So I thought I’d put the first chapter of The After-Death up here for throwback Thursday… I hope you enjoy!
Chapter 1: Awakening
I forced my gritty eyelids open, expecting to see the glare of the early morning sun shining through that single crack in the curtains that I can never quite block out and was slightly surprised to find total darkness instead. A feeling of foreboding crept over me as flashes of nightmares about being buried alive leapt to the front of my mind.
The surface I was on was hard and cold and I failed to choke down panic when extending my arms met a similar surface and trying to sit up earned me a sharp crack to the skull. The pain brought the rational part of my brain back online and I began to explore my tiny prison. A chill that had nothing to do with the temperature of the metal box ran down my spine… I was not able to force my chest to draw a breath. Kicking hard with my feet slid me down against the wall which gave way slightly.
My vision was assaulted with a brilliant white light that shone through the opening, another pair of hard kicks and the shelf in the morgue where my body lay slid out fully into the harsh metal halide lighting of the room. What happened last night? If my body really is dead then why do I burn with the desire for vengeance, and vengeance against whom? Looking at the stitches crisscrossing my body, and the unwholesome pallor of my skin, I decided that my primary course of action must be covering myself. Then I would find answers if there were any to be found.
There is something decidedly disturbing about taking clothing off a dead body; even when you yourself are dead. I cast about the room for anything else that I could possibly do, however the only other option was to cut holes in a body bag which would have drawn at least as much attention as my pale scarred flesh. The young man whose clothes I was stealing didn’t complain despite the fact that I had to dislocate his shoulders to get his Led Zeppelin t-shirt off without tearing it apart. It shocked me how easily I was able to do it; perhaps he had some sort of muscle weakness or joint problems. My fingers and wrists felt stiff either from rigor mortis or maybe just from laying inside the cold steel embrace of the morgue drawer.
I had never been in a morgue before, the stark cleanliness of the stainless steel drawers and white tiled floors, walls and tables suggested either a new facility or else a very fastidious caretaker. I decided on the latter as I surveyed the neat tidy rows of scalpels, saws, needles and even a tape recorder set out at precise distances from one another on a nearby shelf. I felt a sudden uncomfortable pressure inside my head as though I was in an airplane making a rapid descent, as though there was a bubble behind my nose, eyes and ears pressing against them.
The pressure kept increasing at an alarming rate; I attempted to force air into my estuation tubes only to find that drawing a breath was a physical impossibility. Afraid that my eyes would be forced from their sockets, I grabbed a steel probe from the table top and plunged it into my ear. A burst of air and fluid shot out with enough force to leave a trail of phosphorescent vitriol from the edge of the counter to my shoulder its glow barely visible in the brightly lit room. Before I had the chance to study the strange glowing purplish green substance I suddenly became aware of voices and the sound of footsteps so close I was astound that I hadn’t heard them before.
“-omething in the water or maybe an infection or some airborne agent. I can’t wait for the next episode, seriously I was so pissed off when it was over.”
“Yeah and Fox will probably cancel it just like they have every other decent show. I wonder what they have against making money.”
A sudden burst of adrenaline startled me, I drew a ragged breath and my heart suddenly thundered in my chest. A pair of middle aged men dressed in white clothes walked into the room. “What the hell are you doing in here? This is a restricted area; you aren’t supposed to be here. Are you one of those weirdoes who gets off on touching dead people?” I backed up against the counter and grabbed the first thing my hand touched; the microcassette recorder.
“Gentlemen, I’m with the World News Daily paper and I’m looking to dig up a story on just such a subject, can either of you comment?” I was shooting from the hip, desperate to distract them long enough to get out the door. I held the small tape recorder in my hand out in front of my body like it was a weapon “I’ve heard there were some instances of necrophilia in this morgue, I promise I won’t mention your names.”
“My wife reads that shit God only knows why… get the fuck out before we throw you out. We could lose our jobs just by you being in here!”
Needing no encouragement, I walked out of the room as fast as I could without, hopefully appearing any stranger of a spectacle than I imagined myself being. I would ponder the sudden flush of life that was rapidly fading from my system later when I felt safe.
