The bell sang and cadavers punched out as the moon started to rise, under the careful eyes of the union rep, and the next shift shuffled in. A few broke apart from the throng toward the parking lot or the bus stop, but most had a place close by the factory, and the streets were busy with the movement of a hundred bodies.
The bars on the street knew their business, and by a quarter ‘til the hour the old thing in the clean white shirt and crimson vest behind the pinewood bar had set out a line of shots for the first comers, straight formaldehyde with a little insecticide coating the glass. Rough tables filled up quickly as the corpses jammed the bar, and not more than twenty minutes after they’d been let loose, the old bones were resting and staring at the stage, waiting for the show to begin.
She was seventeen if a day when she died, but that was long enough ago she’d be legal now. Lips peeled back on a mouth of perfect teeth, hair bright and dry and shiny as a doll’s brushed too often, skin varnished to a pale olive brown that could pass for a tan under the stagelights. Strong thighs gripped the pole as she slid up and down, and the gents sat silent as a femur rasped against aluminum and heels clacked in a slow bump and grind, a flap of skin and muscle peeling back to reveal the grey-white of tailbone.
The crowd clapped politely as she finished her set, a tinkle of coins and a few loose bills of brown corporate scrip littered the stage. Enough to cover her stage fee, maybe, and a little more for herself. One set down a small stack of brown leaves himself, to pay his drinks, then rose to leave. The others stayed, no where else to go.
It was three miles and three sets of stairs to the apartment, an hour’s walk past the pharmacies and mortuarists, the furniture-makers who did a sideline in taxidermy. They did good business in the town, ever since the Union had pushed the Occupational Health Plan through. They even got dental. There were century-old shamblers now with ceramic teeth and patches of fresh silicone skin that might last fifty years or more, with care. The necromancer had been good about it, once he’d heard the argument. Preventative maintenance, an investment in the future.
The steps down to the crypt were clean, save for some graffiti. Resurrectionists, protesting the union mentality, the corruption. Another gang for the young ones that didn’t remember what things were like back in the old days—the clatter of bare heel-bones on the factory floor, pieces of workers caught in the machine and torn off, the terrible conditions—fire was the main thing, but there had been no thought to safety at all. He fumbled with the heavy key in the padlock, opened the gate, then threaded it back through behind him.
She was waiting there for him, still sitting up in her chair as always, little more than a brown skeleton in a floral print dress. He sat down in the adjoining chair, and clasped her hand in his, dry mummified palms one against the other, not too tight lest something brittle should crack and break.
They sat there for a long while, hand in hand, until it was time for his shift again.