Beyond the Pale

Beyond the Pale

PROLOGUE

Did you know it can take 5 hours to disassemble a body?

T

he body of a young woman is naked and marked with a cardboard toe tag attached by string around her large toe. The body’s flesh is grey and stretched tautly over the bone.

Her feet are swollen and starting to blacken. The muscles are tense and she looks asleep. She had died hours earlier; her body was found in an abandoned building and the family had requested an autopsy for closure. The coroner wore a disposable garment; a long sleeved surgical gown, a plastic apron, latex gloves and a splash shield covering his face. The autopsy room is spacious much like that of a large industrial kitchen and on the stainless steel counter lies an array of tools on cloth. Like a surgeon, the coroner examines the scalpels, steel rulers, plastic containers and he tests the weight of a heftier tool that resembles much like a bread knife. As his patient lies on the table, the coroner pulls out of the cabinet a pair of heavy duty hedge shears that are used on prying the rib cage open, sometimes used in lieu of a bone saw.

They are just as good for cutting bone as you would expect from lopping branches off a tree.

The Coroner selects a scalpel and makes three large deep cuts into the body forming a “Y”

incision. The first two incisions starting at the top of the shoulders, extending downward diagonally towards the sternum, then, a third is made where the two intersect and a straight cut is made down the chest. They barely bleed; only gravity after death would create any

blood pressure.

I open my eyes;

the sensation of a needle pricking at my skin awakens me and I gasp at the nightmare. Some people are afraid of spiders, others are afraid of dying; but me, my greatest fear is being one of those patients that usually end up on my slab at the morgue. The stench of desperation creeps over me as the cold penetrates my body to the very marrow of my bones. Fear cripples me but I tremble. Sweat drips down my face like a leaky faucet. My nose scrunches side to side as the pungent odour of something unpleasant permeates the air torturing my sense of smell, and as a lump begins to form in my throat, I begin to dry retch.

My peripheral vision increases as my heavy eyelids force themselves apart to allow light in. Where am I? I can’t move; my arms are tied above me by rusty, old-fashioned metallic bands; shackles are sinking into my wrists, bruising my skin. My feet are bound together; the rope slicing away flesh and warm blood is trickling down the sides of my feet. I gasp once more. My face feels swollen and sore. My lips, also, are painfully large and bleeding. My right eye, I imagine is swollen to the size of a golf ball, and makes it difficult to see, but the room is dark and exudes an essence of evil and depression. I feel a presence of shadows that are unseen to the naked eye. The smell of mildew and decomposition was a familiar smell and I remember it didn’t depict a sense of well-being. We’ve all been raised to fear the dark, for according to many religious texts, darkness as seen in the Bible was the second to last plague (Exodus 10:21); and the Qur’an has been interpreted to say that “those who transgress the bounds of what is right are doomed to burning despair and ice-cold darkness.” I remain seated, quiet but fully alert. Shush, Amelia, don’t make a sound, my subconscious well- advises.

As I sit with every passing torturing minute, I am racked with thought, for what is darkness but the absence of light and what is light but the absence of darkness? This paradox, often used in Chinese philosophy, can only become apparent when placed in such situations as to engage the brain to not fear what we instinctively have learned to fear. Is the dark truly the thing children fear, or is it something else? I believe that the true darkness is in the mind, thus the only thing to fear would be oneself. If the darkness is inside your mind, you are truly the only person who can overcome the fear. No matter how I analyse the situation, however, I am scared shitless and thinking far too much. I try to scream but no sound comes. Instead, more tears well behind my eyelids and trickle down my cheeks. I look around the cave-like

environment and can see nothing that I recognise to indicate my whereabouts. I drop my head in pain, and listen to the uncontrollable beating of my heart within my chest like the thrumming wings of a caged bird. Then, noises, squeaking, rustling, little feet scurrying close by. Furry vermin, disease ridden flesh eating, did I mention before I hate rats! I bend my head towards my chest, my clothing has been removed and my breasts hang, exposed. Sheens of light escaping through a tiny hole on the opposite wall beam onto my chest; I can see sweat beads and dried blood. I have been here a while, naked, cold, scared and feeling drunk. My hair is sticking to the sides of my face, covered in blood no doubt. Where am I? I try to remember the last thing I saw; it’s difficult with my head pounding like a sledgehammer. However, something, something comes to me. The bruises on my arms where the shackles sink into my skin feel like daggers and they distract me momentarily. Through the nausea and dizziness, a flash appears; rope and un-manicured nails. For the first time I fully visualize my surroundings.

