The Night Shift

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by Dr LercheDr Lerche

The Night Shift

It was in the early hours of the 13th of October 2006. Dr. Park was preparing his equipment for the task at hand. A hot cup of coffee was keeping away a groggy feeling. An hour ago, he had been woken up and told by two soldiers that he had been ordered to handle a situation requiring his expertise. What could have transpired so late at night that was so urgent was running in his mind as he freshened up and followed the men to the mortuary.

The barrack’s coroner entered the bright fluorescent-lit room to find two of his superiors and some of the border guards surrounding the autopsy table. Noticing his presence, they made way, allowing Dr. Park to see the object of interest.

It was a young soldier in mucky KPA uniform. The right side of his face was badly disfigured and his hands were covered in dirt. The man had been spotted attempting to cross the border just half an hour ago. The guards were alerted to the sound of gunfire and vehicles coming from the North Korean side of the border. The man had managed to cross the other side when he was taken out by a KPA sniper. Some gunfire had been exchanged between the two sides but other than that soldier, there were no casualties. The guards in the room stated that they had found a hole under the fence, in which he crawled through and the bullet which ended his life, provided to the coroner in a zip-lock bag.

The man had no personal belongings on him, suggesting his defection was impulsive. However, due to the recent nuclear test carried out by the DPRK, the higher-ups had decided it was imperative to check the body for any possible information if present. Moreover, the fact that no dog tag could be found was quite odd for them. Therefore, Dr. Park was ordered to carry out the autopsy and report any findings to his commanding officers. He was then left alone to his devices.

Dr. Park looked around. Along with the soldier, a few other bodies in the refrigeration units. It had been a long fortnight in the barracks. A training accident had left 3 men dead, and merely three days ago an officer committed suicide. He had grown fond of the young man in the two years he had been stationed here, so the loss had affected him harder than others. Now a new body has joined the ranks, albeit foreign. Dr. Park sipped on his coffee, then let out a sigh and proceeded with the task at hand.

After cleaning the body, he began the initial examination.

The soldier was a well-built man with the rank of Lieutenant based on his uniform insignia. He had 5 bullet wounds in the front and back of his body, 1 in his right thigh, and 1 in his head. C.O.D was determined to be the gunshot to the head from a high powered rifle, evidenced by a burst fracture in the right parietal bone and the large exit wound in the right zygomatic bone almost taking out his eye, as well as the bullet being a 7.62x54mmR calibre, probably shot from the Dragunov SVD sniper rifle used by the KPA. It did surprise Dr. Park how he managed to survive so many shots before succumbing.

After completing the external examination, he turned to take a sip of coffee, only to realise it was almost empty and worse, cold. He went to refill it and have a short break as the drowsiness was starting to creep up on him.

It was 0250 as he was sipping his coffee planning for the next examination when he began to hear a faint breathing noise. Wondering who it might be as he was the only one in the mortuary at the time, he got up and looked around. The corridors were empty and only the sounds of crickets filled the air. Satisfied, he walked back into his office, but just as he sat down, there it was again.

He went back out, wondering if this was some sort of ill-timed prank. His doubt was cleared when he looked towards the direction of the sounds. And confusion began to set in.

To his right down the corridor, was where he left the bodies. Alarmed, he cautiously moved towards the room as the breathing became more audible along with the occasional sound of metal falling onto the ground. As he got closer and closer, he could not shake the feeling of dread that was slowly but surely creeping up on him. Being the coroner and 15-year veteran in the army, Dr. Park has seen his fair share of disturbing things and had developed a reputation for having nerves of steel within the barracks, but as he walked into that autopsy room, all of that was about to change.

Inside, fully lit by the fluorescent lights, was one of the bodies standing upright facing away from him.

It was the Lieutenant.

Surrounding him was a red coloured mass of what seemed like a mist of blood and flesh, in some areas concentrating to form tendrils that connected the being to the other bodies of deceased soldiers in the opened refrigerators and racks. Looking closer, he noticed that the mist was stripping flesh from the bodies. In fear, the coroner’s hands began to shiver, and the mug of coffee slipped from his hand.

The Lieutenant turned to see a pale terrified man standing in the doorway next to some shattered ceramic. To Dr. Park’s utter bewilderment, the soldier looked perfectly fine. The pictures taken of wounds which tore into his face and body would have been cast off as fabricated when looking at him now if not for his bullet hole-ridden, blood and mud soaked uniform, lying on the floor. The soldier stared at the coroner for a good half a minute before the mass had entered back into him, a now healthy-looking young man, juxtaposed to the husks resting motionless around him.

The soldier walked up to Dr. Park, kicking away the bullets on the floor. He was frozen in place as the man examined him, before asking him politely with a quiet voice one would not expect from a soldier,

”Greetings, do you have some civilian clothes to wear, preferably clean and with no wording?” he requested.

At first, he wasn't sure where to get some, but when the thing that just revived itself from fatal bullet wounds and turned all the bodies around it into mere skeletons asks one to do a simple task for it, and that politely, one should honour the request. He looked around and to his luck, saw some of the discarded clothing of the bodies in a basket lying in the corner. He pointed to it, and the soldier calmly walked towards it. After inspecting some of the clothes, he looked at the coroner with penetrating eyes.

"Do you mind?"

Fear had made Dr. Park almost forget basic etiquette.

While waiting outside, doubt began to set in.

What if this is some kind of weapon?

Are the North Koreans really that advanced?

Has it already left?

Am I high?

Starting to feel an overwhelming sense of dread, Dr. Park cautiously moved to the room and peeped through the slit in the window. What he saw shook him to his core and he tried his best to quietly walk back.

After changing, the soldier walked out of the building with a duffle bag.

“Thank you Doctor. Oh…and it’s best if you stay outside.”

The coroner looked upon the man’s face before it turned and walked away into the darkness. Dr. Park could only stand there in utter silence.

Later that night, the barracks was alerted to the howling of the fire alarm. The soldiers ran out to see the mortuary in flames, and sitting on the pavement outside was the coroner, drenched in sweat with a thousand-yard stare firmly affixed onto his face. Despite the suspicious nature of the event, the fire had been attributed to faulty wiring in one of the freezing motors.

During his leave and subsequent psychiatric evaluation, Dr Park stated the events of that night and was recorded repeatedly muttering the words:

“It had their faces.”

It was definitely that man who came out and said his goodbyes. But the face was not, for there was one detail he never did manage to speak of.

On that fateful night, when he peeped into that fluorescent lit
autopsy room, he saw the entity…with the amalgamated facial features of his dead men.

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