Phoenix And The Turtle
ABOUT THIS STORY:I wrote this story when I was still in high school. I was trying to get something published, even back then. But this was another one of those rejections I kept getting. It was really frustrating, I thought I had something to say that was worth reading. The editors at all the magazines I sent this to thought otherwise. Everyone at my school thought I was obsessed with death. I wasn’t. But I thought it was interesting the reaction I got from people. I wrote the story after many repeated viewing of EVIL DEAD. Only mine isn’t so evil, and not nearly as dead. Still the book I based this on is just some light reading I picked up at a used book store.
Interesting news...This story was featured news at stories.com... "THE PHOENIX AND THE TURTLE" Author:Robert Rootes Excerpt from the story: I got a call from the night editor to go check out a body at the morgue. I was to get some pictures and go with the idea that the man killed had been a vampire. It sounded like something I would be interested in anyway. So I didn’t mind getting out of bed and two in the morning to check it out. I love stories about reporters and I love stories about the occult. This story combines both. I got kicked off line while reading it, and HAD to find it to finish it."

It was a pleasant surprise and encouraging. I will add more short stories when I find the time.

Dialogue With Muze: Jim L. Hager


AWitch In New York City It was a grabber title to the cover story of the weekly tabloid. I thought it was inventive and got more people to pick up the paper that week. I should know, I wrote it.
       Eldritch is the name of the rag I’ve been slave to for five years. I tried to make it in the big time for a few years after graduating from college as a journalism major. Apparently my talents were too much for them., they didn’t seem interested in my expertise. I could fool myself forever. I can say that I like what I do but the stress is high. The deadlines for the newspaper are killers and the editor is Perry White from Hell. He loves to shout to get his point across. I’ve been working with him long enough to know he’s just jealous he’s stuck behind a desk while we do all the footwork. He’s fierce but fair. And he’s raised the standards and reputation of the paper. We’ve even sold T-shirts printed with some of our more elaborate photos and headlines.
       The best thing about this paper is the stories are some of the most interesting tales you could read. We’re allowed the freedom other ridged newspapers aren’t. We can embellish on facts, as long as there’s some basis to their validity.
      

I got a call from the night editor to go check out a body at the morgue. I was to get some pictures and go with the idea that the man killed had been a vampire. It sounded like something I would be interested in anyway. So I didn’t mind getting out of bed and two in the morning to check it out.
       We had open access to the morgue. It was an arrangement made with the administrator and my boss. Apparently the morgue’s administrator was a big fan of the newspaper. He allowed us to go down and photograph people if we made sure the pictures were touched up. We had to make sure the face’s of the victims were never visible and the area photographed wasn’t identifiable. And we had to take the pictures on the night shift. I found out that there were certain photographs in the editor’s possession that the administer didn’t want to become public. Blackmail might be illegal but it was part of the game in the business.
       Brett Yorm was the night attendant in the south-side morgue. He was clean shaven, clean cut and pressed. He was quiet, introverted. Most of the other attendants said he was too quiet. He only allowed minimal conversation between the others during shift change. He was never really interested in anything someone was telling him. Sometimes when we spoke, or I spoke to him, he only half heard me. He was pleasant but he had no people skills. But in his line of work it was easy to ignore the living. From small talk, if he gave any, I found out he lived alone. I don’t know if he had a girlfriend.
       Brett had replaced a guy I only knew in reputation. The man had been fired for getting caught having sex with a girl on the autopsy table.
       His job allowed him the liberty to read which he did constantly. He would bring two or three books a night. Most of the books I saw him with I never caught the titles but I could tell they were old books. Most had hard covers and were all different sizes.
      

