UNITED STATES—The family gathered round the death bed clad in tan and red plaid flannel shirts, reminiscent of Burberry, and collectively felt a shock akin to what the brazen toddler who decides to stick his tongue in a light socket discovers. The gangly raw-boned one, Jake Twelvetrees, fell on bended knee and wailed.

“He’s gone. He’s gone.”

The rest remained standing and looked on with mingled shock and sadness. The brother with the bad dentrifice came over and slapped Jake. “What kind of wuss are you? Cryin’ like a baby. Your Dad would have you whooped.”

“It’s catching me,” the raw-boned Jake countered. “It’s been so long coming.”

Stirred by the cries of grief, the adipose bullfrog of a leader squinted and murmured something. Death had been foiled yet again—but it wouldn’t be long. Zorba now grasped that The Leader’s dark auburn hair was contra natural: it gave the embalmed-looking figure an uncanny air of pickled youth. There was life in The Leader yet.

The sister with the flax-yellow hair and the one shirt that broke with the tan and red motif, served as interpreter for the incoherent drool of mumbles they’d just heard from a dead man.

“Turn him on his side, so he can feel more comfortable.”

Zorba helped in this heavy labor, which took two more brothers and the sister. In the course of this exertion, that would have been lightened three-fold by the least muscular donation on the part of the papal figure, his richly filigreed robe came undone in back.

Devon Zorba, the former detective deeply schooled in the use and maintenance of a poker face, failed to contain a gasp at what he saw revealed. The family gathered looked askance at him and at the glitter playing all over the leader’s lower back. Some of their faces turned scarlet, for there lay exposed on the rounded back and flabby lower spine pods, all different coded colors of pill-pods. Lime-green, canary-yellow, blood-red, mouthwash-blue.

Yellow corresponded to suspension of regret

Blue: selective memory suppression

Hot red: freeing of sexual impulse

Lime-green: amnesia for high crimes and indigestion

The pill-pods so prevalent in the underground cities—they had bars and a selection in 7-Eleven. Besides flouting the technology prohibitions in the land “up there” (punishable by death), this forest of pill-pods was a vivid map of The Leader’s hypocrisy. The thumbtack-size pill-pods crowded in—no wonder the man wanted to be on his side—with all the dubious technology festooning his back.

There were a thousand other colors and hues of pill-pods clustered in The Leader’s lumbar region, all vying for a spot on the neural pipeline and attesting to an elaborate filter of the ancient leader’s memories, moods, dreams and perceptions to hinder negatives and enhance a free and swaggering use of his power.

“Mr. Zorba,” said the sister, “The Leader is resting quietly now. Go on, you were telling us…
Zorba was dreading this. The closer he got to the end of his story, the closer he got to his doom at the hands of the family.’ He cleared his throat and went on. Out the corner of his eye, he saw that the horseman in the bright plains had already crossed to within shouting distance of the farmhouse.

To be continued…

Graydon Miller is the author of the acclaimed story collection “The Havana Brotherhood,” https://amzn.to/29ak9Nr