Thursday, 20 October 2011

The night shift morgue worker

An old European morgue/mortuary, believed to be close to 100 yrs old.

Zhang Zheng worked at the city’s morgue where he rotated his shift with five other colleagues. They were all men aged between 30 to 40 years old. It was not difficult job routine for all of them except it was hard to pass time. Apart from chatting, reading books and newspapers, playing chess, smoking and even gambling with poker cards, they had all become immune to boredom. Their job functions required them to register any arrival of new corpses, and signed documents for all departing bodies for burial. Death certificates and burial permits were essential for all release of bodies. There were other morticians responsible to clean and bath the bodies, and to cloth them. In fact this had become the work of the undertakers as they were paid by the funeral parlors (who were also the casket dealers) to facilitate the funeral process. In the dearth of the night when wind was hollowing across city morgue compound, the chill of the city’s near zero temperature sent shudder down the night workers’ spines; all of them cursed for not wearing enough warm clothing despite the earlier weather forecast. Very often the undertaker companies sent their representatives to solicit business opportunity from Zhang Zheng and his fellow workers as they had all the details of the deceased’s families, phone numbers and addresses etc. registered in their ledgers. Packed coffee and night caps, plus cigarettes were readily offered to them almost everyday when they were on night duty. A handsome commission was paid to any of the morgue workers whenever the deceased’s family engaged the service of the funeral parlor with the recommendation of the staff at the city morgue.

This is no ordinary refrigerator. This is a cold freezer used to store dead bodies in a morgue before their burial . 

At twenty-eight years old Zhang Zheng was at first aghast to work at the morgue where he saw dead bodies every working day. His failure to be accepted into any of the university at his province due to his lackluster high school grades, and after one full year of joblessness with aging parents he had no choice but accepted the post through the arrangement of his village’s party cadre. After five long years of working he found the job boring and unchallenging with a basic salary. Then the extra income he enjoyed receiving from the funeral service companies were too tempting that he could not consider quitting.

Drinking beer, playing cards and chess, chatting and smoking are favourite pass time of Chinese men.

One night Zhang Zheng was on single duty as his colleagues old Liao got on medical leave. He was cursing as he was not informed until the last moment and no one turned up to buy him food and cigarettes. He sat at his desk to fill the registration logbook to record their routine night duties. Suddenly he felt that he was not alone - an old man dressed in ragged clothes with uneven locks of hair and long flowing beard appeared in front of him, smiling at him. Though surprised, Zhang was not shocked but felt rather disturbed and annoyed. He kept his cool and shouted at the unexpected visitor who dressed shabbily and seemed unkempt in an authority tone: “what do you want, old man?” Zhang was aware that it was common for family members of the deceased to turn up at odd hours to inquire about details of burial procedures etc. Then in a fraction of a second, the mysterious old man disappeared. This time Zhang became very alert and vigilant. He stood up and searched the entrance and exit gate of the morgue but could not find any trace of the old man.

A beauty mortician at work to prepare the deceased to look her best before funeral ritual.

When he went back to his desk he heard some noises inside the morgue where bodies were kept in large cold metal drawers of the mortuary freezers. There he saw a traumatic sight that he would never forget – the same old man who vanished as soon as he arrived was happily munching, feeding on one of the female dead bodies. He was tearing, lacerating and twisting one of the limbs of the corpse with loud noises, detaching it and eating the flesh of it. It seemed that this hungry ghost had not been eating for ages. Zhang gathered courage and shouted at the assailant: “What the hell are you doing? Who are you?” He raised a wooden chair and threw at the perpetrator with all his might; the chair missed its target. The old man turned his head and stared at Zhang with intense eyes, still smiling and munching some human flesh, baring his darkened protruding gum and stained uneven teeth with dried blood all over his face, talking to him with a very strong ShangDong tone, “don’t you want some of this?” The sight of seeing the man voraciously devouring human flesh was too much to bear for Zhang; a sudden surge of disgusted feeling went over him, he fell backwards to the floor and became unconscious.

Mentally sick, handicapped or challenged patients are a pitiful lot. They are shut in a world of their own, with erratic behaviour that's hard to explained. They could be harmful to themselves and to others. Many are prone to sudden outburst of uncontrollable rage. So a period of confinement and continuous psychiatric treatments at a sanatorium is entailed.

In the early hours of morning a handful of morgue workers turned up to report for duty. They found a disoriented Zhang Zheng lying on the cold cemented floor, with his eyes opened wide like he had seen something he should not see. His face was bloodied all over and his mouth wide opened with protruding black, darkened gum with uneven teeth set. The worst and repugnant scene they dreaded to see – Zhang’s right hand was holding a mutilated human hand. This was not the Zhan Zheng they used to know. Of course they also discovered the chaotic situation at the interior of the morgue where bodies were kept in large steel freezers. The scene was inexplicably horrible and sickening. 

An imate at the sanatorium, China, waiting to see his family members, but they   seldom turn up. Unless they are violent prone, otherwise they are free to move about.


Poor Zhan Zheng never recovered from the ordeal; he had lost the ability to speak and his intelligent mind too. The hospital authority, the police department and the district office were unable to get to the bottom of it since they could not extricate a single word from Zhang. He was always in the state of delirium. Since there was no CCTV installed at the interior of the morgue so their investigation drew a blank; the mystery of the incident at the city morgue remained unsolved. No way could it be unraveled so they unanimously pointed their accusing fingers at Zhang as if he was the culprit, just to close the case. Eventually a desolate Zhan Zheng was sent to a sanatorium for lunatics. It was a pitiful sight to see him staring into emptiness as he slid into a permanent sleepy hollow – fate had played a wanton joke on him.

A telltale story I heard from a friend who hailed from China
Alan CY Kok           

1 comment:

  1. An old European morgue/mortuary, believed to be close to 100 yrs old.
    Nice Pic..
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