Black Petals Issue #98 Winter, 2022

Guido Eekhaut: The Smiling Dead

Editor's Page
Artists' Page
BP Guidelines
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
Worm Food-Fiction by Michael Dority
Bells in the Woods-Fiction by Richard Brown
The Smiling Dead-Fiction by Guido Eekhaut
Beneath-Fiction by Samantha Brooke
The Reality Engine-Fiction by M.T. Johnson
Bug-Fiction by David Starobin
The Family Upstairs-Fiction by Ally Schwam
Hoola-Fiction by Lamont A. Turner
The Barber Shop-Fiction by Roy Dorman
On the Corner of 15th and Jackson-Fiction by Kat Vatne
Prisoners-Fiction by Paul Lee
Twinkles-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Party-Time Trio-Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Shadowed Soul-Flash Fiction by Jess Boaden
5G Generation-Poem by Joseph Danoski
Creature of Habit-Poem by Joseph Danoski
Joe Schmoe & Jayne Doe-Poem by Joseph Danoski
The World-Poem by S. Wiseman-Rose
Exquisite Corpse-Villanelle-Poem by S. Wiseman-Rose
Edwardian-Poem by S. Wiseman-Rose
Bloody Fingers-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Pathway Down-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Another Red Nightmare-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
The Avenue of Pines (Re-visited)-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Lover's Meadow-Poem by Brielle Amick
Scarecrow in Female-Poem by Meg Smith
Regards to Buzzards-Poem by Meg Smith
Failed Conjuring-Poem by Meg Smith
Missing Among Wildflowers-Poem by Meg Smith
Lords of Extinction-Poem by Meg Smith

Art by Hillary Lyon © 2022

The Smiling Dead

Guido Eekhaut





Mr. Donetz stares at me with that vacuous look all father’s patients have. He does not really notice me, and I wonder what he sees. Perhaps I don't want to know. I don't want to know what he sees, what he thinks, or even where he is. I have not entered father’s practice out of my free will, but rather to bring him some urgently needed towels. Otherwise I would not think of bothering him while he is working. I’m in no need of nightmares, thank you very much.

          I hastily deposit the towels on the chest of drawers against the far wall, and turn around so I don’t have to look at Mr. Donetz’s face. Too bad really, since he’s always been nice to me. He had a shop selling tobacco, newspapers, books, magazines, lotto forms, paper and pencils. I went there regularly: a magazine, a book. He also sold candy. Always a kind word for the children, and for me as well. A man all alone, never married.

          Murder, in his case. The police want to question him. Dad isn't too happy about that. It's his job, waking the dead, but when there's a criminal investigation involved, he thinks it's all awful. Sometimes he fears that the killer will break into our home to prevent the deceased from informing the authorities of his identity. By burning the body, for example. My father can’t do anything with burnt bodies. He can’t bring them back to life if they’re too badly damaged, not even for a few minutes. He succeeds only with people whose brains are still intact. A couple of hours. Enough to offer relatives one last conversation, or the police a testimony.

          Mr. Donetz was murdered. Steel rod through the heart. He may have seen his attacker, that’s what police are counting on. Chief Inspector Massart, who is leading the investigation, is the one doing the counting. A grim, gloomy man, square jaw, dark hair, maybe forty. I do not like him. The feeling probably is mutual. He is accompanied by a young woman whom he introduces as Hamblin. No rank or anything. She must be a cadet, and he behaves like she is. Just orders her around, and lets her do the chores and jot things down and stuff. They were here yesterday, but Mr. Donetz didn't have much to say about anything yet.

          It is difficult to adapt. For the dead, I mean. They realize that they are dead, and that their return is only temporary. Most of them are upset, which is quite understandable. One moment you're alive, the next they wake you up with the message that you're actually dead but you can still play the game of the living, at least for a short while. It's really cruel, when you think about it. I think it’s cruel.

          But hey, it's what my dad does, and it's what other people pay him for. A final goodbye, an interrogation. Sometimes a dead person is requested to address a meeting or see some friends one last time, but that is rare. Some are awakened with the request to sign some documents, which is illegal. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but if discovered, there will be severe penalties. Insurance companies are not happy about it, and neither are the tax authorities. My father keeps himself at a distance from such practices.

          When Chief Inspector Massart and the young woman arrive, Mr. Donetz is sitting at the table in father's workspace. In principle, a dead person cannot leave the room. There are a few exceptions. However, no one wants the dead to roam the streets. People are sensitive about that. Some say you don’t notice, them being dead and all, but I’m sure you can.

