Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom, nor fright would keep Mr. Gigglemug from his appointed rounds, which today included the Morte Funeral Parlour. For the man who was well known for both preternatural punctuality and gaiety was Queen’s Hollow Postmaster, and trusted Purveyor of brown paper packages tied up with string.
Mortimer sat in the front office, waiting, attempting to calm his nerves by holding his breath until he was on the brink of vomiting. As much fun as this was, it didn’t work. He peered out at the Main Street, but couldn’t see very much at all. He was instantly reminded that all of the Morte women had an unapologetic flair for suffocating windows with layer upon layer of fabric, ornate lace and rich purple or burgundy satins, zigged this way and swagged that way, mindfully arranged to control light, cold and the curious.
Surely the few minutes left on the clock until his anticipated delivery had morphed into hours. Mortimer’s leg, a long and bony appendage with pale white flesh and very little muscle tone, bounced excitedly. He placed one spindly hand on what should have been a thigh before rummaging through his trouser pockets for a white handkerchief embroidered with a black cursive MM. Mortimer pulled out a crumpled wodge of linen and arched his eyebrows. He was thankful that his mother wasn’t there, as she would have bristled at the state of it. Far from the pristine, laundered, starched and ironed token of her expectation she’d given him on his 14th birthday, it was now soiled and stained, a shameful testament to neglect.
Crumb, thought Mortimer sniffing the sour air. He patted his damp forehead then folded the wrinkled fabric into a triangle before shoving it back into the other pocket.
Now, if you were Mortimer’s friend, which, of course, you are not (because at this stage of our story he isn’t allowed to have any) you would know why he was in such a state of undignified bother: He had a secret. It was an unbearably weighty secret, and every bit as tricky and reprehensible as these kinds of things can be.
Conceivably, if Mr. Gigglemug wasn’t as consumed with glee and good-naturedness, he might have suspected something. Anything. Maybe just enough to have saved his job – and his marriage. He was, after all, intimately aware that the Hollow Conservatory, as the strict and stalwart guardians of the permissible musical repertoire, had the authority to frog march any disloyal servant into disgrace. Under the solemn leadership of their Preacher and Co-founder, Alva Gigglemug, it was their purview to ensure that Little Lantern overflow with the sounds of good breeding, like a pianist’s moonlit adagio sustenuto. Or the dulcet-toned tremelo of a high-breasted beauty singing Flammende Rose, Zierde der Erde.
Over more than one supper, Alva, while lavishing butter on hot biscuits, had boasted about her day, the highlight of which was having caused some poor plonker in the Queen’s Hallow Postal service to be relieved of their duties.
“But why, Alva?” gasped Gigglemug, his stomach tightening at the breadth of his wife’s flared nostrils.
“Imprudent deliveries, of course,” said Alva, sucking her teeth. “Toxic trash,” she continued contemptuously, “that strikes at the very root of our moral fiber.”
Gigglemug nodded, then counted his blessings. Admittedly Alva, who over the years had grown as wide as she was tall, might have fallen short in the dutiful wife department, but she more than made up for it by being a fine little policy-maker.
Still, there by the grace of good went Gigglemug. Blessed with more bliss than wit, he was about to deliver a package, the contents of which, if known by the quiet and upstanding citizens of Little Lantern Hollow, would arouse such angst and bluster that it would cause a contagion of incontinence.
Providentially, Mortimer’s special order was disguised in thick postal paper. The contents of the package were 12.375 in (31.43 cm) square. Precisely. To the unsuspecting eye, it might have even looked, like a symphony or a well-tempered collection of keyboard or lute compositions, conceivably Bach or Chopin, something in a brooding and pensive key. But it wasn’t.
Mortimer spotted Gigglemug’s carriage. He sprung to his feet and unfurled his pallid fists, preparing to snatch his parcel and avoid the inevitable exchange of banalities. He would simply have to invent an excuse. Brilliant. Some disagreeable funereal emergency, the likes of which would no doubt wipe that smile and lurid benevolence from Gigglemug’s face. And then, he would run.
