through his brief inspection was of an accidental drug overdose, but then again, this was Los Angeles so it was not the most uncommon thing he had ever written about. It was a good start to his day, however, so Francis worked on the drug overdose obituary for half an hour, trying to keep his mind on his actual job rather than letting it wander to all the possible deaths he could slip into the next edition.
Despite being distracted, Francis moved on to the next person’s profile. “Boring,” he though to himself, as he read, “Male, 67, heart attack.” He got a clean sheet of paper and turned the page on the case file. Francis’s beady eyes widened as he stared at the name printed in clear, black font across the top of the page, “David Miller.” He turned the page backwards again, and forwards, and backwards, forwards, backwards, not believing what he was seeing. He read on as more details were listed: fireman for 37 years, survived by no one, loved outdoors especially fly-fishing, hunting and sailing, known in community. Like a fish out of water, Francis opened and closed his mouth while his eyes bulged, fighting the inability to breathe. He snatched his inhaler and breathed deeply as he broke out in a cold sweat. “It’s not possible,” he said aloud. “It just can’t be.” Francis Hucklebee caught his own ghostly white reflection in the glass window of his office door just as he fainted.
Francis awoke to find Stanley Fishman standing over him, waving the manila folder that once contained the obituary profiles like a fan. “Are you okay, Francis?” he asked with genuine concern.
Like a volcanic eruption, Francis finally understood. “YOU DID THIS!” he shouted. “IS THIS YOUR IDEA OF A SICK JOKE?” Francis rolled onto his stomach, pushed himself up to stand to his full 5’5” height, and stared at his boss menacingly. He screamed in his boss’s face. “MAKING UP FAKE OBITUARY PROFILES JUST TO SCARE ME?”
“Unlike you, Francis, I find nothing funny about making up obituary profiles,” Stanley said back scathingly. “Maybe your conscience finally caught up to you. Accuse me again of anything this ridiculous and I will make sure I follow through on what I should have done a long time ago: kick you to the curb!” Stanley walked out of Francis’s office, slamming the door on the way out and making dust particles fly like crazy.
Francis dusted off his suit. Shakily, he booted up his desktop computer and opened his nationwide death records server. He typed in the name David Miller, sorted the page by most recent entries, and found a new listing for a man living in northern Los Angeles. Swallowing hard, Francis typed in “Amy Gladstone.” He got a result for a 43 year old woman living in Kansas City. She had died in childbirth the day after his obituary for her came out. Scrambling, Francis deleted her name and typed in Julianne Smith. He got results. Again and again Francis was faced with the actual obituaries of what he had considered his creations. He shut down the computer and stared at the black screen. Francis tried to control his breathing until it slowed to a steady rate. Once over the initial shock of finding that all of his made up obituaries came true, Francis came upon a sudden realization. He grabbed a white piece of paper and scribbled at the top, “Stella Hucklebee, age 34, awakes from a coma after 4 years.”

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Kyrie20 said...
Aug. 28, 2008 at 4:36 am
Oh wow, I really did enjoy this. :)
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