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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

Now, instead of 75 missing, there are 86.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 41


Friday morning.  The weather system has had a near collapse when compared to the warm and sunny Thursday.  A cold thunderstorm lashes the city, the orphanage, everything and everyone – the kind of storm that the Doll System has been designed to prevent.  The people of City 32, particularly those within Hektor’s earshot, can’t help but throw frustrated insults at Douglaz Doll and his pioneering ways.  Engineering’s for shit, rants Lorenzo as he dials in the broadcast pipe of the second floor’s recreation room.  You know it was bribes that got that thing goin’ in the first place.  Fuck Doll.  It’s worse this year than ever, don’t you think?  Jose?  Hey, you listenin’?  If it rained all the time we’d be used to the cold and the wet.  But we come to expect something and it goes nuts… Man, that shit gets me on the wrong side of the bed.

Out of the curve of his vision, Lorenzo sees Hektor in the recreation room doorway.

Shoo, get out of here, Lorenzo flits, as if to a cat.

No, Jose vetoes, he can stay.

Em-ploy-ees.  Lorenzo points to the sign on the recreation room door.  Got that?

Jose rises from his natty chair, encircles the small boy in his arms, and escorts Hektor across the threshold.  It’s okay.  He can see this.

Lorenzo can’t hide his irritation.  He searches for objections, but comes up empty.  Gruffly, he waves a hand.  Beh!  He returns to banging on the decade-old broadcast pipe until it begins to focus.  The image lights the wall.  I should be watching this on my Visor, he laments.  It’s the only thing comes in clear around here.  But somebody stole it when I put it down on the train.  Dicks.  Lorenzo adds over his shoulder to Hektor, What are you doing skipping class anyway?

I have a pass.  Hektor holds up a small piece of plastic.

From who?  Akkawi?  He’s soft on you because you can do geometry.  But you don’t know everything.

Leave the kid alone, Jose softly scolds.  The supervisor stretches the arm of the chair until the width can accommodate the new arrival.  Here, he says to Hektor, sit beside me.

The boy asks as he climbs into the chair, Have they shown him?

Not yet.

The image isn’t improving.  Lorenzo can’t tell if the machine or the channel is to blame.  With a last bang on the pipe, Lorenzo admits defeat and drops into an empty foldout chair.  I bet the storm’s messin’ with the satellites, guesses Lorenzo.  But that looks better than before.  Don’t it.

Hektor and Jose nod.

A reporter braces in the foreground under a rippling tarp.  He stands next to a mobile Media glide, dressed in open-collared shirt and buttoned raincoat, a channel insignia stitched on his breast pocket.  He struggles to maintain his composure, as the rain blows past the angle and pelts his mustached face.  In the background, City Hall and the steps of the courthouse are aged from the downpour.

The reporter talks in clips.

…the sudden change of venue for Alek Serkan… barrage of threats from all over the city…causes officials to be concerned for the safety of the only suspect in the largest single missing persons case in City 32’s history…

Do you think they’ll show his face? Hektor asks.

Lorenzo pumps a fist into his opposite palm.  They better.  I want a look at him.

Jose taps Hektor’s knee.  Yeah, they might.

…intense security.  As you can see, we can only get this close to the building.  Even though news of the transfer was just announced 45 minutes ago, the square… And after last week’s riots, there has been incredible show of f…

The boy lifts his eyes to meet Jose’s.  Has he said anything about the other kids?

I don’t think so, no.  Probably not.  He knows he’s in a lot of trouble.

Lorenzo laughs.  Trouble?  Heh.  They wanna KILL ‘im for what he did.  Tear ‘im limb from

Quiet, shushes Jose, he’s arriving.

Strafed by the rain, a bleak procession of 4 black-painted glides arrives on the square.  The glides slow then stop at the ramps of the courthouse.  The imager zooms to the lead car, then pulls back to the second, uncertain of which door will open first.  Several spring open at the same time, as if choreographed to confuse.  The imager jumps left than right then finally expands its iris to take in the entire line.

The emerging men all look identical – a dozen bulky figures wearing dark slickers and shielding their faces from both the rain and the armada of imagers.  Umbrellas deploy over the tops of heads.  The men’s protective circle swamps the third vehicle.

The reporter asks someone off-image, Can we get closer?  The reporter smiles just briefly then ducks out from under the tarp’s protection.

