When the face was not a face, Brother used the pike to lift a rigid arm from the wake. His eyes would search the dripping, swollen fingers for the telltale glint of gold or gemstones until he was satisfied that the hand was not hers. Then he let that corpse too continue on its grisly way.
The pike was heavy, and as the day progressed, Brother’s arms began to ache with the strain of his work. Still he labored on, stretching out again and again to touch the endless epidermia until the pain lay like a fiery blanket across his rippling back. It was only when his throbbing muscles refused to obey the nerve firings in his brain that Brother reluctantly dropped the pike and sat down on the bank beside it to rest.
His hands felt different, bigger, and Brother looked down to find that new blisters had formed over the old ones of yesterday. Tonight, while he tossed and turned in fitful slumber before black-papered windows, the skin would harden in time to meet the hazy dawn when Brother would take up the pike again.