Bundle – Preview in High Contrast Suspense

February 1, 2013 | By | 1 Comment

One of the particularly enjoyable things about writing is getting into the skin of your characters. Sometimes it’s a little scary. I present to you here a preview of a chapter from my next book, currently titled BUNDLE. I don’t like being in this guy’s skin, so the chapter is relatively short. Just 917 short words.

The main thing is. . . Do the words do the job?

So here it is. I call this high contrast suspense. Because there’s good, and there’s evil, and they’re really different.



The steel staircase rang as he came off the last step onto the concrete floor. Even though the ambient temperature was maintained at sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit, the air always felt colder to him down here. Like a long sigh, the ringing of the painted metal faded away into the reinforced walls.

Lighting fixtures in the hallway cast a milky pallor on the floor. They hung from chains on rusted hangers spiked permanently into the ceiling. The boxy lighting cases were designed to blend in with a drop ceiling that had never been installed.

Four steel-framed doors lined the right side of the hallway. The man put his hand on the knob of the first, twisted his hand left and right. The knob did not turn. From inside the room he made out a soft mewing sound, but human.

How quickly they go feral, he thought. Deprive them of the human touch, take away their interaction with others of The Doorthe species, and they become like animals. Self-preservation becomes the only thing that matters. They deserved his pity.

He scraped the tips of the four fingers of his right hand across the face of the steel door. Then he did it again. Give her something to think about.

The next two doors stood ajar three or four inches. Some air needed to circulate in them so they didn’t get stale. The furniture, particularly the upholstered pieces, picked up moisture easily. Replacement was an expense difficult to justify.

The fourth door was closed. He stood still and listened. Muted music from within worked its way into the hallway. Later, when his work was done, a visit might be in order. From long habit, he grasped the knob and checked, just like the first door. Only the slightest movement in the mechanism.

He walked to the end of the hallway. His crepe-soled moccasins were soundless against the smooth surface of the painted floor. He stopped at the hallway door and lifted the cover on the keypad mounted on the wall. An LED winked on blue, one of a trio of red, blue and green. The numeric keypad began to glow softly, illuminating the numbers.

He punched out the six-digit code, heard the chick of the bolt withdrawing into the wall. The LED winked green, then he turned the knob and walked into the dark room. He reached back with his right hand and found the familiar light switch. Incandescent bulbs flared into brilliance.

The brushed steel cabinetry gleamed dully. His grandfather had it built into the walls in the 1930’s. Generations to come would learn its use just as he had. The family depended on the work they did here. Not tonight’s work, though. This was a tedium, and no more.

He pulled the long embalming table away from the wall. It was finished in bright white porcelain enamel, not matching the cabinets in appearance. It rolled easily on the heavy six-inch casters on the ends of the tubular metal legs, clattering slightly against the tiled face of the floor.

He separated the straps that lay in a tangle on the top. Head, torso, arms and legs. Six in all. He wondered, not for the first time, which of his forbears had designed the arrangement. He never remembered to ask. Maybe next time he would.

He dropped the straps in turn down the sides. The brass buckle on the torso strap, the widest of the six, clinked against the tiles. He liked the sound. It made him feel professional, competent.

He toed the stops on the casters so they wouldn’t roll at an inconvenient time. One time he’d forgotten. When the girl had struggled she’d caused the table to rotate on one end, making a complete mess that he’d had to clean up himself. Live and learn.

The edges of the tabletop were raised two and one-half inches all around the perimeter, forming a shallow bath. A heavy latex tube with a 3/8 inch inside diameter hung from the drain on one end. He lifted it off the hook on the leg where it was coiled, then knelt on one knee and lifted the round metal grate from the floor drain. He set it to one side and dropped the tube into the dark pipe.

The drawer under the nearest cabinet rolled open on soundless tracks. He withdrew the implements he would need to get started. He glanced to his right, confirmed that the electric die grinder was hanging in its place on the wall, then laid his tools on the counter top. The blades were bright. The right tool for the right job, his father always used to say.

Satisfied with his preparations, he ran water into a teakettle and set it on a hot plate by the wall. From the cabinet he took out a fresh tea bag and a china cup. The tea always calmed him before the work began.

On the wall by the entry door were four brass petcocks, all turned down. He reached up and turned the fourth one counter-clockwise to three o’clock. The soft hiss of gas seemed loud in the silence.

Only one preparation step remained. He pulled out the largest drawer under the counter and removed the topmost sealed packet. He opened it and shook out the disposable Tyvek HAZMAT suit. From the next drawer he pulled loose a pair of nitrile gloves and plastic booties.

The teakettle began its slow, rising whistle.


Category: High Contrast, Suspense, Writing

About the Author ()

Suspense fiction writer. I have a wife whom I love, and five children ranging from college to middle age. I love each one. I've worked a day job as a senior software developer since 1999. Previous to that I spent nearly thirty years as a foreign missionary in Vietnam and China. Yes, I speak Chinese as a second language :-)

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