Author's Note at the end. No disclaimers. This is mine, all mine!

"Morticia"

She stood in the silent room hoping to lose herself in purpose. She had had her fill of polite smiles and unnaturally long glances. People saw what they saw of her and made their own judgments. She had grown weary of the living world.

Sigrid looked like the embodiment of death herself, a stark caricature of a modern-day mortician. She wore a simple black dress with a high-collared neck and long-sleeves. She had draped her thin legs in black stockings and bore black, laced up shoes on her feet. Her ebony hair framed a pale- skinned face with eyes so unnaturally dark, they held no discernable color.

Sigrid approached the bed tracing her fingers along the sheet that covered the still form. Carefully she folded back the edge to reveal the young woman's face.

Her eyes were closed but her lips were parted slightly as if awaiting the next breath. It wouldn't come.

Across the room the young man cleared his throat. Sigrid glanced away from the body, to regard him with momentary curiosity. He watched her cautiously, wanting her to acknowledge his presence in some way. He seemed protective. He didn't want her touching the body. He didn't want her there.

Sigrid suspected the reason behind his discomfort. She cocked her head slightly and asked, "Are you related to the deceased?"

He bristled at her cold demeanor. He did not approve of her choice of words. "Her name is Carol Welling," he said in muted defiance. Then he faltered suddenly seeing himself from the outside. He knew his defiance was misplaced. He wanted to kill messengers, but sadly she wasn't even the messenger. "No," he answered softly, "I met her a couple of weeks ago here at the hospice. She was my friend."

Sigrid took note of his dress. Pale blue robe around pinstriped blue pajamas and gray slippers. He had ragged, tousled hair around a drawn, tired face. He was a patient here long enough to wear the comforts of home. She could not see enough of him to see which home would he return to. "I am sorry for your loss," she said quietly and returned to her examination.

Whether it was because of curiosity or protectiveness, the young man could stand the silence for only a moment. "Who are you?" he asked.

"I'm from Tucker," Sigrid answered, speaking of the funeral home. She did not look up. "I'm the mortician."

The young man released a nervous chuckle. "Don't you guys usually stay at the funeral home?"

"I wanted to get away."

The statement held more of an answer than the words would convey but the effect was lost on him. He chose to find the irony in her situation instead of meaning. "So instead of being around dead people there, you come to be around dead people here," he remarked, smiling at his own cleverness.

Sigrid looked up for a moment and regarded him with her dark eyes. "You're not dead," she observed.

The young man smiled wryly. "No . I'm not," he said quietly, "not yet anyway." His smile began to fade, lost in the darkness of his own morbid thoughts. He shook himself away from them and cast himself desperately away to his present company. He forced his smile to return. "So, what's your name?"

She hesitated. For a moment, she did not know if she should respond. Her name was a door to something more personal than idle chitchat. After an uncomfortable silence, she answered, "Sigrid."

The young man began to laugh. "That's dreadful," he remarked.

She felt the foreign sensation of a smile begin to break across her face. His laughter pleased her in a way she could not explain. "It's from an opera," she explained. Her voice had turned suddenly shy.

"Yeah," he sighed as his laughter diminished naturally. "Love that Wagner." He looked at her, taking in the starkness of her image. Usually after taking such scrutiny on her people fell to an uncomfortable silence from which they would not recover in her presence. Sigrid did not expect any different from this young man.

"So, mortician?" he continued to her great surprise. His tone was light and warm. He did not distance her at all. "Is that why you wear black? Or are you a mortician because you wear black?"

"N-neither," Sigrid stuttered. He looked at her, saw her as everyone else did and still kept talking to her. She could not recall the last time that had occurred. Everyone runs away from her in one fashion or another leaving her only with the dead. Nervously her hands shook as she replaced the sheet over Carol Welling's face. "My clothing has nothing to do with my . profession," she explained quietly, "but I am what I am and I wear what I wear for the same reason."

The young man could sense the heaviness of her words. Deep secrets dwelled behind them. "What's that?" he asked.

