The Rogue Brainchild
By Chauncey Haworth
Deborah Oakdale woke in her bed in a panic, her vivid dream burnt into her waking memory. A dream of being caught in a grave as mangled, dirtied and bloodied arms reached out to her; a dream she’d been having often lately. She peeled her sweat soaked nightgown from her chest, swung her legs to the side of the bed, and sat there as she rested her head in her damp, trembling hands.
Deborah ‘s parents owned Oakdale Cemetery and it was here Debbie had grown up. But, even through all the funerals in the fields, wakes in the chapel, and corpses in the preparation room, never once had she been scared of the bodies. Sure, she hated them for what they’d done to her life. They’d made her a social pariah at times and at others kept her away from fun to deal with the family business of death, but she had never been scared before. But when that grave opened up and she fell in, she felt like she was being pulled in, like the old dead in the east field knew she hated them, and they hated her in return. Like, they wanted her to feel the way they felt, nothing and to be nothing. Years she had helped her mother and father transport the bodies, passed bodies while they played in the old parsonage, but now, the thought of seeing one again felt like it would be the end. She felt like she was running and to put herself within their grasp again would give up the game. Give up her ghost, to theirs.
The past couple of days had been a nightmare. A few days ago her parents found her unconscious from screaming in a triple stacked grave in the east field. In the early 1900s a massive fire at Pierson’s Flouring Mill had killed so many that their bodies were buried three deep out in the east field. An unfortunate long-term side effect of this was unstable ground, which Debbie had discovered when stepping on one and falling neck deep into the sinkhole of deteriorated wood and decayed bodies. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, she then had to be babied and fawned over the whole time, forced to repeatedly tell her parents she was fine, and she was fine, right? Other than the dreams she was fine. God the dreams. All night long, she dreamed of corpses and zombies and graves. Her parents had relieved her of her duties until today. They had done it out of concern for her physical well being, she had appreciated it because she hoped to never again visit the east side of the cemetery.
She put on a robe to cover her nightgown that was practically transparent with dampness, and went downstairs. She walked into the kitchen
“Good morning sleepyhead,” her mother said.
“Mornin’,” she mumbled back. On the table was a pretty good spread. Too good of a spread.
“Why all the food?” Debbie asked.
“Today is the life celebration for the Trumbleson family. I wanted to make sure that you and dad were all filled up and ready for work. Do you think that you can manage today?” Her mother’s tone switched to concern.
“Shit… and yes.” Debbie Said. She knew today was important. It was a big funeral and a local one. The Trumbleson family was a fairly big name in town, with many factions in all sorts of things from construction to law to politics. This celebration was for George and Bradley Trumbleson, the first being an operations manager at the mine, and the latter being his teenage son. The two had been found dead in their home of apparent heart attacks. Maybe not too shocking for George, but a total mystery for Bradley.
“Shit? Why shit?” Debbie’s mom asked.
Debbie lied to smooth things over. “Just tired is all, I’ll be okay.”
“Well eat up, I’ll go get your father.”
Deboah sat down at the table, a fresh made breakfast in front of her. Eggs, bacon, ham, potatoes, everything anyone could desire. But she didn’t desire any of it. She forked the yolks as they bled neon yellow across the plate, soaking the ham and bacon in their flow.
Her mom called down the stairs. “Hurry up honey, we need to start getting prepped.”
Debbie quickly took the food from her plate up to the sink and shoved it down the garbage disposal side and sat back down.
Her mom returned. “Oh, have you finished already? Do you want more?”
“No thanks mom, I’m already full. I better get ready”
“Okay honey. Black and white today as usual.”
“I know mom, like this is my first funeral.”
“It’s a life celebration, Deborah”
“Whatever, I know, sorry.”
Deborah returned upstairs to shower and change. Once she was in the bathroom she removed the robe and peeled the still wet nightgown from her body. Looking at herself in the mirror she noticed that she’d lost weight, but what was she supposed to do, are you supposed to eat if you’re not hungry. She noted her ribs sticking out from her sides. She grabbed her breasts and popped them up. At least her breasts weren’t losing weight. “Ribs and tits,” she thought, maybe she had a future in modeling once she was away from this hellhole. She got in the shower and took all the time she wanted, she felt she deserved it.
