Mortimer Deignsfree stalked a path through the starving souls left in the skids, his vantablack cape sucking the last light out of the neighborhood. He wielded a campfire spade, wrought iron sharpened to a fleur-de-lis. It swayed in front of him, violence threatened to the weary eyes watching.
Mortimer listened to the murmurs of those vagabonds surviving out here, in the old world. They’re the forgotten, fading like wind across sand, the faintest whisper. He heard them gossiping, mumbling between pursed lips. At first just clues, snippets of the wind, before finally he discovered they’re all talking about the dead body decomposing in a shed, behind the big building a few streets back.
They knew who he was. These denizens yield, kneeling on rotten flesh, forging a path for him to continue to the site of this body. Nipping at his cape’s tail, two jet black Fresians tugged his trundling wagon, it’s planks of crosshatched wood tarred black and swarming with flies.
He found the shed under a thicket of golden heather, behind the crumbling remnants of a former tenement building. Deignsfree, the local corpse collector, solemnly hauled the body out from the rancid shed, and with one lunging heave threw the cadaver into the back of his wagon. Flies pulsed from the impact, exploding across the steely blue sky in a kaleidoscope of pestilence.
The villagers ceased pursuit when his roughly-hewn wagon wheels hit the fresh pavement of the Best Society. The Society was only for the privileged few, those immune to life’s troubles.
On the outskirts of the Society’s new arcologies in the shade of opulence, his custom furnace smoldered, producing a clean, never-ending source of energy from his shabby lean-to. He couldn’t consider himself a part of the Society, but he was allowed to live on the fringes so long as he returned every day with a wagon full of corpses. The emitted gases were captured and harnessed for the electricity used to power the luxury high rises where citizens of the Best Society lived.
Out on the wings of one such skyscraper, two adolescents toked perfumed smoke from an ornate crystalline pipe. After a long, meditative hit, one of them spoke.
“We’ll have to drift down to the shops on Sunday,” he said, residual blue smoke drifting from his nostrils. His face is completely symmetrical, bio-engineered, surgical.
“I’ve eaten so much meat this past week,” the young man continued, “everyone knows. They all saw me. You feel me? I need the credits. For my image. Do you feel me?”
His partner stared down, peering nervously over the edge of the ledge to the tiny rotten earth, a mile below. The park here was held in perpetual blossom, blessed by conditioned air, genetic growth hormones pumping life into an oak grove lining the veranda. A few of the other tenants bathed in a communal fountain, prismatic marble doused in quicksilver. The girl nodded, her eyes focused back up on her partner.
“To not reverse the narrative here? Social suicide,” she agreed. “You need everyone to know that you’re proactive about this kind of thing. Or you lose your place in Society. We’ll go first thing in the morning.”
On Sunday, Mortimer awakened, first brewing pilfered black coffee he found from the hills beyond the skids. A rusty spoon scraped the bottom of the tin he scavenged, found airtight in the cobwebbed depths of an ancient suburban home. After, he headed to his workshop, a stifling ochre den of tar and coal. From the adjacent stable he heard his two midnight steeds blithering at their hay.
At his scarred utility bench, he bagged his carbon medallions, the charred remains of the recently collected corpses. Their souls had already been sucked through the dampers of his furnace to electrify the Society. He dropped a token each of human coal in little maroon sacks. Mostly scorched bones, but he knew they were somehow symbolic to his clients. His carbon credits, for sale.
Out on the street, he spread his quilt over one of the empty vendor tables at the far end of the shops, past the samurai paraphernalia and the two sullen fishmongers.
“I’ll take two,” a mythic centenarian crowed at him moments later, her whole body purging, metabolizing, and regenerating it’s cellular makeup before Mortimer’s eyes. His first customer came instantly. This old carbon vulture was a regular of his.
Mortimer passed her the deed transferring two carbon credits to her name. Her purchase felt dignified. Stately. Sincere. Micromanaging your carbon footprint was a necessary evil within the Best Society. The pressure to pull your figurative weight loomed high and intimidating over those lucky enough to live within its borders. Respect your image, lest you be forgotten and expelled, past the wall, to the forsaken skids.
“It’s him,” a voice hissed through the plodding babble of the farmer’s market.
Two young adults stood before Mortimer, dialed into their augmented realities, sub-speaking to an audience peering through each of their points-of-view. They appeared to Mortimer as nothing more than your average teenage couple; awkward, gangly, entirely self-absorbed. Yet they were in the Society, living their Best lives, away from the scourge of the old world.
The boy customer hesitated when he locked eyes with Mortimer. His cheeks, couture plastic, high fashion, flushed the perfect pink upon his sudden embarrassment. The woman tried nudging him forward before releasing an exacerbated sigh and addressing Mortimer directly.
“Hey, you,” she barked, rudely rising above the cacophony. “See this pathetic man? He’s had a cow. Literally. Maybe just a heifer, but it’s all just the same kind of awful. The whole city block is shaming him already. He needs to validate his carbon footprint. Name your cost. Lord knows how high it’s getting these days…”
The young man blew a bubble from a wand shaped like a piccolo flute. Once encapsulated by his cocoon, the two youngsters drifted up, leaving the old world behind, back to the heights of their Best Society.
Eric Farrell hails from Long Beach, California, where he works as a beer sales rep by day, and speculative fiction author by night. His writing credits stem from a career in journalism, where he reported for a host of local and metro newspapers including the OC Register, Patch.com, and the Grunion Gazette. He runs the website stygianspace.com and has fiction coming in AntipodeanSF, Gutslut Press, and Savage Planets.