BY DR. AGONSON
The executioner dons a black hood, his conciliation for this deed, and leaps from the helicopter. The torrents of wind whip around the unnamed man as the vehicle ascends into the skies’ haven. Deserted, he pulls a little white cord from his breast and absently unties the knots it’s in. With a glance at his watch the executioner makes his way south. Reaching under the mask, he inserts the untangled earbuds.
Looking down, the man skims through a playlist while his watch starts a fevered beeping. He cross-draws, unwilling to relinquish his mp3, and feels the hard click of a drawn hammer reverberate through the metallic handle. He settles on a song. An orchestra of strings begin their penitent cries, drowning out the screams of Sergeant Major Thomas.
He is far gone. The face, shriveled beyond recognition, looks like a mummified skull with bleeding eyes. But, pinned above its heart lies the name of this forgotten solider. Someone had tried to bury him—the others?—and now a scrambling torso claws its way out of his grave. The executioner puts a hole in its head. It stops screaming.
The pleading wails of Lacrimosa floods his mind as he fiddles with the watch. The little electronic display counter goes down to five, silencing the beeping. A little arrow indicates the next closest target. Holstering his magnum, he paces toward the lifeless meat and kneels beside it.
“Tom,” he says folding the arms across the chest. “I’m so sorry.”
Rising, the man consults his watch and turns north. As Sergeant Major Thomas shrinks with the growing distance, a black smear resting between hard dead earth and cold morning sky, the frenzied warning sounds once more from his wrist.
At the noise he halts, and draws his flashing steel. From around a mountainous boulder, a wall standing amid the endless plane of cacti and tumbleweeds, it staggers into view. The approaching figure’s military jacket hangs open, swaying with the clumsy steps of the zombified Private Carson. No name tag is needed, this one is fresh. The face is remembered.
“You left us,” it screams, in barely legible words, stopping a moment to raise an accusative finger.
Around the other side of the gargantuan stone the haphazard gait of the revenant Colonel materializes. “I’ll have you court marshaled,” its airy voice proclaims.
The man stands like a statue. With the stillness of a tiger he waits, as the red-eyed Private approaches with its outdrawn arms. Forgetting the terrible indictments, the executioner hears only the notes of the requiem playing under his hood. They sing: Judicandus homo reus.
The zombie’s wooden fingers tickle his neck as the executioner brings the deadly barrel under the wayward ally’s chin. Before his daunting grasp tightens, Private Carson’s head explodes like a fountain, raining blood onto the desert sand. As the corpse collapses the masked figure saunters to the Colonel.
“You worthless…incompetent…” the hunched creature’s words trail off into breathless gasps. The magnum rises to the zombie’s face, pressing into the bloodless skin between the bleeding eyes. The barrel forces the head to look up. He faces his old mentor.
Stopping in its tracks, the grey haired figure looks up into that black mask, and struggles to resume the once trademark pose of that old commander. The spine, unable to fully straighten, holds the Colonel up askew, one shoulder held above the other like a man mimicking a hunchback. The gun ascends with the head, never losing its mark.
“Do it,” the Colonel moans, “for God’s sake, do it.” A crack echoes through the wilderness. The old officer falls against the stone, and slides down its rough wall. The rising sun paints him a bright red, disguising the rivers of blood that trickle down his face.
Still holding his gun he taps the watch. The count reads four. The alarm blazes. He taps the watch. The count reads three. The alarm wails on. Turning from side to side, he looks for the enemy that his watch warns of.
In the east the dawning sun hangs low, filling the horizon with its blinding light. A silhouette breaks the brilliant veil. It sways with every step like a drunkard, its arms swinging wildly through the desert dust. But the hooded man peers into the cool blue westward sky where the arrow of his mistaken watch points. Closer, its hard steps muffled in the forgiving sand, it approaches. With no call or scream, it grows against the sky till, step by step, it comes up behind the executioner.
With a push of the mp3 the song starts over, lacrimosa they cry. The revolver begins to descend, finding its holster at his side. His elbow pulls back as the gun is replaced, and bumps the grasping fingers of the dead man behind him. He dives to the ground. Rolling off his shoulder and onto his back, he looks up into the terrible sun-beaten face of his father crying blood over him. The monster descends, falling on top of the executioner. The gun comes between them and fires.
The head flies backward, and the powerful shot seems to hold the zombie mid fall. The moment breaks and the creature collapses onto the supine figure. Held within his father’s arms he taps the watch once more. Its repetitive beeps silence. A deep choral of men echo, “ex favilla,” as the executioner pushes his father’s carcass to one side. Coming to his knees, the man looks at his watch. It points into the sun.
Rising, he makes his way down the path the creature took, his feet falling over the tracks of his father. Before the old man’s blood dries the alarm restarts its tireless call. He listens to the soft prayer, “Pie Jesu,” letting the music wash over the screams of the approaching Sergeant McDonald and the dutiful cries of the watch. As much as the shifting sands allow the zombie runs at him, its head bobbing back and forth erratically.
“You were always a hard one to pin down, Jeremy,” mumbles the executioner.
The raging figure rushes the masked man. Two yards close to one, one to a few feet, and a few feet to an arms-length. It reaches for his gun. He jumps to the side and lets the stumbling runner fall into the dust. In a leap, the executioner straddles the prostrate zombie. Shoving a knee between its shoulder blades he pushes the rising creature down into the earth.
The masked man shoves the revolver into the back of its head, but then eases the hammer down. Beneath him it screams, blowing the sand into the sky, “I’ll kill you.”
“You have,” he whispers.
He jumps off the figure, allowing it to scramble to its feet. It swivels to face him, sand sticking to the cheeks where streams of bloody tears flow. Before it has time to renew its assault, McDonald’s brains are splattered upon the desert floor.
A tap quiets the watch. All that can be heard is the requiem and the sounds of breezes playing with the sand. A numeric one promises the duty almost fulfilled, and an arrow indicates the direction. He walks off into the west, the rising sun on his back. The song ends again, and he goes on in the desert silence.
She sits alone in the shade of a half collapsed tent watching a handful of sand slip through her fingers. From behind she hears a beeping growing ever louder as the sands of time fall into the wasteful expanse of desert. She turns to see him coming round the corner, his gun shining in the sun like a star.
“They’re dead,” comes his coarse whisper.
“I know they’re dead,” she replies facing the cool blue of the western sky. “I counted the shots, and you never miss.” She reaches under the earth and lifts another handful of rough sand. “I counted the shots and wondered who was still alive and who had fallen. Five shots and they were all fallen dust,” she says, letting the final grains fly into the wind. She grasps some more sand.
“They were already dead,” he sighs.
“The dead don’t walk,” she argues.
“Not now, they don’t,” the executioner rejoins. “Do you know what happened?”
“They got sick?”
“We were transporting something. It got on Tom. I left to get medical help. Do you remember?” She begins to scratch her eyes. “I thought maybe some of you might have survived…” he begins circling her as his voice trails off. “Did you get any on you?”
She lets out a terrible scream and beats the ground with her bloodied hands. “You killed them!” she shouts jumping to her feet. Her eyes stream with blood. Her tears fall onto the desert floor. “You left us, you killed them, you hate us—” the torrent of accusations are silenced with the final shot.
It echoed through the morning, and long into the eventide, filling the quiet desert with its remembrance. It echoes even now, haunting the hooded man wherever he goes. Into dreams and visions it hunts him. Into silent repose and drunken revelries it calls. No night, no day, no sleep, no work, can drown out the memory of his sordid duty.
With a tap the watch is silenced and the job is done, but who will answer the echoes?
liesten to my beautiful voice: