Listening to the dead

I walk in, sit down at the desk. I have to leave all electronic equipment outside. The computer in here is a stationary 386 from the last century, operating on MS-DOS only. No uplink. Apparently as safe as it can get. So there I sit, the computer fan like an aeroplane taking off, and listen to the whispers.

The whispers: sympathetic magic. Ancient. It’s disgusting. I dry-heaved the first time. But you get used to it. The attendant pierces the author’s tongue and smudges some of what comes out onto my ear. How they keep the author going, I don’t know. It’s rituals, amulets, fetishes. The actual author lies on a chaise-longue, all dressed up, like a real writer. It almost looks as if they’re resting after dinner. Sometimes their eyes are half open, maybe pointing in different directions. The cheeks are sunken, and the eye sockets. The mouth ajar. They often look surprised or a little grumpy. My mum has told me how difficult how it can be to dress up a corpse. Not emotionally difficult, but it’s hard to put clothes on someone who doesn’t help you out, or even has rigor mortis. But they’re not scary. They look like dolls. It only gets scary when they talk, but then you realize they’re really harmless. They’re me when I’m dead. It’s like talking to a sick relative maybe, if you can shut out the sweet-chemical smell of embalmed corpse.

The only one who was really difficult was a poet who had drowned herself; they found her only when her body had begun to swell up. She was really unusable; much of her brain tissue was gone. But she had a post mortem contract, so she had her way: they had to make an attempt to channel her words. She only had one manuscript in her. What she said was so disjointed I almost couldn’t turn it into anything. The result was a poetry collection that was lauded as ”a sojourn through the darkest places of humanity”.

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