"That's all I've got for today," Eric said over the soft hum of conversation. "Thank you so much everyone for coming! I'll see you again same time next week, if you want to keep working on your coffins."
As the crowd dispersed, Eric approached Antigone, flustering her so much she dropped her paintbrush onto her dress. Luckily, the black paint matched the fabric.
"How was it?" he asked Antigone with an unexpected hint of anxiety. "Did you enjoy yourself?"
"Yes, definitely an... interesting event," Antigone murmured. "’Coffee and coffins…’ Clever."
Secretly, Antigone wished she'd thought of it, but even if she had, she knew that she wouldn't have been able to pull it off. Not with Rudyard underfoot, anyway.
"Thank you!" Eric brightened. "I know it's not the most typical crafting party, but I liked the idea. You didn't think it was too morbid?"
"Not at all," Antigone said. "It's taking something that could be macabre or frightening and bringing it into the light of day. Bringing the community together to celebrate their lives before they're dead. Sort of a, a pre-death group funeral."
"Yes! Yes, that's exactly what I had in mind." Eric beamed at her. "That's what I really love about you, Antigone. You understand death—and life—better than most. Even other funeral directors. Can I get you any decaf, by the way? Or a pastry? I've still got a bit left on the refreshments table."
"No, thank you."
He took the stool near hers. "So, Antigone, what have you got here? I want to see what kind of coffin a fellow funerary artist would make for herself."
"Mahogany coffin, painted black, with black velvet lining. Extra cushions. And a secret compartment." She showed him the hiding spot. "I'll come back later and put my supplies in."
"What sort of supplies are you stashing for the afterlife?" Eric asked in amusement.
"Cyanide capsule, erotic book, flashlight. And a snack."
"In case you wake up down there?"
"You know for a while, people were rigging bells so they could ring them from inside the coffin if they woke up."
"Right, of course you would. Sorry."
"No, no," she assured him. "I like your anecdotes. But now you've seen mine. What kind of coffin would you design for yourself?"
"I can show you if you'd like."
She suppressed a shiver of delight. "I... would."
Apparently, not too many people took Eric up on his offer to see his custom-built coffin. Or perhaps he didn't offer it much, and he just hadn't expected her to say yes. Either way, he looked slightly taken aback.
"Oh. Sure. Well, this way, then."
She followed him through the funeral home into his lift, then down into his mortuary. He led her through two doors. They were well and truly underground, deep in the heart of his funeral home.
"I suppose no one could hear us scream down here," Antigone joked.
"No..." Eric glanced nervously at her. "I suppose not."
"Damn, I've made it uncomfortable again. I only meant, because..." Antigone gesticulated frantically. "Your mortuary looks a bit like a spaceship, and being underground is a bit like being in space in terms of the cold and dark surrounding you, and... oh, I'm making it more awkward. I'll never make a pop culture reference again."
"No, no," Eric said, obviously lying. "It's just an... unexpected remark. And not entirely inaccurate. I doubt very much anyone could hear us scream. Not that we'll have any reason to, of course. Never had a zombie scare down here." He chuckled. "At least, not on Piffling."
"You've had a zombie corpse?" Antigone asked.
"Not a real one," he said quickly. "That's just a term for someone who comes to the morgue in a coma rather than actually being dead. Happened a lot more in the morgue at the medical school, back in the day. It happens more than you'd think, though I'd hardly call it common these days."
"Common enough on Piffling," Antigone said. "We had to pass a waiting period for diabetics in the ‘80s. There were a few... incidents."
"Did you really? Actually, that explains a lot."
"My grandmother had rather poor eyesight. And hearing. And tactile sensation."
“Well, I suppose we all imagine it," Eric said. "Getting trapped in our own coffins. Buried alive. Actually, I think trapping oneself in a coffin is on the Official Undertaker's Bucket List. Item two."
"You've never been trapped in a coffin?"
"Heavens, no!" Eric looked horrified. "Sounds terrifying. Have you?"
"Yes. It's something of a family tradition. It’s happened to everyone in our family at least once."
"That's terrible! How did you get locked in? Was it an accident in the mortuary?"
"Oh no. Rudyard locked me in with our grandfather during the family viewing. No one found me until they opened the casket before the funeral the next morning."
"That's terrible! You must have been incredibly frightened."
"Not really. I paid my respects and then slept the whole time. Rudyard was far more psychologically damaged a few months later when I locked him in our grandmother's coffin overnight."
"Antigone, you could have asphyxiated! Or he could have!"
"Yes, well, luckily we were small at the time."
