Aphelion Issue 291, Volume 28
February 2024
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Dan's Promo Page

Shift / Change

by Roland Allnach

"You know, I did this, back in the army," Eldin said with a chuckle as he rested against the side of the elevator. "Uncle Sam said that was where my abilities was best utilized. Now who he to judge me? I guess seein' where they put me, they was sayin' I got no abilities." He shook his head. "So what about you? Why you wheelin' stiffies in the deep dark night?"

The man standing across from Eldin shrugged. "I don't know," he said quietly, a confused look passing over him, "but I'm here now."

Eldin laughed. "The man don't even know why he's here. Boy, you look like you fell from the sky and hit every branch on the way down. Now, what you say your name was?"

"You can call me John," came his soft reply.

"You know, I had a boy worked down here before you, look like you and him could be brothers, like opposite sides of a coin, see. Is that the way it is?"

John shook his head. "No."

Eldin shrugged. "Well...okay, you know, whatever, right? He gone, you're here."

John rubbed his forehead. "So it seems."

The elevator bumped to a halt, and the doors opened to reveal a dim corridor. Eldin glanced down at the paper in his hand before looking to the gurney between them. "Selma Sawyer?" He grinned, poking the body with a finger. "See that? Don't see that name much no more, Selma. Now I know this here is an old stiffie without even lookin'. So how about that?" he said with a self-congratulatory tone. "And the big men told me I got no ability. Look at that! The stiffies may be dead, but the story still go on."

John stared. "Selma Sawyer," he repeated under his breath.

Eldin snapped his fingers. "I know that tone, so listen up-- she was, not she is," he said, guessing at John's thought. "Don't go weird on your first night, John-boy. Then I got to wait until they find another replacement. I hate to wait. Don't matter, though. Time don't mean nothin' down here. Way I see it, we either dead or soon to be dead, so it don't make no difference anyhow, right? Right and wrong, that's just a waste of time. Take old Selma here. Maybe she was good, maybe she was bad, but one thing for sure now, she's dead." He grabbed the side rail of the gurney and tipped his head for John to follow suit. "Stiffy Sawyer's last ride," he said with a push to get the gurney moving. "Goin' to the place where name don't mean nothin', don't mean nothin'," he went on in a sing-song and then fell into a hum as they made their way along the corridor.

The lights flickered as a deep rumble sounded over them. It was a damp corridor, cold-- more a tunnel than a corridor, despite the hospital's attempts to mask the age of that old path. It ran beneath the city street in front of the hospital, and beneath the subway line that lay beneath the street, to link to the sub basement of an abandoned warehouse. The hospital, in its financial decrepitude and physical disrepair, could not afford to expand, so space had been rented where forgotten city planners had once deemed it necessary to create, in the belly of the urban underworld.

As the corridor opened to the mortuary crypt John looked about in disbelief, to which Eldin simply nodded. "Lots of stiffies, John-boy. Got no family, got no money, and now got no life, so they stay here until the city come and do pick-up." He nodded to himself. "Lots of stiffies, yes sir."

John's eyes played across the little rectangular doors set in the crude concrete walls. His nose began to tingle.

"Natural refrigeration," Eldin said, pointing to their misting breaths as he picked up a clipboard from his small desk. "Always cold down here. Real cold. Well, all we have is, what, two months of summer, then deep freeze all year? Ain't like home, John-boy." He chuckled to himself as he noted the morgue's newest admission. "Ain't gettin' warmer here unless Mister Devil-man decides to run up the fires down below, you know what I'm sayin'?"

John stared at him.

"Ah, now don't tell me you one of them Bible types," Eldin said with a sigh. "If you is, well then you be helpin' the Lord do His work, John-boy. He the Creator, we the desecrator; His makin' leaves a mess, we clean up more the less. Now what you say to that?" he asked before letting out a laugh, a great booming laugh that reverberated in the cold crypt.

John frowned. "I say we should put her away."


"He agreed to this?"

"Said he understood, said he was ready. I don't trust it, Pete."