The imager focuses on the glides.  Just 10 more meters and Jose, Hektor, and Lorenzo will be able to know faces.

Someone’s jumps into frame, waving the reporter back.

It’s all right, it’s all right, explains the reporter as he holds up the palm of his hand.  We’re Media.  A thrust of arms sends the reporter backwards.  At the edges of the frame, blue uniformed patrolmen emerge to enforce the distance.

There he is!  Lorenzo jumps from his chair and stabs his finger to the pipe.

A man.  Balding.  Mustached.  Nose in bandages and arm in sling.  Alek Serkan, for sure – a dead match against the flash editions from the days before, caught in the flicker of the zoomed lens.

Before Hektor can really absorb the man’s face, the image cuts to another angle on a rooftop showing the full view of the square.

Wow, says Jose in soft wonder.

Thousands – citizens, Media, police – ring the square.  The perimeter has been barricaded, but the scope sinks in.  This city wants to see Alek Serkan.

The image propels into the crowd and the line defending Serkan becomes unstable.  The barricades are struck and reset by the police who tilt against the furious rain and the taunts of the crowd.  Serkan’s protective bubble shrinks.  Shouts and curses are hurled at Serkan and the hateful words carry into recorders and across 32.

Several imagers are online now, and the screen in front of Hektor splits with movement – wide shot, short shot, zooms to find their target.  There. There.



Look! shouts the reporter.  He hops and points the way for his Post It Man.

Another jump angle to the wet and confused face of the killer.  Serkan slips in the rain and has to be lifted by rain-coated patrolmen.  His arm’s sling comes loose and he winces.  Holding the wounded wing, he curries with terror towards the shelter of the courthouse.  Serkan, target of the mob, can clearly feel the palpable emotion directed squarely at him.

…I tell you viewers at home, stammers the reporter, the sound here is just incredible, and the…the…

His voice is drowned by off-screen commotion.

The reporter is overtaken by the mob.  The building imagers catch the arc of a gas canister lobbed into the square.  The missile explodes with a fuzzy pop, and then is quickly doused by the rain.  The gas blows up and away, touching no one.

The police are in full run to hustle Serkan up the courthouse steps.

A sudden burst of sunlight lights the square.

Doll’s back! snaps Lorenzo, biting his nails.  The ward captain can’t contain himself any longer.  He hops beside the pipe and rubs his hands together.  Weather can’t change that fast without help.

Hektor isn’t listening.  He and Jose are forward on the sofa and concentrating on the gale at ground level.

The city’s well-planned transfer is crumbling into a blitz.

The Heavy Team is not enough to keep back the flood.  The dam has busted.  The police try, short of violence, try to hold, but the zone between the mob and the courthouse shrinks in seconds.  A few in the crowd go down, trampled, rescued, forced back, and back, and back.  But the tide swells in the only direction it can: forward.

Serkan and his bodyguards have nearly reached the top of the steps.  The Roman columns protect them from thrown trash, bottles, cans, and other long-armed attempts to crack Serkan’s skull.

The procession of black glides is overrun.  The vehicles rock in the waves.  One is flipped on its side.

The ground imager has been incapacitated; the only visible shot is from the roof.  The channel’s needling commentary is been abruptly cut short.  The only audio is the blur on the square.

And the picture is centered on Serkan, from the waist up, looking as scared as a man with a noose around the neck.

Suddenly, in front of Serkan on the entry level of the courthouse, a man appears.  He comes not from the crowd, but from a place inside.  The image jostles to find the nearest 2 policemen, whose faces register confusion, and then blankness.  Everyone sees it at the same time – those on the steps, those watching on broadcasters, those in the mob below, and even Alek Serkan.

The man holds something in his hands.

A machete.

Eyes void of emotion, almost a mask, the man is not too old, nor too young.  He is dressed in gray overalls – perhaps a union man.  And his movements are swift and certain.

The first swing of the machete catches Serkan on the shoulder and sinks deep.  Even with the pixilated zoom, the fountain that erupts from Serkan’s skin is bright red and clearly shown.

Serkan staggers.

The machete man puts his boot to Serkan’s chest and with 2 hands yanks the weapon from the muscle so he can strike again.

A rain-coated policeman inserts himself between the attack.  He loses 3 fingers to the next swing, the beveled blade continuing through the fingers to Serkan’s cheek and right eye.

