General Fiction posted November 9, 2017

Not yet exceptional. When the exceptional rating is reached this is highlighted
odd sort of tale

6554, My True

by LIJ Red

The author has placed a warning on this post for language.
I knew it was time to quit this job when I caught the dead girl looking at me.

I had just chipped and levered her out of the stack and put her on the wagon. I was checking a few more of the number tags, and looked around at her and her blue eyes were watching me.

She was naked, and shapely, though the gauntness of starvation had set in. Dark hair, medium height, twenty and a few. Her toe tag said 6554.

We did everything by the numbers. The Russkis used air-injection guns. They shot the people full of poison at the mouth of the cave, then drove them, like cattle, with electric prods into the rambling cave until they dropped dead, then made the slave crew stack them. They stacked them ten deep, enough to cover the three-acre floor of the largest room in the natural cavern. Down here, in the silent darkness of the permafrost, they lay there for years. Until the prisoners of war were released, and one of them told us what he had overheard guards discussing.

About the death caves, here in Alaska.

They sent me to find the cave, and I did. They sent me back with a team to get DNA samples, and we did. They left me and my team at the little town that sprang up, and when a next of kin rode in on the railroad spur line to claim a body, I would come to fetch it out. Most days we brought up six to twelve frozen corpses. America was rebuilding after the war, after Russia conquered Alaska and Canada, and China took Mexico, and half the continental US fell to the pincers with south and north jaws and the worm turned, and Hell ruled the earth. I was at Elmendorf when we found out what they had been doing to the citizens of Canada and Alaska and we lined the POWs up along the edge of a hundred-mile ditch and the M60s hammered hour after hour, night and day, seven days a week...Most of the cave dead had no surviving families, and few surviving families had time or inclination to fret about a dead sibling none had seen in years.

So the near half-million dead lay there in the darkness, with tiny metal tags wired to their toes. We had brought out thirty thousand or so in the endless years I had been ghouling. The greatest genocide yet was fading in the memory of the ordinary citizen, even as the creeping ice covered the long stacks of dead thicker and thicker.

A skeletal gentleman was the other toe-number on my list. I broke him out and placed him beside chickybabe, and pushed the mine cart along the rails,. The rails were kept to a one in ten gradient, so the trip was 2000 feet southeast and two hundred feet up, back into the sun after two thousand days in midnight ice.

The cart's bearings needed grease. They wailed and tweedled, a mournful panflutey crying that was somehow most appropriate. The wind was hooting in the mouth of that cave, like it did most days- the coast was just a few miles west. A ghostly dirge fearful to hear.

The girl was even prettier in daylight. Fabulous eyes.

"I've fallen in love with this one. I'm quitting this damn job," I told Keener, my co-worker.

"Hush your mouth. This is scary enough with getting crazy."

We bagged the two and slid them onto the one-ton stakebed truck. They built the railway spur as far as they could with the resources they had, and we had a twelve-mile drive to the depot. The truck was old, restored, with a V8 that roared and crackled satisfyingly. The road was steep and winding, through thick northern forest. We would beat the darkness, it was that time of year when days and nights existed this far north. We rolled into the town, Dead Cave, naturally. It was a couple of prefab tin buildings and a lot of cheap travel trailers. The biggest building was the metal warehouse that served as train station and morgue and visitor center. We backed up to a dock door, and I went in to see the HSA guy who ran the show.

"I'm done." I said. "Find yourself another ghoul. I'm going back to Georgia before winter falls."

"Well, I have been expecting that for months. You've done more than your share. But why now?"

"I fell in love with number 6554."

He took me seriously for a few seconds, this job did that to you.

"She's from Georgia."

"You're shitting me."

"No. And her kid sister came alone to get her. Better pack your crap and get ready to take the morning train. You can see your darling home."

I left his office and walked through the train station part of the building to the morgue part.

The attendants had rolled the freezer shelves into place. The next of kin had identified the bodies and were heading for the dinky guest rooms to wait for the train. I met the sister head-on after I entered the big room, and wobbled past her.

"Lord have mercy," I said.

She turned and fixed me with big blue eyes. They could have been twins, this girl and 6554.

The eyes were red-rimmed. She was about the age her sister had been when she entered the cave those years agone.

"Sir?" she said in a soft, breathtakingly Georgian voice.

"You are as beautiful as your sister."

"Thank you. You must be The Grit they talk about. The one who recovers the bodies."

"I am. And it would be my pleasure to assist you any way I can."

"Will you tell me about the way she died, and where she was? We have looked and waited and prayed for so long. Since I was eight."

"I'll buy you supper and tell you what I know. Or we can talk on the train. I am going with you, if you're going back to Georgia."

"Thank God. This has been an ordeal for a homegirl. But now that I know...that I have's part of closure. It's shameful but--I am starving."

"There's a tavern with a fry cook who flips mooses. And has plenty of Oly. I'm buying. Come on, you purty thang."

"How long his it been since you took a girl to dinner, mister Grit?" she smiled and I nearly keeled over. Maybe it was her perfume.

"Some feller named Delano was mouthing about a day of infamy."

"Don't make me laugh here. It's unbecoming." She grinned and took my hand.

Once again I tried to write slightly over a thousand words of story beginning with dining out involved, and this one isn't exactly what I had in mind, either.
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