Cakepan II: Chapter Five – Meet Me in the Morgue

This is a creative writing experiment, shamelessly stolen from the Chopin Manuscript: a serialized story where each author writes a different chapter. The members of this blog are each writing their own chapter, and we’re calling ours the “Cakepan Manuscript”. This is our second story.

For this story we used a random plot generator, which gave us: “The story starts when your protagonist gets lost. Another character is an anesthesist who is researching something terrible.” You can start reading at Chapter One, and each week we will post a new chapter until we reach the thrilling conclusion!

We hope you enjoy!

Chapter Five: Meet Me in the Morgue

A toe tag on a toe of a dead body

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At that moment they heard footsteps coming down the hallway, and after a loud mechanical click, the double-doors swung open with a bang.

Russ held his breath, assuming it was Nurse Ratched coming to drag him back to that awful sterile room on the 14th floor.

But to his surprise, in marched Maureen and Tony.  Her blue eyes were ablaze but she seemed to dismiss Russ and pointed the venom towards Udo.

“Why did you bring him here,” she asked.

“I wanted to see if any of this would jog his memory.  And, I think it has.  Isn’t that what you’ve been wanting, Dr. Morrissette, oh brilliant one?”

“You’ve stepped out of the protocol.  I never should have let you into this.  You can’t be trusted with a live body.”  She frowned and then said, “Tony, get Dr. Winston.”

“Wait a minute,” Russ said.  He turned to Udo, “What the hell is going on?  These are specimens with eviscerated brain tissue and nobody seems to notice?”  The words jumped out before Russ fully understood and then a strong memory of anger and fear gripped him.

“I don’t know exactly what’s happened here, wait, you just called me doctor.”   Russ looked around the room again, sensing he knew what was stored in the stainless steel cabinets and drawers opposite the temporary storage units for the corpses.

“See what you’ve done?”  Maureen glared at Udo.

“Face it, the experiment is a flop, Mo.  Or don’t you notice the shrunken heads on the slabs, like Dr. Winston said.”

“That’s not the point.  Autopsies weren’t supposed to be done here,” she countered but with less confidence.

“That’s what you do in a morgue, isn’t it?” Russ asked, drawn into the discussion.  He forgot any concern for his own welfare because their argument had a familiar pull, and he felt he had a side in it, but they ignored him.

Tony rose onto his toes, and moved to look through the hazy windows on the electronic doors.  “We need to do it now,” he said and then he moved swiftly to Russ’s side, pinning his arms down.  Without saying anything, Udo held Russ’s hand firmly while Maureen pulled a vial from her pocket and expertly inserted the needle into a vein in the crook of Russ’s elbow.

Everyone stepped away from Russ and they talked as though he wasn’t in the room.  He felt a tingling move down to his hand. He flexed his fingers but not one budged.  He tried to walk but his legs gave way and he slumped into Tony’s arms.  His eyes were open but he couldn’t move.   It was then he realized she’d injected a paralytic.  Pancuronium, most likely.  She was an anesthetist after all.  How did he know that?

Maureen glanced at Tony, saying “Get a bag.  We’ll take him out on wheels.”  She looked at her wristwatch.   “He’ll need to be on a respirator soon.”

“Maureen, you’re crossing the line now, you know that don’t you?”  Udo said rather casually.

“He’s terminal.  Look how sallow he is.  We’ll wait it out, and he’ll never remember a thing,” she answered with complacency in her voice.

“And they claim we’re the heartless bunch,” Udo said, grunting as he helped Tony lift Russ up onto a gurney with a familiar item lying on top, the black zippered body bag.

Russ wondered how many times he’d been on the other side of a loaded bag looking in?

Udo laughed, and hung his thin grizzled face directly over Russ while Tony wrangled Russ’s legs into the bottom part of the bag.  Udo  talked while he shoved Russ’s shoulders and arms inside, shifting Russ’s head so the zipper was like a curtain half covering his face.

“Hey, Dr. Russell Winston the third,” Udo said, chuckling, “I wouldn’t want you to leave without knowing that your lovely wife, Miriam, has been having a ball since you’ve been holed up with the other droolers on fourteen.  She’s been having a grand old time with her young dance instructor.  As a matter of fact, when they called to tell her you’d taken a turn for the worse thanks to Dr. Mo’s experiments, Miriam was on a cruise in the Mediterranean.  She’s been pretty darn scarce around these parts if you know what I mean.”

“Knock it off,” Tony said.

The sound of the zipper closing was quickly followed by total darkness.  Terror was taking hold and the last thing Russ heard clearly was Tony saying, “Let’s get him out of here.”

(Continued in Chapter Six)

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Cakepan Manuscript – Chapter Three: Pay to Play

This is a creative writing experiment, shamelessly stolen from the Chopin Manuscript: a serialized story where each author writes a different chapter. The members of this blog are each writing their own chapter, and we’re calling ours the “Cakepan Manuscript”.