Pete shrugged, resting his head against the frame of the one-way window to study the man sitting in the little stark room before them, slowly writing on the legal pad Pete had given him. "You sure about this? You checked?"

"I checked," came the tired reply. "I went through the drill and he just sat there. Then he looks at me, same empty expression, and says he wants to ‘write my tale', and that I should tell you he's doing it freely."

Pete looked to his partner. "‘Write my tale?' Who talks like that?"

"This guy does." His partner, Frank, crossed his arms on his chest. He looked at his watch. "Why do these things always happen at night?" It was an empty question, but it lingered as he looked back at their suspect.

"I don't like this," Pete thought aloud.

"That's got to be the tenth time I've heard that," Frank said. He tipped his head to either side before his eyes settled on Pete. "So what are you thinking? Thinking we got something more on our hands?"

"No...but something isn't right."

"That's an understatement. The hospital has no record of him as an employee. We don't have an address for him. His prints pulled up a big fat nothing. Hospital doesn't have any record of an employee past or present with the name on his work badge. They don't know how he got the badge, but he managed to pass himself off as a legitimate employee. Maybe he's got a fetish," Frank said with a shrug. "Hospital said the last guy who worked before him got fired after getting caught messing with some dead hooker. This guy looks like he could be his baby brother, but the necrophile dropped off the face of the earth. No records on him after being fired. No family. Probably dead somewhere." He shook his head. "People are sick. Getting on a dead hooker. That's just plain evil." He fell silent, realizing Pete wasn't listening to him, his brow wrinkled in thought. "What?"

"What's the chance of a hospital as old as that dump never having had an employee by this guy's name? It just doesn't sit right."

"How's that?"

Pete opened his hands. "We have nothing on him, not a single solid trace of his existence. So who is he?"

At that their suspect looked up, peering through the mirrored glass at them as if there was no window at all. Frank leaned away in surprise, but Pete stared at the man, his brow still furrowed. "He said something to me when we brought him in..."

"Said he didn't do it." Frank snorted, turning from the window as their suspect resumed his writing. "Everybody says they didn't do it."

Pete shook his head. "No, it was something he said to me. I mean, he purposely turned to me and said it when I brought him in the room. He said he'd be going before the night was over."

Frank waved it off. "Head games. Where can he go? Nothing to it."


The ring of the morgue phone broke the silence of the crypt like a crack in glass. Eldin jerked upright in his chair, startled by the sudden racket. He rubbed his eyes and face before picking up the phone, waving as John wiped down a gurney from their latest admission. Eldin kept his voice low, something so astray from his usual boisterous banter that John watched him carefully. After several moments Eldin slammed the phone down and pushed himself from his chair, laughing. "Pork grind tonight, John-boy!" He studied John for a moment before slapping his hands together. "You know, you been workin' here, what, two months? Never seen nor heard you talk about nothin' at home, so I figure either you ain't got one, or the one you got ain't so good. So tonight we get a little show. Let me introduce you to a good friend of mine."

He led John deep into the morgue, back to a corner. There was a walkway hidden in the shadows, which went past the broken warehouse elevators to reveal a crowded knot of rooms. "They was gonna do the slicin' and dicin' here, but they decided to keep it at the hospital. But they left the table, and now I rent it out, for those times when a certain call goes out to certain people in our fine establishment."

John stared at the cold metal table in the abandoned exam room. "Here?" he said in disgust. "Next to all that empty death out there?"

Eldin nudged him with an elbow. "Come on man, think private, see? These rooms even got heat. I got the only key. Ha! Now I got a hotel too! I can give you a share; you don't talk to no one. Man, some of them even let me watch. Maybe you watch too, John-boy, and put some action in your life!" He let out one of his booming laughs and slapped John on the shoulder.

"This is unreal," John said in disbelief.

Eldin set a mocking eye on him. "Let me tell you somethin', John-boy. You think I'm some know-nothin' reject down here? I been to school, I been to the army, I been around the world, and you know what? It's the world made me this way, that mess out there told me life don't mean nothin', so I came down here-- man, I ran down here. Down here, in the dark, at night, I get to make my own sense of it. Life, people, all that noise, I get to judge it here. Down here, you're in Eldin's world! And who's to judge me? Nothin' but a bunch of stiffies, and they all be goin' out with the trash."

