Memento Mori

Within Mr. Vanitas’ snifter, fine Scotch swirled; it clung in languorous beads along the rim. At length, he admired its legs. Then he spoke. “And so friends, yet another month we commence together. The floor is now open.”

Nine in total shared the silence of the café. But Mr. Vanitas, he did not quite call them friends. Aficionados, perhaps. Chairs creaked anxiously. Larkish shadows, spit from the occasional candle, canvassed the walls.

“May I?” Eyes wide and far too dazzling, a middle-aged woman inquired of the room.

“Of course, Rita.” Mr. Vanitas smiled between sips of Scotch; an oaken subtleness teased the plastic smoothness of his lips. He knew the café owner forbade drinking on its premises, but fistfuls of hundreds turned the cheek of many a steely individual. Besides, no one possessed the nerve to rebuff him. Of that, Mr. Vanitas always remained quite confident.

“Thank you.” Her smile infected the gathering, eyes so very, very bright, but gourmet finger sandwiches soon passed through the room; her giddiness discarded for poached shrimp and alfalfa sprout delectability. “I died last week.”

A smattering of polite applause. “Excellent, Rita.” Mr. Vanitas, enthusiasm sincere, placed his glass down and brought his hands together. Only four meetings under her belt, and already she absorbed his teachings without question. “So very wonderful. Do you wish to share further with us?”

“Yes, Mr. Vanitas, I would. It was so much easier than I could ever have imagined, really. Completely impulsive. A car accident. The road had been very slick, and I took the turn—”

“How fast were you going?” interrupted a pudgy man jammed into a tweed coat.

Mr. Vanitas glowered at Jenson; the vibe of the café quavered. Even Rita’s eyes dimmed—just a tad. Scotch eventually moistened Mr. Vanitas’ lips back to a reassuring smile. “As you were, Rita.”

“I took the turn rather fast,” daring a curt glance toward Jenson, “and then skidded. My husband has told me countless times what to do if such a thing occurred. Of course, I ignored it all. The ravine came up quickly. The tree quicker still. I never stood a chance. Beyond that, however, I’ve sadly nothing more to recount.”

From the gathering, disappointed sighs.

“Everyone, it’s okay.” Mr. Vanitas raised a bandaged hand. “What is important is that Rita took her first step. I am so very, very proud of her. Now the next time, Rita, you must focus on the retention of your sensations. What did you smell, taste…this is most important for your development.”

She withdrew a compact mirror from her purse, dabbed makeup around the concave dent in her brow. “I will certainly strive to do my best, Mr. Vanitas.”

He nodded appreciatively. “Anyone else?” His fingers worked between his shirt buttons, scratching atop ribbons of gauze.

“Yeah.” Jenson’s meaty face shimmered—a prancing goblin—within the flickering café. “I got something.” He rose from his chair, shook the coat from his arms with a chuff. Then he yanked hard on his sweater collar, revealing a welt that ringed his neck. “Hung myself,” altogether cool and matter-of-factly, “while I had my dick in my hand.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” gasped Mrs. Delancy from across the room.

“I’m not shitting any of you. Rigged the noose from my attic rafter.”

Alexander Green balled his sandwich to the other side of his cheek. “I’m surprised it held.”

From the gathering, sly chuckles. “You assholes want to hear or not?”

“Now, now, Jenson,” Mr. Vanitas scolded. “We’ll have none of that.”

“Well, we’re always talking about pushing the envelope,” Jenson snorted. “I figured, why not off myself while choking my chicken, you know?”

“Autoerotic asphyxiation is what you mean.” Glancing at the disgust creasing the pruned ruins of Mrs. Delancy’s face, Mr. Vanitas silently amused himself. “And while some within our group may be somewhat…put off…by the visuals your death may induce, I will admit, it was another admirable effort on your part.”

Jenson settled back into his chair. “Yeah, well, that ain’t the best of it. My wife tried getting me down. Dumb fuck, who would’ve figured she’d stand below me? Crushed her on my way down.”

“Cheese and crackers!” Stanley Henderson covered his mouth.

Jenson chuckled, spittle spraying his jolly cheeks. “Never even had a viewing. Her family disowned her before we met, and you know we had no kids. My own kin died awhile back, and fuck knows I never needed friends. Only ones there were the funeral director and his partner.”

Mr. Vanitas eyed Jenson carefully from above the rim of his snifter. “I was not aware of that.” He pulled his gaze away, slowly scanning the group, fixating finally on a man seated in the corner of the café. “Robert.”

The gathering froze; Alexander Green shoved shrimp back into his mouth while keeping entrails from escaping the cavity of his torso; Ms. Bernadette fingered the bubbling hole in her throat. Even Jenson stiffened, jowls blue tinged.


