Cadaver Concert

You receive an invitation in the mail one day requesting your presence at a “Cadaver concert.” You have no idea what this means or who sent the invitation. However, as a mortician, you are intrigued. You show up at the appointed place at the designated time. What do you find?

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

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101 thoughts on “Cadaver Concert

  1. wiedienacht

    “He was a good man.”

    “Of course, of course. This is a tough time for you, I understand.”

    Olivia Horn dabbed the corners of her eyes with a pink tissue she’d pulled from a tulip adorned box between her legs.

    Dorian Mourt leaned forward and offered a comforting pat on her slim shoulder. Again, he said, “I understand. But certain arrangements must be made, and we need to discuss the particulars.”

    “I… I know, but, it’s just…” Her words dissolved into messy sobs. She yanked a handful of tissues and pressed them to her face.

    “Take your time.” Dorian murmured while sneaking a glance at his watch while the widow was distracted.

    * * *

    Back at the morgue, finally free of the noisy demands of the living, Doran could attend to the quiet and predictable needs of the deceased. He sat in a leather office chair, putting the finishing touches on Thomas Horn’s official notice of death. Olivia had relegated the task to him completely, having never prepared words beforehand and being in no condition to do so now. He didn’t mind, it was actually a fairly common request.

    Thomas Horn lay downstairs, body covered by a thin white sheet that smelled of bleach and embalming fluid. The faint whir of an electric pump could be heard, and although no sound of rushing fluid escaped from the lines entering and exiting the body as chemicals replaced the organic, one could certainly imagine it.

    A knock came on the door at the same time the pump let out a shrill, long beep.

    Dorian attended to the body first, descending the oak stairway, the sharp smell of formaldehyde and the animal odor of the corpse washing over him. He turned off the pump and carefully disconnected the apparatus from the body, delicately recovering it with the sheet when he’d finished.

    “I’ll be right back,” he whispered to Thomas Horn before reemerging into the main lobby and opening the front door. A glance in either direction revealed no living person, but Dorian noted a small envelope resting on the doorstep just as he was about to go inside.

    The envelope was addressed to Mr. Dorian Mort, a common misspelling. Sitting at his desk, he removed the contents, a single off white card adorned with flowing script.

    Dear Mr. Dorian Mort,
    We cordially invite you to attend the fourteenth annual Cadaver’s Concert and Ball, to be held at the Grande Hotel on the 18th of August, 2017
    Doors open at 8PM
    RSVP_______________
    Your +1________________
    Yours Truly,
    The Red Dress Society

    Dorian had never heard of such a society, nor such an event. Normally not a man who enjoyed the company of others, he was surprised at his urge to attend. Equally surprised was he at the thought the Olivia Horn was now available to be his “+ 1.”

    “Nonsense,” he said, placing the envelope aside and getting back to work.

    * * *

    The idea of the Cadaver’s Concert and Ball was not so easily exercised from Dorian’s thoughts. He found himself pondering the event while applying a pink rouge to the cheeks of Adrienne Bennet, an expired truck driver who was survived only by a neurotic half-brother.

    What would one wear to such an event? Dorian had no shortage of black suits, certainly that would suffice.

    Das Rheingold flowed and crackled from a phonograph in the back corner of the basement where Dorian worked. His hands were as adept and proud as the opera singers as he dressed and attended to the former home of Mr. Bennet’s soul. So practiced was he that his thoughts rarely had to attain sharp focus on his tasks, and were therefore free to ponder the unexpected invitation.

    “What do you think?” He asked Mr. Bennet’s corpse. It remained unhelpfully silent on the subject.
    Dorian was not deterred. “Yes, I do suppose you’re right. One must live while one is alive.” A smile slipped across his thin face, like a crack spreading across a porcelain doll. “Perhaps I’ll even invite Olivia. No, nonsense. Of course I won’t.”

    He straightened Adrienne’s tie, wondering if the man had ever worn one when he’d been warm and upright. This particular slim black affair was donated by the brother, after much wringing of the hands and nervous coughs. It was actually quite a nice tie, with silvery diagonal lines adding a touch of flair and nuance to the design.

    * * *

    The Grande Hotel was anything but “Grande,” being in fact a three star establishment that had only earned the third star because the proprietor of the establishment knew a guy that knew a guy who was banging the critic.

    Still, the two story building in sore need of new siding inspired a sense of dread within Dorian. What had he been thinking, he wondered as he peered about the parking lot at all the sedans and hearses. He glanced at his watch, 8:13. A glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror revealed a pale man with thin glasses, and eyes slightly too close together. He was alarmed to discover that his widow’s peak had considerably sharpened since the last time he’d noticed it.

    Finally rallying his nerves, he climbed out of his vehicle and approached the double door entrance to the hotel. No one stood outside waiting to greet visitors. Although there were a few cigarette butts tossed on the ground here and there, there was no other evidence of any of the actual smokers.
    The night air felt cool and refreshing on Dorian’s thin skin, but before long threatened to give him shivers.

    He pushed through the doors and stepped into the lobby. A delicate string of violin music caressed his ears and he could smell the faint aroma of sizzling steak and something else, something familiar. Tart and synthetic.

    “Greetings, sir. May I take your jacket?” A smiling man in a gray suit held out gloved hands in expectation.

    With a nod, Dorian handed the man his coat, and slipped him a five dollar bill.

    A handful of people mingled in the lobby, the men dressed in black and gray suits, the women in heels and flowing black dresses. Dorian fingered his tie, a black affair with faint silver striping.

    The music came from deeper within the establishment, and so Dorian followed it. Passing through a hallway with faded beige carpeting and numbered locked doors, he walked as if in a trance. He emerged into a large banquet hall. Chairs had been arranged near the edges of the room to leave space in the center for the dancers. Against the far end of the room, a makeshift stage had been set up, upon which a band played the soulful music Dorian had followed.

    “May I have this dance?” A slender pale woman in a sleek silver gown approached Dorian, head tilted at an odd but endearing angle.

    He smiled, and took his hand in hers. It felt cold, stiff. She smiled up at him, taking the lead in the dance. The smell from the lobby was stronger here. He looked around as he matched her strides. Most of the chairs were occupied by well-dressed listeners swaying to the melody. A few couples joined them on the dance floor, dancing with confident, slow movements.

    “This is marvelous, isn’t it?” The woman said as she tightened her grip on Dorian’s hand and shoulder
    .
    He nodded, noting again the peculiar slant of her neck, almost as if… He shook the thought away.

    With an elegant pause, the band shifted into another song. This one with a livelier beat. The dancers paused as well, then started moving again, reminding Dorian of a roomful of marionettes.

    “What is your name?” He asked simply for something to say.

    “Sinclair, Ella Sinclair.”

    “How beautiful.”

    “Why, thank you.”

    She did not ask for his and he did not offer. When the song finished he gently disentangled himself with the excuse that he simply must find the restroom. Ella Sinclair gave him an odd look, which lingered as he moved away.

    The men’s room was just a short way down a back hall, and blessedly unoccupied. Dorian dipped his hands into a jet of cool water then ducked his face, wiping his dripping hands across his cheeks and brow. He looked in the mirror just as the door yawned open and admitted a portly gentleman in a red bowtie and charcoal gray suit. The man looked as ill as Dorian was beginning to feel.

    Dorian politely made some space as the man approached the row of sinks. His movements, like that of the dancers, strangely stiff.

    “Is this your first time?” He asked Dorian, leaning in as if sharing a conspiracy.

    “Oh, yes. Yes it is.” Face dripping, he reached for a handful of paper towels, pulling with too much vigor than necessary.

    The man smiled. “My first time, too. They do quite a nice job, don’t you think?” He turned and faced himself in the mirror. Dorian noticed with horror that the skin on the back of the man’s hand was peeling away, revealing the pale meat and sinew of his inner hand.

    “I, I should get back to it.”

    “Of course, have a fun time.” The man’s smile was small, strained.

    Dorian ducked from the bathroom, taking a calming breath as he escaped down the hall. Whatever was going on, whatever this was, he felt no desire to remain and become a more permanent part of it.
    Making for a back exit, he strode through the halls. The music sounded eerie and menacing as it followed, echoing around him. A door creaked open ahead and a face peered out, spied Dorian, and quickly vanished as the door slammed shut.

    Dorian caught a glimpse of a sign for the outdoor pool and his pace quickened.

    The glass doors didn’t budge when he first pushed, and he almost panicked. He shoved hard and they shifted, and gave way with a groan. The night air prickled his skin and filled his lungs with freshness.

    “Dorian?” A soft voice called from the dark edge of the pool.

    Moving from the door, Dorian responded, “Who’s there?”

    “Dorian, don’t you recognize me?” A shadow separated itself from the darkness and coalesced into a familiar form.

    “…Candice?” Dorian gasped, “But you’re…”

    “Oh, don’t say it Dorian,” the corpse’s eyes filled with hurt. Her hands reached for him.

    “No, no I can’t be here.”

    “Dance with me.”

    Dorian stumbled as he pulled away, dashing for the wooden gate.

    “Dorian!”

    Without a backward glance, he threw open the gate and darted into the rear parking lot of the Grande Hotel. No one, and nothing, stopped him as he ran to his car, fumbled with the keys and finally jerked the door open and flung himself inside.

    A gentle tap on the windshield caused him to jump in alarm, and slam down the door locks. Soft brown curls framed the pale face of his ex-wife as she gazed at him through the glass. She made a motion as if rolling down a car window. Dorian shook his head fervently, twisting the key in the ignition, hardly waiting for the car to jerk to life before shifting into reverse and peeling out of the parking lot.

    Back at the morgue, Dorian slumped in his office chair, feebly fingering the invitation to the Cadaver’s Concert and Ball.

    Thomas Horn leaned against the far wall, shaking his head from side to side. Adrienne Bennett sat on the leather couch his grieving brother had used only a few short days ago.

    “You have to face it some time.” Adrienne said.

    Dorian applied another layer of rouge to his own cheeks, not bothering with a reply.

  2. loudwords94

    I show up in front of the building. It was around ten o’clock at night. I read about this event from an invitation that I received on the mail. It was sent specifically to my address. The envelope had a single sheet of paper, I unfolded it and the letter read:

    Dear Lucky Guest,

    Come to the Cadaver Concert! Just bring yourself.

    Sincerely,
    The Hostess

    It was just like that, pretty straightforward. And it came from some anonymous sender. There had to be something to arouse my suspicion. Yet again I’m a mortician, and cadavers and everything macabre fascinates me.

    So I’m there. I walk through the first set of doors. The lights were on but I didn’t see anybody behind the ticket counter. I walked around awkwardly to see if there was anybody, but I was just met with dead silence. So I proceeded to the concert hall.

    Once I walked in there were seven strippers that greeted me. It was weird, as if they all did it simultaneously. Then they all walked toward me. This seemed creepy, but more or less morticians need their time off from work. All of a sudden one of them pull out what was supposed to be a dildo, but turned out to be the real thing!
    I kept pointing at it, with my eyes dilated. Even a mortician like myself couldn’t believe what she just pulled out.

