I’m stretching here to try and offer an explanation for where “The Body” came from. If you neglect people in your life and only pay attention to what YOU want, don’t expect those people to sit idly by without exercising their own, alien agendas. Admit it – for most people, it’s all about ME (without some degree of selfishness, ME would not survive THEM), and anything going on outside us might as well be an alien invasion.
I read the story out loud for my writing group yesterday. I believe the tone came from Edgar Alan Poe somewhat, but the protagonist’s blasé dark-humor might have been influenced by Ambrose Bierce’s “An Imperfect Conflagration.” Or it could just be the fellow has been lurking around in the back of my mind all along.
Here’s the Blurb
A long-suffering, social-climbing son deals with more than the usual embarrassment of misbehaving parents, hoping to find acceptability in the certainty of their demise. If some things would just stay buried… Have you had days when you’ve felt the same? Read “The Body” and let me know.
And Here’s This Week’s Excerpt
I hate hospitals. Hate everything about them.
At the moment, I was hating the incessant, rodent-like scratching of the pens of that ridiculous contraption they had placed by Father’s bed. Of what use was charting his heartbeats, if that is what the scribblings on the paper were supposed to represent? Either his heart was beating, or it was not.
He lay in the hospital bed, wires and tubes criss-crossing on their way to their various connections. He did not look good – paler than usual, almost like one of those poorly done wax figures at Madame Tussauds – dead looking things that had never been alive. Almost as though they had chosen to use bloodless corpses for their models, although I had heard…
Father gasped and shuddered suddenly, the sound pulling me out of my reverie. The scratching became more frantic, then slowed. His eyes opened, and as unfocused as he seemed, he still managed to look right at me. He beckoned to me, waved me over. Of course it was just too fingers, but I do not mean to be critical; I am certain he could not have managed much more than that.
His ancient lips wavered soundlessly behind the rubber oxygen hose they had inserted into his nostrils; I have no idea what they hoped to achieve with that other than to make conversation impossible. I stepped closer, even leaned toward him a little, trying to make out what he was saying, but it was not very effective; the oxygen hissing through the tubing was making more sound than he was; maybe it would be easier to hear him if I just turned it off.
He glared at me – amazing that he could pull that much energy together – and then, with what should have been the last of his strength, pushed himself up onto his elbows to rise part way off the bed. Not a good idea – the gauze dressing on his chest wound was suddenly highlighted by a two-inch circle of blood. They said I should have left the thing that punctured him in his chest, but, it would have been awkward carrying him with that stake, protruding like that; I feared I would drive it into his heart just getting him back to his Studebaker.
“You should take it easy,” I said. “You are going to make yourself bleed out.”
I put my hands on his shoulders and pressed to get him to lay back. He was no match for me in his condition, so instead he pulled the tubes from his nostrils. His lips were moving again, but it was too wheezy to be heard over the free-flowing gas, so I stuffed the hoses under his pillow to muffle them. The grating scratches the monitor had become distracting in their frenzy, so I reached over and pulled the wires out, and it quieted immediately; then, I tilted my head closer.
“Yalta spoh the body,” he whispered. Not a deliberate whisper, mind you; he was having an understandable amount of difficulty speaking.
Still, it was an odd thing to say.
The patch of blood was expanding, and I wondered if maybe I should call the nurse, but he cupped his clammy hand around the back of my neck and dragged my ear down to his mouth before I had time to decide.
“You must… dispose… of the body,” he gasped, and then released me.
“Ohhh, that makes more sense than ‘Yalta spoh’,” I said as I straightened up. Then it occurred to me to ask, “What body?”
But he paid me no mind; he was too busy spasming, and shaking, and gasping. This was unhelpful, so I called for assistance, but he went through a final shudder and was still before help arrived. The doctor complained that Father’s chest was already too damaged to withstand the types of compressions he had read about that might be beneficial.
There was no point, really; he was not likely to have answered me if they had revived him.
Funerals can be a distraction. I considered not having one, but there are some things you simply must do in a civilized society. I stopped by their house long enough to grab Father’s address book from the study, but since he had allowed the phone to be disconnected some time back, I did not remain there to make the calls.
There were not many people to notify – most of their friends had been Mother’s, and even though they had come to her funeral and were politely consoling, none of them had bothered coming to the house afterward for more than the obligatory cup of tea and “We shall miss her” declarations, they had ceased contact with Father as soon as was seemly. There was no need to invite them.
