UNITED STATES—The old man’s last moments must have been hell: that of the embalmed soul during the first time at a nudist colony. One by one the members of the plaid clan came up and bare-handed took clumps of dust and rocks. At first Zorba did not know if it was part of a death ritual up there. Moments later he suspected piteously that it was being invented the cruelty before his eyes as they added to the hail of debris sometimes round rocks of ancient mortars and rock grinding stones tilled up from their burial under dirt and ashes from centuries before the Vegan Wars. These stone items, painstakingly ground down by intelligent and limitless patience, were precious in “up there” society, as Zorba knew from his researches.
The Leader in his many stilted pronouncements had called these grinding stones, “The apex of perfection—stone and human ingenuity.”
Now The Leader’s own progeny rebelled.
“Take your simple technology,” they snarled before hurling the stone bowls and pedestals at the septic patriarchal flesh rebuffed it with the inertia of a spongy carcass being slowly invaded by rigor mortis.
Indeed, the urinary tract infect had culminated, leapfrogged from kidney to liver, liver to gallbladder, gallbladder and finally the infiltrated the bloodstream. When the statesman’s body was taken to the Underground Cities for an autopsy, this finding explained the hive of empty cranberry-juice bottles tossed under the bed. Home remedies, former detective Zorba tut-tutted to himself, superstitious cures of these poor simpler folks who lived “up there”—if it could be called living.
“It all boils down to love and death,” said the raw-boned one. “The Father/Mother didn’t have love and didn’t believe in death.
“Taking off all your clothes in a snowstorm,” muttered the yellow-haired girl.
“It’s scary if you’ve never done it.”
“The old man did it,” said one of the younger sons who might have been a grandson or great grandson.”
Zorba well knew the Underground Cities had a million analgesics to dilute or soften, from the spinal pill-pods. But however far you evolved you always came back to human impotence before the twin faces: love and death, death and love.
In the time Zorba was lost in his musings , the bulbous form of The Leader had been buried under the thick layer of rocks and dirt clods till only a gangrenous toe remained visible.
There was a grumbling in the sunny sky, not a cloud insight to be guilty of the rumble of stage thunder they all heard from the east. The face was rigid, all right, but the rill of joy like the first trickled from a sloshing aquifer stirred. Zorba felt something pure and graspable, the expansive air, the dance of freedom obscured by the dogma, it was dancing. The sea of wheat shimmered. The golden-eye crows flew away as they prey was buried from sight and smell.
“A charlatan and pervert!” scowled the raw-boned son “Our name was Sterne. You stole Twevetrees from an old medicine man because it sounded better. Well it worked” he yelled at the pile of dirt and rocks. “You fooled the soon and the moon and the stars.” he accused the piled rocks and powdery dirt.
There was an upheaval ahead, there’s be jockeying for power in a land falling to pieces after the vacuum left by The Leader. Zorba felt an acute longing before going back to the Underground Cities; there was a fine world up there, bound by the tradition that whoever had held the hand of The Leader would succeed them in power. But nobody had held the hand, he left the earth, this veil of tears and derisive laughter, loveless.
To be continued…
Graydon Miller is the author of the acclaimed story collection “The Havana Brotherhood,” https://amzn.to/29ak9Nr