I Used To Take The Overnight Shift In The Morgue, And Here’s Why I Never Will Again


I never really planned to tell anyone this story. It’s been well over 50 years and, at the time, I thought it wasn’t worth it. But as my time on Earth comes to a close, somehow I can’t bear to leave this story to die in the darkness. There is some kind of truth in it, one that I am too stupid to understand. So I’ll leave it here. Maybe one of you can make sense of it.

When I was in my early 20s, I went through nurse’s training. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t cheap, let me tell you. So, I ended up working odd jobs at the hospital, trying to make ends meet. Most of them weren’t so bad. Mostly, they involved a lot of cleaning and receptionist work.

But then, of course, there was the morgue.

I didn’t like working down in the morgue. Frankly, I don’t know many people who did. But the pay was good for relatively little work. All I had to do was clean and watch over everything if there were no doctors present, which usually only happened late at night. Occasionally I’d have to help move a body, too, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.
I’d spend my nights down there, often as many as three or four times a week. I’d clean up and then sit down to study, making sure everything remained ship-shape, as the nuns liked to say.

It wasn’t a hard job. But I didn’t like it.

See, the morgue was in the basement, down long hallways with dim lighting. You might think that working in a morgue would remind you of death, and, well, you’d be right. But that wasn’t all. The whole PLACE felt like death, aside from the dead bodies it regularly housed. It just never felt right to me. I thought I was paranoid.

One night proved to me that it was more than that.

I still remember that it was a Thursday. I don’t know why that sticks out so much in my mind, but it does. It was Thursday and I was alone down in the morgue. The night had been relatively uneventful, with only one body brought in. I remember that the doctor who brought the corpse down seemed a little on edge. When I asked why, he said:

“When this guy came in, he was perfectly fine, but he wouldn’t stop shouting about how he was going to die. We thought he was a hypochondriac, or maybe he was having some kind of mental breakdown. As we went to sedate him, suddenly everything in his body just… shut down. It was as though everything inside of him stopped. He died in minutes, we simply couldn’t resuscitate him. No one has any idea what killed him.”

My heart winced as I helped him put the corpse onto the table. The hospital was stretched a little thin that day, so nobody was going to be able to attend to the poor guy until the next morning. Which meant that I’d be with a stiff the whole night.

Well, that didn’t bother me much. Sure, it was a little creepy, but nothing I hadn’t dealt with before.

So once the doctor left, I pulled out my books and started pouring over them, hoping to dispel some of the tension that had fallen over the morgue. I found myself wishing that I still had something – anything at all – to clean, but the whole damn place was spotless. I tried to lose myself in the complicated medical terminology in my textbooks, but for whatever reason that night I was finding it difficult.

Maybe it was a woman’s intuition. Or maybe it was a more… animalistic intuition. Either way, I could sense that something strange was going to happen in that morgue.

It’s cliché, but it happened at midnight.

It started with a power outage. The only warning I had was a momentary flickering of the lights before everything shut down, the silence that followed only broken by the crackling of cooling bulbs.

Shit, I thought. What now?

I had been sitting at the work desk where the attending physicians filled out their paperwork after the autopsies, so I let my hands drift over the surface and down through the drawers, trying to find a flashlight. I tried not to think about the corpse waiting there in the dark.

Jesus, Marybeth, it’s just a corpse, it can’t hurt you. Suck it up.

I was searching the third drawer on the right when the power came back on and I spotted something strange out of the corner of my eye.

My breath hitched in my throat because somewhere in the back of my mind I had seen enough to know what it was. But the rest of me was still clueless. Fighting this internal battle, I turned slowly towards the table.

The corpse was sitting up.

My first thought, of course, was that it wasn’t a corpse at all. The doctor DID say that he’d sort of just dropped dead… they must have made some mistake. But something kept me from rushing over to found out if the guy was okay.

He wasn’t breathing.

His body could have been a statue for how still it was. I tried to tell myself that he was most certainly breathing, I just couldn’t see it from here, but I wasn’t convinced. I tried to force myself to walk over to him, but I couldn’t.

Suddenly, his head snapped towards me.

I didn’t see it happen. I blinked and the position of his head had changed. To make matters worse, it should have been impossible because I was diagonally behind him. Heads do not turn that far back, not unless they’re broken or severely damaged. But here he was, his eyes trained on me…

And that is when I noticed the eyes.

Mostly, that they were gone. There were just two empty, meaty sockets staring back at me, and, yes, they WERE staring.

I was positive that that corpse had eyes when it was brought in here. It didn’t matter, because they were gone now.

I blinked.

This time, it was sitting up, its legs dangling off the side of the table. They swung there like the legs of a rag doll, and it was in their terrible motion that I found my voice.

I screamed and ran for the door.

Do you remember those hallways I told you about? The long ones I had to walk through to get to the morgue?

They were lined with bodies.

They were still, un-breathing, noticeably dead. And absolutely none of them had eyes.

But they all stared at me.

That almost froze me right there, because it felt like being trapped between two deaths. I was absurdly terrified that if I stepped out into the hallway, they’d swarm on me like demonic birds and take out my eyes so I’d look just like them. All the while, somewhere in the back of my mind I KNEW that the other corpse was fast approaching.

I made a mistake just then. I turned around.

It was standing less than a foot behind me.

Those sockets still bore into me as its mouth hung, unhinged. A deep vibration emanated from the body and, slowly, a tiny trickle of blood dripped out of the side of its mouth.

My body made my decision for me. I ran.

I ran and I ran and I ran until I burst out of the hospital. The nurses on call tried to stop me but I wouldn’t be stopped. I ran the few blocks that separated the hospital from our dormitories. I ran inside and collapsed on the floor, frightening the holy hell out of Sister Ruth, who happened to be monitoring the door that night.

Sister Ruth was strict, but she was kind. She knew I was supposed to be in the morgue until about four in the morning, so she was ready to give me hell until she saw my face. I don’t know exactly what she read in my expression, but she didn’t chastise me. She didn’t ask me what happened, either. She simply placed a call to the hospital to notify them that they needed to send someone down to replace me.

By the time she was off the phone, I was sobbing, the terror finding vent in my tears. She placed her arms around me and whispered, “Shh, it’s okay, you don’t have to go back there.”

And I didn’t. In my years as a nurse, never once did I go back down into that morgue, or any morgue, for that matter. I’m no stranger to death. I’m no stranger to pain. These things don’t scare me.

No, it’s what happens in those few hours after death that I don’t want to know about. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Rona Vaselaar is a graduate from the University of Notre Dame and currently attending Johns Hopkins as a graduate student.

Keep up with Rona on tumblr.com

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