Obsequies For Lars Talc, Struck By Lightning – X

In 1742 Jacques Benigne Winslow published a book entitled The Uncertainty Of The Signs Of Death. Aloysius Batlip owned a pirated Finnish edition of this important work, to which he referred each time a corpse lay sprawled on his mortuary slab. It was his practice not to allow weeping relatives into the Chapel of Rest until he was quite sure that the body was beyond all hope of resuscitation.

Hence he followed Winslow’s advice to pour vinegar, pepper, and fresh, warm urine into the supposedly deceased’s mouth. But this was merely the first of a battery of tests he carried out. Talc’s cadaver was subjected to a panoply of often ferocious indignities.

Batlip tweaked the Professor’s nipples with Dr Josat’s formidably sharp metal pincers, shocked his ears with hideous shrieks and excessive noises, applied a thermometer to his rectum, rammed burning tapers up his nostrils, melted sealing wax upon his chest, dipped a hammer into boiling water and pressed it into the hollow of Talc’s abdomen, plunged Monsieur Middledorf’s flag-capped needle into his heart, stuck one of Talc’s fingers into his ear to listen for rolling noises, carried out Snart’s anal sphincter test, dusted the groin with kwantod powder, and injected a solution of duggery into the spinal cord. Finally he was satisfied, and with Chodd still acting as his helper, he prepared the corpse for display.

Cleanse the body, Chodd,” he said, handing his assistant a bar of soap and a mop, “I will gather the substances and equipment.”

Batlip was justly proud of his embalming skills, and had won many cups and trophies from the Institute of Finnish Sepulture. As Chodd, having completed his task, wrung out the mop in a bucket, Batlip plunged a trocar into Lars Talc’s abdomen just above the navel, and thrust it in all directions until he had pierced the stomach, intestines, rectum, bladder, and liver, sucking out bits of tissue, blood clots, food, faeces, intestinal gases, and urine. He then pushed the trocar through the diaphragm and into the chest, lacerating and sucking as it went. Pausing only to snack on a conger-eel sandwich, he pumped preserving fluid into the cadaver, and turned his attention to the face.

When you die, your lower jaw falls downwards and backwards, and the mouth hangs open, giving you the look of a dolt or a dunderpate. With Chodd at his side, Batlip passed a needle and thread from the inner surface of Talc’s lower lip, up in front of his gums, through into one nostril, across to the other nostril, and back again into his mouth behind the upper lip. When the thread was drawn tight, by a fascinated Chodd, the lower jaw was pulled upwards and forwards. Lars Talc looked pensive and wise, and would remain so for a week or two, until his flesh began to rot.

They dressed him in a winding-sheet embroidered with Batlip’s monogram, leaving only his face uncovered. Then they transferred him to the coffin and lifted it on to the slab, having first covered it with a cloth of baize. And there, for the next few days, the great Professor Talc lay in state.

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