Settings

   The buildings they made were dangerous to visit and the Makers themselves were dangerous to be around. As is known to all, the Makers were Improperly Engineered and Caused Many Deaths. These were the sacrifices we had to make and if I speak in generalities, it is because you couldn’t know all that we had to know. I don’t know that we can any more either. Maybe it is simpler to recognize that the Makers, a kind of lean and muscular industrial machine, continue to be deployed long after any constructive purpose can exist. We are surrounded by their buildings already. No one lives in them. No one can. But I guess no one really cares. We are still developing.
   The Makers are inclined toward savage reconstruction. They lack meaningful safety constraints. Some of their structures are magical palaces of tree leaf, cardboard and flesh, and such things should never be allowed to exist. But I cannot say that out loud.
   They came from a Nation Historically in Decline. I explain it this way because that is how it is explained. As I say, I don’t know who believes. I don’t know why the Makers are still in use. I only know there was a time you could see a horizon, and sometimes I wonder if that was not the better time. You could see further than you could throw a stone. We didn’t use to live in rooms so small, so crowded in upon by buildings no one can enter.
   I don’t know. I honestly don’t care either. I have one of the few high views left.

Physics

  “So, I don’t know why we’re here, and I’m guessing you’re not going to tell me, but—“
   I pause to cough and to huff while I look around.
  “You give up too soon,” she says.
  “The fuck I do,” I say. “And anyway, I give up? Look at you. Ah well shit, no, don’t look at you. You’re, like, cheating death. Right? I just meant the way you look at me.”
   She doesn’t look at me.
  “No, you have that—I can see it—that way of looking.” I sigh. “Fuck me,” I say, holding my chest. “I’m getting a headache.”
  “I said it already,” she says.
  “What?”
  “I said it already.”
   I’m tired, I can’t breathe, I watch her like a tired vulture—stooped and leering—but only because I’m about to fall over anyway.
  “Wait…” I step backward. I curse. “No.”
  “No,” she says.
  “No?”
  “No. It is not me sapping you of strength.”
  “No? This isn’t some vampire show of yours? I just want to go to sleep right now and intellectually, that’s about the last thing to do, don’t you think? Look around, right?” I sweep my arm around at the stilled men—accidentally bumping one guy, like running the back of my forearm into a tree—and I curse again. Not from the accident, but from how I seem to be failing. All around me is beauty, and I am falling to pieces.
  “Wait…” I put my hands on my hips. “The air, the water, these men… but not you, and not me—that doesn’t work, you can’t stop all those parts and not stop us too. The physics is wrong. I can’t breathe, I can’t get air, but I can move?”
  Sweeping the air is like moving through water.
  “I should stop too. My blood like water, my body like theirs… my brain. For fuck’s sake, my mouth too. Why doesn’t it?”
   She watches past my shoulder. Were I to type up her pose, I’d call her standing on the edge of looking to her wrist for a watch that isn’t there but she knows too that I am. That’s where her eyes lay, not over my shoulder, but suspended somewhere halfway between this one annoyance, me, and some other annoyance, whatever is right now late for her.

Rescue From Without

   I’m yanked backward. The kid has me by the collar. The girl takes my arm.
   I’m suddenly and instantly savagely angry. Even as I stumble, I have condemned these two. They might change that with their later actions, but they will pay for this one. You do not grab an officer of the law, much less this one that is me.
   But the front doors are under assault too. Neighbours. Women in high heels. Short workers in woolen suit coats. A sudden and great many pressed against the glass. Squashed in among them an old man shrieks. One of the door shatters and bellowing bodies fall inward and tumble down beside my table.
   I yell at them, “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING!” I suppose that applies to everyone because I slip the boy’s grip too. If I had a stick or a tool, I would beat all of them. “GET OUT OF HERE!” The grumbling, moaning mass barely shifts at all. They press closer if anything. Absurdly, I am reminded of riding a train and how like an attendant I am, shoving people backwards, refusing them entry.
   No one fights me. They barely even look, just roll their eyes and paw the air. In frustration, I may even kick a neighbor. It is their own fault. No one believes me in that regard. They won’t believe how worthless and wasteful this sickness is. How useless the sufferers become. And how deeply, truly, significantly, they should NOT AT ALL BE KEPT IN TOWN.
  “GOD GLARE AT YOU ALL!”
   A hand sliding up the back of my leg upends me and I comes down cursing on me elbow and shoulder. That old man, the first of them in here. God glare at him, the most awkward man alive, strains forward with black and hammering jaws and takes a mouthful of my trousers.
   I slides backward, pulled bodily away. Coincidentally jamming my instep into that man’s chin and tipping his head hard backwards. With which result I am both pleased and horrified.
   The boy has his mouth to my ear, which is unpleasant. “Come on,” he whispers.
   Previously so dull, the worst kind of stupid, my neighbours have come into some manner of alertness. Tables squeal forward under their push to get inside. “Going up.”

   Immediately on the left through the back door are wooden stairs. The grinning man perches there.
  “Out the back,” I says.
  “No, no,” whispers the boy. I slips past anyway, down the slim hallway. “Oh,” I says and there I stops. The girl pushes past.
   There is a back door, and it is open a crack. Enough to send a dim spear of morning light across the floor. And that room is piled with people. Sprawled among much abused cooking tables and before cupboards. The owner lies among them, head and shoulders thrust into the far corner, bulging at the belly, identified by his blue shop coat. He bars the door.
  “So you see?” says the girl.
   I don’t see. I don’t look. She steps over anyway. No one is following us. I sees her black boots. She holds out her hand, sleeve pulled back. I looks at the roof.
  “No,” I says. Shakes my head. I has to take her elbow and guide her arm away, turn her aside. “No, thank you” I tells her. “Just leave me alone.”
   Into the stillness steps the inspector.

The Belly of The Whale

   Dead man slides inside when I pull open the door. I squeal. What angry shouting is going on up front blots out that particular shame, but I’m going to remember it, even as I watch the man flop to the floor, because I know him.
   But I don’t know the fellow pawing his way in after him. I’d like to tell him to hold it right there but he has hands on my uniform sliding down my front. I step backward. The guy falls forward right down on top of the owner of this fine eating establishment. “Hold it right there,” I say.
   There’s a third man out there too in the back alley, splotching forward in the rain, gripping himself by the arms.
   We are, I realise belatedly, surrounded.
   A good golden dog shoots out into the rain from behind me, bounding over the two men in the doorway. Not modest, those dogs. But they will tackle a walking dead man and that’s what we have them for. Dog leaps for the fellow’s midsection.
  “Door!” I bellow.
   I have to kick away hands. “DOOR!”
   Instead of help with the mess before me, I first get elbowed, then shouldered, then wholly pressed forward into the wall beside the door. None of this is what any of us have practiced. With my cheek flat to the wall I curse the lot of them. The plague is upon us and we let it straight in.
   I’ll not be dwelling on my own role in that. If I hadn’t opened the door, we’d all be squashed in here regardless. The snuffling, shouting and outright screaming says there are a lot of people out front, a whole lot more than there should be, and my god we’re all going to die.