Resurrection Man--one who exhumes/steals dead bodies, especially for dissection.
Cloaked in darkness, the men worked quickly. Rain poured from the folds of their tricorns, snaked down their waistcoats, soaked their breeches, and transformed the hole into a muddy, soupy mess. Still they dug.
"Bloody hell, this is madness!" Willoughby said, stopping to catch his breath. "People shall find us housed within Bedlam's walls on the morrow. Of that I am quite certain."
"Stuff and nonsense." Nobel said, exasperated at last. "Commence digging, Nephew, for we have been entrusted with the most delicate of solicitations. Time is of the essence, boy. Far be it from me to keep the good doctor waiting longer than is absolutely necessary. Eight guineas will go well toward your private tutelage, Willoughby, and should we venture to embark on such outages as this on a monthly basis I should think we shall never again be in want of figgy pudding with which to caress our gullets."
Willoughby, inhaling as much air as his seventeen-year-old lungs allowed, let it out in one great huff of disapproval. "Danger awaits, Uncle. I pray heaven your anatomist is indeed an honest fellow, for I fear the consequences to be quite dire if he is not."
"You have nothing to fear, Willoughby. Micijah Povey is a reputable surgeon, and as such commands the utmost trust and respect. I venture to say that few men are as admired or exhibit the quality of integrity Doctor Povey possesses. I have complete confidence in the man. Now dig. The sooner we complete this dirty business the better for all."
The buckboard bounced and banged up the drive, the ruts shuttling the carriage about with force enough to jostle the chaff, revealing the shroud-wrapped corpse beneath. As the horse rounded the final bend, Doctor Micijah Povey stepped through the front door and onto the portico. Draped in a butcher's apron concealing chest to ankle, Povey descended the steps and peered over the wagon's side. "I trust your mission was a success, gentlemen?" he asked.
"Quite." Nobel smiled, lifting the lantern to illuminate the compartment's interior. "May I present for your approval one Sir Jonathan Abbott, born twenty-first April, seventeen hundred and fifty-three. Buried yesterday morning fifth October, seventeen hundred and seventy-six. Finding one less than forty-eight hours in the ground proved to be difficult. I daresay, if not for this beastly downpour we should have done much sooner. Doctor Povey, may I introduce my nephew Willoughby Collicott, without whom this endeavor would have been utterly impossible. I'm not as young nor as fit as I used to be, I'm afraid. Willoughby, shake the good doctor's hand, if you please."
They shook, and Willoughby thought the hand cold and slick like a venomous snake. He wiped his palm against his thigh, but the doctor seemed to take no notice whatsoever.
"Hmm," Doctor Povey said, turning his back. "Follow me, gentlemen, and bring Mister Abbott."
Extinguishing the lantern, Nobel positioned himself at the dead man's feet and tugged. Once the corpse's buttocks cleared the end of the buckboard, Willoughby scooped Jonathan Abbott under the arms and commenced to follow.
"Forgive us, Doctor," Nobel said, stopping just short of the threshold. "I fear the storm has soaked us through. If you would be so kind as to allow us an opportunity--"
"Mud will dry."
Uncle and nephew exchanged a wary glance, Willoughby shrugged good-humoredly, and both men followed Doctor Povey into the bowels of his opulent Georgian mansion.
As they descended the stairs to the basement, stopping occasionally to shift the deceased's weight between them in an effort to keep the body aloft, Micijah Povey began to speak.
"Medical science is progressing by leaps and bounds, gentlemen. Life expectancy is but thirty-five to forty years. How old are you, young Willoughby?"
"Seventeen years, Sir."
"And you, Mister Kittering?"
"Call me Nobel, Sir. Thirty-two, Sir."
"Seventeen and thirty-two, respectively. Willoughby, what would you say if I told you that by the time you're my age, twenty-eight, everyone should expect to live ten, perhaps twenty years beyond today's average life expectancy?"
"Why, I'd say that's incredible, Sir. Too good to be true, Sir."
"Place the body just there, please," Povey said, pointing to a table at the center of the room. "And Nobel, at thirty-two the reality of your own mortality must bear like a monumental weight upon your shoulders, does it not? What must it be like to know you've but eight years, give or take, in which to accomplish your heart's desires? The fact must loom like an ominous cloud."
"Well, when stated in such a way as that, my mortality weighs heavily indeed." Nobel frowned.