I broke into a run the moment I was out of view of the morgue attendants. I had to get out of this place and fast. There was too much I didn’t understand, I needed some time to figure it all out or at least get a handle on my body. What was with me suddenly starting to breathe and my heart beginning to beat again? Why did it stop? I stepped through a door and found myself in a busy hospital emergency room. It was easy to avoid notice in all the commotion despite the fact that my lungs no longer functioned and heart had ceased to beat once again. Once outside I ran blindly, taking advantage of not needing to breathe until I reached a park that seemed more or less deserted. As I slowed to a walk an old man approached me
“Spare some change youngster?” I dug in my pockets, surprised to find a couple dollars which I proffered to him. “I’ll take whatever you have in your wallet too.” he said lifting his other hand to show a knife with a wicked looking edge. In light of all that had happened I tried to laugh, all that came out was low groan. Suddenly fear blossomed on his face and he backed away slowly “Just a joke, you understand just a joke! Here take it back, I don’t need it!”
He dropped the money I had given him and the knife, took a few stumbling backward steps then turned and sprinted away. I sat down with my back to a large tree. The look in the old man’s eyes had been one of fear growing into stark terror. What was I becoming and what did he see that frightened him so much? The answer became clear to me as the sun began to set. I could see every vein illuminated from within by a faint glow, mapping out my now defunct cardiovascular system in a beautiful but disturbing trail of interlacing lines. My eyes were bright enough to shine a faint light wherever I looked, and everything I looked at seemed outlined in fairy fire, some green, some blue, some red. I put my hands over my face in disbelief almost dropping the forgotten cassette recorder. Of course, why didn’t I think of it earlier? With a morbid curiosity I re-wound the tape to listen to the coroner perform my autopsy.
“The time is currently 1900 hours 25 minutes, the subject is a John Doe who was found alongside the road apparently the victim of a shooting. The subject is wearing leather protective clothing and a motorcycle helmet, he was found a few yards away from a motorcycle, there is a hole approximately 3 centimeters in width in the front of the jacket, no exit wound is visible. This will be an attempt to exhume the projectile and ascertain the cause of death.”
I hit the stop button on the player as memories came flooding back. It had been late, I was on my way home after a long day of work and despite the fact that the sun had gone down and it was far past rush hour I could see a long line of cars stretching out ahead of me in a traffic jam. At the last minute I decided to take an exit, driving on the shoulder for a short while and then roaring up the ramp, smiling to myself at the disapproving looks from the officers directing traffic. I knew these back roads well and although they took longer than the freeway it would be a pleasant ride with only a few places where I would have to stop. The long swooping corners were the perfect stress relief; my dark mood from having to work late was lifting as I pushed my big cruiser to her limit.
Suddenly I saw lights in my mirrors, they were approaching at a speed that I considered borderline suicidal on this narrow winding road. Looking for a safe place to pull off and finding none, I increased my speed. I knew there was an overlook just on the other side of a small hill and was sure I would have plenty of time to reach it.
Topping the rise and turning on my signal I suddenly heard the high pitched scream of a sport bike exhaust. The rider behind me blew by so close the wind nearly unbalanced me, his high intensity headlights illuminating vehicle that resembled a smaller Humvee parked in the overlook parking lot. It was painted flat black except for a white reflective plate that I could clearly see marked “MUETF” I felt a sudden impact to my chest and my last memory is the motorcycle moving away from me in slow motion, my hands unable to keep a grip on the bars. The illumination of a lonely street light behind me showed my bike loosing balance, tipping on the right side and knocking over a set of road cones on its way over an embankment.
“After cutting away the outer clothing I am making a vertical incision centered on the entrance wound. It is a precision shot, appearing to enter the exact center of the sternum. There is very little blood which is odd for a wound of this size. Something else that is strange; as I was removing the clothing I note that none of the bones appear to be fractured despite the estimated speed of impact being in excess of 40 miles per hour.
“Other than being dead, this is a very lucky man. Heh. I am now peeling away the layers of skin and flesh, the hole in the sternum is clean without any splintering; I have never seen a bone puncture that is this perfect, almost as though a high speed drill was used instead of a projectile. Probing inside I cannot feel the bullet, I am going to spread the chest in order to investigate further.“
Here the recording was interjected with a high pitched whirring. I fingered the raggedly stitched vertical incision over my breast bone through my shirt and shuddered involuntarily. The sun was now truly below the horizon, and the soft phosphorescence emanating from whatever lay in my veins was much too conspicuous for my liking. I decided to try and make it home regardless of whoever or whatever might be waiting for me there; at least I could stay long enough to get some clothes that fit and covered my arms and hands. And maybe a pair of dark sunglasses. I could listen to the rest of the tape there.