After taking a quick glance around the room Burt took a guarded huff of the wadded up white panties, late of Jane Doe3. On a late Friday afternoon there was no one but corpses to witness Burt's indiscretion and He really didn't care much what they thought anymore. Breathing deeper the second time, Burt drew in the dusty musk from the handful of crumpled white cotton. The sickly fluorescent lighting reflected off the green tile of the walls and gave the panties an odd hue, more aqua marine than white, but that didn't prevent Burt from tasting the aroma of sweat, and death, with just the smallest hint of little girl.

After another quick glance over his shoulder to insure that his wards were still immobile and not judging him, Burt examined his prize more closely. With a finger and thumb at each end he stretched the pliable cotton out and held it up to the subliminally flickering lights. He could make out the cartography of stains that were the result of daily use and compare them to the discolored areas that were more likely the result of something more unique, more thrilling.

Stretching his prize out again, Burt laid them across the crotch of Jane and compared their size to her svelte and cold waist. Burt noted that the white dead flesh of her belly was a close match for the crusty white of her panties, no, HIS panties. This evil little bitch wasn't going to be using them anymore. Although, now that he gave her face a second glance, she didn't look too evil. She looked young, and sad.

"It's not unusual for the dead to look sad" Burt quietly thought to himself, and then laughed out loud. The voice of his deep laugh, followed severely by the rolling and wet smoker's cough of a habitual tobacco abuser, bounced off the tiled walls of the morgue and reverberated back in his mind. For a frightening lucid moment it had sounded like the bodies were mocking him. Burt was sure he had seen first one and then another of the fishy white bodies move, ever so slightly but every time he whipped his head around, they were obediently silent and motionless.

Eyes dilating and nostrils flaring Burt screamed at the laughing and forgotten corpses, "Be quiet!" Briefly satisfied that the recently dead would follow his bold edict, Burt continued to rummage through the cardboard box set between Jane's feet and labeled "Jane Doe 3. 7 - 9 years old. Unclaimed. Unidentified." A filthy pair of shorts, one red shoe, a watch with a broken LCD screen and a cartoon character racing across the band. Very little of this was drawing Burt's interest and the closer he got to the bottom of the box, the more he felt that perhaps he had already found the greatest treasure of the evening. A green T-shirt, two socks turned nearly black from dirt and a coin purse rounded out the boxes contents. Burt absently emptied the contents of the coin purse into his meaty hand and shuffled everything except the pennies into his pocket before returning everything except the panties.

The panties Burt took one last long whiff of before cramming them in his pocket as well. Glancing at his watch and confirming that it was time to leave for the weekend, Burt replaced the sheeting that covered Jane's exposed little body and made his way towards the door. Turning, he blew a kiss to the arranged bodies of his platoon of the unclaimed and turned out the light before leaving. Humming quietly to himself as he strolled across the parking lot Burt could feel the heat of the desert day seeping through the thinning soles of his overburdened shoes. Approaching his car Burt stole a look to make sure no one was hiding in ambush and his heart nearly failed to find that someone was.

Perched in the lengthening shadow of his trunk was a naked little girl with a long and roughly sewn scar from her neck to her naked belly. Hissing like a snake she lunged at Burt's sweating and gasping form several times without actually moving from the darkening shadow. No one would have ever called Burt a terribly smart man but it was pretty clear to him, even through the darkening haze of his vision, that Jane wanted her panties back.

With the drums of his laboring pulse in his ears, Burt fumbled for his pocket and pulled the panties out, scattering the loose change from his pocket. Waving the garment like a flag of surrender before his face Burt made to toss it towards the impossibly mobile dead girl. Before he could complete the underhanded motion that labeled him as athletically inferior in grade school, the pounding drums of his pulse stopped entirely and Burt fell backwards, striking his head with a wet crunch on the corner of the parking lot's dumpster.

The ball of white cotton, still clutched in his rapidly cooling hands was tousled and teased by the wind, until a small victory over Burt's lapsing strength pushed the little white panties away from his dwindling vision. Burt watched for the remaining seconds of his life as the wind stole his treasure and Jane stood and walked away. She crouched over the scattered coins and collected two of the shiniest. Crouching low over Burt's still chest she leaned in close and placed one each over his eyes before kissing his head and whispering, "Don't be sad."

It wasn't until later that evening, when I was sitting trying to hide my tumultuous sea of emotions from everyone around me, that I was hit by the real crux of what she had said.

I'd spent 20 or 30 minutes earlier being consoled as one does after receiving a particularly stinging piece of criticism, but this had mostly centred around why the critique in question was WRONG; or why every other aspect of the work of done here was, at a bare minimum, acceptable.

But that wasn't the real cutting edge. No, when she'd told me that my defeated mood over the last few days brought down the rest of the team, it's the isolation to follow that's the real kicker.

You see, you can't hear something like that (especially if you know the subordinate saying the words has already spoken to YOUR superior about the issue at hand) without being a little hurt. Upset that instead of being concerned about your needs an individual who professes friendship should instead care more about productivity. Angry that your good reputation has been tarnished. Concerned about the state of your reference when you leave the role in 5 days time; not to mention shocked at the pettiness of a grown adult who couldn't keep their feelings to themselves for the same 5 day span.

And then how do you cope with that hurt? You certainly can't talk to anyone else about it; doing that brings people down, remember? Spending time alone simply doesn't comply with the schedule. So I put it to the back of my mind. But even there, I could feel it burn. I could feel the weight of it at the base of my skull. Smouldering away. That self hatred. Questions like "why does this always happen?", and the age old "why don't people like me", fly out like embers. And I realise I can't hide this internal torment. People must notice; the room is quieter than it should be; the attitude somber; I'm bringing the group down with my sadness ;abort, abort! But how? All I want to talk about is how much this burns, yet to do that would be to do the exact thing I'm accused of.

Make an excuse. Say it with all the gusto and enthusiasm you can muster. Hope it's believed.

Leave before they see you cry.

It's worth noting at this point that I'm currently leading a small team on an overseas aid project. I work, eat and sleep with the same 10 people day in and day out. I am their support system and they are mine. That is, until they're not anymore. The rest of the world? Well, I wrote this paragraph on the afternoon of the 2nd in a notebook during what I thought was a short power outage. I'm only just getting to post it now. Is anything better this morning? In a word, no. I woke up with the crushing pressure of exhaustion and, within around 5 minutes, a headache. Attempting to take the tea graciously offered by my roommate revealed I had also lost my voice. The cold that had been festering for the last fortnight making me tired, and admittedly, a little short was launching a final salvo.

15 minutes later the morning meeting started. My head swam and I couldn't make decisions. Yet I'm supposed to be affable? Tolerant? Am I not allowed bad days? Feeling particularly delicate and sorry for myself, I retreat to bed on the verge of tears. From my window I hear one of my team kicking the fuck off about the unfairness and laziness of that decision. I hurt the team both when I'm there and when I'm not.

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