Image: Girl with Auburn Hair, Pierre Auguste Renoir, 1882
“It’s a shame, really,” said Thomas Montgomery, scratching at his beard. He looked across the body at his partner, Milo Horn, who gave a sympathetic shoulder twitch. Her auburn hair was tucked respectfully behind her head, her drained, pale lips parted slightly, a comfortable opening compared to the slit between her breasts. Nice breasts. Montgomery felt a twinge of extra sadness. She must have had a dynamite body, a muse-worthy piece of ass. Now the gash splitting her open left little to the imagination. The girl was eighteen, and beautiful; therefore Montgomery considered this a great tragedy. She was willowy and thin, probably taller than Horn. Horn was reminded, as always when a young female corpse presented itself, of his own daughter, dead twelve years. Little Jennifer had been seven, so innocent and sweet. She would be nineteen now, starting college, off on a new adventure, instead of rotting underground.
The body had been waiting in the Hemlock Hospital morgue. Two days in the freezer, while Horn and Montgomery were on assignment in Ft. Lauderdale, and the girl was grey with decay, red hair dull in death. The finger marks stood out from her neck, full and articulated. Someone had a very forceful stranglehold, Montgomery noted grudgingly.
To break the contemplation, Horn, the younger of the two men, turned toward to silent coroner.
“So we think she was attacked?”
“C’mon, Milo,” Montgomery spat, “you’re a better detective than that. Look at the makeup. And that tiny skirt split up the seam. Obviously, night out with the girls, too much to drink, got into trouble with some guy.”
“She’s eighteen, Tom.”
“Fake ID, then, or a house party. Some frat thing. Don’t know why co-eds insist on going to those things.”
“I was trying to be sensitive,” Milo replied sullenly, his mind on his daughter, a blonde, curly-haired beauty, who had held her chastity close, his perfect baby. She had died of pneumonia, developed after a surgery on her stomach had removed a congenital imperfection in her intestinal tract. The only flaw she’d ever shown.
“We do believe she was assaulted and died from related injuries. Hard to know who her attacker was—she had been to a big Greek house party, so there were a lot of potential aggressors. We’ve already started investigating but I doubt it’ll come to much. There was something weird, though. Look at this.” The coroner gestured toward the scale, holding the young woman’s heart. It looked like other dead hearts—a lump of purpling flesh. The coroner held up a hand for attention. He took out a dull metal prod and pressed down on the top of the atrial muscle. Black liquid burst from the base, splashing against the wall of the basin. Horn and Montgomery stepped back, mutually horrified.
“That’s odd,” mused the coroner, “it seemed to have less pressure this morning. Almost like it’s building up in there.”
The detectives met eyes, and then looked over at the corpse.
Montgomery’s hand shook, and he reached down for his flask. The drinking bothered Horn, who kept a strict and clean person at all times and suffered the fumey breath that poured between him and Montgomery in their squad car. Today, however, he reached over the body, to take a swig of the man’s whiskey. Pour one out for the fallen. Pour one out for the swollen heart.
Montgomery turned toward the coroner.
“What’s her name?”
From the table came a horrible crack, a squishing, fleshy sound. Thomas Montgomery, Milo Horn, and the coroner jumped back from the body, which was stirring. It looked like an octopus for a moment—pieces flowing over the table in an attempt to rise, until the girl sat up fully and took on her familiar shape once again.
“Jesus, man. My name is Mallory.”
The corpse nailed them with her dead eyes, and waited for a response. Horn’s eyes and mouth were thrown wide, and the coroner was grayer than the body on his table. Montgomery managed only a momentary daze, before snapping out a quick, “hello.”
The greeting rang above the men for a moment. Mallory raised her eyebrows at them and responded.
Milo ran for his jacket, and began to drape it over the girl to preserve her modesty, but she batted him away.
“Please, you’ve been talking over my carcass for an hour now. I think we can do without the covering.”
She slid down off the table, her open chest flaps falling down over her hollowed stomach, her left leg buckling a little around its tibial break. The whole body made a sloshing noise as parts settled into unfamiliar places.
“Bud,” she threw at Montgomery, “give me a bit of that whiskey, would you? I’ve had a rough few days.” He glanced down at the flask, handed it over. She took a deep swig of the whiskey, which poured down her throat and splashed out of her open abdomen and onto the floor.
“Thanks,” she said, returning it, and Montgomery made a mental note to throw it away.
“And what are your names?”
The question was less of a formality and more of an attempt to get one of the dumbstruck men talking. Montgomery and Horn gave their names, and the coroner announced that he was called “Javeen.” The detectives looked at each other in a silent realization that neither of them had known that.
“Alright.” She paused, looking around, getting her bearings in the cold lab. She examines her hands, does not seem taken aback by the gaping hole of her torso. The body turns its cold gaze onto the gathered men.
“So how do you think I died?”
Horn and Montgomery stared at her. After the oozing heart, they were far from a theory, but that is a difficult thing to admit under the stare of your would-be lifeless victim. Both of the men were distracted by her horrible nakedness—Horn, who was repulsed by the indecency, and Montgomery, who really wished he wasn’t hard.
She slunk to the other side of the room, circling the edge. The men turned with her movements. With a jolt, she popped forward and scooped up her heart, holding it above her upturned head, mouth open.
“Don’t!” the coroner gasped, and the body dashed her milky eyes at him with mortal contempt.
“It’s my heart. I’ll do with it as I please.” She threw her head back, opened her mouth impossibly wide, and swallowed the mass. Montgomery and Horn watched with eyes popping as the organ slid down her tiny throat and settled in under her exposed ribs. Black veins slid from her remaining flesh and wrapped around the heart, holding it in place. As they connected, the beating began anew, and Mallory closed her eyes in the deepest pleasure. Her hair brightened by a degree, and a tiny flush of color returned to the dead cheeks. Her flaps of skin pulled down and sealed themselves.
Mallory slid her feet across the floor. In six slow moves, she reached the door to the morgue, which she closed, back to the men, and locked. From this angle, Montgomery could see he had been right—an ass to write songs about.
It was the second to last thought that ever entered his mind, however, because, within seconds of sealing them in the liminal space of the Hemlock morgue, the girl began chewing on his face.
The exquisite corpse of Mallory Green ate them all.
Sarah Nolan-Brueck teaches writing and history at an LD school. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Purdue University, where she studied English, Gender Studies, and Indigenous Cultures. She lives in Los Angeles with her partner and cat. Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sarah_nolan_brueck/?hl=en Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarah.e.nolan.7 Twitter: https://twitter.com/sarahnolanbru