You can start reading at Chapter One, which began with the premise: “An unemployed teacher, in a wine store, runs into a former student.” Each week we will post a new chapter until we reach the thrilling conclusion!

We hope you enjoy!

Chapter Three: Pay to Play

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It was a frozen moment in time with a deep red floral smell permeating from the Merlot.  Zack was furious and at the end of his patience but he couldn’t pull the trigger.  Holfinger had given him away and he couldn’t shoot pretty little green-eyes at the cash register anyway.  His plan had been simple — grab the cash and deliver Victor Tomasso’s message.   The message was simple too.  If you want to run a business in his neighborhood, you have to pay to play or suffer the consequences.

The Merlot was beginning to smell like blood, and Zack needed to do something so he yelled, “Everybody out!” waving his gun to and fro at the line of customers behind Holfucker.  That’s what the students called him, Dickface Holfucker, because the dude was a loser, one of those teachers who thought he could hang with the home boys, a failure, wannabe artist, all talk and no walk, getting himself fired and Zack kicked out of school at the same time, all over that freakin’ game.

He should have shot the dumbass, put the sucka out of his misery but Zach couldn’t — the gun wasn’t loaded.   Instead he shouted, “Except you,” and aimed the gun at Holfinger when he started to move.  A pool of pee formed between the older man’s feet.

Zack jerked his head side to side, directing a straggler out the front door, and then spun his gaze to green-eyes who he could see desperately  wanted to join the departing crowd.  He’d never seen her before, and realized she must have started working at the neighborhood bodega in the last few weeks, in the time since his father had tossed him from the apartment for getting expelled, in the period when he’d realized he either earned a spot on Tomasso’s team or he’d starve on the street or maybe become something worse than dead.

“Who’s in the back?” he asked her.


Zack moved to the front door,turning the lock, never taking his gaze off the young girl.

“Where is Mr. Nyguen?”

She shook her head side to side, mumbling, “He didn’t say.”

Zack edged around the two of them and ducked into the back room where he quickly found the rear door,
unlocked and ajar.

(Continued in Chapter Four)

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Literacy Rant: The Estrogen Version

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There was a decidedly testosterone slant to Eric’s list of “must read” books, probably because it was intended for a young man, the one affectionately referred to as the Idiot.  But what if you were making a list for a young woman?  Not that any of his recommendations were specifically unsuited for the female psyche, but suppose this young woman only reads fashion magazines, and she’s never picked up a book for pleasure?  Perhaps she’s entering the work world, the one still dominated by those with a Y chromosome.  Maybe she’s searching for something more than surface-skimming, page turning best sellers that are forgotten as soon as the last page is read.  What would your reading recommendations be?

Well, here are mine.  None of them are considered high art, a couple might be classics, and at least two are definitely in the pulp fiction category.  A few mirrored the cultural shifts that affected women during a particular era, some even contributed to the changes.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has a wonderful opening about the Tree of Heaven that only grows in cement.  It’s a poignant coming of age story:  a smart, observant young girl struggles to make sense of life with an alcoholic father in a household forever battling poverty.  Getting an education was the underlying theme and that’s an especially vital message to women.

Gone with the Wind has the most memorable and well-known female character of the twentieth century, mostly because of the movie.  Reading the book, though, gave me a deeper appreciation for the tragic nature of Scarlett’s blind infatuation.  There was a brief, intimate scene that wasn’t in the movie.  It showed Scarlett’s vulnerability with Rhett and drove home the message that if you open your eyes, you might actually find you have something better than what you thought you wanted so desperately.  Or, maybe I recommended this one because I just love it and think any young woman who reads it will get hooked on reading.

Valley of the Dolls exposed the sick depravity behind the glamour of Hollywood and Broadway.  It made a splash in the ’60’s for its tell-all approach to sex, drugs, and the power struggle within all relationships — not just the ones between men and women, but also the ones women have with each other and with their own bodies.

Fear of Flying was a liberating soft porn novel that arrived in the early ’70’s.  Its legacy was the phrase “zipless f**k” which is how the author, Erica Jong, described a chance sexual encounter on a train with an anonymous stranger.  She tapped into the secret longing for sex without emotion or attachment that many women harbor.  But the book had a creepy, bleak view of life and that’s probably why her subsequent work never commanded the same level of excitement.  Without hope, it’s hard to pull off a second act.

The Group by Mary McCarthy was a disturbing portrait of eight Vassar women pursuing love and work after graduation in the early ’30’s.  The story reveals many of the traps that can destroy a promising future.  The characters were all bright, educated, upper income women, yet oddly, the underlying message was that while an education is important, it’s not a guarantee for success in real life.

