The Young Lady’s Guide To Improvisational Corpse Disposal
“Hit him again.”
I don’t want to hit him again.
“J’you hear me? Said hit him again. Or do you want to find out what happens to selfish bitches who say no to me?”
I don’t want to hit him again. I want to turn and explain to this guy that defibrillators don’t work like that. That if I charge up the paddles and hit him again, it’s not going to bring his friend back to life. This isn’t Frankenstein, I’m not some mad scientist, and his buddy here isn’t anything but a stiff forever.
This isn’t my fight. This isn’t my life.
If I hit him again, the only thing that’s going to happen is that it’s going to burn whatever’s left of him and it’s going to smell somehow worse in here.
But he doesn’t want to hear that.
And he’s the man with the gun, after all.
So I hit him again.
And it does nothing.
And it smells fucking awful.
Hooray for everything.
“It didn’t work,” the guy groans. He presses the sawed-off to the place where my jaw meets my neck. “Why in the motherfuck didn’t it work?!”
I can see the tattoos covering one of his hands. F-E-A-R, his knuckles spell out underneath a bloody eyeball. He presses the gun harder into my face.
Saying word one here is just going to get my head blown off. So I shrug and look away.
“Fuck!” He spins away, swinging the gun like a club. “Fucking fuck!”
I start charging the paddles again, because I know what he’s going to say before he says it, and I know that when it doesn’t work again, I’m dead.
“Charge it again. Do it again. And do it right this time.”
I nod at him, fast and panicked, like the scared little girl he expects me to be. The paddles are already charged, but I make a show of waiting so he gets in close.
“What’s the fucking holdup—” he barks, but I’ve already got the paddles pressed against his chest.
I try to remind myself: Not my fight. Not my life.
I punch the buttons and there’s a sound like his soul getting ripped out of his body. He screams, then flops back onto the ground. The shotgun clatters to the floor. I watch for another second—his red flannel shirt smolders. Catches on fire. I’m alone again. He’s gone.
Just like that.
Maybe I should explain.
I don’t normally spend my nights like this.
Normally I’m a nice, normal girl with a nice, normal life in a nice, normal town.
Normal, normal, normal.
But even normal girls get the kinds of calls they can’t ignore sometimes.
I light another cigarette and use every ounce of strength I have left to heave the second dead asshole into the shower stall, right on top of his friend. Blow smoke at them and take another long drag, hoping it’ll help the smell of death and burned flesh and voided bowels. It doesn’t.
I stare and wonder the quickest way to get rid of them. Not like I have time to pile them both in my trunk, drive out to the desert and bury ’em. I could just leave them, I suppose. Walk out, lock the door behind me, pretend I was never here. But odds were, someone would come looking and find them like this. More attention. Lots of physical evidence. So no go there.
No, it seems to me the only real option is the chemical. Melt them down and flush ’em down the drain. Proper Heisenberg-style. No muss, no fuss. Just glug-glug-glug and then—at most—scrubbing a bit of frothy pink shit off of some tile. No more dead bodies. Just me and the corpse of a friendship that tried, if only for a moment, to pretend it was still alive.
I used to be such a nice girl, too.
The call came just after midnight.
I’d been sleeping, but the phone split through that like a knife through wet toilet paper. I grabbed at the phone—didn’t recognize the number. Answered it anyway.
“Ren, is that you? Is this Ren?”
“…Who the fuck is this?”
“Ren, it’s Summer.”
I knew who it is the second she said it. But there was something in the years of silence between us that made me want to hurt her, even if just a little bit.
So I say, “…Summer who?”
“It’s Summer Rose, Ren. Ren? …Ren, ohmigod, are you there?” I could hear the pain in her voice, I could just imagine the expression on her face. Like I’d slapped her. Shock and agony. It didn’t help anything like I thought it would—it just made me feel shitty.
“Why are you calling me?”
“Oh, Ren, thank god… Everything’s so fucked up. Everything’s awful and wrong and oh god it’s all gone so wrong…”
“Summer, slow down. What’s gone wrong?”
“We need help. Oh, god, god, god…” Her voice was tiny and panicked.
“Oh jesus, Frank…”
“Who’s Frank? Summer? Summer, who’s Frank?”
“Everything’s so fucked. Everything’s so fucked up. He’s… he’s dying, and we… I… oh, fuck.”
“Call 911. Right now.”
“We can’t, we can’t, we fucking can’t.”
“Don’t wanna go to jail, Ren.”
“You’re still in medical school, right? You’re still…. being a doctor?”
I didn’t want to say yes. But I didn’t want to lie to her.
“Can you please come help us, please Ren. Please. Frank, he’s… he’s all fucked up.”
