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The dead are singing. Barlowe just hums.

They don’t seem to want to include him in their interlocking hexagons, but they don’t mind his tagging along. They’ll form up and shuffle after some whiff of blood (as strong to him, now, as the taste of blue cheese); if the source is behind any particular obstruction, they’ll complain and bump into each other for a while. On scavenging missions (never on hunts) Barlowe smashes the wall open and lets them feast.

They’re not really digesting when they eat–he’s figured out that much. They’re liquefying it, preparing it, like ants or pigeons.


Barlowe smells something good and immediately finds himself vomiting. It’s not a twisting, retching sort of vomit; as with the wall, he can no longer feel any strain on his muscles. His body is simply filling his mouth with bile.

The smell leads him to a blood-slick pit of his fellows, frothing, groaning and gnawing at shards of skull. Barlowe puts down a finger and wipes a bit of gray matter off someone else’s uncaring shoulder. He’s very hungry. He puts it in his acid mouth.

A bit rich, he decides, and resolves to look around for a cheese shop.


Barlowe has, of course, been dead before: born blue and tiny, he took his first breath thirty seconds late, and it stuck. Apnea. Life is a cat, he learned, ready to sneak away on any given night. He learned to be ready, to snatch it back.

He’s got the cat’s tail now, but the cat’s left it behind and taken his tongue. Barlowe breathes deep and gets no oxygen: instead he gets rich, deep smells, more information than he ever had from color vision. One of the smells is bright with fear. He starts to follow it, and he’s not alone.


Barlowe considers climbing out the window, then removes it (and part of the wall) with one swipe. He’s aware of his muscles creaking distantly, like the rigging of a schooner; it doesn’t seem connected to any particular effort.

Dawn blues the horizon and the fire escape mostly breaks his fall. Shamblers fill the street, aimless, turning whenever they bounce off a wall or lamppost. Their voices are a rising group moan: communication? A bee dance, maybe, about feeding grounds and dangers. He can’t understand it. Their congress teases but eludes his mind.

In which, he thinks, it’s just like being alive.


In the bathroom, dead, Barlowe examines his teeth. It’s either the fluorescent light or the way his eyes are now, but everything’s tinted blue, which is maybe why his teeth look so white. But no: he rubs them with a finger and they squeak. They’re the cleanest they’ve ever been.

The rest of him is indubitably rotting. No maggots, yet, but he smells like somebody peed in the maple syrup and that can’t be good. Also, his tongue appears to have rotted out.

“Hrrh hrh, brh mmrhr,” he tries. Then: “Hmm.”

Barlowe’s just realized he’s hungry, and, with surprise, for what.