The night I got called out of bed it was raining. Rain it the city never feels very clean. I always considered it a way to wash off the filth from the buildings. It saturates the skin and leaves an oily film if you don’t shower afterward. Normally I didn’t mind the walk from where I usually parked when I visited the morgue. That night I was wet and cold and tired.
       I buzzed the bell and waved to the camera. After what seemed like a minute standing in the downpour the huge door slid open.
       Brett wore gray tinted glasses that shaded his swallow brown eyes. He had short black hair. He wore a pressed, white uniform. The sleeves were rolled up to his forearm. The top button to the shirt was done up tight to his collar. He was thin and meekesh.
       “How you doing, Brett?” I said and followed him through the large door before it rolled shut and locked.
       “Just fine.” He said and offered nothing else.
       “Brett, why not try a little harder when people talk to you?” I offered. “You can go a long way if you just be a little more pleasant.”
       “Why?” He asked.
       “I just thought it would make your life a little easier.” We stopped at the security desk and I signed in. I saw a copy of Eldritch stuff among other papers on the desktop. It wasn’t sticking out very much but to a trained eye that looked for every detail, it was easy to spot. I had to smile a little. It was good to see Brett kept up with current events, even if they were a little fictitious.
       “Who is it tonight?” Brett asked as we continued down the long corridor.
       “The guy brought in about eleven tonight.” I said and waited for him to look at me before I finished. “Seems the guy might have been a vampire.”
       There was a hint of excitement on his face. His dark eyebrows raised some. But it passed. He was his plain somber self again. “Oh.” He said.
       He stopped at the heavy double doors and went through his keyring in a practiced motion and stuck a key in the lock. He slid open the steel doors and went into the dark.
       I waited a moment while he turned on the florescent lights. I knew what was in there and I wanted to be able to see where I was going before I ventured in.
       There was a series of high rimmed metal tables and operating lights over them that lined the center of the large room. I felt the cold air hit my wet hair and clothes. I thought I would probably get the flu by the time I got the article in. Lining the back and side walls were the lockers that held some bodies. There were other coolers with bodies on gurneys waiting for the pathologists to make their categorizing and rulings when they got in. Sometimes autopsies ran into the night, especially if a DA needed results for court the next day. But I’ve only seen a few doctors working late. I liked it when it was Just Brett working. The doctors didn’t like reporters.
      

I looked at my watch. It was late and I would have to get the copy in the computer before first press in the morning. I felt sleep calling to my limbs. I was going to put in for over-time.
       I followed Brett into one of the large coolers and again waited until he turned on the lights. He began checking toe tags for the time the body came in. When he found it he waited for me to catch up to him. He yanked the plastic sheet back.
       I saw Brett wasn’t looking at the body, he was looking at me. I think he got a little morbid satisfaction at seeing me cringe when I saw some of the bodies. I had seen a few corpses in my time, I had gotten desensitized to the shock. I just didn’t like being surrounded by all of them.
       I took the department issue camera and clicked off a few photos. I didn’t spend a lot of time focusing or farting around with the F stop. I didn’t see a point when they were only going to retouch the photos on the computer at the newspaper.
       I looked at Brett. “What do you suppose poked John Doe’s chest to make a hole like that?”
       “Charles.” He stated
       “What?”
       “Charles Lighn. That’s his name.” He looked down at the body. “From what they said when they brought him in, someone used a metal bar. Stuck it right through him.” He lowered his voice. “Must have been a powerful person. It wouldn’t be an easy thing to do.”
       “Can I quote you?” I asked him, fishing for my notebook in the pocket of my long coat. I found the notepad and jotted the name down and what Brett had told me. I wasn’t sure if I would use Brett’s name for the quote or not.
       “Done?” He asked.
       I nodded still writing. He pulled the plastic sheet over the body again and started walking back out of the cooler. I quickly followed when I realized he had left me alone. Brett went back to his desk and sat down. I leaned on the counter as he picked up a book and began to read. I saw the title of the book.
       I recited something for Brett.
             “Let the bird of the loudest lay,.
             On the sole Arabian tree,.
             Herald sad and trumpet be, .
             To whose sound chaste wings obey.”

