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Tasselmyer, who was the county medical examiner at the time, hadn’t called the victim we found in the Serenity Tower’s Apartment 11A “John Doe,” even though we had no idea who he actually was. We had our guesses—sure—but nothing concrete. Nothing about 11A was concrete, except for the very walls themselves, I suppose. If only they could’ve told us what happened in there.

No, Tasselmyer called the victim “The Frog,” and we all just went along with it. I mean, it made sense to me. The guy had a long tongue. I’d later find out, from Tasselmyer himself actually, that we all do—at least longer than what we see inside our mouths. I had never seen one out in the open like that before. If I’m lucky, I never will again.

No, Tasselmyer called the victim “The Frog” because—well, before he was county medical examiner—he was a high school anatomy teacher. Then it started to make sense.

“They still do that? Peel ‘em open, I mean?”

Tasselmyer nodded but never took his gaze off of me. I could see he was tired by the black rings around his eyes. He probably couldn’t sleep. Hell, none of us could.

“Back when I was teaching, yeah,” he eventually answered, though his voice had lost its usual captivating pitch in favor of a much more monotone mumble. “Some of ‘em still do it… some of ‘em do earthworms instead. Or a squid. Or owl pellets.”

“Owl pellets?”

He grumbled almost as if he were trying to laugh but couldn’t produce the sound. “Owl shit. Well... actually the shit they yack up. Like a hair ball."

I chuckled, trying to elbow him into doing the same, but he didn’t budge. “Wouldn’t be unlike the other shit they’re teaching ‘em in school.”

Tasselmyer blankly nodded. Then he glanced down at his salad and probed at a stray onion with the end of his fork. He was never the type that’d lose his appetite, especially at Nina’s and over a cobb salad, but 11A had that effect. That’s why I didn’t even order anything but a Diet Coke. I still didn’t drink it.

Tasselmyer went quiet for a long time just picking at the speckles of egg in his salad. He hadn’t shaved in over a week by the looks of it and his glasses hung off his face to the point where I thought they might’ve ended up as a part of his lunch.

“Why’d you leave?”

Tasselmyer looked up at me. I hadn’t seen his eyes without his glasses much. It didn’t look like him.

“The school.”

He nodded. “I didn’t feel like it made a difference.”

I had gone for my Diet Coke for the first time in the meal but now I didn’t want it anymore. “Whether you stayed or not?”

Tasselmyer nodded. “That and… well, forget it.”

“No, tell me.”

Tasselmyer sighed. “That and… well, I didn’t feel like I was making a difference.”

I nodded. I understood what he meant. “You weren’t being fulfilled.”

Finally, he laughed. Albeit it was more of a croak. “I guess.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean… oh, c’mon, Blackmore. Does that shit really even matter?”

“What? Fulfillment?”

“Yeah,” he said, still spinning his fork aimlessly. “Does it really matter if we’re happy? If we’re content?”

I shrugged. “I’d like to think so.”

I could tell he agreed.

“Did it matter for him?”

“For who?” I asked.

The Frog.”

I could see where he was going with this. I had led him right up and onto his soapbox and now he was ready to use it.

“I mean… didn’t he have dreams? Desires? A family?”

“Not if we don’t identify him,” I joked. Tasselmyer didn’t return my smile. Instead, he returned his fork to the napkin alongside his plate and then pushed it away.

“You gonna finish that?” I pointed.

“Are you?”

I shook my head, and he nodded his. Nina’s was quiet for such a morning and the next words out of my mouth were deliberately softer because of that.

"You couldn't fingerprint him? Blood sample?"

"Wasn't any blood to sample. And it's hard to get prints when the skin... isn't filled."

"Like a rubber glove?"

He nodded, only slightly. I sighed and wiped my chin. There was nothing else on it but sweat.

"What about his teeth?"

"What about 'em?" Tasselmyer asked. "They were connected to his jawbone still. Along with his full skeleton."

"I mean, did they identify anything about him?

"Oh sure," he continued. "How else do you think we know he was a he? Probably mid-30s. Caucasian. Didn't have any cavities, that's for sure." Tasselmyer then stopped and puckered his unibrow in thought. He, too, was sweating. "Who was living in 11A anyway?"

