Drabblecast cover by Bo Kaier for Notes from the Assistant's InternThis week on the Drabblecast: dirty jobs.  We bring you a quirky original tale by Bryan Miller about mad scientists and henchmen gone awry.  Enjoy!

The bulletin board posting specifically stated that the internship required “special skills,” “unorthodox hours,” and an “old-fashioned go-getter,” so I can’t really complain as I’m digging up coffins in search of heads.

Even though the graveyard muck is hell on my Cole Haan shoes, I roll up the sleeves of my Oxford shirt and keep working that spade. Dress for the job you want. One day some intrepid young man—or woman!—may be fetching moldering crania for me. Assuming all goes well.


Notes from the Assistant’s Intern
by Bryan Miller


The bulletin board posting specifically stated that the internship required “special skills,” “unorthodox hours,” and an “old-fashioned go-getter,” so I can’t really complain as I’m digging up coffins in search of heads.

Even though the graveyard muck is hell on my Cole Haan shoes, I roll up the sleeves of my Oxford shirt and keep working that spade. Dress for the job you want. One day some intrepid young man—or woman!—may be fetching moldering crania for me. Assuming all goes well.

Until then, I’ll be go-getting heads the old-fashioned way.

“Dig faster!” Gorog says.

He’s holding the burlap sack of heads we’ve already collected, leaning against a gravestone. Everyone has a different managerial style. Gorog is a stern motivator.

“Doctor wants these tonight. We mustn’t disappoint Doctor.”

A few heaves of mud later, my shovel bites into a coffin. It’s made of cheap Styrofoam. According to Gorog, all the souls buried in this Potter’s Field received pauper’s funerals on the dime of the chintzy state. (I’m paraphrasing.) Maybe if they’d done more planning in their cut-short lives, they could have afforded sturdier coffins with vaulted tops that made their heads less easily collectible. That’s exactly the reason a good internship, even an unpaid one, is so essential at this stage of my professional life.

I hack a gap into the Styrofoam, yank away a hunk of it with my bare hands. A waft of what I’ve come to think of as, very specifically, coffin smell—whew, it really wafts.
The body inside is a child’s. Not like a little kid, but this one never got to enjoy the thrill of driving. His dark hair is cropped close. The asymmetrical pinholes in his earlobes look homemade, as does the star-shaped tattoo on his neck. Probably a teen runaway. Sad.

I fumble around the rim of the hole above me for the hacksaw. I don’t throw the shovel up there right away. A couple of heads into this task, I’ve learned some tricks. I use the hacksaw to cut through the neck, straight down to the knotty spine. Then I slice away the sinew along the sides. When the spinal column is fully visible, I slip the tip of the spade into a groove between two vertebrae and stomp down hard on the handle to sever it. This is a serious time-saver. After that, you just have to saw through that back flap of skin and, voila, head.

The dead kid’s hair isn’t long enough to grip, so I slip my thumb into the mouth to pass it up to Gorog, the way you’d hand over a bowling ball.

“This looks like a good one!’ I say from down in the grave.

Gorog grunts. He drops the head into the bag. It makes a noise that really doesn’t sound like anything other than heads rolling around together.

“This enough,” he grumbles. “Fix it and we go.”

Gorog told me when we first arrived, you only dig up fresh graves with the surface soil still loose; when you’re done you have to fill the holes back in so the discount morticians are none the wiser. (Again, paraphrasing.) This way no suspicions are raised, and we can come back here later if the Doctor needs, say, some hands or legs.

I can learn a lot from Gorog, both as a boss and an employee.


I’m not entirely certain about the Doctor’s plans for the heads. I suspect it may have something to do with his headless wife, Abigail, who wanders around the manor.
“Wander” is uncharitable phrasing. For someone without eyes or a brain she’s quite graceful in her way. She maintains elegant posture while she roams the expansive house in a series of satin dressing gowns, the stump of her neck covered in a swatch of Alencon lace tied off with a velvet ribbon. She bumps into walls and furniture. Occasionally I’ll find her stuck in a room’s corner, disoriented. I gently take her hand and guide her back to a clear path.