       Then I snickered and said, “Or something like that.” Brett looked up at me from the book. His white flesh seemed a bit paler. He frowned and gave me a look like he had been the one who had written what I just said.
       “Excuse me?” He was covering for his shock.
       “Shakespeare.” I told him. “One of is his poems. I think.”
       Brett still had a dumb look on his face. I gave him a distasteful look back.
       “Look, not all of us New Yorker is dumb, you know.” I smirked at him. “Some of us know how to read.”
       He smiled back at me. That was the first time I saw emotion in stone.
       “That is a good poem.”
       I leaned against the counter and waited for a while to see if there was a chance at more conversation. I didn’t really have the time for it but I wanted to get to know the young man a little more. I took a good look at the other books he had stack in front of him on the desk. One of the books appeared to be very old. It was a black, cloth bound hardcover with frayed edges. There was no title on the seam.
       “What’s that other book you have?”
       Brett looked at the book then up at me.
       “Nothing important. I really don’t care for the reading.”
       “Can I see it?” I reached the book before Brett could react. But Brett grabbed the book in an instant.
       “No.” He tucked the book inside his backpack. “Actually it’s quite old and very boring. I don’t think you would like it.”
       “Try me.” I was still reeling at the fact he could move as fast as he did.
       The buzzer for the front door sounded and Brett check his monitor before releasing the lock for the door to slide open. I stood by the counter waiting to see who they were bringing in. Brett went around the desk to meet them.
       I could see two men in yellow rain ponchos wheeling a gurney. I recognized one of the men that I saw in passing from time to time working the night shift. He was one of the crew that transports bodies from scenes. I couldn’t imagine doing that job, it was hard enough for me to take photos of dead people.
       “Got another one for you, Brett.” The tall man said. They rolled the body to the cooler door while Brett opened it for them. The man looked at me and I nodded to him.
       They wheeled the gurney into the main autopsy room then into the cooler I had already photographed the last victim in. I followed a little behind them. I’d like to think I had a little more curtsey than other reporters. I didn’t like getting in people’s faces for a story. I found that being subtle was more beneficial at getting information. Observation was the key.
       “Hey Roy,” The man said. “How the hell are ya?”
       I walked over to him looking at the outline of the body inside the black plastic zipper bag. There was no way to tell if it was a male or female without opening it. I decided to just see if it would come out.
       I shook hands with him. “I’m fine, Bill.”
       Brett continued to work around us talking. He was filling out paperwork on the new resident. He went about his work as if we weren’t there.
       “So you still working for that shit rag?” Bill asked me.
       “Of course. I had to come down here for someone you guys brought in earlier.”
       Bill nodded. I could tell by the look on his face he really understood why I was there. But I just didn’t feel up to explaining it to him.
       “The log on this body says she was five feet, eight inches tall.” Brett stated from the release papers Bill’s partner handed to him. Why does it look like she’s shorter inside the bag?”
       Bill and his partner laughed at something. Then Bill said, “She’s missing her head.”
       Brett didn’t miss a beat he logged it down.
       Bill’s partner spoke up. “That’s not entirely true. Technically it’s still there, it’s just lost all its filling.” And they laughed again.
       I found my notepad again and jotted it down. I thought that was an interesting idea.
       Bill added more, “See, they were saying that someone might have done it with their bare hands.”
       I jotted down the information. “Jesus,” I commented. “Must have been a monster.”
       “There’s a story for you, Roy.” Bill said. “Don’t forget to mention me when you write it.”
       “Thought you didn’t like my shit rag.” I said to him.
       Bill laughed and shrugged. He looked to his partner. “Ready?”
       They moved the bodybag to the empty gurney in the cooler and started rolling theirs back out the door. Brett had Bill sign for the transfer. He gave Bill the yellow copy and followed them out to the main hall. I was last to leave the cooler again.
       “They get the guy that did this?” I asked more for myself than the paper.
       Bill shrugged again. “I don’t know. I doubt it.”
       Bill and his partner went to the exit. Brett walked with them and buzzed them out. I had a chance to slip around the desk and check out the old book. I just leafed it open and glanced at a few pages. It wasn’t written in English. I made sure the book was in the exact place where it had been. When Brett returned I was leaning against the counter where I had been when the crew had arrived.
       “Well kid, I’m gonna head home.” I buttoned up my overcoat. “I’ve got a copy to have ready by morning.”
       “Okay.” Brett said and I saw him look to the book he had left on the desk.
       He walked with me to the door.
       “Maybe I’ll stop by some time when I’m not so busy. I’m not too far from here.”
       Brett just nodded.
      