              The policeman asks my father and me to leave them alone with the victim. That's the term he uses. Victim . They lack imagination, those civil servants. Father lays his hand on my shoulder, and we retreat to the kitchen. We drink coffee, eat a pastry. He doesn't talk much about his job. He talks even less about his feelings. He already knows I won’t succeed him. He doesn't really want that to happen anyway. He wants me to do something meaningful with my life. Something creative. He doesn't want me to deal with death.

          The two policemen reappear after twenty minutes. Hamblin stashes her booklet in her purse. Massart looks gloomy. Thank you,” he says. He can sleep permanently now, if nobody wants him. And that's it. Result or not — they won’t inform us. It is part of the secret of the investigation. But they certainly have no further questions, otherwise they would ask to keep Mr. Donetz alive.

          Father lets them out. Now you go upstairs again,” he tells me. I'll finish things here." It means he will be occupied part of the night preparing Mr. Donetz for the last trip. No idea what that involves, and he won’t tell me. It’s partially a matter of confidentiality, and he does not want me around handling the dead body. Whenever he retires, machines and manuals will go straight back to the Guild, as they are very strict about guarding their professional secrets.

              Grandmaster Adelbert has already asked my father if I don't want to get into the trade. But father keeps that door firmly closed. The Guild will have to do without me.

              The next day Mr. Donetz 's body is collected by a corbillard. Three taciturn and solemn men handle the body, packed in a black bag, and that concludes this chapter. Mr. Donetz is now where all the dead should be.



Three days later a young woman is brought in. Father forbids me to enter his study, not even to bring towels or his lunch. He holds the door tightly closed. I’ve learned not to ask questions when he’s clearly not willing to answer them. But soon enough, and through gossip, I discover who she is: The Lady Landsheer. She’s not just anyone, as can be deduced from her title. She’s firmly related to a wealthy family of steel magnates, who own a number of factories in the southernmost part of the country.

          As father is the only practitioner of his craft in the city, every single case has to pass through him, for as much as someone wants to resurrect a deceased. No police are involved this time, it seems, as her death is attributed to natural causes. Well, in so far as a car accident can be considered natural. Anyway, the police do not need to question her. The request comes from her parents, who want to speak to her one last time, a final word. They want closure.

          Closure? Creepy, if you ask me. Of course you don’t ask me anything, but that’s not the point. The whole thing about raising the dead and so on always seemed bizarre and unnatural to me. Our ancestors would have hanged a man like my father, if not worse. But what he’s doing is considered science now, and so it is all right.

          The Lady Landsheer was twenty, in the prime of her life when she was alive, but now she’s as dead as all the others, and rather damaged on account of the accident (I read some details in the paper this morning). So no, I don’t need to see her, thank you very much.

          Or do I?

          Why can’t I see her? Usually father does not forbid me to see the patients, he’s never as strict as now. Sometimes I just walk in, and he never really chases me away. He does now. Does he fear I will see too much of myself in this young lady, a little too much as her fate is concerned, the horror that can befall an innocent young lady? Is he afraid I might identify myself with her? He need not fear: I don’t drive an expensive sports car during the night along the poorly lit roads around the city. You challenge fate, and sometimes fate decides you’ve gone a tad too far. In her case, the trip ended up against a tree.

          And now she’s in father’s infamous room.

          And what do her parents want from her?

          I can’t really ask her, can I?

          But I’ll take a chance. I wait for the night to fall heavily over the city, father sleeping his innocent sleep, and I sneak downstairs. His practice isn’t locked, never locked, he’s counting on my common sense (which I conveniently left in my room). I have a pathetic electric torch, but that’s all I need to find my way around the house. And I know the layout of his practice. Won’t bump my toe against anything.

          She lies on the table in the middle of the room, the altar of father’s magical powers, with a white sheet draped over her. Need any more clichés? I expect her to sit up when I enter.

          But she doesn’t. He keeps his patients in a sort of artificial sleep until he needs them fully conscious. Otherwise they would be difficult to handle.

          Two windows are set high against the ceiling, each with milky white glass. They let in some light, which does not contribute anything to the atmosphere. I think of old movies, a horror cabinet, zombies or mummies.

          Carefully I pull the sheet away, and at once I am captivated by the girl’s beauty. The accident left her head and shoulders as well as her breasts intact. I leave the rest covered. What I'm revealing is almost otherworldly. The milky light caresses her skin, her hair.

          I switch off my torch and bend over her. I'm jealous of the flawless skin, the shiny hair. She has long eyelashes. She has full lips, which look red even now. A beauty, even now. Too bad she disappears underground in a day or two. The worms won't admire her.

