Monday, August 22, 2011

The Body Farm; Part One

Content Advisory: This is an on-going serial and contains scenes of horror.

The Body Farm
Part One

Doctor Eleanor Armitage bent over her latest project, a cadaver she’d come to think of, somewhat affectionately, as Janet.

She was under no illusions that people found her job to be macabre. That she spent her days surrounded by the dead would have been understood had she been a funeral director or even a forensic pathologist but as soon as the words ‘forensic entomologist’ left her lips, people’s eyes glazed over. They might take the time to ask what the job involved, but by the time she explained that she studied the life cycles of insects on bodies in various states of decomposition, she knew she’d lost them.

Her profession wasn’t something you brought to dinner parties.

Eleanor turned away for a bite of her sandwich and turned back to her work. Janet was unusual because she’d been young when she died—only twenty-eight—and a female. Most of the bodies donated to the Forensic Anthropology Center were old, having been in the medical profession their whole lives. When people spent the whole of their lives in science, they didn’t want to give it up, even in death.

“Hey, Eleanor,” a male voice said from behind. “You sure got strange dinner company.”

With a smile, Eleanor glanced back over her shoulder. Her colleague, Robert Dane, stood in the doorway, his hands shoved in the pockets of his white medical coat.

“I like that she listens,” she said, tucking some of the strands of blonde hair escaping from her braid behind her ear. “Some of my dates these days won’t let me get a word in.”

Robert laughed but the sound contained little enthusiasm. His face straightened and he pushed his wire-rimmed glasses higher up his face. “Look, I’m sorry but this isn’t a social visit. I needed to let you know about something.”

She raised her eyebrows, expectantly.

“It seems we’ve had some kind of disturbance with Oliver and Tom,” he said, referring to two cadavers—one buried in a shallow grave, the other wrapped in tarpaulin and covered with foliage.

A frown furrowed lines in her normally smooth brow. “What sort of disturbance?”

“I just did a round of the grounds and both bodies have been exposed.”

“How the hell would that happen?” she said, anger heating her voice. Any changes in the way the bodies were buried would ruin the experiments. They didn’t have enough corpses to allow them to go to waste because of sloppy workmanship.

“I’ve no idea but they’re both completely exposed to the air.”

“Shit,” she said, pushing back her chair and standing up. Studying insect activity on decomposing corpses was one of the main parts of her job and the bodies being exposed to air and light would disrupt the life cycles of many creatures. In many cases, an almost exact time of death could be given based purely at which stage a particular pupae or larva were in their development.

While many of the other scientists in the center studied the remains to discover the body’s identity and analyze any trauma found on the bones, Eleanor specialized solely in insects.

“Have you informed security,” she asked, walking toward him.

“Of course, but they said there’d been no sign of any unreported persons on the premises. They’re going through the security cameras now to see if they can spot anything.”

“Okay,” she said, reaching his side. “Let’s go see what damage has been done.”

Together, they walked out of the lab and down the corridor. Using the identity card attached to her belt, she swiped through the security doors.
Outside, the last of the day’s sun bled into the horizon, painting the sky a dusty red. Either side of the path, bodies at different stages of decomposition had been placed in various positions and situations to allow nature to take its course. One was dumped in a trashcan, another wrapped in tarpaulin and lain in a shallow grave, another merely covered with leaves and other foliage.

“Why are you here so late, Robert?” she asked. “Don’t tell me you don’t have a date on a Saturday night?”

“Sure I do. Only my date is a bit like yours—she died seven months ago.”
Eleanor laughed, “You want to be careful who you say things like that to. People might get the wrong idea.”

“Who cares,” he shrugged. “As long as the right person gets the right idea.”

They locked eyes for a moment and Eleanor looked away, flustered. She had a rule not to date colleagues, but since she was always working, it ended up that she didn’t date anyone. Now on the wrong side of thirty, she’d come to the conclusion that she’d married her job.

At first glace, the two scientists could have been taking an evening stroll through the woods. A small path led between the trees, thick with foliage. Heavy shadow dappled the ground.

Only the high bricked wall surrounding the enclosure, topped with razor sharp barbed wire, and the presence of the high security building at its center gave any clue that this wasn’t simply a protected area of woodland—that, and the numerous shallow graves dotted around.

They stopped beside the graves.

Eleanor smoothed back her hair, “Damn it.”

Oliver was a fifty-six year old male in a state of early decomposition. His clothes hung in tatters from his body. The white flesh of his stomach, arms and feet was exposed, dirt peppering the skin. The hand lay upward, the fingers curled toward the sky.

The sweet scent of rotting flesh filled the air, but the scientist remained unaffected; the smell of decay surrounded them most of the time. The face of the cadaver had decayed, bloated, almost unrecognizable to anyone who might have known him. Bugs skittered across the flesh, a multi-jointed millipede—legs flowing like water—rippled across the face and disappeared inside the mouth.
But the black plastic bag he’d been wrapped in was discarded on the ground at his feet.

“Someone is obviously trying to mess with the experiments,” said Eleanor. “There’s no other sign of disturbance except for him being uncovered. What about the other one?”

