Chuck’s challenge for the week: Begin with a body.
Usually I can tie the inspiration for these stories to something going on in my life, but for this one… man, your guess is as good as mine. It’s a little bit Soylent Green, a little bit The Matrix, a little bit Grapes of Wrath. And it’s a bit twisted, as usual around here, but … what can you expect, when you start with a body?
“Got a shipment.”
He sits down right across from me, heavy boots and work gloves stained brown, putrid smell coming off his skin. I perk up. Hasn’t been a shipment in months, and the whole town’s running low. I look him up and down. He looks honest enough if a bit dingy, but who can tell? “They clean?”
He shrugs from under a floppy straw hat. “Does it matter?”
He’s got a point. Spot we’re in, we’d take ’em, clean or not. Technically speaking, it’s illegal to toss an illegitimate body in a harvester — that is, one that hasn’t officially been released by its claimants — but technically speaking, after just a few minutes, a harvester renders a body unrecognizable. Newer models don’t even leave behind usable DNA, they’re that efficient. The bio-nanites work fast, and they’re merciless, chewing up all the soft stuff and spitting out a softball-sized ball of bone and gristle. Used to be, we’d bury those as a way of payin’ our respects to the dearly departed who are now powering our garage doors and air conditioners, but that almost seems silly these days. The kids invented a new game with ’em and it’s taking off. Skeleball, they call it. Got uniforms and everything this year. My own kid keeps bugging me to come to one of his games. If I can make the time.
“So, you want ’em?” He’s looking at me from under the brim of that ridiculous hat, designed no doubt to hide his face, but nobody around here is going to look twice at a guy bringing in fleshy gold like this, not us, not here.
“Damn right, we’ll take ’em. How many you got?”
“Fifty or so.”
“Jesus. Where’d you come by ’em?”
“Big dope shoot-out on my block. Leader of the Wrecking Crew took out the families of a couple of Wandering Dogs. They hit back. Next thing, the block is engulfed in flames, and it’s bodies everywhere you look. Police cut back months ago, they still may not be there. And me… I was just trying to clean out my garage, and I happened to have a U-Haul handy.”
I dunno who referred him to me, and I dunno who might be chasing him. What I do know is that if I don’t move fast, he’ll take his haul on to the next town along. Time to make a deal. “How much you asking?”
Back in the day, I understand they used to have a guy who’d dress all in white with a goofy hat and bow tie and deliver milk to your door. Back before preservatives and whatnot, when you had to get it fresh from the teat. This is sorta like that, I guess. Preservatives of any kind screw up the processors, so the fresher, the better, and I’m driving a flatbed pickup door-to-door piled with the recently deceased. Some of ’em have bullet wounds, some have their throats slit, some are burned half to a crisp… all ages, too, and colors, a real smorgasbord. Some people are particular about what they put in their harvesters, like Drucker. He meets me on his sagging back porch and spits a brown stream of goo into a bush.
“Shit, are they all murdered?” He puts his hands on his hips and scowls.
“Earl, all I know is, I’ve got your ration for the month. Now, I came to you first, but what you see is what I’ve got. So pick something out that you like, I’ve got a lot of stops to make this morning.”
He decides on a younger girl, about sixteen, who might look at peace if the back of her head didn’t resemble an exploded sausage omelet. Tosses her in a wheelbarrow and nods at me as I pull the truck around.
“I don’t need to tell you to get that in your harvester right away. Never know who’s gonna come looking for ’em.”
Drucker gives me a smile and a wave, which I return. I flip my shades on and beat a little rhythm on the steering wheel. It’s a good morning. I never understood the law of conservation of energy in high school physics, but I sure as shit do now. You live your life, sucking up all the energy around you as you travel the world, or make your fortune, or push out a bunch of kids, or whatever you do. Then you kick off and end up supplying the juice for your neighbors to sit around microwaving processed burritos and watching old sitcoms. Nothing is wasted. The past becomes the future.
My last stop is at my own house. I back the truck up and slide the corpse right into the maw of the harvester. It’s missing an arm and the rest of the body is charred all over. Folks in town didn’t want it because it was unsightly, as if that mattered. But more than that, the missing arm means a couple days’ less juice we’ll get out of it. But I don’t mind scrimping a little bit. Comes with the territory.
My wife is making pancakes when I come in, absolutely gorgeous in that red polka-dotted apron. She doesn’t even wrinkle her nose at the death-smell clinging to me.
“Surprise delivery?” she asks, even though she knows already, since I texted her while I was making my rounds.
“Drug war or something.” I kiss the side of her neck, wrap my arms around her waist. “We lucked out.”
She beams at me and hands me a plate heaped with sweet-smelling flapjacks. The synthetic syrup is so authentic-smelling it makes me feel eight years old. “Well, then, guess it’ll be a quiet couple weeks around here, won’t it?”
I nod, sip some orange juice, and plunk myself down at the table. “More than a couple, if we’re lucky.” It’s been months since old man Jarvis killed his wife since he couldn’t pay his power bill, and it’d been almost a year before that. Today’s delivery will keep our community happy and healthy for a while.
The flapjacks taste like heaven, even better since nobody had to die to make ’em.
Well, nobody in our community, that is.