    Two of the strippers wanted to comfort me. I felt hands on my shoulders to which I turned my head to see who was feeling me up. I realized the two strippers were each holding a female cadaver that was all dressed up in 1940’s-style stripper outfits. I immediately shook my shoulders, but the bulge on my button fly remained intact.

    The other strippers were dancing around with a cadaver or a piece of one. I continued awkwardly walking down the aisle of the small auditorium. I felt like a Japanese tourist walking through the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland for the first time. Then the lights above the stage turned on.

    She emerged from behind the curtain. My wife.
    “Welcome! This was all for you my love,” she yelled as she maintained eye contact with me from across the room. I just realized that she inadvertently reminded me of our anniversary. I stood there puzzled as I saw her humping a male cadaver on the stage. The moment that I realized that my wife was a bisexual-necrophiliac she started making out with a female cadaver.

    I sank myself into a seat. All of the strippers and their cadavers walked onto the stage. Once they all got on stage my wife threw a severed head in the air and the strippers started playing volleyball with it. The cadavers dropped to the floor like finished puppets. The concert officially started and I was the only member of the audience.

  3. noahrezentes

    This is rather jumbled, so I apologize for an utter lack of plot. I mostly did this as a homework assignment.

    “Hm,” the mortician mused rather ineloquently as the words “cadaver concert” passed through the glasses perched at the end of his jagged nose. The man’s eyes could almost be heard creaking as they slid slowly across the page. He stood against the stainless steel table, hovering over the dead body with a letter in his left hand and a pair of hemostats in his right. The old mortician looked back and forth between the letter and the body, then took to digging through the cadaver’s remains, handing the paper to his assistant beside him. His assistant watched him closely, silently analyzing his expression.
    “What is it?” she prompted, glancing at the dead man on the table. The body seemed to tremble, convulse, then gasp for air as the mortician clipped off an open artery.
    “An invitation. To a ‘cadaver concert,’ whatever the hell it is, I can’t go. I have a meeting. Somebody made off with another one of our cadavers last night.” he relayed in his usual curt tone.
    “Yeah,” she replied, staring begrudgingly past the dead man on the table.
    The mortician gave Jade a sideways look, then shook his head. “Hand me the Number 11 blade, will you?”
    * * *
    Hours later, Jade found herself amidst the trees, gripping the wrist of her dead boss. She peered deep into the dark yawning face of the Forbeshill mausoleum. She walked to the giant grey slab of marble, dragging the mortician through dying grass. Even as Jade’s heaving lungs wrung themselves of air, nothing uttered a sound in the midst of the cold wood. Everything was silent. Jade pressed her forehead to the blackish oak door; it felt warm and inviting, as if someone was stoking a roaring fire just beyond it. Her numb fingers spidered gingerly around the warm, gilded handle and heaved the door open. Flames bordered the room. Dead, naked bodies hung from the ceiling by their wrists, lining the bloodstained walls. Some were missing eyes while others’ ribs pierced through their chests. Each body had its own word carved into its chest: liar, adulterer, killer, abuser. Jade chuckled and quietly dragged the man into the building. She trudged to the table at the far end of the room and lifted the mortician onto it. She looked into his cataracted eyes and smiled, shaking her head and pulling out her pocketknife. She dug the knife into the old man’s bare chest and carved a single word: ‘DEFILER.’ Jade hung him from his feet, tying his ankles to the wall. She climbed onto the table. She opened her jacket and carved the word “PURE” into her own chest, then closed her eyes.
    Jade’s collection was complete.

  4. gvenditti

    The knock came at the stroke of midnight. Otto Von Steuben was in his office, his face illuminated by the small, dim bankers light that sat on his desk. Always a night owl, Otto had been going through some paperwork, the soft tones of Handel’s Water Music filling the airwaves. A short, squat man with cherubic cheeks and delicate hands, a curious look crossed his face at the unexpected sound. He pushed back from the oak desk and walked out of his office towards the front door.

    Upon opening it, he saw nobody save for an empty front porch. The cold November night howled and swirled at his feet, where a black envelope lay. Otto reached down for it, and when he looked up, a tall hooded figure stood at the end of the walkway. A moment later it was gone, as if the wind had whisked it away with his imagination.

    Stepping back, he pushed the door closed and opened the envelope. It read that he was formally invited to a Cadaver Concert, which would be held tomorrow night in the parlor at his funeral home. Odd, he had four wakes scheduled for tomorrow. Was this some kind of practical joke?

    Nonetheless, the invitation intrigued him – what a bizarre and entertaining idea! Otto decided to go along with it, and not tell anybody – unless it was dead, of course.

    He spent the next day eagerly awaiting nightfall. His enthusiasm ebbed during the wakes, for he always had great empathy for those that came to pay their respects.

    That evening, he was in his office conducting his pencil to Chopin when he heard a commotion coming from the parlor room. There he saw the four corpses that had lain stiff were out of their coffins, getting acquainted as though it were a dinner party. Soon the room was filled with the loved ones who had also received invites like Otto’s. Their prayers had been answered for one more night with the deceased, watching them do what they did best when they were alive.

    As the mortician, Otto was given the ability to conduct the corpses, and they performed songs from Handel and Chopin, his two favorite composers. The music flowed like magic and starlight, which brought tears of joy to the audience. Then each one took turns showcasing their individual talents. They were singers, dancers, writers and painters. Once again, the audience was overcome with emotion.

    Afterwards, the corpses stayed awhile and chatted with their loved ones. Hours went by like minutes, and before long eyes grew heavy and resistance to nature’s way could no longer be offered. The time had finally come to say goodnight – and goodbye. The parlor was silent by daybreak, but with the new day came a promise of peace in the hearts of those that suffered loss. And for Otto Von Steuben, the Cadaver Concert gave him the opportunity to live out his dream as a classical music conductor.

  5. Neo

    I am the undertaker, you see. Yes the undertaker is me. Well, that’s the name the community assigned to thee. While sitting quietly in my office, an invitation made its way into my focus.
    Not knowing where it came from, my curiosity was intense. Once I opened it, it requested my presence. I thought to myself “requests are for peasants”. With hast I continued, yes I read on. A Cadaver Concert? An interest did dawn. They want me to show as the “life” of the party. I found this joke dark and awfully hearty. With no further details and no time to lose, I ran to the front door and slipped on my shoes.
    I later arrived at a place bright and cheery, but absence of person made me terribly wary. Tables set up with plates full of food, dim lit chandeliers to set a laidback mood. I sat in a throne marked with my name, a true king I felt, and felt with no shame. The wait become long and no guests were appearing. On to my 6th glass of wine, to myself I sat cheering “More wine, more wine! With myself I shall dine!”
    Before I could call it came the end of my sobriety. Through the blur of my eyes was formed a society. Men in suits, women dancing in gowns, upon my head perched a golden crown. All watched and rejoiced as I sat in confusion. “Welcome our King! This is no mere illusion! To us you have come from the living world above! Here in Hell you will surely love!”
    I rose from my chair, crown and cranium falling. “Me? A king? I’m who you’re calling?” They laughed, and clapped, but one spoke instead “All the joy you’ve had dressing the dead, you hadn’t felt that you’d lost your head!”
    Out of the hall and to the streets I ran, back to where this all began. I kicked off my shoes and stood at the door, because there I was, beheaded, on the floor.

  6. Reaper

    Now that I see this, part 36.

    In the Beginning – Dead Man’s Party

    Hector passed Jack on the way out of the building. The once disgraced cop gave the mortician a gaze that made Hector feel the other man was looking into his soul.

    “Where are you off to in the middle of your shift, Hector?”

    That look, the growling way the detective spoke. The fact that Jack could have been a private eye straight out of one of the pulp novels Hector’s father used to read, second hand, in Mexico. It all led to Hector almost admitting to the letter in his pocket. Then a shadow passed over his heart. The shiver that ran through his body kept him moving.

    “Going to lunch.”

    He kept moving to avoid the look. He felt it but he gave it no power over him. Jack knew the mortician was lying, but it was none of his business.

    “Don’t get too drunk to cut up the perps I bring in,” the detective joked.

    Hector paid it no mind. He kept walking, his hand slipping into his pocket. He caressed the letter like a lover to ensure it was still there. Assured that the cop had not picked his pocket, the mortician sighed in relief.

    The note was simple, written in a child’s hand. Though, it could have been someone who never learned to write very well. It invited him to a cadaver concert and gave an address and time. A time Hector could just meet if he left now. Hector was too much the mortician to pass it up.

    Arriving at the house he knocked on the door and waited. Until a little girl opened up and took his hand. Without a word she led him through the house.

    He wanted to pull back. A man his age should not be drawn through a house by a child he did not know. There was a power to the girl though, it coursed off of her. He could not resist.

    “Where’s your mother?” He whispered.

    “She’s out. She does not like me showing him to strangers,” the girl chittered merrily and skipped along.

    “What about all of these young women?”

    “Oh, they answer to mommy for now. But they are mine and they know their place.”

    She giggled. Hector looked over the women, dressed in leather and lace that looked more like armor than sex appeal. Yet he found them appealing. When she spoke of them knowing their place he saw one, almost surely dead and rotting from the smell coming off of her, bleeding and bruised in a corner.

    Yet he still followed.

    Into a room with a man in a coma. A man Hector felt he knew from somewhere. He had little time to think about it though. Instruments in the corner, children’s toys, started to play as the eyes of the man moved rapidly behind his lids. A miniature piano, a drum set, and a my first guitar all sounded out. They played something by Brahms that Hector couldn’t quite place.

    He stood transfixed, staring down at the instruments playing on their own. He was so enthralled that when the knife pierced his back and through his heart he barely felt the pain. He had a moment to wonder where the little boy had come from. The one his blood was raining down to anoint. Then he thought no more.

  7. regisundertow

    Could have easily been twice as long, but I’ll stop this story here.
    Written while recovering from a minor climbing injury, so no concerts here, just rocks and stones.

    *******************************************************************

    THE BONE PUPPET

    One thing they never teach you is how to deal with pain. They’ll show you how to work carabiners and belays. How to lodge an anchor into the ice. Proper technique for pulling yourself up a frozen wall, one leg or arm at a time. They’ll even teach you how not to be afraid when the pillar you’re attached to suddenly comes crashing down around you like the end of the world and your nervous system is overwhelmed to the point of flickering off. Pain, though, is never mentioned, never dealt with.

    I must have missed a step or a foothold gave way, I’m not sure. Time stood still and I floated between heartbeats, a gasp caught in my throat. As I went down, the pickaxes wrenched from my hands, I shot an arm out, frantically trying to grab onto something, anything. My right middle and ring finger got wedged into a fissure and I slammed into the ice wall, the sudden tension almost yanking my shoulder from its socket. Even through the ringing in my ears, even with the mountain coming down around me, I heard it. The sound of the tendon snapping was like popping bubble wrap. It shattered close to the elbow, breaking free from bone and contracting almost halfway up my forearm like a snake under my skin. My arm flooded with heat, but my hand froze and went dead. I never had time to scream. Blackness took me before I made a sound.

