home search Search stories, poetry, and more
Photo by Bruno Kelzer on Unsplash

At Cryerve, the bodies are kept in a secure, climate-controlled location over fifty stories beneath the main lobby.

As Damien Reed entered the building for his 975th shift since signing his five-year work contract, the bubbly receptionist waved and greeted the old man with a stream of unintelligible nonsense he had started tuning out over a hundred mornings ago. He smiled, waved back, and badged onward, walking slowly toward the elevators that would bring him down to cold, nightmarish silence entwined with a ten-hour shift.

The up elevator dinged at the lobby and Damien waved on a young woman, explaining that he was going down instead. She laughed, then looked confused when the jokester didn’t follow her onto the elevator. The doors closed and Damien watched the last human contact he’d have for the day slide behind four thick, steel panels.

The down elevator came next and Damien hopped on, pressing the button for 50. The numbers available ranged from 30 to 80, but he didn’t have the proper clearance to visit floors other than ones required for his work assignment. He swiped his badge on the elevator scanner and spent the next three and a half minutes descending down a deep tunnel cored out for the company’s elevator over five hundred years prior.

When the elevator was first being dug, hysteria for what would eventually be known as the third world war was ramping up at a record-breaking pace and people were looking for untraditional methods to cope with and/or survive what they correctly predicted to be an inevitable, deadly war on a scale magnitudes worse than ever seen before. Space tourism received a notable boom as leagues of people left their lives behind and moved to Mars, while others on earth purchased bunkers, cored out underground societies, and invested in experimental cryogenics.

Cryerve — as the infinitely-clever portmanteau suggests — was the leading cryogenics research institute at the time and quickly pivoted into a consumer-facing future-preservation service. They offered a five-hundred-year temporal freeze for anyone that wanted to leave their current life behind and start anew in the future; patients would simply have their heart rate artificially slowed to induce a coma, then be frozen in a nutrient-rich gas that would allow them to remain alive — technically — indefinitely. The caveat, of course, was that they didn’t know how to thaw people from it quite yet — but assured each customer that their team of world-renowned scientists would surely figure it out sometime in the next five hundred years. And the thawing procedure was free, meaning they could start their new life free of any debt from the past.

The elevator dinged at floor fifty and Damien stepped out. The stale air hit him immediately and he coughed to clear his throat, the sound echoing loudly against the linoleum flooring, industrial walls, and steel ceiling. Florescent lights illuminated the path to his workroom through a dim, yellow pathway.

Before taking a seat at his desk, he strolled over to a cabinet on the far wall and refilled the office cat’s dry food bowl. As he did, an old, grey longhair perked an ear up from his nap in Damien’s office chair and stretched a big stretch before strolling over for breakfast.

“Good morning, Carlos. Sleep well? Hungry?” The cat meowed loudly.

It was the decision of the upper floors to get the cord puller an emotional support office cat, many years before Damien’s time. Damien wasn’t sure how long Carlos had been locked up in this workroom, but there was a part of him that was happy only one human had to go through the distress inherent in his job. A much larger part of him wanted to die instead of keeping the job, but the cat helped a little when he was reminded his contract didn’t give him a choice. Likewise, Carlos was happy to have a human that fed him each day.

The man sat down at his desk and looked at the four tickets for the day. He sighed, glancing over each one. Angela Long. Katrina Vantrease. Ali Ransom. Jake Johnson. There were entire files of history and charts to read for each, but Damien found the less he read the better, for sanity’s sake.

“We’re gonna have a full day today, Carlos. Ready for the first one?”

At the far end of the workroom, Damien punched in the lookup code for his first task, Angela Long. He swiped his badge again and waited as the machine whirred. He knew that on another floor—one even further down into the depths than he was — mechanisms were turning and the body of a young Angela Long was being retrieved from Cold Storage.