John looked to him. "You're unreal, too."

Eldin grinned. "No, I'm Eldin. Who the hell are you?"

John was speechless. He watched as Eldin sprayed down the table before opening a draw to produce some fresh bedding supply. John recognized the neatly folded sheets; Eldin had asked him to get them several nights ago. The request had struck him for the simple reason that they had no need for fresh bedding supply...and then for no apparent reason Eldin let out another booming laugh, shaking his head as he spread out a foam liner and covered it with the sheets. "Make some money tonight, yes sir!"

"Eldin?" a woman's voice called.

"That you Rose?" Eldin threw his hands up. "Come on in!"

John turned as a young woman came up behind him, but she stopped short, her eyes wide on him. She looked with uncertainty to Eldin, but Eldin waved a hand at John. "John-boy's good. So how's my Rose tonight?" he asked, but she did not answer, instead keeping her gaze on John as she walked into the exam room. Eldin laughed again as she passed him. "That's my Rose, smelling like a fresh cut daisy," he joked and left the room, poking John with an elbow.

John was about to turn and leave when he heard a rustle from the exam room. He stepped into the doorway. Rose had her back to him, but he could see her emptying her pocket, the baggy excess of her blue scrubs crinkling across her shoulders. She had short brown hair, and from the visible bulges of her vertebrae up the back of her neck, he could tell she must be quite thin, thinner than even the excess of the scrubs suggested. He had the dim suspicion that he had seen her before, but she showed no recollection of him.

She rolled up the sleeve of her left arm, but feeling his gaze, she glanced over her shoulder and stopped. She had a tourniquet in her right hand and the barrel of a syringe pressed between her lips. Despite that, he looked into her eyes, and was struck by the sadness he saw there, the sad emptiness. She was an ordinary looking woman, yet he believed she had the potential for beauty, but he knew that would never happen, at least not that way, not in that place.

She strapped the tourniquet on her arm and took the syringe from between her lips. "I'm off duty," she said. When it was done a frown played out on her lips, her eyelids drooping as she continued to stare at him. "What's your name again?"

He hesitated, paling at the sight before him. "John."

"You look like an honest man," she said with a sigh. "Time for you to go away."

"Time to go away," another voice agreed.

He spun around, finding himself face to face with one of the night security guards. The guard immediately turned his face to Rose, his eyes widening as he grinned at her. "There's my Rose," he said eagerly, raising his hands at his sides.

"I'm going away," came her disembodied reply. "Simon...?"

Simon put a meaty hand on John's shoulder and slowly pushed him aside. "You need to talk to Eldin," he said, his eyes on Rose. He stepped by John, into the room, as he pulled his belt from his pants. Rose leaned forward to rest her head on the gurney atop her folded arms. Her eyelids drooped and closed over her glassy gaze as she began to hum a broken tune.

John returned to the crypt, his hands clasped over his head. Eldin was at his desk, feet up on its worn surface. He was chuckling to himself as he counted some worn bills, a collection of ragged singles. "Now see here, they could go anywhere," he said to John's unspoken question, "but only at Uncle Eldin's are they guaranteed no one ever gonna know. Simon gives me dough, so I hide the know!" His great laugh boomed once again. "And the big army men said I got no skills, but I'm what you call a ‘venture capitalist': I see, and then I venture to make some capital!" He clapped his hands and threw his head back with a little howl. "How about that, John-boy?"

John shook his head. "This...this is unreal," he said, his mind flashing images of what he had left behind him. He dropped his hands to his sides and turned to Eldin. "You do know what's happening back there, don't you?"

Eldin's brow sank, his eyes rising from the money in his hand. "Oh, come on now, John-boy. Time to grow up. Don't mean nothin' down here, no right or wrong to it. This here is Eldin's world, and it don't belong to no other world. We're in between, you could say."

John's eyes widened in disbelief. "Do you know what he's doing to her?"

