Marc Nocerino is a writer, poet, and musician who was born and raised under San Francisco's foggy canopy. He left the ocean for the mountains and currently lives amid the tall pines of California's Gold Rush area in the Sierra-Nevada Foothills with his wife and daughter. When he isn't putting his thoughts and nightmares onto paper, he's channeling them through music—usually with heavy distortion and growling vocals.

His writing has previously been published at Penumbra Magazine, Dark Moon Digest, The Original Van Gogh’s Ear, and The Horror Zine, among others. 


by Marc Nocerino

From the second Dan walked through the front door, I knew we were heading toward a bad conversation. It didn’t take long to get started.

“Hi Dan, good to see you.”

“Charles, did you go crazy?” Dan’s dark eyebrows pursed downward and knitted together, and he never called me Charlesunless he was upset. I assumed the question was not rhetorical but opted for a neutral stance nonetheless.

“You have your beliefs, I have mine. Let’s leave it at that.”

“No,” Dan pressed on, “this is not about beliefs. This is about you being an idiot. You spent thirty grand to mummify a cat. What sane person does that?”

“I can afford it.” I grabbed for the TV remote on the coffee table, but Dan put a hand on my shoulder before I could reach it.

“That’s not the point, Charles. It's friggin’ morbid, and more than a little weird.”

“Tyberius was more than just a pet to me. Dan. He was… family.”

“And I’m not?”

“Cheap shot, little brother. It’s a different kind of family I’m talking about, and you know it.”

“Oh don’tI know it. But, I’m still here, Charles.”

We stood in silence for a moment, Dan shuffling his feet on the thick shag rug. I couldn’t tell if he was nervous or just annoyed. I reached for the remote again to turn on the TV, hoping to change the subject, but Dan must have sensed that I thought the conversation was over. He didn’t think it was, and took the shot I was hoping he’d avoid.

“Mummifying a cat won’t un-do death. It won’t bring Tyberius back;” he paused, “and it won’t bring Linda or Max back, either.”

There it was. I closed my eyes, and the image of my dead wife and son smoldered behind the lids.

“Thanks for your concern, but this really is none of your business.”

“Like hell it isn’t! You’re scaring me, bro.”

“I’m fine, Dan. I’m glad you're here but this conversation is done. Now please just shut up and take a seat. I’ll go grab us a couple of beers. Anyway, I think a game is about to start.”

“A game?” Dan was mortified. “Jesus Chuck, it’s not just a game, it’s the game: Buckeyes at Michigan!”

He called me Chuck, I thought. Well, at least we’re making progress.

I turned and headed into the kitchen, satisfied that the subject had now been officially changed. It was a cheap way to get out of the conversation, but I thought that the combination of sports and beer were a lure that Dan couldn’t refuse, and I was tired of arguing. I heard his heavy exhale as he dropped whatever he was going to say and sat down on the worn leather couch. I couldn’t care less about a football game, but I was far too lonely to let him leave, especially on such a down note.


I wasn’t sure which team I was supposed to root for; the red-and-white or the blue-and-yellow. The discomfort of knowing that this used to be important to me wasn’t as bad as confronting the real issues underlying what Dan had brought up, so I just waited for Dan to cheer and tried to follow along.

It went all right for a while, right up until Dan had finished his beer. We were still in the first quarter when I got up to grab a couple more cold ones; but when I came back into the living room, another beer in each hand, I was surprised to see Dan, not sitting on the couch where he should have been, but standing at the front door with his coat on.

“Sorry Chuck,” Dan said, looking at his shoes, “I can’t stay. Ah, something else came up.” He stared for a moment at the framed picture of my family on the mantle, then threw a final wary glance at the cat-shaped bronze sarcophagus standing vigil next to it before shaking his head and walking out the door with promises that we would get together again soon.

It was only after staring at the front door for a good two minutes that I let myself look up at that picture; but I couldn’t bear to look at it any more than Dan could look at my mummified cat.

Looking down at the two beers I was still holding, I thought, What the hell, why not? It wouldn’t be the first time I was my own drinking buddy.

