Past the Spine

📅 Published on July 25, 2020

“Past the Spine”

Written by Matt Dymerski
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.71/10. From 7 votes.
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My friend Shannon had been through quite a bit in the past few years, and that was the only reason that I didn’t immediately call the police when I stopped by her work and found her halfway through the process of climbing out of a recently deceased corpse.

She was drenched in blood, naked, and absolutely silent except for her exhausted breathing as she pulled herself up and out. The morgue around her was otherwise normal, and I saw no indication of how exactly she had fit inside the old man’s body, but of course I was in shock. She had some towels ready nearby; I handed one to her as I turned respectfully away.

“Christ!” She jumped when she saw me standing there with the towel offered toward her, but took it quickly. “Shit, what did you see?”

I stared at the wall of cold chambers while she dried herself off behind me. “I don’t know, Shannon, what the hell were you doing?”

“I’m not some kind of freak,” she said immediately. “Please, just let me explain.”

“Explain? What the hell could you possibly explain about this?” I put my shirt over my nose to block out the horrid smell of the open body, but it didn’t work. I waited until she shoved her clothes on and finally turned around. “You missed some.”

Her hair was still drenched in black, red, and yellow fluids, but the best she could do was to wrap a second towel around it. “Look. It’s not some sort of fetish. There’s something down there.

I fought down the urge to vomit as I looked into the frail old man’s still-steaming body. His heart, lungs, stomach, pancreas, and intestines had all been coiled around in a haphazard circle covered in various oozes. “Down where?”

“In there.” Her expression was haunted. “Past the spine.”

“Is this a joke?” I couldn’t believe it.


I took a step closer and tried to look down the middle of the circle of organs, but there wasn’t any gap between them. “Then what do you mean? What’s down there?”

She gulped unhappily. “I don’t know exactly. A space.”

Narrowing my eyes, I thought about what I’d seen. She hadn’t slipped up out of the body sideways. She’d climbed straight up, as if out of a hole. The sight had been very disconcerting; it hadn’t been geometrically possible, and my brain was still struggling to make sense of the memory. It was possible she was telling the truth, and there really was some sort of weird hole in this old guy’s body. “You’re serious?” I reached for a long metal tool on a tray nearby.

“That won’t work,” she said, stopping me. “It’s made of metal, so it won’t work. Only living things work. You can’t even reach it wearing gloves. Has to be your bare hand, which is why I think nobody else has found this.”

“Really.” I sighed. It was definitely a prank, but I wasn’t one to hesitate and get emotional. “Fine. Let’s do this ridiculous nonsense.” I took the last step, held my breath against the stench, and reached straight down. After pushing between squishy wet tissues and organs, my hand came to rest on the hard bones of the old man’s spine. I looked to Shannon, but she wasn’t laughing. “Past the spine?”

She nodded and gulped audibly.

As disgusting as it was, I was determined to see this strange situation through. I moved my hand to the side—and my fingers slipped deeper. “What the hell?” I frowned and leaned down closer to the corpse as my hand continued to push between what felt like a deep pile of squelching organs. I went down all the way to my shoulder until my short sleeve hit the inside of the old man’s back-skin and refused to go further. “Oh my god, you’re telling the truth!” I pulled my arm out as fast as I could and held it away to avoid the dripping juices I’d brought with me. My arm was covered in a distinctly thicker goo than the wet ring around my sleeve; whatever was down there, my non-living shirt had not been able to enter. “What is it?

Shannon shook her head. “That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out. After somebody dies, there’s a short window where it, whatever it is, remains open.”

I took another towel and wiped my arm off as best I could while trying not to gag. “Wait, do you mean it isn’t just this particular body?”

“Yes.” She went over and began sewing up the chest cavity. “I’m new here, but I accidentally discovered whatever it is on my second autopsy.” She looked past me at the door. “My boss is never here and leaves me to do this on my own, so I’ve been trying to figure out what it is. I dropped vines down a few times, but they only work if they’re still attached to the plant.”

“Meaning still alive.”

“Yeah. And only new corpses work. Ninety-six minutes or so after death, there’s a weird tug, and then the vines are snapped off and I can’t feel that weird space with my hand anymore. But I haven’t been able to figure anything else out because technology won’t go in.”

It was disgusting, horrifying, and fascinating all at once. What could it possibly be? What could it possibly mean? “So you decided to go down there yourself.”

She nodded. “I promise I’m not a weirdo. I just had to know. The thought has been tormenting me for months. What if that’s where our soul is? Or what if it’s an afterlife of some sort?” She looked away. “Or what if Brian’s in there somewhere?”

