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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

We’ve done something wrong, this city. A collective wrong and we’re being punished.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 9



She stays up late on most nights to watch the talk shows, and this night is no exception.  Outside, the Doll System has switched to fog and she can barely make out apartment windows that lie across the gully between buildings.  She likes the overweight man who is usually up late, like her.  He likes to masturbate to pornography in front of his open window.  She doesn’t think he knows she can see him.  She keeps her room dark to save on electricity and doesn’t stare, but looks over occasionally to know if he’s cum yet.  She thinks he’s a security guard somewhere, as he often wears a gray uniform with the patches on the shoulders as he lays on his sofa.

Maria’s number comes up on the Eye Dial.  For a few buzzes, she thinks about not answering.  There’s a cute movie star on one of the late night shows and she doesn’t want to pause the broadcast for her younger sister.  But her sister wouldn’t be calling this late if it wasn’t important.  And it’s Maria, who is so very fragile.


Did I wake you?

No.  Why are you whispering?

I don’t want to disturb the girls.  Silence.  Helen, do you remember what I told you last week?  When we were at lunch?

Yup.  About looking for a new job.

Not that.  About Ted.

No, remind me.

That he said, well…that he’s felt guilty all his life.  And he doesn’t know why.

Okay, I remember.

And that if he’s going to feel guilty anyway, he might as well do something to feel guilty about?

Yes, Maria.  I remember.

I think today he’s decided.

To do something?

Is that weird?

She lets her mind disengage from the conversation.  The fog wisps leave gaps.  He’s masturbating.  I can’t imagine what Ted might do, she tells her sister.  Helen hopes that the roll of her eyes doesn’t carry into her tone.  Of course Helen has remembered the lunch conversation.  This is the third time Maria’s reminded her of her husband’s phantom guilt.  Some innocuous comment made at the end of a long, wine-fueled dinner party a month earlier, and she’s hooked onto it and won’t let it go.  The job discussion, which had lasted the better part of their hour-long lunch, was clearly a distant topic to Maria, ranked beneath Ted’s moods and the latest news of her two daughters.  Helen hides a yawn.

It’s an affair, Maria agrees, that’s it, right?  He’s going to start cheating on me.  I swear, sometimes it seems like he doesn’t even like me.  Or the girls.  That he wishes he was somewhere else.  That we’re bothering him.  I feel like I have to watch myself in my own house.  He’s cheating on me, isn’t he?

He hasn’t done it before.  He won’t start now.

I’m still pretty, aren’t I?

Better than me.  I’ve got a squooshed puss.  My nose.  And I’m 41.  Almost 42.  I weigh more than I should.

The diet?

Non-existent.  Helen drops the empty cookie tin into the space beside her on her sofa.  She scoops the roll of her belly and then lets go, ashamed.  She considers masturbating, too, even with her sister on the line.

Listen, Helen starts.  You’re got to have to stop being afraid that your perfect life will end.  You both have good jobs – no, great jobs.  You have two beautiful children.  You’re very attractive and you’ll stay that way for decades.  Ted’s not doing anything with anybody.  He’s just not that cute.

But he went to sleep tonight.  He took a bath.  He’s quiet.

Building buildings is tough stuff.

He doesn’t build them.  He plans them.  Other people build them.


Maria grows quiet.

Helen restarts the broadcast, lowers the volume, and hopes her sister will disconnect soon.  The movie star interview has begun.  She is drained by her sister’s pretend misery.

Where do you think they went?

Sorry, I didn’t hear you just now.

The children.  The 81 children.

Helen had heard, but liked pretending to be deaf.  I think the Pied Piper took them away, she answers flippantly.  We’ve done something wrong, this city.  A collective wrong and we’re being punished.

Things don’t work that way.

Sometimes they do.

Do you think there will be more kidnappings?


You sound sure.

I am.  None went missing today, did they?  Everything happened yesterday.  I can’t watch the news anymore.  It’s all repetition.  Cycle, analyze, and repeat.  They think we’re hungry for this, but we’re not.  I’m watching something else.  Not the fucking news.  I can’t.  Just can’t.  Too much noise.

(He’s cumming.  Helen watches him clean up with a tissue.)

If Annye and Melina had been in those 81—

We’d tear the city apart.  You and me.  And find them.

Are you going to volunteer?

They’ve got enough already.

All those volunteers and they can’t find a single child?  It’s crazy.  Crazy!

The Pied Piper.  I told you that.  Helen stops fiddling the laces of her pajama bottoms.  Go to sleep, Maria.  It’s late.



Ted’ll be back to normal tomorrow.  He’s a steady sort.  Doesn’t like change or trouble.


We’ll do lunch on Sunday.  Bring the girls.

Okay. ‘Bye.


5 minutes into the interview, Helen undoes the drawstring of her pajamas and puts her hand down the front.  She thinks of her boyfriend, Earl the policeman.  She moves her fingers for a few seconds, and then stops.  She changes the channel back to the news, the repetition.  The 81.