I’ve always imagined I’d be rich. Even at an exceptionally young age I was consumed with money. My friends bought the toys they desired without a second thought, whilst I was forced to watch in silent indignation. My father died when I was six, leaving my mother and me penniless. She was forced to work long hours as a seamstress in one of Burke Ginger’s small factories. The pay never amounted to much; it was hardly enough for our bread and water, much less my desire for toys and sweets. School had hardly seemed like an option, but one of my mother’s old friends offered to tutor me. She was a kind woman, and since my mother never had much time for me, I always looked to Mrs. Gill for comfort. She had been much older than my mother, with three children of her own. They grew to be my best friends; Jonathan, Andy and dear Emily. When Mr. Gill had died in the war, Mrs. Gill and her children were left with a healthy inheritance.
When I was ten, my mother surprised us all when she fell pregnant with my little sister Annabelle. Mrs. Gill gladly helped when she came of age to study too, along with their new household nanny Mrs. Forbes. My mother would never tell anyone who the father was, though I still loved Annabelle. As she grew up, we grew closer than I could have ever imagined.
Now a stout fellow of seventeen, I had to fend for myself. Jonathan, now a doctor, owned a small inn. He had offered me stay and a job, and I willingly took it. Andy was off in America, studying to become a lawyer, and Emily was Jonathan’s nurse.
The inn wasn’t much. It was small and run down, but I did my best with it. Jonathan had hired good workers beneath me, making my job so much easier. After a few months Annabelle and Mrs. Forbes came to stay at the inn.
Under the new employees, I noticed a young man. He was scrawny but still quite strong. We quickly became friends, and he entrusted to me knowledge I know wish I had never heard.
“You make good money ou’ of it,” Nathan told me in his Cockney accent. We were sitting in the lounge late one cold January night. The rest of the staff and few guests had already retired for the night, whilst Nathan and I enjoyed a nightcap.
“What?” I asked, taking a swig out of the wooden flask I always drank out of.
“The job I do almost every night,” he said, gazing intently into the fire blazing in the hearth. I had noticed Nathan’s absents before, but never thought much of it.
“What job might that be?” I asked silently. I knew that if Jonathan found out any of the staff had other jobs; they would be fired right away.
“We’re friends, right Ephram?” Nathan asked me seriously.
“Yes,” I said, wondering at the strange question.
“And you would never betray a friends secret to anyone, right?” he went on, his eyes boring into mine.
I wondered where this conversation was going, but answered when he gave me a pointed look, “Of course not.”
“You swear?” he asked.
“Nathan, what’s-“ I started to say, but he interrupted.
When I nodded silently, he continued, “A few years back one of my old friends introduced me to a market. A flesh market,” he said, waiting for my response.
“I don’t understand,” I said. I had only heard of a flesh market once before, and was hoping against hope he was talking about a different one.
“Ye see, doctors want to know stuff, ye know?” he continued. I nodded. “The only way they can get to learn that stuff, is by examining things, and since a while back, there has been a growing market for bodies for them to examine. Human bodies.” He added the last part for in case I didn’t understand, but it was all to clear.
I felt the cold of January seep through the tightly shut windows, coming to rest in my chest. The roaring fire had no effect on me as I struggled to grasp whether Nathan was playing one of his bizarre tricks, or if he was actually telling the truth. However as I turned back to his eyes I saw this was no joke.
He took my silence as a sign to go on, “See, we dig up freshly buried bodies, and sell them off to doctors. They reach a good price, enough to live off.”
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked, standing up quickly.
“Because recently, an associate of mine died, one who provided the trading ground,” he said, leaving it to me to figure out the rest.
“And you need new a new trading post,” I said, figuring it out, “one which wouldn’t have a lot of people around.”
“Exactly,” he said, seemingly glad I understood so quickly.
“And you think the inn would be perfect,” I said.
“So how about it mate?” he asked hopefully. I looked at him in exasperation.
“How can you expect me to do something like that?” I asked.
“I’m offering you a golden opportunity here,” he said, holding up his hands. “How long do ye think Jonathan’s going to let you run this inn?”
“Jonathan is like a brother to me, he’d never take it away when he knows I need it,” I said, feeling a sprig of anger at his audacious words.
“Even so, do you want to rely on him all your life?” he went on. “And what about Annabelle?”
“What about her?” I said, my anger growing.
“If you help me out, you’d be making enough money to give her the childhood ye never had.”
I thought about this. Nathan knew all about my childhood and affairs. We were after all best friends. At least I thought we were.