That sounded like a problem. “Brian’s dead, Shannon,” I told her calmly. “You’re not going to find him in whatever the hell that is.”

Softly, she said, “You didn’t see him die in front of you.” She kept her gaze down to avoid looking me in the eye. “The world is going crazy. There’s hate and delusion everywhere. People need this now more than ever. If we could find out what happens after death, it could change everything.”

What else could I say or do? She wasn’t going to stop just because I said so. The most I could do was get her to agree to a certain set of precautionary conditions. She’d never gone more than a few moments deep simply because of sheer terror, but she would be safer if I was in the morgue to watch over her. We special-ordered the longest vine plant we could find and I waited for her call.

It came very late on a Tuesday. I spent six minutes getting there and bringing the plant; nobody else was around, and she already had the poor teenager cut open and ready, with a white blood-stained sheet over his head and legs. She disrobed, tied the vine around her left ankle, and then took a deep breath to calm herself. “There’s at least thirty minutes left on this one,” she told me.

I set my watch. “You’ve got seven minutes. No further. Just to be safe.”

She nodded nervously and moved forward.

The sight of a person climbing head-first down into a steaming open chest cavity really cannot be conveyed in words. I’d popped nausea medicine on the way over, and I was glad I had. Her waist almost didn’t fit, but I pushed her bare feet down, and she slid out of view between the organs, which congealed back into place once she was gone. The long vine began sliding down between, and I waited with a pounding heart.

What was she seeing? What was she doing down there? I was probably imagining it worse than it was, since she’d had space to turn around the previous time. My mind constructed a vision of a tight organic tunnel that might close like a muscle and crush her to death; or perhaps there was an enormous drop into a never-ending void. How could we possibly know until it was too late?

My watch counted down the seconds interminably. Four minutes passed, and then five. The vine was still being pulled in. At six minutes, it stopped, and I sighed with relief. That had to mean she was coming back.

But she did not emerge at seven minutes. The tension in my chest rose. At eight minutes, I began to pull the vine. It moved easily, and I figured I was pulling up slack—until a snapped end emerged. Panicking, I reached my hand down.

It was still there.

She hadn’t been trapped. She’d just lost the vine at a weak point in the plant we hadn’t caught.

I waited.

At ten minutes, I began to panic.

At eleven, I forced myself to focus.

At twelve, I knew for certain she was in trouble.

I paced around for a full thirty seconds before screaming at myself to stop wasting time. I tore off my watch and clothes, closed my eyes, and basically shoved my arms and head down into the swamp of blood and guts held open on the autopsy table. I found the teenager’s spine and pushed my way past it; this time, I didn’t stop.

It was easier than I expected. Despite the pressure from wet flesh on every side, I slid right in. The knot of vine tied around my ankle got caught on spine bones, but I reached back through the pile of organs and freed it with terrified fingers. It was only when I had fallen further and felt air on my face that I finally took in an explosive breath and opened my eyes.

The air was a thousand years beyond foul, but breathable, just like she’d told me. It smelled and felt like breathing in rotting corpse and dying diseased flesh as a veritable fog; a blood mist. The sight was similar. Shannon had also told me that the place had a dim crimson glow about it, omnipresent and without source, and by this light I saw choking miasma in two directions. Bloodless arteries opened to my left and right, neither big enough to fit a person until I pushed in and the muscle-bound walls relaxed to give me access. I followed the remains of her snapped vine.

More than anything, I wished I had clothes on. Every single surface was alive, pulsing with a distant heartbeat, and secreting dark substances that were strangely hot, cold, or even numbing to the touch. Being naked in an environment like that made me feel vulnerable in a way that brought out terror at every unexpected noise, sight, and texture. I cursed Shannon’s decision-making more than a few times, that was for sure, but I wasn’t going to let her die down here.

Her vine entered what looked like a hollow groove into a massive bone, and I was happy just to be on a solid surface as I crawled between increasingly narrow white walls lit in red. This tunnel had been carved; I could see that in the spiraling notches all around. Had the muscle-tunnels also been drilled out, but then later healed away the scars? It was as if some worm or parasite had dug its way through a dimension of flesh, and we were merely following in its ancient wake.

The smooth bone began to steepen, and I guessed that Shannon might have slipped and slid here. Carefully bracing myself on the spiral notches, I worked my way down the incline with my vine still tightly bound to my ankle.

And good I did. The bone-spiral tunnel ended at a steep fleshy drop-off. Shannon was there below, clinging to a solid white spur. I was still inside the bone itself, so I could only see down, but I carefully moved to reach her hand with mine.

