The first thing I saw when I made it to the back wall of the storage unit was Elvis, sitting on top of a wooden casket. He looked at me, cocking his head to one side, and his expression seemed to say, Look what I found!
"Good grief, what's that doing in here?" I said.
He didn't answer. Not that I expected him to, seeing as he was a small, black cat and not the swivel-hipped King of Rock and Roll.
I reached up and ran my hand over the smooth surface of the long wooden box. When I'd bought the contents of the storage space—and a second one three doors down—I'd given things a cursory check, just enough to feel comfortable about making an offer. The fact that the owner of the building had taken that offer without haggling had made me wish I'd offered a little less. At the time, I hadn't spotted the coffin—that's definitely what it was—sitting on several wooden packing crates by the end wall.
"Hey, Sarah, you all right?" my brother Liam called. He'd come along as muscle to help me load my SUV and the trailer it was pulling. He'd been in town for several days, consulting on the harbor front development project.
"I'm fine," I said, raising my voice a little so he could hear me. "You won't believe what Elvis found."
"Let me guess. The real Elvis in one of those white jumpsuits?"
The cat Elvis, who as far as he was concerned was the real Elvis, wrinkled his nose as though he'd understood Liam's words.
"Ha-ha. Very funny," I said. "No, he found a coffin." I looked around for Charlotte but couldn't see her.
"Ha-ha. Very funny back at you," Liam retorted. I could hear him moving boxes and furniture out of the way as he made his way to me.
"I'm not joking. It has to be at least six feet long. I think someone made it."
"It's probably just some big wooden box." He gave a grunt of effort and I saw a stack of boxes behind me shift sideways.
"There's a cross carved on the top and there are four handles on the side. It's a casket."
Liam poked his head above a six-foot long metal toboggan that was blocking his way and grinned at me. He was a shade over six feet himself, with blonde hair and blue-gray eyes. "You better hope the person who rented this space wasn't trying to save money in other ways besides not paying for the last six months." He craned his neck and studied the wooden box. "Assuming that's not the person who rented the space in the first place."
There was an orange foam football sitting on an upside-down wooden chair that looked like it had been wrapped in zebra-print duct tape. I threw the football at his head. It bounced off his left shoulder and landed near his feet.
"Your elbow's too high," he said. "Your arm should be making a right angle."
I stuck out my tongue at him.
Elvis's curiosity seemed to be getting the better of him. He scratched at the edge of the wooden box then looked at me.
"You're right," I said. "We should take a look inside, but you'll have to move." I picked him up and put him on the seat of the flipped-over chair. My hair was coming loose from the ponytail I'd pulled it into when we'd arrived at the warehouse. I yanked the elastic loose, racked my fingers through my hair and refastened it.
"You're not really going to look inside that thing, are you?" Liam asked.
"It's pretty much the only way we're going to find out what's in there." I looked over my shoulder at him. "And by the way, if that box actually does have an occupant they'll hear me scream over at the shop."
Liam snatched the foam football from the floor. "I'm ready to protect you," he said, a grin pulling at the corners of his mouth.
"Good to know that if there's a zombie inside you'll bean him with a perfect spiral," I said dryly.
He traced a finger down the outside of his left arm. "Note the perfect right angle, which is what will enable me to throw that perfect spiral, should it become necessary, baby sister." Liam—who was technically my stepbrother—was a month older and never let me forget it.
I laughed and shook my head. He was such a smartass.
Then I hooked my fingers under the thin edge of the lid, blew out a breath and lifted. Elvis craned his neck to see. We exchanged a look.
"So?" Liam couldn't see the inside of the casket from where he was standing.
"Well, I wasn't expecting this," I said. The cat murped his agreement, whiskers twitching.
"Expecting what?" Liam asked impatiently.
I glanced over my shoulder at him again.
He looked at me with one raised eyebrow. "I was only kidding before about someone actually being—" He stopped for a moment. "There isn't, is there?"
"It's full of tea," I said.
© Sofie Ryan