The girl stood next to the frozen corpse and stared. We would have both taken a long, measured breath, only I was dead. So she breathed alone. Why did she not begin? I was the deceased, and she, the young embalmer, artist of perfecting death. The relationship was clear. But her hand remained as still as mine.
Death, I have learned, is much like life. A drifting carnival of pauses. I tingled, posthumously, for the moment when her touch would grace the stiffened remains of my mortal existence.
I first saw her at the funeral of my father only days before. My obscene infatuation began as she opened his coffin and brushed the hair from his sealed eyes. Her hands loved only the dead. I would have died to be at the mercy of her touch.
And so I did.
“I’m not ready for a suicide yet. Such a disgusting waste. Can you take this one, sweetheart?” Her fiancé nodded, and began to wash away my offering of blood.
As she walked away, I commenced a scream that would not end until the universe collapsed.
Fourth-year English student Michael Johnstone won last year's Varma Prize for his story. He used his prize money to go to England where he indulged his gothic side by visiting the York Minister's crypt and London Dungeon. He reports he has an insatiable caffeine addiction and a strong dislike of the word "juxtaposition."
A PhD student in physiology and neuroscience, photographer Oliver Braubach staged this creepy scene to illustrate The Embalming Girl. You can see more of his work online at Pink Cigarette Fine Photography or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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