The itch had been going on for a couple of weeks now. When I turned my back to the bathroom mirror, a red patch, the size of a coat button, caught my eye between the shoulder blades. Probably what was called a “post covid skin rash”. I had heard others with similar problems complain. The shit attacked the nervous system. 
But this morning, the itching had finally ceased. I was relieved, but then I noticed that there was still tension under the skin. Like a nasty acne spot that needed to be squeezed out. I took a shower and pulled on my favourite flannel shirt. The black fabric had been washed over and over to complete smoothness. It didn't rub against the spot at all. As I brushed my teeth in front of the mirror, I met my own gaze under the long bangs. I debated whether to cut it myself or make an appointment at the hairdressers. Before I could make up my mind, it was time to leave. It was almost half past eight.  
As a self-employed person, I flexed, but today I had a morning meeting booked in my agenda. My office was located in a basement with four other freelancers. Apart from individual assignments we also collaborated on larger projects. The others were extremely punctual. I knew how annoyed they would be if I didn't arrive on time. I had once tried to bribe them with a delicious loaf of pastry from the neighborhood bakery, but Cinna, who was allergic to gluten, had resolutely taken the paper wrapping with its old style logotype out of my hands and shoved it in the bin without a word. The others did look disappointed, but no one dared to object. She was the linchpin. Thanks to her, we had landed our first client, a funeral parlour specialising in organic burials. She was also behind our new project, with the working title "Autumn Glow". So far, it was little more than an idea. In a pressure chamber, the deceased's ashes were compressed to the size of a pinhead. The small ball was then inserted under the plumage of an outgoing migratory bird. Thus brought to the southern hemisphere, the last journey took on the glow of a sunny holiday.  
My career had started quite differently, as a church musician. For almost ten years I had earned a living as an organist in a small parish. I was dismissed when, due to reduced budget allocations, they switched to pre-recorded music. The coach at the communal job centre advised me to retrain. "You're so artistic," she complimented me, doing a comic eye twinkle. "Here's something that might suit you." I was offered a one-year course in computer graphics and accepted, more because of the generous grants than out of any genuine interest. Sure, I was both creative and good at drawing, but even if the conditions were good, my fellow students had an advantage. They were of course much younger but also more ambitious. When it was time for an internship, the coveted positions in the computer games industry were quickly taken. 
"Don't worry," our teacher consoled me when my application was turned down for both my first, second and third choices. Peter Cuddleton, nicknamed Cuddly because he was both good-looking and had a bit of a belly, had recently left an international career at a top-tier design agency. Officially it was burnout that put an end to a life of stress and overtime work, but rumour had it that a cancer diagnosis was somehow involved. I hoped it wasn't true. I liked Peter as much as he liked my geometrical patterns inspired by fifties design. 
"I saved this especially for you," he said, giving me an address that hadn't been in the public pile. "And black is your color. You're a goth, right?" 
I shyly replied that I was probably kind of an emo, but he was right. I was the perfect match for Dienow's design department. My job was to design corpse enveloping - urns and coffins. There was a demand for more modern shapes as well as new materials. Although I had been trained in computer rendering, I mostly made my models in cardboard. My project manager constantly pushed me to look further.
“What the heck, it looks like a shoebox! You can do way better than this!" 
It was clear that this woman was a winner, with a strong, personal vision. Since she never seemed satisfied with my results, I was flattered that at least sometimes she confided in me.
"Have you thought about what an absolute petty it is to become simple dirt. Maybe someone wants to become a flower or a tree, or rise from the ashes like the Phoenix. We should be able to help them with that. Not just the material stuff."  
Even when I didn't understand, I agreed. At the end of the internship, I was offered a permanent position at Dienow and probably would have signed the contract if Cinna hadn't persuaded me to turn it down. 
"Because it is our dream to start a business." 