“Yes, Mr. Vanitas?” squeaked a shaky reply.

“What do you wish to share with us tonight?”

The man absently fumbled with his shirtsleeves. “I slit my wrists right after last month’s meeting, Mr. Vanitas.”

“Yes, of course you did, Robert. As well the meeting before that. And the one before that. Where is your sense of adventure?” He shook his head sadly. “I believe you’ve strayed from the intent of our group.”

From the gathering, a strained hush.

“I haven’t, Mr. Vanitas.”

Mr. Vanitas knocked back the remainder of his Scotch, then shattered the snifter upon the floor. “Memento mori! Do you know what that means, Robert?”

“No, Mr. Vanitas.”

“It means, remember that you will die. But do you understand what it means, Robert?”

A pitiful shake of his head.

Mr. Vanitas rose, lurched through the small arrangement toward the man. The gathering shrunk in their chairs. “Death is our inevitability, Robert. Born we are only so that we may die. Raised as children so that we may one day fit the black jeweled crown of death upon our skulls. Only the chosen may come to revel in its splendor, lather its sweet decay across perpetually damned flesh. We live only to die, and die only to die again. A fortunate lot, are we not?”

A resounding yes reverberated through the café. “And so we indulge ourselves, over and over again. But it’s never enough, Robert. In our deaths, we live out our agonies, our ecstasies, our artistic splendors. But it’s never enough…” his voice trailing away.

“So then we never die, do we, Mr. Vanitas? Not now…not ever?”

Mr. Vanitas paused in the middle of the room—deftly unbuttoned his shirt, bandaged fingers moving with fluid grace. It dropped to the floor, besides Jenson’s tweed coat. Exposed, the expanse of bloody bandages wrapping his torso; a fine mesh network. He picked at it, laboring meticulously, unsheathing ribbon by ribbon, layer by layer, until ruinous, smoking flesh peeked through; a glint of bared rib. Then lastly, with a wet rip, the veil of gauze that surrounded his head came unwound. Before them, Mr. Vanitas preened—bandages clutched tightly within each hand, a figure of charred wickedness. “Perhaps Jenson is better suited to answer your question.”

Jenson winced, the stench of broiled muscle full in his nose. “What are you talking about?”

“No one remained to see you off, is that not what you claimed, Jenson?”

The fat man’s eyes widened as Mr. Vanitas wrapped his dressings tightly around Jenson’s neck. “You see, Robert, we do not truly die until the very last person we know in life dies. Not until then.” He jerked mercilessly until Jenson’s final death wheezed from his throat. “I do expect you to die in the best interest of our group from this moment forward, Robert.”

~ Joseph A. Pinto

© Copyright 2013 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.

41 thoughts on “Memento Mori

  1. This is great! Too many layers to even fit in a silly comment box:)
    It made me think of Jacob’s Coffee Shop. For a second I though Rita was Lucy, I had to find her name again the book.


    1. Hi Cristina 🙂
      Thank you very much! Well, I suppose this might be a very twisted sort of cafe compared to the one Doug frequented in my novel Flowers for Evelene. Maybe I have spent too much time in them lol It just seemed the perfect setting for this tale; a meeting place of a secret society that is kept cloaked yet before all the world to see.
      As always, I appreciate your support, Cristina! 🙂


  2. I must say that this is your best story yet, Joe. Everything was so vividly portrayed, and, of course, life begets death, which begets death. Your tale brings a certain amount of humor to the front, but it is Damned Dark humor. I loved the demise of the wife standing under her dead husband. Classic Joseph Pinto, classic greatness.



    1. I appreciate that, Blaze 🙂

      As I first started writing this, I thought it would be heavy on the dark atmosphere, and then wham – tongue-in-cheek dark humor. I found it to be a pleasant surprise, yet somehow fitting for this piece.

      Thank you for your support, my dear Damned friend 🙂


  3. What a fantastic story, Joe! That’s one fabulously twisted imagination you have playing through your mind! I love the concept of this piece as much as the telling. As always, the writing is tight, descriptive and superb. No wasted words, yet a full picture painted with every line. Reading the tale you feel as though you are sitting in the room with the group. I really love this one; so diabolical yet so practical – Deadoholics Anonymous, perhaps?

    Excellent, excellent piece, Joe! :}


    1. Hi Nina, thank you so much! 🙂 I’m very grateful for your support, as always 🙂

      What’s so funny about MEMENTO MORI is that I wrote it on a wing and a prayer…wait, I write most everything that way lol

      I’m happy that with this new story, I managed, or at least I think I managed, to bring death to a new art form 😉


  4. Joey so so good! As always u amaze me…painting such pictures in my little noggin 🙂 U are so very talented love! Hugs, Bxx


    1. Bells, thank you! If I manage to paint pictures within your noggin with the power of my own noggin, then I have done my job lol Thank you so much; I would like to think I have talent within me, but talent means nothing if not expressed, honed and shared. On all those fronts, I certainly am trying. I truly appreciate your support 🙂


    1. Death is a wonderful thing, Mari? Or the fact I have an “in” with an, shall we say, upper echelon club? lol I’m very glad you enjoyed MEMENTO MORI. And I am appreciative of all the support you have shown not only for me, but for all the Damned.

