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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

City of Human Remains – Chapter 56






Mizuro’s voice sounds shrunken through the quarter-sized audio broadcaster embedded in the communications panel.  But he is certain it is thunderous on the floors below.  He considers his voice to be God, rupturing ears.  Despite his omnipresent directions, it still takes his gatecrashers 5 minutes to reach the ground floor from the parking garage.  Slow, he thinks.  These ones are very slow.  The escalator to the concourse is a 4-stage – turn, turn, turn, turn – and his voice guides the 3 up from the underground garage and onto the bridge at the building’s center.

PRESS 39, he instructs.  I’ll ALLOW YOU TO BY-PASS THE LOBBY.

The exposed elevator gracefully slides along the side of the Doll Building and, once it clears of the shorter low-rises on either side, there is a clear view of City 32’s early movements.  The sky is cloudy, but the light breaks with the dawn.  When this is over, Mizuro plans to visit the sunrise platform on the top floor.  He needs air.  He hopes this is quick.

The boy smushes his face to the glass as the world drops away below.  His expression is that of a sailor out to sea, who knows he won’t see land again for a long, long time.  From the angle of the image, Mizuro notes the trembling hands.  He is so very quiet, not at all resisting or questioning, or weeping (which is what Mizuro expects from a boy of his age.)  It’s possible, he supposes, that the kid has been drugged.  But his eyes don’t look it.  He is as alert and awake as the adults, maybe even more.  Mizuro can’t take his eyes from him.  The boy watches the city – its weather poles, skyscrapers, trees, humans, all becoming nothing more than models on a hobby table.

At 39, the elevator stops.


The three guests step out to an empty corridor.  The carpet is trim and gray and the walls a shade of welcoming yellow, with leading black lines going off into the perspective.  The three pick a direction – the correct one, so Mizuro doesn’t need to adjust their course.


Ted Appleton takes the shoulder of the boy’s coat.  He wants someone out front in case of traps.  Even the priest places himself behind the boy.  This gets a simple touché from Mizuro.


Unnumbered with a bulbous, silver knob.


Appleton grasps the knob.  He twists and pushes forward.  The doorframe scrapes the thick carpet and the smell of fresh paint twists their noses.

The boy is first inside, first to glimpse Mizuro seated behind a wide and clear desk.

Mizuro lifts his fingers from the communications panel inset to his left.  In the otherwise sparse and clean room, the battery of electronics is distracting. He knocks the gooseneck audio clip away from his mouth and back to wall.

Welcome! Mizuro greets his guests with good nature.  Robbed of the audio’s grand effects, his voice is not nearly as authoritative.  Please close the door behind you.

When Ted Appleton passes through, the recognition is immediate.  Appleton maneuvers his knife up near his beltline.  I’m armed, says the gesture, don’t come near me unless you want what’s coming to you.  The killer suspiciously appraises Mizuro’s white vest and neat presence.

The priest’s expression is altogether harder to categorize:  a blend of panic, embarrassment, fear, and disappointment.

And then there is a boy, with dirty hair and clothes, a black eye, bumps, bruises, and cuts, looking like he’s spent the night in the trash bin.  His ear has been sliced clean at the tip and brown bloodstains speckle his face and clothes.

Father Tesque shuts the door and gives an audible gulp.

Mizuro, in his yellow high-backed leather chair, leans forward and lets the cuffs of his white, tightly buttoned dress shirt slip out of his two-piece coal Italian suit.

Emig Emberlan, confirms Ted with a deathly glare.

Name’s actually Sidney Mizuro, he tells them.

You told me Emberlan was real.

Oh, the name’s real, he smiles.  It’s just not mine.  Pause.  Emig Emberlan died in a fall from a Zigon maze and broke his neck at the age of 7.

Father Tesque shakes his head.  I’ve never heard of Emig Emberlan before you used the name.  Which park?

Ninth and Electra.

Ted tightens on the knife – Mizuro has clear sight of it.  There’s no Zigon Park at that address, he says.

