By Tim West
She was the first to arrive, but she wouldn’t be the last.
Since this phenomenon had begun, she was always my favorite. I wasn’t in love with her, just captivated by her presence. I couldn’t remember her name, Jeanette or Jacqueline, but she was fairly tall, had brown hair with blonde bangs, some acne scars on her forehead, and a tattoo on her forearm. Maybe more than any other of them, she appeared the most intense — the eyes say a lot. Regardless, she always said hello to me every time she woke up.
In the three years that she had been part of this, she would ask me how my night was, and, “Does this still freak you out?” I would tell her no, but she knew I was terrible at lying. But if my assistant Tyson was around, he’d run from the room.
Then as she would leave, she’d turn to me and say “Dolores’ in Manhattan Beach. They’ll know.”
She was right too. Once the next one came, they would ask, and I would simply tell them where.
Still, with all of this going on, I never asked that many questions. I had been at this career for well over a decade, and not once did I ever press further than “How did it happen?” If anything, I was sure that if he could get away from Alchemilla, I might get some answers; but Dr. Armitage frowned heavily upon too many questions and follow-ups.
This night was no different. She rolled out from her drawer, sat herself up, and looked around for anyone else. When all she saw was me, she jumped down. Her bare feet were chilled by the icy tiles as walked towards me.
“Hi John,” she said. “Did I have shoes on this time?”
“No,” I shook my head. “Just whatever you were in when it happened.”
“Does this still freak you out?”
“No.” I blushed.
“Liar,” she touched my arm. She sure didn’t feel dead; her skin was warm.
“You got me.” I hung my head in defeat.
“So have you been busy tonight?”
“A little bit.” I winced. “Apparently there was a double suicide at Union Station. It was not pretty.”
“That’s horrible,” she gasped.
“What can you do?” I shrugged, saddened by tonight’s work.
“So are the others up yet?”
“Nope,” I said, smiling. “You’re the first one.”
“Good.” She winked. “I can pick where I want to go to tonight.”
“Where would that be?”
“Home.” She said the word with nostalgia in her voice.
“Do you think they’ll object?”
“I don’t care,” she said. “I just want to see my baby-boy.”
Jordan was the next to show. It was usually at this time he rolled off his slab in his mall security uniform, and if Tyson was around, he’d freak out and head for the office or the closet — whichever was closer. But Tyson wasn’t around tonight.
Jordan swung his legs around, and pushed himself off. I nodded to him as he looked on.
“Hello, John,” he said.
“Am I the first one up?”
“I’m afraid not.” I shook my head.
“Well, is it Dolores’ again?”
“Not this time.”
“Well, where am I going?”
“Burbank,” I informed him. “I take it you know where she lives?”
“That’s her name.” I nodded. “Yes, she wanted to get back home to her baby-boy. She doesn’t look like the kind of girl to have kids.”
“It’s not a kid,” Jordan said, walking to the pine door with a frosted glass window displaying the word: Morgue. “I don’t know what the hell it is, but I hate going to her place. That thing freaks me out.”
“What is it, then? Some weird-looking dog?”
“I don’t know for sure.” He opened the door. “But whatever it is, she needs to put it away when we’re there.”
Of the five of them who come through these hallowed slabs each night, Memphis was the hardest to keep track of. I never knew where he was coming from. In the last few days, he’d roll in wearing board shorts and caked in sand, skin extra crispy, bruises on his chest, red horizontal lines running across his back. He looked terrible. Some mornings he should’ve stayed dead, or gone, or whatever the hell it was.
Memphis had a promising career, or so the local papers declared. Since he was a California boy, what else would he do but surf? Still, as good as he was, he was having a devil of a time making it pro. There were sponsorships to be won, and he just couldn’t do it.
It was around that time that Memphis began to do errands for some old, bacon-skinned Mexican out in Sultan City. A few times I found mescaline on the boy, leading me to wonder whether it was it for him or for the Mexican? I never did ask. After all, Armitage had instructed not to ask a lot of questions, or conduct follow-ups.
Still, one night when Memphis woke, he mentioned the old man’s name: Valentino. It was a strange name. It was a name that made you want to Google it. It was a name that read a Mexican legend in the world of luchador wrestling. What wisdom was the old man trying to pass on to this struggling surfer?
“Hey there, John,” I heard Memphis say, his throat like gravel, his body beat up and stiff.
“Memphis, you look like terrible, man.”
“Is that your professional opinion?”
“What the hell is going on?” I inquired.