But when I finally stumbled into bed that night, I had finished the rest of the twelve-pack myself, along with half a bottle of tequila so old that it tasted like the thin sheen of dust that covered it. I wanted to keep going, but it had been years since I kept any real quantities of alcohol around the house, and I was definitely not desperate enough to switch to NyQuil or the far-beyond-expired bottle of Flexeril I kept behind the mirror in the bathroom medicine cabinet.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it.


My wife Linda is yelling something at me, but there is no sound. She is wearing some godawful green polka dot dress and her golden hair is coiffed like a housewife from the 1950s. That crazy beehive of hers bobs just slightly out of sync with her head—which she is shaking violently back and forth while silently screaming at me. Why can’t I hear her? And why the hell is she dressed like that? Tears, real tears, stream down her face as she gives up yelling at me. She probably thinks I’m just not listening to her. She used to think that quite often.

I try to tell her I want to listen, honey, but I just can’t hear you; but I’m not making any sound either and she starts to walk away from me. When she turns, I see that her back is charred and black. Tendrils of thick, oily smoke rise up from patches of green-black fabric that have melted into her flesh. I still can't hear anything, but I can smell the unmistakable odors of melted plastic, gasoline, and barbecued hot dogs.

I feel something tugging at my fingers and look down to see Max trying to hold my hand. I cover his eyes so he won’t see his mom’s ruined back, but he just waves my hand away and points at her.

“I love you, Dad.”

Holy shit. I can hear him.

He smiles up at me, his two front teeth missing. I remind myself to put a couple of quarters under his pillow for those. I try to say I love you too but I still can’t make a sound. Instead, I ruffle his shaggy auburn hair and smile back down at him.

When I pull my hand away, there are gray streaks of charcoal on my fingers. My smile vanishes as Max bolts off toward Linda and I see that his back too is a charred mess of blood, gristle, and smoldering flesh. The back of his head is bald and blistered, and when he turns around a final time to smile at me, mostly all the skin is burnt off his face and it is barely more than a blackened skeleton grinning at me with that adorable gap where my son’s front teeth used to be.

I woke up screaming, drenched in hot sticky sweat, my head pressed into what used to be Linda’s pillow. I wanted to feel the indentation of her head and smell that strawberry-scented shampoo she used. (I still had a bottle of that shampoo in the shower. Some days, the ones I really wanted to feel the hurt, I would squeeze that bottle just a little and inhale the chemically sweet aroma and pretend I could feel her hair tickling my nose as I breathed it in.) But three years had erased all her features from the pillow, other than those I projected onto it. I kicked the sheets halfway off and rolled over, restless, then sat up in the middle of the bed and just listened to the stillness of the night. 

It took four cups of strong coffee and as many Advil, but by noon I was starting to feel almost human again. I knew what I had to do. Still, I found excuses to keep myself busy doing anything but confronting that damned picture. Mow the lawn? Check. Scour the grout in the shower with a toothbrush? Check. Clean the kitchen three times? Check, check, and check. Anything other than going into the living room—such a misnomer for a room that was full of nothing but death and sorrow—and taking their picture off the mantle.

By the time I had finally mustered up the courage to deal with it, the sun was already on the decline.

I made my way into the living room and took the picture down from the mantle, careful not to look directly at it. It smelled of smoke and gasoline. Linda and Max smoldered behind the glass pane. I threw it down onto the leather sofa. With the picture gone, I centered Tyberius on the mantle and surrounded him by a line of small votive candles running off to each side. His shiny bronze sarcophagus and rich lapis lazuli accents glowed softly in the reflective candlelight. I missed his fluffy orange fur, his gravelly meow. I missed him; I missed them all.

I slumped backward onto the couch, narrowly missing the framed photograph of Linda and Max I had just tossed there, and stared at Tyberius’s form-fit coffin. Hell, maybe Dan was right. This was morbid. The hard metal sculpture that housed Ty’s remains wasn’t him, it was just a thing—heavy, cold, and dead. I don’t know how long I sat there, ignoring my dead family who sat next to me face down on the couch. I told myself that those weren’t tears leaking from my eyes.

