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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

In a city where everything is on video, 81 children have disappeared

City of Human Remains-Chapter 1


|| Events in City 32 ||


January 11, 2018

7 children – 3 boys, 4 girls – reported missing during ‘Storm of ’18.’  32 inches of snowfall in less than 24 hours brings city to a halt.  Recovery efforts start 2 days later.  None are ever found.

November 2, 2027

Incumbent Mayor Stewart Sabro, Euro-African male, loses election by narrow margin to Dr. Agueda Rodriquez, Hispanic female.  4 days later, schoolteacher Paul Oak, Caucasian male, 45, murders Dr. Rodriquez in her home by strangulation.

July 4, 2031

The bodies of 9 children – 5 girls and 8 boys – are discovered in a city reservoir.  Cause of death: accidental drowning while swimming.  The children were not under adult supervision.

April 1, 2040

City census reports population 51% Hispanic descent, 28% European descent, 9% African descent, 10% Asian descent, 2% other.  There is a 3% margin of error.

September 21, 2052

Fire at the City Academy for Boys kills 26 students between the ages of 6 and 7, as well as 2 adult teachers.  All were trapped in a single classroom in the North Wing.

November 4, 2059

Jesus Rey, former entrepreneurial businessman and social activist, is elected city mayor in landslide election, beating incumbent Maksim Kerzer, whose administration had been ripe with financial and sexual scandals.

January 1, 2062

City annexes adjacent 3 counties as part of controversial National City Expansion Act, passed in 2060 by both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U. S. Senate.  The act was drafted to counter taxation to revenue imbalances related to urban growth.

August-November, 2069

All city playgrounds are torn down.  An anonymous charitable donation of $16.7 million funds much of the overdue reconstruction.  A single architect, Tomas Zigon, renowned Argentinean refugee and now city fellow, designs 1 of every 6 of the total 460 public parks.  Each ‘Zigon Park’ follows matching plans, making them unique and iconic landmarks.

February 3, 2074

Fred ‘Farmer’ O’Bannon arrested.  Parts recovered at the scene are identified as the remains of 33 young girls, all between the ages of 2 and 6.  12 victims remain unidentified.  O’Bannon is later executed under Radiation Law of ’75.  His final words: You didn’t find half.

June 1, 2074

National Urban Re-Zoning Act passes in U.S. Congress after the longest congressional deliberation on record.  The divisive act goes into effect the following year.

January 1, 2075

City __________ is re-christened City 32, in accordance with National Urban Re-Zoning Act.

March 22, 2082

City 32 population surpasses 6.5 million.  Most recent census estimates population 68% Hispanic descent, 12% Asian descent, 11% European descent, 7% African descent, 2% other.  There is a 1% margin of error.

February 24, 2087

Franco J. Cocanaugher elected mayor.

June 7, 2088

Issue 11, the repeal of Prop. 473 Anti-Privacy Law, passes with strong popular support, requiring the removal of all surveillance cameras from public streets and squares after decades of official monitoring.  Fears of a crime wave prove unfounded.  In fact, the crime rate drops to its lowest rate in 30 years by the end of the decade.

December 1, 2090

City Council appropriates funds for the creation of 175 ‘sunrise platforms’ to be erected throughout the city.  The platforms are mounted on the tops of buildings, both public and private, which have the best possible views of the east.  Each seats 25.  Shortly after opening, 1 platform collapses, killing 14, including 4 young boys.  Despite this, the platforms continue to be used.

December 1, 2091

Doll Weather System deployed.

October 23, 2097

81 children reported missing in a single day.


The Pied Piper


The boy peers over the 1-meter wall that severs the ward captain’s office from the corridor.

On duty tonight is Lorenzo, whose tall and thick body slumps in a wooden chair with 2 broken wheels.  His back is to the boy.  The odor of the onion sandwich he ate for dinner lingers.  Lorenzo’s right hand drapes over the black-and-white tiled floor; his other hand tilts the Broadcast Visor hooked onto his ears.

The boy wants to see, but he’s not tall enough.  He hops on one leg in the hope of catching the scratch of the Visor’s news feed.

Lorenzo notices the shadow off the office glass.  Hek-tor!  He flicks up the Visor, spins with a squeak from the old chair, and barks, Lights out!

Hektor frowns, groans.


