If You Don’t Like the Effect
Linc buttoned up the blazer on the suit that the coroner had given him. He cinched up the tie and preened in the mirror.
“How do I look?” he asked.
“Like you’ve been dead for three days.”
“Look who’s talking, Ron Jeremy looking, mother…”
“Dr. William Burke,” he held out his hand, “You’re awfully quick to go on the defensive about a face you’ve worn for all of 45 minutes.”
Linc shook his hand and Burke recoiled.
“That crossed an uncanny line for me,” he said, “I wasn’t prepared for that. I’ve witnessed corpse shoot upright like a bean pole and fart. I’ve never had one shake my hand.”
Linc flexed his fingers and winced, “I’m getting stiffer.”
“That body has been off ice for a few hours. It seems as though they continue to decay while you’re taking up temporary residence.”
“How long do think it will last?”
“Days maybe, if you keep to cool, dry places. What are your plans when you walk out the door?”
“I’m going to a bank to get a loan.”
“Nothing. I just figured while I’m this body I’ll take advantage of some white guy benefits.”
“Taking out a loan?”
“It would be nice to sit across from someone who didn’t make up his mind to decline me 15 minutes before wasting my time.”
“How are going to pay it back?”
“You said this body will only last a couple of days, I’ll have swapped out a hundred times before they even send the first late notice.”
“You discover you have a unique ability and your inclination is to commit fraud.”
“No, think about it. They’re going to have me fill out some paperwork to see if I even ‘qualify.’ And when they figure it out 3-5 business days later, they’ll have no one to congratulate. All I’m doing is wasting some of their time for once.”
“I suppose a little harmless mischief isn’t out of order. I imagine the discovery of a new ability would spur the desire to play with it, get to know it.”
“Next you see me, I will have handed in a loan application, to a smile that isn’t passive aggressive, for once.”
Linc passed with ease through three gleeful gatekeepers to the coveted seat before the loan officer’s desk. He hoisted one leg over the other and it clamped down in a tight cross legged configuration. There was a loud crack. He reflexively winced, then puffed.
“Thank God, I no longer feel anything,” he said to himself.
“Ha. You’re not the first person, sitting in that chair, whom I’ve heard say that,” the loan officer chuckled and reached over the desk. Linc shook his hand, “Chilly! You want some coffee?”
“I’m bulimic,” Linc said.
The officer looked askance.
“No. What’s the one where your blood isn’t right. Anemic.”
“So sorry to hear that, sir.”
“Don’t sweat it.”
“I almost forgot,” the loan officer said, looking over his desk, “The application. I’ll be right back and we’ll have you out of here in the shake of lamb’s tail, and a happy man.”
“How fast is that?” Linc said, but the officer had scurried through a door, chuckling.
Linc watched the people standing in lines for the tellers in the mirrored wall behind the desk. A man walked in with close cropped hair and tight t-shirt exposing sleeves of tattoos. Some looked military, others like the flaming Grim Reaper getting whipped by three purple, pin-up demon girls, looked like an Ed Hardy tote bag. He pulled a ski mask over his head and drew a gun.
“Everybody hit the floor,” he shouted.
“I’ve gotten what I needed out of this experiment,” Linc said and ducked under the desk. Some of the tellers ran passed toward the vaults. One trod on his hand driving her heel into the back of his hand. He could hear the dry, cracking of his flanges. He winced. Then wiggled his broken fingers. He touched his shoulder where his previous vehicle had taken a bullet. Linc crawled out from under the table and walked toward the front of the bank where the gun was pressing his gun against the head of a teller, shouting madness in her ear.
“C’mon now, son. You’re gonna give that poor woman a heart attack. Let’s all just cool out for minute.”
“Shut your mouth, suit,” the man pointed his gun at Linc.
Linc assessed his outfit, “Goddammit,” he held up his hands and walked talked the gunman, “Look, you let her go, you can have me, okay, sound good?”
“Come any closer and I’ll shoot her.”
“Shoot me, son. The guy in the suit with the slick back hair. I’m the problem, right? Snatching everything up and leaving nothing for nobody else. You didn’t come here to rob the place did you? You came here for revenge, right? You’re mad so somebody has to pay. You don’t even care if it’s the right somebody.”
“C’mon, take me.”
The gun went off, eliciting a wave of shock over the gunman’s face, as his hostage fell limp in his arm, blood and bone scattered over his shoulder. Linc gritted his teeth and slapped the tellers hand. His vision blinked and she looking up at the wild eyed face of the shooter. She grabbed the gun, pressed it against her chest and pulled the trigger. The bullet ripped through her and stuck the gunman in the abdomen. He released his grip on her and dropped to his knees looking at the blood leaking from his gut. Linc wobbled and adjusted to her new, high heeled feet and cracked her neck. She looked around her at the dozen so in the lobby, looking like a lineup of Carrie’s stunt doubles, on their knees, eyes stared at her through crimson faces. He touched the top of his head and mustered his best Janet Leigh.
