Volume 29, Number 4

Hunger Mouth

E. F. Schraeder

No one knew what kind of plague it was. It was a mystery. All they heard were the cries, daylong screams and wails that were almost too loud to ignore.

First the whiteness came from all directions. A silent blizzard of suits, with plump hands on stiff holsters. Swaggering.

That thunderstorm last night was nothing but history cracking open the sky, which tumbled with their belongings. Soon, empty warehouses filled with gold teeth, eyeglasses, knapsacks. Their papers. Important snapshots and memories. The things that were taken. REDACTED. Things that were found.

Wealth always came from bodies.

History walked with a limp, beaten and bloody as it was, but it came. It may have limped along with a cane, but it knew how to strike.

The VB said it would come to this. No one listened. It was better not to, and besides there was a business to the world now, an urgency that made it easier to move through the day. Stealth wasn’t necessary anymore, not with all the available distractions.
These were bad ideas once before. A tornado of uniforms came with the force of a furnace heating. It swallowed a generation, churning millions of bones to ash. Some tried to run. They always tried to run.

The great experiment … lightning in a bottle.

Hoards clustered outside at the gate, waiting. How they bleated. They shrank into their phones and microphones, their cameras and notepads. No one would have had the sense to call it a disaster. Instead they searched for answers to the question of twenty-seven million people in modern day slavery. Did someone mention the VB? What’s that? They scrambled. Searched.

There’s no mystery here. Just law and consequences. Throw in a match. He spat a brown string of chew onto the lawn and sucked his teeth. He hissed at the cameras and signs, pulled a cap low over the eyes. No one studies the old ones anymore, he grunts a laugh. Völkischer Beobachter. REDACTED.

A dark-haired beauty stood motionless by the fence. Another trans woman at her side, body frail and coiling like she was little more than a shadow afraid to be seen. Shivering, though it’s hot as hell. Hotter. Mascara streaked her cheeks.

“They’ll kill me if I go back,” she pleaded. Her eyes narrowed.

Honey, we’ll kill you here. His eyes say this.

The problem has been contained. Efficiency is an accomplishment of moral neutrality. REDACTED. The lines at the slaughterhouse are orderly and calm. There were no autopsies. No one suspected anything. No one looked for the missing. No one was missing.

We aren’t saying what we’re doing with them. No reason to suspect anyone has gone missing. We’re enforcing the laws.

Checks have been written. Money changed hands. There were a million reasons to give today, one for each missing person. Eight hundred thousand people trafficked across borders every year, and no one knows what to do about it. REDACTED.

A terrifying fissure opened in the sky, a tornado of some sort, and this time a pair of bodies tumbled out whole. Not superman, but a descendant of the original Ubermensch. The fat, squat man with a big voice scurried up the hill pounding on his chest, screaming for more blood. He arrived to take the young. Then a small man fell too, a little Napoleon type with a crust of sticky white hair and beady, mean eyes. The little one scrambled into the black forest like a fairy tale gnome, cursing and foul, his breath stinking of decay.

Bring out your dead, bring out your dead, he called, scrambling to the podium. He had a calm voice, reserved and patient as a teacher or a judge.

It was dirty work he came to do, and dangerous too. Death work.

The researchers holed themselves up in a tower, looking for definitions. Paradigms. Patterns. They crafted careful articles of condemnation and carried their heads high. They signed petitions and sent emails between bouts with fire extinguishers.

On the floor, a woman cradled her son. Her arms clinging while the boy wailed. Her eyes were purple, skin bruised and welted with wounds of all ages. She was a harbinger of things to come. Those were sacred battle scars. She had not eaten in the days it took to make the journey to this better life without fists. She ran to a place where her child would be free.

The boy wailed louder as they carted him away. Deep inside the freedom there lived something else that grew like an angry knot of fungus. Power.

Another small pink man scurried from the forest. He opened a smirking mouth. That is not asylum seeking. He pointed and shouted with the quiet violence of words. We cannot naively believe the things they say.

He smiled while he talked of such things he never knew, never will know, abuses he will never suffer.

A woman hidden beneath the trees clutched a small girl. She wanted to go home, but no longer trusted how to find such a place. Generations ago this land of in-between was her family home. Migrating, they came and went, season after season.

That is not asylum seeking. We will not confirm or deny the status of law breakers and fugitives. Bad people will always lie to you, he says.

That one thing is true.

We will not apologize for doing our job.

History arrived again and coughed, announcing itself in the body of the fallen men. From beyond the press conference came the noises of a makeshift schoolhouse. From somewhere else the scent of flesh searing in a pan. The smell wafted from the cafeteria, definitely the cafeteria. Whatever else, today was a good day to die.

A gardener’s baby laughed until he didn’t. Papa’s phone was confiscated, there was no one left to call anyway.

Green and brown beneath the feet became sand.

A small body slipped into an unfamiliar grasp.

We will prosecute you. A gleeful hungry smile.

Tell them they are safe. Shout it. Almost too loud to ignore, but not quite.

Bad people will always lie to you, he repeats. That one thing still true.