Author : Richard D. Deverell
My name is Jackson Smith. I work as the coroner for a large county with a small population and even smaller infrastructure. Last week, a train derailed in our county, dumping toxic chemicals that killed more people in the week after the accident than the derailment itself. I hadn’t slept in nearly forty-eight hours when I had a conversation that forever changed my life.
It was nearing three A.M. as I wrote up my notes on one of the victims of the chemical spill when I heard a noise from the other room. At first, I attributed it to lack of sleep and the depression of seeing so much of my community come through my office. A clatter followed the indeterminate noise, so I went to check it out, fearing that some reporter had snuck in to get photos of the disaster.
Inside the other room, one of the corpses was sitting up, bent at the waist with its legs straight out. I thought it was the result of rigor mortis or outgassing until the body turned to look at me.
Now, I’ve seen plenty of zombie movies, but this wasn’t some horror-show grotesque that looked at me. The skin way ashen, but the eyes shone with intelligence. The corpse looked at me and said, “Have you seen my liver? I feel empty inside.”
I was at a loss for words, but, my parents raised me to be polite and the corpse was looking at me expectantly, so I stammered, “Um, it’s with some of your other organs in sample jars in the fridge. For testing.”
The corpse paused a moment, processing, before he shrugged. “Okay, just remember to put it back when you’re done.”
The corpse paused and looked around. Seeing the clock and the late hour, he looked back at me and asked, “Shouldn’t you be home?”
I rubbed my temples, overcome with weariness from the lack of sleep and because I was barely able to process the current situation. “I should be,” I said, “but there’s a lot of work here and nothing there, so I’ve been working.”
The corpse gestured to a chair in the corner, “Sit down and tell me about it.”
I accepted his invitation, thankful for anyone to talk to, even the dead. “It’s been a rough week. Do you remember what happened?”
He shook his head.
“Okay, well, you and many others were killed as the result of an accident. As the only coroner in the county, I’ve been pulling double and triple shifts just to keep up.”
“Yes,” he said, “but why isn’t there anything at home?”
“I don’t really have anything besides work.”
He scratched his chin. Such a strange gesture for a dead man! “Is work fulfilling, at least,” he asked.
“No, but it distracts me.”
I thought about it. Why did I work here? I’d been in this job for nearly a decade without advancement or improvement. Most people barely knew me and I made no effort to get to know them. Afraid I was being rude or taking too much time, I said, “I suppose it distracts me from life.”
The corpse pondered this and gestured to the refrigerator. “My organs are in there,” he said, “but you’re the empty one.”
I turned to the fridge, following his gesture, and when I looked back he was lying down again and still, as though nothing had happened. At a loss, I went back to my office and work. I’m not sure what frightens me more: that we had a conversation, or what he said.