It was twelve-year-old Jimmy they asked to sit up with Grandpa. The men had spent the evening building the coffin, and needed to rest before getting up early to dig the grave. It was easy for Jimmy to agree, sitting on Grandpa’s front porch in the unflinching August sun. When he said yes, Pa clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Good man.”
But that night, sitting alone with Grandpa in Grandpa’s room, Jimmy hated his daytime self. Daytime Jimmy was nowhere around, and Nighttime Jimmy was a little spooked.
Grandpa lay on the bed, dressed in his Sunday best. His snow-white hair was neatly combed. His hands were folded atop his chest, gnarled fingers knotted together in an attitude of prayer. A shiny new nickel lay on each of his eyes. They caught glints of moonlight streaming through the window; when they sparked just right, it looked like the old man was winking.
Jimmy tried not to look at Grandpa, but part of his job was to shoo away flies that gathered around the body. He could have shut the window, but the moist Alabama heat made that unthinkable.
A fat black fly circled Grandpa’s face. Jimmy moved forward to fan it away, and noticed something about the nickels. One showed heads, and the other showed tails.
Pa had told him that the nickels were there to pay the ferryman for taking Grandpa’s soul to Heaven. He said they should always show the same side, heads or tails, otherwise Grandpa’s soul might get confused about where it was going and be lost for eternity.
Whoever put the coins on Grandpa’s eyes must not have known that. The thought of Grandpa wandering in confusion for all eternity bothered Jimmy. He thought he should set the coins right so his Grandpa would be okay.
But to do so meant maybe touching cold, dead flesh. Jimmy really, really didn’t want to do that.
Go ahead, Jimmy, his Pa’s voice urged him. Pa had a way of popping in his head when Jimmy was worrying over a big decision. Go ahead and be a good man.
Jimmy reached out to his Grandpa’s face. His hand trembled. His fingers brushed the nickel showing heads. The metal was cold. Carefully, he lifted it clear.
Grandpa’s eye opened.
Jimmy gasped and dropped the nickel. It lodged underneath his Grandpa’s chin, caught in the tight, starched collar of his shirt. Grandpa’s eye stared at the ceiling.
Jimmy’s heart galloped. He wanted no more of this. But he was a “good man,” according to his Pa, and he meant to see it through.
He gave himself a moment to calm down, then leaned forward to retrieve the coin. He managed to tweeze it between two fingernails without touching Grandpa. He turned it tails-side up and used it to close his grandfather’s eye, leaving the coin on top.
He heard something; a soft whisper, like a sigh. A hint of breath drifted across his face. It smelled of rot and decay.
Jimmy, not a man at all, not yet, right now nothing but a scared little boy, got up and ran across the room and grabbed the doorknob with sweat-soaked palms. As he tried in vain to turn the knob, the metal refusing to obey his slick hands, he began to scream. And yet, over his own cries, and over the sound of his own heart pounding, he heard a noise: the solemn ring of metal as two nickels struck the wooden floor.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer whose nonfiction work has appeared in publications such as Dark Scribe Magazine, Dark Discoveries, Hellnotes.com, Bookgasm.com, and Shroud Magazine. His fiction has appeared in anthologies such as Horror Library Vol. 3 and Northern Haunts. You can visit him online at http://blugilliand.wordpress.com.