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City of the Dead
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 1

Coming down the stairs from the bank, Tauseef saw the dead man for the first time. He was standing right at the bottom of the steps, blocking the way, and made no attempt to step aside.

"Excuse me," Tauseef said.

The dead man did not react. He was dressed in a villager's loose robe, and had a turban on his head which was unravelling so one end straggled on his shoulder. The beard on his hollow cheeks was smeared with dust. Only his eyes moved, slowly, following Tauseef.

"I said, excuse me," Tauseef said, and tried to squeeze past. He'd just managed it when he felt a hand tugging at his coat, dead fingers digging into the sleeve. He turned.

"What do you want?" he demanded. "Let me go!"

The dead man's mouth opened, the stiff bluish tongue within struggling to form words. One of his cracked leather shoes scraped on the pavement, as though his whole body was struggling together in the effort to talk. It was no use, and after a moment he shook his head dismally.

Tauseef looked at him and down at the hand which was still clutching his sleeve. The fingers were gnarled and spotted with flecks of dried blood, the nails blue with dirt. He tugged at his arm, and the clutching hand finally fell away.

"Bloody hell," he muttered to himself and walked away down the pavement. The dead were becoming a real problem now. Once upon a time they were hardly to be seen, but now they swarmed the city, doing what they wanted, where they wanted. There were more of them than ever. And no wonder, too, considering what was going on in the countryside.

Briefly, he raised his eyes to the yellow hills in the west. Beyond those eroded humps of stone and dirt, the plateau stretched, beaten by sun and drought and civil war. Even here in the city, food had become hard enough to come by. He did not want to think about outside.

A low flying drone buzzed by overhead, the whirring propeller glittering in the sun, and there was a flash. When he turned to look, the dead man was stretched out at the bottom of the steps. The drone must have been on one of the anti-dead patrols the city had started in an erratic attempt to do something about the problem. He watched the small drone bank and turn away between two buildings, and was about to walk on when he saw the dead man stir. Apparently the drone had missed.

Then he saw the dead man try to rise, only to fall back again on the concrete. A couple of people had stopped to look, but they hurried on quickly again. A dead man was far too common a sight to waste time over, and besides, the drone might be back. The drone operators didn't always care about who was in the vicinity when they blasted one of the dead.

Tauseef hesitated. For some reason, he felt a sudden surge of sympathy towards the dead man, even though that was silly. There was as much point feeling sympathy towards one of the dead as there was for a piece of stone or a fallen leaf. And yet when the dead man raised an arm towards him, he turned and walked back, and, unmindful of the dirt being rubbed on his coat, helped the corpse to its feet. The drone had done damage. The dead man's robe was charred on the side, and there was the odour of burned flesh.

"Where do you want to go?" he asked the dead man, as though there could be an answer. The dead man clutched at his coat with both hands and stared into his face. One of his eyes was filmy, grey and blind; the other, for all that he was dead, was bright and black. His mouth opened again, as he tried to talk.

"Do you want to go somewhere?" Tauseef said, feeling stupid. "Is that it?"

The dead man shook his head. Not much, just enough for Tauseef to be able to make it out, but it was a head-shake, nevertheless. His clutching hands would not let go of the coat.

"Well, you can't stay here," Tauseef said. "That drone..." he pointed up to the air. "It's going to be back, and next time it won't miss."

The dead man's eyes, the blind one and the bright one, followed his finger. The hands did not relax their grip.

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Genre:Living Dead
Type:Short story
Rating:6.9 / 10
Rated By:28 users
Comments: 0 users
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