* trigger warning: contains descriptions of death/abuse*
I wave my pass to the security guard outside, and he greets me with a tired nod of recognition. He’s seen me many times before, and is bound to again. Neither he nor any of the other staff seem to question my presence these days.
All for the purposes of research, mind you; I work for the University, and have every right to be here, even if my visits to ‘The Farm’ tend to be longer than most, and always solitary. No grad-students accompany me, asking endless dreary questions regarding the difference between apoptosis and necrosis, or the growth-cycle of Lactobacillus. I walk alone among the trees, the sweet perfume of decay guiding me onward. Calling this place ‘The Body Farm’ sounds so cumbersome, so blunt in its wording, that us ‘regulars’ have taken to calling it ‘The Farm’. A touch more poetic, don’t you think?
Nurses refer to hospital morgues as ‘The Rose Cottage’ or ‘The Other Side of The Rainbow’ when on duty, to mask the finality of death. It seemed only fitting that we follow suit.
There are strict rules within The Farm, mind you. This is a place of rest, though we keep strange rituals and macabre funeral rites. The bodies of the dearly departed litter the grounds in states of varying putrefaction, some no more than dusty skeletons that crumble under-foot like dry leaves. In the back of a Buick, half submerged in swamp-water, lies the carcass of a sixty year old woman, weighing 200 pounds at time of death; she bloats in the heat like over-ripe fruit.
Each body has a name, a life before they arrived here. We pay our respects, for this charnel house is founded upon a greater good. To study death, we must immerse ourselves in its foundations, and its mysteries. A body that is kept inside a garbage disposal decays differently to one hidden beneath a mattress, (though to the worms it makes no difference at all). All those who rest within The Farm donated their bodies willingly, to help us understand an aspect of ourselves that few are privilege to witness.
My field of study is entomology, specifically within the family of Diptera, (flies, to the uninitiated). I have written a fair few papers on the subject, and on the reputation of my work I secured my position at the University. The funding for my study on Sarcophagidae (flesh-flies, again for the uninitiated) brought me to The Farm, and believe you me, my research might turn the world of forensic anthropology on its head.
But I digress; my work hasn’t been without setbacks. Long nights at the office, you might say. Endless form-filling, wads of NDA’s and wavers before I could even get within sniffing-distance of The Farm. Butting heads with members of the faculty, deadlines and test-markings and grant applications… but I’ll not bore you.
As I follow the yellow cord-line that marks the boundaries of the The Farm, stepping gently in rubber-booted feet on mulched ground and damp earth, I take a moment to enjoy the silence. I have always enjoyed being alone, as the discordant chitter-chatter and bickering of others can be so dispiriting, don’t you find?
I nod at a member of the local police forensic-team as I walk along the trail, dressed in their blue overalls and surgeon’s masks, as they take a candid photograph of a mouldering body within a tree-stump. The click-whirr of the camera is as a familiar sound here as bird-song. Sometimes it is the only sound you’ll hear, this deep into The Farm.
Some way out, beyond the ‘strategically’ dilapidated cabin, and far away from the shallow graves lined with tarpaulin, I find the shaded grove. This is somewhat ‘off the reservation’ if you’ll pardon the antiquated expression. Sometimes I come here, if only for a little peace.
I would not say I am a spiritual person, yet I find my soul at rest in this place. I cannot help but be reminded of stories I heard as a child, those of sacred woods and forest clearings where the gods were said to walk. In this shaded holt I feel protected, enveloped by the green. I take off my rubber-boots, and discard the gloves and my mask beside them. It is a crisp autumn day, and the leaves are at their tipping point, neither brittle nor soft; they are cool under my bared feet, and as I walk I feel every ridge and vein of them traced upon my skin.
I find the mound beside the mountain-ash, the patch of ground that to the undiscerning eye would seem quite ordinary. Only I know what truly lies beneath. I feel its warmth as I run my hand along its pregnant bulge, caressing the piled earth like an old friend. In some ways, you could say it was.
I brush aside the leaves, and soon I find the slim perspex widow I mounted into the body of the mound, to better view the progress within. As I peer inside, I see that the interior is dark, and still. I pull a flashlight from my jacket pocket, and setting it to a narrow beam, I hold its light to the aperture.
