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Your mother tells you lots of things.

Things like: You should become a doctor, and Don’t you dare apply to that medical examiner position, and I did not raise you for this.

You are glad you don’t listen to everything your mother says, even as the unblinking, too-green gaze of your new coworker takes in your visage, and she blows a bit of cigarette smoke to the side to avoid bathing you in her fumes.

“I guess you’re the new kid,” she says in a graveled, long-term smoker voice, though her tone is rather friendly through the years of wear. She extends her hand and you shake it.

“Welcome aboard. Orientation’s down that hall, last door on the left.”

You tilt your head, confused. “I thought I’d already done that,” you say, quite sure you have sat through plenty of mind-numbing videos.

She chuckles and gestures more insistently down the hallway. “Not this kind.”

You catch a glint in her eye and a faint grin fighting to show itself in her features, but you dismiss it and follow the path her directions and pointing finger indicate, coming to a steel door set in an off-white wall, much like all the doors and walls on this level of the hospital. Morgues have that tendency, you suppose.

The door is closed and has no window, though the label “Orientation” is affixed to it on a simple black plate with white text.

You knock twice and open the door slowly. The lights are on inside, and the room is simply furnished, with a half-filled bookshelf and two storage cabinets on the back wall, in front of which rests a steel desk and cushioned rolling chair, positioned centrally to face the door. A closed laptop, a notebook, and a pen cup rest on the desk, but your eyes fall upon your host.

In the chair sits a figure dressed in a long navy suit jacket with a matching vest and tie. His dark wavy hair is swept to your left and neatly cut on the sides, and he is clean-shaven with a gentler, younger face than you were expecting. You aren’t sure what you were expecting, to be honest. Your new coworker hadn’t been a well of context.

You approach the desk and the man rises and shakes your hand. “You must be the new hire, welcome to our humble morgue.”

He motions for you to take a seat, and you do so, realizing you hadn’t noticed the second chair on your side of the desk when you first entered. You’re not sure how you missed it, but you sink into the chair and stop worrying as you steady it on its wheels against the smooth concrete floor.

The orientation manager—you assume that is his title—glances at the notebook in front of him.

“Our files indicate you have not yet been briefed on the special cases you are likely to encounter in your tenure here.”

“Special cases?” You think you know what he means, but you prefer to listen before making assumptions.

The man nods. “To be specific, by ‘special’, I mean ‘supernatural.’”

You stare at him for a few long seconds, then you let out a quick bark of a laugh. “Very funny. Is this some sort of hazing? You folks like to have some fun with the new hires?”

The expression on the man’s face is one of practiced patience and stale amusement. “I assure you, this is not a joke, nor some sort of initiation prank. It is a straightforward orientation.”

“Uh-huh…” You are not convinced, though if he is lying, he is selling it like a professional. Against your better judgment and in line with your insatiable curiosity, you say, “I assume you have some sort of proof?”

“Certainly,” he says without hesitation. A smile twinkles in his light brown eyes. “My own talents tend to serve as proof enough. Would you mind holding this for a moment?”

From the inside of his suit jacket, he produces a silver, filigreed cigarette case and holds it out to you. It glints in the fluorescent light.

You reach out to grasp the object—

—and your fingers pass through it.

On reflex, you try again with the same result. You try once more, now confused and frustrated, and you move your hand as slowly as possible, watching carefully.

Where your fingers should be contacting the silvery metal, you feel nothing.

You push a bit further, and your fingertips disappear into the not-object with no change in sensation. You pull your hand back and glance between the illusion and the orientation manager.

He lets go of the object, and it hovers in mid-air, then fades into nothingness over the course of several seconds, becoming transparent until it is no more. The man pulls another, identical cigarette case out of the same place in his jacket, and this time, he pulls out a cigarette and hands it to you.

“The real container and contents,” he says by way of explanation.

You take the very real cigarette and turn it over in your hands. You smell it for good measure, and you notice it was hand-rolled. Your heart has been beating faster than normal for a few minutes now, but you’ve kept the stress off your face so far. You hand back the death stick, which the man takes, then he holds up his thumb to the cigarette’s edge. A tiny flame springs to life at his fingertip, and the end of the cigarette begins to smolder.

Your eyes widen at the pyromantic display, and he holds his thumb toward you. You reach out and feel the heat from the very real little flame, pulling back when it becomes painful.

The orientation manager lifts an eyebrow as he snuffs the cigarette on the steel top of the desk.

“Normally, this is when most people start backing away or panicking or shaking their head back and forth, but not you. Penny for your thoughts, new kid?”

Your mother would be telling you to do exactly what the man described, but you don’t often listen to your mother, do you?

You consider your next words for a while before you finally ask, “What else is out there?”

Ariel Cross

Ariel Cross is a fantasy author and blogger with a love for representation and subversion. To them, happiness is a warm glass of mead on a cold day.

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