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The Dead Man's Burden(4)

By:Matt Bird


I wait two hours for the meeting to begin,watching patiently as people shuffle in and take seats wherever theywish. I stand at a pulpit at the front, prepared by one of the girl’sfriends. He still has the proper use of his hands. Mine...  minearen’t so useful these days.Once people have stopped dropping over chairs orflopping down in the aisles to listen – I recognize more than a fewof them, including the Philosophy student who obviously doesn’tcare about his laptop anymore – I slap the microphone towards mymouth and begin to speak. I used to have stage fright, but notanymore. My beliefs strengthen my voice.“Welcome!” I yell, extending my arms toeveryone. My bones click. I haven’t raised my arms in a while,except to attack the hall’s owner. I hope that he’ll come out andlisten once his body stops bleeding. “Welcome, my friends. I trustyou got here without being molested by many cops?”There are appreciative chuckles. No, nobody’sbeen touched by the police. The fine officers of the city are afraid.They can sense that something’s happening, and they’re powerlessto stop my movement. I can see why, too, as there are hundreds ofpeople in the hall, and more occasionally peek in through the doorsto listen.“You’ve come here because you’ve beentouched. Blessed. You’ve heard the word, and the word beckons youto listen. My friends, you’ve done right!”There are smatterings of applause. Not strongapplause, but I don’t mind. I’m not so good at clapping either. Ioften miss.“You, my friends, are the beginning of amovement. You have the power to change the world. And though a partof us begs for our bodies to slow down – don’t deny it, I knowyou’ve all felt the urge to give up and embrace life – we mustnot lose momentum! And do you know why?”


The crowd watches me expectantly, their dull greyeyes filled with hope. A few people raise their hands, but I don’twant raised hands. I want screamed convictions. “It’s because weare chosen! We are meant to spread the word, to turn this world intoone of love! To rid it of speedy sadness! I know you’ve seen themiserable state of the ugly edifice that’s been built around thelovely orb that is Earth; now’s your turn to share that vision witheveryone else!”I step away from the pulpit and move closer to thecrowd. The girl holds the microphone for me, though she’s havingtrouble keeping it upright. Judging by her awkward arm gestures,she’s coming along nicely. “I want to hear why you’re thankful.Why you think you’ve been blessed. I want you all to share why thislife we now lead is so much better!”The crowd’s reluctant at first, their yawning,greyed faces shy. Eventually, however, an older man speaks up. Imotion the girl towards him so the crowd can hear.“I used to worry about the bills. The rent. Mydaughter’s education. I worried about a lot.” He pauses.“Yesterday, though, I realized that all that crap is...  crap.Useless. Why worry when you’re...  I dunno... ”“Surrounded by life?” I offer.“Yeah!” He pauses again. “And then I ate mydaughter. Kinda. She’s probably still at home in the closet.”I pat his shoulder. “Don’t worry, you’vedone right by her. Anyone else?”An elderly woman stands next. “I had so muchtrouble walking that I was embarrassed to go outside. My limp washorrible. Looking around, now... ” She gazes at the crowd andsmiles. Everyone smiles back. “I’m just like the rest. Nobodyhere judges you if you can’t walk.”


I playfully mime an old man struggling to crossthe floor, which isn’t much of a stretch. I can barely bend myknees. Everyone laughs. “You’re among friends here! C’mon,anyone else?”The voices in the room rise, and my new convertsrise with them. There’s an energy here, a strange, patient, joyfulenergy that seems strong enough to shake apart every body in theroom. Within moments I can barely sort one voice from another.“I was a businesswoman with constant demands!Now I can stare at mice and just not care!”“I tended tables! Before I came here I bit acustomer’s nose and loved the taste!”“I was an insurance broker! Now I know that youdon’t need insurance if you just stand in one spot all day!”“I used to love sex, but then my penis fell off!Life is so much simpler now!”I return to my pulpit amid the sea of love,exulting in the power of this movement. I barely have to describewhat needs to be done. Everyone already understands, just as Iunderstand. But that only includes the people in this room,and a smattering of others who weren’t fortunate enough to see themessage leading them here tonight. There needs to be more. The worldneeds to understand. The itch in my mouth tells me so, demands that Ispread the joy of this word.The girl hands me the microphone, and I speakagain. “My friends, you are all in the right. But there’s anentire planet full of people who don’t understand, and they need tobe shown the way. Right?”The crowd offers a strong, undeniable “Yes!”,their arms pumped into the air. I notice more than a few waywarddigits raining down amidst the assembled. I guess those who are truly‘in the know’ don’t need complete bodies.


