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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

I felt it, even before it happened, Don. I knew it months ago.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 16



Sergio Reverte watches the man leave.  He doesn’t want to talk with anyone.  Especially someone from the City.

Through the front window of his house, he hears his wife crying.  She invited the Media people camped at their gate into their home.  Without asking her husband.  His wife prefers her grief to be loud and available.  Sergio hates her for it.  He wants them all to go far away and never come back.  The Post It Men have been camped at his gate for more than 4 days now, since the names of the missing were first released.

But his daughter is on a different list now.

She’s no longer missing.

Now she’s gone forever.

So the attention will only be getting worse.

The man from the City – his tall frame and young face, his uncertain sympathies, his awkward approach to the gate – is outgunned.  He does not have the skill to complete this job.  Sergio runs into that type of man all the time on the meat-cutting floor where he works 10 hours a day.  Naïve men, raw men, men straight from high-school or the boat or smuggled across borders thinking there is an easy wage to be had by hacking frozen beef with a machete.  They think it’s easy until they take that first whack.  The blade sticks and they have to pull it out, tugging at the bone and the muscles, smelling the putrid stink of slaughter.  Even fresh meat isn’t truly fresh.  Even icy meat stinks with decay.  It may not be scientifically true, but he knows it from experience.  Death of the flesh means the beginning of rot.

Bre’s dead.

Bre’s dead.

Bre’s dead…

Bre is dead.

The words won’t stop.

Unbelievable.  Her disappearance was a nightmare, but her name on a list of found bodies?  Not possible.

Bre’s dead.

Bre’s dead.

Bre is dead.

Sergio’s only daughter.  He has teenage sons, but they’re not her.  Not even close to being her.  His little girl.  His youngest.  He prayed to be given a daughter.

Bre Maria Reverte.  2090-2097.  That will look ghastly on a gravestone.

Who would kill Bre?  Who would kill Bre?

He isn’t even angry.  Yet.  He knows he will be.  Raving.  Destructive.  Sergio, at his very best, is a powder keg over a lit match.  In this moment, he is surprised at his calm.  Every cell in his body is exploding and he wants so badly to throw the strangers from his living room, with their imagers and lightpads stuck under his wife’s tear-stained face.  But he can’t bring himself to do it.  He is paralyzed with sadness.  He’s been outside his body for 20 minutes, looking down on his pathetic self, and wishing he could re-connect with the reality he had known since Bre’s birth.

I’m 34 and I have a dead daughter.

He could live to be 80.

He will always have a dead daughter.

His future is off the rails and even if it gets righted, he will always remember what has been taken.

Bre is dead.

Who would kill Bre?

She, with brown eyes and brown hair, perfect teeth and hand-me-down clothes.  Tomboy clothes.  Overalls and sneakers.  The only thing making her a girl was the length of her hair, her smell, chromosomes, and her long thin arms, stretched over her dolls.  Hello Custard.  Hello Superpoo.  Hello Poco Tonto.  She’s surrendered realistic names in favor of the absurd, and Sergio likes that about her.  Even disguised as a tomboy, she knows herself.  She’s 7 and in love with her father, respectful of her mother, deaf to her brothers, and tender to everyone else.

She has several friends, all of whom have been by to inquire each and every day.  Is Bre back?  Can she play with us?

No.  Not anymore.

Some these people will be coming soon.  Today.  This morning.  When the news spreads, they’ll come.  Sergio senses playmates blowing in the autumn chill, the uncharacteristic snap of the Doll System on the fritz.

They’re coming.

All her little friends with her same, high-pitched voice and the same cares in the world.  They’ll be almost worse than the adults.  Worse than the cold Media.  These little girls will be Bre’s true contemporaries.  Bre’s true mirror.

How can I avoid seeing this day?

Sergio hops down off the porch and runs to the gate.  He’s out and to the street.  He’s on the way to the train.  He’s running now, as fast as he can, from his small home and the crying through his screen door.  He’s buying a ticket.  He’s pushing through the scan-stile and descending into the subway.

Exit.  Exit.  Exit.

It’s his route to the district, where he works.