A month went by before I saw Brett again. I went to the morgue to get some pictures of a guy who had his head turned all the way around.
       I was thinking to myself there might have been a connection between the girl that had her head crushed and Charles Lighn’s death, and this new body. I wasn’t ready to run with it because it wasn’t fabrication journalism. I was thinking I might seriously be on to something more. I just wanted to wait and see where some of the leads took me before I tossed it to the editor.
       I couldn’t tell if Brett was glad to see me when he opened the door. He sat at the desk. The old book open in front of him. He didn’t try to put it out of sight this time. He had a look in his eye like he saw something new in the world and felt wiser for it.
       “How you doing, Brett?”
       He shrugged in the usual way. “You here to see Samuel Tipyn?” He asked.
       “Well, if he’s the guy that tried to play the Exorcist, then I am.” I lifted the digital camera.
       Brett got up from the desk and I signed in then followed him in to see the body. “I read what you wrote on Lighn.” He said along the way.
       “Oh yeah? What’d you think?”
       “I didn’t like it.”
       “Why?”
       “It wasn’t true.” He looked back at me.
       I found myself staring at him for a moment. I was wondering if he really read the tabloid before. The paper was founded on fiction.
       “Most of those stories aren’t true, Brett.”
       “Oh.”
       “There’s just a hint fact, like some of these pictures. But that’s just to pull the reader in and make them buy the paper. We have liberty to do what we want with the article. People get off on shit like that. They want to know about “The Man Who Ate His Family.” Or, “The Cat that had Puppies.” Stuff like that selling the paper.”
       “Then why are you here?” Brett asked as I took some photos. “You could just as easily use file photos to run new articles. The other tabloids do it all the time. And make up your own stories at home.”
       “Well.” I rubbed my neck because I imagined what it might have felt to have my head twisted all the way around. “Can I tell you a secret. I think I might be on to
      something here. The guy that killed Lighn could be the same guy that did this. And might have killed the girl too. Do you know of any other bodies previous to these that fit the same background?”
       “No. Not really.”
       Brett went to one of the compartments and opened the locker door then pulled out the sliding metal table some. He pulled back the sheet to reveal a beautiful woman. She might not have been more than nineteen or twenty. There were no visible signs of injuries.
       “How she die?” I asked. The sheet was to the edge of her breasts and I was thinking just another inch and they would be visible. It was a morbid thought but I’m male and we are true opportunists.
       “They’re not sure. They brought her in and signed it unknown.”
       “Why are you showing her to me?”
       “She’s pretty, isn’t she?”
       “Yes, but she is also pretty dead.” I looked at Brett frowning. He looked up at me with sad eyes.
       “I guess.” He said and pulled the sheet over her face then shut the drawer.
       We went back to the desk. I signed out and left.
      