"That is fortunate indeed." Eric pulled a tarp off a simple wooden coffin. "Well, here it is."
"Oh! It's less... flashy than I expected." Antigone caressed the unpolished wood with a love only an undertaker could understand. She opened the lid and pushed her fingers inside the holes in the bottom. "Are you Jewish?"
"No, no. Not really. Love the tradition, though. I see so many people delaying the inevitable, the decomposition and such, and that's just not for me. Haven't got any family who'd mourn me or care about my body being preserved. Might as well feed some worms with my body, once I don’t need it anymore. The faster I can get back to the earth, the better. Maybe that's strange for a funeral director, but—"
"No, I understand," Antigone said. "Sometimes it feels like I'm doing the people on my table a disservice by embalming them. But then I remember how much it meant to me and Rudyard when our parents died, what a comfort it was to have them embalmed and in beautiful coffins. And that's the feeling I try to evoke with every body I embalm."
"That's beautiful," Eric said.
"That's why we do it, isn't it?"
"I know it's why I do it." Eric patted the inside of the coffin. "So, unless anyone comes along in the next—hopefully—fifty years or so to object, I'm keeping the holes. Besides." He lowered his voice, even though it was extremely unlikely anyone would hear them. "I have nightmares sometimes about getting locked in here, and the air holes alleviate that worry. Some."
"I used to have those nightmares," Antigone said. "They've mostly gone away, though."
"Oh? Anything in particular stop them?"
"Spending the night in my grandfather’s."
"I rather think it's had the opposite effect on Rudyard," Antigone mused. "I'm not afraid of it anymore, though. I got trapped in one and survived, and it was hardly the worst experience of my life."
"That's... you might be onto something," Eric said. "I suppose I should give it a try. I've got the safety latch installed, after all."
He did not look at all pleased by the idea.
"I'd do it with you," Antigone offered, her heart beating faster and her brain screaming at the impulsive bravery. "I'd get in with you and—and keep you company until you got out. Keep you calm. I know you don't care for the dark. I could help."
"Wow," Eric said.
Antigone bit the inside of her cheek. She didn't know if that was a good wow or a "I can't believe what a weirdo you must be to offer to do something like that" wow.
"That's very kind of you," Eric said. "I think I'd like to take you up on it, if you really don't mind."
"Not at all."
"Well then." He grimaced. "Is it cheating to bring a flashlight?"
"I don't think so," Antigone said. "Why would it be? You’d have one on your mobile if it was buried with you."
"Fair enough.” He took a steadying breath. “Do you want to do it now? Or maybe next week?” He chuckled. “Next month?"
"Do it now," Antigone said, only partly because she was afraid he'd change his mind if he did it at some later date. "It's better to get it over with."
"Like ripping off a plaster," he muttered. "Very true. All right. Do you need the toilet first? How long should we do this, anyway? Overnight? Should we bring snacks?"
"I bet an hour would do it," Antigone said.
"Great!" Eric did not look like he thought it was great at all. "Would you like to be on top, or should I?"
Antigone spluttered. "On... top?!"
"Oh, almost forgot!" Eric pilfered through a pile of cushions until he found a suitably padded one. He laid it in the coffin and patted it down. "Ready?"
Antigone climbed into the coffin, more to escape his gaze than because she cared about being underneath Eric. Underneath... Eric...
"Pull yourself together, Antigone," she whispered, situating herself on the cushion.
"Ready?" Eric asked.
"I suppose... Are you?"
"Ready as I'll ever be!"
He climbed in on top of her, modestly pushing her legs to one side so he wasn't straddling in between them (much to Antigone's disappointment).
The rocking movement made the lid of the coffin slam shut over them. After their initial jolt of fright, Antigone relaxed. Or rather, she relaxed as much as she could with Eric Chapman's warm breath on her neck.
"Not to worry," Eric said, his voice rather heavy with worry. "Like I said, I install escape latches on the inside of all my coffins."
"Clever. Would have saved my mother quite a lot of stress the first time we buried her."
"Good lord! Your mother was buried alive too?!"
"Only for a few hours," Antigone said. "I was only a few days old; I don't remember the details."
"That's..." Eric seemed to fumble for a word that captured the gravity and horror of the situation. "Wow."
"I think I'd like to get out now," he said.
"Oh, there's no rush," Antigone said. "Let's just... lie here for a moment. What happens in your dreams?"
"The ones about being buried alive?"
"No, the ones about showing up naked to an exam you haven't studied for. Of course I mean the ones about being buried alive."