“The old man is working me to death,” he groaned. “Say, can I get a glass of water?”
“Sure can.” I took a bottle of water from the fridge. “So what is going on?” I asked, offering him a chair after he took the cold bottle. “What is Valentino doing to you?”
“Wants to make me a star.” Memphis winced between large gulps of water.
“Like in wrestling?”
“Exactly,” he nodded, now recovering as we talked. Must be instant regeneration.
“Did you ask for this?”
“No,” he said. “But the more he pushes me, the harder he trains me, the more I seem to want it.”
“You could always stop.”
“Nah.” He stretched — surely even with instant regeneration that slab can’t be good for the back. “Pretty soon, the old man’s moving me from arm drags to a variation of suplexes. Maybe it’s a good thing this is happening to me.” He smiled as he walked to the door. “At least I can’t die from this.”
I waved. “That’s unless they drop you from the rafters.”
I was deeply immersed in paperwork when I heard some rustling from the back. Looking up at the clock, I figured it was either one of them, or maybe Tyson coming into work. As I got up from my chair, I wondered if it was Dr. Armitage, but it wasn’t likely. He doesn’t come in until almost 6:30 every morning.
Tip-toeing to the row of silver drawers, I even questioned if it could be a reporter. Ever since Jordan dropped, they have been nosing around. Bastards.
“Hello?” I said. “Tyson? Is that you? Or is this Sunday?”
“It’s me, Sunday,” she answered in a muffled voice. “I’m stuck again. Could you give me a hand?”
“Yeah, sure.” I went directly to slab 37, infamous for always being jammed, even when there’s no one in there.
“You’re a doll,” she proclaimed.
When I arrived at 37, I could see it was locked up this time. Surely it had to be Tyson’s doing. I reminded myself to have a word with him. However, how do you say it without freaking him out? Oh Tyson, from now on, please do not lock the drawers. How else are they to get out?
I talked to her as I found the right key for 37. We’ve been through this before, and we use small talk to avoid the darker aspect of this. It’s no wonder we can’t get anyone else down here with us. As she chattered on about her bust of a date, I managed to find the correct key, and with a good jerk, the slab with the lovely Sunday Nguyen slid open.
“Thank you, John.” She took a deep breath. “I never thought formaldehyde and bleach would smell so nice.”
“Nice,” is all I could say.
“So am I the first?”
“No.” I shook my head, as I helped her out, trying not to wrinkle or damage the dress she had on, with Christian Louboutin heels. “You’re the last one this time.”
“Fabulous,” she groaned. “So where’s the meeting tonight?”
“Jacqueline’s place.” I helped her down, hanging onto her for a moment — just in case.
“Thanks, John. So where does she live?” she said, taking her first steps into her “new life.”
“205 East Palm Avenue.” I handed her the address. “It’s in Burbank.”
She folded up the paper, placing it in her purse. “I just hope she’s cooking breakfast, because I’m starving.”
“You can always call her and ask.”
“I will.” She nodded. “Well … thanks for everything John. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’ll be here.”
I was a little surprised when I heard the sound of someone kicking and screaming in the slabs. But maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s more than a little frightening to wake up in there for the first time. I was mostly surprised because it had been so long since this happened.
“Lemme out!” someone screamed from inside the silver lockers. “Somebody open the door!”
“Hang on, I’m coming!” I said.
It didn’t seem to help. The kicking and screaming continued until I could get the door unlocked.
“Easy there, buddy,” I said as I struggled to hang onto the guy. He was climbing out head first, blinking at the bright fluorescent lights. “Everything’s going to be all right.”
It didn’t matter what I said to him, because after he crashed onto the cold, sterile floor, he laid in the fetal position, sobbing profusely. I allowed him to lay there; this is what usually happens to anyone new to this. By now, I have become a pro at this.
In a matter of seconds, I have already offered him a cot with a blanket and a pillow, and some water to drink. Then I mention that we always keep some scrubs, as well as fresh clothes for when they’re done.
I don’t know who this guy is. There hasn’t been anyone new since Jordan, and that was two years ago. These poor souls have to learn to create a new life. It can happen at any time, and no matter where you are, it will find you and bring you back here. This I don’t tell him, though, because when he is finished I will give him the address of a support group that specializes in this.
Born in Windsor, Ontario, Tim is a writer, moralist, surrealist, lunatic, obsessed with roller coasters and professional wrestlers, and an Omegamaniac. This is his first piece published, and expects it to be a gateway to many other wonderful projects and aspirations. He can be found on Twitter: @OneHourEmpire.