I stare down from my perch and think about suicide for the thirtieth time today, but I can’t do it. If the five story fall doesn’t kill me, I don’t want to be at the mercy of the hoard.
I snap open another soda and stare at the horizon as a rainbow forms through the distant rain clouds. It’s beautiful. Then I look down at the writhing ground beneath me and I want to vomit. They crawl over themselves, crushing those at the bottom as they try to reach me. Each day the pile gets a little higher.
Bill Wexler woke at six, as he did every morning, and kissed his wife.
“I’m going for a run,” he said.
She didn’t reply.
One knock sounded on his door at 12:01 AM on the first of November, as it had for 250 years. Anthony hesitated, even though the request was familiar. He glanced out the kitchen window at the moonwashed cliff of Beachy Head and the Channel beyond. Then a million knocks, a billion, pounding away in unison, a coruscating knot of sound that quaked his small home. The knocking made dishes rattle in their cabinets and his glass of whisky to dance and crash to the floor.
Before pregnancy became extinct and babies stopped being born, the greasing of death’s once firm grip caused a lot of worry about the potential of the revived. Would they turn vicious? Could they be restored to a responsive state? How much humanity do we ascribe to an animated cadaver?
I stayed apart from it all. I had my farm, my family. Cora was marrying age, but once it became clear there wouldn’t be any grandchildren forthcoming, Ma stopped needling her. When the corpses wandered through, stinking, twitching, chattering, Bub and I ushered them off our land, gently, respectfully. Then we went back to work. Outside, the world clashed and gnashed its collective teeth. I had less use for it than ever.
Cora got sick first. I drove her into the city, threading my way past thickening crowds of the dead. She wheezed from the passenger seat of my pickup; pressed her fingers against the side window as if she were reaching for those grim mannequins.
“When did there get to be so many of them?”
The wind’s desperate grasp strips the frail leaves from the silver maple but the giant looks as if it still wears its finery, a borrowed dress perhaps, with the murder of crows gathered within its branches. The girl listens to the soft flutter of wings, stretches out her hand to catch a single black feather as it drifts down in a slow spiral. When the stiff plume makes contact with her skin the birds alight and she gasps, even though she has already seen their departure.
The girl watches the murder grow smaller. She watches the empty leaden skies for a long time, until the shadows of the night form and Morgan comes for her.
Morgan follows her gaze into nothing. “Just like you said.”
The girl tucks the feather into the breast pocket of her heavy flannel work shirt. “Is Sirin okay?”
Morgan looks down at the girl. “I haven’t seen her since breakfast.”
Olivia looked up from grinding corn. A telltale puff of dust huffed up over the ridge, where Route 65 still ran. A traveler. No matter how hard the times, a traveler was always welcome. He’d be here in a couple of hours. She could finish the corn and heat up the soup, toast last week’s bread in time for his arrival.
“Corngirl, come here and set the table!” she yelled.
The girl gave her a death stare but slouched over after a proper amount of letting her mother know it was an imposition.
Every now and then Olivia looked up to watch for the traveler. It couldn’t be the merchant who walked back and forth between Kansas City and Springfield, he’d already been by a couple of weeks ago. Who else could this be?