"Well, I wake up, or I think I do, and it's dark, and the walls of the coffin seem to be wrapping around me. I'm completely alone. I scream for someone to help me, but no one ever does."
"So there's a feeling of claustrophobia?"
"And nyctophobia? Fear of the dark?"
"No! Well... maybe a bit."
He was silent for a moment.
"Yes. Above all, I think it's the loneliness that gets to me."
"Did you always have these dreams?"
"Here and there. It's gotten worse recently."
"Oh, somewhere around when I arrived on Piffling."
"Yes, yes, I see," Antigone said, although she really did not, either literally or figuratively. "Are you feeling more, er, lonely on Piffling?"
It sounded ludicrous even as she said it. Eric was constantly surrounded by friends and admirers on Piffling. How could he be lonely?
"Yes," he said, much to her surprise. "I've never been lonelier in my entire life."
"Really?! But... but how ? Why?"
She felt Eric shrug in the dark.
"Sometimes one can feel lonely in a crowd."
She didn't answer that. She'd barely even been in a crowd in her entire life.
"I'd really like to get out now." Eric's voice was strained. "I think I've been here long enough."
"No, that's no good," Antigone said. "Rudyard was panicking and screaming still when they got him out. The trick to getting past the fear is to calm down and make peace with it."
"I can work on that another time." Eric was fumbling in the dark for the safety latch. "Dammit! I forgot the flashlight. How did I forget the flashlight? Damn nerves. Antigone, can you see the latch? I'm getting out."
"If you get out now, you'll only make the dreams worse," she said. "There are holes in the coffin, so we're not going to asphyxiate. What exactly is there to be afraid of?"
"Well, we could... we might... the latch might be broken and we won't be able to get out! We should test it!"
"If the latch is broken, someone is bound to come looking for you," Antigone reminded him. "I think you're just frightened."
"Frightened? Me? No. Well… only a little."
She didn't answer, just shifted so that her leg was pressed properly against his. "You can listen to my heartbeat if you want," she said. "That was the worst part for me of being trapped in my grandfather's coffin. His body was there, but he wasn't. He was cold and he didn't have a heartbeat. But I do have a heartbeat. Here. Listen."
Being in the dark might have made Eric more afraid, but somehow it made Antigone less afraid. The shadows protected her, as always. And so, channeling an unexpected sternness, she took his head and guided it between her breasts. Eric struggled weakly at first, but once his face touched the soft warmth of her bosom, he relaxed. Antigone lay silently, focusing on her own even breathing. Soon, Eric's matched hers.
"See?" she said at last. "Better."
"It is a bit better," he agreed. "How about we get out now?"
"What's item one?" Antigone asked, ignoring him.
"On the Official Undertaker's Bucket List. You said getting trapped in a coffin was item two. What's item one?"
"Oh, getting a zombie."
"And item three?"
Eric's blush was practically visible, even in the dark. "Sex in a coffin."
"Well, can you cross off the first three items after this one?" Antigone's voice seemed higher than usual, despite her attempts to sound normal.
"I can cross off the first two."
"What about if the coffin isn't closed for item three?"
"Still can only cross off the first two."
"Yes, really, me," Eric said. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just that you certainly don't seem to hurt for companionship. I'd think any woman on Piffling would agree to cross that item off with you, and quite a few of the men, too."
"Possibly, but it's not the sort of thing you just go up and ask someone."
"Why not? Have you tried?"
"Yes, actually, and I've been declined every single time! There's a reason it's on the bucket list, and not the 'things nearly every undertaker does in their life' list!"
"Well I think that's silly. I'd do it with you, and I barely do anything interesting, so clearly you just haven't been asking the right people."
Antigone didn't know what had driven her to say that, but it immediately charged the air in the coffin with a sort of electricity.
"Would you really?" Eric asked. "You're not just saying that to... to make me feel better, or something?"
"No, I..." It was Antigone's turn to panic and fumble for the emergency latch. "Dammit! How do I get out of here?"
"It's not a very common kink," Eric said. "Not that it's my kink, mind you."
"Just something it would be fun to say I've tried once."
"But no one else seems remotely open to the idea."
"Well, I am."
"Yes, and so am I, obviously."
There was a thick silence between them, and the full impact of their words sank into both of them.
"I don't want to presume, of course," Eric added hastily. "But if you're interested—"
"If I'm what— I— how dare you?!" Antigone squirmed. "Just because I'm trapped in a coffin inhaling your incredibly masculine scent and feeling your manhood pressed against my leg—"
"—you assume I'll spread my legs for the competition? You assume I want your hot, throbbing, and impressively girthed manhood deep within me just to cross something off a 'bucket list'?!"
