the twelve

December 16, 2008
“This is the twenty-two year old female; Grace Ailem.”

“What happened to this one?” I asked.

“She was one of The Twelve.”

“You’re kidding! That was all over the news… she looks too nice to have been in a cult.”

“Some of the best are.”

“Well, see you next death.”

He gave a small smile, “Next death,” and slammed the hearse door shut.

I made my way back to the empty funeral home and loaded her into the Flesh Freezer. I was the only person working that day, so I should have been doing paperwork, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her. She was so young, not far off from me in age. In fact, she almost looked like me. We had the same long face with thin lips and stick straight hair. However she was so frail, so gaunt I thought her spine would have surely snapped in two when the medical examiner gave her an autopsy. But what could possess her to join a cult? How could she believe a word they said or what about paying $5,000 dollars to join? Not to mention the mass suicide which would lead them to ‘spiritual salvation?’ Eventually, I had to go back into the freezer to get her.

When I finally pulled her out, I couldn’t believe it. She almost looked alive. Her skin was flushed, not ashen grey and, wait—did she just blink her eyes? ‘I’m going insane,’ I thought. Just in case, I slid her eyelids over her glazed eyes. Shaking off my ridiculous fears, I moved the corpse to my work station. It was then I realized there was a thin, silver chain draped across her neck. It was odd, bodies weren’t supposed to come in with jewelry still on them. My fingers were instantly on it, searching for the clasp. After I got it off of her I noticed a small medallion attached to the chain. It must have been hidden by her hair earlier. It was plain except for an etched symbol on the back. I had no idea what the sign meant, though I assumed it was from the cult. From what I had been told, The Twelve was a scam operation that had been in planning for over four years by a ‘spiritual guide’ named Clarence Tornell.

The idea was to get 1,200 kids lined up, convince them of an other-worldly force which would lead to an eternal afterlife, collect five grand from each and send them through a pseudo ritual, then leave with six million scammed dollars. Everything was fine up until the ritual part. All twelve thousand disciples showed up in the vast recesses of the Arizona desert. There was teaching, an oath and then it came time for the all-holy cult Kool-Aid. This is the part no one agrees on. Most people say it was an accident. Unbeknownst to Tornell, the chemical mixture he’d made wouldn’t make you pass out, it would kill you. And this shell of a human before me was one of them. I set the necklace aside and began to work.

After removing her blue dotted hospital shift and rinsing her body, I withdrew the clothes her parents wanted her to be buried in; a knee length black satin dress with a skinny black belt, a black cashmere shrug and black flats. It will take a lot of work to fit her chemically altered face with these clothes, I concluded. I dressed her in them anyway. As I shoved the left shoe on, her face almost broke into a grin. I stood still with my eyes wide. I crept around her body until I was standing over her head. Silently, I willed my hands to take the white sheet beneath her and cover her face with it. She couldn’t play any tricks on my muddled brain now. I was pleased with my handiwork until I realized I hadn’t painted her face on yet. Although I didn’t want to, I uncovered her. Her eyelids sprang open again, which startled me. I reached into my pocket and produced two copper coins which I used to hold down her stare. “Say ‘Hi’ to Charon for me.” I murmured. From a drawer underneath my work table I grabbed the paint; greasy foundation used to cover crusty wounds, flesh stained makeup to make black circled eyes normal again, and more coatings for damaged corpse’s skin. After a good half hour or so, her face was looking presentable. I couldn’t get every mark to heal, but most were transparent by now. The final step was running grease through her hair to make it shine. I had the glop on my hands when a noise sounded. It was the CRASH of a jar of formaldehyde being formally introduced to the floor. I stared at the oozing pile of glass and chemicals. I was about to convince myself, yet again, of this being a product of my mind when a second jar met its fate. The pungent smell was almost overwhelming, even for me. Then, the cabinets framing the walls opened, one by one. I stepped into the center of the room just in time to miss being smacked in the face. With the timing of an 11 year old boy with a Wii, I threw myself onto the floor to escape the now flying shards of glass, stray scalpels, and other projectile tools. Now that I was on the floor, I could feel the ground shaking. I made my way towards the outside door. As my hand touched the knob, it stopped. The smells faded away, the cabinets closed and everything sharp-edged in the room remained motionless in midair. I couldn’t waste anymore time. I yanked the door open and was about to run out, but there they were; the aliens. There were two of them outside of their spherical vessel. One cocked its triangular head and gurgled some form of a sentence to the other. The second seemed to agree, gently pushed me aside and entered the building. I remained paralyzed. It came out with my patient wrapped up in a white sheet. The first alien abruptly seized my head, opened the hole in its face and released a cloudy gas into my skin.

“And that’s all I remember, Officer, really.” She said.

“That will do, dear. Thank you for your time, I know this was hard for you. Detective Janet will take you home.” The man gestured to a woman in a navy blue suit who took the confused embalmer out of the room.

The man turned to his colleague, and they simultaneously ripped off their faces. He said, disappointed, “Our tactics aren’t working, Reg. She keeps remembering everything.”

Reg nodded his green head in agreement.

“Can’t we send her home this time?”

“No; she’s been away from Earth for too long. If we send her out into the wild now, she won’t survive. Besides,” he paused, “we could use another cadaver around here…”

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