"I'm smack dab in the middle of their lives," she thought to herself. "I'm like an obtrusive thing, a marker of some sort, a head stone!"
Everywhere she looked, there were the faces of the apathetic and the opportunistic, Roger being an eager member of the latter group. Didn't anyone care about her anymore? She remembered a conversation she'd had with Mrs. Johnson just the other day.
"You've been so depressed lately Mrs. Stoddard. Why don't you do something to cheer yourself up?" Mrs. Johnson suggested, as if it were the most novel idea in the world. "Why don't you go shopping?"
Liz smiled a half smile and then looked pitiful again. Her eyes were like two weary pools of blue. "Yes, I could buy a new dress and then you could all bury me alive in it."
Stunned, Mrs. Johnson lifted her upper lip in confusion. Her eyes popped open. "Mrs. Stoddard why do you talk like that? Why you're as right as rain, fit as a fiddle..."
"...Spare me your trite, insipid observations of my health. Stick to burnt Indian pudding and bland New England boiled dinners, the things you know best! My health is perfect. I know that! Why can't I get it through your thick skulls that you'll be burying me alive!"
After the outburst, Liz stormed up to her room.
She realized she'd been wearing her blue crushed velvet robe for three days. Pulling a brush through her hair, she changed into something more suitable and rang for the car to bring her into town.
Stepping into the black limousine, she was reminded of the head car in a funeral procession but she wouldn't be in the head car, she reminded herself. She'd be in the hearse!
As they drove by the cemetery, she wondered how many of her ancestors might have been buried alive. As luck would have it, Liz's logical side grimly kicked in inopportunely. Knowing my family, I wonder how many had the luxury of actually being dead first.
At the hairdresser's shop, Liz Stoddard listened to the ladies of Collinsport drone away about bills, spouses and their successful children. Liz confided to her bewildered hairdresser, "Every day that I'm above ground is a successful day for me."
Mrs. Hatch, the undertakers wife, couldn't help but overhear the exchange and wasted no time in advertising in her husband's behalf.
"Mrs. Stoddard are you ill?"
"No. But they're still going to bury me alive!"
"Mercy, you don't believe that do you?" Mrs. Hatch inquired, as the hairdresser plastered her spring rollers with smelly solution.
Liz pulled the hairdryer cover down over her head to avoid the inquisition. After a moment's thought however, she abruptly pulled the hood back up again.
"Mrs. Hatch, How well do you know your husband's business?"
The undertaker's wife shrugged and chuckled a bit. "Like the back of my hand. I'm his soul mate!"
Liz leaned in toward Mrs. hatch whispering, "Does he ever make special coffins?"
"Why sure he does!" And reaching into her bag she pulled out a brochure. "Here." She stated proudly as she passed it on to Liz.
The brochure pages fluttered like butterfly wings as Liz scanned through it with great purpose. She shook her head in frustration.
"Gordon will be thrilled with me," Mrs. Hatch thought. "The Collins family is loaded. He could really pad the prices if he wanted to." Then with dismay, she realized that everything was already itemized in the brochure.
Nonetheless, she looked at Liz with anticipation. "See anything you like?"
Liz looked in Mrs. Hatch's piggish, overly zealous face and shook her head.
"Don't any of these coffins have an escape panel?"
Horrified, Mrs. Hatch snatched the brochure from Liz and didn't speak to her for the rest of her stay.
"It's so nice to see you again Mrs. Stoddard, we haven't for so long."
She pulled Maggie closer to her. "I escaped from Wyndcliffe." Liz confided through crazed eyes. Oh God! she thought. Someone had to know what she'd been through!
"They're going to bury me alive!" She shouted at the top of her lungs.
Everyone in the coffee shop turned around and stared, including the cook and the kitchen staff.
Maggie's mouth hung open in stunned silence. Not knowing how to respond, she finally asked, "You take your coffee black, don't you?"
