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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

Some make sympathetic faces, thinking Manny knows one of the dead children. In a way, he does.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 15



For a long, frustrating moment, he wishes he had shut up about the dog.  It’s not really his dog, truth be told.  It’s the pet of his roommate, who skipped out with a girl named Penelope two weeks before rent was due and hasn’t been seen since.  Buying a dog had been Penelope’s idea – a brown terrier with loud barks and energetic feet and claws and uninvited licks.  Name: ‘Arson.’  The dividing wall between Manny’s side of the apartment and his roommate’s can’t hold back the needs of a dog.  The dog crosses the demarcation regularly and makes himself a nuisance, looking for food or company that really shouldn’t be Manny’s to provide.  Penelope is probably secretly pleased with the hassle the dog has caused.  She always disliked Manny, which makes him want to fuck her even more.

Okay, says the police captain.  That’s one.  The olive-skinned man raises his index finger.

The gates are open.  Others step forward to state their credentials and volunteer for duty.

As the pairings are made, Manny wonders why he is even allowed into the room.  Everyone is older than Manny’s 23 years.  The flash note from his supervisor told him to go immediately to City Hospital, where he was presented with a badge and a shepherded into the pale orange briefing room with long tables and slim chairs, half in numbers from what was needed.  His superior isn’t anywhere in the room.  Only strangers.  In the quiet mumbles before the meeting started, the men and women talked only of football scores and the intermittent weather, nothing revelatory.  Nothing of their purpose.  Then voices outside and 2 men entered – the captain, and a more serious-looking sort with fraying hair.  They seek shelter from a blustery storm of questions at their backs and have to shuts the doors to silence them.

10 seconds into the speech Manny suddenly realizes this meeting concerns the 81 missing children.  He wonders if the others are surprised as well.  An awkwardly arranged party – each person a guest, no one the host.

And he has done what they wanted.


Not everyone volunteers, so he wonders if he’s been brave or foolish.

Soon, the spares are all escorted out, leaving only the suckers.

Manny is paired with a woman 10 years older than him named Bastille.  Manny doesn’t ask if it is her first or last name.  She dresses frumpy, in workman’s overalls, with the hood of her sweatshirt pulled tight over her head.  She wears fashionable makeup on her aquiline face and has a decent figure under her bulky clothes.

Leaving the hospital by the loop road, Bastille arranges to pick him up early the next morning.  He gives her his address.

When he walks out of his apartment that Saturday morning, he hasn’t slept a wink.  In his hand, he clutches a scrap of paper with the dead child’s name and address.

She’s there, already waiting in her DL Prix.  Good Morning, kiddo, Bastille says.  In her face, there is a look of intensity that makes Manny feel even more awkward than he does already.

She drives.  In a few speedy minutes, she has navigated up to the top tier of the tri-level street.  The exit is not for a while, so she talks.  60 feet in the air she tells Manny all about herself: sociologist, human factors, worked on the tube lines in the early 90s and made a name counseling distraught passengers.

Did she know why she had been called to the hospital before it had been revealed? Manny asks.

No, but I watch the news.  I know the score.

Bastille takes a tight corner around a high-rise and Manny fastens his second belt.  Ever tell a family bad news?

Once.  Not this kind of bad news.  But something similar.


That an only son had committed suicide.

And how did the family take it?

Bastille looks straight at him.  Not good.

He lets this sink under his skin and he imagines, as best he can, the conversation he is about to have with the family of the murdered girl.  One of the six.  He had hoped for the boy, but the odds were against him all night.  He’s practiced speeches in his head, and that had kept him awake.  That and the rain.  There was another cloudburst around 3 AM.

At a traffic light, Bastille punches a feed on her glide’s front panel.  She searches for news and gets a hit.  I want to know what’s breaking, she sniffs.  After a few minutes of chatter, though, Bastille realizes that nothing is, in fact, breaking.  The Media is dead quiet.  Oddly quiet.  I can’t believe they had us wait until morning, she scoffs, with the Media swarming like gnats.  And I can’t believe it worked.

Did you tell anyone?

Not a soul.  You?

My dog.

32 Sun probably had an audio clip up his butt.

Manny smiles.

The glide swerves a corner.

You got the address? she asks.

Manny waves the scrap of paper like a white flag.

Smart, smart, she continues.  Those who put together the volunteer pool… Mostly they were smart.  Again, not sure why the wait until morning.  That is, unless they wanted to give the families 1 more night of false hope.

Maybe they had a lead they wanted to follow.

