The afterlife: experiences may vary.
Francis Carter was on his deathbed. He knew this COVID 19 stuff was nasty, but in God’s clean spirit he kept his church open. Francis knew that if God willed his church open, then it shall be. Praise God.
Francis Carter of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis has a massive following. He does his best to be modest, but truth be told, praise God, that between his Tik Tok, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Bumble, and Christian Evangelists of the Faithful for Singles accounts online, he was doing God’s work.
Now he lay quite disheveled, but not forgotten. He had been maintaining his accounts throughout his entire ordeal. Posting selfies from his hospital bed. Even suggesting the nurses take videos of him on his ventilator between bouts of consciousness for his followers. Continuing to try and send positive vibes to his followers as well as his flock back at the church. Smiling to himself, God’s work.
Francis Carter did know it was the end. He had no doubt. The doctors and nurses had continually come into his room to interrupt his semi-conscious prayers to the Lord to inform him of how things were going. Barely thinking, he would nod that he understood. His lungs were wrecked. He was too old. His body wasn’t fighting COVID well. However, he refused to be put on life support long term. He refused to be put under in order for him to live.
If he was to live, it would be God’s will. Praise God. Not due to humankind’s interventions. That just wouldn’t do.
He was a servant of God. Only to God would he bow.
He was excited to meet God. Francis had been a good, God fearing Christian man since he was first baptized in grade school. He had prepared consistently his entire life for this moment. The moment he would finally meet his God. Strangely, he was almost excited about death itself. The confirmation of a lifetime of commitment would be easing to him.
As with most anyone, his faith had been tested many times. Of course. What person could fairly say they had never been tested before? Had their beliefs shaken. Faith sundered. Wedges existed everywhere. The Devil tempts all good men. The better the man, the stronger the temptation! Francis smiled to himself again in spite of himself. Soon he would meet God in Heaven and be able to smile down on all those who doubted. All of those who challenged him throughout his life on his devoutness being misguided or incorrect. Francis enjoyed being correct. It was his favorite thing besides his piety.
In honor of the doctors and nurses caring for him during this drawn out crisis of the pandemic, Francis Carter decided to sign his body over to science. Why waste a perfectly good vessel for education? His physical form wasn’t important anyhow. His soul is what mattered and that is what was secure in the end within the loving embrace of the Lord. Francis enjoyed the idea that his physical form could be used as a tool for the up and coming generation of medical students that will care for so many one day. When the subject came up between his nurse and him, he had somberly signed the document. Maybe his followers could somehow follow him on that journey too. Francis Carter: the ever giving, life saving cadaver. Even in death he gave back, they would say.
After that sobering interaction with his primary nurse, Francis settled his head back onto the hospital pillow. A darned uncomfortable thing it was, too. For a moment he thought about his large bed at his home on Poplar Avenue. A big memory foam king with a gold and red bedspread he adored. Resting in that magnificently colored bedding with the fine gold filigree twisting in lovely patterns on deep royal red made him feel positively regal. Like the Pope himself resting in the Vatican. It didn’t bother him that the Pope happened to be part of the Catholic Church instead of Baptist. He applauded the man just the same. God’s work.
Yet here he lay. Hoses sticking out of his arms. Hoses sticking out of his nostrils. Surrounded by stale walls and constant beeping informing him of his impending demise. His bed was covered in plastic wrap. His pillow was engulfed in plastic wrap. His bed at home had massive elaborate maroon drapes that gave it a feel of being in a holy cave while he whimsically nodded off to sleep. The hospital bed was surrounded by crinkly plastic merely there to protect himself and others from contracting yet more disease. Francis almost wished they would stop being so bloody careful so he could merely pass in peace. The hospital environment was simply providing him with constant anxiety. Let me go already, he thought.
He shifted uneasily listening to his bed crinkle with plastic. Then closed his eyes. Francis gave a small prayer for serenity. "Give me peace, Lord. Please. Just give me–"
With a final exhale, Francis Carter never breathed again.
Bright light shattered the darkness that had become the realized normal. It had been several, long terrifying months since Francis died. He had agreed to dedicate his body to science. To continue giving himself away as it were, for the betterment of God’s kingdom. Boy was he regretting that decision.
Immediately after his death, he realized something was wrong. For starters, he didn’t ascend to Heaven as he expected. Not at all. He didn’t ascend, anywhere in fact. He merely kept lying there on the hospital bed. At first, he didn’t panic or worry much about it. He figured this must be how things go. He wasn’t fully dead yet, or something. Turns out that no. Francis was wrong. He was indeed dead. He just, never left.
Francis had watched in confusion and climbing worry as the nurses disassembled his quarters. Removed his hoses. Unplugged him from machines and wall outlets. It wasn’t long at all in fact before he was rolled on a gurney to a very dreary place that he assumed must be the morgue. They removed all of his clothes, minimal as they were. They gave him a quick sponge bath. Then they put him on a different litter, and slid him into the wall, closing the doors. This was when the panic began.