A funny thing happened to me a few days later. I saw a ghost. I was treading down Ninth Street on the sidewalk, dodging pedestrians while I tried finishing my hotdog lunch. Then when I got to the Corner of Ninth and Butler and waited to cross I looked over and saw a girl standing next to me. I’m pretty good with faces. I was pretty sure it was the girl that Brett had shown me from the cooler drawer. I got a cold chill that stuck with me the rest of the day and I dropped my hotdog. I didn’t try talking to her. She crossed when I did and disappeared among the crowd.
       That night I went to see Brett.
       When he let me in I went to the counter and casually brought up the subject of the girl.
       “You know that girl you showed me the other night?”
       He had a look like a kid caught with his pants down and a stack of Playboy magazines.
       “What about her?”
       “I was wondering if she was still here. I wanted to get another look at her.”
       “I think her family claimed her.”
       “Funny, I thought her chart said, Jane Doe. Maybe they found out who she was.” I said, letting Brett off the hook for an excuse.
       “I guess.”
       The buzzer went off and Brett let in the technicians with the body. I stayed with Brett while he filled in the paperwork for the body.
       It was a woman, probably in her late twenties. She looked pleased in death. She was an unknown person and I saw the look on Brett’s face deepen. He had her moved to the stationary table and closed the cooler door. After the techs left I had some of the coffee Brett had made.
       “Doesn’t seem right.” He said out of hand.
       “What doesn’t.” I thought he didn’t know I had been paying attention.
       “People shouldn’t have to die like this.” The cause of death was AIDS. I thought it was funny that they could tell a person’s cause of death but still not know who she was.
       I smiled slightly. “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
       He stared at me for a moment. He turned in his chair and went back to reading his book without another word.
       “I thought you said you didn’t like that book.” I commented from the rim of my coffee cup.
       “I—I didn’t have anything else to read.” I knew he was full of shit. He had more traffic at the library I was sure, than at the video store. But I didn’t press him on it.
       “All you have to do is ask. I bet I have a stack of books you might like. I could bring them by sometime.”
       “I don’t want to put you through any trouble.”
       “No trouble. Anything for a friend.”
       He looked up at me then smiled. “Thank you.”
       When I went home that night I went through my collection of books and pulled out some literary interests that I thought would appeal to Brett.
       I found I was thinking too much that night and I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking about the girl that I had seen dead, then alive again. It was possible she was a twin. But it was uncanny the way she looked.
       I tried watching some late night television but couldn’t get into any of the reruns. I was all caught up on the deadline work and really didn’t feel like sitting at the computer. I thought since I was up I would head back to the morgue and drop off the books to Brett.
       When I got to the morgue there was no mistaking what I saw. I was wandering up the sidewalk when I saw Brett standing at the large door with a woman. It was the same woman I had seen lying on the cold slab inside the cooler just a few hours before. I waited in the shadow of the building and saw her kiss Brett on the mouth and she wandered off wearing an unmatching shirt and baggy pants. Her feet were bare. I put down the bag of books and searched for my notepad. I tried to jot down descriptions of the girl but there wasn’t enough light to write legibly.
       I went back to my car and wrote it all down and accounted for the time. I had to think back on what I saw in the morgue. There was no mistaking the blue and grayish colored skin of a dead person. That woman had been dead. I had to figure out how Brett had brought her back to life. And my observant reporter brain knew it had something to do with that old book Brett had.
       I waited until the next night before I visited Brett. I didn’t want it to look suspicious.
       “How’s it going, Brett?”
       “Fine.”
       “Busy tonight?”
       “No, not really.”
       I examined Brett while he was looking through his large black book. He didn’t look healthy. His face was paler than normal and there were dark circles under his eyes, practically hidden by his glasses. I could see them because I was looking for something different.
       “Are you feeling okay?” I finally asked him.
       “Yeah, why?”
       “Just wondering.”
       Brett stared at me for a long time.
       “You left something here last night when you left.” He said.
       “Oh?” I frowned back at him. “What?”
       He pulled out a paper bag from under the desk. There was a stack of books in it. He smiled as he put it on the desk.
       “You knew I came back last night, didn’t you?”
       He nodded.
       “Can I ask what the hell is going on?”
       Brett rose off his chair and stepped to the side of the desk. His face seemed to animate and he quaked with excitement.
       “Oh Roy, if you could only know what it’s like! The feeling that runs through your body—.” He looked at his hands. “The power that flows through your fingers.”
       I stepped away from the counter. “Ok, Brett. You’re scaring me. What are you talking about?”
       “The book! The book! I just read it and it all seemed so easy.” He grabbed the dusty book from the desk and held it to his chest. “I just had to try it.”
       “What?”
       “I can do things people have only dreamed of.” He looked at one of his hands again. He seemed lost in his own space. “I can bring them back. The girl from last night is alive and walking around today.”
       I stood there for a moment. My reporter brain was trying to come up with a good title for the story. Of course there was a big piece in me that said the boy had lost it and was sputtering nonsense, but I had seen the girl. I knew she was alive.
       When I didn’t say anything he moved to me to make sure I had heard him.
       “Does she remember anything?” I asked sensibly.
