Once upon a time on September 23, 1986 at 7:30 a.m. EST in Hoboken, New Jersey, John Smith awoke to his alarm clock screaming at him. After giving his clock a seeing to, he had a quick breakfast of plain wheat toast, oatmeal, and some lukewarm water. Putting on his lab coat, he got into his car to drive to his job at Getty’s Meat Packing Plant and Funeral Home.
John always felt a tinge of guilt using his car instead of the abundant public transportation of Hoboken, but the idea of ridding a germ-infested bus filled with other people, anyone of whom might hijack it and kill him, assuaged his environmental shame.
John always arrived at work early, hoping to encounter as few people as possible. As he entered the building, he was dismayed to see Linda working at the front desk, entering data sheets into the computer with a look of utter disgust. She glanced up at him, gave a quick smile, and said, “Hey, John,” before her face resumed its previous expression.
John felt obligated to engage in some form of interaction and so replied, “Not getting any better, huh?”
Linda gave a big sigh and vented, “I hate this so much. I want to grab this computer and throw it off a bridge, and if it accidentally hits someone, I could care less!”
“Ugh, yeah. I don’t know what I would do if I had to enter all those for, uh, how long has it been?”
“Feels like a year, but it’s only been three awful weeks, and if I’m lucky, which I am not, it will probably be another four before I’m finished with this stupid thing.”
“Wow, that stinks.”
“I so want to punch Getty in the face right now,” said Linda as she started on a new data sheet.
“Cause of his getting the new computer system?”
“Yeah, he was all, ‘oh, it will make things so much more efficient,’ but it’s pretty much exactly the same, except I have waste seven weeks of my life transferring it all over. I’ll probably wind up on one of your slabs before then though.”
“Oh, don’t say that; you’ll be fine.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, I guess.”
“Yeah, well I had better go and relieve Larry,” said John beginning to walk away.
“Cool, see ya, John.”
John exited the reception area and began walking down the unlit corridor that connected the reception area to the morgue. As he made his way down dark hallway, a hand suddenly reached out from the darkness grabbed him! John screamed. The body the hand was attached to then stepped into the light, and John found his boss, Mr. Getty, standing before him. In an act of tremendous willpower, John stifled an additional scream upon seeing him.
Getty then spoke in his slow, sardonic voice, “Greetings…John. Things…going well today?”
“Good…good. I just want you to know though, I have been getting quite a few complaints about your work.”
“Yes, a fellow told me just the other day you’d done a really poor job on him, made him look rather ugly in front of all his friends and family.”
“Oh,” said John catching on.
“Another fellow said you made him too lifelike. His family was very upset when he began walking around at the service. We can’t have that, hmm?
“Well, just see that it doesn’t happen again. You wouldn’t want such things on your employee evaluation form, hmm?”
“Good. I hear doctors are terrible at treating themselves, and I would guess the same applies to morticians, hmm?
“Well then, I won’t keep you from your friends, even if they are a little cold to you.” Saying this, Getty disappeared into the shadows from whence he came.
John walked into the morgue itself and found Larry taking a nap on one of the unoccupied slabs. John sighed and shook the bulky fellow, who muttered a bit as he awoke and said, “Heck ya do that fer?”
“You’re not allowed to sleep in here, Larry. It is incredibly unhygienic.”
“Heh, sleep ’ere, sleep at home, ’s all sleep.”
“Well anyway, it’s yer lucky day, Jonny boy. Only one stiff today; guy died of cancer.
“Oh, well that is nice I suppose.”
“Funny, always thought cancer were bad, guess not.”
“I meant, oh, never mind.”
“Cool, ’fore I go, ya want a hit of this?” Larry asked offering up some plant matter to John.
“I, uh, think I’m fine, Larry,” said John.
Larry shrugged and said, “Well, I’m outta here. Peace.”
