Home : Archive : TSV 41-50 : TSV 49 : Fiction

After the Eighth Day

By Stephen Boswell

It was the eighth day of the funeral of Isaac ibn Abraham. Samuel stood in line to place a branch on his father's pyre. The king himself stood first in line, because Isaac ibn Abraham had been a great lord. Even Samuel's mother, Elsabet, was behind the king in the rank of mourners, though only she would be following Isaac ibn Abraham on his journey come nightfall.

Behind Samuel's mother was a man that he had never seen before. The man was short with long hair that seemed completely out of control. He was wearing a Panama hat with an upturned brim, and a tweed jacket. In his right hand he carried an umbrella with a curved, red handle. In his left band he carried a branch for the pyre. He dropped the branch into its proper place and then disappeared into the crowd.

The crowd was huge. It seemed to Samuel that half the population of Beth's World had turned out to pay their respects. Isaac ibn Abraham had been a great lord.

Had been.

Samuel's father had been. Soon his mother would be following his father's journey. He would be alone.

He dropped his branch onto the pyre. The wood had left tiny dents in the palm of his hand where he had been gripping it too tightly. Samuel stared at his hand until the woman behind him started to get impatient and began coughing politely. He got out of her way.

Samuel saw his mother talking to the strange little man in the hat, and made his way through the crowd towards them.

‘Thank you for coming, Doctor,’ she said.

‘Not at all. Your husband was a great man. The people of Beth's World will miss his wisdom greatly.’

‘Yes, but...’

The Doctor reached out a hand and placed it on her shoulder. He looked deep into her eyes. A shudder ran through her body and her voice quavered when she spoke. The words were barely audible - only the Doctor and Samuel could possibly have heard them.

‘I don't want to die.’

‘I know.’

The king stepped forward and threw the torch into the heart of the pyre. The fire quickly caught, and waves of hot, smoky air blew into Samuel's face. His eyes were watering.

I don't want to die.

Who was that man? Samuel had never seen or heard of this ‘Doctor,’ but he had been given third place in the honour line. Why can she talk to him but not to me?

I don't want to die.

How could she betray his father, his family, and their traditions like that? How could she betray him?

It moved.

For a moment, Samuel thought he saw his father's body move, but it must have been the pyre shifting as it burned. Now his father's hand seemed to be reaching out towards him.

Then it moved again.

Isaac ibn Abraham climbed to his feet and stood upright atop his burning funeral pyre. The flames that consumed his ceremonial gown seemed to be reaching for heaven. The fire had burnt away his hair; his face was blackened and cracked. His burning hands seemed to be reaching out towards Samuel.

Isaac fell forward, tumbling towards the ground. Towards his widow. Elsabet seemed frozen in place, as everyone around her scrambled to get out of the way. Isaac's arms wrapped around her and the two of them seemed locked in a final embrace for just a moment, before they fell to the ground in a cloud of smoke and fire.

Elsabet didn't make a sound.

No one did.

The Doctor stepped forward, grimacing as if with pain. ‘And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed with him.’

Dark clouds gathered. Thunder rolled across the sky; lightning struck the highest spire of the palace, and it burned. The air tasted of ozone and of smoke.

All across Beth's world, dead children awoke beneath the ground. Dead lungs tried to scream as dead mouths filled with wet earth. Dead eyes opened to darkness.

A voice spoke in the minds of the dead: Awake, my child. Men, women and children returned from whatever heaven or hell had claimed them. They forced their way through the wet earth to the surface; dead lungs gasped for air they no longer needed.

In the sepulchre of past kings, the sarcophagi opened.

A scream was in the air. The scream of a billion dead minds, dragged back to life. The scream washed across Beth's World in waves. In its wake, mad men wept and dogs fought. The more sensitive plunged daggers into their own hearts, only to discover that they could no longer die.

In a dark corner, in a small house, a girl who had died young wept wondering why God had forsaken her.

Wave after wave of psychic assault hammered against the Doctor's mental walls. The walls crumbled and fell; the scream was amplified a thousand fold by the Doctor's mind and returned to its originator.

In a darkened laboratory, a fragile mind cracked.

