The night shift
I’ve always had outstandingly good eyesight. In fact as a child I used to wave to people at a distance and get annoyed when they did not wave back. I’ve always found people hard to read to worried about their own personal woes to give the slightest regard for others. In this city no one talks much to no one. The subway was packed this evening, folks stood shoulder to shoulder with one another. Cramped in, pretending the others sharing the stale air did not exist .The tension is palpable as is the despair of pointless empty lives of the tried and harassed. I grip so tightly on to the jar I am carrying hoping not to smash it on the seat in front. Years of effort must not be wasted.
No such problems with folks in this job, they just lie out on the slab. Lifeless, motionless, and yet all their former actions are betrayed too me. This one has dirty finger nails and nicotine stained hands. He is younger than me but he won’t grow any older. Hours spent in down town bars and at Jimmy steak house have made him fat, but he has the look of a family man he had not been unloved for all his physical imperfections. He looked a man of modest income but these cuff links looked like they had been saved for.
Embalming is an ancient art its history lost to antiquity. I never meet this man in life but it is now my chance to do what he evidently failed to do for much of his existence, take a special care of his appearance.
I catch sight of myself in the mirror, I need a shave. My eyes have dark circles round them from too many late nights. The hour rack up in this job I feel like I’ve not seen the sun light for months. The radio rattles in the other room. I have to check the chemicals cabinet. This one won’t take that long. The preservative process is half finished and I’ve not even started the treatment yet. His cholesterol filled arteries have given him the pale flesh tones it often takes several hours to affect. It’s the opium addicts and hop heads I hate doing, two nights work most often creates a back log.
Usually an open coffin takes up a whole evening and part of the next morning. This guy is lucky to be in experienced hands. I much prefer the night work. I don’t have too hear all that bullshit about the dearly departed echoing down from the upstairs. It not like I don’t feel for the families but I get tired of hearing Mr Hales sales pitch. I need the jar again.
I take pride in my job; they’re not departed till I’ve done with them. Families do not wish to consider the fragility of existence over an ill turned out cadaver. More care is taken over the dead in this house than is taken over the living in this city.
I like listening to the radio, the performers sound so lively between the static.
The Radio has died I’ll never know whether Tim and Nancy got back together now. Oh well only six hours now till sun up, only nine till I can sleep almost as soundly as this guy. I can hear the rain hitting the guttering outside. Maybe the radio will start again after the storm passes over?
The shift is over I grab my coat and make for the subway. I reach for the door handle, when suddenly I remember I need to take the jar with me. The dying lose 21 grams in weight no one knows why, some kind of chemical reaction as the muscles start to decay perhaps or something much stranger?
When the heart stops pumping all else is mystery. A mystery which was slowly driving me mad, I knew something happened but I could not put my finger on it.
I no longer just prepared the dead for exhibition I visit the dying where I can, for years I ve placed a small ad in the newspaper and I ve been pleasantly surprised at the response. The lonely dying embers of this district those with no relatives I visit them in mansions or care homes. I sit by the bed for hours I have my empty canister to hand ready for that final breath that giving up of the ghost over the years I ve collected twelve such breaths which I ve pasted on into the jar. With the last breath out leaks some essence of their lives and all these souls feared hell for the way they amassed or gambled fortunes and drove away all human contact. To me they confessed their worse sins, arson larceny and murder, all told as I nursed a cooling cup of coffee. Tearless strained confessions no one dare tell a priest . The jar is plain glass ordinary looking inside are contained innumerable evils.
I fumble in my weariness and my hands betray me the jar shatters into a thousand pieces a jagged cut leaks blood across my hand I reach up in horror as the room dims. The lights flicker I feel a touch upon my shoulder the door opens and suddenly slams. I fall to my knees my body buckles as I cough like a victim of mustard gas struggling for air. The floor is a sea of shadows and my head rushes to greet it.
I awake some time later my right hand caked in blood, my nerves shredded and my head banging like an alcoholic awoken from a whiskey nightmare. I reach for a cloth and hold it to my hand and drag myself up into a stool, I look at the clock on the wall I ve lain there on the cool cerement floor for six hours. The light bulb pops above me and I am back in darkness I feel breath on the back of my neck and my arms feel pulled to my side. I am held down by many hands my throat too is griped tight. I feel my month squeezed open and I am powerless to move. I scream but no voice comes out.
Attendant no more, I am legion the one who is many. Many lives returned to being a lust in the pit of my belly for wild sensation every type of debasement and mundanity . It holds a lighter under the palm of my hand and feel the heat, I feel the pain but this is not my body and never will be only a vessel of my malice for the dead reborn. We each need a body thirteen lives must be ended so we may live again. I reach for my coat and think on the task ahead each of us where abandoned in life to our own private hell slowly dying alone each of us has one person to blame who must be found, their eyes will become our eyes their hands our hands a living death as we pilot their bodies. . Thirteen kisses of death must be felt on lips to pass on the ghouls to living vessels.
I am one of these ghouls, my god what have I do they can read my thoughts and now aim to make me the chief aid in murder to reclaim a life which is no longer theirs I am an automaton a creature no longer man, my reflection in the mirror lacks any features of my former self I am death incarnate, my face still mine but the expression one of which no living man had ever seen, I reach for my coat and make for the door.