“Oh no...he got me...the bastard he got me,” she plopped to the floor and clamped her eyes shut, waiting for her trip back to the morgue.
Linc must have fallen asleep. He didn’t remember dreaming, but he could recall disjointed moments of people talking to police pointing at him, being zipped into a bag and a lot of jostling. Presently, he had been awakened by, being flopped onto a metal table. The zipper parted and Burke was revealed.
“I was looking for you,” he said.
“Have I got some shit it tell you,” she tore open the zipper to the body bag and hopped off the table.
“I know, I heard it’s all over the news. Lady gets shot in head, comes back to life long enough to save the day.”
“It was bad ass.”
“Not so much for her,” Burke said over his shoulder as he poked at his computer solitaire.
“I had to do with that.”
“Sure you did. Did you even consider what would happen before you started freaking him out?”
“I was trying to chill him out. Maybe swap the hostage for someone who is already dead. I was trying to help.”
“They have professionals who handle situations like that. Even those vigilantes showed up right after you played dead.”
“Did they want to make sure a few things blew up?”
“They’re just trying to help.”
“And they always end up making it worse somehow.”
“This is where the little ding and the lightbulb is supposed to happen.”
“I take your point.”
“Besides, they did seem to make all those spaceships go away.”
Linc sat quietly looking at her hands. She shook her finger at Burke, “Maybe we can figure out how to make the spaceships go away without all the shit blowing up in between.”
“There’s more spaceships?”
“Don’t do that to me. That was time of great existential crisis for me. I don’t test well on those. But now that I know what you mean, what are the benefits of being able to recycle your body that you can capitalize on?”
“Well, I don’t feel pain.”
“I can’t be seen by infrared?”
“No, you’ll still give off a faint glow from your body slowly composting.”
“I’ll give you that.”
“I have to keep changing my identity every few days.”
“Speaking of, we have to address that issue. How are we handling these swaps. I can’t have bodies going missing with that kind of frequency.”
“There’s an acceptable frequency?”
“The necro attrition rate.”
“Alright. You said they’re only good for a few days, right? So they’d only be missing three days at most?”
“I suppose I could back burner some John and Jane Does. It’s not uncommon to get that backed up down here.”
“Which reminds me, I can’t be walking around with half a head.”
“You can pick from the ones in the back. They’re the freshest...what on Earth am I saying?”
Linc peeked under sheet after sheet, sometimes returning to previously turned sheets as if comparing the bodies against one another. Linc lifted one final sheet.
“This is the one. Found it.”
Under the sheet was a figure of carved ebony, sanded to perfection, though succumbing to the pallor of death.
“Before you do that, could you get wheelchair so you don’t…” Burke said.
Linc touched the body and slumped to the floor.
“...slump to the floor and I have to lug it up.”
“I’ll get it. Don’t worry about,” he said hopping off the table and bouncing on his new heels. They felt good. He felt strong in this one.
“What the hell did this guy die from?” Linc asked.
“Kidney failure brought on by rhabdo. Listen, if you’re going to be walking around outside a lot, I want you to go see a friend of mine,” Burke began scribbling on a piece of paper and handed it to Linc.”
“Mr. Hare. Mortician,” Linc read from the paper.
“He can at least try to make you look more...alive. Less undead in any case.”
Linc arrived and Mr. Hare’s and jiggled the bell, as knocking was expressly prohibited by the exquisite calligraphic sign pasted on the door. The door opened and a thin, elderly man appeared.
“Mr. Otis?” he said behind thick glasses.
“Wipe your feet,” he disappeared into his home.
Linc wiped his feet and entered.
“Mr. Hare, Dr. Burke…” Linc began.
“I know,” Mr. Hare get close into Linc’s face, scrutinizing it, “He called and told me. Sit.”
“He told you about me?”
“Yes. Sit,” Hare pointed at a stool.
“You don’t seem to think it’s weird,” Linc looked at Hare with a goofy grin.
Linc sat and Hare began applying make to Linc’s face.
“What? What are doing?”
“Making you look viewing fresh, Mr. Otis. Now sit still.”
“Have you put makeup on corpses before?”
“I’m a mortician.”
“Have you ever been to viewing, Mr. Otis?”
“Your loved one was wearing makeup.”
“You put makeup on dead people?”
“Nobody at a viewing wants to look at a corpse, Mr. Otis. You making this take longer than it needs to.”
“I bet you never put makeup on a body that talked to while you did it.”
“I wish I still had never.”
“Well, I’m going to be swapping bodies like every couple of days so we might as well be friends.”
“Keep still and most importantly quiet.”
Linc grabbed a bottle of brown liquid of the table next to him and sniffed the contents, rearing his head back and coughing, “What in the hell…”
“It’s embalming fluid.”
“And other things.”
“Why do they put that dead folks?”
“It preserves the body longer.”
“Do you think if....”
“I wouldn’t have to visit you as often.”
Hare pulled back and regarded Linc for a moment, “Get on the table.” He rolled up his sleeves and prepped a needle.