There. Now I can see him. The bastard.
His eyes are set wide open, and as I pass the light across his face I see his pupils dilate. Still with us then, I think to myself, and smile a little at his stubborn fortitude. A month he’s lain in there, and still he will not go on into that good night. Though perhaps the IV drip I administered is keeping him on this mortal plain just a little longer than he’d anticipated.
His skin is like parchment, and stained with a yellow discharge that makes him appear bloated with pus. Here and there I see blistering, and though it is hard to tell in the gloom, I am certain that there is something nesting inside him. His orifices must be bursting by now, the never-ending cycle of egg-to-maggot-to-fly turning his guts into a hive of pulsing bodies.
Can he hear me? Should I tap on the glass? No, perhaps not. Perhaps I’ll let him think he’s truly alone. Though what can be going on in his head, (whatever there is left of it)? His grey matter must be chewed away to nothing, rasping little maggot-mandibles nipping away at each synapse, each fragment of his mind and memory.
Perhaps the flies will share your dreams, now?, I think to myself. Each one of their buzzing, twitching bodies holding a piece of you within them, as they are nourished by your thoughts, and the life you lived?
And the lives you helped destroy.
You thought that you would go unnoticed? Not so, my friend, not so. There were whispers among the faculty, for sure. A few sideways glances, some lingering silences when you left the room. Complaints and disciplinary hearings were discarded, filed away in the nebulous ‘vault’ marked ‘unfounded gossip’. No-one dared to confront you face to face, man to man. Or perhaps more fittingly, woman-to-man.
We knew that you were married, though we never really knew your wife. She was always on the other side of a room, or at the end of the parking lot, sitting in your second-hand sedan, a look of worry always on her face. She looked so young, too. Far too young for a bloated, greying old fart like you.
The Dean, in one of his less-sober moments, let slip about the bruises he had seen on her neck and arms, when he had passed her in the local grocery store some months ago. But that was not the half of it.
As I discovered in your files, you were moved from campus to campus, department to department, always with a trail of misery in your wake. So many young woman who would never reach their fullest potentials, all of whom were capable of discoveries you could barely fathom in your toxic, jealous mind.
You probably don’t even remember the name of that young lady you picked up outside the student bar. She was young too, like your wife. The police were called, eventually, and she was found. Eventually.
To be precise, they found her passed out in a drainage ditch on the edge of town. The case was buried, nobody thought to follow it up. And nobody thought to trace the tire-tracks back to your sedan, parked in the side-road like a predatory wolf that night, as I did.
But I found you. And I made certain that nobody will ever, ever know where you are. Here among the bodies of men and women more virtuous in death than you ever were in life, I will let you rot. And only when I see the final light inside you die, then I will grant you your eternal rest. It was not hard bringing you to The Farm. I had co-conspirators, you might say. Others who knew that this was the only way to serve some sot of justice, no matter how horrid. I’ll keep their names a secret.. well, until the grave I suppose. All rather fitting.
I cover the aperture with a layer of dirt and leaves, and with a small measure of reluctance I draw myself away. I redress, tucking my long trousers into my boots as I prepare myself to join the land of the not-quite-living once more. I pull a loose strand of hair from my shoulder, noticing with distaste its greying hue. An unmarried woman in the dwindling years of middle age I hear them say about my appearance, whoever ‘they’ are; she’s not getting any younger.
Although, as I look toward the mound of earth behind me, I can be content in the knowledge that neither is he.
In the fading autumn light, I take a moment to listen to the wind through the trees, and the far-off birdsong. If it weren’t for all these bodies, this could almost be paradise. You could have a picnic beside the lake, so long as you ignored the floating burlap-sacks and wooden crates filled with viscera.
I follow the yellow chord, a glowing golden thread to guide me back to the security hut, and then off I go into the parking lot. As I open the door to my rickety old Ford, my tired bones aching from the strain of so many steps walked across uneven ground, I give The Farm a mock salute, as if greeting an old comrade.
I’ll be back, of course.
I can’t give him the satisfaction of dying just yet.
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