“Hey Summer, it’s me,” I say, pressing the phone between my shoulder and ear. “Just wondering where you got to. You left in such a hurry, I didn’t get a chance to thank you for introducing me to your boyfriend and his… buddy. They’re super fun and all, but I think you need to get back here—they’re getting to be a little much to handle on my own. Anyway, call me back as soon as you get this. Seriously.”
I kill the call, pocket the phone and go back to pulling gallon jugs of bleach and acetone and other nasty chems off the shelves.
She and I were going to have to work out some issues after this. But then again, I’d been saying that shit for years. Suppose that’s what you get answering a midnight phone call from someone five years gone.
Looking around the desolate Wal-Mart for any signs of life, I stick another Camel unflitered between my lips and light it with the Bic I swiped off of what was left of Summer’s boyfriend.
Check the clock on my phone: 3:22am. Time enough.
I keep loading bottles of chemical cleaner into the wire cart, picking the ones with the most warning labels. Best case scenario, I turn two bodies to red soup and don’t chlorine gas myself to death in the process. I’ve always been optimistic.
I pay with the cash I found pocketed next to the Bic and head outside to the car.
Once everything’s loaded up, I take five or so minutes to scream and curse and slap the steering wheel until I feel better.
For the record, I knew it was a bad idea, but there are some people in life you don’t ever get to say No to. Even when they conscript you into their weird personal wars.
I was already in the car, still in my pajamas, minutes after she’d hung up the phone.
When I get back, there’s a new car parked outside the trailer.
I kill the headlights and engine a couple hundred feet out, deciding to walk the rest of the way. I know I should just leave, but my mind keeps whispering words like physical evidence and fingerprints everywhere at me. No way out but through.
I sneak in through the back, breathing and moving as quietly as I can. I can hear the guy on his phone all through the trailer.
“Both of them. I said both of them. Yeah. Yeah. I know. Super fucked up. No, they’re in the shower. Together. Yeah. Seriously. No, she’s gone. Like, gone. Yeah. Just gone. I don’t know. Looks like some bad shit went on, though. Something else. Like a de-frib-ru-lator, or whatever. Shut up. No, I said shut the fuck up. You know what I’m talking about.”
I creep through the trailer to the main room and get a look at the guy: short, with black hair to match his pencil mustache, covered in tattoos. Jeans, a white t-shirt and Timberlands. He’s holding a battered gray-silver security briefcase in one hand, holding his phone to his hear with the other. He’s turning around in circles as he talks. He doesn’t see me, but I see the shotgun, still where it fell.
I stretch my hand out for the gun—
The guy turns—
He sees me, his eyes widen—
I swing the sawed-off up and point it at him—
“Give me the phone,” I say.
“I’ll call you back,” he says. Tosses me the cell. I make sure it’s hung up, then throw it over my shoulder, keeping the gun trained on him. I have no idea how to use one of these things, but I try like hell to look like I do. It must work, because he doesn’t move.
“You’re Ren,” he says.
I shake my head once, too late to be convincing.
“No, no. You’re her. I can tell. She told me about you. You’re Ren.”
“You’re pointing a fucking gun at me,” he says. “That makes you somebody.”
I consider him from behind the sights of the shotgun. He grins like he knows something I don’t.
“The fuck are you doing here, then? If you really are nobody?”
I don’t see any reason to lie, not now. “Came to clean up.” I nod toward the little bathroom. The shower stall. The bodies.
We stare at each other for another moment.
“D’you know who I am?”
“No clue. Don’t care.”
“Maybe you should.” He takes a step toward me. My grip tightens on the gun. “My name’s Chris. Nice to meet you, Ren.”
“Ah-ah-ah,” I hear myself saying. “Back the fuck up, Chris.” He does.
“So you’re here to clean up, huh?” He smirks. I just nod.
“And after you clean up, you, what? You’re just going to go?”
I nod again. I look down at the briefcase in his hand. He sees me do it. He raises it high up so I can see. It looks heavy and blocky. I can only assume it’s money for some other horrible fucked-up thing Summer and Frank were into.
“You don’t even want to know what’s inside the mystery box?”
I shake my head slowly.
“Not my fight. Not my life. Whatever you had going with them, that’s you. I just want to get out of here.”
“Not going to happen,” he says. “You’re in it, now. Deep. It’s yours, want it or not. And, actually, you’ll like this.”
He drops the case and spins around again, comes up holding a small black pistol with what looks like a silencer affixed to the muzzle. He squeezes off a couple shots in my direction, but I’m already scrambling away from him and the shots go wide.
I dive behind the kitchen counter and press myself against the cabinets, clutching the shotgun to my chest like it’s some sort of totem.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
“You know, I don’t really give a shit who you are, Ren,” he shouts. “You’re still gonna die. That’s what you get for associating yourself with shitty people.”
