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At first, he thought she was part of the rubble.
A siren wailed in the distance, looking for looters skulking in the dark city like rats. Looters like the figure climbing silently toward the wreckage of a burned out building, where he saw the outline of a slight figure, sitting motionless among the debris. He stepped out of the gloom, stepping for a moment into the weak light of a sickle moon, like an eyeless smile looking down sightlessly at the ruined city below. His eyes were a cloudy pale gray, almost colorless, under a mop of unruly dark hair. His face was smudged with dirt, or maybe ashes, and he looked to be about seventeen or eighteen, but in those days, who could tell? He stepped into the charred circle and squinted in the dim light, considering the small figure sitting on what looked like a half-melted door wedged into a pile of rubble. It was a little girl. She didn’t look up as he approached. She looked genuine, not like most of the children, the ingenuines who ran around loose in the city. Not like Toby, thank God. He crouched beside her, and tentatively touched her arm, more to make sure she was actually alive than to get her attention. She didn’t look up.
“What’s your name?” he whispered, not really expecting her to answer. He wasn‘t surprised.
“I’m Jinx, did you live here?”
She still wouldn’t look at him, but this time a small voice said to the ground, “’s not your real name.”
He let out a short laugh, like a seal’s bark. “It might be.”
No answer. She just stared at the rubble at her feet.
He waited, uncomfortable. Finally, he said, “Robin. I’m Robin. And who are you?”
A pause. “Selki,” said a voice that he could barely hear.
He started, then smiled.
“Now who’s not telling their real name.”
She looked at him. “Good to meet you, Jinx,” she said, and fainted.
Jinx leapt up in astonishment. She had fallen off her perch, and was lying motionless on the ground with her hair fanned out all around her. He knelt down and put a hand close to her face to feel the steady in and out of her breathing, then just stared at her for a long moment. Finally, he gathered her up in his arms, propping her limp head up on his shoulder, and stood up. She weighed hardly anything. Small wonder in this city. She had looked half starved, what little he could see of her. As an afterthought, he picked up a small, slightly charred coffeemaker, a few chipped mugs, and a cracked square of glass out of the rubble. He stowed them in a makeshift backpack, hoisted the girl higher onto his shoulder, and walked away into the night.
A rusty bell jingled when Jinx opened the door of a ramshackle building, and stepped into a room full of assorted junk. The air itself was dingy, but the light was bright, and for the first time he could see the girl he was carrying. She was wearing an odd assortment of ragged and ancient clothing that looked like it had been stolen from a an antique costume shop, that a prince or gypsy or something had worn hundreds and hundreds of years ago (although Jinx really couldn’t judge, his clothes were just as ratty and twice as dirty, although not nearly so old). It was a faded royal blue tunic with pants that ended in tatters below the knee, and a sort of short overcoat with frayed swallow sleeves and most of the buttons missing. Her feet were bare and dirty, and she was wearing an array of ancient-looking rusty bangles on her wrists and ankles that clanged together when she moved. Her hair fell in waves the color of tarnished brass, down her skinny back, and her features were almost uncannily childlike, not like the sunken faces and sallow cheeks Jinx was accustomed to seeing. She looked to be about eight or nine, or maybe only seven. But she did look half-starved, and such paleness couldn’t be normal. She didn’t stir. A fat man called from behind a cluttered counter in the back.
“Jinx, my little rat! What have you brought me?”
Jinx waded through the piles of junk to the back, and reached one-handed for his backpack (which was nothing more than a sack with straps sewn on), shouldering the girl, and set it on the counter. He reached in it and plunked the coffeemaker and chipped mugs down on the counter. The fat man inspected them, then reached into a drawer and threw five crumpled bills and a handful of change on the counter. Jinx swept it up and tucked it inside his clothes.
“What a pretty little girl you’ve got there,” he said, peering at her with rheumy, bloodshot eyes, “Is she genuine? I’ll give you two hundred for her if she is.”
Jinx barked a laugh but hurried quickly out of the dingy little store. He hadn’t been joking, and Jinx knew it.
Actually, many would have paid five times as much to buy a genuine child. They were becoming rarer and rarer to find. These days, there was maybe a one-in-four chance of having one, although only ten years before the chances had been at least fifty-fifty of getting a normal baby instead of an ingenuine. If a first child was a genuine, the mother would be damaged, and there would be no chance that any of its younger siblings would be.
