Shortwave Magazine

Fiction / Short Stories

"Killer Company"

a short story
by Eric Raglin

July 26, 2023
1,182 Words

My client failed to mention the broken elevator, so I’m lugging this corpse in a cardboard box up five flights of stairs. If I had someone to come home to, I’d complain to them about it over dinner. Maybe they’d joke about the good workout I got, and my bad mood would dissolve into laughter.

When I reach the fifth floor, my button-up is soaked—no room for even one more drop of sweat. I grimace, then knock on the door to 5C. The peephole cover clicks open, followed by the lock. My client opens the door. Six a.m. on a Saturday and she’s all ready for date night: red satin dress, sapphire earrings, brown hair set in curls. She’s probably forty-something and single if her ringless finger is to be believed. No different than the others.

“Are you Mike?” She smiles, her eyes darting between me and the box.

“Sure,” I say. Mike today, Jeff in August, someone else in September. “Got a package for you. Mind if I bring it in?”

Blushing, she steps out of the way and smooths the front of her dress. I enter the unit, dragging the box with sore arms. She locks the door behind me.

“I’ve been waiting so long for this day,” she says, beaming.

“Pay day, you mean?”

Her smile fades. She opens the broom closet, picks up an old coffee can, and takes out a wad of cash. I count it carefully. If she’s short, I’ll cut the corpse’s head off and let her deal with the mess. Thankfully, it doesn’t come to that. She’s even left a hundred dollar tip. Skimpy, I’ll admit, but I’ll take what I can get.

“He’s all yours,” I say, stuffing the cash in my sweaty pocket. It immediately soaks up the salty moisture.

I slit the box’s packaging tape with my pocketknife. The woman approaches to examine her prize.

“I can’t thank you enough,” she says, voice trembling.

She opens the box and gasps. Hand clasped to her chest, she inches closer, shuts her eyes, and breathes deep. The embalming fluid stinks like a chemical fire, but her eyelids flutter in pleasure.

“He was misunderstood, you know,” she says. “All he really needed was a good woman.”

I’ve heard that one before. About Manson, Bundy—even Dahmer, funnily enough. Time to go.

“You have a good day, Miss,” I say, then pause at the door. “One last thing: forget you ever saw me. Understood?”

She nods but doesn’t look at me. Her sparkling gaze savors the corpse, defying the old saying of ‘til death do us part. Her love is boundless, unconditional.

The kind of love I’ve always wanted and never known.

Different cemetery, different state. The drive takes two days, but I prefer it this way. Distance makes it harder for the cops to catch me. God knows they tried back in Sacramento and Seattle.

Still, I’m lonely. A sixteen-hour drive and no companion to sing country classics with, no one to point out apocalyptic Christian billboards and laugh. Just me, a two-lane highway, and flat farmland as far as the eye can see.

I can’t stop thinking about how my last client stared at that corpse. I dreamed about it last night—the sort of dream most men stop having after their teenage years. It’s not that I want her; it’s that I want someone. Need, even. Someone to look at me the way she looked at that man in the box.

No more wallowing. It’s pitch black here in corn country, and this small-town cemetery is just a mile off. Client wants me to dig up a man who’s been buried forty years. Not much information about this killer on the internet—a real “deep cut” for the true crime gals—but apparently he strangled two women to death. Not sure why this client would fall for a killer with such modest accomplishments.

Doesn’t matter, I guess. Love is love.

Embalming fluid is an imperfect preservative, as evidenced by the soggy, gray corpse in my trunk. Every few seconds, I catch a whiff—like roadkill soaked in a vat of acid. Rolling down the windows doesn’t help. With the rocky bounce of the dirt road, I bet the corpse will liquefy by the time I reach my client, leaving a stench and stain no amount of scrubbing can conquer. But really, what is this woman expecting? A sleeping Prince Charming?

As dawn breaks, I drive past a soybean field and crest one final hill. My client’s white ranch sneaks into view. No neighbors for miles, so no need to box up the corpse and pretend I’m delivering an appliance. Then I’ll be alone again, driving a thousand miles east to my next job. Not sure how much more solitude I can take.

I pull into the client’s gravel driveway. After a quick peek through the blinds, she runs out of the house to greet me—or greet him, really. The woman is beaming, happy tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Matthew, right?” she asks, tapping on the driver’s side window.

I say nothing, captivated by her expression. Her eyes glimmer with the promise that her loneliness ends today. How many people have I given this gift to? And couldn’t I give it to myself?

“Please, let me see him,” the woman says, fidgeting and pointing to my trunk.

Her smile widens like a starved and desperate hyena baring its teeth. She’d do anything to possess the man in my trunk. And what will I have left when she takes him? A full wallet and an empty heart.

I put my car in reverse and pull away from her house. The woman shields her eyes from the spray of gravel. When she looks back, her expression has morphed into pure panic. She chases me on foot.

“Wait! Come back!” she screams, as if this turn of events might kill her.

But I’m already tearing down the road with a companion in tow. I don’t look back.

No money means no motel. AC and cool sheets would be nice on a night like this, but I’ve slept in my car before. At least I’m not alone this time.

Around midnight, I pull off the dirt road and park beside an orchard. Darkened trees hiss and contort in the wind, apples withered from summer’s oppressive heat. Still, it’s cooler out there than in here.

I exit the car, stretch my aching legs, and gaze at the sky. The stars shine brighter and more abundant than I’ve ever seen. Stargazing by myself makes me feel more alone than ever—like a small, ugly speck in a luminous universe. But I don’t have to feel that way. Not anymore.

As I pop the trunk, a wave of chemical rot greets me. I drag the man out anyway. His skin sloughs off in my grip, but it doesn’t matter. I place his peeled body on the hood of my car, then lie beside him. The breeze cools us, and even though it carries his stench toward me, I don’t mind.

Together, we count the stars.


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About the Author

Eric Raglin (he/him) is a Nebraskan horror/Weird fiction writer. His short story collections include Nightmare Yearnings, Extinction Hymns (published by Brigids Gate Press), and Lonesome Pyres (forthcoming in 2024 through Off Limits Pulp). He owns Cursed Morsels Press and has edited Bitter Apples, Shredded: A Sports and Fitness Body Horror Anthology, and Antifa Splatterpunk.

Copyright ©2023 by Eric Raglin.

Published by Shortwave Magazine. First print rights reserved.

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