Liz always took her coffee black. Black was a favorite color of hers. On that day however, that color conjured up images of death, of earth sprinkling on a coffin, of hearses and the color of mourning. Hastily, she grabbed the cream from the counter and poured it liberally into her coffee.
"No, I want lots of cream!" Her voice trembled with emotion. The coffee started to flow out of the cup and all over the counter.
Instinctively, Maggie ran over to sop up the mess with a cloth and just as things seemed to be at their worst, Nicholas Blair strolled into the coffee shop. Every female eye locked in on his every move, as casually he strolled over to the counter and winked shamelessly at Maggie. Strategically, he took a seat right next to Liz.
"Liz, how are you my dear?"
She was still mortified about the scene she'd caused. "Nicholas." She mumbled.
Maggie pull the warlock to one side. "Something's wrong with Mrs. Stoddard."
"I see that." Nicholas agreed, noting the matriarch's crazed frightened expression. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Would you take her home or something?"
Nicholas was the pronounced image of concern. "Of course." He turned to the almost incoherent Mrs. Stoddard. "Liz, how would you like it if I took you home?"
She stared at him listlessly. "I have my car..."
Winningly, he crowned himself with his trademark hat, and waving seductive gray gloves he exclaimed, "I'll send it away for you, we'll take my car."
Liz shivered. "Is your car black?"
Nicholas smiled a devilish Cheshire cat smile. "Oh no my dear, I drive a red convertible."
The female patrons sighed after Liz and Nicholas departed.
Back at Collinwood, Liz stepped outside the French doors and into the patio where she saw David talking to himself. She wasn't even going to ask him why. He was a such a strange boy, she mused. Strange or not however, he was intelligent. Perhaps he could help her out after all.
"David!" She yelped.
"Yes Aunt Elizabeth?"
She took him by the shoulders. "David, if I asked you to do something for me would you do it?"
"Depends." He answered shrewdly.
She gave him a queasy look. "On what?"
"On how much you'll give me to do it."
He was a Collins all right! She thought wryly.
"I'll give you whatever you want as long as you promise to do what I ask."
He shrugged. "Okay."
She looked around to see if anyone was within earshot of them. "When they bury me, just before they close the lid of my coffin, I want you to put a very sharp knife in my hand."
His eyes bugged out and his brows knitted in confusion. "What for?"
Should I be telling this to a child, she asked herself? Yes, she had to. He was her only hope. "Because they're going to bury me alive and if I don't have some kind of tool, I won't be able to cut my way out!"
David shrugged again and looked at her completely undisturbed. "That won't work Aunt Elizabeth. You see, when they bury you you'll be under six to eight feet of earth. Even if you get out, the shear weight of it all will crush you like a bug." He was very pleased with his answer.
Liz shuddered. David was too smart and creepy. She loved him but, he scared her. In panic she clutched at her hair. At the top of her lungs she cried, "What am I going to do?"
"Not to worry Aunt Elizabeth." David continued, as if reading from a text book. My friend Peter Hatch told me all about what happens when you die. You see, his family owns the funeral home in town. They drain your blood and fill you with chemicals before they bury you. He even let me see the sinks where..."
"...Enough! Enough! She screamed. "Don't tell me anymore! I'm under a curse you strange boy! They won't embalm me they'll bury me alive!"
David looked at Elizabeth as if she were demented. "Jeeze Aunt Elizabeth, we're rich. You don't have to be buried if you don't want to. why not just be kept in a crypt? Then you can walk out any time you want to."
Elizabeth looked at David through crazed eyes. He had solved her problem! If I'm buried in a crypt, I can just get up and walk out. If she hadn't been so emotionally spent, she would have danced for joy. She embraced him with such fury, he feared he couldn't breathe.
"Thank you! Oh Thank you David! You're such a bright boy! Did I ever tell you..."
In mid sentence, Liz dropped to the ground like a rock. She appeared to be dead.