The Pledge

Prompt Day #44: Describe a morgue from the point-of-view of a blind woman.


The Pledge

The following are excerpts from police transcripts of the questioning of Laura Berkhart regarding the death of Makayla Reynolds.

Office Jackson: When did you first meet Miss Reynolds?

Laura Berkhart: During rush week. She approached our sorority with an interest to join.

Officer Jackson: Which sorority are we referring to?

Laura Berkhart: That would be Delta Omega Alpha. We’re an all-female service sorority. We do a lot of volunteer work and hold benefits and things like that.

Officer Jackson: So tell me a little about the application process to join Delta Omega Alpha

Laura Berkhart: Well, the student has to be in good standing with the college and she fills out an application, then she participates in pledge week and if she successfully completes that and her application is approved, she joins.

Officer Jackson: For those of us who didn’t have the privilege of joining a highly respectable sorority like yours, can you tell us a little about the pledge process?

Laura Berkhart: Well, first of all I would like to say that everyone who joins a fraternity or sorority goes through some sort of pledge process. So, it is not unique to us or even some of the academic only ones. Everyone does it. They may not talk about it, but everyone does. So, our pledges participate in three distinct challenges. The first is a sort of scavenger hunt where they are given a list of things to get or do and they have like three days to finish. After that, they have a physical challenge to complete—but nothing like drinking in excess or anything dangerous—it’s usually something embarrassing like flashing your boobs or running around the building three times while naked or something silly like that. Then the third is just filling out this form with all this personal and possibly very embarrassing information about yourself which simply goes in our files. That’s all. Nothing dangerous.

Officer Jackson: But Miss Reynolds was blind and could not participate in those challenges, could she?

Laura Berkhart: No, well, I mean, yes. She could participate in the final challenge where she completes the personal info packet but the other two challenges would have been difficult for her.

Officer Jackson: So you devised a different challenge for her?

Laura Berkhart: The senior sisters did. Yes, we had to come up with something else for her to do.

Officer Jackson: So who’s idea was it to put her in a morgue overnight?

Laura Berkhart: Like I said, we all came up with the idea. My family owns Berkhart Funeral Homes and Mandy, I mean Amanda Gillespie’s dad is the medical examiner so we both had access to the keys and we know the security guys who work nights there so we thought it would be a funny, I mean we thought it would be an equivalent but safe experience for her.

Officer Jackson: Did she know where she would be spending the night? Did you give her any information before she agreed to do it?

Laura Berkhart: No, because no one else gets that kind of information ahead of time.

Officer Jackson: Tell me a little about what information she was given, what instructions, what equipment or personal effects she was allowed to bring with her?

Laura Berkhart: Well, we told her she was going to be spending the night alone in a building. We told her she had the night to figure out exactly where she was and we told her she could bring a sleeping bag, pillow, pajamas; all her necessities for an overnight stay. We told her she would be shown or led to the bathroom when she first arrived. She was allowed to bring her cane along of course and we gave her a digital recorder thing because we wanted her to record her night. Like we told her to turn it on and carry it with her everywhere, except the bathroom, and to record what she was doing. I think that’s everything.

Officer Jackson: What about her cell phone?

Laura Berkhart: Um, well, no. We decided that it wasn’t really fair for her to have a phone because she was to be alone and not to have any access to the outside, you know. That was the whole point of it.

Officer Jackson: And how did you plan to ensure her safety?

Laura Berkhart: Well, Security has cameras and stuff so we asked them to keep an eye on her

Officer Jackson: Tell me something, Miss Berkhart: if there were cameras recording her and security to monitor those cameras, why the need for the digital recorder? What were your plans for that?

Laura Berkhart: So, it was going to be similar to like on the reality shows, where the contestants do the video diary stuff? Only she couldn’t do a video diary, so that’s what the recorder was for. And then that would be the second part of her challenge, the embarrassing one: we were going to have a party and play it for everyone. That was the initial plan, at least.

Officer Jackson: And I’m wondering why your party wouldn’t include the video footage as well, for those of you without vision difficulties?

