The Packerhaus Method


Wolfe's comments from the Introduction to Storeys from the Old Hotel

"'The Packerhaus Method' embodies one of the few story ideas (perhaps the sole story idea) I've ever generated by one of the standard methods taught in such books as Creating Short Fiction. This is not because those methods don't work, I hasten to add -- they do. One is to choose some branch of science or technology and speculate on the result if it attains perfection. I picked embalming, in which the object is to render the late lamented more lifelike."


A social worker is visiting the widow of Colonel Packerhaus, inventor of the eponymous Method for preserving the dead. There she meets a meter reader and the old woman's father, both preserved by the method, which maintains a sort of life as the brain remains active but for the ability to lay down permanent memories. We realize that the social worker herself is also dead and has been preserved by the method. A new social worker visits and is in her turn (we infer) poisoned by the old woman.


  • The poison is presumably in the tea, as all the dead are reported to have had stomach cramps.
  • Colonel Packerhaus is also dead and is being used to give sales pitches at the mortuary. He was also poisoned. The cat probably was also.
  • After the meter reader proposes to the social worker, the old lady says they should invite the minister "for tea," so this is a new potential victim.
  • The way the preserved people move is reminiscent of Disney's animatronic figures.
  • Since the preserved people cannot form long-term memories, they are condemned to an after-life of doing the same tasks and thinking the same thoughts over and over again. This is similar to many depictions of Hell, notably Dante's Inferno.

Unresolved Questions

  • What happens when the meter reader goes out the second "front door" or goes to check the meter? These would seem to be dummy locations to contain him and get him turned around until he forgets what happened. His second "life" must be the most frustrating of all during those times.

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