This is an age when a great many people perish in a remarkably short span of time. Here. Not here. Why is that? What calamity, manmade or nature-born, is the culprit? Do we blame war or disease? Famine or earthquake? Should we check the official records? Who really bothers to read stale lines of text, those mere words and clotted phrases? Do you know anyone like that? Have you ever known?
So many millions swept into the void.
What is it about large numbers that so confounds us? What quirk of human nature spawns this fascination with quantity? Tick Tick Tick, the digitals mount up in our thoughts. They build themselves into neat piles Tick Tick Tick and reach for Heaven.
Aren’t we the oddest creatures?
In a future age there is the need to manage literal mountains of cadavers. What’s the plan? How to proceed? It is a puzzle that baffles the greatest of human minds. Something has to be done, yes. Not simply to forestall disease. What about the unappealing sight of bloated flesh? The arms and legs sticking out at ridiculous angles? The ghastly inhuman rictus? Fire is considered an effective method of disposal. There is beauty in the dancing of flame. Throughout history how often the hungry pyres have wiped clean a slate. It reminds us of the sun reappearing each morning. The sun forever reborn, giving hope. In immolation lies the hint of resurrection. Something better will come.
The problem with cremation: a lingering bacony odor to simultaneously inspire repulsion and hunger.
Burial? For the myriad deteriorating carcasses?
Not with the current cost of real estate.
After thorough calculation a committee is formed and decides the best solution to be a series of warehouses. Remove the deceased to a place of permanent cold storage. Out of sight, out of mind. The warehouses will have cavernous interiors. Row upon row upon row of multi-tired shelving units. Automated cooling systems and precisely controlled humidity. Ultraviolet light sources to halt bacterial decay. Electronic traps designed to prevent rodent infestation.
That’s the way to stockpile the dead.
stock • pile \ 'stäk-ֽpī l \ n (1920) : a storage pile of: as a : a reserve supply of something essential accumulated within a country for use during a shortage b : a gradually accumulated reserve of something.
A corpse belongs to the second meaning. In no way essential, but necessary to accumulate.
A new governmental department is formed to oversee the management of the warehouses.
Not to be confused with PBJ.
Peanut butter and jelly.
The PLB is not a spiritual organization. The public must understand. Clarification is in order. Pay attention. The PLB is not about what happens after the cessation of the life process. Post-life, in this case, has no connection with the next stage of existence, if any. The government has no opinions along those lines, public or private. Don’t bother asking. Just forget about it. The Post-Life Bureau is concerned with the corpus, not the spiritus. Why is this? Should the body be considered more valuable than the soul? Who’s to say? But a choice must be made. The government must determine how best to expend finite resources. Limits must be set in place. Check your history. This is how it has always been.
The warehouses cost a pretty penny. Maintaining them isn’t cheap.
Warehouse guards. They like to be paid.
Speaking of guards, there is one who works at a facility deep within the northernmost province. He suffers from anxiety and takes medication before each work shift. Night after night, alone with the dead. The quiet really gets to him. He swallows pills and hopes for the best. He crosses himself and mouths a soft prayer. The pills dissolve on his tongue and are absorbed by the bloodstream. The guard feels himself go lightheaded. His feet seem far away and attached to someone else’s body. It could be worse the guard thinks. The stories you hear about drug dependency. Wow. The stories.
Speaking of stories, this guard is an amateur writer and during his breaks (ten minutes every three hours plus a thirty minute meal period) scribbles on a small pad bound in blue leather.
He has a great novel in mind.
“The Archipelago of Shame”
Officially the archipelago has no name. Officially it does not exist. One cannot find it on any map or globe. Nobody on the mainland dares speak of it; the State has many ears and even more eyes. Prisoners, or relocated persons as the State designates them, arrive on special transport ships crewed by machines. These machines possess a human shape, but are nothing like human. Their flesh is steel, their brains composed of diamond and cobalt. They man the State’s black-hulled vessels with an inescapable efficiency. These crewmembers have the souls of demons or so the rumors go. . .
The first paragraph of what the guard plans as his magnum opus.
It takes years to write.
In addition to prose the guard transcribes conversations conducted with the silent population of his warehouse. The conversations are sometimes long and sometimes short. The guard doesn’t use what most people would consider as normal language. The guard often employs words found in no known dictionary. The conversations emanate from the dead and thread their way into his thoughts. They wander from the brain and travel down the nerves, spilling from his fingertips and onto blank paper. This strange process causes the guard to worry that madness has taken hold. What if. What if he. What is he is losing. It.
Then again, maybe the pills are to blame. Lord knows, the guard is no doctor.
Why do we fear madness? Isn’t existence inherently insane? Are there not entire philosophies that make that idea their central axiom? There is elegance to such a postulation. Viewed in such a light, what’s the harm in being a lunatic? How is it even an issue? And who is to decide what’s crazy? Can that person be trusted? Might his own sensitivities not be clouded? Is relevant discussion of the matter even possible? How is the subject worth a minute’s lost sleep?
The guard waits for the shelves of pale blue flesh to respond to his questions.
He is a patient man. It is a ridiculously long wait.