The corpse of an unidentified woman is found at the scene of a bloody and bizarre homicide. The sheriff finds no signs of forced entry, though he suggests that the victims were trying to escape from the residence.
Emma visits her boyfriend, Austin, and his father, Tommy, who is the coroner in their small town. Tommy explains to her that coroners in the past used to tie bells to bodies to make sure they were actually dead, not comatose. The sheriff arrives with the mysterious body, dubbed Jane Doe, and tells Tommy that he needs the cause of death by morning. Austin postpones his date with Emma to help Tommy, promising to meet her later that evening.
Tommy and Austin perform the autopsy on Jane Doe and quickly become confused by what they find. There are no external visible signs of trauma, but her wrist and ankle bones had been shattered. As well, her tongue has been crudely cut out, one of her molars is missing, her lungs are blackened as though she had suffered third degree burns, and her internal organs reveal numerous cuts and scarring. Jimsonweed, a paralyzing agent not native to the area, is found in her stomach. The condition of much of the body suggests that death had just occurred, while cloudiness of the corpse’s eyes suggests that she had been dead for a few days.
Other mysterious events occur. The radio begins to spontaneously change stations, frequently settling on the song “Open Up Your Heart (And Let the Sunshine In)”, and Austin hears sounds and believes he sees people standing in the morgue’s hallway. He also finds their cat mortally wounded, hiding in an air duct.
News reports on the radio state that a severe storm is about to hit the area, but Tommy and Austin decide to stay and finish the autopsy.