Tag Archives: Cambridge

Edward and Hestia

This is part of my post-apocalyptic Aftermath series. The previous story was Voices from the Past. Here is the Aftermath Glossary.

 

“It looks like you’ve been through an ash heap or two since I saw you last,” Hestia said. “I guess we all have.”

Despite what she said, Edward could not see that the last seventeen years had touched her much at all. She was older, of course. Her hair was touched with silver and a few wrinkles had sprung up in the corners of her eyes, but overall she had passed through the poisonous world unscathed.

“You know each other?” Blake asked in surprise.

“We met once,” Edward said. “Look,” he said, turning back to Hestia, “I’m not looking for anything for myself. You took some kids for me before; now I’m asking if you can again. I have one named Sean who’s in the hospital here. Just give him a good home and I’ll get the hell out of here.”

Hestia gave a small smile. “Hell,” she repeated softly

“What?”

“You said hell. I just wondered what you meant by it.”

“I—I don’t know, I just said it. What does it matter?” He felt a flash of anger.

“I was just wondering because most people in here consider out there to be more or less a literal Hell. They would do anything not to go out there and the people out there would do anything to get in here. So why the hell do you want to go back out so badly?”

“I can survive out there. It’s where I belong. I’m in control there.”

“Ah, ‘better to rule in Hell’ and all that.” Hestia sat down and motioned them to chairs. Blake sat down but Edward didn’t move. “I’m curious, Eddie—”

“Squid.”

“Squid? Really?” She shrugged. “I’m curious, Squid, what you’ve seen out there. What’s the world like?”

“You know what it’s like,” he said. “You said it yourself. Everything is sickly and twisted. Food is scarce. Everybody is hungry. Everybody suffers.”

“Except you.”

“Even me! But what’s the alternative? Live in here where everyone tiptoes around in fear of losing their position.” He would not tell her, but a small part of him wanted to stay—longed for that safety and security. Still, he could not do it. A bird that had been freed and lived in the open forest could not voluntarily step back into the cage, no matter have much gilt was put on the bars.

“You know,” Hestia said, “the right to murder and steal is not as precious in a place where no one is your enemy and everything you desire is freely given. But let me tell you about the world outside. Cambridge is the solitary island of civilization in England, but we are branching out. We even have a seaport now in Great Yarmouth and a rail line connecting us. It was the closest port we could find.”

“Was Ipswich destroyed?” Edward asked. “That would be closer.”

Blake made a noise of exclamation and Hestia stared at him. “Are you making fun, Squid, or have you really been that isolated from things down there in your scuttle-hole?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I mean, that Ipswich is the antithesis of civilization now,” Hestia said. “It’s a seething den of crime and piracy and every terrible thing you could conceive. They are our main enemy, since they are the only ones that send targeted attacks against our supply lines.”

“I didn’t know,” Edward said. He didn’t know how he felt about it. Part of him wanted to go there, to test himself against a whole city of the worst villains and thieves, but part of him didn’t want the competition. He enjoyed being the top dog.

“We have a few mines and a small refinery,” Hestia continued, “although a lot of what we get is still through salvage. That’s my job here. As Minister of the Exterior, I send out people to find things and bring back the best. Blake works for me sometimes, finding robots.”

“And that’s what you want me to do, to go find stuff and bring it back.” Edward thought of the chren mining that Hinsen had tried to get him to do and suppressed a shudder.

“That’s the idea,” she said. “Listen: what you’ve got here is a golden chance. We don’t pull molerats—outsiders—in and offer them jobs very often. Actually, never. But you’re here and at least I’ve met you before; someone who attracts little kids like a magnet and tries to find them good homes can’t be a total blacksoul. So, here’s the deal. We’ll give you a house here—you don’t have to live in it if you don’t want—and the boy can stay here. You can spend most of your time outside and do whatever you want, as long as you bring me some good stuff every now and then. If you ever want something more, let me know.”

“What the alternative?”

Hestia waved her hand carelessly. “Take the boy and leave. But if you do, my offer won’t be renewed and you won’t get back in. I’m too busy for that.”

“What do you need me to find?” Edward asked and Hestia smiled.

There was a buzz and Blake took out his e-device and looked at the screen. “The hospital says the boy is awake.”

“You mean Sean?” Edward asked.

“He says his name is Damian. And he is asking for you.”

hospital bed 2


Voices from the Past

This is part of my post-apocalyptic Aftermath series. The previous story was Droog the Angel. Here is the Aftermath Glossary.

