on the mouth of the boarded garage
: a low moon, splayed grey in the sky like a sledgehammer
's reverberating heart. dan
watched light flutter and break.
The dead had risen
, and there was nobody to pump gas. dan
had died -- it could have been thirst, or sleeplessness, or just fear -- so he'd walked the last three hours.
didn't have his name anymore. His new name was the smell
of him. There were one hundred and twelve people, once, who would have associated that sound dan
with his particular conjunction of flesh
. Those people were all dead. Some of them were still awake.
The garage's door hung open an inch. It seemed to dan
that it should be locked, because men can run very fast, when their veins run with blood
. He turned to the guard, angled his head in query.
, the guard was a soldier
. His face had slipped recently. It hung over the jaw, bobbing slightly, matted with old muscle and tufts of capillary
that went nowhere. The eyes were still there, but the guard didn't answer him.
The greying arm that was part of dan
pushed the door open; there was a stub candle, its light nearly over, stuck in the neck of a wine
bottle, and next to it a half-rotted slat box. dan
could smell shit
from the box. He walked into the tiny garage, and the shit-smell peeled back, accommodated the musk
of a tired animal -- probably despairing, and evidently dying.
motioned for the guard to stop blocking the doorway; it worked best when the prisoners could see what was coming for them. When he felt a ragged breath in the room -- his eardrums were thin from decay, but he was conscious of every motion in the air, on the hungry gong
of his skin -- dan
knew it was the same kind of dying animal
he used to be.
The prisoner was a soldier, too. It lay across a low wooden pallet
, feet dangling off one side. The head was turned toward dan
, but the eyes were shut. He approved of the prisoner being furnished with a place to rest; without amenities, too many embraced catatonia
, and their information was lost.
This one was awake and sane, though; dan
could smell it. Concentrating, he could smell the prisoner's liver
, scrawl and jitter of signal in the bloodstream -- the metabolism
was screaming desperate for something, and it had to be nicotine
. He had worked with enough humans to know that dread trumped hunger and thirst.
coughed, and let his green canvas rucksack drop. It banged on the concrete with a practiced, intentional angle. The prisoner opened its eyes in time to see one hundred and forty pounds of steel
spill on the concrete -- machinists' tools, dental implements. Men broke under pain.
Kneeling, he found a crushed pack of Pall Malls
in the rucksack's zippered pocket. dan
held out a ragged cigarette
: grey, and grey fingers in grey light. Desire broke men faster.
The prisoner slithered toward him a little, legs bunching under it, trembling. Then it stopped, and laughed, like something coarse was falling out of its throat.
realized the prisoner's hands were nailed to the pallet.
laughed too. Then he reached in farther, and the peeling lips went around the cigarette as if it were hope.
"I'm. out. of fffire. fffor you though." dan
hadn't spoken for the two days he'd been riding, and a bullet
had holed his canteen
; usually he gargled twice a day to keep his vocal chords
from drying and flaking. He turned to the guard, raising his voice, feeling the machines of his throat pleasantly loosen. "You have a. light?"
The guard said nothing, did not move; the head was tilted backwards, the vacuous raw crater of nose drinking out at the prisoner.
"Deny your hunger. Soldier. You can hear. me. fine."
The guard emitted some kind of groan; the thick tuberous
head with its dangling inverse face jogged from side to side. dan
wondered what the fuck it meant. He hated the ones without ambition
for their second lives, who were willing to neglect purpose and focus, and let the dirty hunger of the risen state subsume their minds. If we were all like you, dan
thought, we'd never finish the anthrocide
too, though: the works of his body would never stop, but when he went days without meat, he could feel the strain in every desiccating cell. His head throbbed, puffy and vertiginous, where yesterday he'd been shot in the eye.