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The Prosthesis

Over the coming days, we took back the depot, first obliterating the bodies streaming through, then putting a kind of chain-link tourniquet on the breech. Custer, of course, toured the corpses littering the ground, kicking at eagles that didn’t clear out fast enough, looking, ever looking for sign of his white zombie and all the while rambling on in the strangest monologue—an art form largely lost to humanity during the age of soundbites and Twitter and surely doubly stamped-out in our post-cataclysmic age of the zombie where any string of more than twelve words was starting to seem a kind of superfluity—so that the effect of the captain’s stream of consciousness had an altogether unsettling effect on the men, men who, it should be said, were accustomed to blowing the heads off soulless bodies who were, ten minutes ago, the very men who were watching their backs, but who scurried now to get clear of Custer’s verbal torrent just as the eagles took wing before his flailing, splintered peg:

 

Custer [walking among the corpses]: A body, another body, and another—but how many bodies to make a sea? and don’t they say the body is about 70 percent water and 70 percent of the earth is covered by seas? what symmetry! are we just water given sentience? if so, what percentage of all the oceans is this massacre? Oh, but you extrapolate too much, Captain—wait! Are you now passing yourself off as a captain of math? No, hardly. What a charlatan professor whose personal geometry says triangles and trapezoids worship the almighty circle …. But still there is something in these percentages of water…. Dry it up and what do you get? Well, look to the sarcophagi of Egypt. How does a mummy retain his form if he loses such and such a percent through evaporation and you hook chunks of his brain out through his nostril? I mean, do we speak of mass or volume? Mass, I suppose. What’s the body without mass? if it can be picked up and tossed on a fire like a cornhusk doll? But these, these are not cornhusk dolls! kick and you hardly budge them! this one’s skull gives only slightly into the spongier inner mush! not a sea but a bog! that’s the metaphor, Captain! the bog or shitpit of a once-and-mighty humanity—and you, only skimming across its surface like on some kind of fanboat! O, where are you, white one? My mind is the very field of forensics! and I see your fingerprints all over this breach, white, almost chalky—as gypsum! How? How indeed! Don’t be dense! I matched it to the print you left on me! my missing leg: your imprimatur! Please, allow me to reintroduce myself! J to the H-O-V! Jehovah? No. Much diminished. Maybe not even a Hovah. But what Hovah ever hobbled this way? Eagles! always with you eagles! scavengers! be gone! Now—now? Look at the men looking at me looking at them: sometimes I can see myself through their eyes. Not so much Custer as Custer is but Custer as Custer is seen. And yet: surely there is an objective Custer. A celestial Custer. Hiding somewhere inside this boneskinsuit. All the extra layers peeled away down to the essential Custer. Like a twisted ginger root. Or a bent thumb. Or broken the wrong way at the knuckle. Look here! A knowing hand must have placed this dynamite and stacked the bags of fertilizer! So maybe it wasn’t you, White One, but the bomber must be your agent! and yet doesn’t an agent, by its nature, witting or unwitting, lead crumb trails back to the principle? is it strange that his path seems to glow with unearthly light before me? [Here he paused and looked out across the water of the lake as if he had just realized there was a lake at all.] Ha! yes! by boat! across the lake! think you can escape but there it is: I can almost see your path sparkling before me—like a wake! a path that dims as it goes but leads all the way to you! Physics? metaphysics? why the distinction? what’s metaphysics but an incomplete physics? and what’s an incomplete physics but the only physics men ever had? If your route is etched on the earth in invisible fairy ink, white one, then so be it. Custer isn’t too good to follow invisible fairy ink. It’s good as any road.

 

Leatherman [1] [approaching with strange object]: Sorry to interrupt your—err, whatever you’re doing—but look, sir!

 

Custer: Can’t you see I’m—holy shit, man! what’s that you’ve got there? the arm off a robot?

 

Leatherman: Robot? arm? Well, no, sir. Can’t you see? It’s one of them space-age prosthetic legs like you were seeing before The Collapse. Got it from the horde. Right over there. Off a veteran. Or at least I assumed a veteran. Had a tattoo right about here: Death Before Dishonor. So probably … a Marine? Saw it and thought Y’know who could use this? Custer. Better’n a cracked stick of zombo ivory anyhow.

 

Custer [clutching the prosthesis]: Do you know how to fasten it?

 

Leatherman: No, but I could sort it out.

