“So, the first item on our agenda is killing Ethan.” Lilly looked up from the sheet of paper on her judge’s desk. “Are we all in agreement?”
A few glances were exchanged between the children seated in the crowd, but no objection was voiced. One of the boys shuffled in his seat, eyes wide. Ethan, who was gagged and bound like a trussed turkey in the space between judge and jury, screamed into the cloth that muzzled him. Outside, the perpetual rain drummed onto the roofs of the now-dead city.
“Very good.” Lilly shuffled her papers. “Any suggestions as to how we kill him?”
Ethan struggled and made noises, but he was ignored.
There was movement at the door, and they all turned to look. Marko cleared his throat and looked down at his oversized feet. He was the only one who stood. Today was his guard duty. “How about we slit his throat? I’ve got a knife.”
“Okay, so we’ve got one suggestion of slitting his throat,” said Lilly, “anyone else?”
Clara shook her head. “No, that’d be too messy. Blood would get everywhere. I say we stab him in the head.”
Marko looked up. “In the head? Like, through his skull?” He glanced at the other kids. “Isn’t the skull hard?” He shook his head. “I don’t think any one of us is strong enough to stab through the skull.”
“It doesn’t have to be through the skull,” said Clara. “We could stab him through the eye. That should kill him.”
“If we go deep enough.”
“If we go deep enough.” Clara nodded.
“And if we don’t go deep enough? If we stab him in the eye and don’t kill him?”
“Then we force the knife to go deeper until we do.”
Marko’s face paled. “I don’t think I could do that.” Ethan continued to writhe and yell — as far as the gag would allow — his objections.
Clara shrugged. “I could.”
“Okay, so that’s one suggestion of slitting his throat, one suggestion of stabbing him in the head — likely through the eye. Who else?” Lilly’s eyes settled on one of the younger boys. He squirmed in his chair. “Thom? Care to add an idea? We’ve all got to contribute.”
The boy shook his head in refusal.
Lilly frowned. “Now, Thom, we’ve all got to work together here. If you don’t pull your weight, then what are you?” Her eyes bored into the boy.
The boy hesitated. “Dead weight,” Thom said in a small voice.
Lilly smiled and nodded. “Exactly. Dead weight. Now, I know he’s your brother, but do you have any suggestions for how we kill him?”
Thom looked to members of the crowd for support but found none. His eyes dropped to the floor. “We could just… leave him.”
“Just leave him?” Lilly raised her eyebrows.
“Yeah. Just… leave him. Leave him tied up. He’d starve to death. Or die of thirst.”
Marko winced. “That sounds more brutal than stabbing him. It’d take ages.”
“Plus, he’d still turn. Afterwards, I mean,” said Clara.
“But he’d be bound.” Thom’s eyes were wide. “And he’d still turn if we slit his throat.”
Lilly nodded her approval at this consideration. “True enough.” She scratched a few words out.
Marko frowned. “He could escape.”
Clara clicked her fingers. “Then he’d just add to our problems.” She gestured towards the window with her chin. “If we do that, we might as well just let him go.”
Ethan nodded and, insofar as he could, expressed his preference for this option.
Lilly shook her head. “No, we know how it is. We don’t release. If we release, we increase the number of our enemy, and we can’t do that.” She looked from face to face. “We kill.” Her voice was firm. “So, that’s slitting his throat crossed out, but we’ve still got stabbing him in the eye—”
“Or the base of the skull?” added Clara, tapping the location where her own spine and skull met.
“—or the base of the skull,” agreed Lilly, “and leaving him to starve to death.” She smiled at Thom. “Thanks for the suggestion, Thom. It’s not my favourite, but your creativity and problem-solving skills are appreciated.” Lilly looked at the others. “Anyone else have anything to add?”
“We could throw ‘im to the dead,” said Aron. Thom squirmed in his seat, and Ethan loosed another scream. “Let ‘em kill ‘im?”
Thom leapt up from his seat, face red. His chair thudded over behind him. “No! We’re not feeding my brother to the dead! We’re not!”
Aron shrugged at Thom’s outburst, nonplussed. Marko stepped forward, face a rictus of fear. “Shhh! Be quiet! They’ll hear us!”
Lilly sighed and ran her hand over her eyes. “No, Aron, we’ve discussed this before. Can someone else?” She looked to the others. “And Thomas, if you’ll please,” she gestured for him to pick his chair up and sit back down. He paused for a moment, and then complied.
Clara turned in her seat, her elbow over the back of the chair, to face the bovine countenance of Aron. “Because, you idiot—”
“No name-calling, please,” said Lilly, raising her hand, “we’re better than that.”
Clara rolled her eyes. “Because then he’d turn, wouldn’t he? Then we’d be in the same place if he’d starved to death and escaped. Even Thom’s idea was better than that.”
“Clara, come on.” Lilly looked at her sternly. “Don’t belittle the others.” She looked at Aron as she chewed her lip. “Clara is right, though, Aron. We’ve been through this before. They bite you, you die, you come back. We don’t make the situation worse for ourselves. We only improve. Please try harder.” Lilly then smiled at Thom. “It wasn’t a bad idea, Thom. Don’t let Clara get you down. And we won’t be feeding your brother to the dead, we’ll kill him with dignity.”
Clara huffed and threw her hands up in the air. “A crap idea’s a crap idea.”
“Hey! Some diplomacy, please, Clara!” Lilly’s eyes burned into her.
She rolled her eyes. “All right, all right, Lil.”
Lilly shook her head and looked away. She cleared her throat. “So, are there any other ideas?”
Samuel raised his hand.
