Seeded 12/21 finished just in time for Spooky Season.
The Morgue can be a Potent Place
By Tyler Lucas Mobley
The Keeper looks up from his desk at a flicker of lights.
“Spirits grifting the flux, even death can’t take them off the grid. I can’t complain, when I kick it rest assured I’ll be back to give my old lady a scare or two. When she falls down the stairs, it’ll be I who pushed her.”
Just as his gaze returns to the desk there’s a pull at the door. Giving it a suspicious eye he lifts his head to see if the residents are playing a prank on him, but senses no shift in the air. Dismissing the disturbance he returns his attention to the computer. No sooner does the door rattle in the lock, followed by a faint knock barely audible over the evening’s storm. Rising from his desk to see what lies on the other side, he opens the viewing box in the warped weathered beast of a door to find no cause for the racket. The Keeper closes the square but stops before latching it, cocking his head to the side at a faint something. The door rumbles again, the Keeper steps back pausing with a quizzical look layered with frustration, then from absolute stillness lashes a whooshing dismissive hand while the other unlocks the door and yanks it open. Pleased to find the vacant air before him, the door is half closed before he notices the figure in the frame.
“What in the Devil’s ball bag are you doing here? It’s past visiting hours, come back tomorrow.” The Keeper begins to close the door when the slight figure extended a hand and said, “Wait, I’m here for the rites.” The door halts its motion hanging open a few inches from the frame, the Keeper pauses to replay what he just heard before poking his head out from behind the door, “what did you say?” A bit of life returns to the figure in the doorway, “I want to know about the rites.” A contemptuous look contorts the Keeper’s face before saying, “well come in and let’s see if you’re worthy.”
The Keeper applies the latch and turns to get his first full look at his visitor. The boy couldn’t have been more than fifteen, his glasses fogged his coat a burdensome sponge, the pack on his back a fishbowl. “Take that coat off, I’ll find you something warm.” The boy heeds the suggestion placing his coat on a hook on the near wall. Relieved with his arrival he let his eyes wander around the morgue lobby finding cobwebs in the rafters, a fireplace lit but presenting no warmth, a dark portrait hanging in a tired frame, of who or what is not clear, a flickering chandelier overhead. The Keeper returns with a blanket, the boy wraps himself with it and feels an instant itch.
“Well let’s get the introductions out of the way, I’m the Keeper of this morgue, fifth generation, this here business predates this country’s manifest destiny. Now tell me what’s your business here with mine.”
“I’m Wattle Robinson, a tenth grader at Poconos High School, I want to learn about the rites.”
“Poconos? That’s at least a seven hour drive, you came all that way?”
“Yes, sir, that’s why I’m here so late.”
“Very well, since you’ve put in the effort of getting here I’ll tell you what I know about the rites. Years ago before my time they used to hold a celebration for the deceased. Usually at night, in fact a stormy night like this yields the best results, so I’ve heard. They would gather here to honor the dead. That’s about all I know, you can stay here till the morning then you must be on your way this isn’t an inn.”
“What about the communication between the living and the dead? The ceremony? Don’t you know about that stuff? I read once that they used to…”
“I don’t care what’ve you read, there have been more lies told of this place than there are days in a year.”
“But it says here,” Wattle reaches into his pack and withdraws a book with a colorful array of sticky notes populating it’s pages, “that once the ceremony was performed the veil between the living and the dead vanishes.”
The Keeper crossed his arms and let his head fall into a hand knowing it was going to be a long night. “Let me see that book.” Wattle hesitated for a moment before handing over his most prized possession.
“Careful,” said Wattle, “the plastic cover flakes off, and the spine is close to becoming unbound.”
The Keeper accepts it with care and mumbles under his breath, “aren’t we all.”
“What was that?” asked Wattle, extra sensitive to the reaction of what had most concerned his life.