Being a good intern isn’t just about doing what you’re told, it’s about doing little things no one even asks of you.

Following our Potter’s Field trip, Gorog and I are back in the laboratory. I don’t get to spend much time here. Gorog keeps me busy with other tasks around the manor: restocking the candelabras, cataloguing chemicals in the supply shed, tossing chickens into the alligator pit. Today Gorog is so busy fussing with the heads he forgets to send me off. Usually I’d assign myself some duty, but it’s invaluable to get face time with the Doctor. Always ingratiate yourself to your boss’ boss.

“You there,” the Doctor says as he hunches over a spiraled coil of glass tubing that’s slowly filling with a bright-green serum. “What are you scribbling about?”

“Taking some notes, sir,” I say, sitting up straight, hopefully as straight as his currently un-recapitated wife.

His bushy salt-and-pepper eyebrows hunker down over his dark eyes.

“Taking notes about what?”

I tap the nib of my pen on this very notebook.

“My daily duties here, Doctor. I find it helps me to organize my thoughts. Plus, I can keep track of any pearls of wisdom Gorog shares with me.”

I motion toward my boss, who’s too preoccupied with mounting each head on its own electroconductive pike. He’s doing that thing where he grunts as he breathes. That’s how you can tell he’s really focused.

The Doctor nods and returns to his stew of chemicals. I can sense this is an opportunity I cannot allow to pass by.

“Doctor, I notice you’re a bit of a haphazard note-taker yourself.” All around the open lab are tables and cabinets piled high with stacks of mismatched papers covered in frantic scrawl. I can only half make sense of them at a glance: chemical formulas, mathematical calculations, underlined epiphanies, the occasional doodle of a tentacular beast or enormous eyes leering down from a broken line of clouds.

“Yes, I do all of my research by hand.”

“Forgive my potential overreach, sir, but might you better access the information on a more modernized system? I would be happy to take on the project. Collation, organization, transcription….”
Gorog grunts loudly along the far wall. I catch him glaring back at me over his left shoulder. He couldn’t do that over his right shoulder, on account of the hump there. He makes a grumbling, gurgling sound as he rams the runaway’s head down onto the electrified pike.

The Doctor rolls his eyes at his assistant. Then he turns back to me.

“Alright,” he says. “Let’s give it a whirl.”


Later that evening, Gorog pulls me aside.

“Him not your boss,” he says, poking me in the chest with an index finger dark at the tip with graveyard dirt. “Him my boss. Me your boss!”

He’s an irascible fellow, yet I’ve never seen Gorog so riled. The hank of black hair remaining on one side of his somewhat misshapen skull falls over his eyes, one of which is brown, the other of which is yellow.

“My apologies, sir, I was just trying to take some initia—”

Gorog stoops over—well, stoops over further than usual—and surges forward to butt me in the solar plexus with the crown of his head. The blow thumps me back against the wall.

Wal-Mart managers start their team meetings with high fives and chants. It’s always fascinating to see new, proprietary techniques for motivation.

“Gorog you boss!” he reminds me.

He’s undeniably correct. The notice for the internship posted on the corkboard in the lobby of the Cloverton Business School was clearly written by Gorog’s hand. The telltale misspellings are one dead giveaway. Gorog hired me to lighten his own load, so he could better serve the Doctor.

I fear I’ve learned a powerful business lesson about chain of command.

Gorog has served the Doctor for many years. I’m not sure where he worked before that. His skill set is both broad and quite niche. The Doctor has been conducting experiments of injudicious boldness his whole life, having inherited the manor and the lab and his professional drive from his own father, according to Gorog. (Yes, again, paraphrasing. Most of what I relay from Gorog is heavily paraphrased.)

