Will was alone in the dissection lab the night the bodies sat up. There were two of them, one male and one female. Both were naked but only one, the man, had been cut into so far. The other anatomy students had named him Joe because his generic white dad bod, chestnut hair, and unremarkable face made him appear—to the fresh young anatomy students, anyway—as average as they come. The female, on the other hand, they had named Kim after the most famous Kardashian. Will assumed this was because of her almond eyes, elvish nose and chin, and voluptuous hips. Well, her hips would have been voluptuous in life. By the time the anatomy students at this university got their hands on the dead, the chemically preserved bodies were already deflated and dry, like an old shed snakeskin lying about in the hot sun of a late summer day.
Kim, who was Will’s project alone for the evening, so much resembled her namesake that the lad had been unable to stop himself from taking a series of photographs of her as she lay before him awaiting the first incisions. He briefly considered Instagramming the images but figured that the ensuing kerfuffle would probably get his account suspended. Instead, he planned to share them with only his fellow anatomy students, those who had yet to come face-to-face with the reality television star’s dead doppelgänger and wouldn’t believe him if he told them she exists.
The corpses rose from the cadaver tables in unison, bending at the waist until they sat upright, their arms at their sides, their legs straight forward, and their tagged toes still pointed skyward. Will happened to be standing between their respective tables when the duo roused, and the shock of it sent him reeling backward into a shelf that was full of disinfectants and other tools of the trade. His phone, the camera of which had been aimed at Kim’s head and torso, went flying out of his right hand and clattered against the door of a metal storage closet. Will’s ass hit the floor, his lab coat splayed wide beneath it. One of the bottles of disinfectant tumbled from the edge of the shelf and smacked him squarely on the noggin. He yelped in surprise.
“D’ja hurt yourself?” Joe croaked, his voice raspy with disuse. In spite of his deflated flesh, he managed to screw up his lips into something that resembled a bemused grin.
“Where are we?” Kim said. Her voice was higher pitched than Joe’s but no more melodic. “And what the hell were you doing just now?”
Will swallowed thickly, tasting bile. “I ju—I just—you look—I mean…”
“This ain’t history class, boy,” Joe said. “Stop repeating yourself! Tell the lady what you were doing. Don’t lie about it, either. My eyes were open the whole time.”
Will blinked at him. “You. You could see? How long have you been able to see?”
“Never you mind that,” Joe said. “Just tell her.”
“You look like Kim Kardashian,” Will mumbled. He was looking at his hands more than at the suddenly animated female cadaver. “That’s all. I was taking a picture. Didn’t think anybody would believe me.”
The corpse’s eyes narrowed. “You were taking a picture of me?” she said. “You were taking a picture of me like this?”
Will managed to look at her. “You’re dead,” he said. “At least I thought you were. I really didn’t think you’d mind.”
Kim threw up her hands in disgust and looked at Joe, whose crusty yellow and lifeless eyes somehow managed to positively gleam back at her. “Didn’t think I’d mind, he says. Didn’t think I’d mind. And why? Because I’m not among the living anymore? Because I no longer have a soul?” She glared back at Will. “Is that it? You’re really something, you know that? You really are, all you living people. You sit there with your money and your jobs and your cars and your computers and your phones and you think, ‘Well, I’m just top of the world, and I can do whatever I want to anybody I want.’ Right? Is that it?”
From his own cadaver table beside her, Joe whooped. “You go, girl!”
Will eyeballed his hands again.
“Well, let me tell you something, Mr. Breathing Guy,” Kim went on. “I didn’t spend my time alive smashing all the barriers that slobbering guys who refused to think of me as anything but a hot fuck built around me just so I could be ogled and felt up by the likes of you after I died. Do you have any idea who I was when I was alive? Do you? Does it even matter to you that I was the only girl in the engineering department at this so-called school? Do you care that I was top of my class and was well on my way to getting my hands around a small fortune in research grants that would help me permanently fix this country’s crumbling infrastructure?”
