Culler Lake – Matt Lee
July 12, 2021
The strange part wasn’t the waterlogged bodies so much as what we found inside them. Four corpses pulled from four different locations in the span of a single week. A water retention pond beside the northbound interstate. A wealthy widower’s backyard pool. A reservoir used for fishing. And scenic Culler Lake.
The first body was identified as a preschool teacher. The second was a retired parole officer. The third was a meter maid. The fourth was a veterinarian. All locals. All seen by witnesses shortly before they went missing. All found within twenty-four hours of disappearing. Otherwise, no personal connections could be established. Strangers in life, fellows in death.
Though the coroner ruled each body was submerged no more than a day, the soft tissue appeared in a state of advanced decomposition, as if the bodies had been underwater for weeks. Bloated, purple-skinned, somewhere between liquid and solid.
During autopsies, a precise cause of death could not be determined. Most of us figured they had all drowned, but there was no water in anyone’s lungs. The bodies displayed no signs of violence and appeared otherwise healthy, except for the presence of foreign objects—several pounds of cooked pasta. Spaghetti, specifically.
Not in the abdomens. Wedged between organs. Clogging arteries. Coiled around bones.
The coroner believed the spaghetti was present inside the victims prior to their expiration, yet the pasta (perfectly al dente) had not been fatal. These findings elicited more questions. How had these people survived with noodles infesting their viscera, and curiouser still, what killed them?
Since the flesh did not exhibit any wounds, scars, or cut marks, forensic analysts were puzzled as to the means by which the spaghetti had made its way into the four victims’ collective corpus. Several theories arose. Nano-injection, experimental drugs, unknown parasites. All led nowhere.
As authorities puzzled over the peculiarities of the case, we were met with another unforeseen dilemma, the matter of what was to be done with the pasta.
All agreed simply throwing the spaghetti away would be wasteful. Rather than let the food spoil in an evidence locker, the chief of police suggested divvying up the goods amongst investigators. Surely those public servants and medical personnel who had been working to find answers deserved a complimentary meal.
When the mayor was met with this proposition, she promptly nixed the idea on the grounds it would be unethical, not to mention unsanitary. The chief of police insisted the pasta was safe to eat, and to prove his point grabbed a fistful of the sallow strands, stuffing his mouth before the mayor could intervene.
We waited, wondering if the chief would turn sick or worse, drop dead. He chewed for a long time, his face a vision of pure ecstasy. He swallowed, belched, inhaled deeply, and then began shoveling spaghetti down his throat without bothering to chew.
This instigated a feeding frenzy. The coroner yanked the container away and began sampling what he had himself extracted from the decaying cadavers just days before. The director of the food safety board stuck his head in the bin like he was bobbing for apples. Even the mayor acquiesced, slurping ropes of slimy pasta through puckered lips.
Soon the plastic tub was emptied and the officials were sufficiently gorged. Nary a string remained. We sat there stunned. The mayor was the first to say it out loud. None of us had ever tasted anything so spectacular in our lives.
We looked to the chief, desperate for more. He shook his head. We asked the coroner if he might double check the bodies for scraps, but he told us the remains had been buried. Dig the bastards up, we hissed. Before he could finish explaining the necessary paperwork involved for such a request, we seized him.
The buttons of his well-pressed shirt went flying as we tore his clothes apart, clawing at his stomach until the skin gave way. We ripped him open, rooting our hands through his guts, gnawing intestines to get at the sweet morsels, our mouths itching from the gastric acid.
Then we turned on each other. The mayor pleaded, said she would make herself throw it all up. We found the noodles more palatable when taken from within, blood behaving as faux tomato sauce, hunks of sinew the meaty bolognese. The district commissioner produced shakers of parmesan and crushed red pepper flakes, from where nobody bothered to ask.
By the time we had our fill, only a few of us remained. In a stupor we marched from City Hall to Culler Lake, our eyes glazed with despair, for we realized life could offer no experience more sublime than the flavor with which we had been momentarily graced.
At the water’s edge we filled our pockets with stones. A pack of ducks observed us with amusement. No one spoke. We eased into the still lake, gasping at the cold. Step by step we sank out of sight. The surface rippled. Air bubbles dissipated. Then came the calm, disturbed only by the chattering ducks.
The strange part wasn’t how we got to the bottom of Culler Lake so much as what we found down there. A modest cottage, algae covered stones, front door unlocked. We sat at the dinner table, tied bibs of kelp around our necks. We heard chopping from the kitchen, sizzling pans. None of us knew what we were having. None of us cared. Whatever it was smelled heavenly. And wet.