The blisters burst long ago, giving way to callouses that gave way to hard scar tissue that makes it impossible to close my hands into fists. An unintended consequence on their part, I’m sure, but both a silver lining and an apt metaphor for the state of the world. I don’t pity the new ones, the ones with fresh blisters who weep into their cots at night, for they can still clench their hands, raise their fists, try to fight back. But no matter what they do to you, no matter how much they hurt you or maim you, you’ll still be forced to dig with the rest of us.
Sun-up to sun-down, seven days a week, a small break at noon to eat, only allowed to pause long enough to take a sip of your ration of water for that day, then back to digging. Once your hole is done, you lift your shovel into the air and stay for inspection. One guard measures, the thick Hazmat suit making the process almost comical to watch. Another guard keeps his rifle aimed at your forehead, finger tensed on the trigger. If your hole isn’t deep enough, or wide enough, you’ll be beaten, hurt. If it is, you’re escorted to the end of the line, to an untouched plot, to keep digging. Always digging.
That’s my world now. Guards and scars and digging. Once they figured out the dead were carrying the virus, well, it was only a small sideways shuffle into slavery masked as imprisonment masked as quarantine. Make the sick bury the dead. Being a large man, I was put on digging duty. Might say I’m unlucky, until you know there’s only two jobs: digging and burying. I’d rather touch a shovel than a corpse.
We’re in constant rotation. Those of us who succumb to the virus are added to the piles of dead to be buried. Those diagnosed with the virus in its early stages are sent here to work, to be the world’s gravediggers. Nobody’s safe; those Hazmat suits are more to keep the guards from panicking than to actually protect them. We were all infected, the whole world, only we show symptoms at different speeds. But we’re all doomed. That’s my personal belief, anyways, the one thing I have left to carry a torch for. Petty, indirect revenge against them all, believing in my heart that this planet will be scrubbed clean of us, of the kinds of creatures who could do this to their own.
At night, in the few seconds between collapsing onto my cot and falling into a deep, dreamless sleep, I think about him. Or her. I wonder who it will be, how they’ll feel, what they’ll do.
I think about the last unlucky person, the one who survives the longest.
The one who will remain unburied.