Laura Berkhart: I am sure you know, Officer Jackson, that there were no recordings taken that night. It’s not like what we were doing was exactly legal and we did not obtain permission to have her there. So, the security guards, who we knew well, agreed to not do any recordings. That’s why, Officer.

Officer Jackson: So, it was your understanding going into this that security would be there and monitoring her the entire time?

Laura Berkhart: Well, yes, I mean we asked them to keep an eye on her.

Officer Jackson: And how were they planning to do that, exactly?

Laura Berkhart: I don’t know, I mean, we left that up to them. Look, I know those guys, they’re good people. I asked them to check in on her throughout the night so I figured they would somehow. I thought they could have the cameras on, just not recording. They didn’t tell me that that was not possible, I didn’t know. (Miss Berkhart begins to cry) Can I have some tissues, please?

Officer Jackson: Sure, here. Would you like a glass of water or anything before we go on?

Laura Berkhart: No, I’m fine.

Officer Jackson: Have you had the opportunity to hear the recording, Miss Berkhart?

Laura Berkhart: No, obviously not. You guys confiscated everything when you found her, I guess. So no.

Officer Jackson: I’d like to play that tape for you. Let’s take a quick break so you can get a drink and use the bathroom and freshen up or whatever you need. Then, we’ll listen to the tape….Let the record show that Miss Berkhart has nodded agreement and we will stop tape now.

Tape is stopped.

Officer Jackson: Ok, the time is 1532. We have Miss Laura Berkhart here with us and we are going to play the recording that was found on the deceased, Miss Makayla Reynolds.

Transcript of digital recording found on the body of Makayla Reynolds.

Ok, so I have just been dropped off in my room for the night. It’s 7pm on September 9th. Walking in, the door was heavy with a push bar. The smell here makes me think I am in a hospital or clinic. There is a clean, antiseptic smell but under that, there is a smell of decay maybe or I want to say death but that feels wrong. I don’t know how to describe it. It is a thick smell under the clean smell. Odd. There is a large metal desk about ten steps from the door towards the left of center. It is a basic desk with paperwork and in/out boxes on it. Nothing here to give away where I am. The floor is tiled, so I am still thinking I am in a clinic of some sort. There is a lot of echo when I step, which tells me I am in a big space that is not overly furnished. I’m walking past the desk now. On my right, the wall has a couple small chairs sitting against it but seems otherwise bare. Wait, ok, beside the second chair back, there are a couple racks like the ones that hold papers on someone’s office door. There are a couple thin folders in them. I’m not going to take the folders out. Ok, on the other wall, I’m walking to it. Ok, this is weird. There are like big, big metal file drawers and they have latches and handles. There are one…two…three in a row going down and ok, there are one…two…three…four…five, five rows across. The metal is cold to touch Ok; I am going to open one. I think I know what this is but I hope I’m wrong……Oh, God. This is a morgue. Ok. So, I am touching a plastic body bag and I can feel features underneath it. They are cold and firm. Rubbery. The face is thin and petite, so I am guessing it’s a woman. I’m not afraid, you guys. I know you think I am but I’m not. This is just a dead body in front of me. I’m going to open the zipper. (sound of zipper being pulled) Wow, ok, I can really smell that thick smell now. It is decay and death. This body is a woman. Huh, I’ve never done this before, its actually hard to feel the lines and the stretch of the skin on her face when it’s dead. But I’m guessing she’s in her 40’s maybe? Long hair, feels like normal hair. Weird. (sound of zipper again) ok, I closed her up and put her back. Nice guys, thanks for this. I’m not afraid of the dark, you know, I live there.

Well, I’m here and it’s early, I’m going to explore the rest of the place. I’m walking down to the end of these drawers. Ok, there seems to be a hallway here. Let me see….Ok it only goes to the left. I’m going to take the right side of the hallway and come back the left. So, there is a room to my right five paces down the hall. This room….ok, here’s a table with some chairs. These chairs have a cushion and….ok here is a counter and ok, this seems to be a break room. There is a fridge and a microwave and a pop machine. Leaving the room, Ok, here is a door, it’s unlocked…..ok, this is a bathroom. A toilet and a sink and oh! Ok and automatic paper towel dispenser.

