Natural Causes

Terri Lynn Coop

I hate funerals. 

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiments, but I’ve found that people are more willing to bring casseroles than they are to hang around and help clean up. Grabbing a trash bag, I gathered the cups and plates and recovered a slice of pecan pie someone had abandoned in the Elephant Ear plant. 

I love you Aunt Edna, but you can’t bake for shit.  

Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid the reason for the event forever and gradually made my way to the mantel to face the garish chrome urn containing the mortal remains of the last thirty years of my life. 

“Well Herb, it’s just you and me, and yet again, I’m picking up after you.” 

Wiping some fingerprints off the shiny surface, I said, “At least I know what that gypsy was talking about. You know what? I should have let that bitch burn you down and saved myself a lot of heartache.” 

I mixed a strong drink and propped the three cards on the urn. I hadn’t known it six months ago, but the cheap printed script, two words per card, foretold his future, and by default, mine. 

* * * 

“Come on Merri, you move too slow!” 

Balancing my purse, along with Herb’s hat, jacket, and tote bag with his water bottle, sunblock, and snacks (because carnival food was a con,) I struggled to keep up with him as he darted through the tents on the edge of the fairgrounds. Turning the corner, I nearly plowed into him as he stood transfixed in front of a machine with a blinking neon sign:


“Be careful. You’re so clumsy sometimes. Give me some quarters. This should be fun.” 

I shifted my load and dug out the change. It was easier than arguing. A half mannequin with a faded painted face and ragged costume sat at a fan-shaped table behind the glass. When Herb inserted the coins, he jumped back, shaking his hand.

  “Damn thing shocked me!”  

When the final coin clicked home, the mannequin opened its eyes and creaked into action. She half-shuffled a deck of cards and flicked a few onto the table. From behind the panels, a dot-matrix printer clacked, and a card dropped into the slot. 



“What the hell?” Herb popped in more quarters and yelped as a spark arced from the coin slot to his finger. The eyes opened again, faster this time, and she shuffled the cards with fluid grace and purpose. The second card, printing darker than the first, shot out of the slot. 


  Herb kicked the card in my direction. Red blisters erupted on his hand as he slammed in the coins yelling, “This damn thing is a con!”

  The doll’s eyes opened, bright and glittering blue, as she fanned the cards with deft fingers. Instead of the tinny printer, the machine gave a deep sigh as the third card fluttered to the ground like a moth.  


Herb was soaking his burned fingers in his extra-large slushy as he contemplated the latest message. With hate on his face, he charged toward the machine. Not knowing what else to do, I grabbed his arm and pulled, sending the icy blue syrup in a wave across his shirt. The spell broken, the gypsy doll dropped her head, showing only the frizzy strands of the dull ill-fitting wig. 

Turning on me, he said, “Why’d you do that? You always make messes. Everything you do is a mess. Come on, we’re going home. It’s time for Hannity. You’re just a mess. My ten-year-old niece is less of a mess than you.” 

* * * 

“Who’s a mess now, Herb?” I said, toasting the urn. After another long drink, I placed the glass on a makeshift coaster of medical and funeral bills. There was no life insurance. He always said it was nothing but a con. 

Who am I kidding? This is nothing but a mess.  

I poured another shot of my beloved husband’s good whiskey. It was from the bottle he thought I didn’t know about. The warmth hadn’t made it quite to my toes yet, but was well on its way. 

I might as well finish this. Tomorrow is real. Tonight is for memories.  

* * * 

“I’m not waiting all night, Merri. We’re burning happy hour!” As he slammed the front door, I smeared on a bit of lipstick and tucked a curl behind my ear. I looked forward to Fridays at the VFW. There was chatter and friends and even a chance to cut the occasional rug. I’d fallen in love on the dance floor. He’d been so handsome in his army uniform. 

The long blat of the car horn reminded me that the pleasantness of the evening was directly proportional to his mood when we arrived. The aptly named “Liar’s Corner” was already in action when he tossed me his coat and grabbed a beer. By the time I’d taken care of things, greeted friends, and found a table, I heard the familiar roar that always accompanied Herb’s favorite story. 