Eldin slapped the money on his desk and stood. "John-boy, now listen here, and listen good. Don't you go all mournin'-the-fallen-angel on me now. Ain't nobody forced her. She come here on her own."

John's nose bunched up in disgust. "Stuffed with drugs."

Eldin leaned on his desk. "I said, she come here on her own. Nothin' more to it, John-boy. That's the way it is, and it ain't mine or yours to ask, so you best leave it alone."


Frank opened the door to the observation room, a cup of coffee in his hand. Pete still leaned on the observation window; their suspect was still writing in the interrogation room. Frank stared at his partner. "You going to stand there all night?"

Pete shook his head.

Frank rolled his eyes. "You spend too much time here. Go home. To your wife, not that waitress you've been going to lately. You know what I'm talking about," he added quickly at Pete's sudden glare. "Go home. You know that's where you belong."

Pete coughed. "Are you done?"

Frank shrugged. "This psycho's probably going to run all night with this nonsense."

"Then I'll stay all night," Pete said, his gaze returning to their suspect.

Frank put his coffee down. "Look at me," he ordered, waiting until Pete turned. "You have to go home sooner or later. What you're doing, it's not going to fix anything."

Pete rolled his eyes. "Assuming there's something left to fix."

Frank hesitated a moment. "Well, then I'm sorry to hear that. I thought you two would last." He frowned, pausing before he cleared his throat. "You should take some time off. Like, now, rather than getting tied up with this clown," he said with a tip of his chin to their suspect. "Go. I'll take care of this."

"No." Pete blinked in surprise at the stubbornness of his response. He rubbed his eyes and looked back to the window. "I don't know...there's something...I have to stay until the morning. I want to see what will happen in the morning."

Frank blew out a breath. "The only thing that's going to happen in the morning is shift change," he said, his voice heavy with the cynicism of too many years, too many long nights, and too many cups of harsh coffee.


"By yourself tonight?"

John turned from the fresh bedding supply he had spread to find Rose standing behind him. It took a moment to find his voice. "Time to go away?"

She turned her head to the side, her eyes sinking to the floor. "I watched three old and forgotten people die tonight."

He looked to the crypt. "I know."

"Yeah, really?" she replied with a sharp edge to her voice, her eyes narrowing. "Don't judge me," she said and glanced away, but then frowned and looked back at him. "Well...don't pretend not to judge me. You have an honest gaze, you know. You can't hide it."

He studied her, but then stepped back and simply watched, watched and waited. She rubbed her eyes, but the tear that ran down her cheek escaped the rub of her hand. Avoiding him in the vulnerability of her wretched shame she turned from him, then turned from herself by rolling up her sleeve. He said nothing, waiting until she was done. She was mustering resistance; he noticed the dull vacancy did not seize her so quickly.

"Where do you get it?"

A panicked look seized her, but she blinked it away. "I...I steal it."

He stiffened. "That's wrong."

"They're dead. They won't miss it." She waved a hand, trying to resist the morality he inflicted on her awareness. The loosened tourniquet flopped about her arm as her wedding ring glinted under the dim lighting. "They're all vegetables up there in those beds. They're all dead, they just don't know it yet." She sat on the floor, resting her back against a leg of the table as she blew out a breath and closed her eyes.

He said nothing.

"I just want to go away, go back, you know?" She slipped the tourniquet from her arm and let it slither between her fingers to the floor. "Stuff doesn't even work anymore," she sighed with defeat, but then her face wrinkled in disgust. "Look at me...the garbage I'm putting inside me...you know what? I hate this body. I want to...I want to wreck it, defile it, like it wasted my life." She sniffed and looked to him, her eyes dilated, her hands dangling over her knees. "My life, the way it was...it was perfect. I didn't take it for granted, and it still went down the toilet."

She pursed her lips before a frown seized her. "My baby died inside me," she said, glancing at him before her eyes fell to the floor. "He was so close...but maybe it was better he never came into this disgusting world." She laid her hands over her face and collected herself before looking to him. "I used to be a good person, John."

He stared at her. Her shame was inescapable.

