With her usual finesse, Junie blurted out a question.
“‘Terra Fosca?’ What in great grabbing gears is ‘Terra Fosca?!'”
Hat in hand, the undertaker stood before Junie. He had just told her the words inscribed on the box that now sat in her parlour like an unwelcome guest. They stood just inside the front door, the glow of gaslight chasing away evening shadows. She hadn’t asked to take his hat or coat, and indeed didn’t intend for him to stay long. The fact that his men had summarily deposited the filthy thing on her floor had set her in a less-than-pleasant mood.
She furrowed her brow and stared at him irritably.
He didn’t blink.
“Madam, Terra Fosca is the name of a town. One with a rather…illustrious history, I might add.” He spoke confidently, with a note of condescension. His deep voice was smooth and lilting.
“But why would a plaque on a box in a cemetery say ‘Terra Fosca?’ A cemetery in New Babbage, no less?” she asked.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Ginsburg, I couldn’t tell you.”
“Well, what was on the grave marker?”
He shook his head. “It was pitted and worn, Madam. We could not read it.”
Persisting, she asked, “was there anything else in the hole?”
“No, it is most unfortunate that there wasn’t.”
Junie bit her lower lip in thought.
“What about this illustrious history you say the town has?”
The undertaker put his hat back on and held out his hands in an apologetic gesture.
“Please forgive me, Madam, I do not have the luxury of time to recount the story of the town to you at this moment. I’m expected in Babbage Square for a funerary obligation.” He gave a slight bow.
Stubbornly, Junie screwed up her face as she continued thinking. “Hm. Well, I suppose I can wait. But can you tell me, what are the odds that there are bones in this box? It was in a grave…I mean, could it be a casket of some sort? An…oh, what do you call them…osh..oshar..”
“An ossuary?” the undertaker asked.
“Yes, yes. An ossuary.” Junie nodded, looking at him hopefully. She preferred to receive an answer that was as simple as a box of bones.
“I…suppose it is possible, Ms. Ginsburg, but highly unlikely. New Babbagers, indeed, the people of the West in general, are not known for placing the bones of their dead into such boxes.”
Junie sighed with disappointment and opened the door for him.
“Alright. Well, thank you, Mr. Gredge. I won’t keep you from your appointment. But please do let me know when you have an opportunity to tell more about this Terra Fosca place. I’d like to have some idea of what I’m in for when this thing is opened.”
Quite uncharacteristically, the undertaker suddenly cleared his throat and fidgeted, hurridly bowing again before heading out the door. As he reached the sidewalk, Junie called after him.
“Can you please send your men around again to move this thing? I would really rather not have it in my parlour. My aunt is liable to trip over it when she returns home.”
Without stopping, he called back to her that he certainly would. Doffing his hat, he rounded the corner and disappeared into the growing darkness.
After closing the door, Junie knelt down to get a better look at the box. It was solid. And ugly. Whoever had built it had meant for it to last a very long time. Sighing deeply, she stood and went upstairs to her study. She poured herself a glass of wine, collapsed into in a chair before the fire and turned the words over and over and again in her mind.
Terra Fosca….Terra Fosca…Terra Fosca…
She wasn’t sure if it was the fact that she’d been pondering and repeating them to herself, or whether it was the wine, but as she drifted to sleep in the chair she began to feel that the words were somehow familiar.