    I came to with a start, as if someone had stabbed me with an insulin syringe. The ground beckoned me from several feet below as I dangled like a puppet from a useless arm. My right sleeve felt two sizes too small and something about the sensation against my skin was off, the signal to my brain scrambled on its through the useless tissue. The face mask had crawled down to my neck and the wind was gnawing my skin raw. I imagined cheekbones emerging from my face, bleached bone exposed to the elements, until nothing was left.

    A muffled yell came from Thieu above me. I couldn’t move my head without passing out in pain again. Help, I meekly called out. Help this puppet made of bone. No one taught it how to handle pain.

    The gigantic Frenchman ripped my hand out of the fissure, sending me tumbling back into unconsciousness. As he carried me to the top, I caught glimpses of the Matterhorn Glacier extending beyond the horizon on the Swiss side, the sun reflecting off the snow. Stone teeth poking through an icy desert. The earth reached out to the sky until the two blended.

    It was dark by the time we set up the tent. Inside it, I stripped away the layers of clothes under the light of a torch to reveal an arm covered in a galaxy of black, blue, and purple. An odd knot stood out in the middle of the forearm where the tendon had curled. The fingers dangled loose and lifeless. Thieu tied my arm against my chest in slow, deliberate moves, almost like handling a porcelain toy in his callused cabbage-sized hands. He looked deep in thought, his long salt-and-pepper hair hanging in a messy ponytail, his bush of a beard dripping water. His brow was furrowed and he seemed to be on the losing end of an imaginary argument. When he finally spoke, his voice came out low and gentle. You lied to me, he said without taking his eyes off the bandages. I should have noticed. You know some about climbing, but not enough. You’ve made a fool out of me.

    He didn’t expect a reply and I wasn’t going to give him one. He finished bandaging me, turned off the torch and went to sleep. For six months I had been training, practising, working out, but it wasn’t enough. Not for Matterhorn. I thought finding the most experienced guide money could buy would get me to my wife, but, so far, it had almost gotten me killed. The wind shrieked, demanding to be let inside, clawing and licking at the sides of the tent. Not for the first time, I cursed my ignorance.

    Funerals are not for the dead, they’re for the living. Closing that casket is the full-stop before you’re allowed to pick up your pieces and start planning the rest of your life, one day at a time. Sometimes, though, there is no casket to close. There is no body to lower into the earth and whisper goodbye to. Just a service with flattering portraits, a bunch of a flowers, and your mind wandering over to an icy peak you’ve never laid eyes on. A peak where the love of your life is lying half-covered in snow, the flame in her eyes extinguished. Your mind ceases hearing the eulogies and reconstructs that last breath you never bore witness to, the scene playing in a loop until you can almost hear it freezing on her lips.

    My throat had gone hoarse from thanking people for their condolences. None had looked at me in the eyes, nor made the usual but ultimately empty offers for help. She had waited in a corner of the funeral house as the last of the well-wishers disappeared into the parking lot, eyeing me without hurry, studying me. Finally alone, she approached. Her heels clicked on the marble floor, echoing through the hall. She didn’t offer her hand, simply stood in front of me, her hands behind her back, and asked if I knew who she was. I nodded no and offered to buy her a cup of coffee.

    We walked in silence, stopping at a diner close by. She asked me how much I knew of the expedition. Its itinerary and timeline. I only knew that it was a big deal, that the mountain was talked about amongst climbers in the same breath as the legendary peaks. That the Matterhorn was the Holy Grail for my wife. She remained silent for a long while, sipping her coffee and examining me. She asked me how much I knew about the people she trained with. How much I knew about her climbing partner, her husband. How close they had gotten. I shattered the cup in my hands, the blood welling rapidly. She looked surprised. You never suspected? She pushed a Manila folder to me and stood up. Do what’s necessary, she said as she walked away. I had gone through the maps and the notes several times in my car and many thousands of times more over the next six months.

    I looked at the wind tugging the tent flap. In my mind, I walked out and lost myself in the snow, like so many others on this mountain. Had she been scared? Had he comforted her, held her as she slipped away? Was there pain? I imagined her lying half-buried in snow, her glassy eyes to the sky. My arm throbbed as I tried to clench a puppet fist.

    Dawn came. Thieu said nothing, just glared as he packed. I didn’t try talking to him. We had a good enough rapport until the previous day, but I had insulted him by lying about my level of experience. I had insulted him again by refusing to head back for my arm’s sake and offering him more money to press on through the mountain. He had shaken his head, sent my money to hell and made it clear a reckoning was due once we were back. We packed the tent in silence, me biting my lip so hard it bled. I imagined losing the arm permanently and found it acceptable.

    We made our way to where I calculated I would find her. I took the lead from Thieu. He didn’t object. I walked towards the peak in the distance, jutting out like a shattered bone against a cobalt sky. Several vertical walls bound together with ice stood sentinel around its base, boulders heaped on top of each other like the playthings of giants. I felt a quiet malice emanating from them, a silent hostility towards us bone puppets that hushed even the mad wind with its intensity. Gravity seemed to increase around them. Their presence weighted down on me and my lungs felt heavy. Mindless, I set one foot after the other, barely lifting my head under the glower of the stone guards.

    It looked like another minor rock emerging from the snow. As we came closer, its triangular shape became more defined. One of its poles had collapsed, but the tent still stood. Soon, I could make out the flap, lines, and scattered equipment around it. It gave Thieu pause, whose features softened to solemnity. I heard his footsteps crunching the snow farther and farther behind and I was grateful. Pickaxes, boots, and flags littered the way. I tried to remember which ones belonged to her, but I had always been ignorant. I wanted to pick all of them up, puzzle out what they knew of my wife that I didn’t. They had more right to be here than me.

    My feet shuffled over the last few steps. The scene had played so many times in my head, seeing her broken body, sobbing over her, the trek back, that I didn’t have it in me to cross the threshold. I realized I had always left one moment out, finding him too, the last person she ever saw. The arm throbbed. I wish they’d teach you how to handle pain.

    Thieu stood patiently outside. As I came out, Helen’s body over my shoulder, he rushed out to help me. I shook my head. I said, there’s another one inside. Help me bring them back.

  8. wheeler04

    SAVING GRACE

    The official verdict was accidental overdose. Our teenage daughter, Lauren, had gone missing for three weeks before they found her body in an abandon house on the outskirts of town. The authorities surmised that Lauren attended a party there and became a victim of her own recklessness. My wife, Rene, absolutely refused to accept it and vowed to clear our daughter’s name. I just solemnly accepted the situation. Since then, we have had a strained relationship.

    She has neglected me and the household in her futile mission, which has consumed all her time. I do miss our daughter beyond belief and it tears me apart the way she was taken from us. However, I wish she would end her investigation and we can resolve our grief together.

    It’s Saturday night as I sit alone in the living room, contemplating a very weird invitation. I’m a mortician at a local funeral parlor and this afternoon as I was leaving work a teenage girl approached me and handed me a black envelope. It’s an invitation to attend a Cadaver Concert tonight at midnight. At first I thought it was a cruel joke however she assured me that it wasn’t. For some reason, I believed her, feeling a sense of peace from her. Now I wonder if I should share it with Rene.

    I’m amazed that Rene has agreed to accompany me to the concert. She sits in silence as I drive into the industrial section of town. All the buildings are dark, including the address on the invitation.

    “We might as well get out and look around,” Rene suggests.

    The front door is locked as is the employee entrance. However, around back we do find an unlocked door with a dim light over it. It opens to a long dark hallway, with the only light at the other end. The girl from this afternoon is waiting there and she hands me a candle as she welcomes us.

    “I will be your guide tonight,” she says leading us into a large dark room. I sense that there are others in the room, but I can’t figure how many. The only ones we see are the ones we pass as they appear in my candle light. We stop somewhere in the middle of the floor, where a stage is dimly lit up in front. Behind the curtain, a rock band begins playing the song “Party Till Death”. I immediately recognize the song due to all the times I’ve heard it being played in Lauren’s room. It was her favorite song by a group called the Smoking Skulls. I feel the knot in my stomach tighten to the extent that I found it hard to breath. The curtain opens to the Smoking Skulls performing their song.

    They all appear in blacken clothing with a gray-ash complexion. Understandable, considering they were all cremated. At their feet lie the bodies of perhaps 6 to 8 people, mostly young girls. Rene recognizes Lauren’s body at once. She cries out for Lauren while sobbing uncontrollably. I reach out to her and hold her tightly to me, while crying myself.

    As the next song begins, our guide whispers to us, “Did your daughter receive a letter from the band? It would have been a black envelope with a smoking skull emblem where the return address would be”.

    Rene is shocked when I say she did. It was a letter inviting Lauren back stage during a show and admission to a private party afterwards with the band. I found the letter in her secret hiding place, but she must have taken the Pass.

    We listen to a few more songs and then the curtain closes. The house lights go on to reveal that the crowd is not as big as I thought, maybe just two dozen people. As they turn to leave, they all come past us. Some shook my hand, others whisper “Thanks”. The others just touch me gently and smile. Rene is totally bewildered by what’s transpiring. It’s not until everyone leaves that our guide offers an explanation.

    “Everyone on stage were spirits, of course, since they all were dead. The bodies lying on the stage were those whose death is directly linked to the band. The people in the audience were real, although they will not remember being here. It will just be a dream they had while sleeping tonight.”

    “Who…were …they?” I clumsily ask, almost afraid of the answer.

    “They were the people whose lives have been spared since the band members no longer exist. Mostly teenage girls, however some others that would have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. All saved…thanks to you.”

    I pull a small bronze stamp from my pocket and explain its significance.

    “The leader of the band explained how the girls who performed well during their parties, artistically and sexually, were ‘branded’ with this seal. This mark would entitle them to be permanent members of their entourage.”

    I pause to compose myself before continuing.

    “Actually, I knew those girls would be nothing more than drugged-up prostitutes and I told him so. He laughed and then boasted how proud Lauren was when she ‘earned’ her brand. It was the last thing he said.”

    She nods and reaches for the seal. She suggests that it’s best not to be found with it. Besides we have other tokens that symbolize better memories. She puts the stamp in her purse and we all walk out together.

    Once outside I ask her what her role was in tonight’s drama.

    “I organized this concert, with a little help of course, to express my own thanks.” She pulls a black envelope from her purse. “I received an invitation for their next show, and like Lauren, nothing would have swayed me from going. Thus I could have been caught in the whole party atmosphere and ended up branded or worse. However, since they ‘cancelled’ their tour, I’m alive and grateful after learning about the mistake I almost made.”

    She comes up to me and kisses my cheek. “Thank you for saving me.” She then turns and walks away.

    Rene takes my arm and smiles at me. I think she now understands why I want her investigation to end. At the car, one more question comes to me.

    “Say, miss!” I yell after her. “We don’t even know your name. What is it?”

    She turns and yells back, “Grace”.

  9. Amaria

    I’m not sure what kind of narrative poem this is and I probably shouldn’t be writing this late but oh well. An idea came to mind and I ran with it.