“Preach it!” Joe shouted. “Preeeach it! I don’t want to go falling off a bridge!”
“And do you know what killed me? Do you know what took all that away from me? I can tell you that. It was a slobbering guy who roofied me. I overdosed. He was in almost all my classes. I had dinner with him because I thought he wanted to talk about my infrastructure research. He didn’t. He wanted a hot fuck and didn’t think he’d be able to get it unless I was unconscious.”
“Uh,” Will said.
Joe managed to look stricken.
“No, you didn’t know any of that, did you?” Kim continued. “You didn’t know any of that because instead of doing your job down here with all these dead people who have donated their bodies to science, you wanted a little trophy to send to your buddies. Well, you know what, Mr. Breathing Guy? Fuck you. Fuck you and fuck your stupid little stuck-in-their-pants buddies. Now the dead are rising, you arrogant little shit. We’re rising tonight and we’re not going to take any more of your abuse.”
“Damn right!” Joe echoed. “You tell it!”
Kim turned on the table and hefted herself off its edge. She stood before Will, who remained splayed on the floor, in all her post-mortem nakedness. She seemed a little unsteady on her gray, Formaldehyde-clad feet. Gravity made her dead, deflated skin appear draped over her frame. Joe, who hadn’t budged since sitting up except for his two attempts at facial expressions and the occasional one-liner, leaned back on his elbows on the cadaver table and spoke as if he were commiserating with old friends.
“Well, they always say your past comes back to bite you in the ass,” he said. “Guess it doesn’t get more past than a woman scorned and dearly departed, does it? Nope, it doesn’t. But listen to me now, Bubba. My story ain’t nothing like the lady’s here. Nobody ever stopped me from doing what I was supposed to do to make it in life. As far as I know, the only fellow who ever slipped anything into my drinks was me. I’ll tell you, though. Folks sure do want to stop you from doing what you want to do with your own death. Lord, do they ever!
“I don’t even know how I ended up in this place. I never went to a university and I sure as hell didn’t donate myself to be no lab rat. I just went through my life, doing everything I was told to do, just like they wanted it done. Figured being a good boy would end up getting me something somewhere down the line.”
“Sometimes,” Will interrupted meekly, “there are mix-ups. It’s rare, but…”
“I don’t give a lab rat’s tortured asshole about mix-ups,” Joe replied. “I ain’t supposed to be here. I’m a veteran, you know? I was in the National Guard for damn near ten years. Honorably discharged. Like I was saying, I always did as they told me to do, what I was supposed to be doing. I’m supposed to be buried with a flag and military honors. I’m supposed to be respected and taken care of, you little asshole, not cut up like a slice of roast beef for your amusement. Look at my chest. Somebody’s gone and sliced a big old notch in it!”
Kim spoke up. “That’s right,” she said. “Dead right. We’re not pieces of meat. I donated my body to science, but that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to disrespect me. And you shouldn’t be cutting him at all!”
Joe straightened and slid himself off his own cadaver table, managing a wobbly few steps to finally stand beside Kim. Now both preserved relics from a not-too-distant past stood glaring down at the autopsy student who had intended to spend his evening making up for lost time because he’d slept through that morning’s class. Joe’s skin was even more drape-like than Kim’s. He stood with his knees together. The deflated flesh hanging off them caused him to look as if he’d grown an extra scrotum in an unfortunate place.
“So,” Joe said, his attempt at a shit-eating grin still smeared across his features. “It’s kind of funny, ain’t it? What you thought was dead and gone ain’t ever really dead and gone. It’s just waiting for the right time to come back and get you. Looks like now’s the time, hey? What’ve you got to say about all this, lab rat? What’ve you got to say about the dead folks who ain’t gonna take all the live folks’ shit anymore? What’ve you got to say about the past coming back to bite you in the ass?”
