Sincerely, Your Mortician


For my Lady Prometheus – w4w (last week’s Old Glassworks retro pop-up party)

You wore a navy Old Hollywood dress with Art Deco earrings and chestnut pincurls. We didn’t meet until the second band went on, and you didn’t recognize me at first because I’d changed outfits after the set. I wore a black pantsuit and white shirt on stage, and I’d traded it for that evil short red number that caught your eye by the bar. You bought my Manhattan (easy on the vermouth, heavy on the bitters) and I bought your next martini (gin, stirred, two olives).

You said I played sax like an angel who knew she was about to fall, and I made a stupid joke about the event’s organizer before I found out it was your brother. You laughed and were the very picture of grace; I stumbled over each word for the next two minutes. Until you kissed me, maybe just to shut me up.

We danced a bit, and we each took one of those pills you had with the little lightning bolts on them, and then you dragged me away from the main shindig. As you led me through the halls, you said you’d found this whole place and pointed it out to your brother, but I wasn’t listening too closely because as soon as you took my hand, happy static filled my brain. We left our empty glasses on the broken chair outside the special room you’d set up.

I made another joke, this time about mad scientists. You didn’t laugh that time. You had a whole speech about genius, eccentricity, and stereotypes of the mentally ill. Your other brother – the one who hadn’t organized the party – had schizophrenia, you said, and he was doing pretty well sticking to his schedule of DBT and antipsychotics. “All of this,” you said, with a particular smile that made me shiver deliciously watching you spin in the middle of the room full of weird machines, “has nothing to do with madness.”

And you were right, of course. Although it did freak me out when I found the corpse.

You teased me something fierce about that. I remember pointing out over and over that, even though the band is Jenny Casket and the Morticians, only Val on drums is actually a funeral director. (If it helps you remember me, I work for the county library.)

You explained that this was a volunteer, some guy who’d made a deal with you after his last chance at a transplant fell through. And we weren’t going to be bringing him back to life. You just needed one more gently used brain, and an assistant for the second step.

The first step didn’t look like much. You traded your dress for scrubs (and put on a good show for me as you did – thanks for that), and then you just up and cut the top of the guy’s head off. I think I should have gotten queasy around then, but your lightning pill had worked its magic nicely by that point.

The brain went into a case that was metal on the bottom, glass on the top so we could watch. Once it was all sealed up, little mechanical arms came up out of the metal half and started running all over the brain. I said something about the brain being ticklish and then had a giggling fit. Then the big machine behind me beeped, and I jumped half a foot off the floor. I broke a heel coming down, but all I could do was giggle louder.

You had to slap me out of it so we could get on to the second step. You checked the screen on the big machine, then gave out a happy squeal and kissed me again. For quite a while. That got me focused again.

You talked about how that was the last brain you needed for the modeling process, how the system had enough data now.

“Enough data for what?” I asked.

“Immortality,” you said. Then there was a whole lot of stuff about how this wasn’t really a computer program, not the way I think of it, and that the whole electromechanical metaphor for the brain was fundamentally limited (I think – mostly I was riding lightning-pill-buzz and afterglow from all the kissing). Whatever was in that big machine, what I got out of your little lecture was that it was totally new and could serve as a waystation between neurobiology and conventional electronics.

“I’ll always be in here,” you said, “but I’ll also be able to project myself digitally. I just need you to strap me in and work the controls.”

You’d made it really easy. Once you talked me through hooking you in and strapping you down, there were just three buttons I needed to press on the screen.

“Why me?” I asked, before I pressed anything.

You shrugged as best you could, given the straps. “You’re cute, and I liked your music. If everything goes wrong, you’ve still made it a good night.”

“Kiss for good luck?” I offered. You grinned and winked.

After the last kiss, I pressed the buttons. You took a deep breath after the second, and it came out in one long sigh after the third. It sounded kind of like you were deflating. Your eyes closed, and then I couldn’t tell if you were breathing.

The machine made a whole series of noises before going quiet. Suddenly, everything in the room went dark.

“What did you do to her?”

I looked to the doorway, and there was a guy there. Probably your brother? He had a big cord in his hand, which I think was the power supply. He started coming towards me, but I threw my busted shoe at his face and ran barefoot out of there, through the party and out to the street. When I was two blocks away, I broke down in the back of the cab.

My brain felt like an overcrowded disco by the time I finally made it through my door. As I brushed my teeth and the world writhed in my peripheral vision, all I could do was stare at my phone, not knowing who or what to call. I could swear that, just for a second, the background changed to your winking face. I blinked, and then I thought spiders were running up and down my spine, so I ran to bed and curled up in a ball until everything stopped.

The next afternoon, drained but settled down, I came back to see if it – if you – had been real. There was no evidence of the party, and no evidence of the lab. My shoes were neatly set in the middle of that room, though. Someone had even glued the heel back on. A small, handwritten note was tied to the strap on the other shoe: Stay away.

For a second, I thought I felt my phone buzz. A message from you? But nothing had come through.

Did it work? Are you out there somewhere? Or at least part of you?

Please get in touch, if you’re real. I need to know how much I can trust myself on this. It’s getting tough to sleep, what with the not knowing and the maybe-remembering and the phantom buzzes from my phone. Please?


Your Mortician