By Ndianabasi Ekong
The story behind the scene is too scary for me, so, I would love to share it with you. I went through a Medical School during my early twenties; it wasn’t easy and neither was it cheap. I ended up working odd jobs at the hospital, in an attempt to make ends meet. Most of them weren’t so bad; mostly, they involved a lot of cleaning and receptionist work.
However, there was the morgue and I didn’t like working down towards it. Frankly, I don’t know many people who thought of working there, but the pay was good for relatively little work. All I had to do was clean and watch over everything if there were no doctors present, which only happened late at night.
Occasionally I’d have to help move a body, but it wasn’t something I couldn’t handle. I spent my nights down there, three or four times a week. I’d clean up and sit to study, making sure everything remained ship-shape, as the Reverend Father liked to say.
It wasn’t a hard job, but I didn’t like it. The morgue was so isolated from the other wards and it was down a bushy path with dim lighting. You might think that working in a morgue would remind you of death, well, you may be right; that wasn’t all. The whole place felt like death, aside from the dead bodies it regularly housed, and was just never right for me.
I thought I was paranoid until one night proved to me that it was more than that. I can still remember it vividly – it was a Friday. I don’t know why that sticks out so much on my mind, but it does. The night had been rather uneventful, with only one body brought in. The doctor who brought in the corpse had seemed a little on edge. When I asked why, he said:
“When this guy came in, he was perfectly fine, but he wouldn’t stop shouting about how he was going to die. We thought he was having some kind of mental breakdown. When we were about to sedate him, everything in his body suddenly shut down. He died in few minutes and we couldn’t resuscitate him. No one has any idea what killed him.”
My heart twanged as I helped him put the corpse on the table. The hospital was stretched a little thin that day, so nobody was going to attend to the poor corpse until the next morning – which meant that I’d be with a corpse the whole night. Well, that didn’t bother me much; sure, it was a little creepy, but I had dealt with worst situations before. Once the doctor left, I pulled out my books and buried my head in them, hoping to dispel some of the tension that had fallen over the morgue.
I found myself wishing that I had something, anything at all to clean, but, the whole place was spotless. I tried to lose myself in the complicated medical terminologies in my textbooks, but for whatever reason that night, I found it difficult. Maybe it was a man’s intuition, or maybe an animalistic intuition. Either way, I could sense that something strange was going to happen in that morgue.
It started with power failure at midnight. The only warning I had was a momentary flickering of lights before everything shut down. The silence that followed was broken by the chirping of crickets. What now? I had been sitting at the work desk where the attending physicians filled out their paperwork after the autopsies. I let my hands drift over the surface and down through the drawers, searching for my torch light.
I tried not to think about the corpse waiting there in the dark. Jesus! It’s just a corpse, it can’t hurt you. Suck it up! I was searching the third drawer by my right when power came back. Surprisingly, I spotted something strange out of the corner of my right eye. Breath hitched in my throat because somewhere in the back of my mind, I had seen enough to know what it was. Nonetheless, the rest of me was clueless. Fighting this internal battle, I turned slowly towards the table. Behold, the corpse was sitting up.
My first thought, of course, was that it wasn’t a corpse at all. The doctor did say that he’d just dropped dead; they must have made some mistakes. Something kept me from rushing over to find out if the young man was okay. He wasn’t breathing; his body could have been a statue for how still it was. I told myself that he was most certainly breathing, I just couldn’t see it from there, but I wasn’t convinced. I tried to force myself to walk over to him, but I couldn’t.
Suddenly, his head snapped towards me. I didn’t see it happen; I blinked and the position of his head had changed. To make matters worse, it should have been impossible because I was diagonally behind him. Heads do not turn that far back, unless they’re broken or severely damaged; but here he was, his eyes trained on me. That was when I noticed the eyes – they were gone.
There were just two empty, meaty sockets staring back at me. I was positive that the corpse had eyes when it was brought in here. It didn’t matter, because they were gone now. I blinked. This time, the corpse was sitting up, its legs dangling off the side of the table. They swung there like the legs of a baby on a swing, and it was in their terrible motion that I found my voice. I screamed and ran for the door.
Do you remember those bushy paths I told you about? The dark ones I had to walk through to get to the morgue? They were lined with bodies. They were still, breathless and noticeably dead. And absolutely, none of them had eyes, but they all stared at me. That almost froze me right there, because it felt like being trapped between two deaths. I was absurdly terrified that if I stepped out into the bush path, they’d swarm on me like demonic birds and take out my eyes so I’d look just like them. Meanwhile, somewhere at the back of my mind, I knew that the other corpse was fast approaching.
I made a mistake just then; I turned around. It was standing less than a foot behind me. Those sockets still bore into me as its mouth hung, unhinged. A deep vibration emanated from its body and, slowly, a tiny trickle of blood dripped out of the side of its mouth. My body made my decision for me; I ran.
I ran and ran and ran until I burst out of the hospital. The nurses on call tried to stop me but they couldn’t. I ran to the few blocks that separated the hospital from our hostel. I got inside and collapsed on the floor, frightening the life out of Reverend Father Paul, who happened to be monitoring the door that night.
Father Paul was strict, but he was also kind. He knew I was supposed to be at the morgue up to four in the morning, therefore he was ready to give me hell until he saw my face. I don’t know exactly what he read in my expression, but he didn’t chastise me. He didn’t ask me what happened, either. He simply placed a call to the hospital to notify them that they needed to replace me. By the time he got off the phone, I was sobbing, the terror finding vent in my tears. He placed his arms around me and whispered, “Son, it’s okay, you don’t have to go back there.” And I didn’t. In my years as a Doctor, never once have I gone back to that morgue, or any other morgue. I’m no stranger to death, I’m no stranger to pain; these things don’t scare me. No, it’s what happens in those few hours after death that I don’t want to know about.
Artist: Ithali Khoza – South Africa
Excerpt from #1 Youth Shades, September 2016