Ok, continuing down the hall….here is a set of double doors; these have the push bar too. They are cool to the touch…locked. I’m guessing they go to the outside. And this is the end of the hall. Ok, that’s all the rooms on this side. I am turning around and…ok, here are more double doors, these swing open. I’m going in…Oh Lord! Oh, God the smell in here is just oh; I’m going to be sick! (sound of doors, footsteps, another door opening and closing….retching noises…flushing….door opening) Ok, sorry. That was bad. I think that is the room where they bring the bodies immediately. Like those big double doors to outside might be where the ambulance or hearse comes. I’m going to go back in; the smell just took me by surprise.

Oh Man, it’s so bad in here. I feel like I am choking on death. The air is thick and it’s hard to take a deep breath. Oof. I just bumped into a table, oh, God, there is a body on it…..It’s, ok, it’s a man, oh no. Oh, I think he’s been shot in the head, oh; It’s something’s on my hands. I can feel blood dried on his face, but there is a hole here on the side of his head, it feels like a rotten spot on a jack o’lantern pumpkin. I think he’s young, twenties, maybe thirties. Oh! Oh! Ok, that did not just happen. Oh my God, I swear I felt his eyelashes flutter against my hand. Ok, move on. That was creepy. This is creepy guys; you better let me in after this. Ok, there is another table here, and yep, another body. Ooh, this one is soft and clammy cold. Oh God, yuck. It’s like mush under the skin. This one is where the smell is coming from. I don’t want to touch it anymore; it feels like my fingers are going to go right through the skin. Moving on… (there is a metallic scrapping sound heard in the background) Wait, what was that? There is someone else in here with me.

Hello? Who’s there? That’s enough guys, come on. No one else had to spend the night with dead people! Guys? Please, I’m not kidding, there is someone in here.

(a rhythmic slapping sound can be heard—like bare feet walking heavily on tile. More scrapping sounds)

Oh God! Something touched me. (Tape recorder is dropped) Screaming—assumed to be from Miss Reynolds…inaudible noise

It’s a dead person, the dead man, he’s cold and rubbery. He’s grabbing at me. HELP, HELP! Oh God, Someone help me. (There is a sound of something dripping, splatting on the floor) inaudible noises

It’s all over me. I think it might be his brains, they’re everywhere, it’s all falling out of him. Screaming… (A lot of thumping, noises like running. Shoes and bare feet, two distinct persons can be heard. Another scream and then a loud noise of something hard hitting the floor. Tape ends)

Officer Jackson: When we found her, she was lying on the floor, face up. It appears she slipped in brain matter which was indeed all over the floor and all over her. She broke her neck in the fall and sustained a fractured skull on top of it. The body she refers to in the recording was of a young man who shot himself in the head that morning with a shotgun blew a large hole out the back side of his head. His body was found face down beside the slab he’d been left on. Now, you and I both know that that corpse did not go chasing her around the morgue. My guess is, she came upon his body, and got her hands in it, just like she says on the tape. Then someone comes in to add a little fright to her night, and in the chase, the body got knocked off the table, spilling more brain matter on which the girl slips and falls. You want to tell me who it was in there with her?

Laura Berkhart: Officer, I swear to you, we did not ask anyone to go in there and scare her. Being blind in a morgue is enough, don’t you think? We thought it would be a good little scare, but we would never go to that extreme.

Officer Jackson: Well, I guess we’ll have to arrest that poor boy that went and shot his head off, would you agree, Miss Berkhart?

Laura Berkhart: I don’t know, Officer, I really don’t. I’m so so sorry this happened. But you can ask every single one of us and the guards that night. They didn’t check on her, like we asked, that’s true but they were outside the doors all night, they told me so. No one went in or out of there. No one.

Officer Jackson: We’re through here, then, Miss Berkhart. You can go.