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The Marina Morgue

By Marie LeClaire

Jason watched as the man seemed to push his way through the plastic and sit up. He swung his legs over the side of the bunk and let himself down the three feet to the floor. He paused for a moment, then bounced up and down, bending and straightening his knees. Jason understood. He had done the same thing with his rotator cuff. The man was checking for pain. Jason watched as he turned around to the bunk that had been his perch a moment ago.

(Image provided by Marie LeClaire)

Lying flat on the bare wood was the body of an old man in a translucent white plastic body bag. They reminded Jason of the bags that protected formal clothing as it hung in your closet between wearings. The man backed up with a start, then leaned in closer to peer through the plastic. With a somber gaze, the man slowly turned in place, shuffling his feet as he took stock of his surroundings. He raised his eyebrows and cocked his head when he saw Jason staring at him.

They looked each other up and down for a full minute before the man asked, “Am I dead?”

Jason noticed the hint of an accent. “I think so.”

“You?” The man gave him an upward nod of his chin.

“I think so.”

Jason, a younger man closing in on forty, was wearing jeans and a t-shirt touting Bermuda as the best R&R in the world. A moment before the old man appeared, Jason had looked around in a similar way. Their macabre bungalow was a long narrow room with no windows. It had a well-worn wooden floor with white walls and roof that appeared to be fiberglass. Four tiers of shelves, made of two-by-fours and plywood, ran the full length of the space, with a large aisle in the middle. The construction seemed to be make-shift additions, assembled quickly with mismatched corners. A huge fan at one end blew cool air the length of the enclosure. A too-bright light clearly illuminated its purpose. White bags rested on nearly all the shelves.

Jason gave the man time to assess things for himself.

“If this is heaven, it’s definitely overrated,” the man joked.

Getting no reaction from Jason, he went on.

“Where are we?”

“I’m not sure. I just, ah,” Jason searched for a word, then gave up and shrugged his shoulders, “woke up? too.”

The man bounced again on his knees and smiled. “Well, at least the knees are working better. I’ll probably never know about the prostate.”

Jason let go a weak smile. The man appeared to be in his sixties.

“What’s your name, son?”

“Jason Tiernan, according to the bag.” He indicated the bunk over his shoulder with his thumb. “You?”

The old man thought about it. “I can’t remember.” The old man turned around to the white bag. A sticker in the upper corner said Enrico Esquavez. “Enrico,” he mused. “Si. Feels right. You call me Rickie.”

“Okay, Rickie. Do you remember anything else?”

“No.”

“Me neither, damn it.” Jason was pounding himself on the head, which was surprisingly solid.

“Hey. No problem, Jay. We’ll figure it out. Now quit that.”

The nickname had a soothing ring to it. He gave up the pounding but not the frustration.

“Yeah? How?”

“We start with what we know. You are Jason Teirnan. I am Enrico Esquavez.”

“Great.”

“And we are most likely dead.”

“Most likely,” Jason was softening a little. “And this appears to be a make-shift morgue.”

“Yes, so-”

Just then, the large hinged doors on one end of the space swung open allowing in a wave of warm fresh air that neither man could feel.

Two featureless people in yellow hazmat suits were standing four feet below, on a concrete floor looking in, with a third, similarly clad, fork lift operator pulling in behind them.

“Who we picking up today?” one of them shouted through the plexiglass face mask.

“Nancy Kennary. 23, right, top,” Said the other.

They rode the forks up to the worn wooden floor, and stepped in. They employed a stretcher that had been propped up against the wall, extending its scissor-like supports to full height and rolling it down the aisle.  They seemed oblivious to Jason and Enrico.

“Well, I guess that confirms it,” Enrico said, waving his arms around seeking attention. They reflexively flattened themselves up against the wooden platforms to let the body snatchers pass. “And look. We have a means of escape.”

Enrico pointed to the doors which opened into a warehouse. “Come. Hurry, while the door is open.” Enrico rushed to the end of the container, waving Jason on.

Jason suspected that, in their current condition, the position of the doors was of little consequence but hurried after Enrico nonetheless.

“Be careful, there, Rickie. We don’t know what-” but Rickie was already off the truck and falling slowly to the floor. Jason followed after him.