The Doctor added to his family fortune with a patent on a microcerebral implant that can briefly revive lab rats and mice. This allows researchers to run more tests on control subjects past their expiration date. The captains of scientific experimentation have pointed out it means fewer total lab vermin killed overall, although there is some debate among animal-rights activist types about the ethics of continually reviving a creature only to consign it to dozens more deaths.
I’m not in the ethics business though. That’s someone else’s department. I’m in the business of business.

“You listen Gorog,” the boss says, and headbutts me once more for emphasis. “Otherwise, alligators in pit hungry.”

“Yes sir,” I reply. “Are you telling me you’d like me to go feed the alligators?”

“Gorog telling you alligators in pit always hungry.”


The Doctor is grinning into the old Apple laptop I brought in. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him smile. The screen’s glow illuminates his frizzy hair, his white teeth, his dingy lab coat, his wide eyes.

“This is incredible,” the Doctor says. “So all my old research is on here?”

“And fully searchable,” I say, with no small amount of pride. I lean over his shoulder to show him the keystroke commands. “You can page through them by subject, chronology, particular phrasing.”

It took weeks of work to do all the transcription, and another week to arrange the haphazard documents into some semblance of order. I scanned in equations and even some of the doodles, as well as thoroughly spellchecked the notes jotted down by Gorog.

“Remarkable. I should have done this much sooner. As you can see, we run a fairly old-fashioned operation here.”

“Yes, sir. What with the candelabras and all.”

The heads watch us from the far side of the room. Three of them, anyway. The runaway and an old woman with long silver hair haven’t awakened. The others blink asynchronously and clench their rigor-tightened jaws. Gorog is elsewhere, clattering around the house.

“Say again how you came to work for us?” the Doctor asks.

A lot of people will tell you always to represent yourself in the most flattering light, even sometimes at the expense of veracity. Maybe they’re right. I still subscribe to the notion that honesty is the best policy. I guess I’m old-fashioned that way myself.

“To be truthful, sir, I applied for several other internships and was passed over. I’m afraid my grades at Cloverton Business School are not up to snuff. Average at best. I don’t test well. Too much anxiety. I freeze up. But what I lack in academic acumen I hope to compensate for in elbow grease and determination.”

“Cloverton. That’s the little college in the strip mall by the interstate, yes? Next to the Meineke oil change shop and the Dave and Buster’s?”

I’m surprised he’s heard of it. I’ve rarely seen the Doctor leave the grounds.

“Indeed. A small school to be certain. The larger schools were…hesitant to include me. I have a bit of a gap in my transcript. A little trouble with prescription pills that sidelined me for a few years. But I can assure you, sir, that’s all behind me now.”

“Fascinating,” the Doctor says, running his hand through his stormcloud of hair.

“I’m as honored to be at Cloverton as I was thrilled when Gorog accepted my application.”

“Yes, Gorog. He’s always wanted his own assistant. I told him I thought it was preposterous.”

“Well, he’s a tremendous employer, sir.”

The Doctor raises a skeptical eyebrow.

“He’s handy, yes. Been with me many years now. He does have a certain lack of vision, though, which is partly responsible for this archaic operation we have here. Say! I don’t want to fully retrofit the workspace—I’m a creature of habit—but do you suppose you might help us further modernize some of our procedures?”

“It would truly be my pleasure, sir.”

The Doctor clacks away at the laptop’s keyboard.

“Marvelous. If I were to lend you one of the guest rooms to stay here, that would facilitate your work. No commute time. You could take your meals here with us.”

I cannot contain my enthusiasm.

“I’ll go make up one of the rooms right now, sir, thank you!”

“No, no,” the Doctor says, dismissing my suggestion with a wave of his hand. “I need you in here doing more important work. Have Gorog arrange your room.”
Maybe it’s my imagination, but I could swear I hear a rasping sound just outside the laboratory door, like someone struggling to keep quiet. The whispered incarnation of a grunt.

Or maybe it’s just the heads, making their dry rattling sounds on the pikes.


