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Small Sacks of Children

Andrew Kozma's fiction has been published in Escape Pod, Interzone, and Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers, Vol. 2. His book of poems, City of Regret (Zone 3 Press, 2007), won the Zone 3 First Book Award.
They carried the sacks of children on their backs. They carried them to the wall. The bags were small and the wall was gigantic and unfinished, barely to the waist of the average man or woman. And we were all average men and women now, the best of us already gone to the far horizon where the smoke rose in a gentle, rosy, and unending haze.
They were determined. Every day, rain or shine, they carried the sacks of children. The children were all we had left to build the wall with, especially here on the border where there was nothing and no one anymore except those of us who were there for the wall. To build it. To feed those building it. To entertain those coming to build it. To forgive those who carried the sacks of children.
I worked fire pits overnight, cooking giant pots of gumbo for the next day's meals, taking all the food we could find and throwing it in. The food was nutritious and the rice was filling. The work was hard. Watching them work was hard, the way they cradled the heads and whispered comforts to the children. They went to great pains to make sure every child's face was exposed to the air, but it wasn't always possible. In the night, tending the fires for the gumbo, I stayed close to the flames. The whisper of burning wood drowned out the muffled cries for light.
Eventually, the children stopped talking. They stopped asking questions. They stopped trying to give us their names. Then new sacks of children arrived, and the voices began again.
The children weren't real children. We had to remind ourselves of this over and over again. They were androids or cyborgs or something I didn't quite really understand, organic but designed in a lab, mechanical and produced in a factory, their tiny faces and tiny brains downloaded with the personalities of children who'd lived and died too early. They were created to fill the void of those who couldn't have children, or those who had sent their adult children over the wall to protect us, or those who wanted children but didn't want to go through the painful, dangerous, and inefficient process.
But there were too many of them, too many children, much more of a supply than could ever meet the demand. The factories, already staffed with unwanted children, never stopped churning out children. Scientists had perfected recycling, and so everything we didn't want could be made into the raw materials for children. And when the child walked into your life, you couldn't tell it had once been banana peels and used motor oil, chicken bones and ground-up toothbrushes, denatured alcohol and medical waste. They smiled just like any child. They smelled as innocent as air.
We'd programmed them not to complain. We ate and they watched, and we built and they watched, and we waited and they watched. Their cheeks hollowed as they stared at us from the wall, the wall settling as they lost body weight, their compact bodies becoming even more compact. The wall grew stronger as they grew weaker, as the gaps between them closed.
On the side facing that flowering horizon we never wanted to reach us, the children's arms were tucked in. On our side, the arms were left free to stretch out towards us. The argument was that when the wall was higher, we could use them to climb to the top as we continued to build, stepping from small hand to small hand.
Every night, once the gumbo was ready and before I needed to start on the rice, when all the workers were asleep and the children were, too, I sat next to the wall. I took a tiny hand in my own and whispered my son's name.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018


As with much of my fiction recently, this story exists at the collision between image and politics. The image that started it all: People carrying sacks of children. The politics: What's being done with the children (the wall) and how we sacrifice those who are innocent to further our own goals. No one in this story questions the need for what they're doing. They question the suffering, sort of, but continue on inflicting that suffering regardless.

- Andrew Kozma

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