 

The hot water that coursed over Edward’s head and down his back seemed to strip away more than the dirt and sweat of years. It soaked deep, washing away some of the pain and awakening a part of him that had existed, Before. He stood in the shower and reveled in becoming clean until Blake knocked on the door and told him the water tank was getting low.

Blake’s house was on the ground floor and looked out onto one of Cambridge’s ancient college quadrangles. The apartment was small, but warm and dry, and to Edward it looked like a palace. He came out of the shower and put on clean clothes that Blake had given him. The place peaceful and empty, but still he held his knife close to his side as he went into the living room. Blake was sitting by the electric heater, fiddling with a tiny gearbox.

“Thanks for the clothes and shower,” Edward said, standing uncertainly by the door. He glanced quickly behind him—no one was there.

“Not a problem,” Blake said, barely glancing up. “I’m happy to extend a few things to a friend of 8134—Droog, I should say. Just sit down and relax. You don’t need the knife.”

Edward sat down and crossed his arms, keeping the knife hidden in his hand. “So, how did you find him?”

“He found me,” Blake said. “He’s a smart little bot. He told me all about you—otherwise I’m not sure I’d have let you in here.”

“He doesn’t talk; he just blinks his red and green lights.”

“I put those lights there to make it easier to communicate,” Blake said, “but he does talk, if you ask him to and know the language. It’s Russian.” He held up an e-device. “I’ve got an instruct that will translate. I’ll give you a copy, if you want. He told me how you rescued that boy. Sean, right?”

Edward stood up, dropping his arms and unconsciously exposing the knife blade. “You have Sean? Where is he?”

Blake smiled. “Sit down, and put the knife away. He’s with Droog at the hospital—yes, we have such things here. He was almost dead when I found him and he would have been dead and eaten if not for Droog. You’re lucky to have that little bot.”

“I stole him, you know, from a guy named Joseph.”

“Droog says you invited him to come along on your quest. To find music, he said. You’re a complicated guy, Edward.”

“I thought bots couldn’t lie,” Edward said. He put away his knife slowly and sat down.

“They don’t have any morals,” Blake said, “but they also don’t have any guile or reason to lie. They tell things as they see them, but every so often, they just choose to interpret things a different way. Droog claims you requested him to come.”

Edward gave a small laugh. The shower had put him in a better mood than he could remember for a long time and hearing that Sean was safe made it even better. “You know, I don’t remember the last time I requested anyone to do anything,” he said.

Blake gave him a long look over the gearbox. “I’m not surprised, looking at you. Listen, you can stay the day here, but tomorrow night you’ll have to go. If you want, I can see about getting you a job somewhere around town: security or loading or something like that. Still, I don’t know if you’re the kind of guy who works well with others.”

Edward gave him a thin smile. “I want to see Sean.”

Cambridge street

They left Blake’s house and walked through narrow streets of the city. They were lit with electric lights, quiet, and what amazed Edward most of all, clean. People passed them, talking quietly. There were no raucous market sellers, not street rats, not even any weapons that he could see.

“Isn’t there any crime here?” he asked Blake.

“Of course,” Blake replied. “There’s crime everywhere, but nothing like out there. The penalties are harsh too: often execution or worse.”

“Worse?”

“Exile,” Blake said. “Fear of the outside is a better enforcer of the law than any number of policemen.” He led the way up a set of stone steps and into a long hall.

“This is just the local clinic. The bigger hospital is across the city, but I thought this would be sufficient.”

They came to a long room with beds lining the walls. Droog was standing by the third one on the right and lying on the bed was the little boy, Sean. He had an IV in his arm and looked to be asleep. Blake called over a doctor, who said that Sean was improving and would probably fully recover in a week or two.

“Have you thought about what you want to do next?” Blake asked. “As I said, you can stay with me today, but that’s all. All other lodgings in the city are for workers. Ain’t no tourists here.”

“You’re right when you said I probably wouldn’t work well with others,” Edward said. “I’d best be moving on out of here, but do you think he could stay here?”

Blake was shaking his head before Edward even finished. “Only the children of workers can stay. If you stay, you adopt him; otherwise, you’ll have to take him when you go.”