‘NO!’ I shout, and this time a high-pitched tone echoes. As I cry out in pain, the sound bounces from the cobblestone walls that confine me. I close my eyes and remember that “fear is a darkroom where negatives develop”; a famous quote by Usman B. Asif. The light from the hole in the door grows brighter and as I try to make out the room, a flicker of light flashes again.

‘Hello?’ I beg, but silence. Suddenly a warm candlelight brightens the room further in the far corner and my pupils adapt. Shackles hang on every cobblestone wall covered in moss exuding from all crevices. My nose is assaulted by the damp mildew odour combined with the smell of sweet rotting vegetation in the stagnant puddles. This causes me to gag and I dry retch. The walls are striped with crimson that has encrusted into the stone, indicating the walls have been unused for a while. The dank air leaves a bitter taste in the back of my mouth and I feel I am isolated from any civilisation. As I draw breath, I can hear it, a grey, brown skittering creature drawing near; pestilence-spreading, scavenging, wild vermin. It’s huge. Keep still, Amelia. Don’t make a move. It’s drawing near, only inches away from my face as it closes in from a wooden beam that hangs close towards me. Vicious claws poised. Stay still, Amelia, my subconscious advises as the most pernicious form of wild vermin to crawl the earth scurries towards me. My breathing accelerates, my eyes widen and I mumble, ‘“Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies, a tissue, a tissue, we all fall down”.’ I can hear my breath coming out in short gasping pants and it becomes harder to breathe with every breath loud and forced. Then, fear lodges itself firmly in my throat as if tightening its hold around my neck. My voice is hoarse and strangled and I release a scream as loud as a blood-curdling scream could be and I close my eyes and screech again as the rat draws nearer.

I open one eye. The rat has gone and music kills the deathly silence; violin and piano music that I’ve heard before. “Fractals with Chi Mai” by Ennio Morricone. As the music’s volume increases, tears descend my face, my heart leaps, thundering against my chest like a startled caged bird. As the light graces the side of my face the dulcet melody of strings sings in my ears and my heart fills with wondrous emotions impossible to have at a moment like this. The bow graciously glides across the strings, more than just music but the harmonious singing of a mockingbird. The auditory signal used for him to express his ballad of love. Each and every note to me, and I sigh at the marvellous sound as the flood gates open again. It is a hurting tune if not perfectly fitting.

Misty tears and stoic tightening of the throat kicks in as the music evokes sadness. Imitating my wails and quavering voice I begin to cry with the melodious lines falling in pitch mimicking my despair.

My lips part slowly as a rustle interrupts the music and a voice emerges from the other side of the room. My heart flutters and my breathing becomes more difficult in the thick chilled air. Should I scream again? My heart beats furiously and it pains my chest like it will explode any second, but slowly I try to observe the figure that dons in front of me in the candlelight. My eyes are tearing up from the fright that is so overwhelming it makes this a difficult task. Who is this man? What does he want with me? And then, no! No! Please no, an even more frightening thought comes to mind. Is he going to kill me? I stare at the blackness wild with fear as my stomach turns to ice, and terror holds me in a vice-like grip. The torture of my

indecision threatens to crush me as I am devoid of all emotion and the cold breath of every gasp is grave, cutting my very soul and silencing me as I shudder but stare with fascination.

‘“My silence is just another word for my pain”,’ a voice solemnly whispers, gentle and placating. He stands irresolutely and the muscles of my heart tighten with incredible force as I try to stifle a whimper. When I see him in the great emptiness, I cry out to him and answer to his hurting expression.

‘“Have pity on me, whoever you are, whether a man, in truth or a shadow”,’ and at that he answers.

‘“Not a man: but a man I once was, and my parents were Lombards and both of them, by their native place, Mantuans”.’

I instinctively knew from his allegorical expression from Dante’s Inferno who it was. END OF SAMPLE.