      Thank you, Mari! 🙂


      1. Sure death is a wonderful thing. For us writers. Otherwise it’s painful and undesired, but that is good for writing too. Also your skill and your “in” with the upper echelon is Wonderful.
        All of the Damned are talented, I’m more than happy to support you all. 😀


    1. Hey Brittany, thank you for taking the time to read MEMENTO MORI & commenting! 🙂
      I’m so happy that you enjoyed it. It’s amazing reading some of the reactions to this piece; any of my works, for that matter. I just sit & write whatever is in my head. I certainly don’t ‘try’ to write a piece one way or the other – with a certain sense of ‘elegance,’ as you just put it (which I am very humbled to hear, thank you). No need to bow ever; following my work and the hard efforts of Pen of the Damned is quite enough 😉
      Thank you again!! 🙂


  5. Great work! The descriptions were spot on and really did creep me out. The ironic thing is that the term “memento mori” means a lot to me; I even got it tattooed on me. So this story spoke to me in a weird (but good) sort of way. 🙂


    1. Hi Camille! 🙂 Thank you so much for taking the time to read MEMENTO MORI; I truly appreciate it!!
      That’s so cool; I think it’s awesome that you have that saying tattooed on you; any particular reason why?


      1. Well, the meaning of the tattoo is kind of like a “seize the day” type of meaning. Since I know I’m going to die, I feel that I have to truly enjoy my life and get something from it, and not let a moment go to waste.

        Thanks for asking! 🙂


  6. At length he admired its legs… set the tone for the piece. Character descriptions just enough I could do a line by line here – it was all spectacular (by the way, even the most dark damned write needs some humour)


    1. Hey Sue 🙂 Thank you for reading; I appreciate all your support! 🙂
      All our pieces on Pen of the Damned follow one strict guideline: nothing over 2,500 words. So for me, every piece follows a particular flow. Kinda like an artist, I dab colors, brush strokes here and there when needed. Just enough to finish the portrait for the benefit of your mind 😉
      lol Yes, I think the bit of humor I infused into this makes it even more sinister 🙂


  7. Loved this story, Joe!!! The concept is fantastic and may very well deserve more attention, say a novel or series of novels. Your slow reveal of the story’s details was as painfully delightful as Mr. Vanitas’s unraveling bandages. And preciously mentioned by others, the wife’s death was a wonderful touch of humor! Excellent piece, Tale Weaver!!!


    1. Thanks very much, Tyr! This was a fun piece to write & I really wanted that aspect to shine through from the story itself. Lately it seems that all my pieces for the Damned are begging for more exploration; I’m going to be a busy man! 😉
      I appreciate your support, my friend!


  8. Another wicked tale that gripped me till the twisted end. I can’t wait to buy the Joseph Pinto short story anthology. I particularly enjoyed the AA meeting feel to it.


    1. Well, Jaimie, a Joseph Pinto short story anthology is not as crazy as it seems…I have a lot of stories that haven’t seen the light of day…simply a matter of not finding the perfect market for them – yet! lol
      I’m very happy you enjoyed MEMENTO MORI; anytime you want to try out for the club, let me know. I’m sure I can arrange a good seat for you… 😉
      Thank you for your unwavering support, it’s much appreciated!


  9. Great story, Joe! I agree with Tyr … this idea of death, this incarnation of Death is definitely an idea, and a character worth more exploration. Even something as simple as a collection of stories — each one a meeting, with characters popping in and out (having gone back to life).

    Really like the tale, and that it’s not just another Grim Reaper kind of tale.


    1. Hey John, thank you for taking the time to read MEMENTO MORI, I appreciate it, my friend!

      Yes, Mr. Vanitas was his own ‘man’ as he came to like (pardon the pun) in my story, and not just a recycling of the Grim Reaper. What would interest me is how he organized the group – if he was indeed the one to organize it at all…


  10. Joe, my friend, I’m so sorry it has taken me this long to drop by!

    What an intriguing concept you’ve explored here! Wonderfully written, of course, it reminded me of some of the short fiction by Neil Gaiman in its tone and quirky characterisations. At once amusing and thought-provoking. Great stuff!


    1. Hey A.R., good to ‘see’ you here, brother! Thank you very much; I’m grateful that you took the time to read MEMENTO MORI – I hope you’ll stay tuned to the Damned in the future 🙂


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