"No, of course not," he said soothingly. "Wait, impressively girthed?” He paused. “Antigone, I didn't mean to insult you—"
"Well, it's done now, isn't it? Can't take it back, guess you'll just have to make it up to me with the best lay of my life, fine, yes, I’ll do it, let's get it over with."
She was already struggling with her undergarments, afraid the moment would pass while she and Eric were arguing.
"Wait, Antigone, let's talk about this—"
"Nothing to talk about!" She kicked her underwear off and worked on hiking her skirt up over her hips. "Do you want to finish your bucket list or not?"
Eric moved next to her, and she couldn't see his hands, but she could hear his zipper unfastening.
"If you're sure—"
"Very sure!" She grasped him, marveling at how utterly hot and firm and soft he was all at once.
"God, Antigone," he breathed. "All right. How should we do this?"
"Get on top of me. Properly on top of me."
With some shifting and wiggling, he nestled his legs between hers.
"I can't see very well," he apologized. "Will you help me?"
Antigone panicked. Did he expect her to guide him in? She'd never done this before! She'd been counting on him to do the hard parts (no pun intended).
He pushed her legs back, bending her knees around his chest. His mouth found her cheek, then her mouth, and they kissed hungrily—Antigone's very first kiss. He rubbed against her, driving her mad and coating himself with her sudden flood of excitement. She wanted to call his name, to urge him to enter her, but she was enjoying kissing him too much. He was a very gentle but persistent kisser, teasing her lips with the tip of his tongue.
His fingers brushed over her wet curls, navigating her body by touch. She startled when he found her most sensitive spot, stroking it lightly and using it for guidance like the North Star. And then he was at her entrance, opening her inch by inch with his fingers like she'd never been opened before.
"Oh!" she cried into his mouth.
"Relax," he whispered, kissing her again. "I would never hurt you. I'll wait until you're ready. Just relax."
She forced herself to go limp under him, and his fingers lazily worked in and out. She knew she was thoroughly soaking his hand and the cushion underneath her, but it was too late to worry about that now. His mouth moved to her neck once again, and Antigone cried out in delight.
“Yes, Eric, please. I want you inside me already.”
His fingers pulled out of her, leaving her empty and miserable. Then he was rubbing up against her again. After a moment of gentle pressure, his member filled her completely. She inhaled with a hiss, more from the shock of it than from pain.
"Am I hurting you?" he asked.
"No," she said. "You just surprised me, that's all. You're rather bigger than I… than I’m used to."
"Is it too much? I can stop."
"No, don't!" She wrapped her legs around him, trapping him. "I like it now, keep going, don’t stop."
He chuckled, the puff of air dashing against her cheek like a warm wave. "Is it all right if I move, then?"
Antigone trembled, looking at his beautiful face in the dark. "Yes, Eric, please." She raised her head off the pillow kissed him. "Make love to me right here in this coffin."
He twitched within her. "Christ, Antigone, I'm so hard right now. I can't see a thing but you're so tight and wet..." he moved his hips slightly and trailed off in a happy groan. "Touch yourself for me, please, Antigone."
She didn't exactly want to do that; she feared she'd ruin the magic by doing anything so lewd as masturbating. But the second her fingers set to work, her hand moving in the small crevice between their bodies, it seemed to drive Eric wild.
"Fuck, Antigone, that's so hot." He kissed all over her face and neck. "This might be the most erotic thing I've ever done in my life. It's at least tied with the hot air balloon."
Antigone didn't want to think about Eric making love to anyone else but her. "Kiss me," she ordered to hush him.
"Yes, of course." He kissed her on the lips again.
“I didn’t mean there.” Antigone pushed his head down to her breasts, which were growing warm from the heat she and Eric were generating inside the humid coffin.
Eric supported himself with one hand while his other massaged her breasts. He alternated between kissing her on the mouth and leaning in to suckle her sensitive nipples. Antigone wrapped her free arm around his neck, thrilled at his eager interest in her body.
'I'm losing my virginity in a coffin,' she thought wildly, with a thrill tingling through her. ‘I'm making love to Eric Bloody Chapman in a coffin.’ She shivered again in delight.
His teeth grazed her nipple, and then he bit down. Pleasure surged through Antigone, and suddenly she was crying out, thrashing, calling his name over and over again as the most beautiful feeling she'd ever felt in her life rushed over her. For a moment, she was certain she was dying, and she couldn't care less. Whatever was pulsing through her was the purest form of pleasure she’d ever known. Then she was collapsing against the damp cushion, still clinging to Eric as he came down from his own euphoric episode.
