Posted on | November 1, 2012 | No Comments
Chapter 2-Something New
Beneath a slowly crumbling roof within a vast blank metropolis filled with rotting gray skyscrapers, packed with men and women whose whole lives have been lived in hiding, lies the hero of our story.
His little chest rises and falls. His mouth opens and the screaming begins. His mother can allow this to go on for so long before she wakes him up. Sweat pours down the crevices of his face, down his lips, his innocent smile contorted into a survival mask as he gasps for air, fighting for the reality he knows he must find soon.
This little boy is waking from nightmares of my life to the nightmare of his own.
As always, his prematurely gray-haired mother watches over him, hoping to offer some words of comfort. Since the time when he was very little he has been unable to sleep throughout a whole night without violent fits and screams. Since the time he was little she has rarely slept at all.
“Another happy dream, my love?” asks the boy’s mother, hovering over their shared bed, cup of coffee clutched in one shaking hand and a hammer in the other. One is to protect her from sleep and the other to protect her son from anyone wishing him harm.
“I’m sorry,” answers the child, finally able to catch his breath.
“It’s okay, Hey-You. It’s not your fault.”
She calls the little boy “Hey-You” because in New Olympia, children remain nameless until their thirteenth birthday. The New Olympians believe it is a sin for a person to die so young. It is for this reason that the Priests, who rule this land, do not allow parents to name their children until their thirteenth birthdays. Without a name you aren’t a person.
“I wish that you could sleep better,” she says, smiling sadly, his eyes tracing the black and blue outline of her never-ending waking life. “You worry mommy. I hate to wake you and it is terrible to listen to you sleep.” She takes another sip from her coffee cup. “What was it about this time?”
“I was in an all-white room, bleeding everywhere. Someone told me I was in heaven and I was bleeding everywhere,” he says. Tears streak down his freckled face, covering the tiny brown planets in oceans.
“Just a bad dream. You still have your marbles. You just need to sleep better. We’ll go around the block after breakfast, keep you exercising, a fine boy in good shape should have no trouble grabbing a little rest.” She sees her words are not working. Thinking of a better lie, she snaps her fingers. “Remember your dreams. Maybe they tell you how you save the world, just like your daddy promised before he had to go away.”
She opens the curtains and the sun is directly in his eyes.
In New Olympia, there are two suns — one comes out at noon, the other at midnight and there is never a time of darkness. At the beginning of the universe, someone must have been scared of the dark. Understandably many New Olympians suffer from insomnia.
She starts dusting. She repeats this dozens of times a day. There is rarely any dust to be found. It does nothing for the smell. The walls of his home stink of dead rats and heaps of century-old trash that litter the streets and alleyways. Some days he notices the smell and the walls slowly collapsing over his head. Most days it just feels like home. No matter how clean she makes it, the stench remains.
“How did you sleep?” he asks.
“Had a few winks, my love,” she says. She kisses him on the cheek and momentarily puts down the hammer. “Don’t worry about me. I’m tough. The mother of such an important young man has to be.” She takes him to her arms and for a moment he can pretend that things are the way they used to be.
Hey-You is small for his age, which he believes to be twelve. His mother has forgotten this particular detail and he knows it’s wrong to hassle her about the things she forgets. He has prominent sleep circles under his eyes that make him look like an old man stuck in a young boy’s body. He is skinny because they never get enough rations and he always slips his mother food off his plate.
“Do you have your things packed? They may come looking for us,” she says.
As always, a small backpack sits ready in the corner with enough clothes and toys to start a new life. He has been working on weapons to protect them on their trip, but he does not much care for the idea of hurting anyone.
“Why would They come looking?”
It was a subject that arose often: They. Mother sometimes talked to herself about They when she thought he was asleep. Long ago she stopped reading him stories and began making them up. They were the people coming to kill him to stop him from achieving his destiny. She puts down her coffee cup and begins fondling the hammer.
“Don’t worry, mom. The Priests have forgotten we exist.”
“They will not have forgotten you—they know what you are going to do,” she mumbles, once more forgetting to explain what she means. He notices her breathing has accelerated and decides to pursue it at a later time.
Once she gets wound up, it’s hard to keep her from hyperventilating. He rubs her shoulders, hoping that he can talk her out of this. He will play the child and let her encourage his dreams. She acts more like a mother when he acts more like a son.
“Tell me, mother, how long has it been since snow has fallen?”
“Snow is only in the story books.”
“And the rain?” asks Hey-You.
“You know the answer,” she tells him. Usually she humors him and talks about the great adventures they are going to have in strange places and the people they will be when they get there. Now she is too tired and he is being a handful and should figure out a way to make her feel better.