    “The Mortician”

    he was surprised at the invitation
    no one invited him to parties
    all he talk about was embalming
    and his new line of coffins
    so when he received the card
    he was not sure what to do
    but the next night here he was
    knocking on a stranger’s door
    he was led into the main room
    where an orchestra was playing a tune
    but he noticed something strange
    the musicians were just too pale
    with dark circles under their eyes
    but to his surprise, so did many others
    a tap on the shoulder brought him back
    a pretty lady sat next to him in a mask
    she leaned in and whispered into his ear
    things he would be too bashful to repeat
    yet with rushing lust he followed her up
    the winding staircase into a bedroom
    there she removed her phantom mask
    and the mortician took a step back
    for he recalled her beautiful face –
    he swore he buried her the other day
    but all she did was flash him a smile
    and gave him the sweetest kiss
    before the others followed in
    to have him for breakfast

  10. jhowe

    My captivating mood downshifted, practically into reverse. I’d driven over two hundred miles for the Cadaver concert. What I found was that the most popular micro beer in the Midwest (for the second year in a row) was Cadaver Ale; a full bodied triple IPA brewed by Black Hops Industries in the heart of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Hence, the concert: A celebration for lowly beer enthusiasts and not a performance for esteemed morticians as I’d interpreted the invitation’s intent.

    The first inclination was to remove my hat and ask the lovely hostess for reimbursement for my colossal inconvenience. As I removed each white glove in preparation for the likely altercation, she approached.

    “You must be the undertaker.” She held out her hand. Her facial features were appealing, but she was lacking in formal niceties.

    “Please, I prefer mortician.” I scoffed and rolled my eyes. “Or to the lay person, funeral director is acceptable.”

    “But not undertaker,” she said with the hint of a smile.

    I sniffed, twice. “Definitely not.”

    “Well, let’s get down to it,” she said. “We’re redesigning our label for Cadaver Ale and you’d be perfect as our spokesman.”

    “Let me guess – because I endeavor in the task of funeral preparation, you invited me because of the Cadaver connotation?”

    “That’s one way to look at it,” she said. “Another way is to acknowledge your attire of black tie and top hat and wonder if that’s the way you dress every day. If so, I’m impressed; if not, I commend you for your initiative. Either way, I want you on our team.”

    A harried man with an unorganized clip board interrupted. “Sorry to bother you Carol, but there’s a Herse double parked out front and the band’s here to unload.” He noticed me standing there. “What’s with the cane?” he said.

    I looked blankly at the ebony cane and felt hat in my hands and said nothing. Carol ushered the man out and said she’d take care of it. “Let’s start over, Mr. Covington, is it?”

    “Yes, Franklin Covington.” I glanced at my pocket watch.

    “I’m Carol Thorne, president of Black Hops Industries.” She paused and looked at me. “You’re the real deal, aren’t you?” This time, I shook her hand.

    “To clarify an earlier point,” I said. “I dress like this because, unlike many of my contemporaries, I truly believe the dead deserve the respect of my profession. And as my grandfather taught me years ago, it may just be the last respect they ever receive.”

    “That’s very admirable Mr. Covington, I truly mean that.”

    “Thank you.”

    “In addition to becoming our spokesman for Cadaver Ale, I’d like to consult with you as we are launching a new product next month that will complement our Cadaver line.”

    “Shouldn’t we agree that I will take the job before we talk about specific products?” I said.

    “I suppose you’re right,” she said. “It pays two thousand a week, plus travel expenses.”

    “That seems, logical.” I blinked and smiled. “About that new product?”

    “Well,” she said. “I’m a little concerned you’re not going to like it.”

    “I’m not a beer drinker, so I don’t think that will matter.”

    “No, it’s the name. It’s called Undertaker’s Revenge.”

    1. Observer Tim

      This is a totally original take on the prompt, as I’ve come to expect from you jhowe. I love the culture shock between the Mortician and the company president, though it is kind of amazing that a man that dedicated to his profession spends time judging the living rather than looking for the dead. I guess they’re both “flawed” in their own ways. Undertaker’s Revenge should be a hit. 🙂

  11. Pete

    Strayed a little off the prompt. But I’ve got bodies, I’ve got a mortician, and I’ve kind of got a concert, so…

    Body Blow

    At 8-2, with a single KO to his credit, Milo Spinks knew he needed to work on his jab, find a way to better connect on his lackluster right cross. He had the tools, his father said, but needed discipline.

    It was after that second defeat when Mr. Spinks suggested something new, pulling the van into the mortuary on the way home.

    At first Milo had been aghast. Icing his eye, he was woozy and spent. Besides, how would this help?

    Mr. Spinks adjusted his tie, his collar tinged a yellow from age and exposure of his day job as a mortician. “Think of it as a bag,” he said, yanking a pale blue, elderly stiff from the freezer. Milo nearly leaped out of his gym shorts.

    “Now, now, son, just work on the jab. Easy now, come on.”

    A cautious punch. The stiff let out a moan that nearly dropped Milo to the canvas.

    “Just gas, come on. Give him the combo.”

    Eventually Milo was able to string something together. Then harder, absorbing the thud of his fist against skin. The solid clack of four knuckles against the padding of flesh. The ridges of the rib cage. The cool touch of the skin on his fists.

    Training went late into the evening. Any damage to the cadavers could be fixed, his father assured him. Broken ribs weren’t going to keep a dead man up at night.

    And so they returned. And again. Eventually Milo got used to the smell of the shop. The dentist’s lamp hanging above his father’s workstation, it’s gleam catching the shine of the metal gurneys. Mr. Spinks piped in some rap music to keep the kid from getting skittish.

    Mr. Spinks assured Milo that it wasn’t disrespectful, beating the dead. The souls had long departed, and for all purposes he was only punching a slab of meat. Maybe, Milo thought, but Mom would have never allowed it.

    And he certainly couldn’t argue with the results. Milo “The Mortician” Spinks knocked out Ernie Sanders. Whipped JJ “Shortpump” Stokes in three rounds. Then won his next six bouts, four by knockout, to find himself cracking the top ten in the regional rankings.

    A month later, Milo was training hard into the late hours of a drizzling Tuesday night. It was four days before his bout with fifth-ranked Chris “Cleaver” Bradshaw, and the metal hook on the rack squeaked in time with the swaying caused by the precise, disciplined barrage of punches to the greenish, pear-shaped body of a middle-aged banker who’d collapsed on an escalator.

    After exhausting the fat man, Milo took a breather. The banker’s jaw had come unhinged, drooping like a broken drawer. Mr. Spinks’ eyes sparkled with pride, joking how the banker was going to have to hold up for the week because the only other body in the place was that of a young girl. But while Milo had been removed of any moral quandaries with the workouts, beating the pretty porcelain-faced teenage girl was a bit much.

    Mr. Spinks dabbed his son’s brow. “Your mother would be proud, son.”

    “Yeah?” Milo said, unwrapping the tape from his fist. He felt incredible. Disciplined. His body in tune with his mind. Five rounds of sparring and the corpse was breathing harder than him. Milo’s father turned off the rap music. He put in something slower.

    His mother’s voice. She’d sung in the church choir for years. Everyone in town said she had the voice of an angel. An angel called home, they’d said at the funeral. Five years ago. Milo shivered through his sweat. It was like she was in the room with them.

    Then he turned to find his parents.

    “Tell him, Cheryl. Tell him how proud you are of him.”

    Milo’s scream leaped out of his throat. His mother’s hollowed stare remained fixed on his eyes. A slight smile on her face. She sat with her hands in her lap, his father’s grasp on her sharp shoulders.

    “I’ve kept her for us. So that we can be a family again.”

    Milo’s head shook. Words failed to come out of his mouth. His father stood over her, waiting, as his mother’s voice filled the room.

    He fell to the floor. Undisciplined and rubbery. Knocked out cold.

    1. Observer Tim

      When I read this I thought, “He didn’t…!” And then I realized he did. Milo’s dad is one truly strange dude. I’m not sure which triggered the surreal chuckle more, that he let his son box with cadavers or that he kept his wife around after embalming. It’s disturbing, it’s demented, it’s delightful. 🙂

    2. jhowe

      This started with some humor and ended with really well done horror. And then there was all the gold gilded tidbits in between. Excellent. Not since the clown sticking his head where the sun don’t shine have you entertained me more. (that was you, right?)

  12. Kerry Charlton

    A HALF-NOTE FLAT

    ‘It’s supposed to be a serious profession,’ Raymond thought, ‘not a dance concert

    put on by stiffs.’ He read the invitation as he stood in the Stardust Inn in Vegas in 1968.

    ‘The mortuary business is dignified’ he muttered to himself, ‘despite the advantages, no

    return policy, no defective parts, they’re already dead, no guarantees they will work any

    more. And the best of all financing, ‘’Cash and Bury”’

    So he decided to go anyway, donned his tuxedo, and since he was single, picked

    up a ‘lady of the evening’ who swore she could dance beside other things that might

    please him and entered the ballroom. Sure enough, cadavers were playing Glenn Miller

    tunes a half note flat, when he led Delores to the dance floor. Outside of trying to lead

    with her knee in his crotch, she did a mean swing dance and he felt young again, enough

    to put up with a dead-ass band.

    The stage took a 180 degree turn and Satchmo’s orchestra came in view. Far from

    being dead, they jazzed the night away till three in the morning. From Hello Dolly and

    Ain’t Misbehaving to slow tunes, You Go To My Head and Our Love Is Here To Stay,

    Raymond managed to fall in love with Delores on a dance floor in Vegas.

    There is a moral view here, when a squirrelly mortician and a hooker in Las

    Vegas can find love in a single evening of close dancing , it truly is A Wonderful

    World.

        1. Observer Tim

          Beebles is right; this is sweet. Somehow it is most fitting to post the skeleton of a story in response to this prompt. As I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for stories of life found amidst death. I can hear Satchmo in my head. 🙂

          1. Kerry Charlton

            Thanks Tim, I’m also a sucker along with you. What’s going on with the double prompt this week?

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you Critique, I was careful where I placed The songs. A survey was taken many years ago, and those in the business voted for the most influentail person or group from all music created.
        Louie Armstrong won hands down over the masters of music.

  13. charkhanolakha

    Hi guys :).This story has a lot of issues and I want to rewrite it completely, but I have an exam coming up, so I’m posting it as is so I can concentrate on studying :p. So apologizing in advance for said issues!
    Also, a jhonpri is a sort of rough slum dwelling made of mud/straw/whatever’s available.
    ———————————————————-
    Habib poured water over Sarwar’s head, gently wringing out his hair. He bathed Sarwar’s limbs, slowly lowering each arm back down on the table after scrubbing it clean. He rubbed the grime and muck collected from the pavement off Sarwar’s feet. Carefully, he clipped Sarwar’s overgrown nails, not flinching when the cold, dead flesh touched his own.

    He rubbed the body dry, clothed it in the kafan.

    He ensured that Sarwar’s lids were closed shut, then lovingly swept the hair back from his forehead. Finally he lifted the kafan over the young face. “The poor boy, he thought.”

    Sarwar was ready for burial.

    Habib had being doing this job for ten years now; bathing and preparing for burial all the unclaimed corpses that turned up at the city mortuary. He lavished the same gentle care on each of them, trying to wash away the harsh realities of their lives.

    Back at his johpri that night, Habib sat down to a solitary meal of naan (flat bread) and onions. The only light bulb flickered now and then, but always resolutely came back to life.