A beat, and it came to him: “I’m sorry?” Will said. He straightened himself, rising on his knees from where he’d landed when the bodies rose up and allowing his hands to clasp together at his lap. He nodded at the corpses and made sure that he looked them each in the eye. “I’m sorry. I apologize to both of you. On behalf of the living, I ask your forgiveness. I have no excuse for the way you were treated in life or the way you were treated in death. All I can say for myself and everyone else is that I’m sorry.”
He looked at Kim. “I’m especially sorry for my behavior here tonight,” he said. “Honestly, we thought you were just a couple of empty shells. Your soul or brain activity or whatever you believe in should have been long gone. Really, we had no idea that you were people.”
Kim’s eyebrows shot upward. She turned to Joe.
“Oh my God, did you hear that?” she said. “They didn’t know we were people! Honest mistake? Is that what you’re saying? We just didn’t know! Look at me. Dude, just look at me. How could you not know? We move, just like you. We talk, just like you. We feel, just like you. Hath not a dead woman eyes? Hath not a dead woman hands? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you prick us, do we not bleed?”
“Well, not anymore,” said Joe matter-of-factly. He closed his mouth when Kim shot him a look.
“If you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
“I loved that play when I was alive!” Joe interjected.
“There!” Kim said, gesturing to the other dead person. “There’s more proof for you. Do dogs like Shakespeare? Do cats recite poetry? Asshole, I was once an embryo, just like you. I was once a child, just like you. I went to school and learned the same alphabet and number system that you did. I worked hard, just like you. No, you know what? I worked harder than you because I had to. Because of people like you who didn’t believe I was man enough to do a math problem or change a tire or conjure up a complicated formula in an Excel spreadsheet.
“God! Seriously? Do I really have to explain all this to you? What are you, 18? 19? Weren’t you born at least close to this century? Why can’t you see me as your equal?”
“It,” Will stammered. “It’s just what’s accepted. It’s just how things are.
“But I’m sorry,” he repeated. “We didn’t know any better. I’m so sorry.”
Kim leaned toward him, her milky dead eyes mere slits. “Not anymore,” she said. “It’s not how things are anymore, and all the ‘sorry’ in the world is not going to change that.”
She straightened and motioned to Joe without looking at him. “Come on,” she said to the other corpse. “Let’s get out of this dungeon of knives and nightmares and go change the world.”
She took two ambling steps toward the door, and then seemed to rediscover the strength in her legs. As she reached for the doorknob and stepped over the transition, into the brightly lit hallway beyond, Will thought she looked taller somehow, even regal. She looked like a woman with a purpose, an energetic and motivated leader who was striding out of ages of darkness to drag the world into new enlightenment. She was Liberty resurrected, lighting the way once again for a world that had too long suffered the night.
Kim turned left just outside the door and disappeared from his sight. Will sat on his heels, his palms on his thighs, and smiled after her. The secrets of his heart spread over his face like the rosy rays of dawn over the fields. She could change the world, he thought. She would. She was right. She had made him a believer. It was long past time.
Joe, who for some reason had yet to follow Kim out the door, noted Will’s face and leaned down toward him, close to his ear. The stench of the Joe’s dead breath wafted to Will’s nostrils when he spoke.
“Hey,” he said. “I know what you’re looking at. I was looking, too. Heh. And I agree with you, Bubba. Nice ass, hey?”
Isaac Thorne is a nice man who has, over the course of his life, developed a modest ability to spin a good yarn. Really. He promises. He also avoids public men’s restrooms at all costs. He considers himself a lover of books, music, movies, and other forms of pop culture. When he is not writing fiction, Isaac reviews movies and other content for The Dead Walk (www.thedeadwalk.org), TN Horror News and Promotions (tnhorror.com), and The Horrorcist (thehorrorcist.com). Isaac also hosts two audio programs on SCRMRadio.com: “Thorne’s Theater of Terror” and “Classic Cuts.” Isaac Thorne Short Tales of Dark Comic Horror www.isaacthorne.com
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