"Oh, Antigone." He kissed her mouth again. "That was amazing."
They lay in each other's embrace for a moment. Antigone felt drunk on Eric's kisses and sweet words. Even the way he stroked her hair was blissful.
"It's gotten stifling in here," he said. "Let me open the—"
He frowned. There was a futile clicking noise.
"That's... not... right," he said. "Okay, don't panic."
“Nothing to worry about! Don’t worry...”
“I wasn’t worried until you said that.”
"All right, don’t panic, but we're... stuck."
"Yes. Trapped, entombed, whatever word you prefer."
"You didn't test the mechanism?" Antigone asked.
"No, how would I have tested it without getting inside and sealing it up?" Eric snapped. "Sorry, I'm just— I don't want to be stuck in here forever."
"We won't be. Doesn't your mobile phone have service?"
Eric whipped out his phone. The glow burned Antigone's eyes, so she averted them.
"Yes! Yes, thank God, yes." Eric froze. "Who should I call? I mean, how do we explain—"
Antigone took the phone from Eric and dialed Funn Funerals. Rudyard answered, just as she'd feared.
"Now look here! Yes?"
"Put Georgie on."
"What? Who is this?"
"You know very well who this is. Now put Georgie on."
"Listen, Antigone, I don't know what kind of game you're playing, but I won't be usurped by my assistant in my own shop—"
"Rudyard, I'm having an emergency of a decidedly feminine nature, and I need Georgie's help. Do you remember the last time I had a 'feminine emergency'? Winter of 2011? All that scrubbing, and we still haven't gotten the blood out of the seams in the sofa, and you fainted twice—"
Rudyard screamed like a little girl, and the phone clattered out of his hand.
A moment later, Georgie picked up the phone. "What's up, Antigone?"
"I need you to come get me," she said.
"Sure, I'm great at getting people," Georgie said. "Are you still at Chapman's?"
"Yes. I'm a bit, sort of, well, you see—"
"We're trapped in a coffin," Eric called toward the phone.
"Yes, that pretty much covers it," Antigone said. “I’m trapped in a coffin with Chapman.”
"You're trapped in a coffin... with Eric," Georgie said suspiciously.
"Not so loud!" Antigone snapped. "Do you want Rudyard to have a fit?"
"He's crying too loudly to hear." Georgie paused, letting Antigone hear the traumatized sobs in the background. "So I'll just come get you, then?"
"Yes, take the lift down to his mortuary," Antigone said. “We’re in the back room.”
"Be there in a jiff." Georgie hung up.
"Will she really come?" Eric asked anxiously.
"Of course she will. She’s great at rescuing me and Rudyard."
Five minutes later, the coffin lid creaked open. Eric practically jumped out, leaving Antigone to quickly smooth her skirt down over her naked legs. Georgie smirked.
"Fly's down, Eric," she said.
Eric barely heard her. "Thank God you came," he said "I was sure we'd be stuck forever."
"What were you two doing in there together?" Georgie asked, still grinning.
"We... fell in," Eric said. “Together. At the same time.”
"What?!" Antigone crawled out, glaring at him. "Oh no. If you think you're going to enjoy my body in the dark and then deny it the second we're back in daylight—"
Georgie chortled. "Wait till Rudyard hears about this."
"No!" Antigone rounded on her. "There will be absolutely no telling Rudyard about any of this! Can you imagine it? No, this will stay just between the three of us, but don't try to deny it to Georgie when she's just gotten us out of that coffin!" She stared hard at Eric.
"Fine, fine." Eric held up his hands. “Antigone and I had sex in a coffin. Really, though, please don’t tell Rudyard.”
"It's all right," Georgie said. "I'm great at keeping things to myself. Now, come on, Antigone. Your carrots are getting cold."
Antigone followed Georgie. Eric ran a hand through his tousled blond hair.
"Antigone?" he said.
She stopped. "Yes?"
He looked like he was going to say something kind and perhaps a bit vulnerable, like "I enjoyed that" or "I'd like to see you again sometime." But instead, he closed his mouth and smiled, replacing the look with his usual confident one.
"Have a good supper!" he said awkwardly. "Enjoy yourself."
Antigone sighed and followed Georgie into the lift. The door closed, and Georgie turned to Antigone, grinning more broadly than ever.
"Soooo, you and Eric—"
"Be quiet, Georgie," Antigone said. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Yeah, all right, fine."
The lift rose upward, taking the two of them back into the late afternoon sunlight.