Francis tried moving. He of course could not. He was dead! He tried breathing again, nothing. He attempted to move his mouth. Maybe he could talk. No, still nothing. He tried to move his eyes about the darkness of the morgue cell and even that, he could not do. He tried consciously to feel the chill from the known refrigerator that was a morgue. He couldn’t even feel that. Panic gripped him tighter. What the fuck was this? Francis immediately asked forgiveness for swearing inside of his head, but seriously. What was going on? Where was Heaven? When was his soul ascending? What in God’s name was happening?
That had been months ago. Since then, his body had been especially mishandled at the coroner’s office. The bastard coroner, apologies to Christ, broke several of Francis’ bones while screaming some woman named Mildred’s name. Francis was there the entire time. He listened to the man rave about how Mildred fucked some guy named Tim. How Mildred never thought that him, Jason, was good enough. How Mildred spent all of Jason the coroner’s money. On and on he would rave, while beating or breaking limbs on Francis’ lifeless body. Francis was frankly confused, but also upset. This was what coroner’s are paid to do for preparing a body for a funeral? Christ on a cracker, he thought. These people need Jesus.
Francis had watched his own funeral from the coffin seat. Front row, really. Quite a turnout, too. Many crying followers mourning the lost late great Preacher Francis Carter of Bellevue Baptist Church. Made him want to ask any of them to check his phone for him while they were at it. See if any of his secret lovers had left any condolences or nude photos for him to enjoy. Although in his current state, he wasn’t quite sure how he would enjoy them. Psychologically he supposed. What is psychological if you no longer have a brain? Does it become just, logical? That also didn’t seem right. Just, -ical? He didn’t have a brain anymore. During his funeral, he was so bored laying in the coffin staring at the back of his own eyelids that he began envisioning different shapes and patterns in the blotchy blackness during the ceremony. About halfway through, he managed to envision a pair of inky black, shifting tits. Francis tried imagining whose tits they would be. Which follower. Alas, they drifted away before he could come full circle on the thought.
He remembered the med school student that removed his brain. The bastard had done a real bang up job, for sure. Couldn’t even cut the ring around the crown of his skull smooth. Was a tattered, jagged mess. Francis’ body was dedicated to science. He had been a cadaver for quite a long time from his memory. Memory? Experience? Post life depression? Whichever you want to call it, it was awful. It wasn’t his favorite time period to go on nostalgic about.
After they had cut so many parts of him away: removed his flesh; removed his organs; further embalmed him; they sent him to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN and just went to serious work on him. Francis swore he could feel every saw on bits of bone before they mended it for further practice. Every pop and scrape of cartilage, fat, or fascia the little medical urchins committed to reveal muscle, tendon, or ligament beneath something that used to belong to him.
As the weeks wore on and more and more of his body was being cut, scraped, vacuumed, dissected, explored, analyzed, and one sick fuck even had sex with his anus during this time. He had begun to wonder if this actually was hell. Maybe he had slipped up somehow and this was his punishment from God. He thought he had been on the right and right? The up and up? For fuck’s sake he was practically Popely by the time he died of cursed COVID-19!
This brings Francis back to the crack of sunlight that interrupted his casual darkness of late. If he recalled correctly, Vanderbilt had just sold him in a box as a commodity to some merchant. This was his unpackaging at some asshole’s prop booth.
"Set him up right over there. I want him in plain sight.”
Francis listened as the obtuse, dark haired troll of a man ordered his lackey to put Francis up on a display table. How had everything come to this? What month was it even?
“Does he seem fine here, boss?” The little brown boy of maybe fifteen or so answered.
“Yeh, yeh. Seems fine. Now go get the rest of the merch!” He slapped a hand to the back of the boy's shoulders, urging him along.
Francis was finally set in a position where he could see what was going on. He was at a flea market by golly. And for sale. Great, he thought.
It wasn’t long before he met Buck.
Buck was a large blonde man with a mullet and breath Francis imagined smelled like dead animals and lard cooked re-fried beans. He wore a black leather vest that emphasized his pot bellied figure accompanied with stained blue jeans and high top converse. Francis didn’t like the way Buck was looking at him propped up on the flea market table, a wine bottle taped to his skeletal right hand in a sort of, ‘yippee!’ type of gesture. Francis thought of all the things he was feeling right now, yippee was not one of them.
Buck approached Francis and moved his limbs around a bit. What could he possibly be testing? Yes, you fucking moron. My arms move. The digits, too. Try the middle one.
“Ah! So you’ve taken a liking to ol' Jaw Bones here, eh?” The market henchman remarked to Buck.
