They discovered the first corpse, a woman's, in early October. Her eyes bulged, shocked and bloodshot, and her face was a deoxygenated purple. She had long wings, glittery and blue. The wings' upper halves had been brutally knotted about her neck.
Her gown was blue taffeta. About her arms, like jewelry, were long strings of jagged enamel, consisting of children's teeth. In her hand, shimmering vaguely, was a broken wand.
For several hours, she lay on the street corner, arms splayed. In time, the whisper spread - "strangled with her own wings...!" - and passersby accumulated. They mourned her, keening, "How kind you were!" At last, the authorities arrived. They mounted her onto a decorative pallet and bore her toward the Capitol. Crowds surged behind, forming a spontaneous parade. They cried her name.
In the Capitol basement, mortuarial artisans partially restored her. They unknotted her wings and deflated her face. They bleached her cheeks and repaired her wand. When they had finished, they installed her in a glass sarcophagus, hermetically sealed. In time, they transferred her to a "remembrance room" for permanent public viewing.
There were millions of visitors. They brought personal gifts. There were cards, decorated with wands or insect wings, outlined in blue glitter. There were photographs of gap-toothed younger selves, signed: "Thank you." Many left coins or small bills, in a wry reversal of the old tradition. Others left small pillows.
The most genuine offerings, of course, came from young children. They kneeled before her, wiggling at their loose roots. With tiny, wet sounds, they detached one or more of their baby teeth. They cupped them in their palms, bloody at the edge. They placed them solemnly on a white cotton altar, which rested just beneath the sarcophagus. "For you," they said.
A few of the visitors, more fanatic, insisted that she was not really dead. They yelled imploringly at the sarcophagus glass: "Wake up! Wake up!" Some jabbed scalpels into their gums, in order to create ritual offerings of blood. "She lives!" they shrieked. They gave their blood in little trickles, saliva-diluted, so that they might further vivify her.
They discovered the second corpse at the end of the following summer. It was dirty and pink and approximately the size of a wolf. On its torso were three pinwheels of blood: one on the abdomen, one on the upper belly, and one on the left chest. At the pinwheels' centers were pistol slugs, deeply embedded.
It lay in a muddy field. On its rump was a small puff of cotton, soggy and stained. Two long ear flaps, upholstered with pink velvet, were half buried. Its eyes, dull and brown, stared at nothing. At its side was a ruined basket, spattered with eggshell splinters and blobs of putrid yolk.
Authorities removed it quickly to the Capitol. Here, morticians shampooed and dried it. They sewed up its torso and replaced its basket. When they had finished, they transferred it to a new corner of the remembrance room, enclosed in its own glass sarcophagus.
This time, the crowds' grief was quieter. Their mourning robes were colored with soft pastels, and their whispers were subdued. From their arms hung wicker baskets, decorated with ribbons and feathers. From the baskets they withdrew solemn offerings, which they sprinkled onto the sarcophagus' lid. They tossed plastic eggs, vividly painted, and pieces of chocolate wrapped in aluminum. "Farewell," they chanted.
A few fanatics, of course, flung baby chickens and ducks. "It lives! It lives!" they cried. They rapped and screamed against the glass, attempting to wake the corpse, but authorities dragged them away.
They discovered the third corpse, a man's, just a few weeks into winter. He was immense. Rolls of fat dominated his torso. He had a long-sleeved tunic, composed of a fuzzy red velvet, and his boots were dark leather. White curls created a continuous headdress: beard, mustache, sideburns, and scalp hair.
His skin was a sickly color, bluish white. No veins were visible. In their place were fine yellow lines, consisting of congealed fat. His right arm was bent, and his hand clutched at his left chest. His eyes, pale blue, were startled and open.
At his side was a coarse sack, from which oblong masses protruded, wrapped in glittering paper. Beneath the sack was an animal, half crushed and mostly dead. Its neck moved weakly, so that its antlers swayed, and its eyes were glassy. A festive harness, speckled with bells, enclosed its broken forelimbs.
The man lay near the gates of a public park, half wedged beneath a fountain lip. As authorities extracted him, anguished crowds assembled. Some sang old carols, though in a different tones: slow and tragic, like a dirge.
At the same time, veterinary surgeons attended to the injured animal. They trimmed away much of its flesh, including the limbs, which were already dead.
At the Capitol, a third-and much larger-sarcophagus was established. Millions of mourners arrived to honor it. Some brought whole evergreens, roughly uprooted, with dirt still bundled at the tips. Others, more delicate, presented individual boughs, shaped to form wreaths or other ornaments. Still others brought cookies and cakes. These, left to stand, emitted weakening aromas, which gradually became stale.
A handful of extremists also assembled. They waved colored stockings like pennants, each stitched with their first names: Bobby, Samantha, Edward. They shrieked at the corpse: "Up, up!" Their eyes were wild and their lips were flecked with furious saliva.
Other cults fixated on the quadruply amputated animal. It lived in a rest home, partially comatose. An IV of liquefied herbs nourished it: holly and mistletoe. Visitors, otherwise worshipful, often interrogated it. "What happened that night?" they asked. The animal, however, returned no real answer, only a mewling bleat, which conveyed nothing.
They discovered the fourth corpse, another man's, in early March. He had been long dead. Above him floated a billow of cloud, nearly opaque. Its wisps conveyed a complex stench, containing multiple elements, both sweet and foul.
He was tall and thin. His limbs seemed rather too long, his torso too short. His fingers, also, were oddly proportioned, as if not quite human. He wore a white robe, decorated with yellow tassels. His beard was thick and grey. It covered the whole of his front, terminating just above his knees.
A severe rot gnawed at his skin, in parts revealing the bone. A purple fluid leaked from many of the broken places: a mixture, perhaps, of blood and mildew. His face appeared wrinkled and stern. From his forehead hinged a halo, which flickered like a ruined appliance. His eyes were closed.
He lay beneath the floorboards of an abandoned factory. Authorities, lifting him, were startled to discover that he weighed almost nothing. They conveyed him to the Capitol by night, in attempted secret.