Oasis of the Damned
There’s a graveyard in the playground.
Children climb the tombstones every day and proclaim themselves the Kings and Queens of the Dead. Oppose my rule and end up like these men, they’d shout. I’ve got an army of the undead, the living could never compare.
Funerals became playtime for them. This town celebrates death so long as it’s painful and tedious, fingernails ripped out of place, teeth shattered by mallets. But they had a preference. This town loved hanging.
Before the Hush, people here were normal to some degree. As normal as a courtyard of inmates can get, that is. Most of us were exposed somewhat. We tried to lock ourselves in. Others embraced it.
We don’t really know what happened. Only a few have ever gone past the walls. We’re sustained by this strange spring in the center of the yard. Some crazed inmate started digging there after the Hush.
When the water sprung up, they hailed him as a God. He requested they hang someone in return.
We have a ritual here. We drink from the taps after any celebration. Our Council-the Council, likes to have the taps wiped off after any celebration. Anybody caught between our walls had to wipe. When my day came, I refused.
The Council, faces covered, brought me to the gallows and pushed me to my knees. I spat at their feet and struggled to be released. They looked at me, eyes filled to the brim with annoyance. They parted, as the man in charge of all punishments stepped forward. He looked at the table in front of me, dozens of different tools all available for as much use as he pleased. He picked up a whip and slammed it against the ground. Unlike the Council, he bore no mask. He wanted to look us straight in the eye. The corners of his lips, caked with crust turned up in a smile. He picked up my head and forced me to look at him. I didn’t hesitate. The man let go, and turned back to the table. An assortment of blades lay by his right hand. He grabbed one, black and curved, shining underneath the sunlight. He walked behind me, placed the blade between my back and my shirt, and pulled. My shirt began to rip as a long slit formed down my back. I clenched my teeth, refusing to let them enjoy this. The man tore my shirt off, and walked in front of me. He smiled, licked my blood off the curve of his blade, and smacked his lips. He stared at me for a moment, expecting a reaction. I gave him nothing. His smile died as he picked up the whip again.
The Council herded the townsfolk away from the gallows but held me back. I told them I had metal to melt. They told me they didn’t give a shit. I sighed and got up on my own, covered myself with a bloody towel. They droned for what seemed like hours about the importance of keeping the taps wiped off. It’ll infect the water, they chanted, our only water supply, granted by our all mighty and powerful God!
Next time you want water to stay clean, don’t build gallows over the supply. Skin cells scraping off against thick rope, necks snapping and saliva dripping. I’d seen it happen a million times, but I can never get used to it. The Council reminded me about the immediate and long term consequences of not playing by their rules. I shuffled back to my furnaces and got to work.
A young fella came by yesterday. Asked me where he could buy some bullets for his Taurus Model 85. Told me he’d wasted his last few on some ‘crows. I told him any sort of revolver with modifications must be approved by the Council. Mentioned the Council doesn’t like any new comers. Fella told me he was a likable guy. I humored him by smiling.
I asked him for his name, told him I’d make sure his tombstone was extra mighty. He laughed. Sonny, he said. My name is Sonny. Handsome guy, cognac eyes and tousled hair. There was oil slicked onto his shirt and blood drenching his collar. I asked him if he wanted a new shirt before his death sentence.
The hangings were a somewhat rare event. They only came every year as a gift to the oh so majestic God the townspeople upheld. I usually kept my mouth shut about it. They’d decorate the streets with dolls and nooses, held celebrations in their homes with roasted ham and garlic knots. Needless to say, they were screwed up. Once everyone had feasted, the name was drawn. If it was a name of a Birther, one of their children would be selected at random. The town would sing a song, and then the lever was pulled. But tonight, things were different.
Children were woken up by excited parents. Everyone was passed a cup. The council wore purple robes and the masks of witch doctors. They like making an impression on the newcomer before they’re to pass. They’d strapped the rope around his neck and were ready to pull the lever, but in a sudden miracle, the power was cut out. The townspeople screeched, angered by this. With adrenaline pumping through my veins, I ran up to the gallows and pushed the council off the platform. As they fell into the water, I helped the poor newcomer get off the rope.
We rushed back to my shop, both sweating and breathing heavily. He looked at me, tears in his face. See? Someone liked me enough to save my life. I assured him that it was a spur of the moment thing, and had someone not cut the electricity, he’d be dead. I rummaged through my drawers and gave him a pack of bullets. I told him to get out of the town before someone saw him with me. He gave me a smile, and asked for my name. I told him.
Briggs, huh? Fits a big guy like you. Don’t worry, that’s the first and last time I’ll say it. With that, he ran off. I returned to the gallows, where the electricity had come back on. There, The Council stood with the city electrician. As they strapped him into the noose, the Council assured the townspeople that they’d get their hanging. The lever was pulled, the electrician dropped, and the taps were wiped. The people gathered around the taps, eager for their sip of water. I held my cup under the tap, and looked at the murk we’d been drinking for decades.
As I walked back to my home, I saw the body being carried behind the playground.