The Ministers’ Morgue - Part TwoBlog / Produced by The High Calling
The following piece of fiction is part two of a three-part series. Read part one here. I was going to post it in four parts, but I've agreed to three after an outcry in the comments last week.
Do you want the next question or not?"
"What’s a Tertium Quid?"
My mouth fell open. It was like he hit me with a two-by-four. My mind rebooted, and for a few moments I couldn’t have told him what my name was.
“A Tertium Quid? What? I vaguely remember that from seminary, but…c’mon, who remembers all that stuff? Are you kidding me?”
The man closed his eyes and spoke slowly. “What is…a Tertium…Quid?”
I closed my eyes and tried to remember. I was sitting in class. That phrase was on an exam. Something to do with some ancient creede or something.
“You know, it’s…it’s from Church history. But I can’t remember. Some kind of logical problem or something? Like when a thing is something it can’t be. Maybe it has something to do with the Trinity? Or else the nature of Christ? I don’t know.”
“That’s fine. Just having heard of it is enough.”
“Oh, that’s nice. That’s good. You’re real funny. You’re a riot. You are aware that I have a dead friend in there. Tertium Quid!”
“Calm down. The last question is more of a favor. Would you marry my daughter next weekend? We can’t find a minister who will do it.”
My head dropped so that I was suddenly looking at my shoes. A wave of despair flooded over me. “Oh no, not another wedding!”
“Okay, you’re a minister. Come on in.”
He opened the door and waved me inside. The room looked like every morgue I’d seen on television. Sterile. A vaguely greenish light coming from somewhere. Metal sinks on one wall. Big drawers for bodies on another. In the center of the room were three shiny metal tables. The first two had bodies on them covered with sheets. The third was empty.
The man walked over to one of the bodies and pulled back the sheet. It was Doug. He had that stiff, pale, soapy look like dead bodies do. His face, however, had a big smile on it. A perfect smile.
"Yeah, that’s Doug,” I said. “Wow, he’s still smiling.”
“Yeah, most ministers put on their smile just before they kick it. I don’t know why.”
Suddenly I felt very sad for Doug. It didn’t seem right that I was the one who was there. He must have been very lonely to have listed me on his emergency call list. Some distant friend from the past when we were all in seminary together. We were so young and hopeful. And so naive about what church work would really be like.
“I can’t believe I was the name in his wallet. I haven’t seen Doug in years. It’s sad to think there was no one else to call, someone closer to him or something.”
“Oh, there were hundreds of people from various churches he pastored that he could have chosen. And any one of them would have gladly come, I’m sure. I guess he didn’t want church people seeing him like this. They weren’t that kind of friends for him, you know?”
“Yeah, actually I do know. Yes. So what did he die of? What killed him?”
“That’s what we’re about to find out.”
I jerked my head hard to the right so that I was looking at him with only my left eye.
“Uh, what do you mean?”
“I’m going to do the autopsy. And you have to witness it.”
“Oh, no way man. That is not happening. If I so much as see a scalpel in your hand, I’m out of here.”
The man looked at me sympathetically. “I’m sorry, but those are the rules. One minister dies and another minister is summoned. And he or she has to watch the autopsy. Orders from above. No getting around it. You can leave, but then Doug will have to wait here until some other minister comes. That’s why that other guy is still here. No one’s come to watch his autopsy yet.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“I’m afraid not. Hey, it won’t be that bad. And you need to see this. It’s something you’re supposed to see.”
I squinted and looked down at Doug.
“Yeah, trust me. This is Doug’s last gift to the world. His last gift to one of his fellow ministers.”
“You say it won’t be that bad?”
“Actually, it will be. Horrible. But it’s got to be done, and we might as well get it over with. The two of us.”
So there I was. Just another unpleasant clergy thing. Just another something that had to be done, and I was the only one who could do it. I have learned that when these situations come up, you just take a deep breath and jump right in. I stepped toward Doug’s table.