So saying, Larry departed from the morgue, leaving John alone. John saw the old man, but also noted that an additional, sheet-covered body occupied one of the other slabs. An extra corpse would typically raise an eyebrow or two, but for John, the fact that Larry had trouble distinguishing between “one” and “two” was simply a harsh reality he had to live with every day, so he simply rolled his eyes and decided to see what preparations this one would need.
When John removed the sheet from the body, he quickly noted four things: First, the body belonged to a girl somewhere around the age of twelve. Second, she was clad in unusual garb, consisting of almost entirely black with a red cape. Third, there appeared to be little exterior damage, with the body seeming almost life like. Fourth, and this was the most notable thing, was that the body sat up, looked at him, and said, “Hello!”
At first, John was too stunned by this atypical cadaver behavior to have any sort of reaction. It had often been a scenario that had run through his mind on dull days at the morgue: bodies rising from the dead as zombies who possessed presumably nefarious intentions. In his more self-indulgent moments, he often envisioned himself bravely fighting against the undead creatures and leading a rag tag band of survivors against the zombie hordes engulfing the earth. Today though, the reality turned out a little differently. The shocked John screamed in terror, stumbled back, lost his footing, and fell flat on his back before curling into the fetal position, hoping the zombie would think he was already dead and leave him alone.
Instead, the “zombie” pointed at him and burst out laughing. John had never seen a laughing zombie before, but then again, he had never seen any zombie before as far as he knew, so perhaps this was normal behavior for ghouls. Thus, he remained in his state of terror but did muster the courage to grab a scalpel from a nearby table and stutter “S-s-stay back!”
The zombie just laughed again and, putting a hand into her coat, she pulled out a large machete and pointed to it, then to John’s scalpel, highlighting the ill-favored comparison. In response, John wisely decided to change the subject and stammered, “W-w-who are you?”
“That’s not really any of ya business; is it, Doc?”
“Yep, and I can do a pretty good owl impression too. Hoot! Hoot!”
John had to admit it was a pretty good impression, but then he remembered the situation.
“Are-are you a zombie? Are you going to eat me?”
A cloud seemed to pass over the girl’s face. “Not hardly.”
“Oh. So, uh, w-w-what are you doing here?”
“Just taking a quick breather, but don’t sweat it; I’ll be out of ya hair before ya can say ‘Pickled Herring’!”
“Pickled Herring?” asked John, utterly perplexed.
“Well, maybe not quite that fast, but ya know what I mean.”
Just then, John heard what sounded like police sirens pulling up to the funeral home, in all likelihood, attached to police cars, which carried policemen, policewomen, and possibly police dogs.
“Welp, it sounds like it’s time for me to zoom,” said the girl.
Saying this, she hopped down from the slab, pulled out a pouch, and began sprinkling from it a white powder in a large circle on the floor. John wondered if this was crack. Was this girl a drug dealer? Would the police think he was her contact? Would they accuse him of putting the crack into corpses so that it could be smuggled around the country? Would he go to prison? Would anyone there like him?
John was startled from his meditations by a loud click. He saw the girl, who at this point he was 92% sure was not a zombie, had struck two grey stones together, creating a spark which began burning the powdered circle. Twin green flames emerged from where the spark had touched the powder and began working their way around the circumference of the circle in opposite directions, destined to meet at the other end.
His curiosity briefly outdueling his panphobia, John slowly walked towards the circle, his hand still tightly gripping the scalpel, while his mind was utterly confused yet drawn, as if by an invisible pencil, to the circle.
The girl pointed her machete at him and spoke, “Stay back, Doc; this thing’s built for only one.”
“Just keep back.”
Suddenly, there was a thunderous crash as the doors to the morgue flew off their hinges. The police charged into the room with guns drawn and hoping to use them in order to keep the peace.
The noise caused John to jump back like a startled deer and, wouldn’t you know it, land right in the powdered circle. The girl got a horrified look on her face and screamed, “Get outta the circle, Doc!”
But before anything could be done, the twin flames met on the other side of the circle. There was a flash of blinding light, a deafening roar, and the feeling of being hit in the head with a 9-pound brick. Abruptly, John felt himself falling.