I know, I think to myself.
Summer always had a complicated relationship with reality.
She was always stuck squarely inside it, even though she’d spent years wishing she wasn’t. That was who she’d always been—head in the clouds, feet off the ground. A dreamer, my mom always called her. She’d lived two houses down from us, and I knew from the moment I met her that we were going to be best friends. It was just one of those natural things, one of those rare friendships where you know straight off the bat that you’re going to be close, whether you like it or not.
I’d been in this kitchen one time before, way back when she first bought the trailer. She’d invited me out to the trailer park she’d been living in for a kind of housewarming party, just her and me. I brought the beers, and we stayed up all night, just drinking and talking, and for once, it was just really nice. The way she smiled, the way she beamed as she showed me around her brand-new hovel, it was hard to not be excited for her. That smile burned itself into my heart. My best friend.
But of course then she had to go and ruin that, too.
“Listen, Summer. I gotta ask. Why would you buy this thing, anyway?”
“What do you mean?”
I turned and smiled at her. “You know what I mean. You were in college, you were going to graduate. This trailer, this life, it’s not you.”
“I wasn’t ever going to graduate,” she said. “And you know that. My grades were never that good. Never good at all. I just wanted a place of my own, Ren. It’s no big deal. Come on.”
“A place of your own is all good and well,” I said, “but this is a trailer. Worse, it’s a busted old trailer from 1963. This is what you always dreamed of when you dreamed of your own space?”
Her face turned hard and mean, her smile dissolving into a sour stare. “It’s a start, okay? That’s what I have right now. A start.”
I took another pull from my beer. “If you insist.”
“I do,” she said. “I really do.” I watched as she produced a small glass pipette and a torch lighter from one of her pockets.
“The fuck is that?” I asked.
“Don’t, okay? Just don’t.”
“Seriously, I want to know.”
“Seriously, don’t. You’ve already made it perfectly clear your opinions on how I live my life, so maybe just keep this one to yourself. Jesus.” Then, the pipe was in her mouth and she was holding the flame to the bulb at the end. A moment later, a smell like burning tinfoil began filling up the kitchen and I had to step outside.
“Fucking Jesus,” I said as I walked out. “Come and get me when you’re done.”
She never came to get me.
Looking back at it, I know that’s when I started to lose her. But I didn’t really know that until much later. Years. You know how it is. Sometimes you don’t see the things coming out of the darkness with their teeth and knives and heads full of bad, hungry thoughts until it’s too late. Sometimes you see them coming and pretend like you don’t because you think it’s somehow easier, and then you act surprised when one of these unknown fiends sticks a broken bottle in your guts and jerks off with your blood.
Either way, you’re dead, and you’re gone.
Just like that.
It was so gradual up until that point that it just seemed like business as usual. The tides had shifted, and now she was drowning. But she was the one that’d thrown herself into the sea to do just that.
So I let her.
Not the proudest moment in my life, I promise you.
She was gone.
Just like that.
“You know, she told me about you,” Chris calls out. “She told me a lot. Told me you were her best friend. Told me you were going to save her tonight. Save everything. You really fucked that one up, didn’t you?”
“I’ve still got time,” I say.
“You sure about that?”
He lets out a loud, mean Ha! “You didn’t check the bedroom, did you? Stupid bitch.”
I hear his feet slapping the floor and I spin around and he’s right there, raising the gun to shoot me in the face and there’s nothing I can do but sit here on the floor and die.
I wish I was making this up.
It’s so stupid, it’s so ridiculous, but he trips over his own feet. A dumb, clumsy move that anyone could make. He topples over, falling nosefirst into the floor, sending his gun skittering away. There’s a wet splunching sound, and a wash of blood sprays out from underneath his face. I get to my feet and stand over him. He twists and groans and I point the shotgun at his head.
“What about the bedroom,” I say.
He makes a smashed-in, yowling noise, and it takes me a few seconds to realize he’s laughing.
“Go look,” he says. “Christ. Go look, you’ll see what I mean.”
“Tell me first.”
I shoot him in the leg. The shell shreds his calf. He screams.
I turn around and head for the bedroom.
I found the trailer without too much trouble—Summer said it would be the only one out here, and she wasn’t wrong. I remembered it, the outline of the thing burned into my mind forever. A lonely old Streamliner on the outskirts of an abandoned quarry. That it meant trouble couldn’t have been clearer but there wasn’t any choice. Summer needed my help, and that was all there was to it.
I knocked on the trailer door, and only had to wait for half a breath for it to be torn open by a tweeked-out, tatted-up maniac.
