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The Mortician’s Confession
Martin Thwaid sat in his tiny apartment, trying to calm his friend. Dr. Robert Mortise was in his late thirties and usually a quite jovial fellow – with a deep desire to escape the dullness of plebeian work.
“If only I had known the outcome of my laziness – YES, I label it now for what it was! I improperly performed the job that my community had charged me with!” His eyes were wild, even wilder than when I had let him into my suite of rooms, situated as they were on the coastal side of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
“Robert, you must allow me to fix you a drink – perhaps a brandy.”
“You still don’t understand!” he gushed, his words straining to escape his throat beneath the weight of the terror in his soul. “It’s coming! That thing is on its way here!” At this point he began tearing at his face as though there was something in his mind that he was trying to rip out.
“I can’t help you, Robert – if you won’t tell me what is bothering you – exactly!” He seemed to step down from his delirium at this point, drawing a deep breath. “Now start at the beginning, my friend.”
He dropped into a dissociative state, and began to tell the story as though telling a poem he knew by heart. “You know about the odd religion we have on the island – the Corvus people?”
“Yes, yes – I’m acquainted with them. They show reverence towards a book…”
“…the Libro Di Sinistro…” Robert said.
“But I was under the impression that all that spooky hokum was nothing more than morbid entertainment. They’re rich, aren’t they?”
“Without a doubt. Old money from the old world. Perhaps that was also a gateway for my slothfulness – they were always shoving gold coins into my eager hands.”
His continence had broken down again, and I tried to push him forward in his story, so that I might know his troubles. “What did they have you do, Robert – tell me, it can’t be that bad or you surely wouldn’t have been partner to it.”
“It seemed simple enough, really. As a mortician, one of my chief duties is to embalm the bodies of the deceased, to be certain that…” he put his hand over his mouth at this point.
“…Yes, yes,” I offered, “to be certain that the body doesn’t decompose too early, before the funeral.”
“No, not that. Embalming has an even more important function – to insure the dead cannot rise again!” He was on his feet now, running to the window to look out over the darkened straights toward the island from which he had just escaped in a row boat. For a moment in the moonlight, he seemed to catch a glimpse of something over there, in the town on the island. “Go on,” I insisted.
“They didn’t want me to embalm the bodies of those who had recently died on the island. They told me it was part of their religion, to leave the corpses in a ‘natural’ state. They wouldn’t even allow me to perform autopsies on their dead – in spite of a jump in the number of their members who were brought to me, to be measured for their coffins. I should have known! I could have prevented all this!”
I poured both of us a drink. “Come now, Robert, it can’t be as bad as all that. The dead can’t just rise from the Earth.”
“But I saw them, Martin. Tonight, just after dusk, I happened to pass by the island’s cemetery. I noticed someone digging. I stopped my cart and got closer on foot. Closer and closer, creeping, until I saw him!”
“Who Robert, who?”
“It was Tom McGrath, one of the Corvus people whom I had allowed to be improperly buried, with only dried blood in his veins instead of embalming fluid. He was digging up a grave, surrounded by almost a dozen other cadavers, who watched him eagerly! – waiting for him to finish.”
“That’s impossible, Robert. You’ve lost your mind completely!”
At this he leapt towards me, “You finally understand! What I saw has made me mad!”
“But how could this group of the dead simply become revenants?” I asked him.
“It was her, their minister!” he shouted. “She was reading from the book, her voice more a howl than a tone. The wind began to pick up and a corpse opened its coffin and crawled out to join the others.”
I was in shock. “Impossible,” I seethed. “Impossible!”
My friend was wild again. He hissed, rushing again to the darkened window.
“Are you looking for the bodies then – to swim the channel and attack us?” I mocked him. “Like creatures in some zombie tale?”
“No, I’m looking for the one who came when they formed their vile circle, chanting with voice-boxes long decayed, searching the heavens with empty eye-sockets. ‘From the bowels of empty space,’ she screamed into the wind. ‘From the outer rim of darkness, come forth and claim the worship of your devotees!’ I then heard the flap of giant wings, and a shadow appeared in the constellation of Orion, growing larger and larger until it blocked out the moon!” He was screaming now at the top of his lungs.
My apartment neighbors began to run up the stairs outside, afraid that perhaps there was a fire, I could hear them outside, but my friend’s madness had infected me and I could not stand or answer them. They broke through the door – but neither of us noticed because our attention was turned out the window, through the darkness, over the channel and the ragged boulders, towards where it flew with leather wings, with a thousand tentacles wrapped around a torso made of a dozen screaming humans.
And there we waited, eight of us, paralyzed, as the claws of the thing tore through the side of our building, to drag us all to hell.
micheledutcher - I loved writing this piece, with its stilted English and dragging souls to hell and all that. October's issue is a fun read, certainly!
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