| Dead To Rights
By Rick Witherow
"Wait a minute," Senator Backwater said, pouring over the list of constituents. "I don't see them on
His advisor shook his head. "They're all four of them registered voters," Ed Sleemy told the senator. "I
checked each one personally. Except there's one small problem."
Rearing his head, Senator Markham Backwater drew a tense breath. Through clenched teeth he
asked the obvious question.
Sleemy avoided his boss's cold, gray eyes. "Well, sir - - uh - - they're dead."
"Dead?" The senator scratched his chin. "Hell!" he roared. "Our party's had dead people voting since
the turn of the last century. It's part of the American way."
Sleemy shrugged. "Well, they're outside in the waiting room. All four of them. With a petition."
The senator frowned. "It's perfectly normal to have dead voters. But I can't have dead constituents,
man. Confound it! What district?"
"The Thirteenth District, sir."
Backwater leaned forward. Fat elbows flattened against the massive mahogany desk. His drooping
jowls seemed to tighten with the strain apparent in his red face. "Son, isn't that the district where I
arranged for the -- uh," he said, pausing to search for the correct political words, " - - uh, the selective
storage of questionable contaminants until such time as appropriate control measures could be devised
for the sanctity of our precious resources."
"Beats me," Sleemy said. "But you told that biotech company guy he could go ahead and dump that
bacterial warfare research waste in the Thirteenth District cemetery if he contributed to your reelection
The senator stiffened back to a proud upright posture, his chubby palms slapping the leather arms of
his high-backed swivel chair. "Ahh, and a generous gentleman he was as I recall, son. Made me proud to
be an American. Proud to be a servant of the people - - for the people - - and by --"
Just then the office door opened a crack. The sudden in-draft air current brought an intense carrion
aroma into Backwater's face. It made his nose burn slightly. He glanced over to the door.
Then the door opened fully. In stepped a barefoot woman and behind her three barefoot men. The
men in various shades of deadly pale and shriveling flesh, wore only wrinkled suit coats and time-yellowed
white shirts with out-of-fashion neckties. The woman, obviously the spokesperson, wore only the top
jacket of a two-piece plaid suit. The black velvet bow on her soiled orange blouse was covered with a
layer of green mold.
Allergic to mold, Backwater sneezed as the draft of fouled air now carried the full odors of all four to his
"Gesundheit," the woman offered, her voice dry and raspy.
"Gesundheit," the three men echoed in a chorus. Their voices sounded like crunching leaves.
Whipping a handkerchief from his pocket, Sleemy jumped up from his chair across from the senator's
desk. He held the cloth firmly over his nose and mouth. Coughing, he sputtered an exit comment. "I just
forgot. I have an appointment over at the state capitol building. I'll be back in a couple of hours." With
that, he raced out of the office.
Trying to protest, Backwater inhaled to speak. But the awful stench fired down his windpipe like a
rotten torpedo. He gagged as the door closed behind Sleemy.
"Excuse me," the woman said. "But we do seem to have that effect on people. Unavoidable I'm sorry
Grabbing a file folder off the desk, Backwater frantically waved at the fumes attacking his senses.
"How may I help you," he asked, swallowing against the urge to wretch.
Uninvited, the woman took the vacant chair. Trying to smooth the wrinkles in her bare, desiccated
thighs, she smiled at the senator with embarrassment. "It just keeps getting worse," she commented.
"What?" Backwater spoke with his hand covering the lower half of his round face.
"Everything," she said. "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm Glenda Bradley. And these are my associates." As she
named each man, he nodded. "Howard Peters, Delbert Franklin, and Mitch Gurney. We're the elected
board for a new organization called the 'D-E-A-D.' That stands for Deceased, Embalmed And
Decaying." She paused, waiting for a response from the senator.
Backwater blinked his eyes rapidly several times almost uncontrollably, partly from the stench wafting
into his face but also from being at a loss for words. Finally, he scooted his swivel chair as far back from
the desk as possible until the backrest pressed flat against the wood panel wall. Relieved, he found the
air a little less offensive at the small distance. Then he put on his political smile. "I understand you're here
from my favorite district."