       “Not a thing. By the time she regains full consciousness she is well away from here and as far as she’s concerned she was sleep walking or had amnesia. They get a new chance at life. The two girls were prostitutes and I’m hoping they make better choices. I chose them because they didn’t have any family that I knew of and it would be easier for them to start again.”
       “And the girl you showed me the other night. She’s alive too.”
       He gave me a look like he was surprised I remembered that.
       “She was the first I brought back.”
       “Can you only bring back women, or men too?” I asked as a reporter would. I wasn’t believing all of it but it was connecting some how.
       He looked dazzled for a moment as if the very idea had never occurred to him.
       “I don’t know. I can bring back a female, but a man—.” He trailed off. “I don’t know, but I’ll have to try it.”
       “Brett do you know what you’re saying?” He asked him. “Do you understand how crazy this sounds? If they catch you performing some occult thing here they’ll lock you up. You won’t get a chance to show anyone what you can do.”
       “They won’t stop me. They can’t! I’ll be able to prove to them what I can do and they’ll all praise me!”
       I didn’t like the delusion he had put himself into. He had a look in his eyes that he could fly and would prove it by jumping off a building, regardless the consequences.
       “You’re wrong. You throw a body on a table and start shouting mumbo-jumbo they’ll know you’re off the deep end.”
       He looked at me with sudden sad eyes.
       “You believe me, don’t you, Roy?”
       I wanted to be careful with my answer. Sometimes people that should be on psychotropic medication but aren’t can be dangerous and unpredictable.
       “It’s not a question of me believing you. It seems impossible to raise the dead. I know it’s scientifically impossible. Granted I did see a girl I thought I had seen dead. But it could have been her twin. And last night I saw something, but I’m not really sure if the woman was the same as I saw earlier.” I tried to lighten up on him. “As far as I know you could just be fucking with my head. This might be something you cooked up with Bill and are just going too far.”
       “What you saw last night was not bullshit!” He looked at me defeated.
       “I’m sorry, Brett. I just don’t know.” I went to the steel door. I wasn’t sure if he would let me out but the door rolled open. I went out into the night air.
       I didn’t go right home. I went driving around and saw an ambulance parked at a Dunkin’ Donuts. I pulled into the parking lot and went in to get some coffee and a bear claw. Bill and his partner were at a window table and I joined them.
       “You’re out late tonight, Roy.”
       “Yeah. Just doing some thinking.”
       “You must have heard the news.” He said. There was confectionery sugar around his mouth.
       “What’s that?” I asked before taking a sip of scalding hot coffee.
       “They got the guy.”
       “What guy?”
       “The big fucker that killed the girl by crushing her skull. Remember?”
       “Vaguely.” I took a bite of the donut and munched. “What was his name?” I wasn’t as interested anymore. Brett had made better news and I still didn’t know what to do with the information he had supplied me. He was a real find, but it was too hard to believe that what he had told me was authentic.
       “Don’t know. He didn’t have any ID on him.” Bill said. Then he laughed. “You know I heard it took fifteen shots to kill the son-ofa-bitch.”
       It hadn’t sunk in yet.
       “We just got back from the morgue about a half hour ago. I bet you Brett will have a hell of a time getting the beast into on the of the drawers. He must have been close to seven feet tall and over three hundred pounds.”
       “Jesus,” I whispered. It was starting to sink in.
       My stomach rumbled and bubbled. I was beginging to realize what I was hearing and it wasn’t settling in me.
       I looked up at Bill and thought about it.
       “Oh shit.”
       I drove through three red lights on the way back to the morgue. My stomach was turning from bad coffee, pastries and ill feelings. I hoped I wasn’t too late and Brett hadn’t made a terrible mistake. In case everything he told me was true I needed him to know that this unknown male wasn’t worth bringing back.
       When I got to the morgue I knew I shouldn’t have gone inside. I found the door open. I went into the building, stepping over the bloody bare footprints that lead back out into the world. I thought when I did call the police I would have a good story cooked up before they got there. I had a feeling any access that we had been given would be over now. But I was trying to push bleak thoughts away from myself as I went deeper into the morgue. The cooler door was closed and I looked around the desk area for Brett. There were a few books, some files had been scattered across the floor. Brett was nowhere in sight.
       I hesitated when I went for the cooler door. I had to see. I opened the door and let it swing wide. It was dark inside. I knew it would be. It had to be. I turned on the light and saw the trail of bloody footprints leading from the side locker. The place I hated the most when I went there. The door was closed. The blood had pooled there and when the door had opened it left a red scuff across the floor. I walked slowly toward the door. I stepped lightly around the blood. I waited a little and took a few pictures of the bloody prints and of the door.
       I turned on the lights before going into the room. When I got to the door I used my sleeve to open it so I wouldn’t disrupt any of the prints. I found I didn’t have to go into the room to see the body lying in a heap on the floor. My stomach turned but I had seen enough of this sort of thing to be prepared. I took pictures because I think it was a reflex more than a need of the photos.
       Brett was lying on the floor near the door. He looked broken, like a rag doll. The clothes on him were soaked in blood. I couldn’t see where the wounds were. I saw the black leather bound book lying next to him. I walked around him and grabbed the book. There wasn’t a lot of blood on it. I tucked it into my coat. I backed out of the cold room and went to wait for the police to arrive. I had taken the roll out film out of my camera and put in a fresh roll. I knew they would confiscate the camera so I wanted to have the film. The book I had hidden inside my coat. I was pretty sure they wouldn’t pat-search me. The cold air of the open coolers crept into my bones and remained there.
      

