The Tale of the Body Snatchers
“I am an anatomist. On the 25th of October, I was to teach a lecture on the dissection of the human body. As I approached my lecture hall, I remember distinctly that behind the door was an atmosphere of great electricity and anticipation, the same feelings which could be found running within my veins. I entered the lecture hall to my two hundred and twelve observers and a silence fell upon the eager students like a shroud, as with the one laying softly on the body in the center of the room.
I approached the shrouded mass on the table and laid my hands on the cloth. I looked across the eyes of my observers through my glasses and spoke, ‘Gentlemen. The anatomy of man in England has fallen to the practical and elementary. To view everything practically is the characteristic of the English. Unfortunately this provokes the methodical, the systematic, and the complete to be replaced by methods of anatomy in Britain that I can only describe as defective and irrational. In these lectures, I will acquaint you with a comprehensive, yet vigorous, method that will build a sound professional foundation.’ I removed the shroud from the cadaver lying face down on the table. The eager eyes studied it, darting up and down the body. I withdrew my scalpels from my overgown and chose the instrument I needed.
“I narrated to my audience, ‘Now, let us begin.’ My blade hunted for its entry and settled on a point at the top of the spine. ‘To begin skinning, we will make an incision on the base of the skull.’ I applied the pressure of just a quill and the scalpel sunk in to the flesh. The clean cut bloodied my scalpel. The vibrant red occupied my mind. I moved the blade down the body’s spine, smoothly, like a brushstroke. The blood seeped onto the body towards the sides of the stomach. I moved my scalpel from the base of the spine towards the left shoulder. My hand itched for the next cut; I would soon reveal the gorgeous organs under the skin and peal back the mysteries lying within this cadaver.
“‘I have moved my scalpel to the left shoulder where, I will make a perpendicular line across the backs of the shoulders.’ The scalpel slid into the skin in a beautiful puncture. With another brushstroke, I painted a bleeding cross into the back. ‘Now, we skin.’ My hands grabbed for the right skin flap at the perpendicular angle I created. My left hand held on firm as my right hand sheathed the skin away from the fat and fascia that lay below. ‘As I seperate the skin, I am careful not to make too thin of a…’ I peeled away the skin and stopped to look into the body. I stared it over through my glasses. It was open and lovely. I became lost in its beauty.
“Jameson looked up at me from the other side of the table. ‘Sir?’
“’Yes. I am careful not to make too thin of a cut. Let us continue.’ As I moved onwards in the dissection, I become further pulled into the beauty of this body and did not feel the passage of time. It felt like the blink of an eye before I had concluded my lecture and was leaving the room with Jameson. He asked me if I was well before we went to meet Mr. Firth, and I answered in the affirmative. Together, Jameson and I walked through the streets to our meeting in an alley behind George’s Pub. Ravens watched above as he spoke. ‘I will have a body tonight. I will deliver it at midnight.’
“’Very good, Mr. Firth.’ Brevity was deep within Firth’s very nature; he was already retreating down the alley prior to our goodbyes. Jameson turned to me with a questioning look and said, ‘I do not trust him.’ I looked back at him and replied, ‘He need not be trusted for much. For as long as he delivers the bodies he promises, he is a friend of the college.’ Jameson snapped back to me quickly, ‘Do you not question how he comes into possession of so many bodies, Doctor?’ I replied to Jameson, ‘It is not our job to question. It is only our job to acquire bodies. We are anatomists.’ Jameson said, ‘You know already he is a grave-robber, a body-snatcher. But the freshness of these latest bodies has been impeccable. The way it bled today… I fear he has moved to greater sins than body snatching. I cannot live with that.’ I replied to Jameson, ‘My boy, your imagination runs wild. We pay for the body and we do not ask questions. The science is more important.’ I began to walk back towards our residence and he reluctantly followed behind.
“Now, it is obvious and apparent that you wish for me to disclose the events of that night, the 25th of October, and I will do so in full honesty. I waited up for the midnight arrival of Firth. I occupied my mind by endeavoring further into the day’s body on the cool tables of my storage room. Rain had begun to fall in the darkness outside. The clock passed midnight and ran deep into the night before I heard a rapping on my door. I opened it to see Firth alone, bloodied, and soaked to the bone. ‘Dr. Monroe, please, may I come in.’
I said, ‘Yes, yes, please come in.’ I took him into my dissection-room. I had a spare bed there for Jameson or late nights. I sat him down on the bed by my bodies, took his overcoat and gave him a blanket. I asked him, ‘Is everything alright?’
