Tollund Man

When I was in grade twelve, just before it got so bad that I couldn't go to school anymore, my ancient history class did a unit on archaeology. We learnt about Tollund Man, the biggest rockstar of all the bog bodies (which put him high in the running for the biggest rockstar of all the corpses, alongside Lucy and the Lake Mungo bodies). It made me sick, looking at that picture of a real-life dead body, scanned and printed onto handouts to be glued into our books. I looked around at my classmates and teachers and couldn't believe that nobody was losing their shit as much as I was.

I wasn't made for archaeology. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't fathom that there was some undefined tipping point between "person" and "artefact" which made looking at a close-up shot of a dead person's face a normal thing to be doing in a high school classroom. I couldn't help but see myself in those people, dug up and examined and looked at and cut apart and reconstructed and photographed and put in textbooks. I couldn't stand the idea of becoming an artefact, but it was all that I could think of - the sort of assumptions scientists in a distant era would make about me if my body survived until that point.

On some level, I began to feel that the mummification process had already begun. On a daily basis I was being excavated and studied, with some shrunken and warped version of myself left in the minds of everyone I encountered. Three weeks later I was in a therapist's waiting room shaking so hard that the world looked like a stop motion animation. Anyway. That was three years ago. Now I'm standing in the rain outside some train station I've only ever passed through waiting to get on a bus. A few minutes ago, a woman working at the station told me "There's been an incident on the tracks, so trains are going to be stopped for a few hours while they get that cleaned up" and the combination of delicate phrasing and gory imagery threw me so much I almost laughed. Almost. Instead, I nodded slightly and walked off to join the line.

I can feel people's body heat on me as I wait with my jacket pulled over my head. A drop of sweat starts at my crown and rolls down to my chin. People are complaining about how their plans will be upset. I look at my phone for the fifth time in five minutes. A thought crosses my mind: I'll probably be late. Partly because of disgust that I could think about my own schedule at a time like this, partly because of the thought of people looking at me walking in late, and partly out of desire to get out of this line, I have to fight the impulse to run out into the traffic just to get away. One bus takes off and people start boarding the next, but the line doesn't seem to be getting shorter in any direction.
"Teddy! Hey, Teddy!" A voice calls out. I look around and see a face it takes me a moment to recognise.
"Oh," I say, "Raina!" This is about all I have to say to Raina. We went to school together but didn't really talk, so I haven't seen or even really thought about her for three years.
"This sucks, doesn't it?" she asks, motioning to the line. I vocalise some sort of agreement.
"I was so surprised to see you here," Raina continues, "You kind of disappeared."
"So, what have you been up to?" I ask, eager to change the subject. I don't want to talk to anybody, and I especially don't want to talk about myself.
"I'm studying business and photography at Griffith," she tells me, "What about you? Mrs Glebb said you were finishing grade 12 remotely." There's an upturn in her voice at the end of the sentence, like it's a question. I look at the suicide bus, wishing the line would move.
"Yeah, I had glandular fever," I tell her. This is a lie, fed to me by my doctor in those early days when I could've gone back to school and finished grade 12 as though I'd only been sick. I stuff my jacket in my bag, hoping the rain will disguise how much I'm sweating. Raina asks what glandular fever is, and I tell her, truthfully, that I don't know.
"Oh," she says, "So, where are you headed?"
"A job interview," I tell her. This is also a lie, chosen to justify the dress pants and the collared shirt which I've absentmindedly rolled up the sleeves of to dig my nails at a scab.

"On a Saturday?" she asks. "I thought it was pretty weird too," I tell her, looking just past her head at the vague, grey sky. Her phone buzzes and she looks at it, before grinning widely.
"Alright! Turns out my friend who lives near here can give me a lift for the rest of the way. Are you headed to West End? I can ask if you can come with us if you are." I shake my head. This is technically the truth, although a ride to West End would get me where I need to go a lot quicker. We say goodbye, and Raina steps out of the line to wait for her friend.

I board the bus. The suicide express smells strongly of white wine, like someone broke a bottle in here yesterday. I tuck myself into a corner and it begins - the agonising about what Raina will say to her friend, to people we went to school with who she still speaks to. "You'll never guess who I ran into today," she'll say. It hurts me to think it. "Teddy Richards, from Mrs Glebb's Ancient History class," and every time she says it and somebody hears, I'll be torn apart and the portion of me which belongs to myself will grow smaller. The thing that had daunted me the most about the conversation with Raina was the prospect of her asking what happened. The truth was nothing happened, not to me. One day I was in class, looking at a grainy printout of a warped and twisted dead human person, and the next day I wasn't. As the months went on it became clear I would never return to the classroom. As they went on ever further it became clear that I would never return to the world. The air is thick in the bus, and I can feel the fanged gaze of those around me as I struggle to breathe. The problem, I think, is not the trials of existing in that swampy place between living and dead. The hard parts are the times when we are excavated for observation.

Author's note: I started writing this years ago. When I started it, it was an essay/letter which consisted entirely of me expressing how I felt about Tollund Man, and bog bodies in general. It wasn't until later, when I editied it to submit to a creative writing competition that I added the actual story. For a while, it was my go-to which I'd submit to creative writing competitions, but I reckon I'm ready to let go of it now, so I'm posting it here.