“Ohh just saying what a fine book you have here.” The Keeper knew what Wattle had before he handed it over, every person who came to ask about the rites had a copy of, “Rites, Rituals, & Ceremony: Dialing the Dead by Cornish Duesberry, I bet it took some time to track down this gem?”
“Infact,” began Wattle.
The Keeper lifted a hand, “spare me. Did you know that this book doesn’t even cover half of what rites are about? Old Duesberry took off with his stories before the main course, so to speak.”
A shiver ran up the small of Wattle’s back, what did he mean by main course? For the first time since he set off on his quest, suspicion nudged out curiosity for center stage as the driving force of his endeavor, enough for him to consider if what he was doing was dangerous. “So you’re saying there is more to the rites than even Duesberry wrote?”
“Precisely,” a devilish smile consumed the Keeper’s face. “Would you like me to show you?”
Wattle hesitates as nerves surge through his body, the culmination of years of study and obsession led him to the precipice of the mystery that so long eluded him. “Yes, I’m ready.”
“Very well, follow me, let’s see who is in-house tonight.”
Wattle followed the Keeper down a dim hallway, appears to expand and contract with every step. Every time Wattle glanced passed the Keeper trying to gauge the length of the passage he saw no end in sight, as though their steps provided no progress. The Keeper stops at an undesignated door, and pulls from his pocket a ring of oversized keys. With the correct key in hand the Keeper guides it toward the door and pauses before turning to Wattle.
“Let me reassure you that behind this door is a world that leaves lasting impressions on all who enter, be warned. Do you still wish to see?” Wattle stared into the shadows created by sunken features of the Keeper’s face, his expression at once serious and comical. Wattle cleared his throat and said, “I’m ready.” A sly smile rose onto the Keeper’s face, “as you wish,” he fit the key into the lock and leaned in.
The door opens, a rush of cool air escapes whispering welcome. Wattle follows the Keeper inside darkness fills the room, still Wattle could sense a radiating presence. The Keeper reaches into his breast pocket for a small box of matches, strikes one and places the flame in a lantern hanging next to the door, and repeats the process three more times in the corners of the room. A ring of statues develop before Wattle that encircle a series of bookshelves to comprise a ring within a ring. Wattle approaches the towering statues with cautious steps, gazing into a knight in full armor, a gargoyle perched on edge, a priestess with her palms facing out, a statesman with pocket watch in hand, a rabbi with a five pointed star around his neck, and a lion poised on it’s hind legs. Wattle traced a spiral inward to the bookcases which were off set to obscure what lay beyond. Keen for Rites, Rituals, & Ceremony: Dialing the Dead Wattle rounds the shelves examining dusty volumes, following the natural progression he takes a small step between the cases. The Keeper interrupts his progress with a firm call, “I wouldn’t do that.”
Wattle retracts his step and turns to the Keeper and asks, “why what’s at the center?”
The Keeper scoughs, “I’m afraid the answer to your question requires a certain transformation that neither you or I are ready to .”
“Is that where the dead come out of?”
“Perhaps, a more accurate description would be where the dead cease to be dead.”
Wattle felt an urge to disobey the Keeper and sneak a peek around the corner, but a growing fear kept him in his place, as though the statues would come to life and swat him away before he got too close.
“Like a portal between the world of the living and the dead?”
“Mhmm not quite,” said the Keeper, folding his arms. “The boundary between the two vanishes.”
Wattle had read about this phenomena, but being in it’s presence was magnitudes beyond his experience with Duesberry. “Is the center still, uhhh active? Like you can die if you go into it?”
A hint of a smile encroached on the Keeper’s face, “Die? certainly not, but transform most definitely, though there is only one way to find out.”
Wattle felt a growing tension in the room, the status appeared even larger than before. “What’s that?”
“To perform the rites of course,” the Keeper said with a flop of a payment seeking hand.
“I thought the rites were no longer practiced?”
“Only when their knowledge is extinguished will practice cease. We have everything we need, a suitable night, a willing subject, should you choose to proceed.”