They watched as the men on the truck carefully slid the body from the stretcher to a pallet on the forks. They secured the body in place, then waved the operator off. The lift backed up slowly, lowered the prongs and drove away, with the two attendants hanging onto the forklift’s cab.

Jason and Enrico backed away from their trailer, surveying the warehouse landscape. They were struck silent by what they saw. Side by side in a huge indoor parking lot were eight similar trailers in a line. Each trailer had a large number attached to its door. Theirs was number eight. As they continued their backward progress, the entire warehouse came into view. They counted no less than six rows of refrigerated trailers; the humming of the AC units bounced off the metal walls of the cargo hanger. Jason did the math.

“That’s 48 trailers with 50 bodies each, if they’re all full.”

Enrico finished the calculations as his eyes grew bigger. He let out a gasp. “Twenty-four hundred bodies, give or take.”

A dozen forklift teams buzzed the floor. Some picking up, some delivering.

Jason shook his head in disbelief.

“Come on, Enrico. Let’s get out of here.” He grabbed Enrico by the arm, which felt a little too squishy to be real, and dragged him toward one of the loading docks. The open dock doors exposed a large commercial marina, eerily quiet. A cloudless blue sky backdropped a city skyline across a large bay. In the distance, silhouetted against the cityscape, was a sight familiar anywhere in the world: The Statute of Liberty.

“I’m going out on a limb here, Rickie, and guessing New York City.”

They jumped down from the dock, again floating gently to the ground.

“Aside from being dead, I’m liking this.” Enrico bent his knees again.

“Rickie, get serious.”

Enrico smiled, recalling the impatience of young men.

“Okay. Sure. What should we do?”

“We need to find out what’s going on.”

“Okay. What do you think is going on?”

“I don’t know but I’m guessing they do.” Jason was pointing to a tent at the entrance to the parking lot. It was guarded by at least three National Guard soldiers, in battle gear and wearing facemasks.

“It’s not likely they are going to talk to us,” Enrico pointed out, “even if they could.”

“No, but we can listen, and read whatever papers they have laying around,” Jason pointed out.

As they started walking toward the tent, Jason noticed an odd collection of people milling around, looking out of place. He wondered if they, too, were dead.

When they got around to the front of the tent, a large sign hanging across the security gate gave them their first clue.

 

STOP

COVID 19 CONTAMINATION AREA AND TEMPORARY MORGUE

NO UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL BEYOND THIS POINT

 

“Oh.” Jason let out a long breath. “This is starting to feel familiar.”

He walked around to the soldier’s side of the table unnoticed. Clipboards were organized in tiered racks six deep and eight across. Attached to each clipboard was a sheet of paper with the names and next-of-kin information for each occupant of each trailer with signature lines to indicate pickup. Fortunately, Trailer #8 was in the first row and was easily readable. Jason found his assigned berth half way down the page.

#8 – 19RT        Dr. Jason Tiernan           wife Jenna Tiernan        555-832-6841

The signature line was blank.

Jason ran his fingers through his hair. He tried to recall a memory that was sitting right on the edge of awareness.

Enrico was standing behind a soldier at the other end of the table, checking out the computer screen she was working on.

“Jay, it says here they have ten vans out today picking up bodies. Some from hospitals and, judging by the addresses, some from homes.”

“How do you know they’re homes?”

“I don’t know. I just do. And they have some going out, too.”

“Yeah. I have the sign-out sheets over here.”

Enrico headed over to see what Jason was looking at.

“Hey, that’s our truck. Where’s my name? Oh, look. Right here.”

#8 32LM Enrico Esquavez – wife Tanina Esquavez – Uptown Cab 555-459-2300

“Well, that explains how I know the addresses. I must be a cabbie.”

“And I’m a doctor.”

“Really?” Enrico glanced up and down the sheet until he found Jason’s name. “Well, how about that? Your mother must be proud.”

“Yeah, I guess. Things are coming back to me, a little hazy, but still. There’s some kind of virus killing people by the hundreds, thousands maybe.”

“Do you think those people are dead, too?” Enrico asked, referring to the wanderers. “Do they look a little thin to you?”