She could not look at him. She stared down at the white sheet before her. Carol Welling would learn soon enough. "Something I can't tell you," she said in a voice barely above a whisper. "Not here."

At that moment, one of the men who drove the hearse for Tucker opened the door and poked his head in. "Sigrid?" he called. "We're ready to move the body. The mother is signing the papers now."

Sigrid turned her attention to the man. "Does she have a photo?" she asked. Her voice sounded suddenly different in a way that alarmed the young man. She no longer seemed timid and shy but instead had become instantly cold and professional, almost sterile.

"Yeah," the man answered.

"I'm coming," she informed him as she stepped away from the table. This satisfied him enough for him to leave.

Sigrid paused as she passed the young man. Looking towards the door she raised her quiet voice in question. "Will you be coming to her funeral?"

The young man had no desire to leave the hospice for the dreary prospect of his friend's funeral. He could see from her hesitation that Sigrid wanted him to. For that reason, he would consider it. "Is it important?" he asked.

"Come and you'll see." With those words she left. Her thoughts and secrets became her own again, of privy and interest to no one else.

***

The funeral director, Jefferson Tucker once told Sigrid about the working techniques of another woman mortician whose name he had forgotten. In order to insure the thorough and flawless application of the make-up she used, she would crouch above the deceased's body, hovering over his face, nearly sitting on his chest. The result was an almost life-like appearance. She was considered a very skilled mortician.

She was nothing compared to Sigrid.

Carol Welling's body lay atop a cold metal table under a harsh diluting bright light in the middle of the embalming room. Sigrid locked the door. This was her usual practice. She always worked alone and uninterrupted.

She walked to the table and peered down at the body much as she had at the hospice. Carol's skin had turned grayish and her lips had become a pale sort of blue. Up and down her body were bruises and splotches of discoloration from treatment she had received both before and after her death. There was no life to heal them now, only Sigrid's skill.

Sigrid wore no apron and carried no tools. All she held in her hand was the photograph given to her by the girl's mother.

It was a Christmas photo. Carol wore a big green sweater with reindeer on it and smiled a natural warm smile. Her lips were red. Her cheeks were flushed and her hair shown with a luster that seemed only a distant memory to the dull, dark locks that spilled across the silver surface of the table.

Sigrid held the photo tightly and closed her eyes. Her fingertips touched its surface lightly and as they did, the color from the image began to bleed into her skin.

When she had first found this experience, she used to feel a rush as she drew the color into herself. It would hum as it flowed through her veins. It bounced around inside of her begging for its release, for a purpose and a place, a chance to live again.

Sigrid did not hear the color's call. She did not do this for the rush. She had a job to do. She was a merely a vessel, a means of pulling the color from one thing, holding it and then releasing it somewhere else.

Sigrid opened her eyes and let the photograph fall to the floor. Although the image remained, it now only held black and white and subtle shades of gray. She raised her hand to Carol's cold, gray cheek and touched her with the same soft caress she had for the photo.

The color seeped into the body like a warm liquid being poured over ice. At first it spread slowly, unsure of its way but then it quickened its pace, radiating to every inch, finding its place and owning it.

For a second, ever so brief that it might not be caught by a watcher's eye. Carol Welling came to life. She took in a breath, a soft sound of pleasure and surprise which hovered in the air and faded into silence. Then the world seemed to dim around her. Though the brilliance and beauty of life remained in the color of her lips and cheeks and in the shine of her hair, it was only an illusion, an image of vibrancy borrowed from a photo of the past.

Carol Welling was still dead.

Sigrid pondered the girl's beauty for a moment. So fragile, so fleeting, a jewel that Sigrid believed she could only hold within herself for a moment before it would spill out and disappear forever.

She reached up and pulled a small chain which extinguished the light above her. The room fell dark and Sigrid walked blindly to a cot in the corner of the room. There she curled up and fell almost immediately asleep. No one would miss her for hours.