The room quivered as though Wattle was in the bowels of a living creature. Met with a choice he’d never thought he’d have to make. Wattle, surveying the room found the lanterns appeared brighter, the statues loomed with a pronounced energy coaxing a performance out of him. The books on the shelves called out to Wattle as though all their knowledge was eager to speak through him. Wattle knew if he didn’t accept this opportunity it would haunt him for the rest of his life. He took a deep breath to steady his senses then said, “yes, I want to perform the rites.”
The Keeper unleashed a scrutinizing gaze that lingered for some time before saying, “very well, excuse me while I gather the preparations.”
Wattle felt immediate dred watching the Keeper disappear through the door that combined with his temptation to peek through the shelves. Leaning forward on his toes to make a move, then deciding against, not wanting to disturb the authenticity of the rites. Wattle moved toward the nearest case, craning his neck to read the spines of the collection when a heavy slam rings through the chamber. Spinning to the source of the noise expecting to find the Keeper at the entry, but saw no sign of him. One by one the lanterns blow out as hush gusts circulate the room building a nest of energy. Trying to maintain a fixed direction Wattle lifts his arms searching for the door, all he can hear is the pounding of his chest echoing through the darkness. Soon enough the wall found him, he begins inching along the perimeter toward his best guess of where the Keeper departed. A loud clash rings out followed by a sharp pain in his head, feeling toward the sound of the obstruction he finds a lantern swinging on its chain.
“I must be close.” Maneuvering around it he felt the door handle and pulled to no avail. “Keeper, are you there? I need to get out.” The silence swallows his words.
The Keeper rounds a dark passageway, the dank air of the subterranean passage muffles the light of his lantern in hand. This night the journey felt longer than it ever had, squinting his aging eyes at the stone steps navigating them with intent and purpose. The Keeper goes about his business, a procedure unchanged since before his time. The booth is hidden from the main chamber and allows a vantage of the shelves and statues as a mixing board does a recording studio. From behind the stand the Keeper positions a leather bound load of centuries old tradition; as far as he knew there was no more powerful thing in the world.
“So you want to learn about the rites young one, well, let us begin.” With a deep breath the Keeper opens the cover that emits a shock wave fluttering the hairs in his nose. The Keeper’s finger fall directly on the familiar page and turns it open, he begins reading the preliminaries in a hushed voice. Down the page his voice strengthened in volume and force, experience had taught him to match the tempo of each passage to ensure a clean connection is established. The fateful line hung on the page, anticipation immense, sensing arrival of life ingredients.
“Of rather close gather, rickety wonder past years, be near of round now.”
A blue green electric vapor rises from the page twisting in a coil, The Keeper continues reading till the small room was filled with an emerald hue. Finishing the passage the vapor escapes through the wall into the main chamber and buried itself in the obscured center.
The portal snaps to life with an icy crackle, spreading through the chamber center dissolving the ground. A gyre consumes the chamber threatening to snatch Wattle up in it’s vortex. Inching his way to cover on the downwind side of a statue, Wattle listens to the howl rushing through the ring of steadfast figures. Wattle begins to slip away, as an addict reaches for a fix, figuring he would never escape the energetic spiral he must succumb to its way. He let go becoming a daisy in a hurricane; he twirled and spun till his faculties were undone, unbuttoned to the core of his being.
Fluttering around the chamber Wattle notices increased activity from the center of the bookcases. The floor grew cloudy and metallic like a pond reflecting an approaching storm. Slowly, the calm surface churned into a boiling brew, each bubble containing a few frames that looped until bursting into the chamber. Hurling about the chamber Wattle fixed his eyes on this spontaneous well, searching the thousands of ascending reels for a clue, an answer to unlock the charade before they’d evaporate into nothing. There were scenes from all of history, women returning from the woods, castle sieges of armored men, lovers wrapped in moonlight along a riverbank, a knife driven into the back of a brother, amphitheaters of laughter, children buried, arrows shot from horseback, land burned and rebuilt, wisdom passed along in a town square, a family burdened with unanswered questions, a first kiss in a flowery meadow, the last breath of a loving mother, the steal gaze of determination, a wanderer in a remote passage, a hand reaching out for another. Wattle saw them all in an instant, suspended in the vacuum twisting to maintain a gaze on the brew of human condition before him. Just then a voice came into his head, it was soft and booming at the same time and repeated, “take your place, fall into space.”