Edward looked down at the sleeping boy on the bed and wished he could just leave him. He felt as if he barely knew his own mind anymore. Why did he feel he owed this boy anything? He had never killed a kid, it was true, but he had robbed a good many and pushed them around. This wasn’t penance for them; he honestly didn’t care about any of them. But still . . . He shook his head, as if trying to put it in order.

“I don’t think I’d fit in this city, but I’d like to do something to earn a place for the boy, at least.”

Blake smiled. “I think I know the person you want to talk to. She’s the Secretary of the Exterior. I’ve worked with her a few times, when I go out exploring for robots. “

They left Droog and Sean and walked for half an hour, to the heart of the city. They entered an area with more guards where Edward had to give up his knife. Finally, they were escorted down a hall and their guide opened a large, ornate door.

Edward found himself in a large oak-paneled office with leather furniture and shelves of books. A ‘Munculus bot and a larger Myoolbot, both painted yellow, stood to one side. Behind a large desk sat a middle-aged woman with close-cropped hair and wearing a leather jacket.

“Madame Secretary, I brought someone who is interested in expeditionary work. His name is—”

“Wait,” the woman said, cutting him off. “I think I know him.” She gave Edward a long look and then broke into a grin. “Hey there, crackerjack.”

She looked older, but Edward recognized her. From deep withing the annals of his memory a name slowly rose. “Hestia?” he said.


Droog the Angel

The latest chapter in the Aftermath series. The previous story was Droog Comes Home. There is also an Aftermath Glossary.

 

Edward Morrison felt powerless and that made him angry. He had been wandering the satellite slums of Cambridge for two days, searching for his robot Droog and the boy he called Sean. Why do I even care? Why don’t I just go? his mind demanded, but then the question always arose: Go where? He had no food, no supplies, no plan. What had he been thinking when he had left Free Frall? It had seemed so simple then.

He was also fiercely hungry. In Freefrall, he would merely go and take food if he needed it, but here people were shrewder, and far more dangerous. He had managed to steal a scrawny pheasant from an old woman in the market—just grabbed it off her table and ran. She was quick though, and a second after his hand closed on the bird, her knife was flashing towards his ribs. It missed him and he could hear her cursing him for a long ways away, even over the normal murmur of the crowds. He had eaten it furtively in the dark, gnawing quickly like an animal afraid of having its prize stolen.

That had been a day ago. Now he was starving again and becoming desperate. He would have ambushed someone and killed them for their food except that no one ventured outside the markets alone and everyone was heavily armed.

Dawn was close when he finally stumbled back to the nest he had found under some stubby bushes. It wasn’t much, but it kept the sun’s blistering rays off him . The air was sweltering and he slept fitfully, his dreams melding with hallucinations from the heat and thirst and his gnawing hunger.

He dreamed that he was in a dark room surrounded by all the people he had killed over the years. They came at him, one by one, and he had to fight them again and again. I’m so tired, I just want to sleep, he thought, but they wouldn’t stop. Then the scene shifted and he was wandering over the dark countryside with Droog, looking for Sean. He was too tired to pay attention and after a while, Droog led him to a place under the bushes, where he could rest. Droog did not leave, but kept leaning over him, making little noises and prodding him…

Edward pulled himself upright with a sharp intake of breath. Droog was standing in front of him, pushing his small, metal body partway the hollow in the bushes.

“Droog, you little gear-rat! How did you find me?” Edward shouted in surprise. He stopped as a coughing fit grabbed him. Droog reached into a bag he was carrying and pulled out a bottle of water and a metal container, which turned out to hold food. The water was warm, but cleaner than any Edward could remember and the food… he had not tasted food so good since Before, when food was plentiful and taken for granted.

Droog waited as Edward wolfed down the food and water. The position of the sun showed that it was late afternoon: about four hours until darkness. Droog took something else out of the bag and handed it to Edward. It was a suit of shiny, white material that included pants, jacket, gloves, hat and goggles.

“You want me to put this on?” Edward asked, although the answer was obvious. “Where are we going, Droog? Where did you get this stuff?” Droog did not reply, but simply indicated the clothes.

Edward put them, trying not to rip them on the bushes around him. They were bulky, but not hot and they seemed to cool him down, if anything. When he was completely covered, Droog went outside and he followed.

scorching sunlight

Edward had not been outside during the day in seventeen years. He had heard stories of people who had gotten caught outside when the sun rose: sunburns within a minute, third degree burns in an hour. The goggles cut the glare and for a moment, it was like he had was back then—Before—when he would walk outside in the sun’s warm light for hours.

