the hungry earth (2 of 2)
It is unclear where the rumours pertaining to the truth about the contents of the book of the township that circulated amongst the youth had started, but they spread hurriedly amongst the mid 20s and younger. The long-held beliefs and principles purportedly contained within the book of the township and which formed the bedrock of the community and the very existence of the township were as if from nowhere cast into doubt, their veracity questioned, their morals considered in rigorous argument . The youth sought placement within, they said, a bigger picture, a picture bigger than the Fenland township that had given them everything. A global picture of which they – the township – should be a part. They questioned the early settler’s interpretations of Flamsy and Klepte’s texts, accused wilful corruption of their mutual intellect for social or political gain and mass cover up of same, demanded access to the book of the township should it even exist or indeed ever have existed. Its secretion, they said, spoke volumes. Whilst once the township had thrived, secure in its own sense of significance and its own shared values, the revolt of the young dispelled certainty and principle like devastated futures. They committed to alcohol, they sought formal educations outside of the township, they fornicated amongst themselves and swore to reproduce, they made plans to leave the township. These were horrendous betrayals. It was the greatest crisis in the long history of the township, acceptance mangled by clustered broadband connections, the information age incompatible with principle.
He carried the infant back to his parents house and waited around in the street outside in the falling light, the grass damp and thick and incredibly green beneath his feet. A simple car turned slowly into the street and crawled past the houses looking attentively at the numbers on the front doors. It was ten minutes early but he was sure it was the officer he had spoken to. The car stopped outside his parents’ house and he approached it and held a hand out to the officer but was too afraid to speak. The officer looked at him and infant both and told him everything was going to be okay. He shook his head to say no, the officer had a gentle face, the sky was blue as the sun set which happened so quickly, the officer said it again and that he was here to help, and they approached his parents’ front door together, and though he had his keys they knocked regardless. His father opened the door and looked at the officer and at him, then at the infant, and his eyes narrowed just slightly; the officer showed him some ID and said he’d taken a call from me, something about some infants. There was no mention of the infant he was carrying, it was a topic best left. From the front doorstep he heard his mother talking on the telephone in the next room, saying police, saying come quickly, the sound of the receiver going down, and her slight footsteps and polite greetings. The officer repeated himself to her, mentioned infants, and telephone calls, and my mother nodded as he spoke and her face was very concerned. As they spoke around him he cradled the infant. Within second some five or six of the township’s elders were encircling the front door, shaking hands with the officer and patting their hands upon his shoulders and each others. The officer was watching him, his gentle lined face piecing together the cracked strained normalcy of terrible truths, and conversation multiplied in directions worlds away from the infants and the earthworks. The youth, they said, were dissatisfied. It was simple rebellion, not an issue for the law, officer. They spoke convincingly and much. The officer listened politely but watched him carefully, as though he had a sense for these things. Earthworks. He spoke only to the officer but he spoke aloud. Earthworks. You need to see the earthworks. The officer looked around the gathered faces. The boy’s father lunged forward and slapped him in the face once, and then twice, and the infant fell to the floor wrapped tightly in the blanket. His mother picked it up and carried it into the house. Two of the elders restrained his father and the officer took a mobile phone from his jacket pocket, but of course there was no telephone signal in the township, this was ever ensured. That’s enough, the officer said, to the father ostensibly but to all in truth. I’m going to need you to take me to the earthworks. With their eyes the elders consulted then conceded, and they explained to the officer that whilst there was little of interest to see at the earthworks they would of course take him, that they would be proud to assist the police with any investigation as required, and on foot they set off the short distance to the earthworks, the sun dropped like loose change. He remained close to the officer.
In fact the book of the township spoke only of tolerance in terms distinctly utopian, of patience, of kindness, and acceptance, and it was for these reasons that it had been left to rot within the recesses of the civic buildings, to prevent the truth from manifesting. The body politic consumed integrity. No township could function with tolerance, the Fenland township no exception. They thrived on doubt and mistrust. Flamsy and Klepte had been fools to theorise otherwise; good men, almost certainly homosexual, privately, but no matter. The lost everything and founded the township as a response to this grave loss: it was a mechanism for coping with it, a patient place, a kind place, an accepting place. The early settlers had quickly corrupted the ideals of Messrs Flamsy and Klepte, had united the township and its successive generations in the very paranoia and gross injustice they had sought refuge from. The honour of their memory was long faded. They bore atrocities in essence centuries posthumous.
When the path turned sharply into the earthworks the officer gagged, then harder almost immediately, spewed a foamy small pile, the awful stench worse than new shit in the air. The elders were oblivious; the rich reek of decaying flesh and bones and of bodies disintegrating into their constituent fluids and eventually molecules and atoms and into the earth was as inseparable from the township as the dwellings and persons who made it. The earthworks thrummed with death. The officer pulled a pocket torch from his jacket and shone it into the shadows, saw infants decomposing in its meagre beam, countless infants deceased and piled texturing the landscape like cairns. My God, he said vomiting, my God he said again. He shone his torch a second time, as though the bodies might have vanished, as though it could have been imagined, but the infants remained. He staggered from the elders and the boy followed him and took his arm; the officer took his mobile phone but there was still no signal. The township was a blackspot. A void best avoided. What is this? he asked the boy. It’s what I tried to tell you, the boy said. It’s what they do to the infants here. For the earth. The officer felt incredibly aware of the darkness that was of a sudden profound. He turned lost to the elders and thought of his family, lost also. How can I explain this, he asked. This can’t be explained. The boy’s father stepped forwards towards the officer and drew a blade of some form across his throat as though marking points on paper. The officer felt little but did feel blood gushing down his front and gurgling back up his throat and into his mouth and it tasted iron rich like good offal, and he dropped to his knees and from there to his front and the earth took him, its bits in his bits, the whole thing so quick it seemed like an act of prayer, the sounds of his death so full of life.
We’d better get home, the boy’s father said putting a hand on his shoulder. It’s getting late.