Death: A Runeless Story

I remember the silence.  I remember the years of mindless toil being driven by the lash without an identity for my world except food, work, and pain in the hope of repaying a non-existent sin..  The covenant of heaven was the mandate of the universe.  Seraphim glorified the god-king.  Chorus served the god-king by ministering to the drones.  Drones toiled in the shadow for the privilege of existence.  A drone that did not work was runeless. The runeless did not exist…. Memoirs of Abram Ham


“Wake.”  that was his only thought as he woke, the jarring tone of the gong breaking through his slumber and wrenching him into consciousness.  He got up, stretching as the sound of the gong burst through the room a second time.  The gong meant it was time to wake.  The second gong meant it was time for food.  He put on clothes and walked out of the small doorless cubicle where the evening gong had sent him with the singular thought of “sleep.”  


He looked down at the small wooden codex hung around his neck.  A small flame of jealous Independence broke through the monolithic thought of food.  The codex was the only thing he thought of as “his.”  He did not even have a name to attach to “his” but the codex and the crude runes etched into the wooden surface were the only thing that distinguished him from the outcasts, the runeless.  There was no rune for the runeless, they simply did not exist.  To be runeless was death.


He passed others as he made his way down the long gray corridors.  Nameless faces wearing the same blank stares and the same thought in their heads as demonstrated by the rune tablet around their neck, food.  The rune for foot was a simple circle with a stem protruding from the top.  He did not know why the rune meant food or what an apple was, only that it meant the end to the dull ache inside of him.


He reached a large open room with no distinguishing features except for long tables and benches.  He sat down at the first empty stretch of bench in front of a small wooden bowl.  Another drone passed behind him with a larger bowl and a wooden ladle.  They both wore the same simple clothing and the same blank expressions.  The only thing that separated them was that the other’s rune codex had a rune of a ladle, “serve.”  He did not know what the rune was or what it meant, only that it was different and that the drone’s actions were different then his own.  Other drones sat on each side of him but there was no conversation.  Drones had no tongues.  Tongues were removed at birth as a sign of their covenant to work for the god-king.  He did not know this, he only knew that he wore his runes around his neck.

He picked up the small spoon next to the bowl and began mechanically feeding the contents of the bowl into his mouth.  It was a bland porridge, a mash of grains as indistinct as his surroundings.  He didn’t know what it was, he just knew that it made the ache go away.  He didn’t know why it made the ache go away, just that it did.  Had he known the word for hunger he may have reasoned out the connection.  However, drones were provided for by the chorus performing the will of the god-king.  Therefore, there was no such thing as hunger, only pain.  Pain was the herald of death.


He ate until the gong echoed through the room again.  He set down the spoon, stood, and joined the other drones leaving the room.  He did not think about what he did, he just acted.  To not act meant pain.  The rune for pain was a long lash tied to a rod.  This rune he understood for it was the same item held by the muscular drone standing behind the booth.  Around his neck hung another rune.  Jagged lines across the outline of a back.  He didn’t know what this rune meant, he just knew that both the drone and the rune meant pain.  Had he been the muscular drone, he would know that the jagged rune filled his mind with one thought, “discipline.”   


The third gong meant work.  He turned the tablets of the codex around his neck until a new rune was displayed.  The new rune was a wide vessel with a skin pulled tightly over it.  The rune meant work.  He walked out into the sunlight and joined a line of other drones.  All of the other drones had a different rune across their chests.  Carved into the wood was a long pole with a half circle at one end.  He did not have this rune but he knew it also meant “work.”  


Another figure stood in front of them.  He was tall and without a codex but he was not a runeless, he was a chorus.  The codex of the chorus was in his mouth.  The chorus used runes of sound.  Aural runes were the runes of the seraphim.  For an adult drone to hear any aural runes but the covenant meant death.  Aural runes were only meant for the chorus and the seraphim to glorify the god-king.  Drones were meant to work.  That was the covenant.


The chorus gestured and silently walked away.  The drones followed without hesitation, their precious runes turned to reflect the thought of work that dominated their minds.  To not work meant pain.  Enough pain meant being unable to work. To be unable to work meant becoming runeless.  Becoming runeless meant death.


In the shadow of the god-king’s tower lay the wastes of heaven.  Many was the day I spent in that shadow digging trenches to be filled with the refuse that rained down from on high day and night.  Many was the day I watched the runeless in desperation try to sneak into the trenches to scavenge, only to be bludgeoned by discipline drones and left to be buried with the rest of the garbage.  Like the refuse of heaven, runeless did not exist… Memoirs of Abram Ham


Thump… rest…. thump… rest…. the steady rhythm of the drum continued as it had since he and several other drones had been led into the shadow cast by the huge tower of heaven.  As he pounded the drum in time the drone gazed off into the distance of the tower.  Small bugs swarmed around the drum, some biting him.  He made no motion to remove them and interrupt the ever constant beat.  There was no rune he knew for bugs, they did not exist.  His arms throbbed from the repetitive motion but that was work, not pain.  The drone behind him with the whip was pain.  


