When I arrived for the shift change, my colleague droned on and on about how the city funeral home had not yet picked up the day’s shipment of bodies. I promised I’d take care of things. After my coworker left, I took a look at the list of “acquisitions.” There was a new body waiting for me in Cooling Unit 8. As I pulled it out, I was confronted with the second fatality of my doing. It was Brandon O’Neil, though I barely recognized him. For one familiar face to appear on my table was odd. For a second acquaintance to make it there? It was unheard of. A chill ran down my spine, and I couldn’t help wondering what was going on. I had to get to the bottom of it…and fast.
Brandon O’Neil, the med student I had met barely two days ago, lay swollen on the coroner table. His face was puffy and barely recognizable. In fact, I only knew who it was thanks to his medical chart. He was the second casualty in what ended up to be a tragedy entirely of my doing. I examined him thoroughly for any sign of foul-play, suspecting the third med student, Mr. Adrien Carter, was trying to get rid of the competition. There had to be a reason his fellow students had died barely a day apart.
Despite my best efforts to find clues, Mr. O’Neil’s autopsy revealed nothing suspicious. The young man died of anaphylactic shock, an allergic reaction that caused his airway to constrict. I found several pieces of ground-up peanuts lodged in his swollen throat. According to his file, he’d been eating at a Thai restaurant and had failed to notice the nuts in his stir fry. Unfortunate? Yes. Preventable? Absolutely. Suspicious? Definitely not. I swallowed hard, the taste of sweaty socks and sulfur still at the forefront of my mouth.
Following procedure, I completed Mr. O’Neil’s autopsy, placed the young man back in his cooling unit, and set up to write my report. A familiar sound caught my attention as I sat down to focus. The cooling units were hissing again. This time, I could hear not one, but two distinct sources. What were the odds that two compressors were malfunctioning at the same time? My investigation ended before it even began, when my office phone started ringing. Startled by the sound, I nearly fell off my chair. It was Ted from the funeral home, apologizing about failing to pickup last night’s shipment. The funeral home was backed up and wouldn’t be able to come by for another 36 hours. It was certainly not ideal, but it happened from time to time, and I was confident we had enough functioning cooling units to make due.
I went back to work, trying my hardest to ignore the pain in my throat and the sound of the cooling units compressing and decompressing incessantly. Without realizing it, I found myself breathing along to the same tempo. As the sound began to slow, so too did the speed of my breathing. I’m not sure what would have happened, had Doctor Chang not appeared at that moment. I suspect that, had the sound stopped entirely, I might have forgotten to breathe. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that, and Chang broke me out of my trance by storming into my office.