By: Michael C. Keith
Nearly all the best people are dead!
“Hey, I ate a freaking jar of Pickled Snake Head Fish washed down by African Pee Cola, so you can do this,” declared Howie Clarkson.
“Yeah, it’s a piece of cake compared to what you jerks had me do. Run naked through Wal-Mart, man,” added Bill Carter.
“Me, too. Bungee jumping with my fear of heights,” recalled Sim Fowler. “All you have to do is survive some flesh-eating zombies.”
It was Irv McKenna’s turn to take on the challenge devised by his so-called buddies. He was the last of the four to face the music, and he felt more than ready to demonstrate his mettle. Whether it would end the ill-conceived tradition was another matter. The schemes they imposed on one another were beyond weird, but they had certainly enlivened things. No one complained of being bored anymore.
“Bullshit. Dead is dead. I don’t know why people make such a big thing about dead people. They were just like us when they were alive. Now, everybody thinks of them is creepy monsters. It’s kind of sad, you know,” replied Irv, responding to the cajoling over what he had to do.
“Hey, rotting corpses are pretty damn creepy, my friend,” countered Clarkson.
Spending the night at the Doane Cadaver Farm was his brainchild. It was something he knew he could never attempt, so it struck him as a perfect dare for Irv.
“I’m more concerned about being arrested for trespassing than anything else,” protested Irv.
“No one’s going to call the cops. They’re all dead,” chuckled Fowler.
“Don’t worry. If you survive the night, we’ll spring for your bail if you get busted,” goaded Sim.
“With friends like you . . . “ said Irv, emptying his beer glass.
“Better bring a supply of Depends tomorrow night,” said Fowler, now laughing full out.
* * *
The group waited until close to midnight to deposit Irv at the corpse compound. They brought along a stepladder to help him over the ivy covered brick wall.
“Have a peaceful night, Irvy boy,” said Fowler, retracting the ladder as Irv sat at the top of the rampart.
“Quiet as a graveyard. You should sleep the sleep of the dead tonight,” joshed Bill.
“I’ll come back when I drop off these guys, so if you chicken out, just shout . . . or scream like a little girl. I’ll be parked right here,” snickered Howie.
“Yeah, yeah . . . get lost, you jerks. I’ve got to get my beauty rest,” answered Irv, disappearing over the wall.
As soon as he landed on the other side, he cast the beam of his flashlight across the area before him. Looks like a park, he thought, and then he saw a body. At first he recoiled at the sight of the bloated corpse. A woman . . . it’s a woman, he surmised, moving a couple steps in its direction. Young, too . . . maybe thirty.
Irv moved the narrow shaft of his flashlight along the ground to the right of the dead female. Not twenty feet away was a fully clothed corpse propped against a tree. Most of its face had decomposed, creating a grotesquely sardonic grin.
“Now aren’t you the handsome one?” muttered Irv, attempting to defuse a growing sense of apprehension. Come on, Irv. They’re harmless . . . just poor dead folks. Remember? he told himself, moving his flashlight away from the seated figure.
Irv’s eyes had fully adjusted to the darkness and the full moon no longer necessitated the use of his Eveready. The landscape was well illuminated, revealing more occupants of the corpse farm. In a nearby tree, a body hung from a limb like a laundry bag. Its skeletal arms moved slightly when the wind picked up for a moment. A shoe covered one foot and a sock the other. Denim overalls contained the desiccated remains of the farms’ tenant.
At the base of the tall oak, Irv spotted another stiff, this one partially covered by a blanket of leaves. He could not determine its gender but figured it was likely female because of the length of its frizzy hair. Like the visage of the body against the adjacent tree, the face of the prone cadaver was disfigured. Its blank eyes were open, and they bulged from their hollow sockets, like an Alien Invader Zim Girl doll.
Okay, let’s just snuggle up here and join our slumbering friends in dreamland. Make the night go faster. Irv nestled into the soft mound unaware that a leathery hand protruded from it. Although what he had seen had unnerved him, Irv felt exhausted. But, given the circumstances, it took a while for him to fall asleep. When he finally did, it was deep.
* * *
We have an intruder in our midst, said a voice rising from the naked female body. Who is it? It’s alive.
I see it, responded the tree corpse. Disgusting. It has a heartbeat. Not one of the staff. A stranger.
Why is it here? No civilians ever come here, observed the half covered cadaver. Wish we could do something about him. He has no right violating the sanctity of the farm.
This is so humiliating. Look at me all bloated and decomposing, moaned the unclothed woman. This is what he sees. Not the beauty I was. I didn’t bargain for this when I signed to have my body placed here. I didn’t think I’d be gawked at by some damn outsider. I was only thirty-three when I died of a dumb brain aneurism. I was a model.
We’ve heard that before, Keri. We all know you were lovely, so give it a rest, if you know what I mean, bristled the sitting corpse.
Don’t let it bother you. The mortal doesn’t know who you were, sweetie, said the hanging body.
Why did they put me out here without my clothes? I’ve lost any dignity. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.
Worse than dying? inquired the recumbent carcass.
Absolutely! I wish I were alive. I’d be able to do something. This is a complete nightmare. If only leaves would conceal me like they have some of you.
* * *
A tormented wail undetected by breathing beings continued until dawn, despite the pleading of the deceased women’s cohorts to stop. Meanwhile, a noise heard by most living humans drew Irv from his solid slumber. The guys, thought Irv, responding to the car horn. As he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, he took in his surroundings in the morning light. Nice place, but I wouldn’t want to die here, he snickered. Why did they let their bodies be put here? Why would they agree to such a thing? Embarrassing. Jeez, just bury or burn me.
Irv’s attention was suddenly drawn to the naked and bloated body of the female. Poor thing. Bet you were a beauty once. Look at you. Porcelain skin . . . okay, maybe a few cracks. Irv stood over the body while a feeling of sadness came over him. He removed his jacket and covered the dead woman. As he did so, he thought he detected a slight change in her expression. When he looked again, he saw that there had been no change. Whoa, better get out of here before you lose it.
With some effort, Irv managed to climb to the top of the wall. His friends were standing on the other side.
“We thought the living-dead had ripped you apart and eaten your organs,” said Howie, holding the stepladder as Irv descended it.
“Get real. There’s just a bunch of helpless bodies in there,” grumbled Irv.
“You mean a bunch of disgusting, decaying corpses,” added Sim.
“Hey,” barked Irv, “they’re people, too!”
(Michael C. Keith writes fiction and teaches college. http://www.michaelckeith.com)