“You know,” said Buck, “I think he could make a mighty fine road companion. Not gonna lie to ya.”
Francis thought, road companion? What does he mean, road companion?
“Tell ya hwhat. For you? I’d lettem go for oh, $30. $30 and he’s yours.”
“$25.” Buck said.
“I bought ‘em for $15. I need at least $30 for 'em.” The urchin told Buck.
“$27 or bust.” Buck replied.
“Sold!” the market goblin retorted. Just like that, Francis had become like most slaves. Unwilling and sold for pocket change.
Buck unceremoniously picked Francis up and began striding towards his ride. Francis noted that if Buck ever walked like most people, it was a long time ago. Before he endured a permanent horse riding, bow legged, thigh gap only riding horses most of your life can provide. The man practically waddled.
As he lay flopped over Buck’s shoulder, Francis noticed something he really hadn’t digested just yet until this moment. He was looking down towards the ground as Buck had him draped over his right shoulder. Francis was looking down at his bony left and right hands and arms.
Francis had been scraped and bleached away to mere bones. He was a skeleton.
How absurd, he thought. He was Francis Carter of Bellevue Baptist Church! The largest church in Tennessee. Largest in many states. Thousands of followers and popular among even the younger ladies as a clergyman worth showing their naked bodies to. Now?
He was a fucking Halloween decoration.
Francis of course couldn't see exactly where Buck and he were headed as they strode thought the parking lot and over a grassy section of ground. Francis couldn’t help but have a pang of sadness at seeing grass. He had not seen grass in what seemed like eons. How he wished he could lay in that grass. Even if it was a bit humid out likely, and muddy. He wanted to feel grass. He could barely remember what the itching of grass even felt like anymore. Most of his bodily, sentient feelings had been slipping away. His memory is becoming worse with every growing day. It frankly still blew his ‘mind’ that he could even consciously witness the goddamned grass. Mad fucking world, thought Francis Carter. Mad fucking world. He also did not apologize to God for cursing either. Fuckem', Francis thought. Fuck God.
Buck arrived at his big rig truck after a few more peppy strides with his new prize in tow. Buck set Francis on the pavement in front of the truck and went to the passenger seat, rummaging around for whatever. Francis lay on the pavement confused, concerned, and conflicted. He hardly bothered worrying anymore after going through the ordeal he had already been through. He didn’t really think anything could get any worse frankly. The worst this guy could do was pull out a sledge and rid Francis of his skull. Maybe it would kill him. Free him. To finally meet God. So Francis could scream in his face and insult him into purgatory. Punishment be damned.
When Buck returned, he was carrying a little black case. A toolkit of sorts. Francis assumed it must have things like socket wrenches, fuses, and wiring. Buck’s hand appeared out of the bag with bright orange zip ties. He took out a handful and stuck them all between his teeth. Buck hoisted Francis’ skeleton off the pavement and positioned him against the grill of his big rig truck. Christ on a cracker, Francis thought. What in God’s name is he doing?
Without thinking too much about it, Buck began zip tying Francis’ spine in two places on the grill. He then zip tied both of his arms, then both legs, spread eagle on to the front of the his eighteen wheeled monster. The final and seventh zip tie was just at the base of Francis’ skull around his Atlas bone. Guaranteed that his head would never slump to the road. Nah, Francis would get a front row seat to the travels and good times of ol’ Buck from this seat. Francis thought his coffin seat at his funeral was a good spot. Holy hell if only he had known this would be his eventual resting place. Strapped to the front of a big rig truck going God knows where with some clown named Buck who is the type that would buy a skeleton at a flea market, and zip tie it to his god forsaken truck.
Buck backed up and surveyed Francis on the front of his truck, smirking to himself. Buck had no idea this was a real human skeleton. He thought it was just one of those anatomical skeletons someone may find in a chemistry lab or anatomy class. He had no idea it was an actual cadaver skeleton. He especially didn’t know that Francis lay dormant inside. This entire event finally gave Francis an idea as to what time of the year it was.
It must be fucking October. Near fucking Halloween. Praise God, Francis thought.
“I’m gonna call you, Mr. Bones! Just like when I was in high school and my hot chemistry teacher had a skeleton called Mr. Bones! I bet you’ll be way more fun than hers was though!” He then belched a big belly laugh, walked around to the driver’s seat of his truck, and climbed in.
The truck roared to life as Buck turned over the engine. Francis didn’t hold on to anything for dear life. He couldn’t move his bones anymore than any other carcass could move theirs. He was on this journey with Buck regardless of what he desired. He was supposed to be in Heaven laughing down at the little people who thought him foolish for his life of genuine, although sinful piety filled with nudes and abuse of power. Maybe this truly is my punishment, Francis thought. Maybe this truly was the Hell he was assigned. The truck shifted into gear, and began rolling with a harsh squeal from easing off the emergency brake. Francis held the breath he didn’t have, and rolled with it.