"Precisely! Which is why I embarked on this, my most recent and ambitious experiment. My contemporaries call me mad," Povey said with a flourish, hustling about the body like a man possessed. "Some suggest I am in collusion with Satan himself--that some dark force is at work to corrupt my mind. I've been ostracized by colleagues who have threatened to have my 'suspicious and questionable' activities reported to the authorities, but I know what they do not. I know what they can not: eternal life is possible, gentlemen. It is within our very grasp!" he said, thrusting his clenched fist between them.
"Pardon me for asking, Sir, but are you not an anatomist?" Nobel asked, confused. "I was under the distinct impression you are a doctor of anatomy--that you require Mister Abbott's body in order to perform anatomical research."
"Not an anatomist, an animist. Or, to be more precise, a re-animist. As you know an animist is one who subscribes to the idea that all objects possess a soul, which is to say, ridiculous. No, gentlemen, I am a doctor, a man of science and reanimation. Just as Christ brought Lazarus back to life, I restore life to the dead."
Willoughby slunk backward, the unsettling sense of dread and foreboding he'd experienced upon first meeting Doctor Micijah Povey asserting itself anew. "No, Sir. It's not possible."
The men watched in horror as Doctor Povey produced a scalpel, leaning over the body to inflict a small incision into the corpse's right lower neck. "One tube into the carotid artery to carry my Reanimation Solution throughout the circulatory system, replacing the body's blood supply. A second goes here," he said, inserting another tube into Jonathan Abbott's neck. "Inserted into the jugular vein, this egress will serve as our drainage tube. Once my life-giving elixir has suffused the body, all that remains is to deliver a steady electrical current to shock the heart. Twenty-four years ago Benjamin Franklin played with a kite, a key, and a storm. I expounded on his discovery to the degree that I, with the aid of electricity, of course, can restore life itself."
Nobel, clutching his tricorn between clenched fists, looked over his shoulder for Willoughby. The boy had backed himself against the stone wall and, his knees buckling beneath him, sank to the floor. "Indeed," Nobel muttered, returning his attention to Doctor Povey. "We regret the interruption. Far be it from me to stand between a doctor and his work. If you'd be so kind as to pay us our due we'll be on our way, Sir."
Doctor Povey gripped each side of Jonathan Abbott's waistcoat with the underlying linen shirt and pulled it open, exposing the torso. "A copper-wrapped iron rod, an electrolyte, a hand-crank," he said, attaching wires to the dead man's chest as turquoise-colored fluid pumped into his carotid artery, forcing the viscous blood out the jugular vein and into a bucket beneath the table. "These things help deliver a charge to the heart, but it is my Reanimation Solution that restores life. Without it Mister Abbott would forever remain forgotten beneath the earth. Nobel, would you be so kind as to lend a hand? That handle there," he said, pointing. "Give it a good crank, and keep at it until I tell you to stop."
Nobel removed his greatcoat and gripped the crank with his right hand. "Blasted thing is a bit stiff," he said, embarrassed to find the handle barely moved under the effort. He tried both hands and set to the task.
"That's right," Povey said, his face a mask of demented bliss. "Yes, just so. Look there," he said, pointing to the corpse's fingers. "He moves!"
"Black magic," Willoughby whispered. "Surely nothing good can come of this, Uncle. Pray heaven protect us."
"The others were unsuccessful. Too old at time of death, too long dead, diseased." Doctor Povey placed an ear over the dead man's chest, furrowing his eyebrows. "I soon discovered a triad of conditions must be present for reanimation to occur: youth--preferably someone under the age of twenty-five, health--death resulting from an unexpected and unfortunate injury as opposed to disease, and finally, the body must be relatively fresh--no more than forty-eight hours dead. Once hanged, criminals are buried quickly, generally in a potter's field, making them ideal candidates. As for the Reanimation Solution, it was a series of trial and error, but my travels abroad allowed me to meet with some of the most brilliant minds in all the world--from French philosophers to Vodou practitioners on Saint-Domingue island."
Willoughby placed a quivering hand upon Nobel's back. "Uncle, I implore you to desist. This is the devil's work."
Nobel shrugged him off. "Anatomical research performed on deceased criminals is a respectable and necessary practice, to be sure, but to restore life?" Nobel mused. Beads of sweat glistened on his forehead and dripped into his eyes. "Is that wise, Doctor?"
"I hear something," Povey whispered, pressing his ear over the corpse's heart. "Yes, yes. The heart beats. He lives!"
Jonathan Abbott opened his eyes.
1,620 words (according to Microsoft Word)
Written for May 2016