The machete spins down as the bodyguards make a grab for the man’s arm, but he’s too quick.  Free from rain, umbrellas, and constraining coats, the man is mobile.  Until this moment, the bodyguards’ focus had been on the mob, not the sanctuary of the courthouse, and they are paying for their blunder.

The crowd now understands what’s happening on the steps.  The first rows buckle and are knocked down by those tumbling behind.

Serkan’s cheek erupts in a gash of blood that soaks his coat and shirt.

A woman next to the rooftop imager gasps in horror, Oh – Jesus!

Jose races to cover Hektor’s eyes from the carnage, but the boy springs from the chair, rushes to the wall, and stares at the pipe like a gone-off firework.

The machete man takes a third swing.

Serkan has both arms up, even the broken one.  The damage to his shoulder has gone deep and his entire arm is threatening to fall away.  The tempered blade glistens as it slices Serkan’s hand from the wrist, leaving no further obstructions as it connects with the neck, where it sticks.

Four clambering police pry the machete man’s fingers from the grip.  The blade wiggles in Serkan’s neck.  No one helps him.  He’s unable to get the machete out – having lost a hand and almost his arm.  Amazingly, he is still on his feet.

The attacker is pinned to courthouse steps by a hoard of police.  Weapons show out of raincoats.  The police unload a storm of bullets into the attacker.

Hektor can see only flashes.  When the job is done, Hektor watches the flailing body, work overalls almost covered in red stains, as it tumbles down the courthouse steps.

Shouts and screams and sirens overtake the broadcast.

The audio blurs into distorted noise.

New people empty from the inner courthouse.  The police tackle the first few out the doors.  Everyone has drawn a weapon.  Everyone is screaming.  Everyone is waving hands, panicked, pacing the courthouse, going in and out, up and down steps, zooming and cutting, panning and swearing.

The rooftop imager tries to find Serkan.  No luck.  He’s disappeared lower than the undulating mob at the top of the steps.

For the next five minutes, the imager holds without commentary.

Nothing makes sense to Hektor.  Is he dead?

Go back to class.  Jose stands behind him.

No!  What happened?  Is he dead?

Shit, Lorenzo exhales and begins to pant.  Holy Jesus!  We just saw a murder.  We saw that fucker get chopped up!

Jose digs his fingers into Hektor’s shoulders.  The boy lets out a yelp.  Like a pressurized piston, Jose throws the orphan to the door.  GO BACK TO CLASS!

Hektor’s eyes swell with tears.  But he holds it in.  He looks to Lorenzo, who offers not a word, only a confused shake of the head before returning his eyes to the stagnant, wavering image from the pipe.

Hektor stomps to the center of the room and plants himself next to Lorenzo.

Jose jerks the boy off the floor and stuffs him outside onto the second floor corridor.  With a pounding crash, Jose slams the recreation door in the boy’s face.

Hektor shakes with fury.

You let that brat wander too much, Lorenzo complains in a muffle.  Hektor can’t hear the reply.

The boy starts back towards geometry class.  He can only hold his tears a few meters.  When they come, they are brutal and consuming.  His fingers whiten from balling his fists, and he reddens violently, as if from a fever.  He considers what might be said to Mr. Akkawi.  He’s been gone 20 minutes on a 5-minute pass.  But that doesn’t matter.  He can’t go back now.  Maybe not ever.

He races up the stairs to the sleeping floor and dives into his cot.  He buries himself under the covers, until Lorenzo finds him an hour later.

The ward captain takes a slow seat on the edge of the thin mattress.  Hey.  You.

Go away.

Jose’s lookin’ for you.


Eleven more children have gone missing.

Hektor rolls his blanket down.

They were taken from a Zigon Park an hour ago.  There’s another lockdown.  Lorenzo rises from the cot’s edge.  You have to come with me.  We’re doing a roll call.

Eleven more children.  Eleven more.  Eleven more missing.

Hektor’s head spins as he follows Lorenzo off the floor, through the corridor, down the winding stairs and into the gymnasium where the wards occasionally play basketball.  It is crowded, noisy, and disorganized.  Hektor recognizes everyone.  But they are not his friends.  Some stare at him.  Two younger boys are laughing.  He is surrounded by his alienation.  Fleck’s words from the playground fester and rot.

