E. M. Stormo
The dead boy was only two years younger than his killers. Laid open-face on the river, he looked much younger. A child saint ready to rapture. A piglet ready to roast. Solemnly observed, the dead boy tried not to laugh.
They took turns desecrating his body, each one-upping the other. First, obscene gestures. Middle finger. The fig. Sun and a moon. At these the dead boy cracked a smile. Then they moved onto physical assaults. Black eye. Ear bite. Tea bag. The dead boy couldn’t hold back his laughter anymore. He giggled, showing his age. They resorted to insults. Bastard. Son of a whore. Chicken shit. These proved too much for the dead boy and he rolled underwater in delight.
Getting the body in the river was the desired outcome, but they were supposed be the ones to do it. He was under for a while. They waited around, smoked a cigarette, took a piss, and after a minute, thought the dead boy had accidentally drowned, but the river soon parted and he emerged from the waters, cleansed, still dead, with all of his wounds brightly on display. A head-to-toe inspection revealed the secret pattern. They admired their handiwork. Now that he was dead, he was more beautiful than ever. Innocuous nudity transformed into naked horror. A rabid animal stuffed and mounted over the bed.
They studied the pattern. There was a logic to it. Though randomly inflicted, each cut and bruise fit together perfectly. A full-body piece designed by a master tattoo artist. He was more painting then boy, but dead all the same. The others wouldn’t address him directly, although they continued to praise his body longer than they had insulted it.
All these wounds would be revisited upon the surrogate. The oldest one explained how it worked so even the dead boy could understand. There was a boy up in Heaven. An evil boy responsible for all the evils of the world. Disease. Old age. Death. Through their sacrifice, they would compel God to destroy him.
Once a nest was located, the dead boy had to climb the tree and catch the surrogate. The rules said a grey squirrel of perfect innocence, which usually meant a kit two months old, but they weren’t sticklers. Whatever the dead boy came back with would be fine. Crusty, scabbed, or lame. All the better. It would be tame enough to handle during the ceremony.
The sacrifice had to be held up to the forehead so close the bushy tail tickled the nose. This was supposed to be done by the oldest, who chose the dead boy for the task. He handled the squirrel with care, not that it resisted. It screeched, but not loud enough to matter. The oldest one recited the words as the dead boy tickled them one by one. Let our sins fall on this pitiless creature. May God hear our prayers and strike down our enemies. This is the blood of the slain that runs through the streets of Heaven.
Then the oldest slits its throat, but again he passed this job off. The dead boy held it by the tail for everyone to see. There was a final tremble in submission. Though he had done it before, the dead boy failed to kill the squirrel in one shot. Screeching turned into human-like coughing and choking. It was positioned over the blood receptacle, but the squirrel spasmed and missed. There was just enough collected to dab each forehead. The squirrel’s body continued to spasm postmortem. They were all in agreement about one thing: The dead boy died better. He was proud of that.
Everyone was supposed to help with the grave, but there was only one shovel, so the dead boy dug alone. He worked quickly to dig a respectable hole. Once he finished, he dropped down next to the squirrel. Twins in a dirt womb. Lovers in an earth bed. The killers shouted the final curses, directed primarily at the squirrel, and left for the night.
Alone at last, the dead boy let out the laughter he’d been holding in for hours. He laughed himself to sleep, had a laughing dream, and laughed himself awake. He laughed all night long at every star in the sky. His grave was one big joke. The squirrel’s twisted face made him crack up.
By dawn, he was down to a steady giggle. All of the hilarious ceremonial scenes had faded from his mind. To relax, he breathed heavy breaths like corpses do. The others would expect a serious tone. He had to compose himself and try not to laugh when they released him from death.
E. M. Stormo has recent stories in ‘Fresh Anthology’ by Montag Press, The Conium Review, and Thrice Fiction Magazine. For complete works, visit: emstormo.wordpress.com.