They walked back through the Silver Street market and came to the bridge across the canal that led to the fortified city of Cambridge. Guards were there behind locks gates, wearing similar white suits and goggles. Droog handed them two square cards and they unlocked the gates. Just like that, Edward was in the protected city.

Droog must mean angel, he thought. Suddenly, the combined effect of the food, the sunlight and his sudden reversal of fortunes made tears start streaming down his cheeks. He hated them and the weakness they implied, but there was no way to make them stop.


Outside the Gates of Cambridge, Part 2

(An Edward Morrison chapter)

Read Part 1, or the ones that came before.

In Edward’s dream, a child was crying. It sounded like Sean, but Edward could not see him. Dark men were crowding around him, but as much as he fought them off, he couldn’t find Sean.

Edward awoke. The door of the cabin was open and the blood-red stain of dusk could be seen dying slowly in the west. The boy he had called Sean was lying where he had left him, while another small boy stood over him and poked him with a piece of steel. Sean was making whimpering, puppy-like noises.

“Hey kid, stop.” The boy continued. “I said, lay off!” Edward shouted. He grabbed the kid by the back of the neck and threw him towards the door just as Hinsen walked in. Hinsen shoved the now screaming boy out the door with his foot.

“You ready to work? Sun’s down,” he said.

“What about the robot and the boy?” Edward asked.

“They’ll be okay here. Just come along.”

Screams of laughter and inhuman shrieks came from outside the cottage. Fires were blazing, up and down the street and by the nearest, men were rolling on the ground, convulsing and laughing until they were gasping with the effort. Still more were passing around a filthy rag soaked from a glass bottle. In turns, they took deep, shuddering breaths with the rag pressed to their nose. Edward caught the caustic scent of Trill, the cheapest, quickest path to total oblivion of the mind.

“You want some?” Hinsen asked casually. “You might want some, for the work.” Edward shook his head.

They ate a quick bowl of thin soup and Hinsen put them single file, ten men in all, and led them out into the darkness beyond the slums. Most of the other men were high on Trill and the dead lands around them echoed with the sound of their bestial laughter. They walked for over a mile before Hinsen’s flashlight illuminated a deserted country manor set among a stand of overgrown oak. The windows were smashed and the door gaped like a dead and rotten mouth.

“Everyone take a bucket,” Hinsen said. “Once everyone’s buckets are full, we go back, not before. Don’t stop working until all the buckets are full. Now go.”

Edward approached the door. Away from the glare of the flashlight, he could see a dull red glow coming from inside. He had seen it once before and the sight of it here made the breath catch in his throat. This was no ordinary search and salvage.

“Get going, Squid.”

“That’s chren in there, isn’t it?” Edward said. Chren was radioactive mold carried by irradiated bats. Besides attracting chinch bugs and a host of other radioactive vermin, the spores could burrow into a person’s lungs, slowly burning them from the inside out.

“So? The faster you work, the faster you’ll get out,” Hinsen said.

“You said search and salvage, you never said anything about chren mining,” Edward said. “It wouldn’t be worth a year of beef and bacon to go into that house.”

Hinsen drew a gun from his pocket in one swift movement. “You owe me for the food you ate, Squid. You’re going in.”

Some of the other men had already gone in, but the rest stopped to see what would happen. “You know, I didn’t choose the name Squid,” Edward said softly. “I was given it, by the good people of Free Frall. Do you know why? They said it was like I had eight hands, like I was everywhere at once!”

Edward slipped to the side and kicked up, trying to kick the gun out of Hinsen’s hand. His foot hit the wrist, but Hinsen held onto the gun. It was evidently not loaded, since Hinsen swiveled it around, brandishing it like a club, and tried to smash Edward’s face with it. Edward dodged to the side and slammed the heel of his hand up into Hinsen’s face. He felt the nose break and blood gush down his arm in a sudden warm flood. Grabbing Hinsen’s face with his huge hand, Edward thrust him backwards and hurled him to the ground. He heard a crack as Hinsen’s head impacted with the rock-hard soil.

The sudden silence was broken by a manic guffaw from one of the men. Then the rest joined in, as if seeing their employer beaten to death was the funniest thing they had ever seen. Edward took the gun and left without a backward glance.

When he got back to the town, the house was deserted and Droog and the boy were gone. He asked around, but no one had seen them or would say where they had gone. He cursed and threatened them, but it was hopeless.