    Habib was trying not to think about the emaciated state of Sarwar’s young body, the needle tracks running up and down his arms when he heard a knock on the door.
    —————————-
    Sarwar’s body had been left outside the crowded government hospital one day ago. Dr. Akbar, the emergency doctor on duty had come out, taken a quick look at the stiff corpse and said “take him to the autopsy room”. She had not bothered taking the pulse.

    This was a job for the forensic doctor on duty, let him deal with it.

    Dr. Akhtar was busy dipping biscuits in a cup of sweet chai in his office when he was informed there was a body waiting for him in the autopsy room.

    “Some charsi (addict), sir” the ward boy said with a disgusted sniff, and left.

    Dr.Akhtar grunted to show he had heard, and picked up the Autopsy Form. He put his legs up on the table, leaned back and scratched the back of his head with a pen. Time to get inventive. He had always wanted to a writer.

    Name: Unknown.

    Gender: Male.

    Age: “hmm, I’ll just write mid-thirties.”

    Cause of death: Overdose.

    Attire: Shalwar Kameez.

    Procedure: He wrote the reply he had rote learnt in medical school. Body inspected for trauma, Y shaped incision made, all viscera inspected. Standard.

    Findings: Time to think.

    Dr. Akhtar took a long,loud sip of chai, then swore as some of it fell on the form. Wiping it clean with his with white coat he started to write again.

    Findings: No obvious sign of trauma. Finger tips stained black due to tobacco, needle tracks on arms, white deposits in nose, ulcerated nasal septum.

    A pause in the scratching of the pen, a sip of chai.

    “Hmmm…”

    Lungs blackened due to smoke, heart size normal, vessels show age related athermatous plaques.
    Enough information, he thought, for a report no one would ever read.

    He threw the form in his “completed” bin, called the ward boy back to his office and told him to take the charsi downstairs to the morgue.

    Sarwar waited there, frozen, for twenty four hours. Missing reports were searched, attempts made to locate a family. As usual, the attempt would be futile.

    He was then delivered into Habib’s care.
    ————————————————————————–
    Habib stood up, a little surprised. He was not used to visitors at this hour.

    He walked to the rough wooden plank serving as a door. Swung it open.

    “Who’s there?” He called.

    When no one answered, he walked out into the dark. The wind was still, the night quiet.

    Suddenly there was a spot of light in the dark. A lightning bug, Habib realized. The lightning bug flew up to Habib, swam around his head. Habib tried to catch the little creature, but it dodged his attempts. Suddenly, the bug shot up his nose, went through his cribriform plate and entered his brain, lighting up all the corners inside Habib’s head with its glow.

    Habib could see things now, figures, that he hadn’t before. They were slowly becoming clearer. He turned around to run back to his jhonpri, but it had disappeared.

    He was standing in a hall, brilliantly lit. He could hear music: dancing violins and sitars, a soft voice crooning something joyful.

    One of the figures walked up to him. It was a young boy, sixteen years of age, a white shalwar kameez covering his lithe healthy frame, clean skin glowing.

    “Sarwar…?”

    “My real name is Hayat, you know” The boy said with a smile.

    “Thank you for giving me a name though, after the world had forgotten mine.”

    A crowd had gathered around them now. As he looked he saw some faces clearer than others. Faces he recognized.

    Hayat smiled.

    “Yes, Habib. These are the people society had rejected.”
    “The homeless, the addicts, the beggars.’
    ” The ones you bathed and cleaned, and cried for.”

    Habib began to search the crowd for one face; a specific face he had not seen for ten years.

    “I know who you are looking for, Habib” Hayat said with a small smile.

    “She is not here today. Hina, your child. The one whose body you never found.”

    “The one you couldn’t bury.”

    “She is happy though, Habib. She doesn’t remember the earthquake that took her life, or the terror of being trapped inside a fallen house.”

    “She goes to bed with a full stomach now.”

    “I thought I should let you know, Habib.”

    “I thought you would want to know.”

    The hall, the music, the people were fading away now. Habib felt a strange yearning for them, he tried to hold the scene in his mind, stop it from slipping away.

    “Not today, Habib. But one day.” He heard Hayat’s voice say.

    Blankets fell over his eyes. When he next opened them, he was lying in his bed, in the jhonpri and sunlight was filtering in through the window.

    The remains of last night’s meal were still on the table.

    1. Observer Tim

      I don’t see any need to change this; it’s a lovely tribute to a life spent recovering the lost. Death is all around us, and everyone deserves some dignity in it. 🙂

      Either you’ve done excellent research, or you’ve had experience with autopsies.

      1. charkhanolakha

        Thanks OT :).
        I was a medical student in another life. We were taught how to do autopsies. The lack of empathy/disrespect shown by the forensic doctors really struck me back then, but I guess that was part of how they coped with their jobs.

  14. Beebles

    Sorry chaps. i could not dispel the associations this prompt brought to mind. I was going to stay silent but since our passion is to write then I changed my mind. Otherwise this would have been a great prompt.

    Salut les braves qui restent dessous
    Salut les jeunes qui partent devant nous
    Salut ceuxi qui restent dans les rayons
    comme ceux qui ont ete tues pour leurs crayons
    Adieu les braves qui ne restent jamais
    Adieu les jeunes qui ne voieront pas le fin de l’ annee.
    Savez -vous, vous qui existent seulement pour eclater
    Egalite, Liberte, Fraternite. Vous avez rate.

    1. gamingtheblues

      Oy…my french is awful rusty…and google translator is just awful. But…you brought tears to my eyes with this.

      Egalite, Liberte, Fraternite indeed.

      Thank you for reminding me of tragedy…for if we forget it will forever perpetuate.

    2. Observer Tim

      Beautiful and touching, Beebles. I’m not a poet, but I’ll crib one from a century ago. This is what came to mind when I first heard.

      We are the Dead. Short days ago
      We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
      Loved and were loved, and now we lie
      As Paris bleeds.

      – after John McCrae, 1915.

    3. regisundertow

      Beebles, I had a minor fit when I saw the subject due to the associations, but you reminded me the number one rule of dealing with those who would have us change our behavior.

      Beautiful poem. Brave poem. This is what we need more of right now.

  15. cosi van tutte

    This one ran a lot longer than I’d intended, but *shrugs* It was a lot of fun to write. 🙂

    “My dear old friend,

    “It has been a long time. I hope you harbor no ill will to me. After years of therapy, I harbor no ill will to you. (Even though what happened to my lab was entirely your fault.) But no. I will not dredge up old aches and pains. I will leave what happened in the past in the past.”

    Victor stopped and read the last line three times. “In the past in the past. Igor!”

    Igor looked up from his bowl of iron-enriched Wheaties. “Yes, Master?”

    “Does this sound right to you?” He shoved the paper to his henchman.

    Igor read it over. “Is all a-musty sounding.”

    “I can’t help it. It is how I talk. But that last line…Does it sound all right to you?”

    “I will leave what happened in the past in the past.” He giggled. “Add three more ‘in the past’s and Igor a-sleep well tonight.”

    “Idiot.” He reclaimed his letter. “I don’t know why I bother to ask you serious questions.” He bent over his paper and resumed writing.

    ***

    “To prove to you that I am content to bury that hatchet of years gone by, I am extending an invitation to you. Come to the Witness Commercial Theatre at five o’clock on Thursday, November 19. The Steinvarr Symphony Orchestra will be performing music by Berlioz, Wagner, and Schumann in a concert entitled ‘The Symphonic Amelioration of Mankind’.

    (Igor, being the uncultivated peasant that he is, insists on calling it the ‘Cadaver Concert’. My deepest apologies. He has no sense of propriety.)

    Please come and come unaccompanied. I assure you that you will be most surprised.

    Victor”

    Frank sat down at the kitchen table and stared at the letter. He scratched the side of his head, taking care not to tear the stitches again.

    Elanca walked over to her husband. “You’re lost in thought, my love.”

    He showed her the letter.

    “Cadaver Concert. Surely, it must be a tasteless joke.”

    Frank shook his head. “Victor has an uppercrust sense of humor: barely there and maddeningly scientific. He couldn’t tell a tasteless joke even if all of London demanded it.”

    She sat on the chair next to him. “What are you going to do?”

    “I’m inclined to crumple up his letter and throw it in the rubbish bin.”

    “But?”

    “But I haven’t seen him in years.”

    “Which is how it should be. He abandoned you when you needed him the most.”

    “But—”

    “And you have flourished without him. Frank, you don’t need him anymore.”

    “But—”

    “You owe him nothing. Not even the courtesy of a polite hello.”

    “But he gave me life.”

    She lowered her gaze to the letter, but the sight of that paper filled her with too much rage. She contemplated his hands instead. They were rough and uneven. The left hand was four and a half inches longer than the right. But they were both beautiful and perfect in her eyes. A white scar circled both of his wrists. “I don’t want you to go.”

    “Elanca. I want him to see that I am no longer an inarticulate monster. I can speak proper English. I can walk without dragging my feet. I am so much more than he still thinks I am.” He laid his larger hand on top of her hands. “Let me go.”

    “If you go, you might fall under his spell and stay with him. I’ll never see you again.”

    He leaned forward and kissed her lips.

    She looked up at him.

    “I will come back to you.”

    ***

    to be continued….

    1. cosi van tutte

      Continuation/Conclusion…

      Victor sat in a nearby café, drinking black, powerfully strong coffee. It was strong enough to bring someone back from the dead, which was why he had used it in his new experiments.

      He waved the waitress over.

      “What’ll it be, cap’n?”

      “Bring me a whole pot of this vile concoction.”

      She smiled. “Bad day?”

      He elbow-propped on the table and rubbed the sides of his head. He could still hear the cymbals crashing their way through Schumann’s lyrical concerto, the moaning moos of the off-key trombones, the violins squealing screams, and the drums…The drums. Oh, the drums. “Bad rehearsal.”

      She winked at him. “Gotcha, cap’n.” She sashayed back to the kitchen.

      “My lovely plan.” He chugged down the rest of his coffee. “It was in motion – smooth, elegant motion. Now, it is all broken and derailed.” He stared woefully at the inside of the mug. “That monster should be arriving soon and I will have nothing but cacophony to show him.”

      A gentleman stopped beside Victor’s table and said, “Excuse me, sir.” with an unusual emphasis on the word “sir”.

      Victor looked up and the years fell away and sped up all at once.

      The man standing beside his table was indeed a gentleman. But he was a gentleman with a dead man’s face.

      Victor rose from his seat. “You.” He looked him over in awe. “My monster. You’ve returned to me.”

      “I am not your monster anymore. I am Frank. I have a life of my own. I have a wife.”

      “And you speak so well. Voice lessons, I assume?”

      “Many lessons. Some were easy. Others were not. None of them were taught by you. You created me and taught me nothing of life, of human contact, or of anything.”

      Victor waved his hand in dismissal. “That is all inconsequential.” He sat down. “Come. Have a seat.” He frowned. “You are able to sit, aren’t you?”

      Frank didn’t honor that question with a reply. He sat across from Victor.

      “Good. Now that you are here, I have a business proposition for you.”

      “I’m listening.”