I probably would have sat there all day just drowning in my own inertia, but my leaky eyes eventually led up to full-blown, wracking sobs, which in turn led to the worst case of hiccups I’ve ever had. It’s hard not to laugh at yourself when you’re sitting on the leather couch that your wife always hated and your cat always scratched, surrounded by inanimate things you keep around to remind yourself of them but lack the backbone to even look at, crying and hiccupping like an idiot. At least it got me off the couch.

The picture of Linda and Max needed to go in a closet, or a box, or storage; just anywhere I didn’t ever have to see it again.  I decided on the closet in Max’s… in the spare bedroom. I stopped at the linen closet first to grab a towel, then opened the door to—the spare room—for the first time in months.

There was nothing there. No shrine, no bed intentionally left unmade, no posters, no toys strewn about the floor. Nothing to show that a six-year-old boy had once slept in here, played in here; lived in here. No reminders. Just a bare room, the walls scrubbed so clean the plaster showed through the soft green paint in places.

Before I wrapped up that damned picture to stow it away, I gave into temptation and let myself indulge in the sweet pain of looking at it one more time.

For a change, I saw the picture as it really was, not as I usually saw it. This time, there was no blood or fire, no whiff of gasoline and charred flesh; just a moment captured in time of three happy people and one fat, smug looking cat.

I smiled, and the family in the photograph smiled back at me. Part of me—maybe most of me—
wished I had been in the car with Linda and Max when the oil tanker jackknifed into them, flattening our little Miata like a hand swatting a mosquito.

My eyes lingered over Linda’s long blond tresses. I could almost smell that strawberry-scented shampoo she used. She wore a short, almost skimpy blue dress that day; dark as cobalt and snug in all the right places. She stood with one arm slung around my waist and the other resting on Max’s shoulders. Max was wearing his favorite flannel shirt and dark jeans. His hair looked, as always, slightly disheveled. No amount of fussing or brushing ever seemed to get those auburn locks to settle down, a true metaphor for the kind of kid Max was.

The camera caught Tyberius just as he wove between Linda’s legs and mine, his long orange tail reaching all the way past Linda’s shapely calves to brush Max’s knee.

Part of me, maybe most of me, felt just as dead they were.

My reverie was broken by a loud metallic scrape in from the living room, followed by the unmistakable crash of shattering glass. My heart jumped.

I stowed the picture, still unwrapped, onto a closet shelf and rushed back to the living room to see what had happened. In the middle of the room, there in front of the fireplace, lay a broken votive candle, shards of glass glittering like diamonds in the weak light cast by the five glass-encased candles that remained.

Tyberius was almost a foot to the right of where I had set him, and facing to the side where the candle had fallen instead of straight ahead like I had left him. The flickering flames cast shadows on the little bronze sarcophagus, and it looked as if one painted black eye winked at me.

I bolted from the living room and made a beeline for the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.

The Ny-Quil tasted arguably better than the ancient tequila of the night before, and despite its thickness it washed down those four Flexeril just fine. My vision was already swimming as the first dose of the ghastly green liquid burned its way down into my core. I thought about heading out to the corner store to get something less ridiculous, but I couldn’t stand the idea of being sober a minute longer than I had to be.

I regarded the little built-in dose cup for a moment before flinging it toward the bathroom trash. I missed by a mile. I don’t need my cold medicine in a plastic shot glass thank-you-very-much, I thought as I upended the bottle and took a man-sized swig.

That made me feel better, and bolder. I would march back into the living room and clean up the broken glass. No reason to act like such a pussy. Clearly there was no way Tyberius could have just knocked that candle over…because Tyberius was dead.

More than dead, really. His blood had been removed and replaced with chemicals; his organs extracted and preserved before they were sewn back into his empty body cavity. He was just a corpse locked inside a metal sarcophagus. 

I must have placed the candle too close to the edge. Maybe a big truck just drove past and I didn’t notice the vibration. Or maybe there was yet another of the nearly ubiquitous small earthquakes; the kind that was too subtle to register but strong enough to knock a poorly-placed candle off a mantle. Even a draft, really, if I thought about it, could be responsible if the candle was too close to the edge. I looked at the bottle of Ny-Quil in my hand and let out a little laugh. I felt like a right idiot.

I went back to the bathroom to set the NyQuil in the medicine cabinet, but before I got the glass closed I heard another scrape and another crash.