The Squid was alone again. He did not need the little ‘Munculus bot, Droog, but he was valuable and had already been a huge help on the road to Cambridge. The boy, he tried not to worry about. He had not wanted to bring him anyway, he told himself. But then, the dream of Sean crying came back to him—a memory that still chilled his heart after years of hard and bitter toil. The Sean from long ago whom he had sworn to protect. The Sean who—

Edward started to hurry through the streets. He shouldn’t have called the boy Sean. He shouldn’t have given him a name at all. Now he knew he had to find him and make sure he was okay.


Outside the Gates of Cambridge, Part 1

(An Edward Morrison chapter)

Read the previous story, The Road to Cambridge, or the ones that came before.

Cambridge was a gulag of order, where only the richest could afford imprisonment. It stood like a candle in the ravening darkness, the afterglow of a civilization long swept away. And just like a candle, it drew the hopeful, the lost, the destitute masses to its light until it was surrounded and inundated by more souls than its walls and barricades could ever contain. Still, the people came, encircling the enclave with ghettos where people scrabbled for entry and for the means to survive.

This was the crowded, tangled scene that Edward Morrison encountered as he reached the Silver Street Bridge gate and was denied entry into Cambridge. The guards saw his tattered clothes and dismissed him summarily. Cambridge was full. Droog started to go through the gate on his own and would have gotten his circuits smashed out, if Edward hadn’t intervened at the last second.

He had been walking for three nights along the M11, carrying the little boy he called Sean in his arms or on his back. The boy had woken up long enough to eat a little and drink water, but he never said a word, even when Edward asked his name and where he was from. Edward gave him what food he could spare, but saved most for himself, so that he would have the strength to keep walking. After the first night on the M11, he avoided other people, instead finding protected hollows to shelter in.

“Please, can I get a place to stay for the day,” Edward asked a woman at a cottage nearby. Dawn was near—already the eastern sky was lightening with omens of the sun’s approaching wrath.

“You got any food?” the woman asked, looking at Edward disdainfully. “Don’t bother offering the kid—we don’t eat ownflesh here.”

Edward soon found that everyone wanted food; even technology was worth almost nothing. He saw someone trade an e-device for a small meal of shrunken vegetables. He felt unarmed and alone. In Free Frall, he had been the king, with anything he wanted at his fingertips for barter, extortion or theft. But here, everyone was smarter and more ruthless than he had ever been. He had nothing left to trade, no threats to use, and dawn was coming.

He went back to the gate. The guards were already locking the gate and moving the day barriers in place on the near side of the bridge.
“Please, I’m friends with a citizen of the town. His name is Blake. He traded me this robot.”

The guard looked unimpressed. “Blake who? If he’s expecting you, then he should be here to vouch for you. If not, you don’t have a chance of getting in.”

A man had been watching them from a canopy on the side of the road and now he approached Edward. “Do you need a place for the day? It won’t cost you no food, and I can give you a bit too, for you and your boy. You look strong—just work for me during the nights and you can stay as long as you like.”

On the surface, the man’s expression was caring and sincere, but Edward could see the greedy look in his eyes. Swindler, he thought.

“What kind of work?” Edward asked.

“Search and salvage,” the man said. Theft and digging, Edward thought, if he was lucky.

“I’ll try it one night. What about the boy? He’s not mine. Can you give him a home?”

The man shook his head. “He’s too small to do work. Get rid of him now, if you want. If you bring him, my girl’ll take care of him while you’re out working, but his food comes out of yours.”

“Fine,” Edward said.

The man grinned and stuck out his hand. “Hinsen,” he said.

“Squid,” Edward replied, not smiling.

The cottage Hinsen led them to was tiny and already held eight people, but it had thick walls and kept out the sun. Two women were serving out thin soup when they got there. Edward got half rations since, as Hinsen explained, he hadn’t done any work yet. Then they all lay in rows on the dusty floor and went to sleep. Droog stood in a corner near Sean, watching over him.

Edward had trouble sleeping. Mosquitoes and burn flies came up through the floorboards and through chinks in the walls, buzzing around and biting. The air was stifling and smelled like filthy people and excrement. He wondered if he had done the right thing. He had abandoned Free Frall and his life there because of a song that had captivated his imagination, but now he was hungry, out of his depth, and sharing a filthy hut with nine other people, with prospects of doing manual labor to earn his keep. He considered leaving everything and fleeing back to Free Frall.