      “I’m working on a project that is performing far below my expectations. I would like you to improve it. Raise it to my expectations. Nay. Surpass my expectations.”

      Frank scratched at his head stitches again. “What is it?”

      “My Steinvarr Symphony Orchestra. I thought that they would be ready to perform tonight, but they are…” He struggled to come up with a euphemistic phrase. “They are having significant problems.”

      “I am many things, sir, but I am not a musician.”

      Victor laughed nervously. “Yes. I am aware of that fact, but, you see, the musicians for the Steinvarr Symphony Orchestra are like you. They are all like you.”

      Frank lowered his hand and stared at the other man in shock. “You created them too?”

      “Created is not the right word. After all, creation is the act of—”

      Frank rose out of his seat, grabbed Victor by his shoulders, and raised him up to eye level. “You created more like me? What? What? Will you abandon them too? Will you leave them to be attacked by villagers with pitchforks and torches?” He shook him like a doll. “Will you?”‘

      The waitress came with the new pot of coffee. She assessed the situation for a moment before setting the coffee pot on the table and walking away without saying a word.

      “No! Please set me back on my feet. Let there be no more of this outrageous behavior from one like you.”

      “One like me.” He set Victor back on the floor, but held onto his shoulders. “There was a time when I was the only one like me. Now…How many?”

      “Enough to fill an orchestra.”

      Frank shook his head. “I don’t know that number, but it is more than just me.” He released him. “Are they like me now or are they like how I used to be?”

      “I’ve discovered that strong coffee creates more intelligent life than pure electricity. So, no. They surpass how you used to be, but there are still difficulties.” Victor sat and poured himself another cup of coffee. “They have no rhythm, no musicality.” He took a sip. “I don’t know what to do with them.”

      “Teach them.”

      “I can’t. I haven’t the patience to teach so many.”

      “Then, find one who does.” He started to walk away.

      “Wait. I command you to wait.”

      Frank stopped and looked back at him.

      “I expect you to stay with me. Please help me.”

      Frank gave it long consideration. “I can’t. My wife is waiting for me at home. Treat them well. And remember this: They are not creatures or monsters. They are as alive as you. And me. Good-bye, sir.”

      1. Observer Tim

        This is a lovely and touching story of a child reunited with a neglectful “parent”. Of course Victor hasn’t figured it out; he wants the unconditional support of his “son” without doing anything to earn it. Classic user.

        The whole story brought a tear to my eye for reasons I can’t readily explain.

        As soon as I realized what was going on, I started translating Frank’s speech into the soothing and melodic tones of Boris Karloff (for younger folks, this is best exemplified by his narration of Chuck Jones’s version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”).

      2. ReathaThomasOakley

        Cosi, this is delightful. I saw the monster as Peter Boyle, but this Victor wasn’t Gene Wilder. As an addicted coffee drinker, I totally understood the secret ingredient.

      3. Critique

        This was a lovely story Cosi. The dialogue is wonderful throughout and I agree with OT’s comment – Boris Karloff’s deep voice came to my mind as well. I could picture Frankenstein – er Frank – scratching the stitches on his head 🙂

  16. Trevor

    Word Count: 520

    The Night Of Death

    You’d think that, me being a mortician, the last thing I would want to do is spend any more time than I’d have to around dead bodies. But surprisingly, I find my job very enjoyable. I know that must make me seem like a complete whackjob, but I’ve come to see the funeral home as my second home. There’s something about the peacefully still “visitors” that give me a sense of security. It may seem strange, but it’s what makes me happy.

    So I was immediately intrigued when I received an invitation to the Cadaver Concert. The invitation came in a dark red envelope and was printed on light orange paper with a black border. A message, written in blood red letters, read “You are cordially invited to attend this year’s 2015 Cadaver Concert. Come out and enjoy The Night of Death!” The card was also adorned with pictures of morgue cadavers and the signature of a man named Richard Hamilton. The envelope had no return address, but I assumed that was to keep lunatics from flooding the concert committee’s P.O. Box with sick fan mail. It looked like decent Saturday night entertainment, so I decided to attend.

    That night, I went to the address detailed in the invite, which was (fittingly enough) a cemetery. The night air was brisk and chill, but my winter coat and scarf protected me from the cold. A light breeze blew as I walked across the empty graveyard to the true site of the party: The mausoleum. As I approached the stone building, I was surprised by the absolute silence surrounding the building of tombs. Of course, I expected the corpses taking up residency there not to speak, but I was expecting at least some light conversation from other guests.

    I walked into the mausoleum and found that I wasn’t alone at this concert. There were several other men and women in attendance, but all of them were standing in complete silence, staring straight ahead as if frozen in place. Near the back of the room was a wooden stage with a single microphone on it. Standing behind that microphone was a young man with long dark hair who was wearing a black turtleneck sweater and a lighter black scarf. From his onstage position and visible sense of charisma, I presumed he was our host, Richard Hamilton.

    “Welcome, Damian. I’m glad you could make it to our Night of Death.” Richard said to me, a grin spreading across his handsome face. Richard then clapped his hands together twice, and two similarly dressed young men came out of the shadows, pushing rolling metal tables in front of them.

    The tables were covered in sharp medical tools. Scalpels, tweezers, scissors, the works. At this point, the guests finally snapped out of their collective trance and gathered up tools. Richard didn’t even need to make the announcement for me to know what the intentions of this party was.

    “Enjoy this year’s canvases, my friends. Tonight, we are free.”

    As a mortician, I’ve only seen the outside of a dead body. But the inside is MUCH more fascinating.

    1. Observer Tim

      Isn’t it wonderful when you can build both a job and a hobby out of doing something you love? You did a great job exploring that feeling, Trevor. I’ve been lucky enough to find that feeling twice in my life, though not about such a disturbing subject. Great job. 🙂

  17. madeindetroit

    THE EMBALMING ROOM POET

    Thomas Conner adjusted the thermostat to fifty degrees. Inside the embalming room, the body of a thirty-five year-old male killed in a car accident lay face up on a stainless steel embalming table. The fluorescent lights bounced off the tile floor and walls, and gave the corpse a ‘celestial’ glow. Thomas smiled. He must have been a good man.

    Thomas nodded to his assistant. “Ready to roll, Angie?”

    She nodded and pulled on blue latex gloves over her delicate fingers. Angie grabbed a spray bottle and spritzed the corpse’s face with alcohol. His eyes shot open. She quickly closed them and continued disinfecting the body.
    Despite witnessing that reaction hundreds of times, the title of a collection of poems Thomas wrote popped into his head. The name of his latest anthology would be: EYES WIDE OPEN.

    For the past fifteen years, Thomas wrote poetry—in secret. He wasn’t ashamed of the poems he wrote. Quite the contrary. Living with death everyday provided him with extraordinary insight into life. He yearned to share his work with the world.

    As the embalming process continued, snippets, thoughts, and images flashed through Thomas’ mind. They jumped up, grabbed him by the throat, and strangled him. Ideas flooded his conscience. Other artist’s creativity materialized in the shower. His best ideas came when he was in the embalming room.

    When Angie finished wiring the jaw shut and suturing the eyelids closed, Thomas gently incised the skin at the right clavicle and located the carotid artery. He ligated the artery then located the jugular vein. He opened a two-inch gash across the corpse’s throat. After he inserted an arterial tube into the carotid artery, he gave the thumbs up.

    Angie poured a mixture of formaldehyde, Metaflow, Chromatech, and water into the embalming machine and flipped on the switch. The vacuum pump sputtered to life. Within a minute, blood spewed from the jugular vein and spilled into a drainage trench on the table. The skin on the corpse began to turn pink. Thomas massaged the arms and legs to ensure fluid filled every artery and blood vessel. When he was satisfied the body was filled with fluid, he swiped a finger across his throat. Angie turned off the machine.

    Thomas removed his mask and gloves. “Suture the artery and jugular and work your magic with the makeup.”

    “Will do, boss” Angie said.

    Thomas climbed the stairs to the main floor of Conner and Sons Funeral Home. It was close to noon and the corridor and viewing parlors dead silent. He grinned. Another poem bubbled inside him. He opened the front door and grabbed a stack of envelopes from the mailbox. A purple envelope caught his attention. Inside, an invitation read:

    You’re invited to a Cadaver Concert.
    October 30. 8 p.m. to Midnight.
    Blue Room Saloon. Downtown Northville.

    Thomas read the invitation again and shrugged his shoulders. The monthly funeral association’s meeting had taken a festive theme. Very funny. Inspiration pulsed through his bones. He smiled, stuffed the card in his pocket, and walked downstairs to the embalming room.

    * * *

    Thomas parked in a half-full parking lot. He followed a narrow flagstone alley between two buildings past a pet shop, a vitamin store, and a consignment shop. At the end of the alley, he spotted a blue neon sign over the entrance.

    The place was dim and almost filled to capacity. A plywood platform, a bar stool, and a microphone dominated the front of the saloon. He grabbed an empty table in the back, next to an antique jukebox. He drummed his fingers on the table as his eyes darted around the room. Bohemian seemed to be the costume of choice; he recognized no one in the crowd.

    The crowd hushed. A man jumped on the platform and spoke into the microphone.

    “Hello everybody and welcome to this month’s Poetry Jam, appropriately named the Cadaver Concert, in honor of Halloween.”

    A chill crawled down Thomas’ spine. Poetry Jam? What is this? How do they know I write poetry?

    The man continued. “Before we get started, I’d like to apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused. It seems some of our invitations were lost in the mail.”

    Thomas shook in his chair.

    “So if you’re here by mistake, sit back and enjoy the show.”

    For the next thirty minutes, Thomas heard live poetry performed in a ways he’d never imagined. When the last performer finished, the man jumped back behind the microphone. “The mike is open, folks. Don’t be shy. Who’s next?”

    Thomas waited. When no one volunteered, he jumped from his chair. “Me,” he yelled, “I’m next.”

    When Thomas finished reciting the verses, the crowd stood and applauded. Some hooted. A few hollered. Young and old. Black and White. Male and female. Goosebumps prickled his skin; tears welled in his eyes. His work had merit. His dream accomplished. Because of a wrong address, everything had changed and Thomas realized he would never be the same again.

    1. cosi van tutte

      Great story, madeindetroit!

      The whole first part was very well done and interesting. I will admit that his ability to find poetic inspiration in his work made me worried that the ending was going to take a bloody and macabre turn. But the ending was just right. 😀

    2. Observer Tim

      This is a wonderfully affirming story, Madeindetroit. It’s a beautiful reminder that poetry can come from anywhere, even places the majority of people find distressing. Also, it’s a nice presentation of the feeling that comes when people who don’t know us appreciate our work. Great job on several levels. 🙂

    3. ReathaThomasOakley

      Great portrayal of the unexpected depth of your MC. Long time ago a friend of mine switched from mortuary school to a liberal arts college and went on to become a best selling author, he also provided free ear piercings.

  18. Critique

    An Aberrant Fellowship

    Peter fingered the keyboard and looked around at the cheerless rooms where he spent too many of his days – and nights – working as the district’s only mortician. Business had been brisk and relentless not surprising due to the aging population of the town and also working solo without the help of his assistant Marjorie who mysteriously disappeared a week ago. His was lonely. Not many wished to undertake a social like with someone who embalmed bodies. Glancing back at the screen he scanned the email.