"But that's in a little box in the ground," she said to his silence. "It's just eating me, eating me a little more each day; it's going to eat me until there's nothing left..."

"What's this?"

Startled, John turned to find Simon looming behind him. The man's eyes bored into John. "What are you doing?"

Rose pulled herself to her feet, glaring at Simon with disdain. "He didn't do anything!" she said in John's defense.

Simon looked to John with mocking eyes. "Get out of here, mortuary boy." He started to unclasp his belt, but John did not move. They both turned as the mounting revulsion in Rose's stare filled the room. Simon opened his hands. "What?"

She held up a hand to block him for her sight as she hurried away.

Simon stood in shock. He held there, his jaw hanging, until he accepted that she was gone. Then he turned to John, his brow low. "What did you do?"

John took a step. Simon blocked the doorway.


Pete shifted on his feet, his shoulder sore from leaning against the frame of the observation room window. The suspect was still writing his so-called ‘tale', writing without pause, page after page. At first, Pete figured it was nothing more than the ramblings of another psycho that had finally run aground. He had seen that before, too many times to count, but this suspect was different. Pete had the unsettling impression that despite the man's calm demeanor, despite his lack of resistance when he was arrested, he was nevertheless in some kind of rush.

As much as Pete wanted to know what the man was writing, he could not avoid the lingering memory of the suspect's claim that he would be leaving in the morning.

Frank came in with another round of coffee. Pete took his cup and looked back to the window.


John saw Rose about the hospital; she would give him a glance, but nothing else. And then, one night, she came back. It was several weeks later, but she came back. Ignoring Eldin, she found her way to the back of the morgue.

"Look, I wanted to apologize for what happened last time," she said. She crossed her arms on her chest, looking even more gaunt than usual in the hollow expanse of her scrubs.

He wondered if she knew what Simon had done to him.

She watched as he spread out some fresh bedding supply. Her eyes widened when she noticed a pile of used linens, balled up in the corner. She looked up to find him staring at her with a hard gaze. Her face paled as she opened her hands before her chest. "I'm...I'm not here for...that. I'm not doing that anymore. I...I wanted to tell you that."

He paused to look her full in the eyes. "Then why come down here? For your medication?" he asked, curious that she had purposely decided to speak with him before the emptiness came upon her.

She studied him, her gaze wide and unwavering as she pursed her lips. Her weight shifted on her feet, first towards the door, but then she shifted back. "I came down early to apologize, okay? I'm ending everything else. I'm going to tell Simon when he comes down. No more, it's over. When I heard what he did to you...look, I feel responsible. So there it is." She took a breath before letting it go with a shrug. "I...I don't know...I thought we could, thought we could talk," she said, fidgeting somewhat in the awkwardness of the moment. "I think I owe you that." She looked down before wrapping her arms about her chest and fixing her eyes on him. "I don't want you to think I'm just, just...some...oh, to hell with it." She drew herself up, her eyes blinking in embarrassment, but somehow, she seemed more innocent for her unease. "Hi. I'm Rose."

He said nothing.

"So, ah, how'd you end up down here?" she asked. Her brow rose, but quickly fell before his stolid expression. Her gaze sank to the floor. "You know, maybe this was a mistake..."

She turned to leave, but her head sank at the sound of Eldin singing in the outer crypt. She looked up at John, her lips parting, but she stopped short when he opened a hand.

He stared at her, debating what he would say, until his silence began to visibly unnerve her. "I did something," he said, but then rubbed his forehead and reconsidered his words. "I... you could say I was thrown out from the family business."

She let out a breath, her shoulders easing as some of the tension broke. A small, plaintive smile played across her lips. "Thrown out? What, is your family the mob?"

His brow knotted. "I...I've never heard quite that description before."

She blushed. "Oh, no offense, it was just a little joke, something my husband would say."

He shook his head. "None taken. It's a fair comment."

"Well, you know, I know it's tough, being on your own," she said with a tip of her head. "My mom, she raised me by herself, and she only had me, and I know it was real hard. She...she worries all the time," she said quietly, her eyes falling to the floor as she rubbed her arms. She stood for a moment, her lips pressed in a tight line before she looked at him, her brow arching. "I think, I think she knows. I'm trying, trying to get better." She licked her lips. "So, the family business, is it something like what you do here?"