“Yes, Samuel?” Lilly’s voice was kind and motherly.
“We, uh, we could drop something big and heavy on his head. Squish it. Kill him instantly.”
Lilly’s head bobbed up and down. “Okay, okay.” She jotted something on her piece of paper. “And what would this something big and heavy be?” Samuel’s eyes widened like those of a rabbit in headlights. “For example?”
Samuel looked around for someone else to step in and answer for him, but he was not so lucky. After a moment of awkward silence, he ventured an answer. “Well, I was thinking of a car engine.”
“A car engine?” Lilly raised one eyebrow.
“Yeah. ‘Cos, my uncle, you see. He was a mechanic. One day, he was working under a van — you know, when it gets raised on one o’ them platform thingys?”
“Yes, I know.”
“Well, somehow, something went wrong, and the engine fell outta the van.” Samuel clapped his hands together. “Squished ‘im like that! Splat.”
“Okay… And how do you propose we remove a car engine and raise it to enough of a height so that we could crush him?”
Samuel shrugged. “I dunno, I don’t have it all planned out.”
“No no, that’s fine, I’m just speaking hypothetically, Samuel.” Lilly was eager to not discourage the boy.
“Hypowhat?” Samuel scrunched his face up.
Lilly exhaled. “Never mind.” She shook her pen in his direction. “I do like the idea of dropping something heavy on him, though. An instant kill. Maybe not a car engine though, eh? We’ll have a think.”
“Nobody’s dropping anything on him!” said Thom in cracked voice. “He’s my brother and you don’t know he will turn!” Ethan, voice lost from all the screaming, nodded and grunted his agreement with his younger sibling. His eyes were red.
Marko stepped in to say something, but Lilly silenced him with a raise of her hand. She paused to collect her thoughts. “Now, Thom, we all know what happens when we get old. We’ve all seen it for ourselves—” she looked at Clara and Marko “—right?” They mumbled their agreement.
“Whattabout Sam? He said his big brother never turned! It doesn’t happen for ‘em all!” Thom had given up the fight against the tears, which now streamed freely down his cheeks. A bubble of snot expanded and popped from one of his nostrils.
“But his brother did turn, didn’t he, Sam?” Lilly addressed him directly.
Samuel winced. “Well, yeah, but—”
“Because he got bit!” Thom squirmed around in his seat. “Didn’t he, Sam?”
Sam started to agree, but before he could speak, Lilly cut in. “Now, Thom, please.” She raised her hand even further to call for order. “We don’t know what caused him to turn, but—”
“Exactly!” shrieked Thom, who bounced up and down in his chair. “Exactly! You don’t know. It might not have been his age that turned him! It might not happen to everyone!”
“Shhh!” Marko’s eyes were very wide, his finger to his lips. “Christ, you’ll bring ‘em all down on us! For God’s sake, be quiet!”
Lilly pointed at Marko, then spoke in a hushed voice. “Yes, Marko’s right, we need to be considerate of the dead. We need to be careful. We need to keep our emotions in check.” She said this last bit directly to Thom.
“In check?” Even in whisper, Thom’s fury could not be contained. “You’re talking about dropping a goddamn engine block on my brother’s head!”
“Well, we’re not sold on the engine,” said Clara, “I think stabbing him in the head would be the best way to do it.”
Lilly smiled. “Yes, Clara — me too.”
Thom let out a frustrated squeal. It sounded like a teapot coming to boil. “I don’t care! You’re going to kill him, and he might not turn! You don’t know!”
“But he might turn,” said Lilly, raising a finger authoritatively. “He might.”
“Well, then let’s do my idea! We keep him bound, we feed him, and if he does turn, then you can drop an entire goddamned car on him!”
A silence fell upon the children as they all mulled this over. In the night outside, the raindrops continued to fall, the window a distorted ripple of water. Rat-tat-tat-tat.
Clara was the first to speak. “Yeah, but we don’t have unlimited food and water. We would be feeding him even though he might die.”
“True,” said Lilly, “very true.”
“So, we become murderers just to save ourselves the supplies?” Thom looked around at them all. “Is that it?”
There was a brief silence, which was broken by the boy at the far back. “You didn’t kick up this amount of fuss when he killed Damien,” said Samuel.
“That’s because the silly bastard broke his leg and was squealing like a stuck pig!”
“Language, Thomas,” said Lilly. She gave him the look she’d seen the school librarian give noisy children.
Thomas pressed on. “If we hadn’t killed Damien, we’d have all died ‘cos of the horde! If it’s supplies we wanna keep, I say we just let Ethan go.”
Lilly shook her head. “No, we don’t release, remember? If we release, he might add to the number of our enemy. We don’t do that. We only—”
“Yeah, we only kill, I know,” said Thom. “But that’s bullshit.”
“So, I say we either let him go or we keep him bound until he turns.”
“And if he never turns?” asked Clara. “We just go on feeding him?”
“Yes!” Thom was all-but bursting at the seams. He waved Marko away, who’d once more stepped forward to comment on the volume levels. “Yes,” he said in a voice that was quiet and clear. “Because that’ll mean that you’re wrong.”
Clara exchanged a glance with Lilly. “I still say we should stab him in the head, but it’s your call, Lil.”
“No, it’s all of our call,” said Lilly. Her voice was firm. “This is a democracy, is it not?” She looked to them all. “So, we take a vote.” Her gaze lingered on Thomas. “Or?”
Thom looked resigned. He threw his hands up in the air and fought no further.
Lilly smiled, happy to have regained some semblance of control. “Very good. So, all in favour of not killing Ethan, raise your hands.”
Outside, the rain thundered on.