In A Flash: The Cooling Board

The storm that swept through Dagar that night as most of the city slumbered, left in its wake a tangled forest of broken branches and fallen trees, along with remnants of shacks and huts cast asunder. As the clean up began in neighborhood after neighborhood, the body of a young man was discovered in amongst the detritus on the outskirts of Gasnon, one of the less reputable areas of the city. The constabulary was summoned and, after a quick survey of the scene, they took the body to the central mortuary.

There the Chief Magistrate viewed the body and noted in the records that the death had been the result of the storm. No one in the neighborhood where the body was discovered had known the youth—hardly strange, given the district’s attraction to those desperate souls who flocked to Dagar with no coin hoping to resurrect their fortunes. The Chief Magistrate noted that, by his color, the youth was a Mannurary and had the local Caciques brought to the mortuary to see if they could identify him. They dutifully put on their finest suits and came to look upon the body, all of them declaring they had never laid eyes on the man.

The Chief Magistrate thanked the elders for their time and had them promise to inform him if they received word that the youth had family who were missing him. He did not expect them to, for there were so many people, Mannurary or otherwise, who came to Dagar, alone and in search of a better life, only to end up on the streets, destitute and broken. They waited a day at the mortuary for someone to come forward to claim the body, and when no claimant materialized, the chief magistrate ordered it be laid upon a cooling board with ice beneath it and set out in the public room.

There were three other bodies on display when the Mannurary youth was set out for viewing, and two more joined him the next day. These were a, not unusual, assortment of unfortunates: a harlot beaten to death by her keeper; an old man,who, having lost one of his legs some years before , subsisted on the streets, relying on the kindness of passersby; a priest who had become overly drunk in a tavern and fallen down some stairs to his death; a woman of unknown provenance, who had been viciously assaulted and left to perish in an alley; and an older man, wearing fine clothes, who had been pulled from the river, bloated and stinking.

The priest was the first claimed—the very afternoon the Mannuary youth was set out—another of the faith coming to the mortuary when the man failed to show up for regular service. The husband of the assaulted woman, a millner, came just as the mortuary assistant was closing the room for the day, along with his two daughters. The legless old man was removed the next morning, as the harlot was brought in by the magistracy, having sat on display for the required three days. Though he was known on the street where he had begged, he had no kin to claim him. The Chief Magistrate contacted a nearby temple and had them arrange a suitable burial.

None of the three remaining bodies were claimed in the next two days, though many people arrived at the mortuary to view them. It was something of a sport among people of a certain class, to come and look upon the unfortunate dead who had perished with no one aware of their passing. Some would concoct outrageous tales about the demise, while others simply thrilled at the idea of being so near the grotesqueness and violence of life on the streets of Dugar.

Two of these arrived late on the third day the Mannurary youth was on display, a young couple in their finery on an afternoon stroll by the look of them. They came first to the older man, wearing clothes not unlike theirs, studying him with an unusual avidity.

“So this is how it has ended,” the man said in a low undertone, something like anger or bitterness in his voice.

“He smells as though he has been rotting for weeks,” the woman said, wrinkling her nose.

The man called over the assistant on duty and inquired as to where the man had been discovered. “They pulled him out of the river just downstream from Gasnon. He got tangled up in the docks somehow or he’d still be going now.”

The assistant wandered away, leaving the couple alone with the body. The woman watched him go, breathing out to her companion. “Who got to him, do you think?”

The man shrugged, his eyes still on the corpse. “Who’s to say? Gavisher, I suppose.”

“We have to get out Dagar while we still can.”

“Not without what is owed us. I didn’t sweat blood just to abandon that treasure.”

“He’ll be after us, darling.”

“No doubt,” the man said, with a curt nod. “No doubt, to be sure.” He stepped away from the body and moved over to study the harlot, pulling the woman along behind him. “Best not to linger, in case Gavisher has people watching the mortuary.”

The woman gave half a nod, unable to quite pull her gaze from the older man. “What if he still has the papers on him?”

“What do you suppose her tale is?” the man said, in a voice pitched so that the others in the room might hear it, as he looked upon the harlot. Under his breath, he said, “It doesn’t matter. We have no means of getting it. There are too many eyes here. Besides, if Gavisher has any sense, he already has them.”

“Perhaps,” the woman said, though she sounds doubtful. She looked upon the face of the harlot, doubt and other unnameable thoughts haunting her face. “If that’s the case, we should already be gone. Without the papers what good is the treasure?”

“We’ll make it work. There’s more than one paperman in the world.”

She did not reply, going from the harlot to the final body. The Mannuary youth. The man lingered by the harlot, lost in thought, turning only when he heard her gasp of shock. He hurried to her side, taking her by the arm.

“What is it?” he said, though he could see immediately what had drawn such a reaction from her.

“Nothing.” She hesitated. “It’s just he’s so young and looks like my brother.”

The man gave a conciliatory murmur and squeezed her shoulder, before leaving her to look closely over the youth’s body. His eyes were rapt in concentration and he did not see the assistant approach.

“Is everything all right here?”

“Oh yes, I’m sorry,” the woman sniffed. “It’s just he looks like my brother you see. How did he come to perish?”

“Passed in the storm the other night, they say,” the assistant said. He remained near the body and the man took the woman by the arm and led her away, stopping so that they stood back a bit from the bodies.

“There are no marks, but it is Gavisher’s work, no doubt. He must have magicked him on the way to rendezvous.”

“What will we do now?”

“We have no choice,” the man said, his eyes distant. “We have to try regardless.”

Doubt shadowed the woman’s face, replaced a moment later by a firm resolution, her eyes hard. By the time the man turned from the body it had vanished and they left, arm in arm.

In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…

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  1. Pingback: In A Flash: The Cooling Board – Lost Quarter Books

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