Dark Work (A Chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: October 30, 2015 in chuck wendig challenge, horror
Tags: , , , , ,

The challenge this time was to come up with a Halloween mash-up. Mine was supposed to be a Shawshank Redemption/Frankenstein mix, though to be honest I probably lean more toward the latter than the former. This could have been another two thousand words longer, I am sure, but I was running right into the deadline.

As always, comments are always welcome.

“Up you get, Vic! Warden wants to see you.”

I open my eyes slowly, staring up at the fluorescent lights, peeling off-white paint of my cell. I stretch my longer fingers before me, outstretched arms reaching for the light.

I swing my legs down, blink the last of the sleep out of my eyes. “What does he want, Nolan?”

The guard sneers at me through the small window into my cell. I picture his hand resting on his taser. “He didn’t tell me, shitheel. But Warden says jump, we all gotta ask, ‘How high?’”

I snort, stand up, back away from the cell door. Nolan radios the guard station, the lock disengages, and I have the illusion of freedom. Nolan moves away, and I step out. I don’t bother smiling at him, the bruises on my body are too fresh for me to pretend congeniality.

Nolan herds me toward the warden’s office. All of the other cells are dark, the other inmates silent. What time is it? Late or early. Hard to tell in the timelessness that is solitary confinement.

I turn down the hall toward the warden’s office. “Not that way. The basement.”

I raise an eyebrow. “And what does the warden want with me in the basement?” I catch a glance of Nolan’s watch as we talk. Two in the morning.

Nolan doesn’t answer.

Down we go, down stair ways smelling of old piss and fresh human desperation. I think hard about what the warden will want with me, and down here of all places. I made enough of a nuisance of myself to earn a stay in solitary,

Nolan pushes me past the laundry, toward a plain metal door I don’t remember seeing. He opens it up, gives a mocking bow to indicate I’m to move inside.

My heart flutters, sweat soaking my shirt. I don’t even have so much as a sharpened toothbrush to defend myself. Not that will do me much good. The warden is there, along with four of the other guards. They guards are all hooded, dressed in civilian wear. Most assuredly not standard protocol.

“Ah, Victor. Thank you joining us.” Warden Johns stares at me with his little piggy eyes, thumbs hooked into his belt loop. “How was your little vacation?”

“Restful. Though my neighbors could leave a little to be desired. At least one of the prisoners likes to scream at the most inopportune moments.”

“Yes, Mr. Simon. He really should be in a psychiatric institution. Unfortunately for all of us, the system placed him here. At least in solitary he is no longer attacking the other inmates.

Johns steps closer. The guards shift, the tension in the air making them uncomfortable. Of course, if what they said about me was true, I’d be uncomfortable as well.

“I’ve been reading your file, Victor. You had a very impressive career before all that unpleasantness with the dead bodies. What were the circumstances again? Illegal harvesting of organs? I believe the prosecution also presented evidence that certain other liberties had been taken with the deceased. Most of them were women, weren’t they? Young women? Illegals? Whores? People who’d be missed, right? You sick fuck.” There was no vehemence in Frank’s words, only a statement of facts.

I felt the bile rise in my throat. I forced a smile. “If you say so, Warden.”

“That’s right, you proclaimed your innocence all along, didn’t you? Despite all of the evidence.” Johns snorts, hawks and spits onto the floor. “The truth is I don’t give a good goddamn what you did. As far as I’m concerned, each and every one of you is in here for a good reason. You might not be guilty of of the crime you were convicted for, but none of you were angels. Angels don’t fall this far. You were a doctor, right?”

I nod. It had been one of the items that had made the case against me so compelling. Every single one of the victims had been patients of mine at the clinic I moonlighted at. Every. Single. One. I woke up most nights, haunted by their eyes, staring, accusing.

“I have a certain interest in medicine as well. Walk with me.”

I follow the warden, notice the guards turn and follow us. The deeper we get, the colder it gets. I’m reminded of a morgue. The concrete is slick with condensation, and I hear the steady drip of water falling from pipes.

We come into another room. Circular. Computer monitors. Medical equipment. Seven corpses laid out along one wall, blank eyes, filmed over in death, staring at the ceiling. The cold down here is keeping them preserved. There is other equipment down here, things I don’t recognize. There’s a whole shelf full of preserved body parts, floating in a green liquid that catches the light in all the wrong ways.

“It’s been a while since I’ve done an autopsy.”

Johns smiles at me, showing too many teeth. “Oh, I know how they died, Victor. I’m more interested in seeing if you can get them up and walking again.”

“What?” I step closer to the bodies. Bile rises in my throat as I recognize each and every one. All are former guests of this institution. All, until recently, were neighbors of mine. All repeat visitors of solitary. All hardened criminals. All protesting their innocence. All officially deceased from “natural” causes, a not unheard of happenstance. I’m beginning to have doubts.