Together they crossed to the other side of the path.

Tom—another older male—still slumped in his shallow grave but the two feet of dirt he’d been buried in lay scattered around the body.

“Who the hell would do this?” Eleanor asked. “It must be someone who works here. A trespasser would never be able to move the bodies to this extent and not be noticed. Christ, they look like they just stood up and shook themselves off.”

Robert ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know what to say. How would someone have come in here and disturbed the bodies without being seen.” He paused, considering something. “Why would someone do such a thing?”

“There are plenty of freaks around. This place isn’t as much of a secret as we think. People are sick enough to want to mess around with the bodies.”

“I don’t know, Eleanor,” he said, turning a circle, his hand locked in his hair. “This just feels…” He tailed off, his eyes focused on something in the near distance.

“What is it?” Eleanor asked. “What’s wrong?”

But Robert didn’t answer. Instead, he strode off down the path, stopping twenty feet away. “Look at this!”

Eleanor ran with a gentle jog toward him. Where a body should have been buried, there was now only a six foot deep, gaping hole. Fresh dirt spilled from the empty grave, but there was no sign of a body.

“Where’s Bernie?” she said.

Robert shook his head. “This is impossible. Nothing had touched this site when I was here twenty minutes ago. There’s no way someone could have got in, unburied him and totted the body away in that time. Especially as I’d gone straight from here to security. They’re watching the cameras, they’d have spotted someone digging.”

“So someone is working on him then. Maybe you just didn’t notice?”

“No. I’d have noticed. I checked everything else was how it should be because of the other two. There’s no way I didn’t notice.”

“I don’t know what to say, Robert. I mean, Bernie didn’t just push his way out of the ground, so someone’s taken him.”

He shook his head, “This is nuts.”

“So what do we do?” she asked. “Cover the other bodies back up and try and preserve as much of the experiment as possible?”

“The experiments are null and void now. We’ll have to start again. And I don’t think we should touch anything. Whoever has been messing with them might have left some evidence. We wouldn’t want to disturb it.”

The pair turned away and walked back to where the two uncovered cadavers lay.
Eleanor crouched down, her keen eyes searching the area and body for anything that might help forensics—a thread of material not matching the body’s clothing, a shoe-print in the mud.

She scoured the pale, rotting skin, the finger nails filled with dirt, searching for clues.

The hand twitched, fingers curling inward, little shocks of spasms jolting through the members.

“Shit!” Eleanor jumped back. “What the hell was that?”

Robert’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know. An electrical charge?”

He’s been dead over a year; you really think there are any synapses firing?”
“Of course not. But it moved…”

 “Must be insect activity then,” she said, leaning in closer.

The hand jerked, lifting right off the ground for a second before falling back down.

“Holy crap,” exclaimed Robert. In front of them, the hand twisted and jerked. The rest of the body lay still and impassive, the eyes missing, filled in only by dirt and the cases of long dead bugs.

“There is no way that’s caused by insects.”

A crashing through the undergrowth—twigs cracking and tree branches snapping, leaves being torn away—snatched away their attention. Both doctors looked up. Whatever headed in their direction, it was big, and they both knew no big animals were in the enclosure—they couldn’t have the wildlife making meals of the corpses.

Eleanor slowly got to her feet, her eyes trained on the bushes. Unconsciously, she reached out to Robert, her fingers grasping his broad forearm.

An ear piercing shriek of rage reached their ears and Bernie rushed out of the bushes. A fat man when he’d died, his flesh hung off his bones in flaps. His lips had long been eaten by bugs but his mouth stretched wide open as he screamed, revealing tombstone teeth and a fat, bloated tongue. He rushed at them, his arms outstretched and his eye sockets empty and blind.

The dead were alive.

Eleanor stood for the briefest of moments, her brain trying to comprehend what her eyes were seeing. But then a hand grabbed hers, yanking her out of her reverie.

“Run!” Robert yelled, pulling her along. “Fucking run!”

Eleanor burst into motion.

With the thing screaming behind them, its speed incredible for a person who had been dead several years, her feet slammed against the concrete path. Her breath ripped in and out of her lungs and Eleanor glanced back over her shoulder. The creature was gaining.

 Either side, other graves rippled and shifted, bodies moved, exposed limbs twitching. The lid on a trashcan where another body had been placed slammed up and down, as whatever was inside struggled to get out.

Together Eleanor and Robert collided with the entrance to the secure facility.
Frantically, Eleanor swiped her card to get access to the building. The led light showed red, red, red.

“Come on you fucker!” she swore and the green light flicked on and the door buzzed open.


The Body Farm will continue tomorrow...

Like what you've read? Marissa Farrar's short story collection, Where the Dead Live, is available to buy from Amazon for only $0.99.

If you would like to catch up on any of our posts or get a preview of the rest of this month's stories, you can purchase the eBook, Digital Digest, Volume 1, from Amazon and Barnes & Noble for only $0.99!

Marissa Farrar

Copyright © 2011 Marissa Farrar. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.

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