In my short time staying at the manor, I’ve developed quite a fondness for the Doctor’s wife. Abigail really is a lovely woman. She lounges in the parlor with me while I do the required reading for my senior seminar—“Machiavelli as CEO”—and in the evenings, we have tea. Well, I have tea. She sits across from me and raises her cup to the plateau of her neck. She can’t drink, of course, not having a mouth and all. I think she enjoys the ritual of it.

For someone with no ears, she’s an excellent listener. I tell her about my work digitizing her husband’s operation, my frustrations with my coursework. She can’t respond, although when I tell a joke she claps. Or tries to—sometimes she can’t get her hands lined up correctly.

“Abigail,” I say one night, “can I ask you a personal question?”

She sort of nods her shoulders. She looks stunning in a sable-black dressing gown that darkly refracts the candlelight. It makes her resemble Morticia Addams from the old TV show—well, about 90 percent of Morticia Addams.

“How is it you came to lose your, uh…?”

She reaches across the table to take my warm hand in her cold one.

“It was an accident of some kind, right?”

She squeezes my hand.

“And are you well, do you feel okay?”

She squeezes more firmly, so much so that the bones of my knuckles grind together. It makes me suspect she could actually tighten her grip much, much harder. We sit silently in the kitchen nook awhile longer. I sip my tea, she raises hers. Before I get back to work, I straighten the lace covering over her stump and pull the ribbon snug.

It’s these quiet moments that make life here so pleasant.

My stay at the manor has not been entirely free of misfortune. I keep finding the entrails of dead rodents stuffed into my shoes, despite the fact that the house has no cats. My personal items frequently go missing. I saw the gnawed remnants of one of my shoes in the alligator pit, and once I fished two of my schoolbooks from the bottom of the trashcan. Last week the stew I’d saved for lunch in the refrigerator tasted notably, well, poison-y, I guess. I tossed it out and made myself a sandwich instead. I made one for Gorog, too, which he only threw on the floor. Apparently he’s more of a ham-and-cheese man than a fan of sliced turkey. Noted.

Otherwise, my days are full and fulfilling. I spend more and more time in the laboratory, where the Doctor is hard at work. He’s been tinkering with the heads, adjusting the flows of electric current and green serum. Lately he’s connected several of the heads’ brains with threads of thin metal wire. Two of the heads have begun to blink and grind their teeth in unison, which seems to please the Doctor very much.

He’s almost as ecstatic about the iPod I set up for him. Often when he works the Doctor enjoys listening to opera, mostly Wagner and Strauss, on an old record player. The sound quality is poor, and each opera requires changing the record four or five times. I’ve enabled the iPod to communicate with a set of Bluetooth speakers just as easily as those heads communicate through their matrix of wires. The device is fully stocked with Der Rosenkavalier, Salome, Elektra, Der Fliegende Hollander, and the entire Ring Cycle.

“All of these operas are on here?” the Doctor marvels, while some of the heads marvel at him.  I aim to please.

“Forget what your cretinous business school professors say,” the Doctor tells me. “Professors? Ha! Not real doctors. What do they know? This is A-plus work.”

I express my profound gratitude.

“Say now, what is your interest in the arcane sciences?”

I confess that science has long been one of my weaker subjects.

“I just want to work in a field with growth potential where I think I can be an asset. Maybe one day I’d like to have my own company. For now, I’m pleased to be a facilitator.”

The Doctor nods.  “I think there’s opportunity here in this house for advancement.”

“So flattering, sir. Perhaps I should speak to Gorog about it?”

Where was Gorog, exactly?

The Doctor frowns.

“Let me worry about Gorog,” he says as he pushes a sharp metal hook through softening skull. “I believe we can do great things if we put our heads together.”


That night, I find Gorog. I awaken to see him standing over my bed, knife in hand.

“Hey, boss,” I say, rubbing my eyes. “Late-night project?”

Gorog presses the chilly blade to my throat. I think he means business in a different way than I mean business.