Outside, the sun climbed higher in the sky and before it reached its zenith over the blighted world below, Edward had slipped into a troubled and fitful sleep.

(to be concluded tomorrow)


The Road to Cambridge

(An Edward Morrison chapter)

Read the beginning of the journey: Saturday, 4am, Droog’s Story

The road was there, waiting for him. He had dreamed about it for the last two nights, eager to set out, but reluctant to start. But tonight, the time had come.

The sun was almost down; it would be time to head out soon. Edward Morrison had his pack on and was waiting for the last blistering rays of the sun to disappear behind the western rubble heaps.

“What do you think, Droog? Can we leave yet?” he asked the small robot next to him. Droog went out into the twilight, did a scan, and hesitated, as if thinking. Then a green light on his shoulder went on and Edward joined him.

This was the night, the night he would set out on his quest to find those forgotten pearls of the world Before. He had spent the last two nights borrowing, extorting and just plain stealing supplies and food. He would set out for Cambridge, the only vestige of civilization that he knew of. He had never been there, but the road was long and barren. He had never heard anything good about it.

He set out walking, letting Droog go slightly ahead to scan the way. The little robot could not speak English but Edward told him what to scan for and to have the light go red if he found anything suspicious. The robot whirred quietly along, his little green light blinking every few seconds.

Edward left the Burrows of Free Frall—where most of the people lived huddled together in underground tunnels—and took the Cleanway north out of town. It had been picked clean of all useable material and was the clearest road in the area. Here and there, he could hear people coming out of their houses to forage for sickly leaves and sour berries to eat. It would hurt them, what he had taken from them. A going away present, he thought. They would be happy enough to see him gone.

Edward left the Cleanway and entered the wide highway known only as the M11. Now it was a twelve-lane graveyard.

On the day the world had ended, the M11 had been filled with cars. They were sitting there still, lined up in neat queues as they had been when the first missiles had hit London. They were ransacked, vandalized and slowly rusting away now—the home of strange creatures and dangerous men who preyed on travelers. Or so they said. Edward had never been far on the M11, just far enough to poke around a few of the cars. Now he started walking north on the left shoulder, with Droog going in front of him.

They had been walking for twenty minutes when the light on Droog’s shoulder blinked red, meaning that he had detected some life form close ahead. Edward froze. He could hear reaper birds shrieking out in the darkness somewhere and the air smelled like dust and decay. He took out his device and turned on the small light, at the same time taking out the length of steel pipe that was his only weapon.

A triple-decker cargo transport had collapsed across a line of car and just underneath, he caught sight of a tiny body, lying curled in a pile of dust. It had to be alive or Droog would not have detected it.

Edward wanted to leave it and was on the point of continuing on, when Droog approached the body and scanned it. Then he did it again and again, scanning it over and over until Edward thought that there must be a problem with the little robot.

“Droog, cut it out,” he said. He knelt down and saw it was a little boy—about six, he guessed, although by his size he looked about four. Edward could see the bones of his skull pushing out against the thin, stretched skin. He was probably about to die anyway. The boy moved a little when Edward prodded him, but did not open his eyes.

“So what do we do, Droog?” Edward asked.

Droog said something in his incomprehensible speech and tried to pick the little boy up, something impossible for the 3-foot high robot.

“Great, a robot with a social conscience,” Edward said. He sighed and picked up the boy, trying to knock some of the dust off the rags that he wore as clothes. The boy was little more than bones wrapped in dusty rags and Edward carried him effortlessly. He set off again, unsure what he was going to do with him next.

The boy stirred and tried to speak, so Edward gave him some water. He would have drunk the entire container if Edward had not stopped him. Then he put his head on Edward’s shoulder and fell asleep.

After another hour of walking, a point of light appeared in front of Edward, and grew into a campfire as he drew nearer. There was a barrier of derelict cars built across the road, the fire behind it. Several men were sitting on the barrier, playing a game with carved bones. They turned as Edward and Droog approached.

“Windrin,” one of the man said.

“Iffa please,” Edward replied. He had never used the wanderer ritual greeting before, but he knew it. The man nodded and opened a small opening in the barrier for them to enter.

Inside was a ragged group of men and women sitting around the fire, cooking rats and squirrels over the flames. They nodded unsmilingly at Edward.

“You’re welcome to stay with us for the night and tomorrow, if you wish,” the man who had greeted Edward said. “All it will cost you is half your food.”