A few weeks later I found myself driving the familiar avenues to the morgue. I wasn’t allowed there any longer. The administrator that allowed our access was replaced and I had a restraining order placed on me. So I kept my distance. I just wanted to think about what had happened. The tabloid had left a bad taste in my mouth. I took most of the heat on the scandal and I didn't like it. I had a lot of thinking to do. I was thinking the city wasn’t a place to call home any longer. The weather had turned sour and the leaves on the trees in the park were turning colors.
       I had taken a walk down the block toward the morgue because I felt I had to just do it one last time. I wasn’t going to the morgue but near enough to it to get the same sense I had before. I hadn’t realized that going there and spending a little time with Brett was something I really enjoyed. He didn’t say much but when I got to know him a little more I realized he was just misunderstood.
       I got as far as the corner of the large, nondescript building. I had to turn around and go back because I saw the ambulance parked at the door and Bill was loading another body into the morgue entrance. For some reason a number of people were being murdered by a large man with unbelievable strength and it didn’t look like anyone could stop him. I knew what had happened but no one would believe me.
       I wandered back to my car. I saw the silhouette of a man leaning against it. He didn’t look like a bum. I got closer and slowed my pace. I searched my brain for a direct route away from the area if he decided to chase me. I had been mugged before so I knew not to take chances.
       As I got closer and the street lights showed better on the person I got a chill that stayed with me.
       “I had a feeling I’d see you again.” I told him.
       He smiled slyly. “Did you expect so soon?”
       I shrugged.
       “You know why I’m here?” He asked.
       I nodded. “Its back at my apartment.”
       “Can I get a ride?”
       “Of course.”
       I unlocked the door for Brett. He got in the passenger side and I went around to the driver’s side and got in. I started the car and drove back toward my apartment. Brett was quiet and stared out the side window like it was a New World he was in.
       “You don’t need the book anymore.” I said still watching the road.
       I could feel him looking at me. “There’s still a lot in it that I can learn.”
       “That book is dangerous.” I told him. “Look at the damage it caused already.” I looked at him. He stared back, his eyes softened.
       “I know. But I think I can undo what I’ve done.”
       “I hope so. He’s killing again.”
       “I know.”
       “He killed you!” I pointed out. “He could do it again.”
       Brett’s eyes showed more confidence than I thought he possessed.
       “Not this time.” He said.
       “How can you be so sure?” I asked him.
       He smiled and said:
             “To this urn let those repair
             That are either true or fair;
             For these dead birds sigh in
             prayer.”

      
      It made me smile. It was the last stanza of my favorite poem.
       “You’re going to help me, right?” He asked finally.
       How could I say no?
            

END

Originally completed July 28, 1987…Rewrote June 24, 2001

Soul Takers available at 1stbooks.com

Short Stories are available for publication on request. Not to be reprinted without permission.

COPYRIGHT 2000/2001 Robert Rootes

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