Father had never had many friends of his own, and the couple of truly long-term ones had preceded him into oblivion. There were a handful of people he had worked with at the lab before he retired. Those relationships, held together by a common workplace and paychecks were more Father’s style. Of course, he was considered a bit odd even by their standards; going on about extraterrestrial life that no sane person believes in does not put you at the top of the list of the best people to admit an acquaintance with. If they had ever known about the evidence he had found in those meteor samples, it might have made a difference in their opinion of him. Indeed, if he had confided in me, I might have been less reticent about mentioning his studies to my circle of acquaintances. I would possibly have informed the authorities, at least.
There was a steady amount of drizzle at the burial, lending a suitable appearance of a somber air to the proceedings that might not have been there otherwise, and giving three of the four people in attendance an excuse to leave the site immediately after Minister Coughlin’s generic words, leaving only a short bespectacled stranger and me standing by the hole as they shoveled the dirt in over Father. I wondered how long it would take for the grass to cover the spot; Mother’s grave alongside it still had no grass, almost as if it had only been filled and tamped down recently, not over a year ago. Not what would be expected of a reputable family. Perhaps the grass cover was something you needed to pay extra for? I could ask the funeral home about it, and if it was not too expensive…
The short, bespectacled man was still there, and had coughed. He held out his hand – not the one he coughed into – and said, “Sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you,” I said, shaking his hand briefly, “and you are…?”
“Thomas Quatermain. George and I were acquainted through common interests. Perhaps he mentioned me?”
“Father and I did not communicate regularly, so no. In fact, I do not remember calling you. Was it someone at the lab?”
“Of course not, “he scoffed, “they could not be bothered with me. I saw his name on a report I have generated of unusual deaths.”
“Unusual? I would have thought it unusual if that wound had not killed him.”
“Yes, but what did the wound come from? Did he say?”
“He did not have to; I pulled it out of his chest myself.”
“Could I see it, then?” he said, clasping his hands together.
There was an eagerness in the way he looked askance at me that was obscene; I stiffened.
“I gave it to the police.”
“Oh,” he said. His disappointment was palpable. “Perhaps he told you how it happened?”
“This is all rather impertinent. Of what concern is it to you?” I said.
“George consulted me about some fascinating materials he’d discovered, perhaps extraterrestrial in nature. I was hoping his death was related to them.”
“Why would you hope such a thing?”
“No, no, no,” he said, shaking his head, “you misunderstand me. I only meant that, since he was dead, anyway, if it was by extraterrestrial causes, it would bring attention to our cause.”
“Oh,” I said. Now it was clear to me. “You are one of those people.”
“There are more things in heaven and earth than can be explained with a closed mind,” he said with an air of offended indignation, but it was not so strong as to overpower my own self-righteous disdain.
“My father was a respectable member of the scientific community,” I lied. “Besides, he retired from the lab some time ago.”
“George retired in order to pursue research that the powers that be weren’t interested in.”
“Father thankfully stopped that nonsense when he retired, and I will not now be dragged into your sort’s delusions,” I said, and abruptly turned from the grave and headed toward Father’s Studebaker. “Good day to you.”
“Perhaps I could stop by and examine his work?” he called.
“I think not,” I said, not looking back. ”Good day to you.”
I had only intended to return the Studebaker to my parents’ home and not remain there, as it would have been too much like an invitation to their friends to stop by and offer condolences, and I really had no patience for that. But Quatermain had made me wonder if Father had indeed continued his absurd research at the house. If so, there would be evidence of such that might be exposed, on the odd chance that the authorities decided to open an investigation into his death. Actually, the oddness was more that they had chosen not to investigate it, and perhaps it was only a matter of time before they would search the house and exhume Father’s deranged nature. I had fought against association with his peculiarities for too long to have to deal with it again. So I returned to the house, to dispose of anything that might be embarrassing.
It was good that I had; there were many potentially damaging loose ends to tie up.
Mother’s body, for one.
So – now we get to the crux of what Geoffrey’s father has left for him. “The Body” is a speculative fiction short story, and is available at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
It’s also included in the collection Even More Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND:
Which is itself included in the mega-collection The First Three ‘Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND’:
Smashwords (for 50%-off with coupon code RAE50): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/712373?ref=NoTimeToThink
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William Mangieri’s writing has been published on Daily Science Fiction and The Arcanist. His ninety or so short stories and related collections can be found at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
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