She shrugs.  Could be.  But still…they’re pretty smart, I guess.  They gave the bad news to us, sent us out into the world, and no one stops to ask questions.  The reporters are looking for the commissioner, the coroner, or that Captain Gutierrez.  Someone in charge.  Not a bunch of low-level counselors.

So it was a strategy all along?

Think about it, Visque… They made everyone who saw anything at the hospital sign statements and then spend the night.  Only us volunteers got out of there alive.  We’re like Spartans relaying messages over a battlefield.

I guess so.  Manny isn’t very good at tactics.  And in that moment, he decides he really doesn’t like this woman.  She pretends to know it all and is a terrible driver.

Look out!

The edge of Bastille’s glide connects with the glide in front of hers.  Both Manny and Bastille rock forward as their DL Prix slams to a stop on the tertiary road.

Manny’s head connects with the dash and he sees stars.

You fucking bitch you fucking bitch. 

The insults rattle in his head.  He wants to open his lips.

She drops back into her bucket seat and tries to disconnect her bumper from where it should not be.  Traffic on the road comes to a complete halt.

The driver of the front glide switches off his engine, opens his door, and comes around.

Manny’s hands begin to shake and Bastille notices this.  You epileptic or something?

No, he shoots back.  I was just in an accident!

It’s just a fender-bender!  Geez!

She says it like she’s had a dozen today already.

Get out!  Get out!  It’s the other driver, tugging on Bastille’s jacket as he reaches through the open driver’s window.

Go easy, mister, she soothes.  I’ve got insurance.

The driver is small, bald, wearing a white jumper.  He’s got splatters of lime green dotting his clothes.  A painter.  His breath smells and he’s furious.  I’m just trying to get to work!  He yells at Bastille and Manny.  You think I want to spend 2 hours waiting on the police!  You know how busy they are?  You know!

She nods, trying to diffuse.  Sorry, sorry.  Mucho sorry.

Manny opens his glide door and steps out onto the road, then looks backwards.  The line of cars is long, the honking loud.  He can feel the bristling wind of motorist anger.

Face-forward, he can now gauge the true extent of the damage.  Bastille’s glide is in worse shape than the painter’s.  The steel point of her vehicle has been buzzed and dented.  Her bumper has come loose and dangles over the front right tire.  The other man’s glide has a crumpled plate and some marks.  It’s a $200 job, if that.  A shot from a laser-painter (which the painter probably owns) and it’s fixed.

Bastille squirms out of the glide.  She shoves the painter.

We have to go! Manny calls over the glide’s roof.

That’s right!  Bastille fingers the painter.  Important city business.

City gonna pay for my car? he argues.

I barely TOUCHED you!

Fuck you did!  My neck!  I’ll be out for weeks.

The man’s grabbing his long, hairy neck and feigning a crick.

Drivers lean out of glides and there are loud voices.  Men’s voices.  Women’s voices.  Shouts and emotional geysers.  No one’s happy.  Everyone’s delayed.  The painter’s making a scene and Bastille throws hand gestures while reaching for her Eye Dial.  A Samaritan squeezes between the 2 warring parties and tries to inject calm.  He’s tossed aside, but tangles back.  On the streets below, the sound of uninterrupted traffic makes it worse; when an artery is clogged, nothing but chaos until the police arrive.

Fucking BITCH! 

Everyone’s angry.

Including Manny.   Maybe the angriest.

In Manny’s hand is the slip of paper.  The name of the child and the address of the family.   Manny hates her.  Hates her.  He doesn’t say it to her face, would never say it directly, but she’s the worse thing to happen to him in weeks.  Fuck Bastille.  Lousy driver, lousy timing.

Why drive like an idiot?  Why today?  Why when we’re being counted on the deliver something so important?  When time is critical?  Why?  Fuck, God, Why!

Manny stuffs the slip with the address into his trouser pocket.  He crosses over the emergency lane for the tertiary road and jumps the rail.  His body flops awkwardly onto the exit conduit that takes him over the street.  The pavement is slick from the night’s rain.  30 meters away from the choke point, he can still hear the shouts.  It’s moved beyond fisticuffs now to a street-wide brawl.   Manny clears the conduit and the confusion is soon drowned in a blur of glide engines on the secondary and primary roads.

At the ground, he wants to find a train, but can’t.

The sky colors purple from newly threatening rain clouds.


…reads a sign hanging at the tunnel entrance.

Thank, Christ!

Falling below the sidewalk, he clings to the hand supports.  Manny is jostled into the flowing line of commuters, the beginnings of the Saturday morning shopper rush.  But he makes it to the platform – dry and free from bruises.