***

Sigrid stood at the doorway of the visitation room watching the assembled family and friends of Carol Welling. She knew this ill feeling well. She was an intruder in their world, unwelcome. She knew none of them in a way that would comfort them. Some faces looked familiar and names came to mind but she did not know them. She could not even join them in the mourning for Carol's passing for she knew nothing of her life. She truly did not belong there but . . . she hoped.

Her eyes locked on the young man from the hospice. He stood before the open casket like a mannequin, motionless in the moment, mesmerized by the sight. His suit hung loosely over his spare frame as if his bones were merely a hanger. Once it fit him much better, during a time in his life when he didn't need a nurse to drive him where he wanted to go. Quietly Sigrid approached him, stealing up beside him like a phantom only visible to him. She did not need to question what held his attention so greatly. She knew.

"I didn't expect this," he said with quiet wonder. He let his voice acknowledge Sigrid's presence. He did not look away from Carol's face. He could not look away. "I told myself before I came that this would just be her body and that what really made her what she was had gone, I don't know, somewhere else. I thought she would look fake but . . ." His hand came up to his mouth. Words began to fail him. "Oh my God."

Sigrid looked to Carol Welling, a vision of perfection in a pale blue dress. Her voice cracked as she spoke, "My mother once told me that God gives each of us a gift. Once you find yours you should share it with the world." She had not said a word since she had last seen him. She lived her life behind the scenes of the rest of the world. Those who noticed her readily dismissed her. She leaned in closely to him as she revealed a little of her soul to him. "This is mine."

"She looks like she's sleeping," he marveled.

Timidly, hesitantly, Sigrid sought the young man's hand. "Find comfort in that," she said softly. "This is what she truly looks like, before sickness or sadness or weakness troubled her." She paused as the young man's fingers wrapped around her hand. She was accepted. He sought comfort in her presence. "This is her essence," she whispered. "A portrait."

Finally he turned his eyes towards her. His manner became much more serious from when she had first met him. He seemed embarrassed, almost afraid. "Will I look like this when I'm dead?"

Her obsidian eyes met his pensive gaze. She didn't want to answer his question. Her mind flashed with the image of him on her table in the embalming room. Her fingers would brush against his cheek. "Only if you come to me."

They did not speak again and soon he departed. Like Sigrid, he felt an odd inappropriateness in his presence. He represented Carol's illness in the same way that Sigrid represented her death.

She watched him leave, nearly overwhelmed with a desire to go with him. Solitude was her life. She never desired the company of another. What she felt for the young man she did not understand. She feared its foreign sensation and forced herself to retreat to the familiar. Back to the embalming room with its locked doors and its blanching light. Another body. Another photograph.

***

Sigrid laid upon her cot in the darkened room. Normally after a transference of color exhaustion dragged her into a deep sleep but not this time. Thoughts busied her mind resurfacing old questions that begged for new answers.

She had a gift and her gift gave her purpose. She was not supposed to desire anything else.

But what if there's more? What if she missed something? What if she had been wrong from the beginning?

She reached into the pitch black of the room and touched the darkness with her fingertips. It filled the air so completely she could almost feel it. It enveloped her, her constant companion, but it never spoke to her or comforted her. It always left her cold and alone. In the quiet that nearly always came with the darkness, she could only hear her own breathing. If she listened more closely she could almost imagine the sound of her heart beating. Her life persisted in the constant gloom of death. Perhaps there was more to her purpose than she had planned.

Outside the closed door, she heard the distant ring of the telephone. She roused herself from her cot and left the embalming room. The telephone continued to ring and as she passed the main office. She could hear the droning voice of the answering machine as it picked up the line.

A woman from the hospice was calling. They needed someone from Tucker to pick up a body.

Sigrid paused as she listened for the name and for one moment her heart stopped beating.

***

Sigrid drove the dark blue hearse to the hospice. Her practiced manner of detachment hid a torrent of violent emotions, anger, grief, guilt. She stepped out of the driver's seat and shut the door. As she walked towards the entrance she traced her fingers along the hood of the hearse. She had come alone.