As robotic hands moved Angela’s restbed from one conveyor belt to the next and eventually onto a lift that brought her body up to Damien’s workroom, the man had a sudden pang of compassion overwhelm him — something he’d long ago learned had no place in a healthy or productive work environment. While her body was being prepared for exposure, Damien decided to read through Angela’s history.

“She was a doctor,” he read aloud to the cat. “Barely out of med school. Three years at some hospital before the war got bad, frozen a week before the draft. Her husband volunteered apparently, so I guess he probably died. No kids, which explains why she’s up, I guess. Another one on the five hundred year promo.”

The lift doors opened with a whoosh as a gust of enriched fog flooded into the room. It was cold and gave Damien chills on the back of his neck to accompany the goosebumps that popped up when he looked down and stared a comatose, perfectly-preserved twenty-eight-year-old woman in the eyes.

He grabbed the vacuum ventilator and hooked it up to her bag, slowly depressurizing it with compressed air. It grasped tightly around her skin as if it had been sewn on, but when there was enough air in the bag Damien worked his way around the body pulling the bag loose, leaving creases across the entirety of Angela’s body that took nearly thirty minutes to fade away.

The bag was clear but thick, resulting in a skewed view of the woman he’d read about. He worked quickly and methodically as he’d done with each other body, but found a tear welling up in his eye for this one. It fell, splashing onto the plastic, as he worked to unzip the bag.

With the bag open, Damien got a better look at the stranger’s face. She had long, blonde hair that got caught up in tangled waves around her torso. Her face looked skeletal; her sunken eyes were framed with taut, grey skin that seemed to pull her mouth wider than should be humanly possible, and her pale lips did nothing to break the illusion of looking at the corpse of what would have once been a beautiful woman.

Damien stared in silence, trying to envision what life must have been like five hundred years prior. The war lasted long enough that it now had an entire year in school dedicated to it, so he knew the timeline and tactics and weapons and deaths well; what he didn’t know was how it affected the rest of the world: the people working regular jobs and sustaining a country at war, the people living in fear of both the enemies and the drafts of their own governments.

“Things must have been pretty bad to throw your life away for experimental cryogenics,” he pontificated at the cat, who was sitting on a nearby table licking his paw and glaring at the body. “I guess it’s not too different from throwing your life away for the war, though. Both uncertainties — and both likely failures.” This woman had paid an exorbitant price for 500 years of cryopreservation and left every one of her friends and family behind on the naive assumption that scientists would eventually be able to take her out of her frozen coma, but that breakthrough never materialized — and with no next of kin to keep her coffers paid and storage costs eating into Cryerve’s bottom line, her time was up.

“Let’s get you up now,” Damien narrated loudly but passionately to the comatose customer. The bag was fully unzipped, but he needed to roll her over slightly to get the last of the plastic out from under her. As he did, her bony arms flopped to the side and one dangled off the lift’s table.

He crumpled up the bag and walked it over to a chute on the wall to stuff it in. It’d be cleaned, sanitized, and reused for future clients.

On his way back from the chute, Damien unlocked and rolled over a thin, steel gurney. With it in place, he locked the wheels again and rolled Angela onto it, who immediately flung both arms over the sides and swung them like pendulums. Respectfully, he picked both arms back up and draped them over her chest, but they fell again almost immediately as soon as the gurney started moving.

“Back in a minute,” Damien called out to the cat as the two people left the room. Fluorescent lights once again lit the way down the B50 hall as the old gurney wheels creaked with each revolution over the white linoleum. The occasional door on either side of the hallway eventually ceased to exist as the path lengthened and eventually culminated in a singular, reinforced steel door centered at the end of the hall.

“It was nice meeting you, Angela,” Damien mourned out loud while unlocking the warm door. “I’m sorry.”

Unlocked, the incinerator door swung open and Damien pushed in the gurney to hold it in place. The man locked the wheels and tried one last time to cross the corpse’s arms over her chest, but was unsuccessful. With her floppy body exposed and dying, he used both hands to shove her into the incineration chute and solemnly listened to every echoing thud as she conclusively fell into the fiery depths below.