This can’t be happening! I pulled the bottle back out, threw the cap at the trash can (missed with that, too) and chugged the putrid green liquid until I gagged.


In the distance, I can hear Tiberius’s soft mewling cry. I throw the covers completely off and spring out of bed. I need to pet him. He will make my nightmares go away.

I open my bedroom door and walk out into the cool night air. A long line of trees marks the edge of a clearing that I am standing in, and it is from beyond these that I hear Tiberius. A shock of cold shudders through me, and I wish that I had put on some slippers as I step across the dewy grass toward the beckoning forest and the comforting promise of Tiberius’ soft fur.

The meowing is getting louder. Tiberius must be coming to me. He is coming back home. I keep moving forward, eager to meet him halfway. I can imagine grabbing him up in my arms and hugging him close.

It must be really cold where he is.

Suddenly, worrying about my own frosty feet seems selfish. I run toward the tree line at a full sprint.

It’s all inky blackness inside those woods. I can’t see anything, but it doesn’t muffle the strong and confident sound of Tiberius’s call. This close, I can hear another sound too, like the ringing chirp of some large forest insect rubbing prehistorically large legs together in a distinct pattern.

Chirrup…pause…Chirrup Chirrup…pause…Chirrup

Some kind of mating call, maybe? Or, and my heart sinks at the thought, a hunting call.

I frantically yell for Tiberius, but I’m too scared to cross the threshold into these dark woods. I look back over my shoulder, thinking I might run back to my bedroom; but my house isn’t there anymore. There is nothing behind me now but the moon-drenched meadow leading off as far as I can see. And there is nothing ahead of me but the black woods.

I try peering in past the trees to make out some sight of Tiberius, but it is too dark. I catch a quick flicker of movement at the edge of the woods as an irrational dread takes hold of me. That horrible sound is getting louder. What coming out of the woods—Tiberius or whatever creature—is making that horrible noise?

Chirrup…pause…Chirrup Chirrup

It’s Tiberius! Here he comes, padding out of the cover of darkness.

Oh no…My heart sinks.

Tattered, brown strips of bandaging, still wet from mummifying resin, trail off him like tentacles. His desiccated head turns toward me, and I am pinned by an eyeless stare. The chirruping of the monstrous insect grows louder, drowning out my scream.


I woke up, my face pressed against the cold tile of the bathroom floor. The uncapped bottle of cold medicine lay next to me, its sticky green contents coagulated into a gelatinous pool next to my cheek. My mouth felt full of cotton and tasted like ash.

I didn’t want to be awake.

The shrill insistence of my cell phone, in that familiar Ring…pause…Ring Ring…pause…Ring pattern from my dream answered my question. Against my better judgment, I reached in my pocket and squinted at the display. It was Dan.

“This better be better than good,” I croaked into the phone.

“Hey Charlie, where are the organs?”

I knew where my brain was. It was in my skull, pounding, and it felt about three times too big. And I had a pretty fair idea where my liver was too, but I doubted that’s what Dan was talking about. Why the hell he was calling me in the middle of the night was beyond me, but I was in no mood for games after the night, and nightmares, I’d had.

“Can’t this wait until a decent hour?” I growled. “Call back tomorrow.” I should have let it roll to voicemail I thought as I tried, and failed, to push myself up off the tile floor.

“It istomorrow. It’s eleven-thirty in the morning, Chuck.” His words stopped me cold. It couldn’t possibly be that late, could it? I grudgingly cracked a bleary eye and looked at my phone. Damned if he wasn’t right.

He took my sigh as a signal to press on. “Tyberius’s organs. Where are they? I did some research into the whole ‘mummy’ thing and—”

“Dan…” I cut him off, infusing as much menace into that single syllable as possible.

“No, hear me out, Chuck. I’m not trying to be an ass, I’m just trying to understand this, okay?”

Dan sounded sincere, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt on this as I clawed my way up the side of the toilet, leveraged myself against the sink, then headed out on unsteady feet toward the kitchen to make a pot of extra strong coffee.

I did my best to avoid looking at the shattered glass and clumps of wax as I made my way through the living room. I kept my head down so I wouldn’t have to see Tyberius sitting on the mantle. I didn’t want to— couldn’t—let myself see if he really had moved.