Only he can’t stop.
“I want to see rain.”
“It’s beautiful when it doesn’t rain,” replies his mother.
“It hasn’t ever rained,” Hey-You points out. “I want to see something different.”
In New Olympia, different tends to mean misborn or mutant, dirty or scary. Different created the gigantic holes in the city center where buildings were burnt to dust and ashes. Different was the treason that got intellectuals and dissidents murdered by the Priests. Different is what would happen if the people of the Fallen Lands learned the New Olympians were alive in their rat holes. They would come to finish the job.
To Hey-You and a few others, different means a place outside the city, where he is not a cog in a world of clocks , where he can leave the streets bordering the building where he was born. To his mother different means being noticed and being noticed means her son dies.
“I need to see the world.”
“You’ve seen the streets on the way to school,” his mother says.
Often there are sacrifices left hanging from lampposts. His mother never fails to point this out as he is on the way out the door. His mother’s fear for his safety often makes him fear for himself.
Their block went from east to west for miles in never ending endless rows of buildings that were exactly the same. They had walked for hours before but never found the end of the road, never seeming to move even a footstep closer to their destination. They were not allowed to leave their block. Many had been killed for trying to cross the street.
“I want to get out of here.”
“We don’t have passes,” his mother replies.
Hey-You wonders if this is one of her lies, which she tells whenever she thinks the truth too shameful. He suspects she wants to keep him in the city because she doesn’t think he could survive the journey outside.
“You tried to apply?” he asks.
“I don’t know where the office is.”
In New Olympia it is very possible that there is no office. It is possible that no one had passes and everyone lived in their ratholes until the ratholes became too full and people died from starvation or disease. These bodies would never be seen again and a few foolish survivors would begin again until someone else had to hide their bodies too.
There were rumors that travel was forbidden because most of the cities had not survived the Fall that destroyed New Olympia. These same rumors said that the world outside was simply a large collection of graveyards. Hey-You’s knowledge of the world existed in rumour collected in books and half truths told by drunken Priests who ran the city blocks its occupants were restricted to.
“Do your assignment, midget,” she scolds him gently, using her pet name for him, then adds: “The Priests always find the people who leave. They think anyone who is not working for them is working for Him.”
“The other God? Across the sea in the Fallen Lands?” says Hey-You.
She kisses his forehead with the softest brush of sandpaper lips.
“Yes, The Midget,” replies his mother disdainfully. This is a very different midget: a Midget who happens to be a God, rather than a little boy. And Hey-You is not really a midget. He’s just short for his age.
The Midget ruled a perfect world known as the Fallen Lands. Today, there are many wonders of mutation in the wastelands outside New Olympia. They blame The Midget for their fate. Many people have developed diseases from the radioactivity left in his wake.
“Can things still be magical there?” asks Hey-You.
“Anything’s possible there.” She is in the mood to play with him. She cares for him sincerely, yet gets a rush from giving him hope. Like when she is okay for a little while. He starts to think she will stay that way. She is good at giving him those little rushes. Just by being good for a while. But she never stays that way.
He hears the ceiling crack and sees flecks of debris fall to the floor. The buildings are unsafe and the Priests do not believe in repairs. Gradually the whole New Olympian world will collapse of neglect. The Priests say this is the way of the world.
“Do I go there when I die?”
He should not ask questions like these. Her shaking fingernails dig into his arms until he wonders if she will draw blood. She has been hurting him by accident lately.
His mother puts on her lecturing face. “You’ll die if you go there, that’s for sure. The Midget—The Father, Yozev, whatever you want to call him—doesn’t like us.”
An alarm clock goes off.
“You have a lot to do. You have to be prepared. People are going to count on you soon.”
Hey-You is sure it is because of moments like this that he has problems with bile in the morning and anxiety during the night.
“I wish I could sleep a bit more,” says Hey-You.
“Now there’s the prayer of a lazy ass,” she says in between yawning. “Get out of bed. Welcome to the day, my lovely son. It’s been waiting for you… along with breakfast.”
She shows him the two burnt black slices of toast and smiles. As usual, he eats all of it with a smile, watching her face, hoping to give her features some semblance of peace from the act of feeding him. He can hear the people in the other room arguing as they tended to. His mother can not complain about that because Hey-You often wakes them from sleep with his screaming. There was not enough space in Olympia for any family to have more than a room to themselves.
“Someday you’ll change all of this,” she says and grips his hand. “Promise you won’t leave the block. They’ll hurt you if you leave.”
“Of course, mother.”
