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Steel Slats

Indiana author James Dorr's Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth is a far-future set dystopic novel-in-stories from Elder Signs Press. Working mostly in dark fantasy/horror with forays into science fiction and mystery, his The Tears of Isis was a 2013 Bram Stoker Award(r) finalist for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection, while other books include Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance, Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery, and Regret, and his all-poetry Vamps (A Retrospective). He has previously been a technical writer, an editor on a regional magazine, a full time non-fiction freelancer, a semi-professional musician, and currently harbors a Goth cat named Triana.

An Active Member of SFWA and HWA, Dorr invites readers to visit his blog at jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com.

Manuel had to stop his truck for the sheer awe of it. He had never been this far north before--he had heard stories about it of course--but now he could see it with his own eyes! A gleaming line on the distant horizon, shimmering in the strong Mexican sunlight. Extending as far as the eye could see, to the left and the right, as he started his vehicle again, continuing north down the dusty highway.
The American Wall!
It became clearer as the hours progressed, resolving into a series of close-set vertical lines, the sheer height of which was itself awe inspiring. He remembered some of the tales he had been told when he was a nino in Guatemala, of how at one time the Wall had been meant to be made of concrete. At that time there had been a great fear in the United States, of drugs and narcotics crossing the border from south to north, and only concrete, it was thought, could stop them.
But then the Americans' leader had second thoughts. Many players of a game called football -- not real football but "American football" -- had lost their jobs for praying on their knees when the U.S. national anthem was played, and now it was feared a number of them would move to Mexico. Men who, as another, lesser leader had put it, had "calves as big as cantaloupes" and would be enlisted to punt the drugs over the wall when it was built, to waiting confederates in places like Texas and Arizona. And so the U.S. Supreme Leader decreed it would have to be built in a way that would let America's federales see "what people were up to on the other side."
That's when the Supreme Leader had a vision: of "beautiful steel slats." Slats which, as several detractors suggested, would allow drugs simply to be passed between them, but the leader had spoken, and that was the Law. In any event, as everyone knew most narcotics were smuggled hidden in cars that passed into the U.S. through legal checkpoints. But that didn't matter.
The Wall would be built, slats and all, with arrow-sharp spikes at the ends of the uprights, and out of steel which had doubled in price since the leader had decreed new tariffs on it. But the leader said also, though no one knew how, that Mexico would pay the cost.
Some said that was one of the causes of the U.S. economic collapse--that Mexico had declined the bill--though there were other reasons as well. The flooding of Louisiana, for instance, as a result of global warming which all but destroyed U.S. sugar production, but to the benefit of sugar growers in suddenly prosperous Guatemala and Nicaragua. This itself was part of the reason Manuel was driving a tank truck of molasses to the U.S.-Mexican border.
And why he was even now pulling up to the base of the Wall, joining the trucks of other workers, Mexicans and Central Americans, braiding bicycle tire inner tubes into long rubber bands. The ends of these were being tied around the Wall's slats as others peered through to see what was up on the U.S. side.
Manuel looked too. He could see what appeared to be dust in the distance, clouds of dust far away at the moment but growing nearer.
Other tankers drew up next to his, as Manuel recalled the other stories. For instance that, even though established drug cartels still used automobiles to transport their wares, the ease of passing drugs in small amounts between the Wall's slats brought new jobs to the Mexican side of the border. Now up-to-then amateur dabblers created a new boutique industry, cooking drugs in kitchens and basements out of who knew what ingredients, creating in some cases heavenly highs as their products circulated north. In others, disaster.
This was what brought events up to the present. No one knew whose new drug was the culprit, but one highly popular product turned out to be fatal in the long run to users--except that its qualities also revived them. In other words, the Zombie Apocalypse had begun.
Which was why the Wall was being converted on the Mexican side to a series of giant slingshots stretching for miles in either direction. The word had gone out: a caravan of zombies had formed in the U.S. Midwest and was wending its way south. Zombies that, already dead, could not be killed, but experience showed could be at least stopped. And this is why Manual and his fellow drivers were filling gallon-size balloons with sticky molasses and passing them forward to Mexican sling-shooters.
It was almost a thing of beauty when the first ranks of the caravan reached them, the zombies all chanting, "Brains! Brains!" The sound echoing off the slats, being picked up as well by the ranks farther back. "Brains! Brains!" It was said the original zombies used to shout, "Lock her up! "Lock her up!," until the sickness had spread to the point there were no normal people left to be locked up. So it now had become the familiar "Brains!"
Then that was drowned out on the Mexican side by the order, "Fire!," by the whizzes and snaps! as huge slingshots launched volleys of sticky molasses-filled balloons, exploding into the zombie ranks. Again. Again. Zombies could shamble, but do little else--and, as legs and arms became glued together, more ranks now sticking to the fallen first, the once fearsome caravan became reduced to a mass of impotent, piled high once-humans, now food for the buzzards that wheeled overhead.
Yet still they chanted in weakening voices, "Brains. Brains." Still striving forward, a few even stuck to the Wall's slats themselves, dulling the steel with gore. Almost a whisper now. "Brains.... Brains...."
Because none could be found anymore in the U.S.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, December 20th, 2019

Author Comments

There's a certain class of stories I think of as "the devil made me do it" stories, when the news of the day starts sounding so wacky it seems to demand some kind of response. This is one of those stories.

- James Dorr
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