Samuel stared at the bodies of his parents, fused together. The crowd had scattered, and Samuel was left alone with his parents, and the Doctor.

Samuel heard the Doctor moan and turned to face him. The Doctor had struggled to his feet and was rubbing his eyes.

‘I'm blind!’

Samuel took the Doctor back to the house of the descendants of Abraham and had him put to bed. The Doctor slipped into unconsciousness. He remained that way for days - he didn't eat and he didn't drink, but he occasionally whispered about the scream.

Outside the house the world was going crazy. Beth's World's population had been more than doubled. The dead hammered at the doors of the house, demanding food and clothes and medicine, but the family retainers held them at bay.

Samuel watched the crowd from a window for most of the time that the Doctor was recovering. On the second day, the crowd parted and a large man stepped out in front of the house. He was tall and muscular, with a long ponytail. His naked body glistened with sweat. He called out to Samuel in a deep, booming voice: ‘I am Isaak ibn Josephus, king of this world. I demand that you allow me entry. I demand that you recognise my authority.’

Another man stepped out of the crowd. He was thin and bald; wrapped in a royal blue ceremonial robe. There was a long gash in the robe and it was covered in dried blood, though none of it was his own. ‘I am Innocent ibn Luke. I am king of this land and you, my friend, have been dead for a hundred years.’

And then another man stepped from the crowd.

And another.

On the third day after the funeral, the Doctor's eyes snapped open and he asked to see Samuel. Samuel came immediately.

‘Hello. I am the Doctor, and I wish we were meeting under better circumstances.’ The Doctor spoke quickly, with a strange accent. ‘I knew your parents well, Samuel. I'll miss them.’

‘Why did you want to see me? Do you know what is happening?’

‘Yes. I know. I need your help if I'm going to end this.’

‘What do you need?’

‘I need a lift.’

The Doctor and Samuel sat in the passenger compartment of the house flitter as it flew over the beads of the reborn. The Doctor was still unsteady, and his eyes wouldn't focus properly.

‘Why are we going to the house of the descendants of Isaiah?’ asked Samuel.

‘Because David ibn Isaiah is responsible for this. All of this.’

The flitter landed on the roof of the house.

Samuel and the Doctor climbed out of the flitter, followed by several of family Abraham's retainers. Samuel supported the Doctor as he led them through the house to a heavy steel door in the basement. The Doctor pressed buttons, seemingly at random, on the entry coder, and the door swung open.

Beyond the door was a laboratory. Electronics lined the walls, and sparking wires formed a halo around the head of David ibn Isaiah. A small, naked bay stood between the Doctor and David.

‘Please,’ said the boy, ‘don't hurt my father.’

The Doctor placed his hand on the boy's head. ‘I'm not going to hurt your father.’ The Doctor looked David in the eye. ‘But this has to end now.’

‘How did you find me?’ asked David. His voice was a hoarse whisper.

‘I followed the scream in the minds of the dead. You have to stop this.’

‘I can't’

‘You must.’

‘But my son...’

‘...is dead.’ The Doctor stepped closer to David. ‘Your machine is tearing the minds of the living and the dead apart.’

‘He was too young. He shouldn't have died.’

‘No one should die, but it happens. It has to.’

‘Why?’

The Doctor looked down at his shoes, and shadow masked his face. His reply was too soft to be heard. Then he looked up and repeated the single word: ‘Entropy.’ The Doctor pushed his hair back and took another, unsteady, step closer to David, ‘Things fall apart the centre cannot hold; Death. Chaos. Change. Entropy. They're all the same, but without death we have stagnation. Without change. You don't want that. Trust me. I've seen it.’

‘But Jacob...’

‘...was too young to die. You're tearing apart the minds of this world. You're draining their energy to support this. I'm afraid I'm going to have to stop it now.’

The Doctor reached out and pulled apart David ibn Isaiah's halo of light. David screamed, and this time it was real. This time it was in no one's head.

And Jacob ibn Isaiah's eyes rolled back and he fell to the ground, dead again.

[After the Eighth Day]

This item appeared in TSV 49 (November 1996).

Index nodes: Fiction