The tattoo was of a set of doors, arched
like those of an old church and completed in such intricate
detail that the embossing of the flowers and gargoyle faces
carved into the stone lintel seemed to be almost alive.
She had a fine figure, breasts that had
no evidence of surgical enhancement, yet were as firm and semi-spherical
as the half-grapefruit I had as part of balanced breakfast that
morning. The tattoo was the only body art she had invisible
under clothes, but now shining and complete, a special secret,
shared only with her lovers and now me.
I took a photo of it and resumed my dictation.
include tattoo on the chest, measuring nine inches by eight
inches. This artwork extends from sternum to supra-pubis. Tattoo
is recorded as photograph number 1009 on this case file."
I paused and took a last look at the
artwork. My incision was going to go right through the middle
of it, a long slit that would pass down the medial line of those
beautifully wrought doors, separating them as if they had finally
I started in the prescribed manner, a
scalpel slice through the skin, tissue and muscle from her left
shoulder to the point where the tattoo tip began at the point
of her sternum.
A second matching cut from the right
shoulder to the same point gave her a bloodless V marking on
her chest. The cuts bordered her breasts and when the two cover
pages of skin and flesh were peeled back they would be lifted
aside as well.
Here I paused again. She had been dead
for twelve hours; the blood was pooling on the back of her buttocks,
head and shoulders. The flesh of her chest and front was as
drained and empty as a deflated sex-doll.
" I murmured
too softly to be heard by the microphone and began the third
cut of the Y incision of the autopsy dissection.
It is common for bodies to retain gasses,
air in the lungs and methane in the bowels after death. It is
standard autopsy humour, the urban legends of voices and utterances
as air is forced out of the lungs, leading to stories of people
not yet dead coming to consciousness on the autopsy table. I
was not surprised to hear a hiss as I sliced a neat line between
the two halves of the tattoo. The extractor fans would soon
remove any intestinal gas, and I was accustomed to working with
bodies that were in a far more advanced state of decomposition
than this one.
Pressing harder I sliced through the
firm sheet of muscle that defined her flat abdomen, a thin layer
of subcutaneous parted under my blade, for even the fittest
and athletic have some fat, and I reached in to the carefully
packed abdominal cavity to lift the flesh and begin separating
the connective tissue to allow the meat to be folded back, exposing
the internal organs to examination.
An icy flush poured over me when I felt
the firm grip of a hand grasp my wrist as it was inserted up
to the elbow in that woman's livid corpse.
My initial reaction was to start violently,
and then my rational mind told me that I had simply caught on
an errant strand of connective tissue, or at worst I had gotten
a length of intestine wrapped over my arm.
Moving gently so as to not rupture any
delicate organ tissue and effect the evidence in situ I retracted
my arm. It slid out several inches with that thick, wet, sticky
sound of coagulating body fluids and then came to an abrupt
halt. What ever had caught my wrist had come up tight. I gently
tugged, and felt the grip tighten. I almost chuckled; this was
embarrassing. If one of the morgue interns should come in at
this moment I would never hear the end of this. Remember
the time the Chief Medical Examiner got his arm stuck in that
My brief consideration was terminated
by the sensation of what felt distinctly like fingers sliding
around my wrist. I stopped breathing as I became utterly focused
on the tactile feeling of bone and flesh pressing against my
wrist. There was the opposing thumb pressing against my radial
pulse, which I could feel beginning to race in response to the
flood of adrenaline.
Rational thought took a back seat to
instinctive self preservation. I yanked on my arm with a ferocity
bordering on blind panic. The grip tightened and I nearly whimpered
at the definite sensation of an opposing tug drawing my arm
deeper into the corpse.
"Johnny!" I yelled into the
empty room. Johnny, the orderly, would be under the damnable
headphones of his iPod killing his delicate ear follicles with
a bludgeoning assault of noise.
"Johnny!" I shrieked the second
time. A strong tugging on my buried arm almost pulled me off
balance. The doors did not swing open, and I was still alone
with this phenomenon.
I turned my attention back to the opened
corpse on the table. Here I was with my right arm buried up
to the elbow in the abdominal cavity of a dead woman and for
the first time in my medical career I was terrified.
Panic causes a range of chemicals to
flood the body and affect many aspects of perception. I say
that with scientific certainty; however I know that what I saw
next was no hallucination caused by my hyperventilation.
The tattooed doors on this dead woman's
chest were swinging outward. Without separating from the cold
flesh they moved like a projected image played against the white
screen of her skin. The two doors swung slowly outward, and
a gleam of reddish light shone up out of the incision where
my arm was still held inside.
They say there are no atheists in fox
holes, and my smug certainty in all things rational and scientific
dissolved in the shine of that sanguine glow and I prayed in
fervent silence to what ever loving force existed in creation
to protect me from whatever polar opposite of light and love
was acting against me.
The tattooed image of the doors swung
wide, opening a way from which the light continued to shine.
The glow pierced the covering flesh and grew brighter and brighter,
shadows began to play across the skin, silhouettes moved, figures
with humanoid outlines capered and scampered in a hideous shadow
puppet display. Accompanying these grotesque miniatures was
a maddening melody of demonic flutes, a tune that poured through
this dead flesh and clogged my ears like burning venom. The
noise rose in volume, shattering my senses and hypnotising me
into an unwilling witness of this insane performance. As I succumbed
I barely noticed that composure and I had parted ways. I gibbered
and drooled, my face slack with shock. I would have fallen if
my legs had not locked in a rictus of terror.
The shadow figures leapt and twirled
in a frenzied tarantella before they collapsed and seeming spent
they sank from view, exiting the illuminated screen of their
morbid stage. The grip on my wrist lessened and I felt that
hand slide back, retreating not into the organs and flesh from
which it had risen, but somehow beyond that corporeal medium
and back into what ever red-lit dimension it had emerged from.
When I was aware my hand was no longer
gripped I tore free from the encompassing flesh and gazed in
horror. A dark ichor with thick consistency dripped slowly from
my latex gloved hand. The stench that came from it was beyond
anything I had ever encountered from a corpse before.
The red light faded from within the body,
leaving nothing but the neatly aligned curves and familiar forms
of the organs of digestion. I staggered back from the table,
tearing the gloves from my hand and stumbling in blind fear
from the examination room.
Even out in the bright white light of
the morgue I felt set upon by flickering shadows. I fled the
hospital that night and I have been unable since to take a scalpel
in hand with the intent of dissection without being overcome
with an uncontrollable tremor of the hands and an incapacitating
buzzing in my ears that is all my merely human mind can comprehend
of that cacophonous orchestra from beyond the tattooed doors.