The loading bay is all but dead as I step out of the van, the wind stirring my flowing black skirt. I double-check that I have all the necessary paperwork before heading into the hospital. The sound of my blunt heels tapping on the ground fills the hall, as I take an all too familiar path to the morgue’s check-in desk.
“I’m here to pick up the body of one Chase Steffens on behalf of Gótthos Funeral Home & Cemetery,” I say, handing over my paperwork.
“Yes, of course. We’ve been expecting you,” the middle-aged woman at the counter says, giving me a smile that seems out of place given the circumstances. She looks over the paperwork, and with a nod of her head, spins around in her chair, rolling over to a filing cabinet.
While she gets the forms I need, I look around the small room. It’s white, clinical, and stuffy, but I suppose that’s to be expected of a hospital. The semicircular desk and large filing cabinets take up a large chunk of space. Past that, a whiteboard is set up, marking how many claimed and unclaimed bodies and body parts they have in their morgue. The room tapers off to a hallway that leads to a viewing room, an adjacent room with the body fridges that can fit up to 30 deceased individuals, and what I assume is a storeroom next to that. Behind me is a small waiting area with a TV playing the news station.
The news report catches my attention. An eye witness describes the harrowing 911 call she made as three men went on a rampage in the streets of Olympus, busting car and storefront windows. The police detained three individuals for assault, damage to personal property, and on suspicion of substance abuse. Yet, what was thought to be a cut and dry case, took a turn when their drug tests all came back negative. An investigation into the matter led detectives to find that the men had all been in attendance at a masquerade ball downtown that night.
I walk towards the TV, my eyes laser-focused on the screen as it shows video footage of a trashed ballroom. An odd sensation of deja vu fills me. “And here’s your paperwork.” I snap out of it at the sound of the hospital worker’s annoyingly chipper voice. She places the files down on the counter one by one, explaining the different documents. “I made copies of what we have on file. The coroner has already signed off on this one. I’ll need you to sign this release form. This one’s our copy, and this one’s yours.”
I walk back over, take a pen, and scrawl my signature. I hand the form back over to her before grabbing the other papers. My eyes scan the death registration form. The cause of death of Chase Steffens was from the blunt force trauma he sustained when he was struck by a vehicle after running into oncoming traffic. No foul play was suspected, and the coroner ultimately ruled his death a suicide.
I let out a sad sigh. He was young, only in his early 30s, and still had so much life left to live. My heart went out to his family. They were understandably rattled and very much in the thick of the grieving process when I spoke to them. “That should be all the documentation needed. Okay, I’ll take you to him. He’s in Fridge 12.”
I fold my gloved hands in front of me, taking a step back and averting my gaze as the woman practically bounces around the desk. I follow behind her in silence. Two workers meet us at the fridges. I oversee them as they gently slide the body wrapped in sheets onto a mechanical cot. I move out of their way so they can roll the deceased out to my van. Once loaded, I drive straight back to the funeral home to start the embalming process posthaste.
The lights flicker as the deceased is rolled into the funeral home. I let my workers move the body into the embalming room while I don my personal protective equipment (PPE). Gown, gloves, apron, respirator, shoe coverings, etc. etc. etc. By the time I’m done, I look more than ready to take on a pandemic, let alone one dead body. Stepping into the embalming room, I hear the door click shut behind me, and then—silence.
I walk towards the shell of the man laid out on my table, with his glossed over eyes, pallid skin, and gaping mouth. I can see the trauma he sustained from the collision, woven like a tapestry of red, black, and blue across his stiff frame. “I hope you have found your passage across the Styx, Mr. Steffens. If not, well…” I trail off, placing drachma in his palm. “Tell that greedy Charon I’ll pay your fare.” As my fingers graze his skin, I’m suddenly blinded by a flash of light as a vision takes over…
A song, beautiful yet tragic, courses through the room. What is at first a soft alluring caress, turns into a screaming void. Louder and louder it grows until it feels like it’s drilling into my skull. I clamp my hands over my ears to no avail. The song vibrates through me, shaking me to my very core, and ripping me inside out. Black shapes, monsters in the darkness, take form at the edges of my vision. Madness crawls up my spine with its inky tendrils, oozing and seeping into every crevice of my being, and at the center of it all is her.
Eyes bluer than green meet mine amidst the chaos. Her hips sway sensually as she dances over to me, while her gaze, like a dark hook behind her tragic mask, draws me in. I’m powerless to her allure. I’m a slave to her will.
“What will you have me do, my mistress?” I can see the wicked smile in her eyes at my question, and her happiness brings me the utmost pleasure.
“You’ll find your answer in the roadway.” Her words replay in my head as I find myself dancing on the asphalt in the pouring rain. The last thing I remember is the blinding light of a car’s headlight, followed by—
Snapping out of the vision, I go flying backward away from his body. Gasping for air, the sensation of my ribs being crushed and drowning in my blood weighs heavily on me. Gold ichor tears fall from my eyes. This is all my fault. He’s dead because of me.
“I think I’m going to be sick.” Ripping off my respirator, I run out of the embalming room and retch violently outside the door.