It's Day Five of my REVENANT preview week - today features Chapter Six. Here are the links to the first four days of previews if you'd like to check them out before reading today's preview:
Chapter Three, Four and Five
Now, here's Chapter Six:
The basement was dank and forbidding, even under normal circumstances, although it seemed more terrifying than usual now, Max thought. But maybe that was just because of what was about to happen here.
Two portable work lamps had been set up on sturdy metal tripod legs to augment the dim lighting, one mounted on the north side of the basement and one on the south. The lamps faced each other at an angle, splashing their light across roughly an eight foot gap, focusing the glare onto a heavy-duty tarp which had been spread out on the concrete floor.
Max and Raven stood side by side next to the tarp, dressed in identical denim coveralls, their hair stuffed under baseball caps. Latex medical gloves adorned their hands and disposable paper booties covered their feet. It was probably overkill—pun definitely intended, Max thought with a smile—but he didn’t care. There was no point risking contact with dead human tissue and bodily fluids when a few simple precautions could more or less eliminate the possibility.
“Ready?” he asked, and Raven nodded. Together they walked to the corner of the basement where an industrial grade floor freezer had been set up against the east wall. The freezer was constructed of shiny stainless steel and its interior measured more than six feet in length and two-and-a-half feet in width, roughly the size of a casket, making it perfect for their needs. It had set him back nearly twenty-five hundred bucks. He considered the price a bargain.
Max raised the lid and gazed down at Earl Manning, now almost five days dead, his body a solid block at the bottom of the freezer. The corpse was naked from the waist up. Removing the plastic bag from their victim’s head had been messy and difficult; Max had pulled the sturdy cord so tight during their brief but deadly struggle that it had disappeared into the delicate tissue, leaving a narrow furrow running under the victim’s jawline. It resembled a ghastly necklace.
Manning’s lifeless eyes stared fixedly at the ceiling. The expression of fear, helplessness and confusion frozen onto his face made it seem as though the corpse was accusing them of his murder. Perfectly understandable, under the circumstances, Max thought. Not that it will do him any good. He’s still dead. For now.
Max looped an arm around Raven’s waist and pulled her into him. He could feel her body trembling like a tiny bird’s as she stared at the dead man. “Let’s do this,” he said, and walked to the north side of the freezer. Together they reached to the bottom. Max hooked one large hand under each of Manning’s armpits, feeling his fingers immediately begin to stiffen from the intense cold despite being encased in the gloves. Raven placed her own, more delicate hands under the dead man’s ankles.
Max counted to three and they hauled the body up and out of the freezer. It rose with surprising ease, with their victim’s weight distributed relatively evenly along his nearly six foot frame. It was similar to lifting a heavy wooden plank. They began walking the corpse slowly across the basement floor.
They worked in silence, the only sound an occasional grunt from Raven as she struggled to balance the dead man’s lower half. When they reached the tarp, they bent and set the cadaver on its back in the middle, then stopped back to catch their breath. Manning had been a perfect fit inside the industrial freezer, filling it lengthwise, his shoulders clearing the side walls with a couple of inches to spare, almost as if he had been measured for it.
Now, however, the body looked small and lost, positioned in the middle of the mostly empty basement atop the oversized tarp. Its empty eyes stared steadfastly upward as if beseeching God—or anyone else who might be paying attention—to explain what was going on here. If God had an answer, though, he kept it to himself.
A thin layer of sparkling frost which had built up over Manning’s body now began to melt, giving him the appearance of a sweating athlete, which Max found amusing. Earl Manning’s days of heavy physical exertion—if there had ever been any—were long past, a fact demonstrated by his thin arms and generally scrawny build.
Max picked up a Black and Decker cordless rechargeable drill, which he had placed in a line of tools on the floor next to the tarp. He squeezed the trigger, listening to the satisfying whine of the motor. The drill was fully charged and ready for use. He straddled the slab of frozen flesh, one knee on either side of the subject’s waist, and placed the tip of the drill bit in the center of the chest, just below the sternum.