Not anymore, Mizuro sighs.  After the accident, the park was closed.  Tomas Zigon insisted.  Then it was leveled.  It’s now a garden.  If you look closely, there’s a dedication plaque with Emig Emberlan’s name on it.  Sidney Mizuro cocks his head.  Do you gentlemen know how many parks there are in the city, if you counted poor Emig’s ghost park?


Mizuro notices the boy’s gears turning.

Come on.  What’s a popular number nowadays?

The child blurts, That’s it!

Ted and the priest turn.

Go ahead, encourages Mizuro from his chair.

81.  Aren’t there?  81.

Appleton and the priest look down at the boy, then up at Mizuro.

Mizuro is pleased.  He winks at Ted.  Who’s the bright one?  He knows a number the whole city has been too dense to figure out.  It’s our signature and yet it seems to be illegible.  Except to you— Mizuro points to the boy.

I took him, declares Appleton.  For you.

We’ve got the 81 we need.  No cause for a spare.

Nerves show in the boy’s expression.  The kid is looking for windows or a way out.  But Mizuro’s office is walled on 4 sides.  The only escape is the door, blocked by the priest.  The boy is also scanning for weapons – darting from a ledger on the shelf, to a marble horse with a hard edge hung on the wall, to Mizuro’s half-empty water glass…a framed picture hung on the wall, a potted plant, the leg of a chair.  He thinks like a scrapper, suspects Mizuro, and wonders if this conversation would be better without the stray.  He wants no wildcards.

Appleton’s face reddens.  I brought you the boy.  Now take him.  He’s my gift to you.  Take him.

Mizuro rubs his hands clean.  Really, I don’t want him.  In fact, you shouldn’t even be here, Ted.  It was a big fucking mistake to come and find me.  All the recruits from Tesque ended up in the river because they were risky.  I thought you’d be better than that because you have a life. And you seemed anxious to keep it.  You should have kept to yourself and not caused any more trouble.  Mizuro stubs a pencil into his blotter and shakes his head.  You were in the clear, Ted!  Did you forget we might have parts of a certain policemen in baggies?  Or, better yet, maybe we just left him chopped up in the sewers.  An anonymous tip to the police and you’d be history, Ted.  Mizuro dips his head to Father Tesque.

The priest is visibly nauseous, holding his stomach and turning green.

You’re useless, Ted.  But I appreciate you coming all this way.

Every muscle in Appleton’s face tightens like braids of sinewy rope.  Do you know what I HAVE DONE!  Appleton screams at Mizuro.  DO YOU KNOW?  DO YOU?  DO YOU?  I want to know what happened to the CHILDREN I took.  I want to know!  I want to know everything, everything.  EVERYTHING!  I killed my family!  I killed my daughter and my wife and my daughter and I killed them, I killed them.  Tonight.  To keep all these fucking secrets!  I killed them.  So you owe me.  YOU OWE ME!  Ted stamps his feet, clutches the knife as if it’s the last branch on a cliff he’s fallen over.  I want to see Douglaz Doll.  I want to see him RIGHT NOW.  The trail leads to you.  To this building.  It leads to Douglaz Doll.  GET HIM OR I’M GOING TO BE VERY BIG TROUBLE!

Ted stabs Father Tesque in the arm with the knife.  The priest yelps like a dog.  The knife sticks up to its handle in the skin under the priest’s black pajamas.  Tesque’s hand goes to the puncture and frames it, numb and stunned.

Appleton shoves the boy to the carpet with a pile-driver fist.  Next, he rushes Mizuro, a bull to a bullfighter’s cape.  The distance is only a few meters and Appleton closes it fast.

Mizuro bounces to his feet, both hands out, open arms.

Appleton torpedoes across the desk sweeping his arms, hoping to hit Mizuro with a jagged slash.

Mizuro has the advantage of the angle and hits Ted’s shoulders with the flat of both his palms.

All sound stops.

