by Nicholas Ehst
It hit her hard and fast,
burning her eyes and assaulting her senses the moment the car door swung open.
"Oh Jesus," Jenna said, actually
shaking as she brought her hand up to her mouth and focused on trying not to puke. In all her years, she’d never smelled
anything even remotely like this.
"What… what the hell…"
she moaned, stepping outside and quickly slamming the door for fear that the smell would work its way into her car.
It was hot out today, and
the sun stood high on its perch. Jenna could see heat-lines waver and shimmy in the air, distorting the world for several
feet above the blacktop. Even the glass windows of her office looked like they were sweating, and everything in the parking
lot, even the trees, looked simply worn out.
Somewhere close, flies were
Not the way to start the day,
she thought, slinging her purse over her shoulder. Jenna’s other hand stayed affixed to the front of her face as she
walked, trying to act as some sort of filter. She couldn’t decide whether to breathe through her nose or her mouth…
the smell was horrid, but god, if it reeked that bad, what might it taste like?
Jenna had walked around several
other vehicles in the parking lot, and was maybe four yards from the front door when she stopped caring about the smell."My
God, Jenna! What’s the matter?" Linda asked. Several others had come outside as well, though Linda had been the first
through the door. The ones who hadn’t come running stood at windows, straining through the windows to see what all the
commotion was about.
It seemed that everybody in
the building had heard Jenna screaming.
"Jenna… dear," Linda
said, putting her arms on Jenna’s shoulders. "My god, what’s wrong?"
WHAT’S WRONG…Jenna couldn’t believe it… the question, the tone, the fact that they were standing out
here in the parking lot, having this conversation.
Can’t you see it?
Linda took two cautious steps
back and Jenna shrieked, clasping her hands to her mouth as her co-worker nearly tripped over the bloated, mutilated corpse
of a man that lay splayed out on the ground behind her.
"Look out!" she shouted, and
pointed one wild, shaky finger at the body. Linda spun around, suddenly fearful of what might be behind her. She scanned the
crowd… looked at the building… looked at the cars… looked right at it, the body, the dead, rotting, reeking
body not two feet from her.
"What? What is it?" she said,
looking back at Jenna with nervous eyes. It was apparent that she was no longer as afraid of what might be behind her as she
was of the woman standing in front of her.
"Th… The body," Jenna
stammered, still pointing. Her eyes felt as if they’d gone mad, darting from Linda to the faces of the other dozen or
so people who were all just standing around, looking at her; and then back to the corpse, lying on the ground. "Can’t
you see the fucking BODY?"
Linda looked behind her again,
straining, as if trying to follow some invisible line that led from Jenna’s finger to whatever had scared her so badly.
"I don’t… I don’t
see anything, dear," she said, taking another step back.
Something inside the corpse
ruptured as Linda brought her heel down on its abdomen, and with a loud, frothy splash, the man’s guts engulfed Linda’s
left leg to halfway up her calf.
It was still really hot out…
so hot that Jenna could feel the pavement burning the skin of her face as she fell against it, even after she’d passed
out.They were looking at her… all of them, Jenna could tell. They’d been looking at her since it happened, keeping
watch, speaking without speaking, whispering thoughts and accusations through the fluttering motions of their eyes, their
lashes saying things none of their mouths would.
Jenna stood outside, the sun
on her face, a hand held inconspicuously up to her nose, and she knew they were watching her.
They were watching her watch
the body… though no one in this little play would admit that that’s what they were doing.
That’s how long ago
Jenna had found herself on the floor of her office, a sea of concerned faces looking down at her; one of her shoes missing,
left outside where it had slid off on the pavement when they’d drug her into the building.
The EMT who’d helped
her had been kind of cute, though a little too fresh faced for her tastes, but he’d hovered over her, tending to her
What woman doesn’t like
a man who can tend to her needs?
The body was still there,
bloated, distended and covered in things that moved about its surface in unnatural ways. The eyes bulged out of the head,
looking glazed over – as devoid of life as anything Jenna had ever seen. It had been a man once… possibly a quite
handsome one, though who could tell now? He’d been a large man, both hefty of muscle and mass, and he’d been wearing
a suit when he died. The jacket now hung open, and the buttons of his shirt had come undone, letting the sticky, purple swell
of his stomach roam free and reach up to the sky, but even through the damage of the elements and the stains of decay, Jenna
could tell it had probably been a nice suit.
In the four days since it
happened the horror had waned a bit, turned into something else.