Exit.  Exit.

He looks to the faces on the crowded car.  No one knows he’s just lost a daughter.  The passengers are sucked into the train’s advertisements and the news story that continues, destructively ignorant that someone deeply affected by their cruel litany can hear everything.  The drone forces him to cover his ears and turn his face to the flicker from the passing tunnel.

Bre’s dead.

Bre’s dead.

Who would kill Bre?

Bre’s dead.

He avoids the port’s crawl.  But, even through the barricades of his fingers, he catches it at least twice.  He doesn’t recognize the names of the other 5 discovered children.  Those were not Bre’s friends.  They weren’t even from his neighborhood, instead from scattered places throughout City 32, different Wards where Sergio has rarely ventured.  Some are nicer neighborhoods, others are slums.  He counts himself in the middle, buoyed by a small inheritance his wife received when they were married 15 years before America and his meat-worker paycheck.


His exit.

Here he is.

Sergio departs the train and finds his way, on autopilot, to street level.

He emerges to different weather.  Drizzle.  Spit in his eye.  A pattern that only presents itself when work is being done on Doll.  With the mist, low-lying autumn fog dusts his to the knees.  Sergio cuts swath through the narrow alleys and ducks under the odorous, rusty bridges of the meatpacking district.

He suddenly startles himself.

How did I get here?

He has no memory of a man at his gate, the train ride, or anything but the piercing knowledge of his daughter’s death, a certainty he can’t rub away as easily as the last 30 minutes of travel.

He smoothes his short, combed hair, feels his high forehead, and traces his clean-shaven face.

He’s come for the bar.  Now he remembers.

El Hovel.

He enters through the wooden door (with its etched silver plate – Ningunos Armas En El Hovel) to the sounds of a blaring pre-war television set.   The bubbling voices of second shift meatpacking workers, who drink and drink more, lower and then disappear when he puts a foot on the wet rubber mat of the entrance.

There are 17 men inside, and they all turn…

…even Don Zuza, who stands behind the long and scratched-to-hell oak bar.  Turn that off, Don coughs to a drunk who is closest to the television’s perch, held above the bar in a black metal frame.  The customer appears bleary-eyed and confused.  Turn that off! Don winces and dips of his head to the door.

Finally understanding, the willow-thin man complies, reaches up, and switches off the knob.  The broadcast about the dead children disappears into a dot.  The room is now silent and uncomfortable.

Sergio pads his pants.  I forgot my wallet.

Come, sit, says Don.  You pay for nothing.   With his hairy animal hands, Don scoops to the vacant stool at the bar.

The bartender is decades older than Sergio – 58 years to his 34.  Hardship and wisdom turn his eyes red.  His thick and tangled beard grays at the tips.  He wears blindingly dark sunglasses.  Proudly tattooed, he doesn’t hide the fade of them, and his shaved head is a contradiction to the thick mat of body hair beneath his open white short-sleeve.

Sergio takes a long stride then stops.  Another stride.  Stops again.

He doesn’t really know why he’s come here.  The rows of liquor behind Don’s head make his stomach sick.  The faces of the men (and only men) with whiskeys or beers cupped in hands fix on Sergio.  Third shift meat-workers from the district.  Butchers.  Sergio is a second shift worker.  El Hovel at this hour is rare for him.  The faces he recognizes are not his friends.  Being around them is as disorienting to Sergio as if he had stayed with the Media squatters next to Bre’s grieving mother, his wife.  Only now does he realize this.

Sergio starts forward again and stands before the barstool.  He rests his hands on the chair, then the bar, then finally takes his seat.  You can turn the television back on, he whispers to Don.  It’s too quiet and I know you hate music.

No, dismisses Don.  Not today.  Today I take silence.

There must be something on the broadcasts other than me.

It doesn’t seem that way.  Don considers.  Maybe a football match?

Find it.  I don’t want them fucking looking at me.

Don walks down the length of the bar, speaks something to that nearby drinker, who rises up once more, turns back on the news then quickly jogs the dial to another channel.  He settles on a European football game in the second period, a game that happened last year.

Slowly, men return to beers and whiskeys.