After, dressed in a white shirt with black skirt, socks and shoes she no longer felt like being a model was in her future. She wondered to herself if it was more healthy to feel confident with clothes on or off, and then decided that she wasn’t exactly dying to be seen either way. Today she didn’t have a choice. She may hate this place and her role at it, but she knew that the mortuary life was not her parents first choice either. She knew that they were all doing the best they could. Being filled with so much hate for this place, it wasn’t easy for her not to direct it at her parents, but she normally did a pretty good job of it.
She watched herself in the mirror as she forced a smile onto her face. It looked realistic, so she was ready. She heard chatter and directions from out the window, no doubt her mom bossing her dad around in the yard about decor and flowers. She headed down the stairs. As she came to the front door she paused. She again took inventory, Black, white, smile, I got this.
Debbie stepped out on the porch to see what she thought she would. Her mother yelling lovingly, but still yelling, at her father and pointing in random directions. Kids see more than parents think they do. Over Debbie’s seventeen years she’d watched her parents. Their most common fight was over working together. Her mother had everything figured out, could track every issue, track every item and thing that needed tracking. Her father would forget everything, but still do all he was told with a smile on his face. On the flipside, her mother was stressed and overwhelmed by all the bullshit in her head and her father was always there to try his best to alleviate it. It still ended in a fight sometimes, not often but sometimes. Debbie wondered if they saw what she saw, a pair of people that did a pretty good job of supporting one another and made mistakes along the way.
Her mother noticed her standing there. “Honey, what are you doing? We need your help. Would you go down to the undercroft at the parsonage and grab some more chairs?”
“How many can you carry?”
“Four,” Debbie grunted.
“Then, four,” her mom mocked.
With a roll of her eyes Debbie headed to the parsonage. Her parents did what most business owners did, get in character when being businessy. An undercroft was a churchy name for a basement and the basement at the parsonage did not deserve such a fancy title. It was basically a mop closet at the bottom of some stairs. But, her mom liked to play up the history of the mortuary.
As she walked across the ground she couldn’t help but to think of what might be beneath her. She tried to put it out of her mind. The return to the attitude she had before the east field, before falling in the hole of bones. Death was death, and fear was fear, and while the two may be connected by people, they were not connected in reality. But still, under every footfall she imagined an echo spreading through the ground, alerting the dead to her location, letting them know where her next step would land, making it easy for them to spring their next trap.
Debbie knew she was moving slow, too slow, slow enough to garner her parents attention. She looked back. They were distracted in their usual prep bickering. She sped up just in case. She moved quickly across the grass, the blades sweeping beneath her black mary janes, the black soles digging into the damp ground with each step just to be plucked from the sunken indentation with each stride, leaving a trail, a trail of breadcrumbs leading right to her. Sunken holes for the residents of sunken graves.
The last two feet to the deck of the parsonage was practically a leap. She felt relief as her heavy soles landed on the wooden refuge. Debbie reached out and grabbed the door handle. It was cold to the touch and she paused for a second as she processed the fear she’d built up. Why was she being so foolish? She stared at the brass knob in her hand, its mix of black and tarnish swirling before her, her receding panic slowing the swirl to a stop.
“Deb, Hurry up, we need those chairs!” She heard her mom yell from in front of the church.
She turned the knob and opened the door. The lights were out. She traced the wall for the switch, starting about a foot too high, she slid her hand down until her fingers found it in the darkness. She flipped the light on. What was once the living room of the parsonage had been converted to an office. Surrounding her were several desks with stacks of papers. She assumed that the papers were unsigned death certificates. Her mom complained about how hard it was to get doctors to sign death certificates.
She made her way across the room, winding around boxes, papers, desks and chairs, the typical mess that a family owned business was buried in. When she came to the door at the dark end of the room she stopped. She stopped, her arms hanging limply at her sides as she stared at it. Her entire field of vision was taken up by that door, the door. The door to the preparation room. She felt cold again. She felt the fear again. She felt like she was a fool again. How long was this going to last? She only fell in a damn hole. Why was this bothering her so much? Why did it bother her to begin with? Sure, falling in a hole is startling, but this is getting ridiculous. She reached down to the lever shaped doorknob and rested her hand on it.The weight of her hand started to drop the lever, she flexed her arm to stop it.
“I am going to open this door,” she thought to herself. She pushed the lever down a little further, stopping again. “I will open this damn door,” ran through her mind again. She pushed the lever until it wouldn’t go any further and the door latched and popped open, but only an inch.
Through the cracked door was only darkness. She rallied her strength and opened the door fully.