“All of this you see here? My life’s passion. To bring the dead back from the abyss, to instill new life into the cold clay of the dead.”

I blink, take a step back. I wonder if I’m dreaming, trapped in a nightmare of my psyche’s choosing. But everything is too sharp, too real for me to be asleep. I wonder then if the warden has had a psychotic break, but this is too well planned, too meticulous to be a simple psychotic break. Then too, there are the guards. Would they all so willingly back him if he lacked complete credibility?

“To what end?” It is a question that I fear the answer to, but feel I must ask.

The warden’s smile disappears. He walks over to the corpses, his eyes burning with the flame of the fanatic. “So much wasted potential. To be given the gift of life, and to squander it. On what? Petty crimes. Violence against their fellow man. Addiction. Siring another generation of bastards, just like themselves. Feeding the same cycle. In death though, in death they might find purpose.” He lifts his eyes to mine. “My purpose.

“These men, these resources, are at your disposal.” His arm sweeps to include the guards, the scientific and medical equipment. If you find yourself lacking in anything, let one of them know and we will strive to get it for you. Serve me well in this, Victor, and you will be well rewarded. Not with freedom, of course, but better meals. Television. Perhaps even companionship can be arranged. Make no mistake, however. You are still my prisoner, and I do expect results.”


Time passes. A cliché to be sure, but down there in the dark, with the dead, the march of days to weeks to months became meaningless. I had no hope of parole before the warden assigned me this hellish task, but it gives a way to destroy the monotony, to give me purpose beyond working on my physique or avoiding rape.

There are set backs. The original corpse were insufficient to the task, as well preserved as they were. Up to my arms in entrails, it became apparent that trying to resurrect a single body would prove pointless. There was too much wrong with one. Either the kidneys were ruined, the liver disastrous, or there was enough pre-cancerous material to make the issue pointless. A certain… freshness was also needed. Typical embalming methods made the samples useless for the purpose.

The warden, however, provides me with enough corpses to be sure. Some of the faces I recognize before I take scalpel and saw to their visages, harvesting eyes and glands and precious gray matter. I push it from my mind, think of them only as specimens to be dissected, pieced back together. At night alone in my cell, I wonder how he explains their disappearance. Then I remember the crematorium. Anything at all could be in those caskets, their intended contents making their way down in the dark to my laboratory.

Then, one night, I feel I am ready. I fit the final piece into place, a small microtransmitter nestled into the base of the skull. I approach the computer banks, hit the final command prompt. Electricity courses through the body, a mish mash of limbs and organs from a dozen different “donors.” The body jerks upright, the dead film of its eyes clearing, staring with a malevolent intelligence. The guards, though long accustomed to the horrors perpetrated down here in the dark, take a collective step back, hands gripping weapons that much tighter.

“One of you go get the warden.” My hands tremble, my gut churning at the horror I’ve created.

Two of the guards rush from the room, nearly stumbling over each other in their haste to exit.

The warden isn’t long in coming. His eyes are bright under the fluorescent lights, his lip trembling. “You did it,” he whispers, barely over a breath. He claps his hands together. “You really did it.”

I nod, wiping the sweat from my brow.

“And you can duplicate the process now?”

I narrow my eyes at him. “What?”

“Well, this is a good start, but there are many interested parties. The military for instance.”

My mind flashes. Fallen soldiers pieced back together, sent back out to fight and kill all over again. Other potentials come to mind, none of them pleasant. Deathless, amoral police forces crushing protests. Cage matches of the undying. Is this the future I’ve given birth to?

“No.” I type a command prompt into the console. The abomination I have created lunges to its feet, impossibly fast. The guards are quick to react, throwing their bodies between the warden and the creature.

I’ve built my creation well, its fists pulverizing flesh, breaking bones. One of the guards hits it with a taser, but what good is such a device against a creature born of electric current?

The warden stumbles back, shields his hands with his face. Strong fingers plunge into his chest, under his rib cage. They lift him up, up, his mouth open in a terrible scream. The creature dashes him against the wall, its face twisted in rage and hate.

Finished, bodies strewn about like so many broken dolls, the creature faces me. It reaches back, pulls the neurotransmitter from its skull, crushes it under its massive foot. It smiles at me.


Then it is gone, leaving me with nothing but corpses.

  1. Tom says:

    Zarjaz story, Matthew. Your setting was excellently imagined. I really felt I was in that dark, damp basement lab. I think, with a bit of tidying up, this one’s sellable. Worth a submission?

  2. Tom says:

    No worries, Matthew. Keep up the good work.

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