    “Your presence is requested at the Corpus Delicti Exhibition.
    This evening at 7:30 p.m.
    Cathedral on the corner of Balmoral and Fentz..
    Incognito is the operative word.”

    He’d always been curious about the abandoned cathedral.

    He was sick of dead bodies. The smell of preservatives. Dealing with grief. Life was a drudge. He craved adventure.

    He clicked yes, and hit Send.

    Incognito? He had a shelves stocked with lab coats, masks, rubber gloves, and goggles – that should suffice.

    Burned out street lights greeted his arrival at the towering cathedral. In the gloom he could make out two vans parked down the street. His heart beat fast as he maneuvered his bicycle through the jungle of trees, shrubs, and tall weeds towards a lit stairwell on the east side. Leaning the bike against the wall he dug in his backpack for the rest of his gear, snapped on the rubber gloves and crunched down the crumbling stairs to a heavy wooden door. It creaked loudly when he pushed it open.

    Bending his head in the low ceilinged hallway he followed a dim light until he emerged in a cavernous room. The shocking smell of barbequed meat assailed his nostrils. He heard footsteps before his goggled eyes adjusted and he saw a band of cloaked hooded forms closing in.

    Alarm swept like wildfire through his veins and he turned to flee when a male voice stopped him.

    “Welcome. We are honored for you to join us. Please, come in.”

    Peter turned and looked up into glittering black eyes.

    “Our identities shall remain anonymous. What happens here must never leave this room. Anyone caught shall suffer.” The tall figure crowded Peter’s space. “Is that understood?”

    Hooded figures stood motionless, watching. Breaking into a sweat Peter looked at them through fogged up goggles and nodded.

    “It is time to break bread.”

    Where was that smell coming from?

    Silently the group formed a circle around a table draped with a large cloth that hung in folds down to the floor. The spokesman waved his hands over the table and proceeded to chant rhythmic unintelligible words. Then with dramatic ceremony he peeled the cloth aside in the middle and delicious smells filled the room.

    It was difficult to see exactly what lay underneath the cloth but the hooded figures began reaching in with their hands and removing what looked like sausages, succulent chunks of meat and devouring it with their fingers.

    The spokesman gestured for Peter to help himself.

    Reaching into what felt like a large ceramic bowl, Peter fingered a large chunk of hot barbequed meat. The meat melted in his mouth and he found himself reaching for more and more.

    Echoing throughout the room was the sound of gorging and the rustle of arms greedily reaching for more. No one spoke.

    Suddenly the spokesman whisked the cloth off of the table. To Peter’s astonishment and profound horror he saw what looked like a cadaver lying spread eagled on the table and they had been eating out of its stomach cavity.

    The legs – clearly female – were hanging over the end of the table.

    The arms hung out to the sides. And the face. Peter found himself staring into the lifeless face of his assistant, Marjorie.

    Peter’s knees buckled and the feast of meat ended up splattered across the stone floor. When he regained his breath, the spokesman helped him to his feet and said, “Welcome comrade, to UFAC. The Underground Fraternity of Alternative Cannibalism.”

    Peter’s goggles had slipped down his nose and he glared numbly into black empty eyes.

    “You do understand, don’t you Peter?” The man leaned in threateningly. “You are one of us now.”

    1. Amaria

      I knew someone would write about cannibalism for this prompt. Well done Critique, though at first I had flashes of “Eyes Wide Shut” movie until you got to the food part. LOL. I don’t know what is wrong with my mind today. First Hannibal Lecter, now Eyes Wide Shut.

      1. Critique

        The prompt made me think of someone I know whose favorite season is Halloween and decorates his house to the nines – one year he had a dummy carcass on his kitchen table and the guests ate goodies out of the stomach cavity – not my cup of tea but the idea seemed to work for me with this story 🙂
        Thanks for you comments Amaria.

    2. Observer Tim

      For some reason, my mind reacted to this story with “Don’t eat the brains! The risk of disease is too high!” but it followed up with “No problem, since he knew the girl he’d have been able to see symptoms before supper.” This is very nicely done, Critique, with a beautiful slow build. 🙂

      1. Critique

        Many thanks OT for your comments. As I mentioned above, the idea for the story came from someone’s Halloween prop on his kitchen table – a dummy corpse with the guests eating goodies from the stomach cavity – rather unsettling to say the least but worked for me with this prompt.

  19. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

    The Ballad of Roses
    (The Cadaver Cadence Concert)

    Trevor breathed heavily as he pulled the rope, and the thrum from the braided cord’s vibration filled his ear with a kind of music he could appreciate. Maybe it wasn’t the melody of voices or any instruments working together in harmony. It was a beautiful sound, nevertheless.

    When he finished hoisting his newest actor into the air, he looked up. They all remained high, though at different elevations.

    Jasmine wore her new silver ballet costume stained with the blood that had drained from her slit throat. He’d carved a larger hole into her neck, and fitted in it a small speaker. He had fished the wires through her body, out her back, and through the harness where it traveled up the rope and connected to the sound system. Each of her limbs had a separate braided-steel wire connect by rivet through the bone. These connected to the mechanism that he’d preprogrammed for her movements.

    She was but one of eight others who hung from his theater, ready to dance for him that night. There was also Michael, Heather, Yao, Arthur, Gina, Lindy, Dana, and Hector. None but two of them knew each other, but they all had one thing in common. They all made the biggest mistake of their lives.

    On that night two years ago, Michael worked his second shift at the Blue Lagoon Bar & Grill. The final few hours of his day, he hustled behind the counter serving drinks. Gina, the server, took four full shot glasses from him, and balanced them on her tray as she maneuvered through the crowd.

    She dropped the drinks off on table twenty-two near an ashtray with a smoldering cigarette weeping threads of smoke into the air. Lindy and Yao each took the shots in their hands, spilling them as they interred the warm drink to their temporary resting place. Seconds later, they exploded out of the bar and into the street.

    The yellow indicator lights were the only things illuminating the street that night. Their amber glow danced over the wet surface while the car glided along the road as a first-time skater might on fresh ice. The side of the car struck the little boy, sending him flying down the street. The tires rolled over the woman’s body, crumpling and twisting it beyond repair.

    Jasmine slowed her car to avoid the collision, but a small body smashed against her windshield. She slammed on her brakes, and the body rolled off. She jumped out of the car, and waited much too long to call the police. As a result, the boy had little chance.

    A lovely young nurse, Heather, worked with the doctor, Arthur, to save the young life. This wasn’t the only thing they worked on that night. Earlier, she’d found out that he had been seeing someone else on the side. Instead of putting themselves aside to help the poor boy, they allowed their own lives to interfere. Any chance he had was gone.

    Dana arrested Lindy and Yao, but failed to file the proper paperwork. She gathered no evidence that either Lindy or Yao had been drunk while driving the car. She might have, had she not started abusing her medication two week prior. This left Hector, the superior court Judge, no choice but to send Lindy and Yao home.

    Trevor took a deep breath of the frigid air. When he exhaled, a soft cloud billowed from his lips. He’d desired this moment for so long that it felt as if it was too soon to turn the power on, but eventually he reached over to the control panel and moved the switch.

    The Ballad of Roses began to play, a score he wrote himself after the death of his wife and son. Michael crossed the stage, legs moving unnaturally. He reached Gina, who appeared to bow, all limbs dangling, and then they swayed as they moved to find Lindy and Yao. The play continued on to the end, fading out. A moment later, the lights faded back in, and the play started over. It was to be an endless loop forever reminding the world of what had happened that night and how each one of these people had failed Trevor and his family.

    Trevor stepped across the stage, carefully avoiding collision with the actors, and then climbed a tall ladder. At the top, there was a chair. The ornately designed oak had a garnishment of royal purple satin inlaid into the seat and back. He sat down, and placed a crown of razor wire over his skull. The blades sliced into his skin, and blood drained down his face.

    He looked upon the wicked, taking his place as the ultimate failure. His sight soon blurred, yet another effect of the poison he ingested before hoisting Jasmine. It was there he wept until the final remnants of his life drained from him. It was there he sat, silently attending the Ballad of Roses.

    1. Observer Tim

      It took me a while to think of proper words to describe this tale of loss, madness and revenge. The best I can come up with is a “tragedy of epically poetic justice”. I hope Poe is watching his back, because this is a Tale of Mystery and Imagination indeed. 🙂

  20. Observer Tim

    CADAVERPALOOZA

    Took a short break from the sci-fi for this one.

    The flip chart in the hotel lobby catches my attention; somebody has drawn a tombstone on it, as well as a fairly well-rendered skeleton. Bold block letters of red and green reads, “Cadaverpalooza!” scrawled underneath in blue is, “Party on, for tomorrow we die!” Below that in black is “Everyone welcome: living, dead, or in-between.” The muted sound of rock music is coming through the door to the Founders’ Room.

    I’m in town for the night; tomorrow morning I’m driving Jorgen Vandermeer back to Dayton, where a pine casket and twenty square feet of real estate are waiting for him. Until then I have some free time.

    About forty people are here, mostly between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five. A deejay is spinning tunes and a lot of people are dancing; a small table of food and drinks rests largely unattended to one side. I would have said youth club dance except for the three people in scrubs at a table to one side. They’re either the world’s weirdest chaperones or something is up.

    A girl of about seventeen in a tie-dyed sack dress and bare feet grabs my hand and pulls me onto the floor. We look quite the pair; her a pretend hippie and me in my black three-piece with the polished shoes. Thank God I haven’t totally forgotten how to dance.

    As the music fades she looks up at me, “Little early for the funeral, aren’t you?”

    “Huh?” Not the most eloquent response, but she laughs. It’s musical.

    “Mom made me pick out my dress. I told her to bury me naked; that way lots of guys will show up for the funeral.”

    “Funeral? Am I missing something? Is this some kind of wake?”

    “No, silly! Wait, aren’t you from the ward?”

    “Ward?”

    “The Palliative Ward. Me and some friends organized this party as a last big blast before… you know. What brought you here?”

    “I’m in town to pick up…” I realize it’s a bit silly being nervous about it, “…a body.”

    She giggles a moment, then shouts, “Hey! Anybody need a hearse yet?”

    Lots of no’s and general laughter.
    A slower song starts and she pulls in close. “I bet you think we’re weird.”

    I think about it. What would I be like if I knew I was going to die? Probably not this. Even so…

    “No, you’re not weird.”

    She flashes me a thousand-watt smile and we dance some more; about halfway through the song she motions for us to sit down. “Metastatic cancer. My lungs aren’t what they used to be.”

    Once we sit she pulls her chair up and leans on me. “So what’s your name, Mister Driver?”

    “Don. You?”

    “Kelly. You can kiss me if you want; act now before it’s too late.”

    I take her up on it. All I can think of is how fantastically full of life she is, especially considering…

    Three weeks later she gets a ride in the back of my car.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      This is a marvelous, touching story you’ve written The prompt is followed and you write final romance. I love the fact they kissed and danced close to slow music. Every thing is so rush up-hurry today, she takes a last step into life and relishes it to the fullest. Makes you feel sad and warm all over, reading it.

