Last week, we accepted submissions in our Facebook group – Sanctum of Depravity. This is the story that was chosen, written by author AJ Brown. Check out his interview this week for more information on who he is and where to find him.
The Museum of Tortured Corpses
William was curious. How could he not be with the life-like sign on a pole jutting out the top of the building at an angle that allowed the sign to hang like a battered and war torn flag?
“Brilliant marketing,” he said as he stared at the realistic body with the words MUSEUM OF TORTURED CORPSES in a crude handwriting and what surely couldn’t be blood, but missed a good chance to be. He looked harder at the sign. It was shaped like a man and he wore only a linen cloth over his privates. If the sign had actually been a man at one time, his skin might have been white, but was now a deep tan, bordering on brown. He was missing his eyes, but the black sockets that stared down at him were crusted in that same fake red as the words were written. His hair was long and didn’t look like a wig or a rug or even something from a mannequin in a department store clothing section. It was brown and stringy and hung down around his face. There were scratches and bruises on the sign’s legs, ribs and chest. It hung, not on the pole, but by chains that rain under the armpits and the elbows, giving it the look of a fleshy scarecrow someone forgot to pack straw or hay in.
“I gotta see this place,” he said and opened the door, a deep brown mahogany thing that he almost had to put his shoulder into to get it to move. When it did open, it groaned on thick hinges that sounded like metal grinding on metal. Once inside, the door closed with that same groan, but the sound of it clicking in place sent slivers of tiny fingers along his skin.
“Can I help you?”
Startled, William stepped back, his arms suddenly out to his sides, his heart crashing hard against his breastplate. “Whoa, man,” he all but yelled, “I didn’t see you.”
The man was shorter than William by a head. He was bald and thin. His hands were behind his back, as if he hid something from William. He wore thick, round glasses that looked like they belonged on the bottom of a soda bottle not in plastic frames.
“I’m sorry,” Coke Glasses said. “I didn’t intend to startle you.”
William laughed. “Startled. Yeah, that’s not what I would call it, but sure.”
“Is there anything I can do for you, Sir?”
William looked around the room that was lit by torches sitting in sconces. They cast ominous shadows that seemed like dark waves along the walls that were made out of stones that appeared to weep a dark liquid from hundreds of tiny cracks. But he saw no torture devices or corpses.
“I … I saw the sign outside,” he said. “You know the guy hanging from the pole out there?”
“Ahh … yes,” Coke Glasses said. His eyes brightened. “Geoffrey.”
“That’s his name? Geoffrey?”
“All of our corpses have names.”
Again, William looked around. Other than the way the flames danced on the slick walls, he saw nothing remotely like a corpse.
“Umm … this is a museum, right?”
“Very much so.” Coke Glasses stepped from the darkened doorway. He wore a robe, something William didn’t notice at first. His hands remained behind his back. Looking at him, William thought he could have been a friar from the 1700’s. He started to ask if he had a rosary or if he took confessions, but changed his mind. Coke Glasses didn’t strike him as a guy with a sense of humor.
“A museum of corpses, right?”
“Where are they?” He winced at his abruptness. Coke Glasses didn’t seem to notice. If he did, he neither said anything or gave the impression he had heard William.
“Right this way, Sir,” Coke Glasses said and turned slightly toward the door he had come out of it.
“It’s kind of dark in there.”
“Corpses aren’t for everyone, Sir. We keep the rooms lit with torches so those who are squeamish don’t … how do I say it? Lose their lunches?”
William smiled. Maybe Coke Glasses did have a sense of humor after all. “You mean throw up?”
“That is precisely what I mean.”
“Probably a good idea.”
“So, would you like to … peruse the dead?”
“Are you not aware of what a corpse is, Sir?”
William laughed this time. “I know what a corpse is.”
Coke Glasses nodded. “Then, do you wish to peruse?”
“Sure.” William stepped by the guy. He was creepy and touching him, no matter how little it might be, made William’s skin crawl.
The room was almost dark, just as Coke Glasses had implied it would be. He wasn’t sure of the reasoning. He thought the corpses were probably poorly made dolls and the dim lighting was a means of concealing that truth from the patrons of this … fine establishment. That thought made him want to giggle, but he bit his lip to hold back the laugh.
He passed a woman on the right in a dentist chair, her head held still by a clamp, her mouth open in a scream, her teeth missing and blood crusted on her chin and the front of her blouse. A piece of wood announced her as Karen. On the left a few feet farther a man leaned out from the wall, one hand extended in a dead man’s claw. Giant meat hooks anchored to the walls dug into the flesh of his chest, stomach and throat. Like Karen, a piece of wood stated this man’s name: Hampton. Another few feet and he came to an ancient rack, the woman on it not quite torn in two, but her shoulders ripped from their sockets and her legs pulled from her hips. This woman’s name had been Marie.
Around the corner and on down the hall, William passed more torture devices, the fake people in them in various stages of death. He took in each name. Charlotte. Jim. Robert. Bill (oh so close to William, he thought). Delilah. Samantha. Carey. Xavier. John. Jodie. Lewis. Mike. Jeanne. Olivia.
The hall came to an end at a guillotine. There was no corpse in it, no man or woman missing his or her head, hands bound behind the back.
“End of the road?” he asked as he stared at the guillotine. The blade held something that might have been red at one time, but had clearly turned brown over the years. Like the other exhibits, William thought it was okay as far as props went.
“I do believe so, Sir,” Coke Glasses said, then added a curious statement. “I don’t believe I caught your name, Sir.”
“It’s William,” he said.
“Such a fine name. A royal name.”
“That’s ri—“ William started to say as he turned toward Coke Glasses. He had enough time for his eyes to widen before the wooden mallet struck him in the forehead …