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City of the Dead
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 2

"All right then," Tauseef sighed. "You'd better come with me."

Tauseef's car was old, battered and dusty, and he used it as little as possible now that both fuel and spare parts were becoming extremely hard to come by. On the other hand, just about every other car in the city was now like that, so it never drew any particular attention, including from the soldiers who manned the roadblocks on all the main streets. Only, he had never tried to drive anywhere with a dead man in the seat beside him, and he hoped nobody would give them a second glance as long as he stayed to the side streets and alleys.

Getting the dead man into the car had been no struggle. He'd got in readily enough when Tauseef had opened the door, falling into the seat heavily and flopping back as though whatever power had kept him going all this time had suddenly drained away. His hands rose, like someone attempting to ward off a blow, and fell again to his sides. His dusty beard shook.

"All right," Tauseef said. "I'll drive you out of the town, and then I'll drop you where the drones won't find you unless you're stupid enough to come back into the city. But that's all I'll do for you. Do you understand? That's all."

The dead man gave no sign of having heard. Tauseef shook his head, wondering why he was doing this, and got behind the steering wheel. The roads were thick with the dust the wind blew in constantly from the plateau, turning the entire town yellowish-grey, and even after he'd rolled his windows up he could feel the grit on his teeth.

The dead were everywhere. Never before, he though, had he seen them in quite these numbers. Or maybe never before had he noticed them particularly. After all, he hadn't even before driven around the city with one of them lolling in the seat beside him. But they were everywhere.

He watched one, a young woman, walk right down the middle of the street oblivious to traffic, one broken leg twisting agonisingly at every step. Another one sat on the edge of the pavement, rubbing his hands together, his eyes fixed on the rubbing. Even as the car passed close enough to brush his fingers, he didn't raise his hands from the rubbing. And then there were two children. They might have been brother and sister. It was hard to tell. They were so covered in dust their eyes were clogged with it and their hair, faces and cloaks all of a colour. Holding hands, they slowly walked down the pavement, and people gave them a wide berth.

High in the hills over the roofs of the city, something exploded, a tower of smoke rising and spreading in a mushroom of dust and pulverised stone. There, the war continued, manufacturing more dead for the city's streets, as though the drought and famine weren't enough.

Just yesterday, Tauseef had heard a rumour that the dead were all the fault of the foreigners, who had put something in the air that made them come to life. People said that and threw ugly glances at the huge compound of the diplomatic quarter, where the few foreigners remaining were holed up behind their high concrete walls with the watchtowers and the razor wire on top. People said the drones were piloted from behind those walls, and Tauseef thought that might even be true. But why anyone, least of all the foreigners, would want to bring the dead back was a question that nobody seemed interested in asking.

They weren't really a danger. They didn't attack anybody. They had not, as yet, caused a pestilence. They straggled over the streets of the city, aimlessly wandering from place to place, until they were either destroyed or disappeared again. None seemed to stay around longer than a day or two. Sometimes one would cause a car crash or a soldier would accidentally shoot a living person while trying to destroy one of them, but that was all. But they were everywhere, and they did nobody's morale any good, especially as the drought grew ever fiercer, famine stalked the land, and the war grew nearer by the day.

"Can you hear me?" Tauseef asked the dead man. "Can you understand what I'm saying? I wish I could ask you what happened, what you want – why you're wandering the streets instead of lying in peace. Is that even the same person in you as the one when you were alive? I..."

[ Continue to page 3 ]

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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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