“What would I have to do?” I asked reluctantly.
“Just help me dig up the bodies and bring them here to sell to the doctor,” Nathan said indifferently.
I shook my head wondering what to say. He went on, “Think about it mate, and tell me in the morning.” With that he stood up and walked to the stairs.
The thought of doing something like this was incredible. Not only was it immoral, but I knew perfectly well it was illegal. Then again I realized I desperately needed the money. The inn wasn’t doing that well, and I had to scrape everything I had to afford Annabelle.
The dark ate at me like some kind of monster. I felt blind as we stumbled amongst the headstones jutting out in the crowded cemetery. Nathan knew this place like the back of his hand, and tried to guide me to a fresh grave at the north end of the cemetery.
I shivered as the cold wind tugged at my coat.
“Over here Ephram,” Nathan called out. He was standing at a fresh grave, on which yellow daisies lay. I imagined a little girl putting them there, tears rolling down her pale cheeks. I imagined her with blonde hair, holding a simple rag doll.
“Bloke died two days ago,” Nathan said, handing me a shovel. He started digging.
I just stood and watched, hesitating.
“What’s a matter?” Nathan asked, not stopping.
“He was a father,” I said. I knew this for a fact, baffling myself.
“There not gonna miss him,” Nathan said gruffly. He plunged the shovel in the ground again, leaving it there and staring up at me.
“He’s dead mate,” he said.
“I – I know,” I said, struggling to find the words. “It’s just that I don’t think I can do this.”
“Listen, he won’t mind, his family won’t mind and you surely won’t mind once we get that payment ye need,” he said, taking up the shovel again. “Honestly, I thought you were made of more balls than that.”
This angered me, enough to set my arms to work on digging. I plunged my shovel into the earth next to his, bringing it back up and throwing the dirt to the side. I repeated the process until my arms ached in protest. My mind was kept off the subject by the draining of energy from my limbs.
After what seemed like forever, Nathan’s shovel beat against something hard, something wooden.
“Almost done,” he panted.
I groaned. The thought of going on like this for much longer had me desperate for the coffin to just pop out.
After another ten minutes or so, the coffin was revealed. In the dismal light of the moon I could see it was a simple one, made out of driftwood planks. He had been a poor man.
Nathan had dug around the coffin, leaving enough room for us to jump down so we could lift it up and out. He jumped down, waiting for me to do the same.
I sighed and leapt into the grave, with a growing feeling of depression.
The sucker felt like he weighed a ton. We struggled to lift him, but succeeded only after a few minutes.
When we got back on the ground we lay panting for a few moments. After recovering our breath, we picked up the coffin again and I winced at the sudden smell that graced my nostrils.
“I thought you said this man died recently,” I said, trying to breathe through my mouth as we started hauling the coffin off to the wagon, but only succeeding in becoming nauseous.
“They all smell like that,” Nathan told me, “Some sort of balm this reverend uses, don’t really know why.”
“Oh,” I said, thinking about this. Perhaps the reverend was in on it. Maybe the balm had an effect of keeping the body fresh for the doctors. I didn’t know why this thought suddenly sprung into my mind, and I pushed it out again quickly. No, I thought, a man of god wouldn’t be in on something this vile.
We rode in silence back to the little inn. Once there we loaded the coffin off into the foyer. I had already sent the staff off for the night, and put Annabelle to bed. It was this reassurance that made me jump when I saw a shadow that didn’t belong to us in the room.
“Good evening gentleman,” an oily voice said. I spun around to see it belonged to a thin worn-out man. He had a neat grey beard; his hair was tucked away under a black hat. He was dressed in a suit, holding a golden pocket watch in his left hand and adjusting his square rimmed spectacles with the right. Two men stood in doorway leading to the hallway. They were very big and muscular.
“Evening Dr. Burns,” Nathan said, in his usual jesting tone.
“You’re only,” Dr. Burns said glancing at his pocket watch, “half an hour late.” His tone was impatient, and I could see in his beady-eyes that he was eager to get this over with.
“Was a bit heavier than we’d expected,” Nathan said gruffly.
“Very well,” the doctor said, reaching in his jacket and pulling out a few pounds. He handed us the money and motion for the two burly men in the doorframe. They hurried forward and picked up the coffin with ease, escorting it out the foyer.
“I look forward to doing business with you again Caldwell,” Dr. Burns said before he stepped out the door with a slight limp.
When they were gone, Nathan turned to me and said, “Well done Ephram, you earned your first money as a smuggler.”