Again she had to find the lightswitch. Again her muscles knew exactly where the switch was. The light sprung on. Darkness immediately washed away as the situation went from imagined nothing to immediate everything. The walls with framed diplomas and recognitions, the sinks with their polished steel and shining faucets, the lights with their fluorescent buzz and offensive glare, the stainless steel tables with their twisted reflections and draping white cloths, cloths that covered bodies. The bodies of George and Bradley Trumbleson were still in here! She could smell the chemicals, she could smell the bleach, they had been embalmed, but the bodies were still here, in the room with her, right in front of her, blocking the path between her and those fucking chairs! Debbie froze.
Nothing moved in the room but, to Debbie it felt like the room was spinning. One of her hands was still on the handle and one on the switch, both hands clamped down on the item they were closest to. SHe clutched the switch and handle for deer life as her feet gave way, the jelly beneath her that was once legs barely holding her up. The fluorescent lights flickered as her panicked eyes did the same, causing a throbbing in her eyes and mind. She did the best she could. Why? Why should it be so hard to get a few chairs? She closed her eyes and breathed. Slowly, her body tried to speed up but she forced it back to a measured pace.
She calmed herself. “You are okay. They are dead. Not in a scary way, but in a sensible way. They were alive. They were probably good people that wanted to still be alive, but shit happens and we are all sad that shit happened to them, but they are not here any longer.
Her premeditated breathing slowly became her natural breathing. She opened her eyes. The room was the same, sinks, fluorescent light, stainless steel tables and two bodies, but the fear had subsided. She released her grip from the switch and knob.
In front of her were two bodies, the dead unmoving two bodies, and beyond that? Beyond that was the door to the undercroft, the basement, the door to the fucking chairs! Whatever the fuck its called! Debbie took another deep breath and started her trek across the room
She put one foot in front of the other, looking down so as to only see the white tile and black grout. Each tile was about half a foot, the door was about thirty feet away, that’s sixty tiles. She stayed focused on the tiles, arms out to stabilize her stress-waning weight.
Halfway across the room she felt a common feeling on her finger tips. A feeling that would normally cause her little grief but a feeling that in this moment filled her with dread, sent tingle through her body, made her want to run, made her heart beat into her throat, she felt the gentle scrape of cotton on her fingertip, she felt one of the sheets.
She stopped in her tracks, her world started to spin again. The once uniform geometric shapes of the white tiles and black grout turned to parabolas and hyperbolas, the black and white tiles blinding her with their starkness. She was touching a body. Her legs turned to jelly and she fell to the cold tiled floor, slipping her way to a sitting position. With her back against cold metal drawers she looked up at the table, the fluorescent lights flickering beyond. Her eyes felt like they were in seizure, her body felt paralyzed, but her mind was clear, she could think clearly, she could see what she saw and what she saw was the body under the cotton sheet rolling over, rolling toward her. Fucking moving!
As the corpse moved, the sheet peeled away revealing the face of the young, dead, Bradly Trumbleson, his mouth gaped open, his eyes rolled back into his head like consciousness was gone and death pulled the strings. The dead body flopped to its side, gravity flinging one arm over the table to hang right in her face. But that was no longer the strongest fear, the fear had been knocked down a peg, the fear of dead bodies was no longer the immediate concern, the new fear to fear was the black blood, the black goo, the black slime that dripped from the mouth of the body of the once Bradly Trumbleson.
At first it came in slow drips, thick and chunky, flowing out of the corpse’s mouth with the help of its own weight. But soon it poured with purpose, impossible amounts of black ooze, ooze being retched in waves from the mouth, splattering on the white tile with black goop, splashing up and hitting Debbie in the face. The pool of slime grew, it reflected no light, it was blackness incarnate, darkness realized. The pool sled around the floor of the preparation room. Deborah tried with what little strength she had to move her body but she slipped and slide in the muck and ooze around her. The ooze started to absorb into her black skirt and black socks, making their blackness blacker. The ooze crept up her body, her fear holding her, keeping her from getting to her feet, from running away, from finding somebody to help her, if only somebody would help her.
The blackness started to spread across her shirt, turning the white to coal black, the wet liquid reflecting no light as it crept its way up her body. It slid across her stomach, across her model ribs and breasts. It didn’t care, it had one goal. It made its way up her neck and into her mouth, silencing her scream.
It was an hour before her parents found her. They found her on the floor of the pristine preparation room. No moved bodies, no black ooze, just one catatonic girl, breathing, but unmoving, with a frozen look of fear on her face.