He waits 15 minutes for a train to appear in the dim and damp underground tunnel.  Impatient, he winds his wristwatch, an old-fashioned, and confirms the time with the elderly Japanese woman standing beside him on the platform.  When the train finally arrives, it’s loud.  He has to cover his ears with his threadbare brown gloves to box out the screech from the brakes as the train laboriously rocks to a full stop, and opens a hundred sets of doors.   Manny wrestles into the nearest train car.  He’s shut inside just as the train rockets from the station.

An advert port plays continuously a loop above his head.  He leans back, reads the latest on coffee products, and hates the heat and closeness among the passengers.  Slowly, the news ticker at the bottom of the port distracts him.  Barely understand what he’s reading until a flash appears…




Then, to Manny’s utter revulsion, the ticker displays the names of the dead children.

Malinda Vasquez

Samantha St. Martin

Vaughn Schuller

Matty Ximon

Pieta Smith

And then his.

The name in his hand.

Bre Reverte

You sons a’ BITCHES!  Manny swears at the screen and the people surrounding him startle.  You fucking bastards!  Others read the scroll.  Some make sympathetic faces, thinking Manny knows one of the dead children.  In a way, he does.  They weren’t supposed to release the names, he explains in a frustrated voice to those standing closest to him, but the roar of a moving train covers his words.  Goddamnit, he swears into his shirt.  He wishes he could read the name on his slip of paper, but his arms are trapped below his waist by the bodies around him.  His nose fills with the smell of unwashed skin.

He can’t stomach the advert port anymore.

10 minutes and the train stops.

Passengers rise to surface level and quickly fall away outside the local station’s platform, going off in separate directions.

The neighborhood consists of tight rows of houses and dying medians from dog piss.  Manny slows his pace so he can read the numbers on houses.  Rivers of rain flow down the street – trash-filled water with oil floating on top.  It smells rank and used.  Manny scans upward for the nearest weather poll.  He locates one between 2 adjoining bus stops.

He crosses to the even-numbered houses.



11366 Hon. Judge Warren Pulchock Way.


A house, small but tidy.

A shingle drapes from a lamppost next to the walk-up path.  The name is inverted; the sign has gone upside-down in the storm.



A wrought-iron gate separates Manny from his mission.  He pulls at the latch, but it’s locked.  A chain wraps, snake-like, around the bottom bars.  These sorts of redundancies only come after a home invasion.  Manny wonders if little Bre was home when the crime happened.  Or, he thinks, switching on his optimism, the gate and chain are just precautions, the signs of forward thinking, a family who knows the crime rates, and attends the Rat meetings in the Ward.  Who says hello to their local beat cop by name.  A family that, prior to the disappearance of their 7-year-old baby girl, felt safe.  Or, Manny reverses again, negativism rising, felt that something might happen at any moment.

He tests the gates for strength with a tug.

He rehearses his most recently drafted speech.

Your daughter, she did not suffer.  No, not true at all, Mr. and Mrs. Reverte.  There is hope.  Her sacrifice may lead us all out of this.  Your daughter, well, what can I say?  She is worthy of your grief.  Here…the details on where to go to claim her body.  Remember, please, to bring her birth certificate and all proper identification.  And I’m so, so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Reverte, that the fucking Media are a bunch of fucking pricks.  Your neighbors knew before you did, didn’t they?  I say that because your broadcaster is off.  But your neighbor – 11364? – is watching a game show.  The sound is blaring.  I heard the contradictory banality of it when I was at your gate, holding my stupid scribble of your name and address, wondering how to get in the gate.  But your neighbor.  I’m sure there was a crawl on his screen.  So he knows your little girl is dead.  I bet these ‘kindhearted’ neighbors pushed their way into your home and told you between game show commercials every terrible fact of your daughter’s death.  I bet the whole goddamn street plans to bring you burritos and casseroles.  When Bre didn’t come home Wednesday, they did the same.  I bet most of it sits uneaten in your refrigeratorAnd they did not bring this food out of kindness, but just because they wanted to selfishly meddle in your pain.

Manny once more shakes the gate.  It rattles but doesn’t budge.

A man he had not seen before is standing alone on the porch.  Get the hell away, he says quietly.

Manny wraps his gloved hands around the bars of the gate.  I’m with the City, he explains.

Manny cannot clearly see the man’s face, buried in the shadows of the porch.  He can only perceive the hair on his head waving in the wind, the man’s enveloping arms crossed over his lean, muscular body.  You may have heard… Manny starts, but stops.  I’ve come to help you.  Manny suspects he’s talking to the wrong person, so asks simply, Are you Mr. Reverte?  When there is no answer, Manny leans into the gate and pries with even greater delicacy, Are you Bre Reverte’s father?

Get the hell away, the man on the porch repeats coldly.