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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

They will grow up and they will control our destinies. So let's give them the best world possible.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 2



Jose listens as Hektor’s bare steps dissolve down the orphanage’s lengthy corridor.  The boy has gone to sleep.  Good Hektor, he thinks, Wise Hektor.   Obedient Hektor.

He returns to his paperback novel.

This one he has memorized.  He has only a dozen books.  Each evening at Lights Out, duties complete, Jose picks 1 from his stack, finds a page, and glues this plot to all the others as if a single, uniform whole (though they are not.)  For decades, he has loved the touch of books – small books, clutch-able books, ones that easily might fit in the rear pocket of his always-worn white uniform pants.  But they are sometimes tough to find, these small treasures, unless he scours the lower shops of the East Side, where all things old tend to find themselves on the cluttered shelves of the antique shops.

Exhausted, he tucks the paperback down into a crack between the bed and the wall and then rolls onto his stomach.

His tiny sleeping quarters and rollaway bed is his best impression of the city’s limited comforts.  8 years and less than 100 square feet.  He misses his ex-girlfriend’s enormous apartment in City 26, where he lived for 1 year when he was 22.  He misses open space.  But only fleetingly.  Only slightly more than he misses the actual girl.

Hauling his bare feet over the bed, Jose stands and drifts to his aluminum writing desk.  He eats the crumbs of a sandwich he started at dinnertime – chew, chew, chew, fast like that – until every bit has vanished.  It upsets his stomach.  Or maybe something else gnaws his intestines.  Fear, he supposes.  Despair.  Some not impossible tragedy.

Quickly, he decides it is not the news of the missing children that has him so out-of-sorts.  It’s the isolation.  Hektor’s 2-minute visit was a relief.

He seeks out Lorenzo.

Can I borrow your Visor?

Lorenzo looks up from the broadcast.  No.

Only a minute.


Are they still talking about it?


Let me look.

Lorenzo thinks then crassly declares, I have to shit anyway.  He gets up from the broken chair and chucks the Visor to Jose.  Soon he’s disappeared.

Jose doesn’t bother to strap the device to his ears.  He holds it up in front of his face and focuses the image:

2 people behind a desk – a smartly dressed man and a demur woman.

They discuss the known facts, but it is quickly clear the announcers have nothing new to add.  Earlier, it was a rush of reports.  First the 6, then the 14, then the 19, then 23, then 28, then 37, then 49, then 57, on up to 81 – each horrid flash interrupting the stale daytime episodes.  The Media had plenty of coverage, too – parades of weeping parents, confused bystanders, promising politicians, befuddled law enforcement.  The shock waves poured over Visors, Eye Dials, Palms, V.O.I., and all other modern delivery mechanisms.  Even chatter among actual people: the Vine.

But now it’s quiet and no one knows anything.

2 people struggling to hold attention with numbing repetition.

Do you think the disappearances will continue tomorrow?  The next day?  The day after?  What precautions should parents take?  Is there any pattern to kidnappings?  Have any demands been made?  For money?  For anything?

Okay, I’m back.

Jose surrenders the Visor without argument.  How can you watch that crap, Lorenzo?

How can you dodge it?  We’ve got 100 kids those ages right here.  And Matty and Nary!  Didn’t you read the note from Administration?  Tomorrow Ms. Ximon wants us to hold everyone inside.  No playing in the yard.  No visitors.

That’s crazy, says Jose.  The fence.

Fences don’t matter.  Whoever took those 81 kids got in the schools!  Didn’t they now?  Haven’t you been listening?  They took them from parks, homes.  The city closed the schools for tomorrow.  Like there is a snowstorm.  Ms. Ximon says make it happen so we do it.

Jose admits defeat.  I guess you’re right.

The men consider separate thoughts.  Jose is summing up Lorenzo: he’s worked at City Orphanage since he was 20.  The ward captain is 2 years older, but a lesser rank.  That doesn’t stop Lorenzo’s from talking like he runs things.  Owns things.  Has seniority.  Jose lets him.  Because he doesn’t care.  He dislikes rivalries.  And Lorenzo can be a bully when it comes to policy.  Jose loves rules, and order, and his duties, but Lorenzo follows them as if they are unequivocal maps.

That troublemaker back in bed?

Hektor just wanted to know what was happening.  And he’s not a troublemaker.

Lorenzo again straps the Broadcast Visor to his ears and crouches into his chair, distracted.  You give that kid too many free passes.

Maybe, shrugs Jose.

He waits a moment more, listens to the tin cackle of voices through the Visor, the bleed into Lorenzo’s ears.  A hold, a pause.  He dislikes the onion smell of the room.  His stomach is still restless and doesn’t like to be irritated for nothing.

So Jose wanders off, back to his paperback novel, without saying another word, or a good night.