“Then it’s time to get out there! Tonight!Now! We must begin this movement and spread understanding and loveacross the globe! We must-“But I’m interrupted, as the back doors suddenlyburst open. A contingent of police officers pushes their way through,all carrying guns. Apparently authority has decided to brave thestreets. They freeze, though, because they obviously hadn’texpected what they’re seeing now, hundreds of frozen face, pale andyawning, watching them.I break the tension. Raising my voice as high as Ican, I scream a battle cry. “Embrace them! Begin the revolutionnow!” And my converts, their mouths opened in delight andacceptance, rush forward to embrace their soon-to-be-brothers.Even authority deserves happiness.Chapter 5As the warriors of my philosophy waded out intothe streets with their mission clear and their path obvious, myeyeball fell out of my head.This marked the first truly sad moment of therevolution. Not because I hold any lingering attachment to my bodyparts – it’s clear that the philosophy of happiness has no usefor the flesh, which is good because ultimately my body will returnto the Earth it loves so much – but because I’ve lost half of myability to watch my message spread. That’s a sad, sad thing.It’s strange, watching your vision literallyroll away from your body. I knew something was wrong the second myeye went black. My vision had already faded substantially in thateye, to an almost a milky white, and then, suddenly, pop! Out itwent. The last thing I saw was a brief shot of my eyelid. Then I wasscrambling to grab my eye before it rolled off the pulpit.


Unfortunately, the girl grabbed it first. Shepopped it in her mouth and crunched. When I asked her why, sheshrugged. “Sorry, but you’re an important guy now. I wantedsomethin’ to remember you by, in case you don’t need me afterthis.”I let out a breath and smiled. Oh well. Couldn’treattach the sucker anyway. “I’m no more important than anyoneelse here, you know. We’re all equal. That’s kinda the point.”The girl smoothed my cheek and returned the smile.“Bullshit.”Maybe she’s right. Maybe she’s wrong. I don’tknow. What I do know is that, now, looking outside the meeting hall,watching the converts mill about the streets – there are more thanI’d thought, much more, bolstered by a few lucky cops – themovement has really begun. It’s not stuck in my head or on somedinky website. It has form. It has strength. It has shape.It’s also bloody. But that’s okay. I don’tknow much about history, but I do know that the crusades of old werebloody. And, by god, they got shit done.These people have taken my words to heart. They’respreading out into the streets in great waves, and though the goingis slow, I can hear their voices. They’re calling out to theirfellow man to accept their love. They’re singing.And why not join them? I wade out into the masses,followed by the girl and her friends. Within minutes a larger groupforms around me, and I wonder if the girl wasn’t right. Maybe I ama leader. Who would have thought that a simple IT tech from a crappycollege could become a leader?I don’t feel any pride over the fact, of course.Pride is vanity, and vanity is foolish in an uprising the likes ofthis. Pride takes me away from the simplicity of my life. So I turnmy attention, instead, to reaching as many unwashed savages aspossible. They need to be shown the error of their ways.


My group swells as we parade down the streets, theconverts forcibly entering every building they can reach. Thebusinesses are the first to go, the restaurants and pubs that areopen all night: I see vast numbers of the converts pushing their waythrough these doors, and from within I hear the wailing of poor soulsexperiencing their first taste of real fear.You fear what you don’t understand. These menand women will soon understand. Looking to command by example – not that theconverts need help knowing what to do, though any good leader shouldjoin in the fun – I lead my group to a closed shop. The lights areoff, but I know people are inside. They’re jabbering quietly intheir light speed language, so low that I can’t hear them. But theitch in my mouth, oh, it announces their presence as plainly as thepinging of a radar screen.“Smash through the windows!” I roar, and myconverts, heedless of the dangers, assault the front of the store.Their strength is phenomenal, and so is mine. I have no troublebreaking windowpanes with a few determined slaps. I notice a shocked face cowering in the darknesswith my one good eye, and I reach for it, hungry for the skin,wanting so much to dispel the fear. “Don’t run! You’llunderstand! Everybody will understand soon! Life is so simple!”Heedless of the broken shards of glass stilllodged in the window frame I crawl into the store. My shirt ripsunder me, and my belly slides open thanks to the mess we’ve made.It doesn’t hurt, though, and I collapse to the ground with anungainly thud, pulling over a rack of buns. None of my followersjudge me; indeed, they eagerly follow my example. Don’t worry aboutthe flesh when the state of the spirit is at stake.I pursue the savage – and she is a savage,they’re all savage – to the top floor of the low building, agrocery store. None of the food appeals to me. The itch demandsflesh, and I’ll give it flesh. My converts follow, all of themfaster than me but all remaining staunchly at my heels. I’ll haveto teach them not to respect my place at the head of the pack somuch.