Jenna wasn’t sure if
she’d lost her mind, or if everybody else was just too far gone to see. It probably didn’t matter. Some had asked
her what was the matter, and she’d told them she wasn’t sure, that it had all been a mistake, a trick of the light
and some terrible medication gone awry.
She hadn’t seen the
No one had seen the body…
Hiding under the ravages of
sun, air and bacterial intervention, Jenna continued to look down at the man. She thought he had a kind face. She wondered
what his name had been. Everybody needs a name, a body shouldn’t rot unnamed, and a man should never be buried without
She’d been inside the
office earlier, trying to look around without looking. There were trails on the carpet now, spreading throughout the building
by the hour and becoming more permanent as each moment passed. Dirty, rusted footprints where people had stepped over –
through – the body, and tracked its moistures across the floor.
Some of the footprints ran
down the hall… a set of them were scuffed right in front of Jenna’s desk… though no one else seemed to see
those either. It was a growing theme these last few days… who knew, perhaps even the past few months. Things bled, things
died, thing stunk and bloated and turned to rot, and nobody noticed. Even Jenna hardly noticed anymore.
Jenna sneezed, never taking
her hand away from her nose. It still smelled out here, and she could still hear the flies.
So many flies, it seemed the
air itself was alive with them. Jenna imagined their buzzing; loud, incessant… it was as if the world would never be
"Hey, are you all right?"
Frank asked, coming up behind her without getting too close. Jenna turned, a bit startled, looking over her shoulder at him.
Frank wore a smile of concern, wide-eyed and tight lipped, and there were beads of sweat on his forehead.
It was quite a hot day out…
"Yeah, I’m fine," Jenna
said, and without another word turned away from the man on the ground and headed back toward the door, and then stopped.
Jim…It hit her then…
Jim… his name had been Jim. Someone had called him that once, probably often.
"Jim," Jenna said, casting
another glance towards the body, and her lips rose into a faint smile which held for just a moment, then fading away completely.
"What was that?" Frank asked,
but she just looked at him and then headed inside, leaving his question hanging in the terribly warm air. He stood there for
another minute or so, watching the door swing shut behind her.
What was she looking at?He’d
been watching her, standing out here for days now, staring at that empty spot. Shaking his head, Frank finally walked over
to the door as well, and, just as he pulled it open, he stopped.
It was probably just the rush
of the office air, the change of the temperature, but, for a second, Frank was sure he could hear something.
Frank was sure he could hear
the buzzing sound of flies…Giggling…
Jenna jumped, startled. The
sound had jerked her from her mid-work stupor. Laughter… a child’s laughter, both mirthful and mischievous, and
coming from somewhere very close by.
Jenna looked around, trying
to move with her eyes at first, before having to get her whole head involved.
Desks… lots of desks,
just like hers, with lots of people sitting at them, all doing about the same thing she was doing.
The little boy’s head
peaked up at her then, just over the far end of her desk. His hair was a ragged mess, and even before she could see his mouth,
she could tell the boy was smiling. It was in his eyes, that sparkle that children get.
The boy looked dirty, there
was crud crusted around the edges of his temples, dried in his hair and caked under his fingernails. There was something dusty
about him, like he’d gotten dirty in the rain and then dried in the air, leaving film and fragments of all sorts of
things to cover his skin.
What the hell is a kid…
Then the boy stood all the
way up, and she saw that he wasn’t just dirty…
He was bloody.
"Wait, hey, wait!" Jenna called
after the kid as he turned around and darted off, down the hallway. No one seemed to notice the child, but everybody looked
up as Jenna called out and ran after him.
"Hey, Jen-" someone’s
voice was cutoff as Jenna sprinted past their desk. The boy was heading towards the front of the building, towards the door.
As Jenna rounded the corner
which led into the lobby, she saw the door swing closed, and Casi, their receptionist, looked up at her with a most bewildered
"What’s the rush?" she
"That boy," Jenna started,
but stopped as soon as she saw the look of confusion on the young girl’s face. She didn’t see the boy. No one
saw the boy.
Shaking her head in frustration,
Jenna ran to the front door, throwing it open and finding herself bathed in the warm, afternoon sun.
The boy was outside, standing
by the body, grinning and laughing and pointing at the three dogs which were aggressively chewing at what remained of the
"Jesus," Jenna shrieked, bringing
her hands up to her mouth. The dogs looked horrible, their coats torn and mangy, their ears ripped and beaten and their ribs
clearly showing their tattered skin.
