I'm the only one who watches the death-march from afar, hidden as the wind. It's ironic, I think: hidden is what I do, or what I've done, at least, picking the stuffed, satin pockets that litter the city, sniffing out sore fellows desperate to be the victim for once. I lighten loads, and I make dreams come true; I'm a thief, but here I am, robbed of my better reason by the rotting lips of another man.
The poets say death is peace, and the slack expressions of the dead are supposed to be evidence of that. What use is peace, then? The dead don't need peace, not when the hearts of those they had loved grow swollen and crush any sliver of sense in a person. And still, life gnaws at a person even after they're gone; what peace is there for anyone?
So I watch. Rich indigo flags billow underneath the breath of the deep sky, marking the body on the slate slab as a man of old blood. Coffers boorishly full, hands shamefully smooth, and eyes that sparkled at any patch of skin uncovered by cloth or grime; he had been a prime target, and would have been a profitable one, were it not for the tremble in his voice and the way his lips twitched in satisfied unease.
The streets are crowded with the dead-minded folk of the city; some here to mourn, others to softly gloat, others paid to do either or both. They, at least, are near, face-close with death and unfazed, as if thinking themselves immortal. Maybe they are, if things like souls exist, like the poets say. But the chest is hollow, at least to my reckoning, and a beating heart is the only thing that even tries to fill it.
The procession goes on, the leading trumpeteers weaving their song down through the Flanks, the dark slab pulled in tow. They reach the edge of the settlement and prepare to hurl the body off, but not before propping the body up for all to see.
The crowd mutes itself, as is customary, but the wind whips the flags into raucous flapping. Towards the west, a gale comes; whistling through the orifice of every open window and crack in the city's bricks, culminating in a howl that seems to reverberate from the sky below. A few children stumble at its force, their parents catching before they fall.
The body is held high, stark naked in the daystar's light, clay-brown skin baked as the rigor mortis is only now fading. I can see why the poets might be so enamored with the dead; his nakedness is innocent yet invulnerable, so strong with a head that can't stand on its own.
The body is gone now, lost to the turbulence of the swirling sky below, and whatever lies beyond that. His breath will never kiss mine, and I am stolen.
Zizheng William Liu is a student currently studying in Houston, Texas. His work has previously been recognized by the International Human Rights Art Festival's Youth Anthology and by Eunoia Review. When he's not writing, he loves snapping pictures of the ever-changing world around him with his Canon Rebel camera.