Enrico didn’t mean fashionably thin. He meant density thin. Sure enough, the few standing nearby did look thin – translucent. Some more so than others. They approached the closest person, a woman in her 60s, seated on a bench by the water.

“Excuse me,” Jason took the polite approach.

She turned to him, eyebrows raised. “You see me? You must be dead.”

“Yes, we believe so,” answered Enrico. “Are you also?”

“Yes. I believe I am.”

“I’m Jay and this is my friend, Rickie. Who are you?”

“Nancy. Nancy Kennary.”

“Oh,” Enrico said excitedly, “Someone just claimed your body.”

“Probably my sister. I don’t think there was anyone else, like a husband or children.”

“You don’t remember?” asked Jason.

“I’m remembering a little at a time. I think when you remember it all, you go to heaven.”

“What makes you say that?” Enrico looked around expectantly.

“I’ve been talking to other people, dead people, for about a day or so, I think. It seems like when people finally figure out who they are and what’s going on, they turn to vapor and spiral into the sky like an upside-down tornado. But slowly. Gently. And in the meantime, we get thinner the more we remember.”

Jason raised his hand. If he held it just so, he could almost see shadows of the skyline behind it.

“Can you please tell us what you remember?” he asked.

“I remember I was driving home from at the nursing home where I work, worked,  when I started to feel sick. Three days later I was in ICU.” Nancy became thinner as she talked. “Others have told me it’s a pandemic but I don’t actually remember that. Oh, wait. I remember other people at the nursing home, the patients, were getting sick.”

Jason was now looking through her to objects on the dock.

“Look. That one’s getting ready to go.” Nancy gestured to a woman standing by the water’s edge.

They watched as the woman turned into a wispy fog and spiraled upward until she vanished completely. Nancy went on as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

“Anyway, others have said that a virus has moved around the world with lightning speed, all countries, all continents. Covid 19 they call it.”

“Oh my god, I remember,” Jason gasped. “I worked the ICU at one of the hospitals here.”

“And I remember driving first responders to their jobs. I had to wear something on my face.” Enrico jumped up and down as he started to fade.

“Oh!” Nancy sat up straight and looked at them both. Calmly she said, “I totally remember now. Everythinnnngggg. Thank you for talking to me. It seemed to jog my memories.” Just then, she turned into a wispy spiral. Yes, they heard her say, I’m Nancy, as she vapored skyward and was gone.

Jason and Enrico looked at each other.

“I’m going to assume,” Enrico pointed upward, “that she’s going to heaven.”

“It’s as good a guess as any,” Jason shrugged, “and we’ll know for ourselves soon enough.”

They casually took over the bench where Nancy had waited her turn to leave.

“So, come on, Enrico. Let’s help each other out, here. Tell me everything you remember.”

“Well, it’s not much. I’m remembering my wife being very scared for me. She wanted me to stay home.” Enrico paled slightly.

“Yeah, mine too. In fact, I think we fought about it one night before I left for work. I must have worked the night shift.” Jason thinned. “Keep going Enrico,” Jason encouraged. “Say more.”

“I remember picking up a fare one night. He was so upset that he wouldn’t see his family again for days, maybe weeks. He was a mess about it.”

“I remember agonizing between my responsibilities to my family and my patients. Hey!” Jason almost yelled, “I worked at Bellevue Hospital. I’m sure of it.”

“That’s where I dropped my fare off, Bellevue Hospital.”

They stopped for a moment to look at each other. They were fading fast.

“I tested positive the day after that fare. They wouldn’t let me work and I couldn’t go home. I had a wife and kids.”

“I got sick three days later, collapsing at work.”

With each statement, the two men got became more transparent.

After a pause, Jason asked, “What day did you pick up that fare?”

“It was March 25th. I remember because it was my daughter’s fifth birthday the next day. I couldn’t go.”

“That’s the last day I saw my family.”

“15 Malden St.?” they both asked.

They sat quietly for a moment, memories flooding their thoughts. Then, turning completely white, they became wispy fog and spiraled toward heaven – or wherever.

 

This story previously appeared in Marie LeClaire, 2022.
Edited by Melody Friedenthal

Marie writes in Magical Realism. She has four novels available on Amazon.com. She also writes short stories that appear on MetaStellar and on her website Marie LeClaire. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.