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The Woman and the Stiff
by Leilanie Cesnik
“What a salubrious day!”
“I said, what a salubrious day. Would you care to vum me a cigarette?”
In the egg-yolk glow of sunset, a man stood admiring his stark silhouette.
Even though it was drawn out by the evening, it still looked a hell of a lot
beefier than his meagre frame. The woman in front of him looked up with a
frown as his shadow passed over her.
“You mean ‘bum’,” she said.
He sat down next to her on the metal bench. “Usually I don’t talk to
strangers,” he said, “But I must say, I’ve had a life altering experience and I
see things a lot differently now.”
She gave him a cigarette and offered a light, hoping he wouldn’t try to
continue the conversation. Her book was getting to an interesting part. But
as the tip of his cigarette began to glow, she found her head turning. Able to
resist it no longer, her eyes traveled up the length of the rolled tobacco
towards his mouth. His lips were shriveled, curled back from his teeth. Brown
decayed gums were exposed, and a row of rotting logs that would give a
dentist a field day.
“Bad lip balm,” said the guy before a hiss broke from his throat, giving way
to rattling rasps.
The woman cocked her head, raising one eyebrow. She found his
appearance somewhat strange. A pair of oversized aviators covered most of
his face, perched above a rather nonexistent nose. What was with the
sunglasses? It was twilight already.
“Who are you?”
As he turned his head and looked her full in the face, she heard the soft
groan of stretching leather. But his trench coat was made of cotton. Wasn’t
“Are you from Germany?” she asked. Their eyes met. At least, she thought
they did. Hard to tell behind his thick black shades.
“What made you assume that?”
“Your accent. You said ‘vum’ instead of bum.”
“That must be because of my hare lip.”
That’s some hare lip, she thought.
An ardent breeze stirred, inspiring leaves to dance around their feet. The
woman was caught downwind of her strange companion’s cigarette smoke and
a scent she couldn’t quite fathom. Musty. Like compost. But tinged with
something else. There was definitely an aftertaste. Bitter.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I’m Alfred.” His grin was mottled umber; a perfect poster of tooth decay.
Compelled by an invisible force, she snatched off his glasses.
Sockets. Lined with shriveled lids, flaccid skin. Sunken dehydrated eyes,
clouded like cataracts.
“No need to get personal.”
She grappled with the bench, a flurry of metal and hands, trying to put as
much distance between herself and the corpse. Yet running wasn’t an
option. Scared, yes she couldn’t deny it, but she had to know more about
him. Morbid curiosity overruled fear.
“How can this be? This isn’t possible!”
“Well obviously you need to check again love, because here I am.”
“Don’t look at me like that, it gives me the creeps.”
The stiff swelled with indignation. “Couldn’t you be more sympathetic? I
went through a lot before I came to be in my present condition.”
“How did you.. well, how did you come to be like this? A talking corpse, I
He puffed up again and snapped his sunglasses back on. “It wasn’t easy, I’ll
“How long’ve you been, y’know.. dead?”
He shrugged, unleashing a fresh whiff of putrid flesh.
“A long time. I don’t keep a diary in the afterlife.” He chuckled and started
coughing violently. “If you have time, I’ll tell you the strangest tale you’ll ever
hear. I can guarantee you that.”
“I’m listening,” she said, closing her book.
“Well, a while back.. actually, a good while back, I was out having a nice
drive with the missus. Wanna see a picture of me back then?” He reached
into his pocket and rummaged about. “Damn it, where’s that bloody thing got
The woman stared, transfixed in horror as he opened his jacket revealing a
gaping hole with yellowed skin, peeled back like a month old tomato. The
remnants of a tattered shirt hung like a morbid curtain, partly obscuring the
“That was when my stomach exploded. Bodies, eh? Why do they
accumulate all the mush and juice and gases if they can’t handle the shit that
comes with it? Anyway, where was I?”
“You were going to show me your photo.”
“Ah, here it is.” He reached into the hole and retrieved his wallet. The
woman felt like she was staring into a cesspit.