Screaming down the highway at 80 miles an hour from the grill seat on a semi-truck was giving Francis anxiety like no dead person should likely ever experience. He was having trouble believing any of this was actually happening. Francis tempted fate by figuring nothing could be worse than undergoing his immortality experienced thus far. Of course, starting with the fun fact he didn’t really ‘die’ when he died of COVID. That shock alone seemed like ages ago. Then the fear and panic of being in that morgue surrounded by an icy pitch black coffin, losing track of time. Then his funeral. Then the cut and chop mill at Vanderbilt as a training dummy for all of those young college brats. Gotten laid his first time as a corpse, unfortunately. What could have been worse? Surely second death was just around the corner somewhere to send him wherever he was actually supposed to be spending eternity. But, no. Francis was now Mr. Bones. A sentient Halloween decoration strapped to the front of a big rig truck like some cheap piece of trash. How the perceived mighty had fallen, Francis thought.
Francis could not feel the rush of the wind from his terrifying vantage point of the highway. If he could, it would have made the rush of a motorcycle ride at highway speeds seem boring. Suspended above the pavement by mere feet, if one of those zip ties comes undone from vibration or plain wind force, Francis would be sucked underneath the truck to be destructively mangled. At least I wouldn’t feel it, he surmised. Maybe it would kill him, awful and terrifying as it would be. Bouncing and rolling, crunching down the highway at breakneck speed before getting maimed by every car behind Buck for who knows how long. Maybe forever. Lovely, he thought.
After what felt like hours to Francis, Buck finally pulled over to a rest stop. A Love’s Truck Stop never looked so nice, Francis thought. At least they weren’t moving for a short time. After going inside, buying some coffee and beef jerky, then taking the largest dump on the west side of the Mississippi, Buck came waddling back over to the truck across the parking lot. When he arrived back at the big rig truck, he did the damnedest thing.
He took out his phone and took an appalling selfie with Francis. Hanging his big fat mouth open wide with glee. Francis began wondering if he could smell, what Buck would smell like? He imagined something awful. Like a pig in shit baking in the 103 degree heat in a Mississippi River Delta.
Buck, fiddling with his smart phone in front of Francis, had his brows creased together. Typing, Francis suspected. I'm surprised the man could even read.
“Oh, do I have the bestest danged idea!” Buck proclaimed to the God forsaken world. “I’m gonna start you an Instagram!"
Francis, appalled for the at least twelfth time today thus far, was getting so heated he swore his bones must be glowing red. Francis already had an Instagram, although he would be hard pressed to want to view it presently. It would likely just depress him.
“Alright. All done! I’m gonna create you your own hashtag. We’re gonna get famous, me an' you! Ain’t no other driver got themselves a Mr. Bones on the front of they big rig! Hot damn they don’t!”
Francis mentally cringed as the bumbling round fool bounded around to the driver’s side door and climbed in. The truck roared to life once again. Once again, Francis was along for the ride to wherever Buck’s dreams would take them.
So it went. Buck left Francis Carter crucified to the front of his big rig truck for the next several months. Halloween season had ended. Then Christmas and New Years came and went. Every time Buck hit a new town on his trucking routes, he would pose with Mr. Bones and cast out the hashtag #mrbones. Turns out there were plenty of bored and lonely people out there. The Mr. Bones trend took off. People in cities all over were putting skeletons on the front of their cars. Everywhere Buck would stop, a handful of teenage and young adult women would flock over and want to take a picture with Francis. With Mr. Bones. Buck had become a low key celebrity with Francis as his ever present sidekick.
The irony of the overall circumstances wasn’t lost on Francis, who was hanging slack jawed in the same position as he had been these last many months on Buck’s rig. Front and center. He had even gained the fame he wanted while he was alive, just not in the way he would have imagined it. Not in his wildest dreams. Mr. Bones posed for yet another photograph near some podunk town in Kansas under Love's Truck Stop parking lot lights. The gal giving Francis a wet kiss on his bony cheek while Buck had his arm around Francis and her both. This wouldn’t be the first gal Francis saw getting busy with Buck against the side of his truck in a parking lot. It happened quite often in fact. More action than Francis ever got in life, he had inadvertently helped Buck attain with his death. Another parking lot, another one night stand, then back on the road. His new identity singing loudly for the whole damned world to celebrate. The skeletal celebrity immortalized by an ugly truck driver and a cruel God. His real name lost to the world, Mr. Bones relaxed a bit at the continued moaning of Buck’s latest catch. At least he was along for the ride.
About the author
Enjoying my journey getting into dark fiction while occasionally dabbling in stories from my war times. I'm influenced by the works of Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, and Ambrose Bierce. I hope all of you enjoy what I put out!