He nodded, but clenched his jaw as a chill ran up his spine. He was suddenly struck by the image of her before him, and on odd sensation welled up within him, something he had lost, something perhaps she saw in him, that was driving her need to at once redeem herself in his eyes and convince herself that he would even care. It was compassion, and the more he studied her, the more it haunted him, with the crypt and its mist of apathy so near. She was a frail, wasting thing; a blue ghost, cold yet wanting, lost among pitiless shadows in a despicable place--

Yes, that's why I'm here. This is what I lost, what I had to find again...

He stumbled for words, realizing he had been standing mute. "The family business..."

She shrugged. "What did you do?"

And then it bolted back to him-- burst within him-- his memories, like shadows snapping to sharp, glaring focus. He fell back a step, his voice lost. It was suddenly very difficult to look at her, but he understood why, and why he must. He hesitated, stilling her with an open hand when she was about to turn away. "I broke a law, and my father threw me out," he said, his voice coming with an anxious tremor.

She frowned. "Hey, we all make mistakes, right? That's life."

He knew her words were a peace offering, but they hit him like knives as his consciousness bloomed within him, and on its heels, the anxious anticipation of facing himself in full, and earning his redemption. He trembled, trembled with shame before her, struggling to find a way to explain things, to explain the exquisite nature of his crime. But then he rallied, swallowed over a dry throat, and looked at her. "There was a death," he began.

She stared at him. The tension in the room was palpable, her fear an unspoken thing between them, a fear that she might be alone with a killer. She went rigid when he closed and locked the door to the room.

He turned to her. "I had a position of great authority, a position of significant power, and I abused it. I grew restless in the complacency of my authority, and did something for no reason but to show I could do it. This power was entrusted to me, but in my vanity I came to think it was in fact mine, because I discovered I could turn it upside down...yes, yes! It was that way, I had come to believe in my arrogance that it was mine, that I could do with it what I wished," he said, then bowed his head and closed his eyes. He was quiet for a moment, but then his eyes snapped open with the remainder of his memory to find her befuddled gaze locked on him. "It could not escape my father. I was cast out, exiled, to this vile place, to witness the fallout of what I had done, to remember it in a way that I'd never forget." He opened his hands. "I must right the shift, you see, correct the change...and set you right."

She blinked. Her skin tingled. She was engulfed by his gaze.

He leaned towards her, and despite herself, she was frozen, paralyzed, her wide eyes bulging as they followed his intrusion of her personal space. Close he came, and closer still, close enough to whisper in her ear.

"Rose, there's more to this world than flesh and bone."

He withdrew from her then, standing by the door for a moment before pushing it open.

Her breath came short and tight. "Who...what..."

"This is my tale," he said. "A confession of redemption...and retribution."

"Rose?" Simon called from the outer crypt.

"Come to pluck that flower again, did you now?" Eldin's laughing voice echoed. "She's in the back with John-boy."

John turned, but looked over his shoulder to Rose. "Stay here."

She watched as he walked out, disappearing down the hall towards the crypt.

The morgue rumbled. The bulbs flickered and went dark. Rose fell back, retreating against a wall before sinking to the floor. The rumbling resumed, louder and louder; so loud she covered her head and thought her ears would pop, so intense she thought the subway was coming right down through the crypt's walls, so loud she started screaming just to remind herself she was still alive. The bulbs flashed in the morgue, a blinding bright flash-- it burned, it was so bright--

--and then it was silent, silent and dark, and she thought herself crushed beneath tons of concrete and masonry, but she felt herself breathe, and the air was cold, cold and clear.

She opened her eyes. John was standing over her. With a gasp she recoiled, her eyes wide on him, her feet slipping on the floor as she tried to push herself away. She wrapped her hands over her head, her panic stricken eyes burning from the shadows of her face.

