The mortuary has eight chambers. They branch out from a hallway like arms on a spider. Inside these chambers, a maximum of thirty-two cadavers are stored at temperatures not exceeding -2 degrees Celsius.
The corpses stay for hours, or days, and then go to funeral parlors, forensic facilities, and, occasionally, pathology labs. The dead come from many paths to the mortuary, and they leave on many paths.
The mortuary hired me to install the security cameras.
I worked quickly in the chilly light, my fingers going numb in the cold. I made mistakes. I kept forgetting the task in front of me, my brain wandering like a lost and scared dog to the bodies on the slabs. Eyes that were open, but not to see. Mouths that were open, but not to talk. That horrible feeling of being totally alone while in a room full of people.
These weren’t regular cameras.
The mortuary forbids CCTV video feeds in the chambers. There was an embarrassing incident, years ago. A former employee sold photos of an OD’d starlet to the press.
The video coming from these cameras are distorted and garbled. You can’t actually see anything on them.
Instead, the cameras track motion.
Every twentieth frame or so is referenced and compared against the previous frame. If there’s any difference – defined as a pixel that has changed color – then it puts a flag in the camera’s software, stored on a web server.
“One flag is okay – sometimes the software screws up,” the mortuary security chief told me. “Two flags in a row is a suspicious screw-up. Anything more than that, get in your truck and come down here at the double, because there’s been a break-in.”
“Who breaks into a mortuary?” I asked.
“Organ thieves. People who want to be with a loved one, one last time. Frat boys pledging for Alpha Kappa Dumbfuck. It doesn’t matter, you just get down there as fast as you can.”
I’ve been monitoring the motion cameras for the past three months.
Usually, the cameras generate between ten and twenty flags a day. False positives. Sometimes I get two flags coming in within seconds of each other, and hair stands up on my neck for a moment, and after nothing else happens after a minute I go back to reading Deadspin on the office computers.
Once, I had forty flags come from chamber 7. I drove down there, expecting the worst…
…and found a cockroach crawling across a camera lens.
Another time, I got a single flag from all the rooms, simultaneously. A fuse had blown, knocking out the power. I replaced it before any of the cadavers had a chance to warm. Got a nice pay bonus for that.
The job was boring. Losing focus was just a matter of time. I went from checking the flags every few minutes to checking it every half hour, then to every hour, then to…
Today, I was on my phone, arguing with some nimrod online about Brett Favre’s passing stats, when my inner conscience spoke.
How long since you checked the mortuary flags?
Shit. Two hours? Longer?
I logged in to the web server.
I got in my truck, and sped down to the mortuary. I sat my phone on the passenger seat and flicked an eye to it from time to time.
More flags kept coming in. Several a second.
Someone had broken into the mortuary, and they were still there.
And the flags were coming in from multiple cold chambers. There was more than one person.
What was I suppose to do here? Tough talk a bunch of drunken frat boys with crowbars and hammers?
I parked outside the mortuary, the truck slewing sideways in a spray of gravel. I got out, ran to the front door, and tried to open it.
It was still locked.
I stared stupidly at the doorknob, as if reality wasn’t letting me in on some kind of joke.
I looked around, noticing details I hadn’t seen before. Like how there were no other cars in the parking lot, other than me. And no footprints in the gravel, other than mine.
Then, I went on a slow and steady walk around the mortuary.
No broken windows.
No forced-open doors.
No way in whatsoever.
I let that same slow and steady walk take me from the building back to my truck, where I sat in the cabin, phone in my lap.
The number of disturbances inside the building was now at 40,528, and climbing.
I watched more and more flags come through on my phone, wondering how long it would take before I turned on the ignition, picked a direction, and just kept driving forever.