      1. Observer Tim

        Hope and tragedy are the same coin; the tricky part is remembering they’re not opposite sides.

        I didn’t take the chance last week; I’m sorry to hear about your separation from your brother. May your memories hold him with you for a very long time until you have to join him.

    2. cosi van tutte

      Hey, OT!

      This part just took my breath with just the plain simple tragedy of it:
      “I take her up on it. All I can think of is how fantastically full of life she is, especially considering…
      Three weeks later she gets a ride in the back of my car.”

      Great story!

  21. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

    After the Storm [Part 3]

    Bad men do bad things, and when bad things happen to bad men, I believe good men should do nothing.

    I can’t consider myself a good man because I had done things in my life that some might consider morally wrong. Would I do them again? In a heartbeat. They were things of necessity to survive.

    Doing something out of necessity doesn’t make it right or wrong, it just makes it a thing to do. What turns those things decidedly bad is how those actions affect the lives of others. For me, maybe it was a good thing. For someone else, for the now orphaned child of the father I had to kill or for the woman I justifiably crippled, I was an evil man.

    Knowing this, I will always act in good faith of what I perceive to be the right thing to do. The right thing for me at that moment would have been to allow the creature to kill those men, allowing me the chance to escape. However, I needed to save them. They knew something about a redheaded woman named Nichole that sounded too good to be true, but I had to be certain it wasn’t my wife. Because I didn’t know where their camp was or if I could even find it if this creature mauled them, saving them seemed my only option, even if it guaranteed they would repay this favor by continuing to live to do bad things.

    As the creature leapt forth toward its victims, I stepped out of the cubicle. I had no gun. I decided a long time ago that I shouldn’t carry one. My aversion to them has nearly caused my death on several occasions, but I have my reasons. Therefore, I kept a knife sheathed on my left hip, instead.

    I drew the dagger, and before I knew what I was doing, I banged the blade against the aluminum border of the cubicle from which I had crawled. My impulsive, if not stupid, intent was to lure it away from the men so the monster wouldn’t take them by surprise. By the looks on their faces, I managed to surprise them more than anything else did.

    I wasn’t really sure if making noise had any effect until the gruff man’s neck exploded with blood. Torn flesh hung from his neck as he reached up and covered the wound. His neck and clothes turned red as a bouquet of blood shot from his neck. While he fell to the ground, his scream was something of a gurgle tortured by the pleas of a desperate man. These weeps for his life didn’t last long before silence marked his end.

    The other man turned, a spray of bullets from his gun tore up the carpet and shattered the concrete below. The deafening ring penetrated my ears, drilling into my brain. The shots split through the man on the floor, completely missing the monster that had now gone elsewhere to stalk and attack again.

    When he stopped firing, he looked around the room in shock. The area was suddenly quiet; we could hear nothing more than the soft susurration of the rain through the shattered windows of this derelict building. The water slipping from the floor above made a tap, tap, tapping sound that constricted my nerves into tiny, painful knots.

    A cold breeze tightened my skin as I scanned the room with him, both of us desperate to find the creature. I suspect he hoped as much as I did that it had gone because neither of us was equipped to take on a single creature. Of the two of us, though, he had better chances.

    As our predator stalked us in plain sight, we looked at each other in fear. It had no reason to wait. It could have killed us at any moment, and yet, it didn’t. The reason for this remained unclear, but I suspect it was playing with us. Getting pleasure out of our fear and suffering.

    No one really knows what brought those bastards here or their purpose for existence. Some say they are the hounds of hell come to collect those whom God denied the right to enter heaven. This didn’t make much sense to me considering the vast mixture of people killed was both evil and good. That’s not to say I have some authority that emphatically proves that any of these people were good and deserving of peaceful eternity, but it was a safe bed at least some of them were actually good. As cynical as I am, even I knew better.

    Others believed the monsters originally existed as figments of human imagination. Much like Nichole’s belief that if you think positive then good things can happen, people believed that men have the ability to dream things up and make them a reality. They believed that these creatures began as hallucinations, and because so many people believed in them, they became real.

    I honestly don’t know what to believe, even to this day, but I do know that they didn’t seem real. They existed in our world as mostly invisible beings that enjoyed noshing on human flesh. Probably chewed the bones, too.

    On the east end of the room, something banged against the wall. As I turned warily in that direction, an old painting went crooked and then fell. The creature was definitely over there, but I heard a noise immediately behind me that disagreed.

    I whipped around to face my attacker, but instead watched the gruff man’s corpse appear to stand and dance floppily in the air. Blood still dribbled from his neck, and his limbs moved softly as the creature lifted him. I don’t really know how it carried him because, after all, I still could not see it, but it was a safe bet it was trying to carry him away on its back. This whole time, though he had a gun, the man standing nearest stared in horror, unable to take action and kill the creature.

    The body seemed to dance across the room and finally fell to the floor near the farthest wall. The creature dragged his hand into a small hole, and tried to force the rest through that tiny space as well. The surrounding concrete flayed and scraped off his skin as the bones crunched and caved.

    It was disturbingly reminiscent of a Vegas show my wife and I went to before all of this. They’d strapped the singers into harnesses and hung them from the ceiling. While the singers remained slack and bloody like dead bodies, they had puppeteers above them dance them around the stage like marionettes. Walking among them was the lead, whom was a mortician that had lost is wife and son. It was a depressing show they called the Cadaver Cadence Concert.

    There was nothing remarkable about the performance. The story wasn’t all the great, and the singing was okay. What made it special was that it was the night I got the best (and worst) news of my life. That was the moment I learned Nichole was pregnant with our son.

    Suddenly, I felt like the mortician. I walked among the dead in this desolate world, and while I sung no song of sorrow, the weeping clouds seemed to do that well enough for me with their dissonant booms of thunder and the endless drumming of rain upon the land.

    I watched the last bit of the gruff man’s foot disappear through the now bloody and skin-caked hole, and heard yet another clatter from a different part of the room. A sudden realization froze me as icy finger clawed my back. My gaze returned to the man standing before me, and he had the same look on his face that I surely had on mine. We knew we were in a shitty situation, but making it even worse was the recognition that the monster wasn’t alone.

    1. cosi van tutte

      Hi, Jay!

      Just so you know, this whole part gave me goosebumps:
      “…and heard yet another clatter from a different part of the room. A sudden realization froze me as icy finger clawed my back. My gaze returned to the man standing before me, and he had the same look on his face that I surely had on mine. We knew we were in a shitty situation, but making it even worse was the recognition that the monster wasn’t alone.”

      Bring on Part 4! 😀

    2. Observer Tim

      This continues to build; it takes a certain craft to resolve suspense while continuing to build it, and that craft is truly evident here. The story is building toward spine-chilling methinks, and given that my spine has a built-in heater that takes some effort. Great story, Doc, and great continuation. Keep on going!

  22. Amaria

    Why was it that the first thing that I thought of when I read this prompt was Hannibal Lecter? LOL. With my mind swimming in madrigals for the November PAD challenge I doubt I’ll come up with a story though.

  23. ReathaThomasOakley

    Homecoming 1905
    The morning after last week’s hallucinations galore

    “This ain’t the way I was aiming to bring you home,” Horace said as he patiently urged the weary horses through the last of the pines toward the clearing ahead. “I wanted a fancy carriage, not this dirty ole grove wagon.”

    “Oh, Horace,” the young woman sighed and squeezed his arm. “It don’t matter how I get any place no more, long as I’m with you. This is a fine wagon, and,” she gave a tiny giggle, “don’t you go low-rating this here wagon, ’cause since last night I reckon it’s my wagon, too.”

    “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah,” Horace whooped her name, “you are right, ‘with all my worldly goods, I thee endow,’ even this here wagon. And, guess that also means that crate in the back is mine, too.” He was still smiling as the house came into view.

    “What the…” he started to say. “What’s that doin’ here?” He stiffened in the seat.

    “Horace, that wagon in yore yard,” Sarah moved slightly away from her new husband, “it looks like a…Oh, Horace, it’s from a funeral parlor.” Sarah shuddered. Neither spoke until Horace pulled the horses to a stop next to the man in a black suit smoking by the shiny black horses.

    “Otis,” he said.

    “Horace, Miss,” the man replied, as he dropped his cigarette and slowly shook his head.

    “What you doin’ here, fronta my house at 6 o’clock?”

    “Now, Horace, I reckon that’s something you gotta tell me. I’m thinkin’ maybe this is a mistake, ’cause you ain’t dead. John Palmer said…”

    “What’s he got to do with this?” Horace handed the reins to Sarah and jumped down. John Palmer, he thought, Sue Ann’s father.

    “Well, all I know is he come to my establishment yesterday, been drinkin’ I suspect, tole me to be here at dawn to collect a body, tole me to bring the good hearse.”

    “And, you jus’ done what he said, didn’t ask no questions?” Horace pushed his hands deep into his pants pocket to hide the shaking.

    “Folks don’t cross John Palmer, you know that, Horace.” Otis walked a few yards away, forcing Horace to follow. “He give me fifty dollars, said I’d get another fifty after the service. Had it all writ out, even the songs. Said he wanted lotta music, said it was gonna be a reg’lar cadaver concert.” Otis laughed, but stopped at the look on Horace’s face. “I, uh…” he stammered.

    Horace turned away from Otis, looked back at the lovely young woman on the wagon seat, looking so frightened. Oh, Sarah, you ain’t but a girl, Horace thought, what have I done. I just wanted to marry you, bring you and our babe to this house. Has my pride doomed us both?

    “Otis,” Horace said over his shoulder, “I think John Palmer got him some bad shine, was just funnin’ you. You better get on back to town.” Horace walked to his wagon and Sarah. “Me? I gotta carry my bride over the threshold of our new house.”

      1. Critique

        Wonderful writing here Reatha. I could picture the wagon, the characters, and the ‘old west’ surroundings. The old west lingo and dialogue was excellent 🙂

        1. ReathaThomasOakley

          Critique, thanks so very much for your comments. I’ll just put central Florida in for old west. And, Florida was, and still is, a cattle producing state. My father’s people came south before the civil war and provided beef and produce for the confederate troops. That part, a little north of where I’ve set this, was known as the bread basket of the south when other areas were ravaged by war. Crackers got that name from the sound of bull whips cracking over the herds. Oops, that history degree just popped out.

    1. cosi van tutte

      Great use of the prompt, Reatha!

      And, for some reason, I really like this part:
      “Otis,” Horace said over his shoulder, “I think John Palmer got him some bad shine, was just funnin’ you. You better get on back to town.”

      😀

    2. Observer Tim

      This is lovely, Reatha. I’m finding the people of these stories believable and appropriate to the period, and each likeable in their own way (though Horace took a bit). I have a feeling we haven’t seen (or heard) the last of John Palmer.

      I love the way you’ve taken me from certainty about Horace being Sarah’s killer to a state of almost total doubt. I eagerly await further developments. Bravo. 🙂

    3. charkhanolakha

      This is wonderfully written, Reatha, and the dialogue on point as usual! I especially enjoyed the banter between Sarah and Horace. Can’t wait for the next part.

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