The important questions in all these stories evolved from a woman’s relationship with the men in her life — drunken fathers, lost lovers, and disappointing husbands.  Every generation seems to grapple with the same universal questions about education, marriage, career, and motherhood.  Their choices may be nuanced by the time and place they were in, but essentially the questions are the same.  I think each of these novels offered a take on the contemporary feminine narrative of their day.   Sometimes it’s easier to see the potential consequences of our choices when we live it vicariously through a well told story and an engaging character.

Fiction can be for more than entertainment, it can be a thread that links one generation to the next, offering a nugget of insight into life.  And, it’s cheaper than therapy.

What great novel for a young woman do you think I missed?

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The Passive-Aggressive Comma War

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I made the mistake of volunteering to write grant proposals for a small, local, non-profit organization.  I have a little background in what a grant needs to say, and I enjoy writing, so it seemed a natural fit to make a contribution to a worthwhile cause.  Like every new experience there was some learning involved, most of it in the frustrating, irritating and regretting category. 

After figuring out how to overcome the first hurdle, how to request money for administrative costs when foundations are loathe to donate money for just that reason, and then learning to maneuver the Giant Charity Dollar Consolidator’s computer system, I thought my task was largely accomplished.  Until I ran into the Comma Queen, the underpaid, highly detail-oriented program coordinator of this unnamed local non-profit.  That’s Program Coordinator with a Capital P, Capital C as I was reminded in the first round of edits.  She also declared that a comma should be inserted in every series of nouns before the ‘and’ — papers, pens, and pencils. 

Whereas I was under the impression that particular comma style had been retired sometime in the ‘70’s and was no longer the standard.  After the third editing round-about, late the night before the grant deadline, I threw up the white flag and added in the last of the missing serial commas for the Comma Queen. 

Once the dust settled from our Passive-Aggressive Comma War, I decided to seek out who was right, me or the Comma Queen.  I found an old high school grammar text book, a 1965 edition of the Modern Grammar and Composition which is clearly marked THIS BOOK IS THE PROPERTY OF THE STATE.  The three students who were issued the book from 1966 through 1968 had signed their names on the front inside cover, the last being my brother-in-law.  Why it’s on my bookshelf, at a distance of a thousand miles, two states and  four decades, is a mystery to me.  Nevertheless, it served my purpose even if it is a crime of possession that hopefully the State of Texas never discovers.

Well, round one goes to the Comma Queen.  The text clearly showed that a comma is required before the ‘and’ in a series.  That was in 1965.  Unconvinced, I sought out more current sources of expertise and it turns out the series comma is an either or situation.  In journalism, the series comma, or as it’s referred to by some, the Oxford comma or even the Harvard comma, was dropped for expediency.  In literature it’s still the standard.

I was satisfied with a draw in the Passive-Aggressive Comma War.  However, after reading more about it, I must admit there are times when that extra comma makes for better clarity.  Example — I owe my life to my two brothers, Chloe and Lucy.

My brothers aren’t named Chloe and Lucy.  The intent was to identify three subjects, not two with subsequent names.  It’s misleading without the series comma.  There are lots of other examples on when the series comma is necessary. And, some claim, for consistency sake, it should always be used.

So now I’m going to have to sit down with the Comma Queen and show her the difference, when it’s needed and when it’s not.  Maybe then we can sign a treaty, calling an end to the Passive- Aggressive Comma War.  Hopefully negotiations will be concluded before the next grant proposal comes around.

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I Hate Chaucer

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After an especially traumatic experience in senior year English class, I consider Chaucer inappropriate for high school and think he should be banned from the curriculum.

When our teacher, Mrs. Shubert, doled out reading assignments, I landed The Miller’s Tale to read as part of the lesson on The Canterbury Tales.  A few months earlier I’d taken the Evelyn Wood speed reading course and saw no reason not to apply this newly acquired skill to Chaucer.  Basically I sped-read the Miller’s Tale.  I thought I had a firm handle on all those Middle English terms such as ‘wyf’ for wife and ‘heer’ for hair and ‘arse’ for ass, like a donkey is an ass.

During the class discussion when we were supposed to talk about our assigned reading, I raised my hand and announced my surprise and puzzlement that the female character, Alison, had shoved a donkey’s ass out the window when the infatuated nerd, Absalon, pleaded for a kiss.  I wondered aloud to the whole class where that donkey came from since Alison and Nicolas were supposed to be getting it on in bed.

Instantaneously a smart aleck guy corrected me.  “It was her ass she put out the window.”

Still convinced I knew better, I replied with great confidence, “It couldn’t be hers because he said it felt like a beard with hair on it.”

The moment the words left my mouth, I realized my mistake.  The humiliation was immediate, like a blow to the body. Seriously, somebody should have warned me about Chaucer.  In today’s world, I’d get to sue the teacher, the school district, Evelyn Wood and the book publisher for the permanent psychological scars to my self-esteem.  But that wasn’t an option thirty years ago, nor was homeschooling, so I suffered through the snickers and snide comments for months.

Graduation helped, but to this day, just the sound of his name gives me the creeps.

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