He gets out of bed, dresses, eats breakfast, thinks about being a hero and completes his daily assignment. He knows he must be a smart hero rather than a brute, even though the warriors in the stories always seem to get the women. The problem is that he is not very skilled with the sword his mother acquired for him, even though he practices whenever he can. He tells her he is getting better, because he hates making her worry and worries that he may have to protect her soon.
She guards the house late into the night. Hey-You often finds her on her chair falling deeply into sleep. He never mentions that he puts the blanket on her each night. In her mind, she is the guardian against They, and he is soundly asleep.
He goes to school, walking past fresh and ancient detritus littering the city streets. Rotting maggots move from piles of dried out garbage to the bodies of animal carcasses sacrificed to honour the gods. He avoids eye contact with beggars on the street, knowing they could be Priests in disguise.
At school, he answers all of the questions the teachers ask him and knows the answers to the questions they ask his classmates.
Finally it is recess and he sees the stranger who will change his life. For the first time in many weeks he ventures outside, away from the careful watching eyes of his teachers and onto the playground and into the courtyard where children with gleaming eyes wait.
These special children play on the fused steel jungle gyms, rusty swing sets and rotting teeter-totters that make up the playground. They sing prayers to Aries in voices so sweet they almost distract him from the small implements clutched in their tiny hands.
He usually prefers to stay inside. He can tell from their eyes and the powder on their hands that they have been praying, which means drugs. Temples encourage their members to become drug addicts. It is another way to keep people from caring about whether they can cross the street.
There is something about the stranger that makes Hey-You take those first furtive steps outside, past the gang of twitching children snarling as they mimic war, each one ready to pounce on him at the first sign of weakness.
The stranger, dressed all in white, stands in the center of the schoolyard, surrounded by the mob of wailing children, grinning as though they were his subjects and he their master.
None of the filth-covered children dare to look at him. Hey-You feels a strange nausea as he sees the stranger’s thin lips stretch to a smile. His eyes are chameleon green and sparkling with humour. His hands are thin, but look made perfectly to break things.
“Children are such monsters,” he says to Hey-You. “They would rip you apart at a word. Have a seat, my boy. I have been waiting.”
One of the children grabs his leg and the stranger casually kicks the boy in the face, sending the child to the ground, his cheeks caved in by the weight of impact. The stranger lowers his dramatically raised foot.
“Relax. I hate children,” says the stranger.
He cannot be a Priest. Hey-You knows this because he can smell soap on him. A palpable absence hangs around the stranger; with some people, he knows they are bad or good, but the stranger seems ambivalent.
“Why are you here?” asks Hey-You.
Laughter comes from the children surrounding him. He wonders if they have somehow gained possession of a knife. He tenses his back, preparing to feel the blade.
The children rarely laugh at funny things.
“A story I heard once,” says the stranger. “Do you have the time?”
“For what?” He wonders if the stranger is making a joke at his expense.
The stranger laughs and so do the demonic children surrounding him, slowly leaning down to silence the broken child’s screaming with their sharp pencils and shining eyes.
“I am unaware of what time it is,” the stranger explains. “It could be important.”
Now Hey-You is sure the stranger is picking on him. Everyone in New Olympia has a watch. He wonders if They might have sent the stranger. A part of him believes his mother, mostly because he loves her and it’s wrong to think she’s crazy.
“Check your watch,” he tells him.
The stranger shrugs. “I have no watch.”
“How can you have no watch?”
The stranger shrugs. “I am an evil man.”
Hey-You checks his watch. 11:44. Still? His watch is still working, but the second hand must be traveling in circles. “Sorry for being rude,” he says finally. “What does an evil man do besides wasting time?”
“Evil means a waste of time?”
Hey-You nods. “No one ever asks me if I have a watch unless they‘re angry with me,” he explains. When the Priests ask him if he has a watch, it is a prelude to punishment for wasting time. The same is true for his mother. “How come you don’t have one?” asks Hey-You.
“I do not believe in time,” says the stranger. “And I am evil for much better reasons than the amount of time I waste.”
Hey-You’s nauseous feeling gets worse, as if someone was trying to fold his brain like a piece of paper.
“I was just reading about something like this,” Hey-You says. “Do you want me to come with you to the Fallen Lands?”
The stranger nods, his grin stretching from cheek to cheek.
He knows this is not just another adult playing a trick on him; it is his own mind. “You aren’t real,” Hey-You tells the stranger.
The stranger shakes his head. “The Father is not kind enough for that to be true.”
The Father is what the Midget’s people call him. So he did not work for They. He worked for The Midget.
“Why are you here?” Hey-You asks again.
“I had some things to do, people to kill, ruin to sow,” the stranger says, offering his hand.
“We haven’t been properly introduced. My name is Michael. Some call me the angel of death. You can call me Mikey. I am very pleased to meet you. Your name would be?”