He said, ‘No, sir, I don’t have a body to give you. I may have to hide here tonight.’
“To which I replied to Firth, ‘What do you mean you do no have a body? We agreed that you would bring one. I need that body, Mr. Firth.’
“He looked up at me through his wet eyelashes and said, ‘I’m sorry, sir, I don’t have one to give.’ I was becoming very angry having been lied to about our agreement. I am a man of my word. I stood up over Firth and said, ‘You told me you would have a body. I cannot teach without one! We had an agreement!’
“Firth said desperately, ‘I did not bring one for you!’ I looked down at Firth and grasped the pillow beside him with my right arm and told him, ‘Yes you did, my boy.’ I placed the pillow over his face and pushed him hard back into the bed. His arms flailed and struggled wildly. His right arm reached for my face, blindly searching. I grabbed it and held it to the bed. I put all my weight onto his face and his arm. The veins in his neck bulged as he stuggled. The muscles in his arm rippled with the last efforts for breath. I could not wait to remove the shroud of the skin and examine them. His struggles seemed to turn from a panic to a tired acceptance to one last push for life, but finally the life was removed from the body that was now mine. I moved it from the bed to the table on the other side of the room.
“During the next week’s lecture, Mr. Firth was the center of attention. I dissected him in front of my class and everyone watched with the same fascination as always. Everyone except Jameson. I could tell in his eye that his soul was alarmed when he recognized our body snatcher on the table, but he said not a word during the lecture and continued helping me.
“It was not ’til that night in my lantern- lit dissection room that Jameson confronted me. He walked into the room unannounced and looked upon the room. During the week I had accrued a fair amount of bodies for my studies. This was a shock to my friend Jameson. He looked at me and inquired, ‘Where did you get these bodes?’ I answered, ‘ I am an anatomist. It is my business to acquire bodies.’ He repeated his question with greater intensity, ‘Where did you get these bodies, Dr. Monroe? What happened to Mr. Firth?’ I answered, ‘My boy, you said it yourself, Mr. Firth was a murderer. He was soon to be caught. He is doing society a greater service now.’
“Jameson shook his head and looked at my fresh bodies. ‘No. No, Dr. Monroe. You are a murderer now. This is murder.’ I walked towards my faithful assistant. ‘Do not throw these wild accusations at me, Jameson. These bodies are delivered to me.’ Jameson took a step back as I walked towards him. He looked at me and asked, ‘By who? Your body snatcher is dead. You murdered him and dissected him in front of your lecture. You have been not been home for the past 7 nights. You are the body snatcher now, Doctor.’ I continued towards Jameson and put my hand on his should as I told him, ‘No, Jameson, these are delivered to me. I have not murdered these people. I took what Firth owed me, but these people I have not harmed’ He asked, ‘If you have bought these bodies, how much have you paid? How have you paid for six bodies in this week?’ I did not have an answer for Jameson. I looked over the bodies on my tables. Jameson was trying to confuse me. He looked at me and said ‘You have gone mad. I will report your crimes to the authorities.’ Jameson tried to back away but my hand was still firmly on his shoulder and I did not allow him to. ‘Jameson, you cannot grow a conscience now. You will be an accomplice to any crimes as my assistant for all these years, dissecting Firth’s snatched bodies and murder victims.’ Jameson was on the verge of tears. I looked him in the eye to make sure he understood. He was overwhelmed with what was necessary for success.
“Now what I tell you here is the truth. I hugged him and left the dissection-room, leaving him with the bodies. I retired for the night. That was the last time I saw Jameson until my lecture on the 8th of November. On this day I walked into the lecture hall as any day. All was normal except for the noticeable absence of my assistant, Jameson. This had me worried that he had changed his mind and had gone to the authorities. I addressed the class, ‘It appears we will be continuing without our assistant today. Let us begin.’ I removed the cloth over the body on the table. The body was on its back and I was examining the incisions I had done the night before to prepare for the lecture. During my examination, a great commotion was beginning to break out in the room. Students were standing up and screaming as if they had seen the work of the devil himself. I tried to understand the great disturbance and finally saw this work of the devil that had caused the disturbance. I looked at the face of the body. It was that of my beloved assistant, eyes empty and skin cold on the table.
written by KRAMER LINDELL in collaboration with RHIANNA WALLACE
more by KRAMER LINDELL
photograph by DFC