The Keeper observed with restrained interest, an arm folded under one stroking his chin, he knew how much time the boy had left, and just an ounce of him was sad to see him go. “The voice found him, it won’t be long now,” the Keeper muttered to himself, “ he was a fine boy, a passionate pest.”
Lulled by the voice Wattle didn’t realize he was losing altitude, being drawn toward the frothing center of the bookcases. The energy either out of carelessness or a streak of humor dashed him into the Knight statue sending him tumbling into the awakened portal. There was no splash, no brush of beads like when entering the back room of a head shop, no change in pressure, no resistance at all, Wattle just kept falling. He fell down, down, and down some more till it didn’t feel like he was falling at all.
The Keeper let out a sigh of relief then closed his eyes and said to the empty room “be gentle with him.” He ran a hand over the sacred phrase then returned the book to it’s resting place, then made his way back to the chamber.
The whirlwind had dissipated though a static charge still hung in the air; a residual energy of performing the rites the Keeper knew all too well that would take an hour or two to discharge. The Keeper paced the room with lantern in hand, amused at himself for having done it again. “How do the secret rites remain a secret,” he chuckled to himself, “well let me show you.” The Keeper stopped in his tracks, cocking his head toward the center of the chamber at a low murmur resonating between the cases. The Keeper approached with a curious eyebrow raised, it became clearer, growing in strength till it rumbled like an earthquake. “What in hell’s honey hole is happening here?”
Wattle was busy dancing in suspended space, he tango’d past time, disco’d through dimensions, grooved over galaxies, floating as nothing he recognized everything. He fell up, he fell down, he fell sideways, he fell round, Wattle fell through to the end then sprang forth from where he began.
The Keeper rubbed his eyes in hope of wiping clear the picture they informed, but it stayed with him beyond his belief. “How could it be? He’d gone away, no one had ever returned from the rites. Once clenched in the mouth of suspended space there was no way out.”
Wattle stood with the statues, seeing them eye to eye, walking the circle examining each one with his newly acquired qualities. Everything spoke, molecular vibration, sunshine smiles in all directions. The statues wink and curtsey, the lantern in the Keeper’s hand has an expressive face mocking every moment with a different gesture. Wattle breaks out laughing, a supportive arm pressed against the Rabbi as he felt every fiber of his being laugh with him.
Wattle didn’t notice, but the Keeper saw the bubbly history flash incarnate as Wattle shape shifted into every image he ingested before plunging into space. The laughter exorcizing them out of him, changing frame to frame, one second a soldier, a mother, a widow, a lover, a friend, over and over to the end. The Keeper locked up, startled by the blaze of existence before him.
Wattle understood, he felt everything in it’s place, found peace in all places, for they were their own. Then he turned toward the Keeper, all laughter had fallen from his face, still a towering giant with a few purposeful steps he was standing over the Keeper. Looking deep into the Keeper, Wattle saw his propulsion, his eyes hungry for power, his heart a restless thief, pawning himself at the feet of interdimensional demons. Wattle gave a small nod as though some fairy had just whispered in his ear, then said, “You will not devour me.” Wattle raised a foot and smooshed the Keeper; indifferent to the gruesome crunch, for he had it coming his whole life, Wattle was just the one to ring the gong.
Wattle crawled through the hallway and burst through the door kool-aid style. He drove into splashed dawn in his parents car, sticking out the roof like one of those toy cars kids drive. He remembered his backpack but no longer needed it. Looking at the morning sky Wattle addressed the world, “the morgue can be a potent place.”