In the city, there were creatures shaped like people but without faces or names. Some of them were humans and some of them were skeletons, but what they all had in common was a dark veil over their heads where a face should be. Walking past them, the Skeleton perceived the veils to ripple sometimes, like a sheet hung in the wind, even when there was no wind; and the depressions and bumps underneath would be vaguely outlined in the veil, like a baby’s knees or elbows knobbing the skin of its mother’s stomach. There were multitudes of these creatures everywhere, cramming into the trains, walking in the streets, going in and out of the schools and shops, lying under bridges and swimming in the poisoned rivers. Although the people with faces usually seemed unable to see the creatures, they sidestepped them carefully whenever they encountered one in their paths. The Skeleton sidestepped them too.
Wandering past the military–industrial–congressional complex in the city where everything that could be bought and sold was made, the Skeleton observed a line of the creatures, snaking around the miles-wide complex several times. In the back, people in masks and suits were shoveling the creatures’ bodies into piles after they had been used by the complex. Some of the bodies had been maimed. Some had bullet holes in them. Some had twisted and atrophied limbs. They all lay in an immense mountain of bodies.
The Skeleton walked towards the mountain. It knelt in the dust and blood and reached down towards one of the creature’s heads. It drew back the veil.
The creature had a face. It was an old man. He had white hair and deep lines on his forehead, but none around his eyes, which were closed in the only rest he had ever had. He had no death wounds, but his body was emaciated. The Skeleton could clearly see the outlines of his bones, sticking out of his ragged clothes. The Skeleton reached into his pocket and drew out a small piece of paper, folded in on itself many times.
The paper fluttered in the wind, held delicately between the Skeleton’s finger bones. It was a letter in a childish scrawl. “Querido Lazaro” –
One of the people in the masks and suits noticed the Skeleton and yelled at it in a harsh bray. The Skeleton dropped the letter and ran away.
Back in the city square, the Skeleton sat on a bench and watched the water spraying from a stone fountain. Families walked on the brick paths and picnicked on the grass. Here and there, a few veiled creatures looked after the families’ children.
A young man sat down next to the Skeleton. He coughed and cleared his throat. Finally he spoke. “It’s a nice day,” he said. “The veiled creatures – they have faces,” the Skeleton replied. “Really?” the young man said. “That’s interesting. Do you come here often?” The Skeleton did not answer his question. Instead, it said, “I saw one today. In the back of the complex. His name was Lazaro.” The young man looked puzzled. “Can I have your number?” The Skeleton got up and walked away.
Over the months that followed, the Skeleton began to notice that the complex was not the only place that the creatures died. They died everywhere, often. They fell in the streets and drowned in the poisoned rivers. They killed each other. They were killed while trying to kill people with faces. They were washed away by storms. They were all forgotten, because no one knew their names. Once, a man with a face strangled one of the creatures and strung its body up on a lamppost. The body swung and turned gently in the breeze as people rushed past. As the Skeleton watched, a man ran up to the body, sobbing with grief. He ripped the veil off the creature’s head. It was a woman. The man was yelling at passersby. “Jennifer!” he screamed, over and over again. The Skeleton saw the people in masks and suits again, approaching from around the corner, and hurried off.