“You, up,” he growls.

I rise from the guest bed in my pajama pants and T-shirt. Gorog shoves me toward the door and follows behind with the tip of the knife pressed against where I’m pretty sure my kidneys are located. He marches me out into the hallway, which is dimly lit by a few fading candles.

“Um, Doctor?” I say loudly into the dark hall.

“Ssshhh!” Gorog hisses. We head down the staircase toward the back door. “You no him help, you supposed to help Gorog!”

I do help Gorog, I try explaining to him in a whisper. With so many things. And when I help the Doctor, I’m helping Gorog then too. I’m taking potential future work off his plate so he can focus on new projects. If you’re not growing, you’re shrinking. We could have a real good discussion about entrepreneurship.

And yet still he shoves me out the back door. It’s raining. Not hard, though the ground is soaked. The mud squeezing up between my toes reminds me I’m not wearing any shoes.

I know where we’re going as we cross the backyard to the far corner of the property, beyond the work shed near the stone fence. Tending to the alligator pit is a big part of my job.

“Gorog wanted a Gorog,” he says in a more accusatory voice than usual. “You no help Gorog, you make Doctor love you!”

We stop in front of the wooden trap door, bordered by a thick rim of concrete.


I do, sliding the bolt and flipping back the wooden hatch. A dinosaur stink rises up from the hole. The falling raindrops agitate the alligators below, who flop over one another in the muck.

This looks bad, I realize that. But always remember that a deal is never done until the contracts are signed. And even then…! Never give up, is my point.

“Look, boss, if you want to renegotiate the boundaries of my employment, I’m great with that. I’ve never even received a proper performance review, which makes it difficult to implement the necessary adjustments. If you could just—”

Suddenly, Gorog comes flying toward me. Not directly toward me, though, and seemingly not under his own power. I see a look of surprise in his one fully openable eye as he zips past me on the right. I sidestep to the left, but the heel of one bare foot slips on the grimy concrete ledge. I feel myself going backwards into the reeking mouth of the pit.

A too-strong hand grips mine, nearly breaking several bones. The same hand that shoved Gorog into the hole. It’s Abigail, her nightdress clinging to her in the rain.

The boss lets out a scream as he splashes down with the alligators. Give the guy credit, he tries fighting them off with the knife. He even succeeds for a few seconds, slashing down into ridged bone and bloody leather. Then one of the alligators clamps him by the hump and drags him beneath the surface of the shallow mire. The other alligators join in. Apparently they have their own head-severing strategies. Yikes.

Abigail pulls me toward her. I stagger away from the hole onto solid ground.

“You’re drenched,” I say, “let’s get you inside.”

I guide her back the way I came, Gorog-less, into the manor. She’s ice cold, soaking wet, but not shivering. I go fetch some towels from the downstairs bathroom to dry her off. I change the sodden lace of her neckstump, tie it off with a fresh velvet ribbon.

“What the devil is going on out here?” the Doctor says as he stomps into the kitchen. He lights the way not with a candelabra but the new iPhone I ordered for him.

I explain the whole unfortunate, alligator-filled story.

The Doctor shrugs. “Huh? Well, I suppose that was inevitable.” His eyes light up.

“Now come to the laboratory. I’ve been working late. I have something to show you!”

Back in the lab, four of the five heads are wide awake, blinking in perfect unison. Three of the four move identically, although one of them has its mouth wide open, as though it’s screaming a scream that will never stop.

The fifth head, the runaway kid, is stirring to life. Its heavy eyelids spasm open. The lips part with a wet, peeling sound. Abigail reaches out for it. First she brushes against the pike, which sends a white arc of electricity flaring toward her arm. She flinches away momentarily, and keeps reaching until her hand brushes against the head’s cheeks, traces across its dry, yellow eyes. She slips one cold finger into its mouth. The head begins to suckle.

“Isn’t it something?” the Doctor says, and I have to admit that it is.

“Alright, now, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”