But as soon as Mortimer opened the door, Gigglemug was already in mid sentence. He handed him the package. “… – lovely, jubbley day, this is. Here you go, Mortie. Looks like a long-playing vinyl to me, but wait here. I see it’s not addressed to your parents. Peculiar, don’t you think? And how are the estimable Mr. and Mrs. Morte?”
Mortimer rubbed his nose.
“What have we here? This is for you, Mortie…well of course it is. It says so right here: To Mortimer Morte,” said Gigglemug, adjusting his periwig, “and it’s from … who the devil?”
Mortimer’s mouth was agape. He couldn’t feel his head. Just give it to me.
“Well, this is damnable, ”continued Gigglemug. It’s from... Ar…se. Arse? Arse, indeed. Party?…Arse Party? How can that be?” read Gigglemug, squinting to make out the odd sender of the package.
Mortimer cleared his throat over and over again. No words would form. There were beads of ignominy streaming down his face.
“Left my bloody specs at home today, “ giggled Gigglemug. “Oh, well, here you go, son.” Gigglemug handed over the parcel. Leave, thought Mortimer, now!
“Please be sure to give my warmest, most heartfelt and deeply sincere regards to your – ”
Mortimer slammed the door.
He waited until the clip of the horses’ hooves became a dull and distant clop before even daring to look at his delivery. How could he expect anyone to understand? (They wouldn’t). And yet, surely everyone arrived to that time in their lives where roads began to fork, and points began to turn, and they could no longer ignore the clarion call of destiny? (Even if it did mean deadening one’s moral sensibilities with pernicious music and feral appetites). Surely his viewpoint held some merit? Well, no. It didn’t. None whatsoever. If you could imagine the smallest thing ever, then fold it up, cut it into a paper doll chain then blow off a speck of quark dust – not even that much.
If truth were told, Mortimer had but one course of action: to lie. This was the only alternative to admitting that he’d cunningly eluded the blue-pencils and finagled the ripest collection of toxic trash that the Conservatory had ever had the unmitigated frenzy of banning. This was why Mortimer’s heart was doing a lively quadrille inside of his chest, a little jete here, and a big, bold plie there. He pressed the record into his ribcage and believed he could smell sulfur, which, Mortimer realized, would pervade the room as soon as he could drag his fingernail along the scratch and sniff patches covering the band’s beefy bits on the album’s front cover. This time, however, he didn’t care to disturb the back cover.
So here we all are, sitting uncomfortably at the crux of our story. Mortimer Morte was unwholesomely fond of a band called Crotch Rot and the Arse Party – or CRAP to their devotees. And CRAP, insisted Mortimer, were the most abominable and acclaimed band in the unabridged history of glam-angst-riff-rant.
The group consisted of ranter Crotch Rot (widely hailed as Mel Torme with Turrets Syndrome); lead guitarist, The Purge; bassist, Reek-a-Boo; and, banger, Oi-NK!. Another lesser known factor contributing to CRAPS extraordinary renown, was that they’d been condemned for embedding subliminal tracks into their songs, foul, imperceptible frequencies that were linked to everything from babbling bowels to the compulsion to play dead.
Not only is Crotch Rot and the Arse Party too loud, but also nasty and disgusting, vile, loathsome and very, very unpleasant, indeed! And Mortimer knows every one of their rants by heart. One day, he dreamt, he would be a celebrated musician – just like The Purge, CRAP’s glamorous but unstrung lead guitarist.
Fortunately, Mortimer still has enough good sense to keep his improbable passions to himself. For while Mortimer Morte, Jr. was fundamentally a kind and caring man, he shared the same strict and unyielding opinion held by his father and his grandfather and his great grandfather before him: A Morte’s fate was hermetically sealed – and one day, like it or not, Mortimer would take over the undertaking.