“You her? Summer’s friend?” His eyes were wide, bloodshot and unblinking. A thin sheet of sweat spackled his skin. He hadn’t showered for days.
“Fuck in here,” he snapped, grabbing me by the arm and yanking me inside.
That’s when I saw the shotgun in his hands. And Summer, filthy and disastrous, crying over a dead body on the floor. And the old defib machine against the wall.
“Frank? Frank… I think Donnie’s dead…” Summer moaned. “Like really really dead…”
“Shut the fuck up!” the tattooed psycho—Frank—shouted. He stormed over and slapped Summer. She screamed, stood, then ran out the front door into the night. Frank followed after her, screaming methy gibberish.
“Better not—fucking bitch!—tell nobody I swear—can’t believe you—to god!”
When she was well and truly gone, he turned back to me.
“Well, what you waiting for, doc? Let’s get that lectro-clapper up and running and wake Donnie’s ass up so he can tell us how the fuck to open the case.”
She must’ve come back not long after I left.
It’s hard to tell exactly what happened, with all the blood pooling around her wrists and soaking into the mattress. I don’t know if this is something she did herself or something that psychopath Chris did.
I have a hard time not seeing her coming back in her anguish and finding Frank and Donnie in the shower together and checking out forever. But the same can be said about Chris taking out all of his rage and confusion on her before slashing her wrists and leaving her to bleed out.
Either way, doesn’t change anything.
I want to rage, I want to scream and beat my fists against the walls until they bleed. I can feel waves of anguish rolling up my back, threatening to burst out of my throat like vomit. I stare at her and I think of the way she smiled at me when she bought this fucking place and my eyes well up with tears.
I want to let myself feel awful about this. But I don’t. Not yet.
Still work to do.
I close the door after me.
“Did you do that?” I snarl at Chris as I walk up. “Did you do that to her, you fuck?”
He makes that awful laughing noise again. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
I rack the pump on the shotgun and point it at his head.
“I asked you a question.”
He spits blood at me and grins, his yellow teeth streaked with thin red. Still laughing, his body juddering with the force of it.
I think about the last time I saw her smile.
I think, It was never just her.
I think, Maybe this is my fight, after all.
Maybe this is my life.
I shoot him in the face.
He goes still and stays that way.
Alone again, I start to scream and cry and I don’t stop until my head is pulsing and throbbing.
I light my last cigarette and take another long drag, feeling the smoke and fire crackle at the outermost edges of my lungs. Exhale. Do that twice more until the cigarette’s already a third gone and the nicotine’s making my every nerve glow.
My hands, my arms, my skin and my hair, they all smell like acetone and some other nasty flammable shit. I catch sight of myself in the black glass of the car’s window as I pass back and forth—I look like hell. Filthy, streaked in blood and dirt and sweat—I could almost pass for Summer, looking like this. I think of her smile again, way back when, and my heart feels heavy. I feel like I’m going to start crying again. I take slow breaths until it passes.
I lean back against the hood of my car and take a few more puffs off my Camel, trying . Look at the battered old Streamliner against the blue-gray horizon. The silver old corpse, still hanging on to some vestige of nostalgia, some misguided sense of what-used-to-be, even as it spiraled ever closer to oblivion.
Four dead bodies in there.
Sun’s coming up. Finally.
I take one last puff off my smoke and pitch it into the wet line leading up into the open trailer door. It catches instantly, the fire snaking along the ground and leaping into the Streamliner. A few moments later, the whole thing’s going up in a ball of orange-black flame. I watch my cigarette butt crackle and curl and turn into useless ash like a Black Snake on the Fourth of July.
I turn and pull the heavy duty briefcase off the hood of the car. Hold it in both hands and consider trying to open it. Consider what could be in it and what it would be worth to someone else. Someone like Chris, or Frank. Or worse.
Not even if it was brimming with hundred-dollar bills, no.
This is where I let her go.
Best thing for both of us, now.
I whip the case through the trailer door, into the conflagration.
“I’m sorry,” I say to no one.
I watch the Streamliner burn for another few minutes, then stand up, circle the car, and climb in behind the wheel. The engine growls to life, I throw it into drive. Nothing but empty road and the sunrise ahead of me. This is my life.
Then I’m gone.
Just like that.
Matthew Lyons is a writer living in New York City with his wife, where he works in corporate advertising to support his pathologically unsafe spending and drinking habits. Most recently, his mad, whiskey-fueled ramblings have appeared in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine. He is unquestionably a danger to himself, others, and his marriage, and must be stopped at all costs. Join in the fight against this monster at twitter.com/reverendlyons
Cover photo: Thomas Hawk https://www.flickr.com/people/thomashawk