He slowly opened his eyes. The lids clung together as if smeared with some undefined sticky muck, and his vision was blurry, though he could make out a fat woman in white. The slowly moving blot had to be female, no man was this fat. So.
"What's your name?"
"Deke Gibn." The Dekester.
"What's your pet's name?"
He frowned. Brown hair? Black hair? Large, chestnut eyes, yes. "Clarissa."
"At what age did you acquire her?"
"Thirteen . . . no, twenty three." She had been his first. Had there been others?
The white blob in front of him was beginning to show features, such as small, stubby arms, hard peering eyes, and disapproving, pouting lips. There were specks that might have been warts, lines that could be a logo, or pens in the pocket of a coat, but everything was continually fazing in and out of focus. The tone of voice was clear, though.
"How did you die?"
His mouth went dry, as the memory fled from him. Someone muttered something about 'just happened'. The woman, blankly looking at him, turned over a piece of paper on the small, equally white table in front of her, and took a quick glance at it.
"Ward Seven. They'll know what to do with him."
"This is Graceland, isn't it?"
The woman turned her hard eyes on him. He had clearly spoken out of turn.
"Ward Seven," she said, decisively, and routinely slammed a large stamp on the paper.
Graceland, where the dead walked. It did not seem to hold such horror as it might have, had he been alive. Had he been alive?
"Very good, Deke!" the nurse exclaimed in her high-pitched voice. He tried another step. There. And another. It's almost as if he'd never forgotten. He watched the young nurse, her face beaming encouragement. She was plump, yet pretty, and fairly tall. Her eyes followed him down as he missed his next step, and fell.
He had fallen. They had been playing in the first snow of the year, like overgrown children. Delirious with each-other, and the game. Up and down the garden, the long stretched garden covered in pristine white, and when that was smothered, in the fields, far from the houses. Her long hair flying in the wind as they fought and danced, he shoved her, they tumbled, they lay breathing.
He had feigned a kiss, and shoved a handful of snow up her shirt, or down her pants. He had run, all the way to the other end of the field, where a small patch of wood started, breath scraping his throat and misting his mind. She had chased him, eyes sparkling with malice.
He had fallen.
Graceland, where they made you whole again when you . . . But that was myth.
"This is important, Deke," she pressed, pushing the paper towards him. He eyed her suspiciously, clutching his pen, and bent over it again. She was not exactly stern, but not exactly caring. She was precise. He concentrated on the pen and paper.
Up straight, and down in a semi circle. Up straight, and three arrows level into the wooden totem. Up straight, for the little man with the awkward walk. Looked more like a tumble. Home free, now he just had to copy the totem and . . .
"Deke! This is important!" He cringed at the scolding voice. He tried.
"How would you know? Huh? How would you?"
He threw the pen at her and cried sobbingly, inconsolably, for hours. For her.
He thought of things he knew. He was Deke. It was February. Women were skinny, small creatures, who did not know how to read or write. He lived in a cottage. No, he wanted to live in a cottage. He lived in . . .
"My death wasn't an accident, was it?" He whispered, hoarsely.
"That's what we're trying to establish, Deke."
He went through the motion of nodding, perhaps thoughtfully.
"Does my family know?"
"They do not."
"Will I be allowed to see them? Will I be allowed out?"
No one had actually forbidden him to leave, or tried to stop him. No one consoled him when he cried, no one picked him up when he fell, no one . . .
The place glowed in the dusk, behind and under him, as he struggled up the steep hill. Maybe it wasn't a hill so much as a ridge; as if the white buildings lay in a crater, with an ethereal blanket of pale light clutched about its walls and small parks to shelter it from the cold and calm atmosphere. He easily reached the top. There were no plants here, no underbrush to hinder him, no trees to block his view. Just rock. Debris. Something skittered away hastily in the corner of his eye.
He stood tall and looked about him, to what he fancied to be the south. The light was strongest there. A burning turmoil, hidden behind a thick black cloud stretching from horizon to horizon, resulting in a trickling sickly grey, that hung listlessly over the waste, illuminating . . . nothing.
Nothing north, nothing east, the crater with the buildings west, and beyond that . . . He slumped. After a few minutes, he turned back, down the rocky ridge, sliding more than walking. He suddenly yearned for his walk in the park.
"What day are we, Deke?" He blinked.
"How long have you been in our care?"
He paused, trying to calculate days and dates in his head.
"I can't say."
The woman had gotten even fatter, though that seemed hardly possible. She filled the room. She might smother him, if he wasn't careful. His nurse was beauty incarnate next to the monstrosity facing him. No . . .
"Tell us your dreams, Deke."
He knocked loudly on the door. There should have been no one at home, but the door opened. A stocky black man stood in the doorway, staring at him from behind a half opened door. He could do nothing but stare back.
"You Gibn, aintcha."
He turned, and ran, before the man could catch his arm.
"It's been fifty years, Deke. Fifty three. There has been . . . a delay."
He lay on the couch in his house. He was asleep, but he could hear them talking. She was upset, and they were trying to comfort her. He felt her sitting down next to him, and caressing his brow. Holding back tears. She would always cry. Not to get away with things, not out of evil intent, she wasn't like that. She always cried.
A blanket was laid over him, and he felt her lying next to him, as they had in the snow, her hand on his cheek, the knuckles of his hand barely touching her belly. Oh, but how cold he was, how cold.
"This one is ready for the Hearing."
"I am Deke Gibn, and I do not like my women tame. I know this may come as a shock to most of you, but I will not apologize for my choice of words: women are dangerous creatures. Yet I would like nothing better than going home to my Clarah, and fight with her before resting in her arms.
She is dear to me, and not only because of the pains it took me to acquire her. It is not murder when you break someone's heart to stop it from bleeding, it is not greed when you pay silver to see the fire alight of a mind at whose thoughts you want to warm yourself for the remainder of your days. It is not a crime when you steal what is rightfully yours. Never mind who she was. She is mine, now.
Nor is she meek, as she was supposed to be, nor is she barren of life and death, as you would have her, nor does her flesh offend the eye, full as it is, and real. You speak of lure, but the fascination is ours; you speak of deceit, but lay your weapons at her feet readily; I heard your clamor, and say you are blind. You must be."
A flash of pain had gone through his chest, pain so sharp it stunned his entire body, making him unable to grasp its origin. A stake. He looked at it, incredulously. The sharp end of a broken and shattered pole. So hard to breathe.
"When the bells of her laughter tolled in the sanctity of her breath, light crept in and whisked the turmoil from my mind. I felt her cold hands touch my head, and call for warmth; I felt her lips expel the chill from my heart; I felt her smile sink to my soul, and paint it with a soft expectation that will never find words. I have felt it since the first time I truly laid eyes upon her, and I feel it even now, when she is so far from my sight, she might just as well have never existed."
How quickly it all numbed. How quickly reality shrank to this, to agony, blotting out all the senses. Only a vague impression of the girl's face lingered. Unreadable. Crying.
"Deke Gibn. Considering the evidence presented, and following the regulations laid out by TBU, it is the opinion of this Council that your death, whatever the circumstances, was an accident. The simulation may be terminated."
Blood spilled from where the long but innocuous shard of the frosted fence post protruded from his chest.
He grasped for the hand that had slipped. Wide-eyed,
Deke Gibn inhaled sharply, deeply, and pulled. Lying in the snow, tears
falling on his face, he died.