Children of the Deadlands (Short Story)

Sounds of shock echoed through the witnesses in the gallery and the Judge Prime himself shuddered visibly for a moment before continuing. The man almost looked nauseated. “You were given a position of trust, dear to the public heart, and have sundered this trust most horrifically.”

The defendant, a thin, wiry man named Nedah, leaned back in his seat, lips thinning as his eyes flashed. They were always so condemning, so contemptuous towards his kind. Nedah’s attorney stood his ground beside his client, surprising him.

The man seems to have no fear, Nedah thought to himself as he assessed the panel of white haired men staring back at him in sanctimonious judgement.

Pompous asses.

“Given that you have shown no remorse for your actions we have no other recourse but to confine you within an iron cell for the rest of your days, however long that may prove to be.”

Whispers flitted out behind him, people reassuring themselves that this horrendous man would at last be dealt with – that he would be put away, for the good of the people.

“Bailiff, escort this creature out of my courtroom.” The Judge Prime glared back at Nedah with deep disgust. The man couldn’t put him away fast enough.

So fearful of their own mortality, mused Nedah as his attorney stood to address the assembled judges.

“My client being thusly condemned, there are a few words that he wishes to share with the court.” The man had brass balls. He was very good at his job.

Nedah almost smiled as the elderly judge spluttered and roared, “You put forth that this..monster should be allowed to speak on his own behalf? After what he’s done?”

Nedah’s attorney smiled gently and replied, “It is procedure, Sir Justice. If we, in condemning this man, turn a blind eye to the law in any sense of the word, who is to say how far down that road we may tread in the future? It is a dangerous precedent to deny this man his final words before incarceration.”

The judge’s face flushed and his features tightened as he replied, “It will..please the court to hear the final words of the new ward of the state.”

Nedah’s lip curled at the title. A mockery of what it once meant, it was now a polite way of saying that the state now owned your ass and could do anything its collective body wanted with you. All convicts were wards of the state, in a manner of speaking. As his attorney returned to his seat, Nedah took a moment to collect himself before he rose. It would benefit nothing to shriek at the panel as a lunatic. Such a display would only present them with exactly what they wanted, and he wanted to make a most grievous point.

He took a breath and began, “Justice Hallen and the esteemed members of the panel, I present to you a quandary. One that you were very likely unaware that you were already mired in,” he clasped his hands behind him and continued, “My kind – for you have made it very clear that those who handle the dead are very different than those who traffic only with the living – are a simple people. We have to be. Our lives revolve around the quiet lassitude of cold, retired flesh. We know only it and each other, for you have afforded us little other contact due to your disgust with anything that directly deals with your own lines that have long since passed into dust.”

Nedah paused to collect his thoughts. Many decades ago, the lands of the dead began to visibly outnumber those of the living throughout the Collective States. Being discomfited at the constant reminders of their inevitable demise, it was decided that the ‘bodies of the dearly departed’ were, from then on, to be shipped via a special transit system – the Deadline Express as the residents of the Internment Grounds of the States referred to it – to the Deadlands in the land of the People of the South Winds. Nobody who resided and toiled there referred to it as Kansas anymore. 65,200 plus square miles of nothing but bodies, resting in silent repose beneath the earth, stretching as far as the eye could see. The headstones had long disappeared, replaced by small raised circular granite placards with useful figures for tallying population counts in this new land of the dead.

He could imagine it being quite an unsettling sight for Kinetics – his kind referred to them as the Breathers, those who dwelled outside the lands that seemed to turn farther and farther away from the reality of their own mortality year after year. The denial befuddled him, as it did everybody within the Deadlands. The scientists among the Breathers had yet to figure out how to deny the mortal coil that held them all within the cycle of blood to breath to dirt that they feared so much.

Although it was not for lack of trying.

Nedah continued, his voice growing louder, angrier, “You are likely less aware that fewer food and supplies have been shipped to my people as the years progress. Our numbers grow but your accounting systems don’t seem to take this into account. The only deliveries that come to us in ever increasing amounts are those of your own cold, graying relatives in a never ending torrent that once taxed my people to their very limits. There was much crime and worse between us, until nature in her infinite wisdom provided us with a most unusual solution, one that your people find utterly repulsive.”

A haunted silence passed through the gathered crowd as Nedah remembered the first time his lips pressed with ravenous hunger against cold, dead flesh. He and his brothers were close to starvation, unable to keep up with the inhuman regimen needed to get the bodies into the earth as quickly as they arrived. The bodies had begun piling up at stations throughout the region and something within his people began to shift, to change. They assumed that it was a mutation of sorts, a genetic strand within those who only trafficked among the dead that raced through their veins, providing them with the only solution that would ever be afforded them. It proved to be their salvation. No longer would only the creatures within the ground drink deeply from death’s fragrant cup. It was his people’s shining moment of grace in a land of blasted grey, bleak mortality. The true gruesome irony was that the Breathers had thought him to be the only one within his ranks.

The only devourer, caught in the act.

Now they would know better.

The Judge Prime leaned forward, incredulous as he stammered, “Are you telling me that all of you participate in this wretched act?”

At this, Nedah simply smiled. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his lawyer shift visibly in his seat. At last, something unsettled the man. It was almost reassuring. The courtroom exploded in fury and horror. Nedah laughed as the white hot terror of the revelation echoed in the screams and cries around him. His people had known that it would only be a matter of time before their gruesome secret was exposed.

The question now was this – would the Breathers now choose to annihilate the perceived threat? Would they utterly destroy his people and their own dead in the process? The powers that be had proved themselves many times over to be fond of scorched earth policies, but these hypocrites were so distantly ‘reverent’ of the dead flesh that they carted away from themselves that it was likely that the idea of rending the bodies of their lineages asunder would be anathema to them.

His people had done their jobs very well, even before the turning. The devouring itself had become a reverential act, over time – after the maddening hunger had initially driven them to tear flesh from bone in great chunks in order to assuage their suffering. It also proved to be a boon that this new source of nutrition now provided them with smaller necessary space to store the remains of their beloved charges. Bones took up much less permanent space than meat and at this point they needed as much space as they could get. The needs of the dead were eating up the ground quickly. The graves would begin flowing into other states soon. The post-grazing cairns were proving to be one of the best ideas for conservation in years.

It seemed a suitable solution to him, but the Breathers would likely take a while to come around to their way of thinking, if they ever did. Only time would tell. In the meantime, the bodies still came.

If not his people, who would deal with them?

© Copyright Jhada Addams 2008

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