Sweat beaded on his forehead and then dripped into his eyes making him blink.  Still he did not dare stop his work and face pain.  Within his mind the singular thought of work was momentarily joined by the thought that in the shade of the tower the water was not leaving him as fast as most days.  Many days he was led by chorus to the fields where food was grown.  On those days the sun beat down mercilessly and the water left fast.  The rune for water was three squiggly lines.  Water made the burning pain in his throat go away.


Two times a day the gong would sound and the drones would sit where they were.  Two times of day these gong meant food and water, provided by the drones with the ladle rune on their chests.  Two times a day the rest took away the pain in his limbs.  The food and water took away the burning pain in his throat and the dull pain in his stomach.  It was important to relieve the pain.  Too much pain meant being unable to work.  Being unable to work meant becoming runeless.  Becoming runeless meant death.


The sun was close to setting and heaven cast a long shadow on the earth below.  Each beat of the drum throbbed through his arms as pain.  The gong would sound soon and change his thoughts from work back to food and water before the final gong of rest.  The pain threatened to override the compulsion to work.  He struggled, hoping that the pain of his labor would not overcome him before the gong that signaled relief.  


A small distance away a sight caught his attention and briefly drew it away from the pain.  In the fields, the normal rhythm of shovels slicing down into the earth and rising again had been broken by one drone who now stood motionless.  He leaned on the shovel, using it to support his weight like a crutch.  He turned towards the drum, his face was ashen.  Unlike the other drones he did not sweat and he shivered as if cold.  The drone had seen this before.  The shivering drone would soon not exist.


A drone with a whip approached him, the rune for discipline swinging against his chest.  He raised his whip and brought it down with a crack.  The shivering drone fell to his knees, a formless sound leaving his parched lips.  He struggled against the shovel to stand but was once again brought down by the crack of the whip, this time laying prone on the ground.  He once again struggled to lift himself but quickly gave up, the last protests of a being fighting for existence replacing the sweat on his sun scorched brow.  


The gong rang as the sun touched the bottom of the horizon.  At its sound each drone dropped the implements of their work, changed their rune to food, and formed a silent line to be led away.  The shivering drone lay still, his body silhouetted by the setting sun.  A chorus approached him and in one swift motion ripped apart the chord that held his codex.  He took the codex, leaving the runeless where he lay.  The codex would be given to a new young drone.  The runeless didn’t exist.  


Laying on his cot in his small cubicle the drone only thought of sleep.  Sleep was necessary for work.  Work was necessary to fulfil the covenant and keep his runes.  Runes were necessary for existence.  He lay until sleep was able to overcome the protests of his muscles.  His mind never returned to the day and the death of the shivering drone.  His mind never registered that the shivering drone was much older then him, wrinkles and snow white hair framing his face.  It never crossed his mind that the man had upheld the covenant for many years only to end up dead in a field.  It didn’t cross his mind that the drones that worked all night burying the refuse of heaven would throw him in a pit to be buried with the rest of the objects that no longer existed.  It never crossed his mind that the shivering old man was his father.  There was no rune for father or family.  Neither existed.


Time did not exist in sleep.  Sleep was blackness without form.  The drones did not dream, save vague flashes of things from the past.  Unidentifiable thoughts mixed with random memories that would jump into being from the blackness with the suddenness of a monster scaring a child.  His mind instinctively knew they were things to fear, but could give no name to them.  There was a time before the age of sin that he was a child.  A child that could think, could understand, could dream.  Now he was a drone, a being without meaning except to work and suffer.  He sometimes pondered the shards of dreams for several moments upon waking up before the gong returned his focus to the duties at hand.  They were the only remnants he had of his childhood.  The one period of his life that had meaning outside of the covenant and work and pain.  Distant themes of a previous existence both sweet and cruel, less distinct with every year that passed.
The gong rang and he awoke from sleep.  He briefly stayed in his cot, desperately trying to piece together the dull scraps of memories from his sleep.  The second gong rang and he immediately rose.  There was no use trying to drag a past that no longer existed into his world.  He was not a child he was a drone.  He was a drone, there was food to eat and work to be done.

Image used with permission from Moyan Brenn via Creative Commons 2.0. Obtained from

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