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Zindan Central Cemetery [Part 2]

Updated: May 18, 2023

Zindan valley is a national agricultural center. The vast cemetery abuts farmland used for crops and livestock. Indeed, until recently, the Zindan Central Cemetery itself had been farmland. Inevitably, goats and other animals from nearby farms and homesteads wandered into the cemetery. Local jokes about the Zindan goats' diet of plants fertilized by the dead soon evolved into ugly superstitious tales about the ill fortunes befalling those who ate the meat, or used the milk of Zindan goats.

The superstitions and scientifically unreasonable anecdotes spread and festered. Soon, it was not just Zindan's goats that were implicated in spreading the ill fortune of the dead, but cows and chickens too. Then the crops of the nearby farms. Then the entire output of the Zindan valley was, in the national imagination, somehow tainted by the internments in the cemetery.

A large fraction of our national exports come from Zindan. Historically, even small variations in the environment of the valley - an extra or missing centimeter of rain - can be linked to spikes and downturns in measures of the entire nation's economic health. Zindan's new reputation as a center of necro-tainted agriculture dealt a terrible blow to the economy.

National exports slowed. Internally, the flow of products from Zindan to the other regions dropped catastrophically. The currency plummeted. And plummeted again.

Once again, nobody seriously considered whether the problem Zindan Central Cemetery was built to solve - the problem of lofty internments - still remained a problem. Perhaps the mania of lofty internments had permanently ended, like a fire that burns intensely but briefly. Perhaps, the economic hardship caused by Zindan valley's new and unwarranted reputation as a source of corpse-tainted food, would have taught a generation of our people that the old ways were the best.

But the business of Zindan Central Cemetery was already a permanent feature of our economy. Saying we no longer needed Zindan Central Cemetery was unthinkable - akin to saying we no longer needed a capital city or a national railway.

Zindan Central Cemetery needed to exist in harmony with the rest of the national economy. Given this constraint, the solution was obvious. Build a wall around the cemetery.

If all that was needed was a way of keeping goats and cows out of the cemetery, then my daughter would still live in this world. But a simple fence would not solve the problem. The wall needed to loom larger in the national imagination than the hundreds of thousands of corpses leeching fluids into the soil and oozing the ill luck of the dead into anything that touched Zindan valley.

The wall's design and means of construction would indulge every known superstition about death and every tradition about the dead, no matter how old or obscure. It would rise exactly one hundred eleven meters tall. It would be tiled with black tiles on the outside and white within. The bricks would be formed so that the wall would have an odd number of courses. Even numbers, in the minds of some, containing ethereal holes through which spirits could flow. The texts of holy books and ancient symbols would be inlaid in the tiles. The gates in the walls to allow access within would be proportioned according to the ancient tenets. Totems of every variety were to be built onto the top, looking to the heavens, the Earth, and wherever else they needed to look to satisfy every system of beliefs and traditions that existed within our borders.

Tenders of incredible value were issued. Sons of families with construction concerns were married to the daughters of well-placed government officials. Daughters of businessmen were paired with unmarried officials themselves. My own parents came to be together through such an arrangement.

There were a few who foresaw the terrible problems that would one day arise as a consequence of the wall's construction. Botanists and insect phrenologists spoke out, in their way. But what chance does a polite cough from the back of a large room stand against the vast fortunes to be made from the wall’s construction? How could heavily caveated and vague warnings about the possibility of eventual, potential problems compete with enormous, already-awarded tenders cemented with family ties?

The wall was built. The goats stayed on the outside, and the reputation of Zindan's agricultural output was rehabilitated. For years, the dead passed through the gates in the Cemetery's great wall and our family happily interred them. And the seeds of the terrible problem that would ultimately destroy our family began to sprout.

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