London, 1828 –
The Fraternal Brotherhood of Resurrectionists
Vernon Barker sat in the rear of the dark and dank room, listening to the impassioned speaker up front. His mind was wandering however.
He was thinking about when he decided to write a book about grave robbers. The idea seemed exciting. Adventurous. He’d go under cover for a year and write a blockbuster expose on stealing human corpses.
That was two years ago. And now, here he was. Locked up in a lunatic asylum.
Vernon started out as a grave digger. It wasn’t too bad, because all he had to do was dig the body up – fill in the hole – and two other men came and took it from there. The bodies were going to medical schools, he was told.
As time went by he moved up to transporting corpses to the hospitals. He liked talking with the doctors who were always surprised to find out that he could read and write. It was an unusual set of skills for a common grave robber – or “Resurrectionist” as they were otherwise known at the time.
In general, most authorities at the time didn’t worry too much about the practice of stealing bodies. The medical community lent a certain respectability to it. Forwarding medical science, and all that good stuff.
The resurrectionists made sure not to steal anything such as jewelry or fine clothing as this would have caused them to be liable for felony charges.
The resurrectionists were a tight-knit community with many strange beliefs. They also had a rough code of honor not adhered to by all of the other grave robbers in the city. They had a tier system where a man could rise through the ranks, and become privy to the organization’s biggest secrets.
The grand master of the group, Giles de Morta, always appeared wearing a plain black opera mask. His real identity was only known to the inner circle.
Vernon slowly worked his way through the levels, as he carried out his masters commands. He was no longer an apprentice. His diligence and hard work were paying off. He just had one more level to go until he reached the top, and got access to the groups’ greatest secrets.
The greatest risk that he took was keeping notes. He needed to write things down for future reference. His memory wasn’t enough. He was fully aware of the risk he took if it was discovered. He shuddered to think about it, but held to his course.
The group always met in the tunnels and catacombs beneath the city streets. There were miles of these tunnels stretching out and going down deep into the earth’s bowels. It was easy to get lost if you didn’t live there for years with the guidance of the brotherhood.
Authorities seldom ventured into their kingdom.
Quite by chance one day, Vernon stumbled upon something that rocked his entire world!
He was going through a different sector to save time getting back to a meeting when he heard odd guttural sounds. The came from a room to his left. To his utter horror, a small group of five men were standing around a corpse and slicing pieces off it!
“A feast for the gods!” the Grand Master in his black opera mask chanted, after chewing on the hunk of human flesh in his hand.
“For the gods!” the other men chanted several times between loathsome bites.
He backed out of the room almost immediately, praying no one saw him. They were all chanting loudly in a growing frenzy as he fled down the tunnels in mindless terror and got lost.
He wandered for days, fearing for his life. He didn’t know for sure if one of the men – or more like one of the ghouls – saw his shocked face. As he sat down on a sewer curb to rest he suddenly realized his notebook wasn’t inside his jacket pocket!
Sheer panic gripped him for a moment! His breath came in short gasps as he thought about what would happen if one of the brothers found it. All of his careful observations – and worse yet his thoughts and plans – were laid out in that small notebook.
He noticed a ray of light coming from a sewer grate up ahead. He could go topside and figure out where he was when he surfaced. Vernon was tired and hungry as he headed for the light.
Once back on the familiar cobblestones that led to his small flat, he dared to breathe a small sigh of relief. He went straight to a pub and ordered a beer. It landed like lead on his empty stomach and he was forced to go to the back alley and vomit there among the trash.
People came and went in the alley, laughing and talking, not even noticing Vernon bent over and groaning pitifully. When his stomach settled enough to stand, he headed for his flat, buying a loaf of bread along the way.
When he woke up the next morning he was shocked to see his diary on the lone table in his room. There was a piece of crisp white paper with the word “Imposter!” on it, tucked between the pages. He tried to swallow, but his mouth was too dry.
The brotherhood was on to him! So why was he spared when the notebook and note were delivered? He was an easy target sleeping on his mangled mattress. It became apparent to him why he wasn’t dead yet as the days passed by.
They were playing with him. Mocking him. One day when he least expected it, they would kill him. He needed a safe haven. That’s when he decided to go to the police and see if they would protect him after he told them about the brotherhood’s cannibalistic practices.
When Sgt. Patrick Henry O’Shea saw Vernon standing outside his office door in his torn and dirty clothing he felt like just telling him to get out – to leave him alone – but he knew he couldn’t. He was a public servant, and as such he had to listen to everyone’s gripes.
He had to maintain a certain air of fairness, regardless of how he personally felt about bums like this one.
“How can I help you sir?”
“My name is Vernon Barker.”
“How can I help you, Mr. Barker?”
It took twenty minutes for Vernon to tell his story. By the time he was done he was bathed in sweat and Sgt. O’Shea was convinced he was loony bin material.
“The man must be mad! Grave diggers eating corpses! What blarney!” he thought. He called out to the patrolman in the hallway, “O’Toole! Come take this man to the waiting cell.”
Vernon stood up, alarmed. “What are you doing?” he asked, his voice rising a notch.
“It’s quit all right Mr. Barker,” Sgt. O’Shea assured him. “I’m going to put you in a safe place.”
Vernon’s shouts and howls disappeared down the hallway of the police station and into the depths of the old brick buildings holding cell.
The next day.
Hanwell Pauper and Lunatic Asylum
“Hello doctor, how are my wards doing today?” the hospital’s administrator asked a doctor giving a man an injection to calm him down.
“Very well, I’d say sir. Very well indeed. Oh, we do have a new patient. He came in yesterday. Quit upset too, I might add.”
Vernon sat with his back against the cell wall. No one would listen to him. No one believed his story. When his cell door opened a man in a three-piece gray suit entered and introduced himself as the facility’s administrator.
In one last desperate attempt Vernon blurted out his story again. The administrator stood silently across from him, listening with a strange smile on his face. When Vernon ran out of words the administrator pulled out a small black opera mask from his inside jacket pocket and put it on!
Vernon’s screams of horror mingled with the rest of the lunatics there.
As It Stands, there’s nothing more lonely than not being believed.