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Nothing like being the "new kid on the slab," as Rip Porter quickly finds out when a robbery goes wrong. Thanks to four shots from a policeman's gun, he wakes up in the The Final Glory Cemetery, home to an assortment of ghosts, ghouls, and poltergeists. No sooner is Rip interred than he finds his final resting place isn't as restful as the brochures would lead him to believe, thanks to his rather different neighbors.
Meet Nattie Birnbaum, Rip's erstwhile Guardian; Gracie, the Welcome Committee of one; Chester, the checkers champ and resident in charge of the comings and goings of the residents. It's a cozy neighborhood and Rip is going to find out how he can fit in. Welcome, Rip Porter, to the first day of the rest of your death.
Excerpt from SALT OF THE EARTH
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"Uh huh," Rip answered, pretending to understand what the hell this coot was talking about. "Well, it's been a real trip, old boy, but I'm outa here."
"Hmm. Well, no, I don't think so."
It was enough to stop Rip in his tracks. "What do you mean?"
"Well, that's what I do," the codger answered, more smoke puffed as he spoke. "See, being your guardian angel, it's my job to explain the rules before you get welcomed, meet the folks."
"Explain . . . rules?"
"Rules, son. We have to have a few rules, an image to maintain. You're in one of the best haunted cemeteries in New England."
For a brief moment, Rip felt as if his eyes were going to bug out of his head. It was really funny, in a way – he'd always heard the expression, but couldn't quite picture it. He didn't have to anymore. He could feel it.
"Haunted . . . ceme— ceme—"
"Cemetery." The old fart had the nerve to grin at him, the cigar still billowing the smoke clouds. "The Final Glory Cemetery, to be precise."
There it was. No denying it any longer. The reason he had no wounds, the white room. If he'd still been breathing, he'd have heaved a huge sigh of annoyance. As it was, he only uttered the epithet.
"No, just a certain amount of compost for the flowers," the old fart answered with another blinking grin. "You know, I don't like to brag, but we have the best gardens of any bone yard in the whole state."
Rip shook his head. "You gotta be kiddin' me. Please say you're kiddin' me."
"About the gardens? I never kid about gardens. Or flowers. I love flowers. Beautiful things, lovely smells."
Rip rolled his eyes. "Look, I ain't dead. Okay? It ain't happenin'."
"Oh, you're dead all right," the old man answered cheerfully. "Hell of an end, too. Blam-blam-blam-blam in the chest. Four slugs, a bit messy. Lovely funeral. Nice family you got."
"Shit," Rip answered.
"And this lovely girl sang that Ave Maria. Shubert, not the Gounod. Not a big fan of the Gounod. Now Shubert, he knew how to make an Ave Maria."
"Loved that movie. That nice young John Denver person. And God, what a character!"
Rip could only nod. For a dead man, he was working up a hell of a nauseous state—
"It's not nauseous, son. You're dead. You don't get nauseous."
Rip tossed a dirty look to the coot. "Stop diggin' in my head, old fart!"
The old man waggled his cigar and took a few more puffs, a mischievous look on his face. "Now. You're in a very respectable non-denominational cemetery, son. Means none of that solid dickering over whose God is the best or any of that silliness. We all believe as we believe and we're dead together in peace. Which means, you should forgive me saying so, but we want you should have rules to die by."
Rip looked into the brown, mirthful eyes. "Wait, wait! Who the hell are you?"
"Rule number one, that's your home. When you're not out in the neighborhood, you're in your home. Simple. That's where you stay dead. We try to give a little of the comforts of home, but you'll be able to decorate however you want."
"Wait, how do I—?"
"Rule number two, remember that we are a haunted cemetery. You'll be expected to spook the odd make out artist and gravestone rubber. The tourists expect that and we don't like to disappoint the little darlings. Remember, they are our bread and butter. So to speak."
"Rule number three, you're expected to do a little community service while you're here. You'll want to move on eventually, but for now, this is where you lay your bones and you need to give a little back to the community." The self-styled guardian angel tipped a wink, adding, "We'll discuss how you can do that after you've settled in, met your neighbors."
Rip stared openly, managing a weak nod.
"Rule number four, your counselor will be by to set up your therapy." The aged face turned grave. "Seriously, son – and I cannot stress this enough – for you to move on to your final reward, you need to go to counseling." He gave a friendly wink. "You'll thank me later."
Rip nodded again. "What . . . when . . . how . . . who . . . ?"
Suddenly, there came the sounds of voices from every direction. Rip watched as diaphanous bodies rose up from the stones and crypts, each one talking or laughing. He heard voices calling out names of friends, who answered with cheery hellos. There came an "Oh, Trudy," from one corner, and a "quick, Marvin, guess what I heard," from another.
"Holy Mother of God," Rip muttered, staring wildly around him.
His eyes came back to rest on the old man, who seemed to be waiting patiently. When he had Rip's full attention, he took the cigar out of his mouth. With a grin, he doffed the fishing hat from his head and gave a deep bow. When he stood again, he walked over and put an arm around Rip's shoulders. With hat in hand, he gestured to the crowd beginning to walk their way.
"Son, my name is Nattie Birnbaum. I am your guardian angel and this is our neighborhood. Welcome home, Robert Isaac Porter. It's a beautiful day, isn't it?"