My Dear Doctor Mortem

Submitted into Contest #140 in response to: Write a story that involves a flashback.... view prompt


Speculative Drama

in vita et in mortem… in life as in death”

My Dear Doctor Mortem, 

I am writing to you on behalf of one of my most difficult cases. I thought perhaps you could help me. Yes, I realize this is highly irregular, given the nature of our individual practices, but I find myself at a loss.

My patient is one Leanna Richards, and before you start, I assure you that she is much too young to have earned a file in your cabinet just yet. Then again, so was Henry.   I believe he came to you as a result of the plague. You’ve gotten a good deal of business from that matter. What’s that saying about only the good? Forgive me, I digress.

You see, I first met Leanna beneath an apple tree. I’m sure you’ll see the humor, being a doctor, yourself. She was six years old. I remember how she laughed. That was what gained my attention. It was filled with such  joy. I don’t expect you to fully understand, but you can try. 

It was an unbridled laugh. There was no weight, no worry, nothing to taint it. Most laughter is a ray that pushes its way defiantly through the clouds. This laugh was pure light. The heat of the sun amid an empty sky, rising over untamed seas of emotion.

“What makes you happy, Leanna?” I asked.

She twirled. Do you ever twirl? I suppose not. Perhaps you should.

“Elephants!” She cried.

I will admit, I giggled. It seemed appropriate at the time. Such a strange and curious and wonderful answer.

“What else?” I pressed.

“Chocolate milk!”

I made a glass just the other night. I would be lying if I said this memory did not prompt me. I stood there at the counter, shoveling spoons of cocoa into my glass, watching the tiny grains disappear. I tried to make a pattern, but my spoon was not an accurate tool. Still, I tried. And I smiled. I’ve discovered that chocolate milk tastes like a smile.

I kept an eye on Leanna for several years, but inevitably I lost track of her. That is the trouble with dealing with such an enormous volume of cases. You tend to only see the patient at a crucial moment. When I did finally encounter her again, she was thirteen.

And VERY thirteen.

Chubby, braces, bangs, you understand. But I knew it was her. The laugh was the same. Only it was shorter this time. The bullying did that. It made her a little quieter. Still, I sat with her and whispered, “What makes you happy, Leanna?”

She didn’t twirl this time, but I hadn’t expected her to. Instead, she simply opened her arms to the sky and closed her eyes.

“Music,” she said. “Music that makes your heart beat faster. So you have to move. You have to.”

And she danced to drums only she could hear. It was a wild and untamed and beautiful dance. She became so lost in it that she could not hear the jeers, or see the mocking glances. And she laughed. That warm sunshine laugh.

I hear lots of music, but I admit sometimes I forget to listen. So often, the music is the accompaniment of the day when it should be the performance. The house should dim till you stand alone, spotlighted on a stage, sparked to life when the first note plays. 

And you should let it play. Let it fill the space. So you have to move. You have to.

I sadly continued to lose track of Leanna, many times. I caught glimpses, here and there. She went to college, toured with the choir, hiked mountains, fell in love… 

There is a book somewhere in her home with photographs, and newspaper clippings, and ticket stubs that trace the journey. I believe it is called a “scrapbook”. Such a peculiar word. The photos, and clippings, and stubs, and hand scribbled notes, and bits of map that are pasted carefully amid the pages recounting a legacy of a life being referred to as scraps strikes me strangely. They will outlast so very much. When memories fade, and hands wrinkle, and sight begins to blur, they will remain. Gently stroked by the fingertips of young and old.

My apologies, I have digressed again. I should give you the crux of the matter.

Something… happened. What exactly, I’m not certain. My secretary left some notes on my desk, but they are not detailed. Then, she sent something else that has greatly disturbed me. A box. Filled with pale, jagged fragments. Little pieces of delicacy. Like the porcelain of shattered china. 

The box came with Leanna’s name on it. I picked one of the pieces up, and I was suddenly overcome by a sickened sensation as a single word struck the depths of my mind. Loss. I put it aside and reached for another piece. Another sensation overcame me, just as violent, just as disturbing. But a different word resounded within me. Betrayal. 

The horror continued as I held moments of fear, anger, hurt, suddenly realizing these were not discarded pieces of refuse. They were pieces of her. Slowly, painfully chipped away. Remnants of arms reaching out. Of a soul waiting. Wanting. Of a heart so determined, it refused to shut its doors. And so the treasures were ravaged, ripped from the walls, whisked through those ever open doors, till its halls were empty.

