Saturday, June 10, 2017


The walking dead

Eileen noticed that the ambassador was dead. Its normally scaly skin showed milky puckered patches where the scales had fallen off. In fact, it was shedding on the carpet. Its eyes were dull, not glassy, and all color had leached from its crest.

"Sir," she asked, "what happened?" Or was one supposed to pretend not to notice? She could not remember.

"I'd rather not talk about it, Deputy Commissioner Johnson," the Kaarshin replied. The tendrils around its mouth fluttered rapidly, but whether this was part of the decomposition process, or indicated some emotion, she didn't know. She'd only been on We're There a few months, and had not interacted much with the native species.

Smalltalk! What to say? "Well, uh, about your trip to the mountains. Will you be staying long?" Oh great, of course it was going to be staying long, it was going to stay forever.

"Just a few weeks, Deputy Commissioner. I have some family business to wrap up."


As soon as the ambassador left, Eileen hurried next door.

"Josh! What's going on? The ambassador, was it... dead? I've read about this, but..."

Josh put down his sandwich and pointed to his mouth. He was chewing a tremendous bite of corned beef on rye. Finally, he swallowed it and then picked up a glass of water. He took a long drink. By this time she was in a frenzy of impatience.

"Molting," he said, and picked up his sandwich.

"Oh. Now I feel so stupid." She went back to her office. The phone rang. It was Josh.

"Gotcha," he said. "No, he's dead all right. Been dead for about four days I would say, judging from the condition of his skin. Talk to you later." He hung up.

So was it like being a zombie? She felt sorry for it. It seemed like a long drawn out tortuous way to die.


After work, Eileen walked down to the Kaarshin quarter. She had never been to the narrow crooked streets flanked by tall windowless buildings. The older buildings leaned in over alleys strewn with fallen bricks. In the shadows, the walls were painted with primitive grace: herds of willowy creatures running, jumping, flying. The artists had used dozens of colors, but their choices were in no way lifelike. A mauve and lime green hidebuck, for instance, would be rendered as crimson and khaki on one wall and solid pink on another. She almost forgot to look at the Kaarshins, so taken was she with their wall art. But when she did focus on the people, she realized that at least half of them were ... deceased. Many had bleached, pitted skin. They were not simply maimed or disabled, they were ghosts in solid form. Some were missing limbs, were completely penetrated by holes, or were simply wearing down to the bone. Lying by a flight of stairs and leaning against the wall was what Eileen first took for a pile of trash. Then it moved, a brief, periodic, trembling, and she realized it was the limbless remnant of a Kaarshin. Why had she not noticed this? Why had no one said anything? It seemed to be in distress, so she squatted down beside it.

"Can I help you?" Realizing it might not understand English, she switched to Karsh and repeated her question. It rolled its eyes towards her, but said nothing. "I want to help you."

Something touched her shoulder. She screamed and leapt to her feet. It was the ambassador.

"It's you. This being seemed so sad or in pain. I wanted to help."

"You can do nothing. I assure you it feels no pain. This is a necessary process."

"I know you don't want to talk about it," she replied. Ambassador raised his hand.

"When some of our metabolic processes cease, others remain active. The body consumes itself to further the existence of the individual. We use this time to settle our affairs. Eventually, everything that must be done has been completed. At this time, an individual finds peace. For years, scholars argued about the deaths of humans. Most did not believe the stories you told. Some thought your species lived in denial; some thought we simply didn't understand your explanations, cloaked as they were in mythic language. Others thought you were misinformed. Finally the wise came to realize that you are the unfortunates you seem. Allow me to express my regrets. Your souls move to the next sphere with unsatisfied needs and unfinished business. This makes it very difficult for them to ascend and many never succeed."

Eileen left the native city and trudged up the hill towards the human settlement. Tonight would be a good time to visit her father.

Publ. The Simian Transcript (book), 2010

No comments: