Since finishing the (much harder than anticipated) A to Z challenge, I came to a startling realization: I don’t know what to blog about. The writing’s going fine, but not much new to report – 18k words into the Work In Progress, one novella with a beta reader.
I haven’t been keeping up on TV and movies, so I can’t blog about any current pop culture. So, what to do?
How about a story?
The following story is 100% true. I just wrote it as a sort of writing exercise; I don’t know if I can submit it anywhere, so instead I’ll share it with you. Enjoy.
In the fall of 1991 I was a freshman at California State University, San Bernardino. Living a mere 30 minutes from campus, I lived too close to stay in the dorms, but far enough away that I didn’t want to commute every day. What I ended up with was a schedule that gave me classes on just Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but with a three hour gap before my final class.
To kill the time, I would occasionally go to the library to read or study, but I spent a vast majority of my free time at the student union. Pool tables, food, video games, big-screen TV’s, and a steady stream of girls going in and out made it the obvious choice for killing time. One day, I was shooting some pool with a guy I’d met my first week there, Derek. Out of the blue, he asked me something right out of Stand By Me.
“Wanna see a dead body?”
“Yes,” I answered instantly, half-joking. I was (and still am) a little weird like that.
Derek went on to explain that the classroom where he took his Intro Biology class was also the home to the senior Human Anatomy class. The room had lab stations, and as part of the Human Anatomy class they were going to be treated to an examination of an actual human cadaver.
“And we can just go check it out?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s just sittin’ in there, it’s cool. Let’s go.”
Derek proceeded to lead me to the Physical Sciences Building, a wing of the school I’d yet to step foot in. I was not exactly science-inclined, and was putting off taking my own science-based classes until later. We walked up the steps of the large brick building and into the long, white hallway.
“It’s just down the hall a little,” he said, leading the way. He stopped a few doors later. “This is it.”
I looked through the little window in the door to see a classroom full of students, and the teacher behind his desk helping a couple of kids. Up to this point, I had assumed the room was going to be empty.
“But there’s a class in there,” I said, confused.
“It’s OK,” Derek assured me nonchalantly. “They said we could come check it out anytime we want.”
“All right,” I said hesitantly. My inherent shyness was subdued solely by my morbid curiosity to see a human cadaver up close. I turned the knob, opened the door, and we walked in.
Not a single person noticed the two of us enter the room. The teacher was still helping the students at his desk, and the other students were all talking amongst themselves while they worked on their assignment. Derek gestured to the lab station on the far side of the room.
“It’s over there.”
And there it was.
A plump, green body bag on the counter under the window.
We walked along the near wall to the back of the room, then cut behind the back row of desks. As we got closer to the body bag, a couple of students noticed us and watched as we approached. I stood in front of the bag, and looked to Derek on my right.
“All right,” he said. “Go ahead.”
“Me?” I said, surprised. “Why me?” My stomach began to turn in apprehension.
“Hey, you wanted to see it,” Derek said defensively.
I’m no med student, I thought. When would I have the chance to see a cadaver again? To hell with it.
I took a deep breath and grabbed the top of the bag with my right hand, taking the zipper between my left thumb and forefinger. I pulled from right to left, unzipping the bag ever so slowly – I couldn’t bring myself to just rip it down in one swift motion.
As I started to unzip it, the students who had noticed us earlier moved closer to get a better look. I realized they were just as curious as we were.
I got the zipper past the head, and gently pulled the bag open. A faint smell of formaldehyde came wafting up from the opening. The body was well-preserved, but bloated; it wasn’t as grotesque as I’d imagined. It looked like a man, but the bloating made it hard to tell for sure.
As I got the zipper down to the chest, the bag began to open wider without me having to pull it. A few more of the students gathered behind me, bringing the number up to maybe six or seven, including Derek and me.
I pulled the zipper a little faster, some of the nerves finally dissipating. I went to the bottom of the chest, hesitated, then past the torso, waist, and genitals in one motion; that left only the legs to be exposed before we could all gawk at the body in its entirety.