“I am not old enough yet,” Hey-You replies.
“True enough.” Michael says, adding: “Fancy yourself a hero?”
Hey-You shakes his head. “I think I am boring, actually,” he says.
“You are interesting enough,” Michael replies, looking around. “You are the only one not scared of me.” There is a short silence as the stranger smiles into the distance. “You’re a very important little child,” Michael informs him. He shoos away the grinning children surrounding Hey-You, forcing them to take a couple steps back. “You are not,” he tells the others. “Give the boy space.”
“Why am I important?”
“You are going to save the world.”
Save meant save time. “How much?”
“All of it,” Michael tells him.
His mother had been right. They were here for him.
Hey-You takes a couple of steps back, stopping when he is in the center of the laughing children.
“Don’t worry. I want you to play the game. It makes it more fun if there is a chance I will not succeed. If you succeed you will make the world a better place. So today I am going to give you the chance.”
Michael’s hand is shaking as it reaches into his pocket and touches a bulky metallic object. Hey-You wonders if he is about to be hurt and why the man’s stare looks so filled with grief. His other hands lands gently on Hey-You’s shoulder. He feels his neck tense. People are always friendly before they hurt you. What is in his coat?
“Why me?” asks Hey-You.
“I wish I knew,” replies Michael.
Suddenly, all the alarms in the town’s clocks begin to sound simultaneously. The other kids get up and scramble back into the classrooms musty with chalkboard dust from the same lessons taught without change for centuries.
As Hey-You gets up to return to class, he turns back to Michael.
“I think you are a figment of my imagination,” says Hey-You.
The evil man points at the sky. “And that is a different shade of blue,” Michael says.
Hey-You looks up. The blue is, in fact, a mass of churning precipitation like maggots in the sky.
Hey-You grins so widely, it looks like his face might split open. “Does it rain in the Fallen Lands?” asks Hey-You.
“No,” answers Michael.
“Would I get older?”
“No one ages in the Fallen Lands. Especially not New Olympians.”
“What is going to happen here?” he asks, gesturing toward the city.
“All good things come to an end,” Michael tells him.
Each building is almost five hundred feet tall, housing hundreds of rooms. There is nothing tragic or beautiful about this scene — it is almost too tedious to come to an end.
A drop of rain descends from the clouds, lazy as syrup, a little diamond against the white sun. It lands on Hey-You’s nose and slides down his face. The next drop feels like a cat licking him. The next one is like a disorienting blow, but not a knockout punch.
He is so excited he cannot close his eyes and the rain falls down his cheeks like prophetic tears, as though nature understood what would be done to him. To the boy, it feels like he is clean for the first time in his life.
He feels his head swimming away from his body. To some other place where it does not have to chase his heart.
This is life beginning.
But then Hey-You feels the familiar tightness in his chest again, a third hand waving, clenching his chest into a raised fist about to knock him senseless. All he has to do is catch his breath. Only his lungs do not seem up for the race.
“Does the pain in my chest end?” asks Hey-You. “My uncle had a heart attack when he was my age.”
Michael grimaces. “Even that,” he says, “even that. I have a gift for you.” He reaches into his pocket and Hey-You flinches, thinking he is going to take out a weapon. You can see in his pained expression that Michael might be tempted to do exactly that. Instead he takes a small syringe filled with liquid from his pocket and stabs it into Hey-You’s arm.
A second passes.
“Bet you didn’t feel a thing. And, look, you are cured.”
Michael steps on the syringe and softly kisses his brow. He bends down and takes the small child into his adult arms, pressing him to his chest.
“You have to be safe, little one. Don’t step in the glass,” Michael tells him, kissing the little boy again on the forehead. “I feel I should give you inspiring advice. ‘Believe in yourself.’ ‘Go get em, champ.’ But I have to be honest. I’d be very afraid if I were you. Men are coming to kill you. Now you must travel to the Fallen Lands. Follow my instructions precisely and you will be safe as houses. Make for Basileus, last port of Olympia. Only there will you find safety, I will give you a list of cities to visit and in the proper order so my people can watch out for you. Ignore my instructions and you will die. Come now child, I am going to show you the world.”
Hey-You begins to shiver.
“Oh and remember to smile. This is going to be fun. ”If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!
- Under the Apple Tree: Chapter 4: Are We There Yet IIII ARE WE THERE YET? Thousands of footprints mark this...
- Under the Apple Tree: Chapter#1: She Smiles Most of you who knew me during my teenage years...
- Under the Apple Tree: III No One Dies III No One Dies His mother’s headache developed the day...
- Under the Apple Tree: V The Big Red V The Big Red Door It was not...
Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.