She had already made an offer for an office space in an industrial area outside the city. Sure, I dreamed of security, but even more so of being part of something great. A cloudy Thursday in November, she introduced me to the rest of the team. It was truly a disappointment that I wasn't the only one she wanted to work with. Everyone was friends with her in different ways. Red-haired, big-breasted Vanja knew her from an experimental theatre group, a skinny and very timid girl called Brittany sang in the same choir and Pierre, a former lorry driver, had children in the co-operative nursery where Cinna had her kids too. I couldn't understand why she chose these collaborators. They were dull and didn't seem to have any significant industry knowledge. But maybe it was her recipe for success to carry the star all by herself, because money quickly started to roll into our very nichy business. I never interacted with my co-workers outside of work. Sometimes, when we worked late hours, we had dinner together in the Greek restaurant opposite the office, but as alcohol consumption was extremely moderate, no personal details of importance were ever revealed. In fact a year later, I had virtually no idea who my freelance colleagues really were.
This special morning, they were all sitting around the table with a cup of coffee in front of them when I hurried in. Once more, my back started itching. It was five past nine.
- Close the door! 
I quickly wrenched off my jacket and sat down in the vacant seat next to Cinna. Everyone fixated me, without a single syllable uttered. Even though it was not my role to initiate the discussion, I decided to break the silence.
- So what’s up? I asked. Any news from the client? 
Cinna stretched out her arm and her hand landed like a crow on my shoulder. I was used to it. She had made a habit out of intruding on our private spaces, to remove hairs and straighten shirt collars. Only this time I felt her fingers slide down my back and firmly stop at the sore spot between my shoulder blades.
-"Ow!" I couldn’t help the sound that came out of my mouth. 
It felt like something had broken. I hoped there wouldn’t be any embarrassing stains from burst spots on the shirt. My hair scraped against my forehead. Pierre roared like a horse, Brittany quietly giggled as she twisted a test of her blonde, streaky hair and Vanja bared the nicotine stenched teeth in a broad smile. Cinna calmly glittered with joy. It was obvious how she used other people to make herself look perfect. But what part had she reserved for me?
- Our experiment has succeeded, she said. The ashes have sprouted. Soon Peter will be reaped. 
The others clapped their hands. It sounded like rain on a steel roof. 
- May I feel? asked Vanja. 
Cinna nodded, took her hand and put it between my shoulder blades. I felt Vanja's thick index finger searching around. I wanted to break loose, but Pierre stood up and blocked the way, pressing down my shoulders with a firm grip. Was that pimple on my back still filled with pus? Something cut like knives through the skin. 
- Wow, it’s so big! said Vanja. 
- It's in the growth phase, said Cinna. In a few minutes Peter will be ready. 
- Peter who?" I asked, even though I knew the answer.  
- Well, you’re acquainted with Mr. Cuddly, aren’t you?" said Brittany. After all, you were his favorite student. 
Her mousy face was red and sweaty. It looked as ready to burst as my swollen pimple. I could sense a certain jealousy in her voice.
- Look, said Vanja. A hand! Four fingers! No, there’s the pinky as well! Oh my god, it’s happening so fast! 
I expired for my body to twist and shoot a glance over my shoulder. Pierres solid torso blocked my view, but I could see something push out of my back as the pain increased tenfold. In a wave of nausea I clenched my fists to keep myself from vomiting as a roar rattled through the room. The strain in the throat muscles indicated it was my own. 
Peter Cuddletons upper body had now fully penetrated the tiny hole in my back. He stretched his arms in the air as if to embrace me. I turned around in disgust and fixed my eyes on Cinna. Her gaze was soft and moist.
- I couldn't give him up to cancer. See, Peter and I are twin flames. You were the perfect host, upon that we solely agreed. Believe me, I'll always be grateful to you for bringing him back to life. 
Her voice faded away as my former teacher wriggled out and clumsily took his first steps on my carcass, which had sunk into a tired heap on the plastic carpet. If I was a pro at drawing coffins, I had never given my own funeral a single thought. It wouldn't be necessary. I was already hovering above the empty shell that up until this morning I had known as my body.
Back to Top