“Oh, it’s a man,” one girl said sheepishly once she saw the genitalia exposed.
I decided to unzip the bag all the way now; enough messing around. It was already over half exposed, I wanted to get it over with so I could actually look at the cadaver. I moved the zipper another inch and a half, but that would turn out to be as far as I would get.
As I had been unzipping the bag, it had begun opening itself up for me. I found that incredibly convenient, but never thought to question why it was happening.
What I didn’t realize until it was too late was that the body bag was so close to the edge of the counter that as I opened it, it hung over. As it opened wider and more hung over the edge, the portion hanging over began to fill with formaldehyde. The wider I opened it the more it filled, creating a little pool. Right around the cadaver’s thighs, the flap hanging over the counter reached its capacity, and we all heard…
A tidal wave of formaldehyde came spilling out of the body bag; all over the floor, all over our shoes, all over people’s backpacks and book bags, all over everything. The smell hit us hard; it was overwhelming, almost unbearable. All of the other students, who still had no idea what we had been up to, looked over from their work, mystified and mortified at the same time.
One poor guy was really upset. Really upset. His backpack, which he’d put on the floor next to his desk, was soaked. I imagined what books he might have had in it, or what important paper he might have been planning on turning in later that day. A paper he spent weeks working on, which would unfortunately now and forever reek of putrid cadaver juice.
“You just couldn’t leave it alone, could you?” he yelled. His face had gone bright red, and I could see a vein in his neck. “You just had to keep going, keep going!” I couldn’t think of a reply, so I didn’t say anything.
Then there was the teacher. I was told later he was a sub, which makes it even funnier to me. I will never forget the look on his face; it was a look of utter shock and bewilderment. And the tone of his voice – even though he was yelling, it was just the sound of plain confusion more than anything else.
“Who are you?” he yelled.
“I-uh…my friend, he-” I stammered.
“What? What friend?”
I turned to Derek to explain that it was OK for us to be there; smooth things over.
Derek was gone.
“He went out the back door,” said a girl in the front of the class.
I quickly zipped the body bag back up and turned back to the teacher. “I’m sorry,” I said quietly. I turned to walk away, and he quickly spoke up.
“And where do you think you’re going? You’re not going anywhere until this mess is cleaned up.”
He brought me an entire roll of paper towels, and as the class watched I tore off a huge amount and wadded it up, putting it on the floor and stepping on it to try and soak up the puddle of nastiness. The paper towels were soaked instantly; it was going to take a lot more than that. I tore off an even bigger wad, and was just getting ready to kneel down and get down and dirty, when I heard a voice call out.
“Did somebody call for me?”
It was a janitor with a mop and a bucket, looking in confused.
“Yeah, right here,” I said, waving him over.
As soon as the janitor started heading over, I made a beeline for the door. I hadn’t given my name, they didn’t know who I was, and I wanted to keep it that way. I made it out the door, took the steps two at a time to get outside, and walked as fast as I could without looking like I was running.
Once I got about 50 yards away, I started to relax. My adrenaline was pumping like mad, and now that I was pretty sure I wasn’t in any kind of trouble I started seeing the humor in the whole ordeal. Then, just to put me over the edge, a small gust of wind came up and lifted a huge puff of formaldehyde off my shoes, hitting me square in the face. I began to laugh uncontrollably; later, I could barely contain myself as I sat in my next class watching the other kids covering their noses with their shirt collars, trying to figure out where the gross smell was coming from.
The next week, I was playing pool with Derek in the student union. I had been mad he’d ditched me, but I was also glad he called a janitor, so I called it even. A friend of his from another class came by to say hi; Derek introduced me by name, then said, “This is the guy I was telling you about.”
His friend looked me up and down, grinning. “Oh, so you’re that guy!” he said.
“You’ve heard about me?” I asked, surprised.
“Man, everybody’s heard about you.”
So, for better or worse, for one fleeting week I was that guy.