“Half my food?” Edward wasn’t sure he had heard right.

“That’s right. Don’t worry, we won’t touch yer gadgets or anything. Just the food.”

“It took days to collect all this,” Edward said. “Why the scryg would I give it to you? I’ll keep going, if you don’t mind.” He turned, but the gate was now closed.

“The food is the price for passage, as well as lodging,” the man said. He was holding an object in his hand. It had a black metal tube sticking out of it that was pointing at Edward. Edward had never seen one, but he had heard stories. He took his pack off.

The men took out everything from his pack, put back the inedibles and divided everything else exactly in half, down the last withered lettuce leaf. Then they took half away and put half carefully back in the pack.

“I found this boy a while back,” Edward said as they settled back around the fire. “I shouldn’t have taken him, but I can’t take him any further, especially now. Can I leave him here with you?”

“Throw that one in a ditch outside,” one of the women said. “Far enough away though—we don’t want no reaper birds or wulps sniffing around here. We can’t spare no food for’em.”

Edward looked down at the frail form lying next to him with his head on Edward’s pack. He reminded Edward of someone he had known, long ago, back when . . .

“Maybe I can give him away in Cambridge,” Edward said. “I’ll take him that far at least.” He put his coat over the little boy and Droog took up guard at the sleeping boy’s head.

Sean, Edward thought with a mental sigh, as old pains long-buried resurfaced. I guess I’d better call him Sean.


Linda's Bible Study

Come study God's Word with me!

Help Me Believe

Strengthen the believer. Answer the critic.

Citizen Tom

Welcome to Conservative commentary and Christian prayers from Gainesville, Virginia. That's OUTSIDE the Beltway.

Dreaming of Guatemala

celebrating in His light and pursuing His dreams for me.

The Green-Walled Chapel

Writings on Faith, Religion and Philosophy

To Be A Magician

A fiction blog of funny and dark stories

My music canvas

you + me + music

Eve In Korea

My Adventures As An ESL Teacher In South Korea

Luna's Writing Journal

A Place for my Fiction

Bikurgurl

Traveler, Foodie, Eclectic Unschooly Mama, Blogger, Outdoor-Seeker, Gardener, & Voracious Reader, sharing bits of my life at Bikurgurl.com

Upper Iowa University

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Here's To Being Human

Living life as a human

The Moving Quill

Writing & Blogging by Shailaja V

jenacidebybibliophile

Book Reviewer and Blogger

yuxianadventure

kitten loves the world

Strolling South America

10 countries, 675 days, 38,540km

It's All in Finding the Right Words

The Eternal Search to Find One's Self: Flash Fiction and Beyond

Reflections Of Life's Journey

Lessons, Joys, Blessings, Friendships, Heartaches, Hardships , Special Moments

A Writer's Path

Sharing writing tips, information, and advice.

Chris Green

Tales of Mystery and Imagination

Finding Myself Through Writing

Writing Habits of Elle Knowles - Author

Commendable Soap

"...the manufacture of stories... a business safe and commendable as making soap..." Willa Cather, 1920

BEAUTIFUL WORDS

Inspiring mental health through creative arts and friendly interactions. (Award free blog)

Claire Fuller

Writing and art

TALES FROM THE MOTHERLAND

Straight up with a twist– Because life is too short to be subtle!

Unmapped Country within Us

Emily Livingstone, Author

Silkpurseproductions's Blog

The art of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

BJ Writes

My online repository for works in progress

wordsandotherthings.wordpress.com/

she is confidence in shadows.

Musings on Life & Experience

Poetry, Fiction, & Non-Fiction Writings

Outside The Lines

Fun readings about Color, Art and Segmation!

obBLOGato

a Photo Blog, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to dear dirty New York

Björn Rudbergs writings

Poetry and fiction by a physicist from the dark side

SightsnBytes

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WordDreams...

Jacqui Murray's

The Day After

Musings, Photography, Writing, and More

Mondays Finish the Story

This is a flash fiction site where you finish the story!

Sketches By Boze

An ongoing exploration of faith, culture, myth, life, art. An advocate for all who are trapped in nightmares.

Tiffys World

A diary type blog following the life of a Forensic Science Student

San Diego Professional Writer's Group

A San Diego based critique group for professional and aspiring writers

Five Years to Mediocrity

chasing kitties, crashing scooters, and learning spanish, one anxiety attack at a time

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