"Yes," the woman affirmed. "And we're here to present you with our petition."
A facial tic pulled at the corner of the senator's left eye. "I don't understand."
Patronizingly, the woman leveled an uneven smile in return. The skin on her upper lip split into a yellow
slit. "Please, Senator Backwater. We're not here to play games. That company was doing secret
biological weapons research for the government. When their contract got cancelled, you let them dump all
that stuff into our peaceful little cemetery where we were all resting eternally in peace. Only you forgot
Holding his breath at the stench wafting from her breath over the desk, Backwater squeaked out
"The underground river," the woman rasped matter-of-factly. "Every time it rains, the water table rises.
It never bothered any of us before because it was just the river water. But after you let that bacteria stuff
get dumped into our ground at Peaceful Valley, things weren't peaceful anymore. The chemicals resurrect
the dead. And now it's spreading. That underground river flows all over the state through other
cemeteries. So now thousands of us aren't exactly dead anymore. And understand we tried to fix it
ourselves. But nothing can kill us now. And we are angry." She nodded with animation affirming her
statement. "You have to do something, senator."
The foul, choking fumes now began to make Backwater feel faint. Gasping, he shook his head. "That
arrangement for the storage of possible hazmat materials was all legal and proper. So if you have a
complaint, you need to take it to the Attorney General's office. It's their jurisdiction."
The woman shook her head no. It made several strands of her thin, brittle hair fall loose from her
scalp. The hair scraps hit her shoulders and rolled off. "This isn't a consumer complaint, sir. We are a
bone fide interest group and getting bigger every time it rains." She waived a thick paper document in her
withered hand. "We have over twenty-thousand signatures already on this petition. Next week, we'll have
a whole truckload of signatures for you. So you cannot refuse."
Coughing, the senator turned his head. With a wheeze, he said, "Refuse what?"
"To represent us to the legislature and the governor. You're responsible. And with all the rain lately,
we're going to be your biggest single interest group. It's inevitable."
Behind her all three of the men reached clumsily into their coat pockets. One by one each produced a
jar filled to the brim. The jars all contained a greenish-yellow fluid looking similarly to stagnant swamp
water. Each started to unscrew the lids.
Backwater flinched. "Well, Miss - -"
"You may call me Glenda." she interrupted.
" - - Miss Glenda then. Well, I always do my utmost to represent all of my constituents fully as I have for
the past four terms of office. So I will personally look into your group's, uh, unique needs. Believe me, you
have my complete sympathy."
"Oh no," she disagreed shaking her head. "Sympathy won't cut the mustard. Nossir." Then she
smiled once more, this time the skin above her upper lip split all the way to the base of her nose. "No. To
represent us right you need empathy," she insisted.
A cold tingle cascaded down Backwater's spine. He glanced at the office door, the only way out
except for the eighth floor window on the far wall. The three men started toward him heading around the
left side of the desk. None of them smiled. The jar lids dropped to the floor almost in unison. Backwater
got up from the chair to move around the other side of the desk.
"Empathy," the woman repeated. Backwater, still warily watching the three men, didn't see the woman
pull out the butcher knife from her worm eaten leather purse. The fumes now burned his eyes making
them water. As he moved around to the front of the desk, the woman buried the knife deep into his
corpulent chest just up and under the sternum.
Backwater felt his heart jump twice before it stopped. As his last seconds of consciousness faded, he
heard the woman's voice like an echo in a cavern.
"My associates will douse you with the juice in a minute after you've expired all the way. Then when the
juice works, we can continue our conversation. But this time with your empathy."
|About Rick Witherow
Short stories in magazines
such as Midnight Zoo.
Recent story in Theme of
Absence. Working on a
novel. Enjoy writing and
enjoy even more getting
something published. Still
married to my first wife.
No one famous ever met
me. But then, no one
famous ever expressed an
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