The Undertaker’s Son


Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

Fred Dempsey, the town undertaker, and his wife Julia, had an autistic son named Timothy. He had the body of a 17 year-old, but the mind of a five-year old. He was already taller than his parents, and judging by his hands and feet, he was going to keep growing.

He was so skinny his six foot-six-inch frame looked awkward and unbalanced. His skin had an opalescent quality to its whiteness from the day he was born. Timmy, as his parents called him, was  good-natured boy most of the time. He was also non-verbal, but fully capable of making grunting noises when he wasn’t happy or wanted attention.

Because Timmy didn’t understand concepts like life and death, the corpses in their parlor never bothered him. He looked on them as dolls. But, unlike his smaller dolls, he wasn’t allowed to play with the big ones in the parlor. Or, the ones in the big ice box.

Dempsey’s Funeral Home was founded by Fred’s father, George, just after World War II ended. George who served in Patton’s 3rd Army corps, was a tank driver. When he mustered out he married Tina Weinstein, and used his GI Bill to get the schooling he needed to become a funeral director.

No one really understood why George picked a profession that dealt with dead people after fighting for two years in Europe and seeing people die horrific deaths. When Fred was born in 1953, their funeral home was the only one in town.

When George and his wife’s health began to fail in the late 1980s, they turned the business over to Fred and Julia, and retired to Miami, Florida.

When Fred and Julia had Timmy they had to learn to adjust their world so that one or the other, was always with him. They watching him and secretly wondered what they did wrong to have a child that was so disabled?

Dempsey’s Funeral Home was conveniently located near the town’s interfaith cemetery. Since Timmy was old enough to walk, Julia took him on hikes through the vast old cemetery that was over two-hundred years-old.

The newer cemetery, the one near their home, lacked the charm the old one offered with its eclectic array of headstones and epitaphs. The old one was also near a forest that offered miles of hiking trails.

Julia and Timmy walked those trails for 12 years before she was unable to because of  health issues. Timmy was mad for months when the walks finally stopped. He eventually forgot about the walks as Julia cleverly directed his energies into other activities he could do in their big back yard.

Fred worked hard maintaining the families good name. He was a member of the Rotary Club and sponsored a little league team called “The Titans.” Although he loved his son, he didn’t spend as much time with him as Julia did.

For seventeen years they did their best to shelter Timmy from the world. They only took him into town to see his regular doctor, or mental health officials when necessary. It was difficult because he often attracted attention when people saw him.

Timmy insisted on only wearing black clothes, and the contrast with his pale skin was unsettling. People saw this tall man-boy acting like a five-year old and looking like a character out of a Tim Burton movie.

One day two young girls were playing on a sidewalk just outside the doctor’s office when Timmy came out. Their screams of utter terror startled and scared him. Fred made sure to hold on to his arm tightly. Julia whispered soothing words and directed Timmy over to the family hearse parked nearby. He was grunting like he was in pain.

Since that incident, Timmy turned inward and quit smiling. He became morose and was quick to anger over the smallest thing. A few days later, Julia was looking out at the backyard from one of the monitors in the house. What she saw stunned her. Timmy was methodically twisting the heads off his dolls. A pile of decapitated dolls lay at his feet.

Instead of going outside and confronting him about his behavior, she called Fred. He took the call from a speaker phone in the embalming room. She told him what she witnessed and he agreed to talk about it more, after he was finished with the corpse he was working on.

When she glanced back at the camera Timmy wasn’t there!

She switched the full screen to multiple screens covering ever inch of the yard. He was nowhere in sight. This never happened before. He must have scaled the fence. A hint of fear, of her own son,  slithered through her brain like a cockroach avoiding light.

Where would he have gone? Then it hit her.

The forest trails. He loved walking there. She jumped into the hearse and drove up to the trail head. She called Fred while driving there. He assured her he was on the way.

When Julia got out of the hearse she looked ahead where the trail made the first of two splits. She texted Fred and said she was taking the first trail to the right and he should take the first one on the left.

The sun was going down rapidly as the frantic parents called out Timmy’s name. They were ill equipped with no flashlights. As darkness descended and a cold wind swept through the forest, they agreed to go back to the house and try to decide what to do next. Calling the authorities on the way home, Julia made sure to explain to them he was severely autistic and on medicine.

That night, deep into the forest, Boy Scout Pack 31 was camping out, and they had a bonfire going. The pack leader was telling scary stories to the group gathered around the bonfire when one of the boys saw Timmy in the shadows.

His scream had a multiplying effect and pretty soon everyone, but the pack leader, was screaming at the top of their lungs!

“I saw him!” the boy howled. “It was Slender Man!”

That set off another series of screams. It took the pack leader several minutes to settle the group down.

“All right, Jack. Tell me exactly what you saw and where,” the pack leader asked.

“He was tall and thin with black clothes, and his white face glowed! Right over there,” Jack pointed.

“Okay scouts. You stay here, and I’ll take a look.

The pack leader turned his flashlight in the direction Jack pointed, and set off at a brisk pace. He slowed down a little once he was passed the bonfire’s reach. It was a full moon and shafts of light filtered through the forest’s canopy creating shadows.

When a grunting sound started, the pack leader froze in his steps. His heartbeat increased as he rationally tried to think what animal made a grunt like that? A bear perhaps? No, he knew what it really sounded like…a human being.

Timmy saw the pack leader first. His excited grunts caused the pack leader to turn around and see him. His eyes rolled to the back of his head in muted terror, as the pack leader whimpered, “Don’t hurt me.”

When the pack leader finally screamed in mortal terror, the spell was broken and Timmy turned and ran away. The members of Boy Scout Pack 31 saw their fearless leader run through the camp shouting, “Follow me!

Meanwhile Timmy retreated back to the hiking trail and walked throughout the night. His greatful parents found him walking by the old cemetery, doggedly putting one foot in front of the other with his head hanging down in exhaustion.

They contacted the authorities and told them Timmy got lost, but he was home now.

From that night forward, Boy Scout Pack 31, and it’s intrepid leader, became famous throughout the country for claiming they saw a creature once thought to just be a rural legend.

Julia and Fred made Timmy wear bright-colored clothing after they read the excited scouts story in the newspaper. It became a family secret.

As It Stands, this tale is a reflection of what’s happening today in America, where cases of autism, especially males, increase yearly.

Author: Dave Stancliff

Retired newspaper editor/publisher, veteran, freelance writer, blogger. Married 47 years (8/31/74). Independent thinker. A sense of humor. Defender of truth. Give my poems, essays and short stories a read. I look forward to feedback. Write on!

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