He sank to a crouch before her. "The pleas of your heart are not mute, but it is you who must make them be. Take your life back. Go home." He studied her for a moment, his jaw clenching, before he rested a hand on her stomach. She squirmed, but the warmth of his hand stilled her. He looked into her eyes. "I cannot give back what I took from you, but I can promise you a future, if you leave this rotten place." He took his hand from her and stood. "This is my crime, and mine to bear for what I did to you."

She stared at him. Then she bolted, and he was alone.

Satisfied, John walked out to the crypt and sat at Eldin's desk. He waited, waited with eternal patience between two smoldering corpses until Simon's partner found him, and soon enough he was in the company of Detectives West and Fromin.


John put his pencil down and looked to the observation window. "I'm done," came his even voice.

Pete jumped, nearly asleep before the window. He blinked. He was alone.

"Detective Peter Fromin," the suspect said. "I would like to speak to you for a moment."

Pete looked at his watch. It was almost dawn. Almost time for shift change, but that was a distant thought. Like a machine he paced around the divider wall to leave the observation room and enter the holding room, yet he felt as if his awareness lingered behind the glass, that he was watching himself take a seat across the table from this strange person with the inconsequential name.

"What?" Pete asked, the hoarseness of his voice betraying his uncertainty.

John stared at him. "It's time for me to go."

Pete stared at him for several heartbeats before he could frame a thought. "You killed two people. Where do you think you're going?"

"It's time for me to go," John repeated, but then leaned forward to peer into Pete's eyes.

"Detective Fromin, I know you wish to go home, that you wish to return to something you think you have lost. You won't find it in the cases you work, only reasons to accept defeat." He leaned back in his seat. "I can do no more for you, and for that I apologize. It is a hollow gesture to what you have endured, but I promise you, if you wish it to be, things will be set right. I will see to it, Peter." He tipped his head and took a deep breath. "Now. Time to go."

The light flickered.

Pete looked up. His eyes washed white as the bulb popped and blew.

Frank opened the door to the room. "Pete?"

The suspect slumped in his seat, his head hitting the table with a thud. Frank stepped forward. His hand recoiled the moment he touched the man.

John Smith was already cold.


The paperwork lasted for hours, but everything required its documentation. In the end, in a strange way, Pete decided it was the way of people to try to assert some kind of control over mortality by bombarding the uncertainty of its finality with documentation...names and papers, papers and names, all to record what was passed, even though it was already meaningless to the living. There were many things, he realized, on which the living wasted their energy-- calamitous pitfalls of avoidance and denial generated by regrets and guilt, serving as emotional documentation of things gone by, things lost to time, things tripping people in the merciless march of mortality.

He moved like a zombie. He did not know what to think.

When the phone call came he found his voice was nearly lost. He hung up the phone with a trembling hand, his red eyes darting desperately in his head. He looked across his desk, waiting until his partner felt his gaze and looked back to him. "I want to go home," Pete whispered.

Frank stared at him.

"I want to go home. I should be home..."

Frank watched as Pete slowly rose from his seat. Frank nodded, waving a hand at the stacks of paperwork. "Don't worry about this. Just go."

Pete swallowed over a dry throat.

"You know, your dead friend there, he didn't write anything that whole time," Frank said as an afterthought. "I sent it down to be looked at. Some kind of symbols or hieroglyphs or something. Nobody can make sense of it. Thought you might want to know."

Pete opened his mouth, but said nothing.

Frank waved him off. "Tell Rose I say hello, okay?"


© 2010 Roland Allnach

Bio: By trade Roland Allnach is a medical technologist, performing laboratory work in a hospital. After twenty years of working the night shift he has witnessed life from a slightly different angle. He is working to develop his writing career, drawing creatively from literary classics, history, and mythology. Writing aside, his joy in life is the time he spends with his family. Roland's stories have appeared in The Armchair Aesthete, Allegory, Midnight Times, The Storyteller, Lullwater Review, Absent Willow Review, and Reed Magazine. "Creep", the story that appeared in The Storyteller, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

For more about and by Roland Allnach, visit his website: Roland Allnach

E-mail: Roland Allnach

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.