"Landlord said it was vacant. Said they were turning it for the next tenants when the carpenters walked in on... well, y'know."

"Geez." Tasselmyer swallowed, even though he hadn't eaten. I did the same and then leaned in toward him, trying my luck.

“What do you think happened? Actually?”

He chuckled again. “Hell if I know, Blackmore.”

“I know you don’t know but what do you think?”

“Who cares what I think?”

“I do.”

He smiled a little at the ends of his lips. “I think we’re dealing with something beyond our control, here. Beyond our comprehension.”

“Not a murder?”

He looked back at me sardonically, a brow raised. Then he leaned in and hushed back, making note of the old woman seated at the table two across from us. “What kinda murderer dissects ‘em like that?”

I shrugged. “Didn’t Dahmer?”

“Yeah… ‘til he ate ‘em. And his dissections weren’t like these. Not even close.”

“How come? The precision?”

“Yeah, the fuckin’ precision,” he said, careful to keep his voice down. At least now it had some life back into it. “You ever seen anything like that?”

“Nobody has. Said it yourself.”

He agreed, obviously. “Every body system… perfectly intact. Like a model kit. You remember those when you were a kid?”

“What? The little anatomy ones?”

The Frog

Tasselmyer nodded. “Skeletal system… respiratory system… nervous system—”

“Reproductive system?”

“That one too,” he agreed. “Y’know where they found that one, don’t ya?”

I raised my brows. “Lemme guess… bedroom?”

Tasselmyer pointed a tremoring finger at me. I then smiled at him with a morbid thought, and he welcomed me with his eyes to share it.

“Was the digestive one in the bathroom… or the kitchen?”

Both,” he said. “The tongue started in the kitchen and the anus made it all the way to the master bathroom.”

“Jesus,” I said. “How long’s that?”

“’Bout thirty feet or so,” Tasselmyer said. “One long tube… like a bendy straw.”

I shot a glance toward my Diet Coke, even though the straw was straight, and then settled my eyes back onto Tasselmyer. His chest was rising and falling heavily to the point where the sound of his breathing made me want to omit my next question. I didn’t. My heart was thumping too.

“So, if it wasn’t murder…?”

“Then, what was it?” Tasselmyer asked, finishing my question.

I nodded.

“Hell if I know, Blackmore. Hell if I know.”

“Not an explosion?” I asked.

“Perfectly intact. All of it.”

I nodded again. This time, I didn’t have any more questions.

Tasselmyer sighed and looked around again. The old lady was gone.

“I have a theory.”

“Let’s hear it.”

Tasselmyer chuckled throatily and drummed his fingers along the table. “It’s not a very good one.”

“They said the same thing about the world bein’ round.”

Tasselmyer grinned. “Fine. But this is off the record.”

I agreed. “Richland County’ll never know. For both our asses.”

Tasselmyer continued. “You familiar with prisms?”

“Y’mean like those glass things?”

He nodded. “Just like that. Like the triangular one on that album cover.”

Pink Floyd?”

“Sure,” he said, waving his hand dismissively. Tasselmyer was never the kind for rock music. “Y’know how the glass separates the white light into all the colors of the rainbow?”

“Sure,” I mimicked him.

Tasselmyer nodded with a faint curve on each pale cheek and raised his brows, telling me nothing and everything at the same time. Instead of answering any of my questions, he supplied me with a handful of new ones.

“Wait—what kind of prism are we talking about, here?”

He shrugged. “Hell if I know, Blackmore—”

“I know,” I said, cutting him off. “I know. But you gotta know how those things work at least, right?”

Tasselmyer ran his fingers through his hair, which was coarse and messy. “I read up on it.”

“And?”

“And,” he sighed, “the different colors that make up plain-ol’ white light pass through the glass at different speeds. At an angle, they bend. And they all bend differently.”

“And so, it makes a rainbow?”

“Right,” Tasselmyer agreed.

“And so… what’s that mean for The Frog? What’d you mean by something ‘beyond our comprehension’?”

Tasselmyer laughed again. This time, though, the laugh was void of any humor in it.

“You don’t mean something… paranormal, do you?”

“Who’s to say?”