Thankfully, he is not the focus of the children’s concerns.  Questions come from all directions.  What’s going on?  Why did they bring us here?  Prial says he’s scared.  Some kids play tag, oblivious.

Hektor tells them nothing of Alek Serkan’s murder or what Lorenzo told him about the 11.

At the main hall doors, Ms. Ximon and others, including Jose and Lorenzo, huddle together.  Teachers stand in a line.  The school’s nurse checks her lists.  For a flash, Jose catches Hektor’s eyes.  Hektor searches for apology.  He recognizes only dutiful procedure as Jose leans to the nurse and tells her to mark Hektor’s name from the list.

After a few more moments, Katherine Ximon steps forward and address the orphans.

Boys and girls… Attention please.  Our apologies for interrupting your classes.  Your education is our highest priority.  But we wanted to take a full count.  Today, in another part of the city, another incident has been reported.  40 minutes ago, 11 children were taken from a Zigon Park.  I’m sure all those children are safe and this is just a mistake.  I’d like to remind all of you that anyone in the building you do not recognize must be reported immediately.  Beginning immediately, there will be two police patrolmen assisting Mr. Burutzagi with the building security.  These police will remain outside of the building so you may not even see them.  But anyone else you see on the premises, please come and tell your teachers.  For now, I’m relieved everyone is accounted for and I’m sorry if any of this has frightened or distracted you.

She repeats the general message in Spanish.

You may return to your classrooms.

The faculty organizes the exodus from the gymnasium.

Eleven, Hektor thinks as he waits for orders, rolling the number over and over in his mind.  There are more Alek Serkan’s out there.  More danger.  Now, instead of 75 missing, there are 86.

His skin sweats; he feels dizzy.  A fire burns his feet that he has only once or twice felt before – the last was when that woman was beaten outside the gate and he was compelled – no, commanded – to help her.

The funneling of the children back to class happens quickly, like the organization of a hive.  Noise in the gymnasium grows with the buzzing voices of the children.  Fear bubbles from the boys and girls, particularly those who minutes before Ms. Ximon’s speech were playing.      I have to leave.

I have to leave.

Hektor breaks from the packed corner.

An unwatched door in the rear of the gymnasium stands opens.

I have to leave.

Hektor ducks down, shuffles to the rear of Mr. Akkawi’s formation, and slips through the open door.  Not one orphan even looks back.  He is completely invisible.

He is far down the corridor before the voices diminish.  An announcement comes over the broadcast system of the building: the children are to return to the classrooms in groups to avoid congestion on the front stairs.  This won’t affect Hektor, already racing up the back stairs.

On the uninhabited sleeping floor, he hears the a distant flock of fluttering children.  Hektor gathers his coat, underpants, toothbrush, a worn-down pencil, a small notepad from his studies, and three stashed candy bars from the strongbox under his bed.  He locks the box and shoves it under the cot.  Everything he stuffs into his coat’s pockets then slings the coat over his shoulder.

He knows he’s forgetting something.

It pricks him.

Rifling through the messy covers, he finds the Batman comic book with its torn cover and curled pages.

The corridor is still a ghost town.  He cuts for the stairs, painfully aware of his loud steps.  Speed is now more important than silence.  Down he goes, taking steps two at a time and wrestling with his brown coat, the heaviest standard for orphans, with a hem at the knees, wide lapel and trim collar.

He slips onto the administration floor and rakes the door open with his fingers.

Lorenzo is just turning up the front stairs and he can see the ward captain’s body disappear from the distance.

Hektor fits into the door and runs to Jose’s quarters.

With the sudden exactness, Hektor rips the first page from the comic book – freeing that glorious picture of Batman standing over Gotham City.  Hektor pockets the page in the inner fold of his coat.  The mauled comic, without a cover and now without a first page, Hektor disrespectfully pitches onto Jose’s blankets.

Hektor thinks of fire.  He has flashes of his dead mother and father and their small home as it burns.

Goodbye, Jose, he whispers.

The corridor is dead.

He finds the stairs and descends lower than ever before, even past the first floor gymnasium that now stands empty.  He smells the lingering rain through the walls of the shaft.  The sun hasn’t yet to hit this side of the orphanage and the day outside continues to be gray and oppressive.  At the very bottom of the stairs, he finds another boy.