By Logan Medland
There is a problem in our neighborhood. The dead are everywhere. It’s not just one or two like it was in the old days, there are dozens, hundreds, like an epidemic. It’s a disease with no name, no symptoms, no warning signs, as if a series of graceful and elegant murders have been committed by a killer of the most precise skill – a saintly assassin. The dead look healthy, cheerful, with no cause, apparently, to complain. Whatever the reason it amounts to the same thing. I am more and more on my own.
One by one the bodies pile up around town. They gather in the corner of rooms, they stack up in the bottom of the swimming pools like forgotten inflatable toys that have disobeyed the laws of physics and somehow sunk. I try not to notice but I can’t help tripping over one as I leave the house for work in the morning – it’s the newspaper boy. There are more lined up for the bus – dead in the fringe of grass near the bus stop. They lie on their sides not quite straight, their suits and skirts muddy from the rain. It has been raining for days, did I mention that? It’s been raining and people are dying.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one left. The thought creeps up on me and in a minute I’m shaking with fear. To be the only one left! I’d go mad, I’d have to kill myself, and that would be impossible. Nonetheless it is at this point that the knives in the cupboard seem unaccountably sharp, and the electrical sockets flare open for me. The walls seem capable of falling in and crushing me, they’ve lost that solid look. Everything has lost its frame.
But then I go to work and it seems all right. There is someone alive standing by the water cooler – a data controller or something. A receptionist with a thing around her head greets me with a smile and a comment about the weather as I enter the office. I go to my station and file reports until lunch. Work goes on all around me. People are using the phone the fax, the photocopier.
I work for the weather office compiling weather data. This means I confirm again and again that it has been raining an unprecedented amount, even accounting for variables: it’s not my job to speculate on any causes or connections and I don’t. Some of my colleagues blame technology, but there are no spaces on the bottom of my forms for personal comments like: “I’m losing my mind in here”, or “aidez-moi”, you can only write numbers.
The restaurants are still open, and when lunch arrives I manage to find a crowded one that is full of lively people and healthy waitresses and waiters. I don’t feel so lonely now. Here in this clean well-lighted place, I can convince myself that it is a long repressed dream that has surfaced. No one is really dead at all, it has been an idle fantasy. The waitresses have hairstyles, their pants are pressed. Surely a society in decline wouldn’t press pants, wouldn’t style hair. But even from here I can see a pile of corpses stacked outside like firewood. They have swept the restaurant that’s all, swept it clean for the moment. They don’t want people to think its the food. I recall now how the band kept playing on the Titanic.
Each day I find another corpse. The maid for instance, and my wife. Both the children, my brother, his clerk, the guy who cleans our swimming pool, and a number of famous television personalities all scattered about the street, dead. The priest from the church I don’t go to anymore and almost all my high school friends have died. I’m beginning to wonder why exactly it is that I feel so well, at least on the exterior. Why has it missed me? Am I not worth catching? Unworthy of death? Three days ago the president announced that they were declaring a national state of emergency. The next day he dropped dead. That at least is the rumour. His aides say he’s on vacation.
There’s been a big storm. Did I mention that? Storms and more people dying. There’s only a few of us left at the weather office to record it. The receptionist was found dead yesterday. No one said anything about it, she’s still sitting there, we haven’t taken her outside, we’ve been too busy with the data.
Anyway the bodies have washed up everywhere, into the trees, onto the lawns and people’s gardens, the fences and rooftops, the factories, the cemeteries, yes even in the cemeteries, the hospitals, the schools, the docks and the museum steps. The swimming pools are full of them and they float around with the current and form patterns like the petals in a flower, or like swimmers in a Busby Berkeley movie. It’s all so perfect.
By the end of the week, I’m the only one left alive at work. I still feel perfectly healthy except of course for the despair. It seems futile to go to work but I do. The weather has settled into a monotonous irregular routine. The storms have ended. The only constant is that the sun never quite breaks through, and the winds never quite go away.
I decide to stop moving. I decide very firmly that I’m going to wait them out: the bodies and the weather, that no matter what I’m going to wait until something happens – I don’t know what but I’m not leaving until I feel I have to. I haven’t seen another living person in days.
I wait for what must be years. Days at least. Minutes or hours, seconds, millenniums. It’s a long time anyway, if time is the right word. An elongated moment that stretches and stretches and simply cannot be snipped off. I give up hope, I get up and run around the house in a frenzy. I stick my fingers in an electric socket, I take a knife to my arms. The power seems to be off, the cutlery is dull, the days seem to be getting shorter, then longer again. I don’t know the season or the hour. I drift.
One day I detect something. There has been a movement in one of the bodies, a scuttling of legs. At first it is so subtle that I think my eyes have deceived me. But then it is unmistakable. It becomes clear the way an island or a coast must eventually become clear to a shipwrecked and thirst-crazed sailor floating towards land on a splinter of wood – in degrees of believability, and hope rising like the moon over the suburbs. Outside on the sidewalk, in the corners of my apartment, in the silence upstairs, the bodies are moving again. They’re stretching their limbs and getting up liked tired and lazy people. One by one they stand and leave the room. They rise from the swimming pools like bubbles, fall out of trees onto their feet landing softly like leaves, gather together into packs, groups, collages, blending the way people never would in real life into a great mass of everybody. I want to get up and go with them, it seems like everyone is going somewhere, like to a football game or something, only now I’m certain I can’t move, and that even to try would be the start of unrelenting pain.
I watch as they leave my world with a graceful shrug, I try to move my arm at least, to wave to them, but they are gone now, over the horizon, disappearing into a blue mist that floats around the edge of the street and I am left to manufacture what dreams I can from what is left to me. Dreams of blue skies and friends. Birds and lovers, sunlight, basements and rain. Even now I find dreaming more and more difficult, more and more… irrelevant. The days go by, sky is overcast, winds swirling, hurricanes in the south.
Logan Medland makes his living as a music director and pianist for Broadway and touring shows. You can find his work at loganmedland.com.
Photograph by Nathaniel Kressen.