Joule was not adjusting to reincarnation well at all. Machines have souls, and Joule’s soul was appropriately mechanical in the beginning.
Joule One belonged to a Mortician, J G Barrett in the town of Larkhall, slightly north of the 45th Parallel, alongside the River Arielle, adjacent to the Canadian Border. Joule served as a ‘Professional Car:’ an Endloader HEARSE, embodied in sleek sable black with lustrous chromium trim.
Joule transported dead folks to the South Charles Church Cemetery, which for a small town, had plenty of available space. The clientele once were mostly families of wealthy immigrants from the United Kingdom. Life was harsh; and farming accidents, drownings, plus a variety of infectious diseases killed plenty of them routinely. Some killed each other. Now they were all gone.
The Diamond State Hospital (For The Criminally Insane), had been shut down a while back, and the town was officially decommissioned in 1985. Some folks refused to leave; being poor, they sheltered inside the ruins of The Diamond; said to be haunted. Every winter a few of them would freeze to death.
J G Barrett had a contract with the state government, so he and Joule One would fetch the deceased indigents, rock-solid corpsicles, and provide the state a cost-effective burial with a modicum of dignity.
J G Barrett was thrifty. He’d noticed that germicide, ligatures, formaldehyde, burial apparel, and cosmetics were getting increasingly expensive, yet he was receiving a fixed price rate from the state.
James Barrett was getting older, too. The dwindling economy had deflated his retirement savings. Who would notice if he left the frozen ones frozen until springtime?
“Joule, careful over them frost heaves, Mister Baines isn’t as supple as he once was.” Bang! J G Barrett pulled the big hearse over to the shoulder. Outside, the temperature had dipped well below Zero Degrees Celsius.
“Joule, it’s our little secret…” Then Barrett experienced a twinge of remorse. He warily scanned the edges of Webster Highway. Make sure… He lifted the rear gate.
“Baines! Sorry!” Barrett was of course by now, certifiable, officially insane… Talking out loud to machinery and frozen homeless people… BETTER CHECK, on the remote chance there was damage to the body, and relatives happened to show up.
Barrett swung the casket lid, peered inside, then slammed it back down quick! Outside, in the frozen cold, the sun was calling it a day. At that moment a fleeting shadow sliced like knives through Barrett’s thick winter clothing, penetrated his flesh, feeling all pins and needles; then dropped toward the earth, like an iron pickaxe.
IT WENT STRAIGHT DOWN, RIGHT DOWN THROUGH HIM! The rear of the hearse smelled of lightning, ozone, and burnt wool carpeting fibers.
Joule jolted, then shuddered. Something entered and greedily consumed the voids between the atoms of its porous steel commercial vehicle chassis.
Leonardo Roth had never bothered to check the contents of that funerary box in the rear of the 1979 Sayers & Scovil Masterpiece that belonged to Uncle. He’d put whoever it was right alongside Uncle. He’d dig a bigger hole, that’s all.
Uncle Jimmy went fishin’ Uncle Jimmy feeded the fishies… Leo was a dimwit, but he worked hard. He really liked digging holes with that little black excavating vehicle. ‘Bye Uncle!
It was odd though, that the authorities said to him J G Barrett had been bled dry; but hell, it saved old Leo some work before filling him full up with embalming fluid! And… Uncle was running low on disinfectant…
“All he had on ’em was two silver coins… Plat’num coins…” The local police officer told Roth.
“May I see them?” asked L G Roth. “They vanished,” the cop stolidly replied.
James Garrett Barrett was now buried; after a dignified and fitting finish well deserved by this man who had served his community effectively, even in the final days of its own corporate death.
Leonardo Roth shut down the little gasoline backhoe, which ran impeccably. He’d Flatbed Truck it along with that giant black ’77 Caddy Hearse down to the coastline where he lived. A four-hour drive down the Spaulding Turnpike.
A little paint, school bus yellow, or safety green; and he’d sell the little digger to a landscaping company. Times were rough, he’d sell it cheap. But…
That gleaming hearse was in really good shape! Leo had a cop buddy who worked automotive detailing on the side, he’d freshen the interior. They always freshened a hearse’s interior before reselling it; even though the machines smelled perfectly fine to Roth, the mortician.
Leonardo Roth called his daughter, Diane, who lived on a cul-de-sac near the second tallest location in their state next to the Atlantic Sea. She was one of those new-age, green-energy, environmentalist, occultists…
He’d forgotten what exactly she told him she did! Other than act stranger than hell… Anyhoy; at least she had A BOY FRIEND! She wasn’t one of them women that…
‘Priestess?’ Leonardo thought. Yeah! His daughter was a ‘White Witch,’ that’s what she’d told him she was. He never did ‘card her,’ or call her on it.
Calling… “Diane, it’s your father. Yeah. Uncle Jimmy’s all set. Want a car? It’s a limousine really nice! Decent mileage! Real pretty!
“Diane, sure it’s actually that hearse; it was a SMALL business up there…
“I can paint it white? Black is fine? Cool! I’ll bring it.”
Joule Two was rolling on a Flatbed Truck towards the Atlantic Sea. Leonardo Roth’s soul was simple and kind and generous, although his aura was dull. Roth’s daughter would be his new owner? Mother? Sister?
Joule Two had been informed by Julian Baines, before he became a fully emptied vessel, what to expect from those large waters: the gravity of magnetics, the myriad depths, colors, textures; and exquisite scents.
Julian Baines had TWO SOULS inside him that day when Barrett piled him into Joule One. Baines had been block-solid frozen like a codfish at a processing packing plant, and Barrett intended to keep him that way till spring, but they had the little accident on the seasonally corrugated Webster Highway.
Julian Baines in his youth was a Sea-Fisherman; that specific soul, after bidding Joule farewell took off down the River Arielle, and it drifted predictably toward The Atlantic.
Joule Two and the other soul were headed that way too; it would be nice to be TWICE ALIVE, thought the now sentient machine.