I've returned three months later to Lapinjärvi(1). We're all here, we all know why. There's the usual greeting, laid-back chatter and overall hanging around. It's already October but it's still warm enough to go outside wearing only a t-shirt. That's where we are, outside, sitting on a golf course-like rolling lawn in what I know is midday but somehow is without sunshine. Some are smoking, others are already getting up.
One of us is apparently dead. He was buried here, but he shouldn't have been. We're here because of him, and will continue to be until he's not. Therefore we have a purpose. It's a good thing there's a doctor among us. I'm the self-proclaimed biologist.
The most eager of us make our way to where it apparently is. There are trees over to that side, and the rolling lawn continues quite far down until it changes into a field. On a slight knoll is where we stop. There are no marks in the grass. The doctor knows it's here.
A few guys take shovels and start digging. I cringe, fearing that he was buried without a coffin and whatever's left of him will get mauled by a shovel thrust a little too far. I breathe a sigh of relief and realize that I was clenching my fists shut when one guy's shovel strikes wood not too deep into the ground. The rest of the digging is quickly done.
This exhumation is no crime. He needs to be cremated. They found a will. That was his last wish. They made us do the dirty work, like they always do.(2) But we know there's an incentive. We can go after it's done.
Once we pick it up, we're in the trash shed.(3) Not in Lapinjärvi, though, but where my mom lives. The coffin, made of simple, thin planks rests right in the middle of the floor. It looks surprisingly small. Someone's got a crowbar, prying the top planks open.
I don't dig corpses.
This one's not bad, though. The long hair is there, the glasses. He's a little blackened on his neck, but since he's fully clothed there's not much evidence of rot. It doesn't even smell bad, because now the biting October wind is blowing through the loose shed. Most people are crowding around the exit; I'm standing at the far end, and can only see the corpse partly.
Someone lights up a match. They're going to do it right here. Why do it anywhere else, though? I take a brisk few steps toward the exit, stealing a look at the body. I don't dig corpses. The match hovers above the coffin. The guy is ready to drop it. He's waiting for me to get past. The doctor looks in through the exit. Why is he in on this?
The match drops. The body is dry, the clothes catch fire. Soon the flames nuzzle the sides of the coffin, rough unprepared planks. It's all so coarse.
I'm the self-proclaimed biologist. I say out loud that there's gases in the body, it might do some strange stuff.
It sits up. I don't even flinch: I know it can happen. Sometimes they even burp. Others push through the exit into the fresh air, but I watch along with a few others. My eyes are fixed on the coffin, on the small and slow flames. Then it happens. The eyes open just as the flames reach its upper torso and neck. Its shirt starts to ripple due to the heat, and its neck tilts slightly to the left. In a mockery of a mockery of a crazed look it begins to screech.
The flames engulf its head, but the white, unseeing eyes clearly visible in the lenses of the eyeglasses are fixed on me. I close my eyes and clench my fists shut. I don't want to see it, hear it, smell it. I want nothing to do with it!
1. Lapinjärvi is the place where Finnish men, if they choose to become consciencious objectors instead of completing military service go to for a month of "education."
2. There is a prevalent belief that most civil servicemen complete menial tasks that qualifies as busywork.
3. A shed with a wooden structure supported by metal beams. It contains large plastic trash collection bins for various kinds of household waste.
4. The Finnish word for nerd, "nörtti" is much less like a zombie-type moan than "nerd" can be. I remember noting this immediately when I woke up and realized I might as well get up then.