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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

You know what people call me? Doomsday. I’m like an atomic bomb, Father.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 21



Hate carries.

She’s got some lungs on her, don’t she? jokes Drubney to the Heavy next to him.

His partner doesn’t laugh.  You better hope she don’t go blind, he cautions sheepishly through his shield.  He raises his Repeater in the air and walks away.

I was aiming for her forehead! Drubney explains to the man’s back as he leaves.  And, hey, one more dent added to that ugly bunch on her forehead won’t matter anyway!

Within seconds, Drubney is alone on the steps.  The closest person – civilian or governmental – is 25 meters off.  Noise continues all around, but, for a few seconds in Drubney’s head there is deafening silence.

The rain can’t be held back any longer.  Water pours from above.  Hard.  Great pitchers of water release over Drubney’s head, relentless.  He looks up to it and removes his shield, letting the water strike his clean-shaven and angular face.

In the next hour, things run their course.  The riot diminishes to only clean-up teams and Media crews.  A thick perimeter of police glides and industrial trucks encircle City Hall, transforming it from Public Square to fascist blockade.

By two that afternoon, Drubney is off the clock and the rain has abated, though the clouds blowing above the square and have not gotten any lighter.  The air smells cold and autumnal and reminds Drubney of his youngest years outside City 32, riding shotgun with his father, dead now from cancer, as the man completed his decade-old postal route.

Drubney has been wearing his riot gear for 5 hours straight, a record for him.  The day is still freshly baked bread and, if it weren’t for the threatening Doll clouds, Drubney might be in high spirits.  He did his job.  He protected the city’s property.  He drove out the advancing, unwashed specter of anarchy.

But instead of feeling vindication, he feels shame.

The woman.  Her face.  Her spite.  Her hand over her wounded eye, cursing him.  The memory is hard to shake.  She is committed to his extinction.  He has made a choice and understands that, with freewill, there is danger.  Did he make a choice?  He tries to remember the pull of the trigger.  He wanted to do it.  Badly.  And so he did.  But he doesn’t know why and can’t even remember the split-second thoughts behind the rookie mistake.

Three times in his 11 years of service he has been in front of the Board.  Each time, they let him pass.  The drunkard – that was a foregone conclusion.  That man was bleeding inside already; it wasn’t Drubney’s kicks that broke him open.  The teenage runaway, that was trickier.  Luckily, she was not connected to money and easily swept under rug.  The bar-fight, well that was just payback and he shouldn’t have been to the Board for that anyway.

But this time…will he be so lucky?

St. Patrick’s Church is just a few blocks south of City Hall.  Changed into his civilian clothes, Drubney passes the lines of defense and onto City 32’s busy streets.  There are jams on the roads and heavy pedestrian cliques.  Hood up, he covers his thinning brown hair, his ears, and tries to hide his wide, pale face from those passing at either shoulder.

Slipping between bodies, he crosses in front of competing taxis and up the steps of St. Patrick’s.

The cathedral is bright, sun-lit, full of people, and smells of snuffed candles and incense.  There is no service in progress, but the place is as crowded as it must have been that morning for Sunday Mass.  Drubney notices several faces covered in fire ash, their clothes sotted.  Refugees from the riot come to pray for mercy – come to re-connect with their goodness and exorcise their animal anger.  But the damaged ones in the church are the minority.  Most are on their knees, in silence, minding their own Godly business.  Probably praying for the return of the missing and the saving of the city, their lives, or their health.

As planned, Sergeant Earl Drubney finds an open confession box and steps inside.

Bless me, Father.  It’s been 11 days since my last confession.

What is troubling you, my son?  The priest’s voice is a bassoon through the lattice.

Drubney bends onto the prie-dieu kneeler and crosses himself.  He glances to the hanging crucifix in the box, then looks away to his lap.  He hates this.  Every second of it.  He laces his fingers in prayer and watches as the hairy skin of his knuckles goes red from the pressure.

I did something bad today, he confesses.  I hurt someone.

Physically or emotionally?

Probably both.

How badly?  Did this person need medical attention?

I don’t really know.  She ran away.  I may have hurt her eye.

Tell me more.

She’s probably going to rat me out.  Probably.  I think I’m going to lose my job.  I can’t lose my job, Father, I can’t.  I… Helen would never stand for it.  She’s my girl.  Helen.  I, I don’t treat her too good either.

It’s a terrible thing to hurt a woman, my son.

I know it, I know it.  I don’t beat her, though.  I’m just…kind of a pain in the ass.  I don’t think her sister Maria would stand for hitting Helen.  Drubney listens to the priest’s breathing, expecting something that does not come.  He continues.  What’s worse, Father, to hurt a woman or to hurt a child?

Have you hurt a child?

No.  Pause.  But the whole city’s gone nuts, hasn’t it, Father?  I feel like I’ve fallen into a deep pool of shit and I can’t swim out.  I’m drowning, Father… Maybe… Maybe everybody’s drowning.  32’s gonna bust over these 81 kids.  Did you catch that riot?  How could you not, aye, Father?  Probably been tending to refugees all morning, I bet.  The priest does not respond.  Drubney continues.  Don’t they know, Father?  Why are they all so crazy?  Kids disappear all the time.  All the time.  Lots of them.  Maybe not all at once in a few hours.  But kids, they go missing all the time.  Isn’t a shift goes by that we don’t hear five calls on the radio with new kids gone missing.  Hundred thousand kids in this city, probably lots more, and no one can keep track of all of them.  Pause.  And then there’s nature, too, Father.  Old ones grow up, new ones born.  Hell, City Hospital sees a hundred new fucking babies a day, why do these 81 kids matt-?

He stops himself.  He gets like this sometimes.  He forgets his place and has trouble controlling his words.  It has always worked against him.  His mouth.  His hands.  His every step is wrong and, today, Drubney bruises with the full impact of his mistakes.

Every day murders.  Fourteen posted on the board just this week.

The priest says nothing.

My name is Drubney, he says to the void.  You know what people call me?  Doomsday.  I’m like an atomic bomb, Father.  You should see me.  I don’t do a thing right.

We all make mistakes, says the priest.  We’re human, and that’s what humans do.  Tell me more about why you’re here.

Drubney thinks.  He’s getting a cramp in his left knee.  He wants to piss, right there in the box.  I’m just so scared, Father, he suddenly blurts and begins to cry.  The thing is…I didn’t want to hurt nobody.  This girl with the eye is going to come and bite me in the ass.  She is, Father.  I know it.  She wasn’t lying.  She does know the mayor, I can tell it in her eyes.  Or, her eye.  Ha.  Drubney coughs.  If I get fired my job I might start drinking again.  Then I’d lose Helen, and my place.  I can’t— Why do I do so many fucking stupid things, Father?  Why does God create someone who doesn’t know when he’s headin’ the wrong direction?  I just want to keep my job.  I don’t want to go in front of the Board again.  I hate it every time.  I shit my pants.  I hate it.  They scare me.  Pause.  I’m scared.


The priest sighs.  I can’t help you with your job, or what you’ve done to that woman’s eye.  What I can tell you, though, is that God is with you.  He is with the missing children and their families and this city, even in our darkest days.  Do you understand?  You have to put your faith in God that you are here for a reason.  And a good reason at that.  You came here to this church because you believe in the will of God.  Don’t you?  That will is going to guide you to great things.  God has seen your actions and knows your heart.  He will make you whole if you ask for his presence, and forgiveness…Does this help, my son?

No more breathing through the box.

The priest puts his fingers into the lattice.

Hello?  Are you there?  Hello?