Objects from the blotter, displaced by Appleton’s diving body, tumble over the sides of the wide desk, contact muffled by the carpet.  The only hum are the soft moans of Father Tesque, who hovers his fingers at the implanted knife’s rubber grip.  An artery’s been struck and blood sprays from the wound and paints the wallpaper behind him in up and down streaks.

Mizuro raises both hands above his head…a preacher addressing his congregation (Tesque would recognize the pose.)  There are two round objects in his hands the size of quarters.  Mizuro stretches mostly for the benefit of Ted Appleton, splayed across the desk on his stomach.  In that moment, Mizuro is a magician, ready to explain the trick.  Mizuro asks the paralyzed man: Recognize these? He doesn’t wait for an answer.  Sleepwalkers.  Just like you used on those three kids yesterday.  Only these are adult doses.  A double shot.  You are mine, Mr. Appleton, for at least 16 minutes…  Without hurry, Mizuro uncorks the Sleepwalkers from his hands and tosses them aside.  They plink on the desk, spent.  Stand up, he orders.

Appleton – face twisted – raises his body.

Put your hands on the desk.

Ted obeys unconditionally.

Tesque and the boy are stunned.

From his middle drawer, Mizuro withdraws a pair of scissors, long and tingling in the track lights of the office.  He opens the blades with a stretch of the fingers.  The hinge squeaks.  A wink in his eye, Mizuro slips the points under Appleton’s pinky finger and closes the gap until the skin is barely pinched.  His victim’s face remains unchanged.  Ted Appleton does not move or scream or beg for mercy.  He makes no attempts to keep his hand intact.


Mizuro looks up, unsure if the voice was the bleeding priest, or the boy.


The boy.

Sorry, sniffs Mizuro.  I’ll do what I want to him.  He’d do the same to you.  We recruit only the worst and then ditch ‘em afterwards.  Company policy.  And I doubt he’d give you any breaks, kid.


The word is unadorned.  Not even a plea.  But it carries more authority than Mizuro expects from someone so young.

Mizuro removes the scissors from Appleton’s pinkie finger.  Then he lifts the scissors to Appleton’s eyeball – leaving the fulcrum open and point nearly touching one black iris of Appleton’s unblinking stare.  See no evil, jokes Mizuro.  His words drift to Appleton in icy cold fragments.  Let me tell you something, Ted…the only one of our recruits that gave us the slip was Alek Serkan.  He took six of our prospects with him.  Threw off our numbers so we had someone pick up the slack.  That Serkan was a scary little nut-job.  Just like you…  Killing your family?  That’s so fucking stupid.  I should have strangled you yesterday.  I bet you left your house full of blood and body parts and clues for them to find you.  I’d say you’re even dumber than Alek Serkan, and he was dumb.  You know what Serkan did to those children?  Cut ‘em up just to spite us.  And then the city did the same to him.  He got so scared that we’d find him before the police that he never even went home, found himself another place to squat.  Sicko.  And I know sickos!  You’re a goddamn amateur.

There is a slow hiss from the back of the room.  Father Tesque slides to the floor, his arm coated with sputtering blood – his lids in rapid blinks.  He is white in the face and twitching.


Ted.  Do you want to know where those three children from yesterday are?  Nod, if you do.

Appleton nods.

Do you want them for yourself?  Nod, if you do.

Appleton nods, almost into the point of the scissors.  The beginnings of a tear can just be seen in the frame of Appleton’s socket.

Well, Ted.  These children are not yours to play with.  They’re here on business.

Mizuro drops the point of the scissors away from Appleton’s eye.  He slowly lowers them onto the desk, narrowly missing Appleton’s hands in pendulum swing.  Mizuro stabs the scissors into the wood of his oak desk.  He lets go of the scissors and they stick in the dents.  He faces one blade upright, the other hangs for balance in the wood.

Hell, Ted.  Why should I do all the work!  I think it’s better if you put these scissors in your own goddamn eyeball.  Mizuro, ritualistically, uncouples his fingers from the handle of the scissors – thumb…index…middle, ring, then pinkie.

At the lift of his pinkie, Mizuro notices something.

His office door stands open just a crack.

The boy.  He’s gone.