 “So, I don’t remember seeing any of those jars when I was there yesterday.”


“Yeah, the jars the Egyptians would put the organs in. The uh, cantotic… catnoptic…”


“Right, canopic jars. Where were they?”

He really wasn’t going to let this go. Dan could hold on like a pit bull with something in its jaws. I sighed. “Modern mummification doesn’t use canopic jars. The organs were removed, then preserved, then sewn back into his body.”

“But Chuck, those canopic jars were important.” He drew the last word out, hitting each syllable like a kindergarten teacher speaking to a class of especially slow kids. “The organs were supposed to be separated from the body. The heart especially. They didn’t sew the heart back in, did they?”

“Jesus Dan, did the Discovery Channel have a marathon or something?”

“Fuck you, Charles. I Googled it.”

I laughed, I just couldn’t help myself. After a couple of seconds, Dan started laughing too but it didn’t last long.

“Listen Chuck, I’m the first to admit I don’t know jack about this whole mummification thing. So Google was a stupid idea, okay; but I’m just trying to understand. I want to understand. And since you won’t ever talk to me about it I did the only other thing I could think of.”

I was embarrassed in the silence that followed. I think we both were.


After I hung up the phone, Dan’s words continued to play like a loop in my head.

The Egyptians separated the organs from the body because without them, especially the heart, the soul of the departed could not return to the body. If the organs stayed in place, the Egyptians believed the mummy could come back from the dead. For thirty grand, you'd think the place you used would have known that.

And I hadn’t even told him what had happened last night.

I headed into the living room to finally confront the broken glass and splattered wax beneath the mantle. 


Sometimes inspiration comes when and where you least expect it. That morning, it came while I was scraping globs of stiffened wax off the hardwood floor. Most of it had missed the shag area rug by just a few inches, but one small spot of wax had splashed onto the rug.

As I picked the rock-like wax out of the long shag, I was thinking of what luck it was that the entire candle hadn’t landed on that polyester monstrosity or it probably would have gone up like the Fourth of July. Like Max and Linda did didn’t go through my mind just then, but it was clawing at the periphery. It wasn’t long, though, before that thought began to clarify, solidify, and consume me.

Fire. Just like Max and Linda. I couldn’t believe that I had never thought of it before. All this time, I had been unable to picture their fiery deaths, fumbling toward my own yet terrified of it, clawing on to life so hard that I thought to mummify the last link between me and my lost family.

It was all bullshit. Utter, irredeemable bullshit.

That hardened piece of wax, no bigger around than a dime, showed me what I needed to do. Tyberius had knocked it off the mantle, I no longer doubted it.

With his organs sewn back into his body, his spirit couldn’t move on. He really had come back and knocked those candles down. He was showing me what I needed to do. Tyberius was the link I needed to reunite with Linda and Max after all; just not in the way I expected.

I ran to the garage and grabbed a hammer and a flat-head screwdriver. It took one hell of an effort, but I eventually cracked the bronze sarcophagus open.

Inside, Tyberius looked much as he had in my dream the night before; brown and desiccated but without the Hollywood-style bandages. He reeked of chemicals and felt like a cross between leather, plastic, and old wood. The eyeless stare from last night's dream was exactly the same. I placed him right in the middle of the rug and made for Max’s bedroom.


I grab the photograph from the shelf where I had left it the day before. Linda and Max are smoldering again in the photo and this time, Tyberius’s long orange fur is covered in the bitumen-soaked rags of a mummy.

I punch the frame and shards of glass and blood smear the family, covering the imagined char and gristle. We make our way, my family and I, to the living room, where I set the picture down next to the ruined corpse of Tyberius. He looks like he’s smiling, and his eye sockets glow with a soft incandescence. 

I light the four remaining candles, though there isn’t much wax left in them. Their little flames frame my makeshift pyre in flickering patterns of shadow and light. One by one, I drop them onto the rug around me.

As fire catches hold of the long polyester fibers, I see Linda and Max dancing in the undulating flames.I’m coming, I whisper. I’m coming home.

Tyberius begins to splinter and crack as the embalming chemicals ignite. I think I can hear him yowling now, as the flames begin to consume him; but it’s probably just me.