The man pulled the sheet off of Doug, leaving him completely naked on the metal table. He glanced over, noticed me wincing, and got a cloth to cover Doug’s midsection. He put on some latex gloves and selected a scalpel from a tray full of shiny instruments. After placing the blade near the top of Doug’s shoulder, he looked at me and said, “There won’t be any blood when I cut. It’s not flowing anymore. Thought that might help you.”
“Okay. Thanks I guess.”
“No. But go ahead.”
He nodded and turned his full attention to Doug. He made an incision from each collarbone to a center point below the breastplate. Then he made a single incision down the center of Doug’s abdomen, ending up with a y-shaped cut. He folded the skin flaps back, got a small saw, and began opening the ribcage. I turned away and made sounds to cover the noise.
“Ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya.”
The sound stopped. I looked back. The man had stopped sawing and was staring at me. I shrugged and he turned back to his work. After Doug’s ribs were spread open, he looked inside for a few seconds and then motioned me over. He inclined his head toward Doug’s body.
“Take a look at that.”
I looked into Doug and drew back in horror. Everything was a mess. His internal organs were jumbled together with a lot of blood and goo all over the place. I don’t know the details about how everything is supposed to fit together in a human body, but I have seen enough medical shows on television to have a rough idea. Even I could tell something was terribly wrong.
“My God, what happened?”
“You ask me, I’d say he exploded inside. Looks like shrapnel wounds. What a mess.”
He put one gloved hand down into Doug and then the other. He began lifting things out and putting them into stainless steel trays. I watched the first few handfuls, then turned away.
“I can’t look. I’m sorry. Does it count as a witness if I’m in the room but looking away?"
“Yeah, that’s fine.”
He worked without speaking. I leaned against the wall and tried to look anywhere but at Doug. I didn’t like the sounds of things being pulled out and dropped into trays. After a few moments the noises stopped. There was a pause, and then he said, “Will ya look at that.”
“Come take a look at this.”
I walked over and looked inside Doug. It wasn’t so bad now that most of the stuff was out of him.
“What is that?” I said.
The man stared into Doug’s body and said nothing for a few moments.
“I’m not sure what to call it. I guess I’d say it’s a comminuted fracture of the spine. Ever heard of that before?”
"No. But there’s a lot I haven’t heard of that’s on the inside...of us. So that doesn’t… comminuted? Isn’t that where there’s some kind of… He has that of the spine?”
“It’s kind of a splintered fracture. And that’s unusual for the spine. Look, the spine is just a series of bones stacked on top of each other - vertebrae, right?”
I nodded because it seemed like the thing to do, and I had heard of vertebrae.
“So you can break your back - your spine - but the pieces just break apart, really. An individual vertebra can receive a comminuted fracture of course, but this is something completely different. Look here.”
He pointed up and down Doug’s spine. “See all that calcification?”
“I guess his spine does look a little thicker than pictures I’ve seen of spines.”
“Yes, it’s quite different. Look how the vertebrae have been fused together with this extra bone matter. His spine has become a solid, immovable unit. Very brittle. There was some kind of sudden pressure, I would guess, and it just splintered right here in the middle. See? Bone shards went everywhere. Like I said, shrapnel.”
We stood silently for a few seconds. I looked up and the man was staring at me. I got the feeling he expected me to say something, but I had nothing to say. I looked back at Doug, and suddenly my head felt heavy. I saw some black dots at the edges of my peripheral vision. I felt shaky. I put one hand on the table to steady myself.
The man began to speak quickly - very business-like. “Well, that’s done. Cause of death was a comminuted fracture of the spine due to unknown stress agents. The spine itself had been fused together over time by further unknown stress agents, leading to a lack of flexibility. The fracture caused massive internal injuries and bleeding, leading to the patient’s demise.”
He nodded at me. “You can take a seat over there by the wall. You’re looking a little shaky, which is understandable. I’ll close him up. We’re done. You’ve seen what you were brought here to see.”
Part three - the conclusion - coming next Thursday...