He squeezed the trigger again, exerting a steady downward pressure, and in a matter of seconds had punched a small hole through the mass of unyielding bone and tissue. Backing the drill out of the hole, Acton set it aside and reached for the next tool, a cordless rechargeable jigsaw, also fully powered and ready to use. Raven crouched on her knees next to Max, watching quietly, obsessive fascination glittering in her emerald-green eyes.
Max smiled at her, then slid the jigsaw’s blade into the hole in Earl Manning’s chest and began cutting. He sliced the flesh in a straight line to the top of the rib cage, the saw’s motor screaming in protest, almost as if speaking for the dead man who could not. The frozen tissue gave way grudgingly but steadily, and after a few moments, Acton withdrew the saw, placing it on the floor next to the drill. He had begun to sweat from the exertion, despite being seated astride what was essentially a six foot long ice cube.
After a moment to catch his breath, Max picked up a rib spreader, a frightening-looking contraption consisting of a pair of heavy metal bars placed side by side, each one widening out to a flat surface with a curved lip. The two bars were connected at their base by a third bar, adjustable along a corrugated track by a large thumbscrew. Max rested on his haunches atop the lifeless Earl Manning, holding the spreader in his right hand. He smiled again at Raven. “Having fun?” he asked. She smiled back tremulously and said nothing.
Squinting in concentration, Max leaned down and placed the twin bars of the rib spreader into his crude incision, positioning each lip snugly against the dead man’s ribs. Then he began turning the oversized thumbscrew, literally spreading Manning’s ribs apart inside his frozen chest.
It was hard work, made even more difficult by the body’s frozen state. Max began to breathe heavily and Raven asked, “Why did we have to freeze him? Wouldn’t this have gone much smoother with a normal body?”
Max wiped the back of one gloved hand across his forehead. “Sure, it would have been easier. But I froze him for two reasons. Doing it this way is not as messy; there are no nasty bodily fluids running all over the place. It makes clean-up a lot easier. That is the secondary benefit.”
Raven nodded. “What’s the primary benefit, then?”
“The main reason we froze him, sweetheart, is because I want to delay the inevitable decomposition of our friend Mr. Manning for absolutely as long as possible. We are only going to have a finite amount of time to accomplish what needs to be done, and every minute counts. So by freezing him, we are left with a body in as close to its original state as possible.”
“But won’t the freezing and thawing cause damage to his body?”
“He’s dead, remember? Who cares?”
“Of course I remember he’s dead, I just wondered if the tissue damage would cause problems for us down the line.”
“I hope not, but who really knows? This is uncharted territory, my dear.” Max pursed his lips and resumed cranking, moving the metal arms steadily apart, spreading the corpse’s ribs wider and wider. A Crack! split the air and Raven jumped. Max chuckled and continued cranking, breaking more ribs, one after the other, until the opening in Manning’s chest was wide enough to serve his purpose.
He reached inside and grasped his victim’s frozen heart firmly with his left hand. With his right he picked up a surgeon’s scalpel and began slicing muscle tissue, arteries and blood vessels. He started with the pulmonary veins and arteries, making clean incisions with a steady hand. Then he raised the scalpel, sliced through the thicker inferior vena cava, and finished with the superior vena cava at the top.
The victim’s heart was now separated completely from his body. Max lifted it out of the frozen chest and held it up for Raven’s inspection. She showed no reaction. He shrugged and stood, holding the muscle carefully in both hands, and walked to a small table set up along the wall near the industrial freezer.
A box adorned with beautiful, intricate animal carvings had been placed squarely in the center of the table. It was the prize Max had gone to so much trouble to procure three months ago in Arizona. Next to it was a similar box, although much plainer. Both lids were standing open. Inside the fancy box was the strange, perfectly smooth grey stone recently liberated from Don Running Bear, and inside the plain box was a sealable quart-sized plastic freezer bag.
Max slid the heart inside the bag and zipped it tightly shut, then placed the bagged heart into the plain box. He closed both lids and secured the latches.
“What do we do now?” Raven asked, glancing at the frozen body of Earl Manning, prone atop the tarp, chest gaping open like it had suffered an explosion from within.
“Now we wait.”
Tomorrow will feature Chapter Seven. REVENANT is a 75,000 word novel which works as Book Two in the Paskagankee series and also as a stand-alone supernatural suspense novel. It's priced at $3.99. Thanks for reading!