Comforted by the success of our first dig, I continued to stay in the business, using my little in as a trading point. I never spoke to Dr. Burns. I felt too intimidated, leaving the talking up to Nathan. The two men always accompanied Dr. Burns, but also never spoke a word.
I was beginning to tire, having little time to sleep. During the day I had to see to the in and the staff, and during the night Nathan and I scouted for bodies.
“What’s the matter?” Annabelle asked me one night just before we were to go. She tugged on my shirtsleeve, looking up at me with big eyes.
“What do you mean?” I asked in a soft tone, crouching down so our eyes met.
“You haven’t read to me in ages, and you always look so tired,” she said, tears coming to her eyes.
“Oh Annabelle,” I said, drawing her into a hug. My sister gave a little sob. I motioned for Mrs. Forbes. She hurried forward and laid a hand on Annabelle’s shoulder, squeezing it gently. “I promise I’ll read to you tomorrow, but right now I have to take care of us.”
“But why?” she sobbed, wiping fiercely at our eyes. “Jonathan already takes care of us.”
“You’ll understand when you’re older,” I said sadly. I remember hating being told that when I was younger.
“Bye Annabelle,” I said, ruffling her hair. A single tear rolled down her cheek, reminding me of the girl I imagined standing at the grave of our first body. “I’ll be back early tomorrow.”
With that I turned my back and walked out. I could hear Mrs. Forbes trying to coax my sister to bed, but she was crying heavily again. I could almost see her sobbing into Mrs. Forbes’ skirts, muttering about me not being home anymore.
On the twentieth I sat in one of the little spare rooms in the inn. Nathan had told me before to wait for him there. It’s been a few hours and I was getting tiresome, when I could hear his heavy steps echoing up the stairs. It was slower than it would usually be, and I could here the sound of something heavy being dragged behind him. He’d already gotten a body.
I winced at the sight of the fresh body. Nathan dragged it in by its feet. I tried to look at anything but the corpse, but my revulsion was overcome by curiosity. A young girl lay there, she looked to be about fifteen. She was pretty, with blonde hair and a very delicate face. All this was ruined though, by an ugly gash slashed across her face. Her neck was slit from ear to ear, blood gushing through the open wounds.
“Where did you find her?” I asked Nathan. She looked as though she had only been killed a few minutes ago, which puzzled me, as the bodies Nathan usually got were old and putrid as mummies.
“Ah she was a lively one,” Nathan said, letting out a petty little laugh. He went to sit on the thin bed, frowning at the way it creaked.
“What do you mean?” I asked, fearing the terrible truth.
“She was out on business, saw her and thought she was pretty,” Nathan said, “the doctors will enjoy her, yes they will.”
I gaped at him in horror. He lay down on the bed, resting on his elbows, crossing his feet. He looked so God damn smug, I wanted to strangle him.
“You killed her?” I asked in amazement.
“You look so surprised Ephram,” he said with a cocky grin. He gazed around the cramped room. The walls were covered in red wallpaper, which peeled of every few feet. It was met halfway up the wall by a cracked beige breaker. “Cheap little place, isn’t this?”
“Why shouldn’t I be?” I asked, infuriated. I stomped across the room to the other bed and sat heavily, with my head in my hands.
“What’s wrong mate? You look miserable,” Nathan said.
“Digging up bodies and selling them was still bearable,” I said shakily. “But actually killing people?” I sighed and buried my head in my hands again.
“Look mate, we don’t have time for your conscience to kick in now,” Nathan said, sitting up and looking me straight in the face. His expression wasn’t smug or amused, but serious. I had never seen him look like that before. It was almost frightening; to see his eyes bore into mine with a scar of previous experiences I would never know of. “In this business you do what you can and take what you need. You don’t go apologizin’ or feelin’ bad for anything, coz if you do, ye might be the next one on that examining table.”
“When will they pick her up?” I asked, referring to the doctors.
“Tomorre’ morning,” he said, fluffing his thin pillow pointlessly and settling down to sleep.
“How can you sleep with her in here?” I asked, looking at the once pretty girl again.
“If I can’t see her, she can’t see me,” he said simply, pulling his hat over his eyes and crossing his legs.
I sat up the whole night, trying not to stare at the girl. I knew perfectly well what kind of business she was out on. I’ve seen her on the streets before, flirting with every male passing. She was a popular one all right. For a brief moment I wondered where her parents might be, but concluded that they were probably long gone, in a cemetery somewhere, waiting for Nathan to dig them up and sell them.
Okay, I wanted to make this a short story, but the action or whatever hasn't even started yet and it's already something like 5 pages.