20 March 2009


By Curtis C. Chen

Genem rode past the parade float every morning on her way into the French Quarter. It sat in the middle of a flat patch of green grass, bordered by creased and cracked asphalt. The grassy area could have been a small park, if it hadn't been separated from the nearby houses by such a wide and potentially dangerous road, and if those houses had still contained children.

The float itself had decayed from its presumed original glory, and whatever structures had adorned its upper level were long gone. It was now impossible to tell what the vehicle had been meant to depict, with the only remaining clues being a ragged layer of dying, dead, or fake blossoms and plywood and chicken wire beneath. There might once have been letters on its side, built out of small mirrored squares, but the legend was now indecipherable.

Was it once used for a Mardi Gras parade? Had it been built for a school event, commissioned for a birthday party, involved in some other celebration of civic pride? All those possibilities seemed equally plausible and melancholy to Genem's untrained eye.

The expedition had set up camp in Metairie, due west of the worst flood damage. Junis, their putative leader ever since Bant had perished on the rapids and pending further instructions from Capitol, had chosen an old soft drink bottling plant as their primary shelter. While the drays hauled supplies into the factory, Genem had walked around the ancient machinery and found a single unbroken bottle. After she cleaned and washed it, she held it up to the sun and saw its striated green shadow on the gray ground.

"Glass," one of the surveyors had said.

"I know," Genem said. "Why is it green?"

The surveyor shrugged and went back to his instruments.

The sun seemed slow to rise every morning, blinding Genem as it peeked between ruined buildings on her way toward the riverfront. She felt as if that burning disk was mocking her, leading the way to her destination every morning and night but never allowing her to reach her goal.

Her boots were supposed to be waterproof, but Genem could feel her socks getting damp and transmitting the cold from the dark water into her aching feet. They had to leave the drays at the edge of the Quarter, because the creatures refused to walk into the muddy, swollen Mississippi.

On their tenth day of exploring, one of the trackers found something floating down Bourbon Street. Everyone gathered around and waited quietly while Genem unwrapped the bundle and inspected the bones inside.

"Could be human," Genem said, sensing their impatience.

"The flesh has been stripped away," the tracker said.

"Eaten," said another tracker.

"No," Genem said. "It's too clean. Besides, we're not dealing with cannibals."

The second tracker made a noise in his throat.

Genem ignored him and pointed. "See here? Even the cartilage is gone. They probably used chemicals to scour away the soft tissue."

"Why would they do that?" asked the first tracker.

Genem shrugged. "Ritual, I suppose."


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