Chilled to the Bone
Chilled to the Bone
"Sleep never comes easy when you're ninety-something and a staunch atheist," Great Aunt Thelma would often remark as she downed her sleeping pills with a glass of cold water. With her pink, hand-knitted bed-jacket wrapped around her tightly to protect her from howling draughts, she would turn down the inadequate heating even further leaving the rest of us to freeze then retire to the relative warmth of the east wing. She knew her observation would provoke a heated religious discussion which would keep everybody wide awake well into the small hours while she herself slept soundly with her electric blanket on full.
"You never know, you might be pleasantly surprised when it's your turn, "Uncle Wallace would reply, hoping to sow the seeds of belief in her mind just in case she might depart into the hereafter, her soul unprepared, that very night. I think out of all of us, he was the one who genuinely cared for her, but then again he was a man of the cloth.
But aunt Thelma remained blissfully happy in her unbelief. "Dead's dead - that's all there is to it!" Then she would glare at you with those piercing, icy blue eyes that chilled you to the very bone. They were capable of banishing even the most determined Jehovah's Witness from the castle doorstep, although she preferred to stand there and argue with them, wielding her walking stick like Moses with his staff, parting the Red Sea, but there was only the moat around the castle and even that had dried up, thanks to Aunt Thelma's parsimony and the water board. She would gleefully tell these witnesses how many pints of blood she had donated in younger days, making them rush straight back to their Kingdom Hall. Perversely she would read their "Watchtowers" and "Awake" magazines, and then deface them by adding speech bubbles and funny captions to the pictures on the covers. There was Joshua outside the walls of Jericho shouting "Can we have our ball back please?" and Moses wandering round in the wilderness begging for a map.
"Do you actually possess a Bible?" asked one proselytising caller, as if he was preaching to the heathen in some backwater of humanity.
"Yes, of course... without it my antique bookcase would be a bit wobbly... woodworm you know," came aunt Thelma's swift response.
But she never revealed that she actually possessed quite a collection of Bibles; apart from the King James Version, at least a dozen others adorned the shelves of the castle library. She had translations of other ancient scriptures too... it was as if she really was searching for some sort of answer, in spite of her cynicism, but could find none which convinced her.
The Salvation Army fared no better than the Witnesses when faced with such a formidable opponent. To Aunt Thelma, religion was merely a crutch for people who wouldn't face the possibility of their own demise and subsequent non-existence.
She delighted in antagonising the Mormons too, frequently inviting them in for a cup of tea or even something stronger. "Oooh... aren't they lovely, those fresh-faced youths from America!" she would say with a devilish grin, "Now, if I were a few years younger..."
There is nothing worse than an atheist who knows a great deal about religion. She would always catch the missionaries out, easily finding the scripture they wanted long before they could. "It's all indoctrination and I will not be indoctrinated!" she would shout, more for dramatic effect than anger, before she sent them on their way.
"The day is coming when all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out," read the witnesses from their New World translation, as they described their beliefs in a resurrection. But the Mormons would say that believers would go straight to Heaven when they died.
"Load of cod's wallop!" Aunt Thelma would say to them perceiving all of them as invaders at the door of her impenetrable fortress, but they stood defenceless on the doorstep, their practised spiel as dried up as the castle moat each time they encountered her.
"I'll have you know," she would say, peering at them disdainfully over her bifocals, "that I have left my mortal remains to medical science, in order to save my dear relatives the costs of a funeral. Now, who's going to piece someone back together again when they're all in bits in different laboratories? And what about my poor cousin Cecil who was lost at sea? Food for the fishes he was. Your beliefs are all pure folly, just like my castle," she'd point out to anyone who cared to listen.
"You'll cop it when your number's up," we'd laugh as she told us of her latest victims. "They'll have to find a special place for you."
"Oh... I'm sure they will," she replied frigidly, but then she was always a woman who was destined to lack any real warmth in her soul.
Years passed and as great aunt Thelma grew older we grew weary, waiting for her departure. Money was scarce for us but she was disgustingly wealthy. She was a tough old bird but some of us younger ones died - probably of hypothermia. The castle became colder; like an icebox in fact. Nobody bothered to visit - not even the "Un-bloody" witnesses as aunt Thelma delighted in calling them because of their refusal to accept transfusions.
And then one day the inevitable happened. aunt Thelma was found dead in her bed with almost a hint of a smile on her frosty, old, face. Only three of us remained cousin Grace, uncle Wallace and me.
Yes, it was a shock when the will was read. There was nothing for us, not one penny, not even for poor uncle Wallace - the castle would have to be sold to carry out aunt Thelma's wishes. We'd harboured suspicions that she might have done something crazy and left everything to Christian Aid purely to spite us, but this was far worse.
The medical research people wouldn't be getting her remains as she had led us to believe but the people who came for her body were medical in their appearance all right, with their white, clinical suits and that strange-looking vehicle that said REFRIGERATED TRANSPORT on the side.
The bill arrived, several pages long. "Heaven knows what this lot means!" exclaimed uncle Wallace as he began to read the attached documents:
BREAKDOWN OF COSTS FOR INDEFINITE FULL BODY CRYOGENIC SUSPENSION...
© 2014 Stella Kaye