The fish story. 

Three years earlier, on a vacation I’d won in a raffle, he’d caught a perfectly respectable five-pound catfish. By the time the story had erupted into full bloom, Captain Ahab had an easier time with his whale than Herb did landing that fish.

  “You’re so full of shit you slosh when you walk.”

“Tell us about the time you were an astronaut.”

  “I wouldn’t believe you if you said the sky was blue.”

  Like a snake oil salesman, Herb landed his trademark line, “Gentlemen, if I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’ and may God strike me dead.” A theatrical eye roll skyward and applause erupted.  

Good laughter meant a good evening and I was warm and happy when he bellowed, “Hurry up. Wayne Newton is on Kimmel tonight and it’s supposed to rain.” By the time I settled our tab, Herb had the car at the curb with my door open. A rolling stop at the corner and we were on our way.

  “Dammit, we’re empty. Why didn’t you get fuel earlier?” he said, veering into the gas station.

  “I didn’t go out today. I’m sorry.”

  “Since we’re here, get me some coffee.”

  I’d long ago perfected the thirty-second bathroom stop, but when I exited with two steaming cups, I saw I could have taken my time. A camper towing a boat had pulled in next to us. Wayne Newton forgotten, Herb was telling a story.

  The fish story.  

I didn’t have to hear it. I could tell from the gestures. The wind had picked up and when I lifted my cup, a small spark of static electricity stung my lips. As the epic battle of man versus beast reached its crescendo, the sky split with a crack and a perfect lightning bolt descended slowly enough for me to count every twist and turn before it hit the earth.

  More precisely, before it hit Herb.  

* * * 

“I have to admit, I don’t remember much after that. The EMT told me I was thrown off my feet and hit my head. Luckily, we live in the era of cell phone cameras.”

  A single keystroke brought the computer out of sleep mode. I’d caught several guests sneaking over to watch the video. I couldn’t blame them. They weren’t alone. The hit counter was edging toward three million.

  “Honey, you’ve gone viral.”

  It was dark and grainy, but unmistakable. The police reports said a downed power line had snaked across the parking lot, snagged the stunned and twitching Herb, and whip-sawed him into a jumble of wires and blown circuits. My husband, or more correctly, what was left of him, dangled from the pole by the cuff of his charred and smoking khakis, swaying in the wind. The soundless video ran for ninety seconds before the camera owner was corralled behind a barricade.

  “The power outage affected half the city. Did you know that the coroner said I should get a discount on the cremation since you were halfway there? I didn’t, by the way, the greedy bastard. Your death was listed as natural causes , but we both know different, don’t we?”

  Juggling the urn, the whiskey bottle, and the three cards from the gypsy machine, I went to the bathroom. Using my nail file, I pried open the wax seal and pulled out the plastic bag.  

“I haven’t been sleeping much, so I had time to think. The gypsy was calling it and making it happen. The next burn would have been second degree. After that, who knows? I’m sorry I messed things up when I stopped her. I would have had another six free months if I wasn’t so darn clumsy.” 

I tore the bag open and as I poured the contents into the toilet, I chanted: 

Liar, liar,

Pants on fire,

Hanging from a telephone wire . . .


Terri Lynn Coop is a purveyor of pop culture at the Vault of Awesome When she is't wrangling her four Chihuahuas and cursing at her roof leak, she writes legal thrillers and romance. Her first book, "Devil's Deal", is available through Amazon.

Image was created before 1923 and is public domain. Adapted by Terri Lynn Coop and used with permission.

Dan - 10/19/2016 2:56 AM
Terri Lynn may know Ms. Merri intimately Our author is a wise, wild and dark one. Thank heavens for that. Buy/ Read anything and everything she writes. I mean it!
Carole Oldroyd - 10/19/2016 9:40 AM
You have a twisted mind, Ms. Coop. I love it!
joey - 10/19/2016 7:21 PM
Good work!
Jordan - 10/21/2016 8:26 AM
Love this! Thank you, Terri!
Steve Barber - 10/22/2016 1:41 PM
Them damn fortune telling machines is evil. Evil, I tell you.
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