The Corpse King (Novella Series #21)
by Tim Curran
Here were cadavers of every age and sex packed in sawdust and hay, sunk in wooden casks and barrels of brine. Here were babies pickled in bottles and salted limbs heaped in cupboards. Staring heads had been salted and women injected with preservative. They waited against the walls like mummies and leered from corners with rictus grins. A great assemblage of charnel harvest awaiting the highest bidder, supply and demand. Like the grisly pantry of a cannibal.
Clow grinned. “Aye, I look around me workshop and see coins spilling from every recess, I do. Would you agree, Mickey Kierney?”
“I would,” Kierney said, pulling a lid off a cask and pouring a bit of grain alcohol from a dusty bottle onto the bobbing head of a woman.
“And look here, would you?” Clow said. “Me latest offerings.”
He approached a table with two small forms shrouded in a graying sheet. Carefully, he pulled the sheet back. There were the cadavers of two four-year old twin girls laying there, cold as clay, eyes gummed shut, tiny stiff hands pressed over white bosoms.
“Oh, me fine darlings, look at you, look at the wonder of you,” Clow said, pouring himself a tin cup of gin and toasting them. “Your mother decided she would strangle you, did she? Decided life was better without you, eh? Well, no matter, me and Mr. Kierney will whisk you off to the medical college at first light. You’ll be in good hands there, I say. Better than the moss and crawlies of the churchyard, I be thinking,” Clow stroked their sunken faces, brushed a stray strand of hair away from the one on the left and cooed to the other, drawing a finger over her seamed, blackened lips. “Sssh, sssh, me doves, me lovies, me fine little darlings. We’ll have none of that now, will we? Samuel Clow will take fine care of you, he will.”
Together, Clow and Kierney gently lowered the bodies of the girls into a vat of brine to hold them over until delivery. Their blonde curls skated over the surface a moment, then sank from view.
“Bless ye, me angels,” Clow said, closing the lid.