“Tricky little sucker,” he said, laughing. “Gets lost in all manner of nooks and
Trying desperately not to think of what kinds of orifices a corpse possessed,
she took his old driving license from him.
“See any resemblance?” he chuckled.
The picture was faded, long since exposed to the ravages of river water and
rotten kidneys. The face was barely discernible, but what she could make out
looked like a moderately attractive man of around thirty two or thirty three
years of age with dark hair and blue eyes.
“Not bad,” she said, handing it back. The corpse grimaced. She took his
expression as one of pleasure.
“Yes, I was a looker back then. Too bad we can’t keep our charms, eh?”
The woman gave a weak smile. Understatement of the year, in her opinion.
“So anyway, since it was getting late we decided to head back home. We
were crossing a bridge when I noticed a group of teenage boys hanging
about. One of them had a rock in his hand. Can you believe the little bastard
lobbed it at my car?”
“So what did you do?”
“A lot of bloody damage to my tires as I screeched to a halt, I can tell you
that! I got out and chased the boy and.. well, here I am.”
“What, that’s it? That doesn’t explain anything. How’d you get killed? I
assume you were murdered?”
The corpse sighed, air rattling out of his ossified windpipe. “Yes, of course I
was murdered. After I stopped the car, I tore off after the kids.”
“You already explained all this-”
“I’m getting to it!” snapped the corpse with a puff of powdered cilia. “As I was
saying, I caught up with the gang and grabbed the boy by the scruff of his
neck. But the others, they attacked me with sticks and rocks. And then I saw a
concrete slab aimed at my head, coming towards my face. After that, there
The woman sat, grim faced.
“I suppose that’s when I died,” he said sadly.
“Did you feel your soul leaving your body?”
“Actually no, I didn’t. I just sort of opened my eyes. And when I came to, I
saw water rushing towards me. Black water. Torrents of it. It was then that I
realized I’d been tipped off the bridge.”
The woman clapped her hand to her mouth. “How awful!”
“Do you wanna know the funny thing about being the living dead?” he
asked. “It’s that you wake up, if you call it waking up of course, and realize you
can’t feel a thing. No senses. No pain. I couldn’t even taste the blood
gushing from the open wound on my hairline.”
He lifted back his hair and the woman rested her eyes upon the San
Andreas fault of all wounds. She assumed the solidified black lump was long
ago congealed blood.
“So why did you ask for a cigarette then?”
“Habit I suppose. It’s not like I’m gonna die of lung cancer, eh?” He
wheezed, his body racked with laughter. The woman didn’t find it in the least
“I floated for eons you know. Night and day became one massive fucking
A small white fleck crawled out of his left nostril. At first the woman thought it
was snot. Since when did corpses have snot? But then she saw him flick it off
his face and realised it was a maggot. She flinched. Just missed her cheek.
“You’d think they would find me, but they didn’t. By the time I regained the
use of my legs, it was too late to go wandering back into my wife’s life. Can
you imagine it? ‘Honey, I’m home’!”
“Yeah, I don’t think that would’ve gone down well,” she agreed.
“So instead, I sat by the river among the bulrushes rethinking my death. I
suppose all that time spent in the sun and silt kind of mummified me. At least
that’s my theory to explain the emaciation. And look at my hair, bleached by
the elements. Best highlights you could ever ask for. Women would kill to
have these locks and it didn’t cost me a thing!”
“So why are you back?” she asked. “I’ve heard that ghosts have to walk the
earth until they finish what they came here to do or something like that. Is it
the same with corpses?”
“I guess so.”
The woman was silent, thinking. “I get it. You’ve come back to take revenge
on the ones who killed you.”
The stiff shuddered. “Now that’s just creepy!” He shifted in his seat and
composed himself again. “Initially it did cross my mind. But I did a lot of
thinking and decided that if they killed me once when I was strong and fit, what
would they do to me now? No, I’m back for a greater purpose.”
“I’m back to educate people on the dangers of road rage.” And with that, he
made his way along the riverside path towards the main road into town.