 

Custer [intently watching the man work]: How is it that such an odd little tinker has such a facility with the fitting of a leg, huh? what would you do if I told you to construct a man? a whole man? a complete man? a man lacking nothing? and fifty feet tall? and with a titanium heart? You’d just bend to it, get it done, wouldn’t you? secure the requisite screws and get to screwing? Would you think I was odd if I ordered you to put in a skylight on top of this titan’s chrome dome? to let a little light in? to air things out from time to time? to let in that smell … yes, that smell! What is it? cleansing rain? A man isn’t a man unless he can smell the rain….

 

Leatherman [fitting the socket to Custer’s stump]: It’d be hard to imagine you any odder than you are, sir—no offense. Now, tell me: how does that feel?

 

Custer [with a smile]: Maybe a tightening … here?

 

Leatherman: Will do.

 

Custer: What if—what if we found you a big mountain of Play-Doh, Leatherman? Pink, orange, purple, yellow, and green? What kind of man would you mound into existence? Could you make a more colorful Custer? with bulging neon eyes? have him carry the whole world up under his arm? like a football?

 

Leatherman: Ain’t the world rounder’n that, sir? a sphere?

 

Custer: You’re a very literal sort, aren’t you?
 

Leatherman: How so?

 

Custer: A thing is just a thing to you and no more. This life. This leg. A zombie.

 

Leatherman [tinkering]: That? Well, a zombie’s a zombie. There. Whatcha think?

 

Custer [standing and walking on his new leg]: Well, it’s not my old ivory but…. got a strange spring to it but then…. yes, yes, I can see already…. yes, what a marvelous thing…. Leatherman! I think you’re owed extra rations for this. Look at me! I’m walking—almost like a man again!

 

Leatherman: My share says I gotta work. This’s my work. But maybe you’d do me a lil favor?

 

Custer: What’s that? Tell me.

 

Leatherman: A question? not exactly … PC?

 

Custer: Ask away.

 

Leatherman: Is it true what they say? that a guy loses a leg can … still feel her sometimes?

 

Custer: It’s true, Leatherman. And let me tell you: what a strange sensation! standing here on a leg when I can still feel the other leg, both occupying the same coordinates at the same moment, like two Custers separated by a thin curtain of bent time. I don’t even know the word for that overlapping of sensations, though doesn’t it seem like evidence of the multiverse? Can you imagine? in another of these simultaneous universes, Custer still teetering on the legbone of a zombie? and another with Custer standing as a zombie? and Custer in place of Leatherman? and Leatherman in place of Custer? and Leatherman and Custer as Majority Shareholders spying from a drone up in the sky? watching from on high as our own serfs toil? and why not? maybe Custer on horseback? and Custer at sea? and Custer in space? and Custer playing a game of cosmic whack-a-mole? knocking the gods back into their black holes? all these Custers spread one after the other through time and all the myriad folds of space? Gods, but I feel like you installed a prosthesis for my brain rather than my leg, Leatherman! look at me! proselytized through prosthesis! I feel like I might see through space and walk on time! look at that, good craftsman! you’re a miracle worker! as you follow me, I’d follow you into the tesseract!

 

Leatherman: Um … so it fits?

 

At that moment, Starbucks approached. Custer made him watch as he walked back and forth, showing off his new high-tech leg. Starbucks smiled as politely as he could given recent interactions, only told Custer that two of the mercenaries had returned from tracking a boat across the lake. There, he said, they had spied two people well-fortified in a warehouse: a large Indian and a small woman, apparently Chief and a girl, most likely Barbra, the lone marauder Custer had let flee into the woods. This news might have angered Custer on another day; today, it only proved his theory that the world worked as he understood it, that all things were now signs leading him in one direction and one direction only.  

 

Custer [testing the lateral action of his new leg]: Amor fati, Starbucks! Just when the dreaded meaninglessness creeps in again—renewed purpose! a new leg! and an old enemy to stand on!

 

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[1] Our man Leatherman had received his nickname despite hating it, a Leatherman being a sort of rough all-around tool, whereas he considered himself a more elegant all-around tool, like a Swiss Army Knife; at any rate, he was the man in our crew who could be counted on to fix anything from an engine to a firing mechanism to a lost leg and so it fell to him to fit Captain Custer for his new extremity. The captain sat right where he was, massaging his stump while he waited for the bent little Leatherman to tighten this and that fitting, lubricate the springs and chassis.