The Reluctant Corpse, By Roy Peak
by Roy Peak
A re-run of the first - and maybe only - TGWiW fan fiction!
(By the way, Uncle Morty agreed to the use of his photo but wants to make it clear that he is not the protagonist of this story.)
Rennie turned the big oven up a couple of notches, opened the door, and pulled the toe tag off the corpse so he could file it for today’s work list. This was the third corpse being cremated today and he still had to clean out the oven afterwards before going home. It had been a busy week for the funeral business in Whistlestop, what with the annual Pruning of the Vicars Festival and all of those accidents at the corner of Poe and Bierce—seriously, when were they going to get around to replacing those missing stop signs?
Rennie filed the tag with the others then turned back to the cart with the corpse on it only to find that the cart was bare. Alarmed—and who wouldn’t be?—he took a step back and glanced around the room. There he spied it, hunkered down between the wall and one of the prep tables, naked with a y-incision on his chest, wide eyed and looking a bit scared.
“Hey, buddy. You okay?” He said to the still shaking corpse. The corpse turned his head away, trying to ignore the sudden attention.
“Hey! I’m talking to you!” Rennie shouted. “You gotta get back on the cart so I can roll you into the oven.”
That got the corpse’s attention. “No way, man!” it said in a voice dry and creaky. “I don’t like fire!”
“Yeah, well I gotta job to do, the flames are hot, it costs money to run this thing. Let’s get hopping.”
“I don’t like fire!” The corpse backed even closer against the wall.
“Well, your family opted for cremation, so that’s what we’re doing.”
“I changed my mind. Bury me instead.”
“Too late. Papers are signed, the oven is hot, let’s go!” Now Rennie was getting agitated. He had dinner plans and this guy was messing that up.
“Yeah well, I don’t wanna be buried anyway,” said the reluctant corpse. “I’m claustrophobic. I wouldn’t be able to breathe. I’d have constant panic attacks for all eternity. I don’t like the dark.” The corpse chattered away, biting at its nails.
“Then oven it is. Let’s GO!” Rennie was out of patience. Talking corpses did that to him.
“Can I have a smoke first?”
“You can smoke in the oven for all I care,” said Rennie, eyeing the clock. Six was approaching way too fast. “So go ahead, hop right in.”
Can I bum a ciggie? Someone stole all my clothes.”
“I don’t smoke.”
“Fine time to quit! Right when I need one.” The corpse went back to biting its nails, chattering nervously.
Rennie was now out of patience but unsure of what to do. He didn’t relish the idea of wrestling a naked dead man into the oven this late in the day and really wanted to make that dinner date. Spaghetti on toast at Stan’s Whispering Pancake House with the charming, if chatty, Amelie. Dammit, now he was getting hungry. Something had to be done.
“Ya know, as fate may have it, I think I left a pack of smokes in the oven. Here, hop on the cart, I’ll roll you right in.”
“Oh no! I already died doing something stupid, you can’t fool me twice!” The corpse folded his arms in front of his scrawny chest and stuck out his jaw defiantly.
Well it was worth a try, thought Rennie. “So how did you die anyway?”
“I took a drink from a can of Faygo without wiping off the top first and died from an infection.”
“What?! That’s just stupid. You can’t die from that. Nobody dies from that!”
“Well, I did. The doctor said so.”
“They still make Faygo?”
“They do. I drink it all the time.”
“How did the doctor know the infection was from a dirty can?”
“He’s a doctor. They know things.”
Rennie was tired from arguing with the corpse. The circular logic of the dead was giving him a headache. “Look—if I go find you a cigarette will you get in the oven so I can get outta here?”
“Yessssssssss… “ the corpse hissed, rubbing its hands together in anticipation.
“Be back in a minute.” The corpse’s eyes watched him as he walked across the room and out the door. Maybe Huck, the receptionist, had a cigarette he could have. But Huck was on the phone with a customer so he waited until he was done to ask.
“No ma’am, you can’t bury your husband until after he’s been officially declared dead, even if you do pay for the plot ahead of time. Just because he lays on the couch all weekend long doesn’t mean he’s dead.” Huck was rolling his eyes at Rennie while he talked. It must have been Mrs. Tilsby on the other end of the line, she called a few times each month with these sorts of questions.
“Yes, I don’t care what incentive you come up with.” He narrowed his eyes a bit, listening as she spoke on the other end. “Well, that might work if I close my eyes, but it’s not my decision, so no. Bye bye, Mrs. Tilsby, I’ll talk to you next week.” Huck hung up the phone and shook himself all over.
“Blah! That lady drives me nuts!” He looked at Rennie suspiciously.
“What do you want?”
“You got a cigarette?”
“Um… “ he patted at his shirt pockets. “Yeah, somewhere. Ah! Here they are, right in front of me.” And they were. On the desk right in front of him. He stuck one in his mouth and pulled a second one out and handed it to Rennie.
“Thanks,” he said, taking it.
“Hey, when did you start smoking?”
“It’s not for me,” said Rennie as he walked down the hall towards the crematorium. He half thought that the corpse might be gone by the time he got back but there he was, still sitting on the floor.
“Here ya go. One ciggie.”
“The corpse’s eyes lit up and he reached hungrily for the cigarette.
"Gimme gimme gimme!” The corpse snatched the cigarette from Rennie’s hand and put it in its mouth.
“A light! I need a light!” the corpse hollered. Rennie calmly walked over to the oven door and opened it up.
“Here ya go,” he said, indicating with one hand towards the flames inside.
“Yesssssssss!” hissed the corpse as he pulled himself off the floor and ran to the oven, throwing himself inside, heedless of the flames. Rennie slammed the door shut and peeked through the little window just in time to see the corpse light the cigarette and take a long, noisy draw on it. Immediately he started coughing, choking on the taste of it.
“Hey! What the? This is menthol you cheap bast—” but Rennie never heard another word the corpse said because he had turned up the flames to full blast.
“Spaghetti on toast, here I come.”
Originally published on 08-2017
Roy Peak is Sacred Chickens' Music Editor. He has played electric bass in more bands than he cares to remember for more years than he can remember. He wrote the theme song for the Utica, New York radio show "Hey You Kids, Get Off My Lawn" on WPNR-FM. His solo debut album, All Is Well, has been called "Loud, cacophonous, and beautiful by a truly unique artist." His short fiction has been published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and he writes music reviews for the King Tut Vintage Album Museum of Jacksonville. Roy writes music reviews for the Rocking Magpie among others.