A Change is as Good as a Rest
By Gareth D Jones
The respectable-looking man in the dark grey travel suit stalked along the row of display cases, his iron grey hair and pallid complexion giving him the air of somebody perpetually shrouded in fog. His face was lined, but not heavily so. Just enough to make him look learned, or experienced perhaps. He looked decidedly younger than the usual clientele.
“Can I help?” Cassie asked him, years in the business making her cautious about this one. He didn’t fit the profile. Her tone made Dan look up from his figures. Years of marriage had made him sensitive to every nuance of her voice.
“Yes,” the man replied, drawing out the vowel in a way that was somehow sinister. “How soon can you fit me in?”
Cassie glanced at the clock, though she new perfectly well there was plenty of time for a treatment before closing time. Dan nodded at her and came out from behind the counter.
“We’re free this afternoon,” he said. “Did you have anything in particular in mind?” he gestured along the row of cadavers preserved in pristine clear cases. The man pondered a moment as if uncertain, though Cassie could tell he was already committed. Something was driving the man, and whatever it was, it was unlikely to be good.
“We’ve been in the business twenty three years,” she said, “we’re family run, and all work carries a life-time guarantee.” It was a familiar patter to re-assure their usual customers who were normally quite shaken and unsure of themselves. Waking at the end of a long voyage to find that your cryosleep capsule has malfunctioned and you now look a hundred and ten can do that to you.
“I’d like this one,” the man decided, pointing at a rugged looking chap in his thirties with tightly curled black hair and prominent jaw. Convicted murderer, Cassie recalled. Mindwiped and put on ice three weeks earlier.
“A good choice,” she said. “Come through to the waiting room where we can take you through some preliminaries.”
She soon had their new client comfortable in a reclining chair while she asked several pertinent questions about his medical history.
“Have one of these mint soporigums to chew,” she said. “It’ll help you relax.” Dan bustled into the room as she was handing it over.
“No, no,” he said, “the mint is horrid. Take a fruit flavoured gum instead.” The grey man took the proffered sweet and slipped it into his mouth. Cassie moved away slowly.
“I’ll get everything ready,” she said.
Their customer quickly relaxed and fell asleep. His heart slowed, and stopped.
“What was it?” Cassie asked.
“I checked his image on the nets,” Dan replied. “He’s not come in off any flight. He’s an escaped convict. Slavery, torture, multiple murder, over in Istravia.”
“No extradition,” Cassie nodded understanding. “Much better this way.” She turned back to the silent figure in the chair. “Let’s get him sorted then.”
A while later the door to the shop opened and a young man in trendy felt kimono and fur-lined sandals entered.
“Hi mum, hi dad,” he said, walking across the shop to the door at the back that led to their apartment. He paused. “New cadaver? Looks a bit old to me.” He walked on, not giving the new grey resident another glance in it’s gleaming display case.
“To somebody, he’ll look young,” Dan said, thinking of the ill-fortuned passengers that usually entered their shop. Cassie smiled up at him fondly.
I wrote this story for the Aphelion flash fiction challenge in February. It turns out to be much harder to write for somebody else’s guidelines than just to write whatever you want. I don’t know whether it’s noticeable to the casual reader, but to me the prose is slightly awkward where I’ve crammed in all the ingredients required by the challenge. I do like the central concept of the body shop though; I may expand on that in future.