"Get away from him," Jenna
yelled, running at the animals and waving her arms. A couple of people had come outside to watch the bizarre display, but
no one said anything.
The growling started immediately
as all three of the dogs let go of the body, but only backed a slight distance away, hunkering down, baring their teeth and
looking generally ready to tear Jenna to shreds.
"Go away, just… go away,"
she shouted, feeling close to tears. The body had been torn completely open, flesh laid bare and innards strewn about the
pavement in yellow, loopy piles.
One of the dogs took a couple
of cautious steps forward, never letting Jenna out of its sight, and leaned down, nibbling on a small piece of Jim.Jim…
"They’re here to take
him away," the boy said then, sounding matter-of-fact. Jenna looked at him, not understanding. The boy’s smile had faded,
leaving behind a still, cold mask of young features sculpting to the whims of much older intent.
"What are you talking about?"
"You gave him a name," the
boy said. "They’re taking him back to the place now…" The child turned tail and ran then, darting off into the
distance so quickly it looked as if the sun itself swallowed him up. Jenna lurched a bit, her body instinctively wanting to
follow, but she stopped herself… what good would it do? She’d never catch him, after-all, he hadn’t really
been there anyway…Gone…
The body was gone… Jim
Jenna sat in her car, staring
at the spot on the ground. There were marks; scuffs in the dirt and bloody trails where the body had been drug away, presumably
by the dogs, presumably during the night.
"Jim," Jenna said to no one
as she turned off the engine and got out of her car. She felt weak.
He was gone…
They’d taken him…
It was over now…
Then why did she feel so lonely
all of the sudden?
The air wasn’t just
cool as Jenna stepped through the front doors, it was down right cold. She could feel it, wrapping itself around her, fondling
the edges of her skin like unwelcome hands.
"Dear lord," she mumbled,
patting at her chest. It was like she’d stepped through the door of a meat locker… she knew it had to be her imagination,
but Jenna could swear she could see her own breath.
"How are you feeling today?"
Linda asked, a little grin on her face and a quiver in her voice. She sounded nervous, scared, like she was talking to a mental
deficient with a history of violence.
"I’m fine, Linda, really,"
Jenna said, quickly passing the woman and trying to avoid eye contact.
Walking with a rather brisk
pace, she could hear the woman talking behind her, but Jenna wasn’t listening. What was the point?
She wasn’t sure how
she kept from gasping when she got to her desk, but somehow, she did.
She’d probably been
numbed to the shock…
She’d possibly been
It was a woman, or had been
at one point; the body, ripped open, strewn across the surface of Jenna’s desk.
The flies…Jenna listened
to the air, and she could hear them, the flies.
"If you think you need a couple
of days off, you know, honey, you can always take them," Linda said.
She couldn’t see the
body, that much was evident.
Jenna wasn’t surprised.
Linda…The name popped
into Jenna’s head for some reason, and she took another step towards her desk, looking down at the body.
The face had been damaged,
beaten and bruised, and one of the eyes had been lost somewhere along the way. A breast was exposed through a rip in her blouse,
and her legs looked worked over by blood, mud and the hands of someone unclean.
And her name was Linda…
"Linda," Jenna said, reaching
out one finger and touching the body on the cheek.
"Um… what?" Linda said,
stopping in mid-sentence and looking very confused, but Jenna wasn’t paying attention, wasn’t even looking at
"Linda," Jenna said again,
kissing her palm and laying it on the body’s forehead. "Your name is Linda."
Jenna was smiling, caressing
the head of someone that no one else could see, and she didn’t even turn as her co-worker took several cautious steps
back, and then finally scuttling away.
Her mind was too busy for
that, her ears too attuned. She could see others, now that she really knew how to look. Other bodies, laying about the office.
Sitting in chairs, draped from the ceiling, pilled in corners and strewn about the floors… the bodies of women and the
corpses of men…
Giggling, Jenna could hear
giggling; the laughter of a child, and the dragging heals of hungry dogs.
"They’ve come for her
now," the child said, stepping up beside Jenna seemingly out of nowhere, and taking her hand in his own. "They’ve come
"Linda," Jenna said, closing
her eyes while the sensation of noise and of rot took her over. This was the absence of life… this was the place for
"A man can’t really
be buried who isn’t somebody," the child said, and Jenna nodded, finally understanding.
There were bodies here, lots
of them; each one waiting to leave…
Each one waiting to be somebody…
Each one waiting for Jenna
to give them a name…
Copyright Nicholas Ehst 2006