I have found Leanna once more. She is a woman now, and quite lovely, I think. But she has changed. So much of her is missing. So much of her is fragmented in that dreadful box.

I asked her, “What makes you happy, Leanna?”

And she did not answer.

That is why I have come to you. Because, to put it simply, I am not ready to lose her.

We still have elephants to discuss, you see.

And I need the sunlight.

So, my dear Doctor Mortem, I implore you. Should the file present itself for your review, do not take this case.


Professor Vita

April 01, 2022 15:22

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J.C. Lovero
22:22 Apr 02, 2022

Hi Hannah, Such a clever take on the prompt. I really liked the Latin and the allusion to the doctor's name - very clever there. Speculative pieces that float somewhere between fantasy and science fiction always intrigue me, and you achieved a level of mystery with this story. Just enough to fill in the blanks but still leaving me with some wandering thoughts. Nicely done!


00:59 Apr 03, 2022

JC! Thank you so much, I love this genre but it’s hard sometimes to find prompts or places where it will be accepted. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for taking the time to read ❤️


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Riel Rosehill
15:36 Apr 09, 2022

Ohh we were prompt twins fo this one, how exciting! And this was... wow. Once I got to that last line that revieled the narrator's name the whole story took on a whole different meaning... it's a really good technique you used there. I love the line "And I need the sunlight." from the pen of Life. There is just so much meaning in there... Nicely done!


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Shirley Smith
06:44 Apr 09, 2022

Hi Hannah, good story, and I'm still wandering about Leanna. I got caught up somewhere too. I love mystery and suspense as well. I was thinking the Professor was Leanna. I don't know what to think but it was an interesting story.


14:19 Apr 09, 2022

Hey Shirley! I’m glad you thought it was interesting 😊 so, the story is a letter from “Professor Vita” (Life, the word “vita” means Life in Latin) and “Dr Mortem” (Death) Basically, Life is asking Death not to take Leanna, even though she is starting to feel like giving up. Life wants to experience more with Leanna 😊 Thanks for reading! I truly appreciate it! ❤️


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Rochelle Miller
07:02 May 04, 2022

Hi Hannah - I loved this reading experience! The story has an interesting depth to it and captured me. It made me reflect on how different readers have such unique perspectives when reading a story, like it was written just for me in this moment. Job well done!


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18:46 Apr 26, 2022

I love how you described Leanna first as a little girl, then a teenager, then an adult. And the repetition of "What makes you happy, Leanna?" at every stage in her life. Elephants, chocolate milk, music, dancing, sunshine. You didn't say much about Leanna towards the end, when she was an adult. But the box that contained "pale, jagged fragments... Like the porcelain of shattered china..." lead me to believe that she was unhappy, her life was falling apart. I love Professor Vita's pleading to Dr. Mortem not to take her. There were more ele...


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16:07 Apr 24, 2022

Hi Hannah, This is a genuinely unique piece. I have seen nothing else like it. Such an imaginative and original take on a potentially very dull prompt. You really bring it to life (excuse the pun). I love the personification of life and death here and that the nature of the narrator is kept until the very end, leaving the reader guessing all the way through - I was thinking doctor? social worker? foster parent? it was a fascinating journey. A couple of my favourite lines: I’ve discovered that chocolate milk tastes like a smile. And sh...


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Andrea Doig
09:28 Apr 15, 2022

Oh my word. I loved this story! This is one of the best written stories I have read on Reedsy so far! Well done on every level. Grammar, style, storyline, flow… what more can I say? I think it’s pretty damn perfect. You are in with a real chance of winning this one I would say!! . It even moved me to the point of a little tear at the end. Thank you for a lovely read on Good Friday xx


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Ema Fancher
03:55 Apr 15, 2022

I adore the style you wrote this in! You don't see it too often anymore. Such a sad story written in a lovely manner I think helps drive home the feeling of the piece.


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Sharon Hancock
01:12 Apr 12, 2022

So intriguing I want to know more! I love the mystery and suspenseful quality and the description of the box. I hope she lets herself out of the box! Great story. 😻


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Jay McKenzie
09:11 Apr 09, 2022

Beautifully written Hannah.


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08:14 Apr 09, 2022

Your story is wonderful. I love the personification of life and death, how you depict Leanne’s joyfulness and eventual shattering, that chocolate milk tastes like a smile. Just brilliant.


14:25 Apr 09, 2022

Thank you for reading! It really means so much to me! I’m so glad you enjoyed this one, I got a bit emotional writing it 😆 I will forever contend that chocolate milk is the taste of Smile, it just feels right! Again, thank you ❤️


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