          Oddly enough, she is smiling. Never seen that on a dead person before. Mr. Donetz never looked peaceful, but then he was conscious. He knew how the cards had been dealt.

          I wonder if Miss Landsheer is dreaming. It seems as if she is dreaming. As if she has a pleasant dream. Can the dead dream when they are in this state?

          For a moment I consider a kiss. For a moment I consider kissing those full, sensual lips, pressing against them a firm kiss, feeling them yield, feeling as if

          She moves. I should not be surprised: sleeping people move. And like them, the sleeping dead find themselves in the dark universe of their own thoughts. Anyway, that’s what I assume. In our dreams, we are all the same.

          She opens her eyes. The Lady Landsheer’s eyes open, and she glances around, and then notices me. I am, of course, shocked, at least for a moment, but she seems to find my presence quite logical, and certainly acceptable. As if she was expecting me.

          I back away a bit. I realize I might have gone too far in my curiosity, and as a consequence of my presence my father might lose his license.

          She is sitting up. “Are you his daughter?” she inquires. “Are you the daughter of the man who…?”

          I nod. I am the daughter.

          Why,” she asks. “Why did he bring me back?”

          I don’t know how father handles these situations. How he reacts when his patients inquire about the reason for their resurrection. How much does he explain? Or does he keep them fully in the dark concerning the motivation of those willing them back? Do they even want to be resurrected? Have they left anything like a will, and could they have objected to this procedure?

          I assume not. I am not really familiar with the legal aspects of this case, but I seem to remember no one can take a priori legal action against resurrection, which only official authorities are allowed to do, at the request of family or a judge. This seems unnecessarily cruel to me, bringing them back and having them realize their life is over, and that the added time will be short-lived.

          But that’s not for me to judge.

          Your parents,” I tell her.

          A disturbing sound originates deep from her ravaged body (the part I cannot see, and don’t want to see). I assume laughing is difficult for her, given the accident. Under the sheet, her body seems to have taken on a strange shape. She notices me looking and quickly pulls the sheet up again, over her breasts. “I don’t want to see them,” she says.

          All they want is to say farewell.”

          You say farewell to the living,” she says, “not to the dead. The dead do not fare well.”

          Such is true, in a sense, but that’s not how surviving family members see it. Anyway, hardly anyone knows how to deal with death, and with the dying. Very few people can do that.

          She sounds hurt and bitter. This obviously is a problem family. I suddenly wonder if the accident was an accident, but that’s not something I will discuss with her. She’s more than upset enough as it is.

          It should be forbidden,” she says. “There should be laws against it.”

          That’s right, so many things should be forbidden, but here we are nonetheless, with a civilization that can’t even leave the dead in peace.

          I just dreamed about death,” she says.

          That calls for an elaboration, but I’m sure I don’t want to hear how the dead dream about death. As far as she is concerned, the whole situation is not only nonsensical, but also abhorrent.

          Can you help me?”

          Help her? What does she mean?

          I know what she means.

          My father has his professional duties,” I tell her. I, cowardly, hide behind my father.

          I don’t want to do this,” she says. “And you can make all this go away.”

          You should have handled your accident differently, I think, at once realizing this is grossly unfair towards her. But it is true: she could have made certain not enough of her body would have been found to allow resuscitation. Then, not even my father could have helped her parents.

          But as things stand

          She lowers the sheet again. “This is what I sacrificed,” she says. “This is what I left behind. What I ask from you is merely a small act of pity.”

          I realize she is right.



The fire is extinguished quickly enough, but father is devastated. The damage is not substantial however. He will have to buy a new table and replace some instruments, but the Guild will surely compensate him. The police will want to know how the fire started, but I’ve been careful. Some of the substances my father uses are very flammable, under the right circumstances. Even a man as experienced as my father sometimes proves to be a bit careless.

          Chief Inspector Massart has already visited, with his assistant trailing along, almost like a zombie. They find no proof a crime has been committed. Not for now, at least. I keep my fingers crossed.

          Lady Landsheer’s parents are angry and horrified. They are being denied a last grand gesture, a last conversation, a last opportunity for catharsis. My feeling is they should have tried harder when their daughter was alive. But of course I don’t know who’s to blame for the family problems. Maybe she was an insufferable bitch.

          For my part, I now realize I urgently need to depart from my father’s house. Find a job somewhere, preferable in another city. Something creative, something that opens doors. I’ve seen enough of death.

Guido Eekhaut is a prolific writer of crime and suspense novels, fantastic and speculative fiction and books for young adults. He came to genre literature after discovering the work of Jack Vance at age fifteen, and that of Ursula Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, M. John Harrison, J. G. Ballard, Thomas Disch and many others.

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