"I'm from Tucker," she said to the nurse at the front desk. The young woman directed her to a room down the right corridor of the second floor.

Sigrid followed her directions and stepped onto an elevator. The dark blue of the hearse swam in the irises of her eyes.

The corridor was deserted. Nearly all the doors were shut. The walls had the cheerful colors of rainbows, and spring days and children playing. The second grade class of a local elementary school had painted it to make the hospice seem less gloomy.

People die here.

Sigrid did not look at the colorful walls. She dragged her fingers along them. The color flowed into her like a river spilling into an ocean, leaving the walls as blank as an empty canvas.

She took it all, touching everything she could from the funeral home to his room. She pulled it all into herself until she could take no more and then she touched the next wall or door or chair.

Sigrid staggered under the pressure of her gluttony. Her hand reached for the door and she slipped inside his room. Her eyes had become a maelstrom of swirling colors, each fighting for a place to be, a place to exist. She felt herself about to burst but somehow she held it all in. She needed it. All of it.

The young man laid before her on a hospital bed with plain white sheets. His head was uncovered and his eyes were closed. He should be sleeping, Sigrid thought. He was very, very tired.

A tear escaped from Sigrid's eye and blazed a trail down her pale cheek. It was a vivid green, taken from a child's painting of a tree. Before her hand reached up to wipe it away, her skin drew the errant hue back into herself.

She turned and locked the door behind her. She had work to do.

Sigrid looked to the young man one last time before she laid her hands upon him. He slept without breathing in a slumber not meant to end. Her face was a mask of composure. She held all manner of grief inside her, hoarding it like all the stolen color. To the stillness of the room she spoke, "My mother was wrong."

Her hands fell upon him and the color rushed out of her in a torrent. She closed her eyes and a small gasp erupted from her at the release of the pressure. At the moment she felt pleasure. She couldn't have held it in any longer. She came here with one purpose, one belief and it played over and over in her mind like a mantra. Color is light. Light is energy. Energy is life.

All that she gave him poured into him, spreading into every visible inch of him. He did not move. Sigrid held her touch to him, waiting for a sign but nothing came. Unlike all the others, he did not even sigh.

She had to give him more.

She pulled the sheet away, uncovering his body to her. She climbed onto his bed, crouching over him. She placed her hands upon his chest, effusing more color into him, willing it to go directly into his heart.

She exhausted all she had drawn into herself that day and still she gave him more. The color could be seen now, seeping out of her, reds, blues, yellows. It swam in her eyes and flowed through her skin. Still she needed more.

The darkness of her clothes and her hair began to strip away. For a moment, she appeared as she truly was. Her dress was green. Her eyes were blue and her hair a strawberry blonde. The truth of her hidden beneath the ebony of the borrowed color that had never left her. It would have stayed forever but now she forced it out.

Behind it came all the color she had left. The blue, the green, the golden. All that she had left. All that was her own.

Sigrid fell away from him. Her body crumpled to the floor, an empty vessel devoid of all color. Pale, open eyes and bleached, white hair to match her ever present diluted skin. Her dress too had lost its gloomy black leaving only its antithesis in its place, a stark, crisp white. She gave him everything she could, everything she was, until there was nothing left.

She had expected a miracle. She believed in its inevitability so entirely that she gave herself to it.

She would not know if she was right. Her eyes, staring blankly forward would not see the young man rise from his bed. Her ears would not hear him draw in his first breaths. She would not see his brilliance or the healthy glow that would remain with him for the rest of his very long life.

When he would look down upon her, he would wonder. He would mourn. He would he see the truth. She had at last found peace. She had stumbled through life believing that she should share her gift, spreading its meager power thinly over the masses. He had opened her eyes just wide enough for her to see that her purpose had true meaning.

Her gift was not meant to be shared. It was to be given.

She gave him her life.

The End. Author's Note: I know this took forever to put up but I keep feeling like it's missing something and I can't figure out what that is. If you could see what it is and tell me without flaming, I will appreciate it greatly. Thanks for the support.