“Well, for starters, you,” I said, eying him carefully and making sure he wasn’t going mad. Frankly, it was hard to tell. “You’re the doctor, after all.”

“And you’re the coroner. What difference does it make?”

“About four years of medical school, actually.”

Tasselmyer smiled. “You don’t believe in the paranormal?”

“I was Catholic ‘til I was fifteen. Does that count?”

“Maybe. So, you think God did it?”

I shook my head. Maybe he was going mad.

“Good. I agree,” he said. “Let’s go down the list of possibilities. Scratch God off… for now.”

“Alright,” I said, going mad right along with him. “So, we’re leaving science behind and embracing philosophy?”

“If you say so,” he said, smile returning.

“Alright. What about aliens?”

“What about ‘em?”

“Maybe they probed him. Dissected him. Y’know, like Jeffery Dahmer just… cleaner.”

“Perhaps. Keep going.”

I thought about it. “Different… dimensions?”

“How so?”

“Well, I’m not one for science fiction,” I said, “but isn’t the general idea that you can teleport to other worlds? Other realities that coincide with this one?”

“Something like that,” Tasselmyer said.

“Well, then… maybe like your prism analogy he just got… split up. Y’know the muscles came through separately than the blood vessels or that kind of thing.”

“Mmhmm,” he said. “Except no blood in 'em. Could be time travel then, too.”

"And... what? The blood's in a different time?"

Tasselmyer shrugged.

“Maybe,” I said, and as soon as I did, I realized just how far both of us had fallen down the rabbit hole. We were both going mad. Or, maybe, we already were.

“Anything else, Blackmore?” Tasselmyer asked.

Is there anything else?”

He shrugged. “Let’s go back to God for a second.”

“Seriously?”

He nodded. “Not the Catholic one… the Hindu one.”

I raised one brow at him. “Do the Hindus believe in God?”

Again, Tasselmyer grinned. “Don’t get ahead of me, Blackmore.”

I raised my hands in innocence. By now, Nina’s had completely cleared out. The late lunch crowd would be arriving soon.

“The Hindus believe that ‘God’—if you want to call it that—call it ‘Brahman’—is everything. And everything is God.”

“Alright,” I said. I genuinely wasn’t sure of where he was going with this.

“And, so, if everything is God… then so are we.”

I nodded. “I guess I follow.”

“I knew you’d keep up,” he continued. “If we’re all God… we’re all one in the same. They believe in this thing called ‘Samsara’—reincarnation.”

“That after I die, I’ll come back as a butterfly or something else?”

“Or someone else,” Tasselmyer added. “I guess if you follow the logic to its logical conclusion… you’ll eventually become everybody. Everything.”

I leaned back in the chair that I had forgotten I was even sitting in. My face had gone numb too and other than the beeping oven alarm in the kitchen nearby, the place was dead quiet.

“So, you’re saying that when I die… there’s a chance I’ll be born… as you?”

“And I’ll be born as you,” he added. “But what difference does it make?”

“What difference does it make to The Frog?” I said, trying to end the conversation. Not only did the rabbit hole run too deep… it was starting to frighten me in its depths.

Tasselmyer’s smile disappeared under an expression of sheer confusion. It wasn’t a face he wore often. Or, at least, liked to.

“I don’t fully know,” he said, not looking directly at me. “Maybe we just caught him at an intersection of time and space.”

“Like those dimensions I mentioned?”

“A bit,” Tasselmyer said. “Maybe all of those lives run simultaneously. Maybe in one he was fuckin’ in his bed… and, in another, taking a shit in the bathroom.”

“Or yackin' up a pellet that they’d dissect in a public high school,” I joked. Tasselmyer raised his brows and, while he knew I was only kidding, I couldn’t tell if he felt the same.

“Or… maybe it was just the aliens,” he smiled. “You gonna finish that Coke?”

I smiled back at him, as if I had just seen an old friend. I probably had. “It’s Diet.”

“Eh, whatever,” he said and took a swig. After a few moments of sucking it down and smacking his lips, I waited for him to say something else. Finally, he did when he noticed the elephant in the room.

“Well, Blackmore… what’re you gonna put down as the cause of death?”

“Hell if I know, Tasselmyer,” I said. “Hell if I know.”


Written by MakRalston
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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