She stared up at me with horror in her eyes. Her voice was odd, distant, and distorted by the rot-congested air. “Don’t look out!”

“What do you mean?” I called to her. As I leaned out of the bone, the view away from the wall of flesh below began to open up. I’d finally reached an open place rather than a tunnel, and I could sense that if I turned my head I would see a tremendous vista. It was the same sense I’d had a few times in my life while riding a ski lift or walking past a window on a plane. All I had to do was glance—

She screamed again: “Don’t look!

For once in my life, I listened to someone else. I didn’t look.

Our hands met, but both were slippery. I tried to rub the liquids off on my skin, but that didn’t work. Everything was wet and disgusting.

I leaned down further and offered an elbow. “Wrap your entire arm around my elbow!” I shouted; the act made the world beyond us open up a little bit more, and I could feel horrific sights beginning to piece themselves together in the corners of my eye. I couldn’t quite tell what was happening out there, but if I so much as darted my gaze—

She grabbed my arm and screamed in my ear: “Don’t look! Don’t you look, µ¬ßµ, dammit!”

What had that been? She’d said a word, but the meaning and intonations had been alien to my mind. By the look on her face, she’d heard it, too.

I pulled her up with all my might, and the nightmare world outside our bone-tunnel receded.

Together, we climbed our way back up the spiral carvings, then crawled as fast as we could along bleeding muscle. The living world around us did not seem to react to us or care about us in any way. For some reason, I’d expected anger or hunger or at least something. If it was alive, if it was conscious, if it was sentient, we were nothing at all to it.

We reached the point where the vine rose up into a seething mass of dark organs, and I pushed her up ahead of me.

Then, for some reason, I turned and looked down the other direction; the way I had not gone when I’d first arrived.

The crimson-lit silhouette of a vaguely teenaged boy sat curled up and crying at a curve in the tunnel.

He raised his head, as if he could somehow sense my looking at him. He began to crawl forward. “Help me!”

Frozen and aghast, I waited.

“Help me!” he screamed again as he came nearer. “Oh, µ¬ßµ, what’s happening? I was in the car, and there was this loud crunch, and I hit my head, and I thought for sure I—” He paused at hearing his own words. “µ¬ßµ? What is that? Why can’t I say µ¬ßµ? Oh, µ¬ßµ! No! Why? No!” He looked at me from two arm lengths away. “Are we in Hell?”

I didn’t know what to tell him. I’d never seen such agony and loss in another human being’s body language before—and he still didn’t know the truth. I gulped down my paralysis. “Can you… see me?”

He nodded. “Help me.”

What could I tell him? I chose my words carefully. “I don’t think I can.”

“Why?” He whimpered so sadly I thought it would break my heart. “Why can’t you help me?”

“You…” I shook with a portion of the pain I was about to give him. “…you don’t have a face.”

He just sat there sobbing as I leapt up and climbed. I knew the sound of that hopelessness would haunt me for the rest of my life. It was unlike anything a human being on Earth could make, for it was absolute, and it was forever.

I pushed up out of the corpse on the table and crashed my way to the cold, hard, dry floor. The impact hurt, but nothing had ever felt so safe and secure.

Shannon sat curled up in a corner, much like the boy I’d seen, and she’d given no thought to putting her clothes back on or getting the dozen kinds of plasm and blood off. She could only stare at the floor in shock, rock back and forth, and murmur, “He wants me to tell people about him.”

“Who?” I asked her. “The teenager? He wouldn’t survive here even if we brought him with us.”

“No,” she whispered. “µ¬ßµ. He wants me to tell people about him. He saw into me. He saw into me when I looked at him. He put his fingers in my grey matter and massaged my brain tissue without ever touching me. He said the Bible and the Quran are close, but we got it slightly wrong. A few things backwards.” She stopped rocking in place and stared me in the eye. “We’re not going to tell anyone about µ¬ßµ, are we?”

I got a towel and wrapped it around her. “No. We won’t say a word.”

And you know? At the time, I actually believed that. I thought I’d gotten away with it by not looking, but the corner of my vision did absorb some small portion of whatever nightmare she witnessed. That’s why, after several weeks of resisting, I can’t help but write this. I simply feel compelled to tell people what happened, and to tell people that µ¬ßµ exists. So, now you know, too.

I hope that’s not a problem.

Rating: 9.71/10. From 7 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Matt Dymerski
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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John snow
John snow
3 years ago

Keep posting lots I read these all at work!

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