Working Stiff by Shannon Schuren

Solomon’s career as a morgue attendant was destined to be short-lived. He’d also been hoping for uneventful, but what could he say? Mistakes happened.

He phoned his boss just after midnight. “I’m finished with Nichols.”

Dead silence followed his announcement. Solomon cleared his throat and shifted his massive weight from one paper bootie to the other, careful not to step in the puddle of bodily fluids at his feet.

“Please tell me you’re referring to Nicholas MacDonald.”

He stared down at the corpse on the table, and then at the work order on his clipboard. Definitely not Nicholas MacDonald.


“I’m looking at a copy of your paperwork right now. Nicholas MacDonald, eleven p.m., Lincoln County Morgue. Are you telling me that you’ve got the wrong guy?” his boss asked, in a voice cold enough to inflict frostbite, even through the cell phone.

Solomon winced and swiped at his bald head, the latex glove coming away shiny with sweat. “I’ve got the wrong name,” he corrected, as if that somehow made it better.

But it didn’t.

Not to him, not to his boss, and certainly not to Mackenzie Nichols, his naked body splayed across the table, carved open because of some typographical mistake.

“This is a grave error, Solomon.”

He wondered if that was a lame attempt at morgue humor.

“You’d better fix it, or don’t bother showing your face around here again. You’ll be finished, do you understand me? Terminated.” The line went dead.

He closed the phone and pressed his hands against the stainless steel table. When he’d started, he hadn’t been used to working in such a frigid and sterile environment. But now he embraced the chill, letting it flow over him like a cold shower as he tried to wash away the pungent smell of formaldehyde, the incessant buzzing of the fluorescent lights, and his boss’s last word, which was pounding in his head like an aneurysm on the verge of bursting.

How in the hell had this happened? He never questioned the names that appeared on his work orders, not even when he knew them personally. At best, he wondered what sordid twist of fate had led here. With Mackenzie Nichols, he didn’t need to wonder. The man was a worthless schmuck. But he never passed judgment on his clients. That was for God, and God alone.

Despite his strict adherence to these guidelines, the fact remained that he’d needlessly sliced open a man, drained him of his fluids, and removed his organs. He doubted Nichol’s family would take it well. Solomon knew a thing or two about retribution.

So did his boss, and that thought that left him colder than the bodies in the refrigerator behind him.

He pulled a sheet over the body, although it was too late to cover up his mistake. This was a sign. He should have listened to his mama and joined the seminary. She’d wanted him to serve the Lord, but he’d craved money more than salvation.

All the same, he liked to believe there was a certain spiritual component in what he did for a living. He didn’t bring the light into people’s lives, but he did reveal truth through his work. He administered justice to the families of the dead, just like his biblical namesake.

In that respect, he’d failed Mackenzie Nichols.

With a heavy sigh, he made the sign of the cross over the body and began his clean up. As he hosed off the tile floor, he felt his career slipping down the drain along with the blood and tissue. Termination was not an option he wanted to contemplate. Mr. Nichols was beyond his help, and poor Nicholas MacDonald was no longer his concern.
He removed his gloves, washed his hands in the stainless steel sink, and packed up the rest of his tools. It was time to move on.

The pimply rent-a-cop at the desk glanced up as he walked through the reception area, deserted at this time of night.

“Did you get the plumbing fixed?” the watchman asked, glancing at Solomon’s uniform.

“All taken care of,” he answered, giving a small salute. “I’ll send you my bill.”

He turned and headed out the front door, toward the white utility van he’d parked outside. Magnetic emblems advertising “Sam’s Plumbing” had been relatively inexpensive and gave a certain credence to his disguise.

As he pushed open the door, he noticed a twenty-something, unshaven man with tired eyes heading in the opposite direction.

“Evening, Mr. MacDonald. Forget something?” he heard from behind him.

“I’ve got to go over some paperwork with Mr. Nichols. Is he in his office?”

The guard nodded. “Been busy, I guess. I haven’t seen him all night.”

Solomon turned to watch the pale young man walk through the lobby, a navy duffel bag under his arm.

Nicholas MacDonald. The man he’d been sent to kill.

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” he whispered softly.

Mistakes happen, but it’s a rare occasion when you’re given a chance to correct them. This was a sign Solomon couldn’t ignore.

He turned and headed back inside to finish the job.

Shannon Schuren lives in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin with her husband and three
children. She works at a child-care center and finds writing both emotionally
rewarding and a great way to avoid murdering her relatives. Her short stories
have appeared in Toasted Cheese Literary Journal,, and Big
Pulp, as well as the upcoming Binnacle Ultra-Short edition.


Laura Roberts said...

Nice! I like the puns throughout (short-lived, dead silence, grave error), and might even encourage you to use more. They give a nice dark humor to the piece. I also like the idea of a guy with a Biblical namesake carving up bodies. After all, wasn't Solomon the one who proposed cutting a child in half before two women both claiming to be its mother? It's what he was born to do, in a way.

Glenn Gray said...

Sharp and well written. Nice!

Anonymous said...

Good, vivid descriptions of the scenery (frigid and sterile) and another good example of stream of consciousness and a similiar theme found in another story on here where we have a man struggling with the definition of right and wrong. I didn't catch the biblical references, I have only heard of the Solomon story but not read it but I will. A good story here. I wonder if this is a critique on the character of Solomon and certain philosophies found in the bible?