Hektor slumps away.   His bare feet slap the tile of the orphanage’s neutral blue-walled corridor.  The checkered tiles are cold, but he is used to the sting on his toes.  And the smell, the combination of bodies and industrial cleaner – he is used to that, too.  The silence of the orphanage after Lights Out always weakens the senses, but tonight Hektor is energized.

As he passes an open door, his name is whispered:


Hektor returns to the entryway.

Did he catch you?  Jose smiles knowingly.

I want to know what’s happening.

The news…  Jose’s voice is flat, non-committal.

I want to know what’s going on, reiterates the boy.

Come here.

Hektor glances back for Lorenzo and tugs at the gray pajama sleeves (not quite long enough to cover his lanky arms and bony wrists) and shakes his head.  I’ll get into trouble.

Don’t worry, Jose assures.  It’s all right.  Pause.  Just come here.

Hektor crosses into Jose’s sleeping quarters.

Jose’s feet are up from his bed, propped against the dirtied white wall.  His canvas shoes scuff the paint.  Pretending for a moment that the boy isn’t even there, the young, brown-skinned supervisor returns his eyes to the pages of a paperback novel, split open and much thumbed, with its soft, wrinkled corners and cracked cover.

Hektor coughs to regain Jose’s attention.

Jose stops reading and drops the open paperback across his white t-shirt.  I have something for you, he says.  He drills beneath his bed and plucks a thin object from between the mattress and the wire frame.

What is it?

Come closer.

Hektor spots the cover.  The image on the front.

He runs to grab it, but Jose does not let go.

Say ‘grazias.’

The boy lights with excitement.  Grazias!

Jose releases the comic book to Hektor who hurriedly flips to a page, to a pencil-drawn picture of Batman – with fluttering cape, utility belt yellow across his blue-black costume, face shadowy and mysterious.

The boy smells the pages, the faded ink and recycled paper stock.  He lovingly brushes the embossed logo on the front cover.

Now go to sleep.

Can I read it tonight?

In the dark?

I’ll leave my ligh—


10 minutes—

No.  You’ll piss off the others.

Hektor retreats into the corridor with both hands gripping the comic book, a wide grin on his formerly sour face.  I hate you, the boy jokes.

You’re welcome.

Hektor shifts his feet.  Slowly, happiness fades.  Something bothers him, something beyond how to glimpse Gotham City in the dark.


Is it true? the boy asks.  That some kids have disappeared?

Don’t worry about it.

How many?



Are they going to find them?

Don’t worry about it.  Keep your mind on Batman.  That’s what 11-year-old boys are supposed to think about anyway.

Hektor is not so certain.  Yeah…but 81, that’s a lot.

Well you’re not one of them.  Go to sleep.

Hektor freezes, flips a few more pages.  At last he softly agrees: …Okay.

The boy’s slim cot is placed on an open loft, alongside 50 identical cots and 49 other orphan boys.  The third floor is for the males.  The fourth for females.  The second floor is for offices, and the ground floor is the dining hall, the gymnasium, and the way out.  The fifth and sixth are for God knows.  And the basement for supplies.

Lying back, Hektor thumbs the pages of the Batman comic book.  The boy can make out very little in the moonlight, but he knows the story.  (Hero.  Villain.  Rescuer.  Triumph.)  This is the arc he has come to expect, but fears might not come true.  It’s the mood he’s in:

Nothing works out.  Everything you lose.  Everything loses you.

His rough, city-issued blanket scratches his skin and forces a sneeze.  He is used to that tickle – just like he is used to every element of the orphanage, even Jose’s kindness and the occasional out-of-print comic book.  Since his parents were killed in the fire, he has been here.  This 5-story building is all he knows of the world, and to believe there is a city of millions just beyond the fence, a city where 81 children can go missing.

In the wee hours, he drifts off to sleep, the comic book clutched in his hands.  His dreams are of his parents, whose faces he can only faintly remember.  She was coal-haired and lissome.  He was rough-skinned and square-jawed.  She was distant and he was affectionate.  She worked all the time and he only occasionally.  She liked popular music and he liked watching baseball.  Those parts he can’t forget…but the shape of their noses and eyes and the blueprints of their fiery apartment are nothing but a blur.  But he dreams of them anyway.  He fills in blanks with his imagination.  Tonight, he also dreams that he is 1 of the missing, and his dead parents rip the city into pieces to find him.  And he is rescued.