Ingenuines came in several varieties. There were the ones whose minds stayed eternally young, who mostly did nothing but squall all day long as their bodies grew older, and those whose minds rapidly became ancient, confused, forgetful, and delusional. There were those whose minds were untouched, but whose bodies never grew; these you could tell apart because they soon stopped screaming like newborns and simply gazed out at the world, minds trapped within bodies that were too weak and undeveloped to speak or even hold up their heads. Also there were those whose bodies soon grew old and decrepit, turning them into miniature toothless crones and shriveled ancients while they were still toddlers. Not many had the heart to kill the ingenuines they would have to wade through if they wanted a genuine baby, and most just abandoned them in the city. The more helpless died in no time at all, but some lived out their whole lives, scavenging (which were never very long anyway, very few even reached adolescence, let alone adulthood). But the adults were not passed over entirely. They aged strangely, unevenly, and it was not unheard of for some to age backwards, quickly growing younger until they became infants again, and died, as they were then indistinguishable from the ingenuines. No one fully understood any of it, any more than they understood why the buildings were crumbling unexpectedly, and the city had fallen into ruin.
Jinx crept through dingy alleyways until he reached a tall building that looked as if something had come out of the sky and bitten off the top half. The night was growing foggier, and hidden from any prowling eyes, he shifted the still-unconscious girl to his right arm, and began to climb one-handed up a narrow ladder that had definitely seen better days. Had the girl been any heavier, (or the rusty ladder any older) they probably would have both fallen to their deaths. But Jinx reached a small, open window in the building, climbed in, and plonked his burden down unceremoniously on the floor, gasping for air. They were in an elevator shaft. The elevator itself was nothing but a metal platform held up by a mess of cables and pulleys, ascending up out of sight like a tangle of climbing vines. Jinx pulled on a thick cable, moving the pulley by hand, and the platform slowly and jerkily ascended. Finally they reached a large, dim room, sparsely carpeted like an old man’s balding head. Jinx clamped the platform in place, picked up the still-unconscious girl, and stepped into the room. It was still dark outside, and as the room was dim, nothing could be made out but a lot of oddly-shaped shadowy things and the outline of two low beds, one on each side of the room. Jinx set the girl carefully down on one of them. She didn’t stir.
He crossed the room and plucked a sleeping bag off of the other bed (this one a bit lower and thinner) and climbed up the dim outline of a ladder, through a hole in the ceiling, and into the night air. He was on the top (last) floor left in the bitten-off building, but it might as well have been the roof, because it had no ceiling and only low, bumpy ridges for walls, like miniature mountain ranges. Jinx dropped the sleeping bag and crawled inside it. It was a cool night, but these days it could drop into freezing or sweltering hot by the end of the night, as seasons didn’t seem to exist anymore, only sporadic, indecisive fits of weather. Thick swathes of fog were drifting across the sky, but every so often you could get a glimpse of a cluster of stars or the blind moon smiling thinly down at the earth. Jinx had lived in the bitten tower for six years, but he had slept here every night for almost two of those years, regardless of the weather, which was why the ragged old sleeping bag had the damp, musty smell of old rain and melted icicles alike.
He had found it when he was eleven, and Toby was only three, because it was safe, what with its empty bottom floors, rickety ladder, and broken elevator, from the Big Rats. The looters with guns. They had had no place to live, because their mom had died suddenly shortly after Toby had lost all his baby teeth at three, his eyes began to crinkle around the edges, and streaks of gray began to appear in his curly toddler hair, after she had realized that she was pregnant again, and that baby and any other baby she would have for the rest of her life would be ingenuine also. Jinx hadn’t understood, at the time, why he had often found her crying just before she died, why she couldn’t simply stop having children, spawning ingenuine after ingenuine that she would have to kill or abandon if they were still going to eat. But as she was always home in the daytime and didn’t seem to have a job, he hadn’t understood how they had gotten money, either.
Selki opened her eyes...
to be continued...
| An excellent piece you have here... creative, interesting, and well written. It held my attention, which is no easy feat so close to the end of my workday. |
My only attempt at fiction came out cheesy, and here you have what could easily be the beginning of a novel at only 15 yrs old (not that we have a huge age gap... just that you're still in school you know???)
just brilliant. Most young writers or beginners of fiction have a good idea, but only enough for a short story... Their writing is littered with shabby, short, bland sentences and descriptions that lead to nowhere, but You have fully realized leads all over this piece. I'm very impressed.
I look forward to reading more. This thing reads like a novel so I really hope you continue it. great job!
p.s. this whole 'ingenuines' idea rocks my face.
p.p.s (post post script, right?) I saw a few punctuation errors, but I'm not awesome at punctuation. Have someone more nitpicky proof this.
|| Posted on 2006-06-30 00:00:00 | by parabola | [ Reply to This ] || Very nice write. I don't have to tell you how original it is I am sure. It leaves open many questions that the reader, me in this instance, must have answered if they want to sleep at night. I like that. It makes for a great story when the reader is always wanting more.|
Can't wait for the rest.
|| Posted on 2006-06-30 00:00:00 | by Man in Black | [ Reply to This ] |