Let’s drink.  What can I get you?

Sergio’s eyes are down.

Anything.  Just say.  Silence.  Listen… starts Don in a hush, Christ Jesus, to have this… Look.  The fucking news, the fucking news.  I see it.  Shit.  To my customer.  Some fuck to do this to a child of my customer.  You.  God.  What’s going on in this godforsaken city?  Listen, look.  We get drunk together.

Don taps a full whiskey bottle on the shelf, draws the bottle down along with 2 shot-glasses, and fills them.  He slides one into Sergio’s field of vision.   Drink.

Sergio traps a shot with his hands.  He shakes his head.  Then he lifts.  Don lifts with him.  They have killed the first together.


Bre’s dead, declares Sergio.  His voice is bitter, tangled with a scratch from the alcohol burning his throat.

I know, Don nods with sorrow.

She was just a kid.  She never hurt anybody.  She, she…

I know, I know.

It’s like she’s sleeping and I can’t wake her up.

Another, Don says, and pours.

I don’t want to get sick, says Sergio.  Give me something else.

What’s wrong with sick?

I have to go home to my wife.

You came here.  You stay here.  Don’t take the train.  I pay for a taxi.  Or a limo-glide.

That’s too much money.

Not today.  Don moves his face from sympathy into a tight knot.  That fuck gonna get what he deserves.  I know it in my head.  Soon, too.  He gonna be hunted like a goddamn chicken and get his head chopped.

No, says Sergio.  He needs to suffer.

He do, he do.  Look, he got no idea what’s coming down on him.  The whole fucking city.  He won’t last to the jail.  They’ll have him in the town square an hour after he’s brought in.  Hung or shot or both a thousand times.  That fuck.

Sergio takes the second whisky into his belly quickly.  He knocks over the empty shot glass.  A beer?

One appears.  Don knows Sergio’s brand.  Sergio has five every Friday after shift before going home, holding his piss on the train until it hurts, releasing as soon as he finds the toilet.  It’s Sergio’s only night of vice.  He’s the most sensible customer El Hovel has seen through its doors in a decade.  All the rest Don counts as no good laborers, spending their wage on dying early, not taking it home to the family, but drinking it down fast and with toxic results.  And fighting with each other.  Only a few are foolishly belligerent to Don.  They’re taken outside.  Then on the street, Don’s dirty style and hammer fists thump each one.  He’s taken on a dozen meat packers and beat them all, even the drunk with the machete.              I like you, Sergio.

I like you, Don.

The whiskey has lit their senses, though Don less so.  Both men have stars in their eyes.  Sergio’s are mixed with salty tears and fatigue.

Why this happen to you?  Why you?  Why Sergio Reverte, my best customer?

Sergio guzzles his beer.  I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, he says when he catches air.

What you mean?

I felt it.  Coming.  A long ways off, but coming.  People think it’s the mother that’s gonna miss a baby the most, you know?  People assume the mother’s got the connection.

Because the kid came out of her.

Yeah.  But that doesn’t mean the child isn’t here – in, in my heart.  Sergio has to fan a tear from his cheek.  But I felt it, even before it happened, Don.  I knew it months ago.  I thought: I am happy.  And I thought, Goddamnit, don’t think that, don’t.  You stupid prick.  Not for a minute.  Those thoughts put a curse on me.  I’ve got a house and wife and children and work and the things I love besides.  My family.  My country.  My city.  I thought, months ago, that I am happy.  And then the next time I see Bre across the dinner table, I think…  Oh, God, Don, I doomed her.  With that thought.  I have fucked her over with my happiness and now something bad has happened.

Because you realized you’re happy?

No one – Sergio moves into Don’s space – no one is allowed, Don.  It’s the old fable: you wish for gold, you get it…and then you find the gold is cursed.  Cursed.  And you die for this gold.  And you never get to have it.  Only for a few seconds – long enough for you to become attached to it and wish you had it back.  That fucking gold.

Sergio empties another beer into his stomach.

You know what I’m saying, Don?  Do you?  Bre is dead.  Who would kill Bre?  Who would kill my fucking daughter?