Wasteland Boy – Chapters 1-20 compilation

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Wasteland Boy – Chapters 1-20 compilation

    • Gilbert
      Participant

      Hello dear readers. I figured I’d do this every 20 chapters or so because its just easier to keep up. I hope you have been following and if you are new, this is a good place to start. It’s been a treat writing for you every month and I plan to continue. As always, be sure to comment or PM me any suggestions for characters and plot developments, ill be sure to include the best ones into my work. Enjoy your read!

      -Gilbert

       

       

      Chapter 1

      Clyde, my dear Clyde

      The acidic rain trickled down the bunker lid. There were no windows to see the lightning, but the loud thunder reminded Agnes of bomb explosions. It has been a few years since the last bomb was dropped anywhere near, the war was finally over. Her sister shivered each time she heard the rumbling outside, clutching to her book and pretending to read as she silently fought her paranoia of bombs. She wasn’t the only one in the bunker with a similar condition. Many people in the bunker were shrieking, whimpering and whispering calming words to each other as the storm outside progressed to its loudest performances. Agnes looked down at the child in her hands and smiled at his peaceful sleep. He never seemed to be bothered by anything. He grew up in a loud, chaotic world, but was on the contrary quiet and calm. He had shiny ginger hair and grey eyes. His relaxed pale face had a few freckles, even though he rarely went outside.

      “Clyde…”

      Agnes stroked some hair away from his face with her gentle hand and sighed. It was terrible to think that he grew up in such a pressured environment. A childhood spent in a bunker wasn’t the best choice, but it was the only choice at a time like this.

      “My dear Clyde.”

      She closed her eyes and pulled her son closer, sharing warmth. Her thoughts eventually calmed down and she began falling asleep. Somewhere in between her dreams and reality, she heard an airship landing outside. An image of a soldier flashed in her memory. She forced herself to open her eyes and looked around. No one seemed to pay attention, trapped in their own thoughts. Agnes carefully put her sons’ head on her sisters’ lap.

      “I’ll come back soon Lisa, hold on to him for a bit.”

      Her sister nodded slowly and continued staring at the ground, crinkling her skirt.

      Agnes quietly made her way to the exit. She put her shawl over her head and lifted the heavy lid, making the storm sounds in the bunker louder for a moment. Over the monotone of the rain, she heard propellers, saw something large in the sky shine in the lightning. She began running towards it desperately, yelling something to it, trying to get its attention. The thunder blocked out three gunshots and her body collapsed in the garbage. The rain fell on her, quickly expanding the wounds, washing away blood and with it, Agnes herself.

      By morning, the storm has calmed down and the sun rolled out from the horizon line, lighting the wet wasteland with its warm, orange light. Rusty gears, metal plates and plastic wrappers glistened and sparkled under it. Vapor began rising from the garbage and soon everything was covered in light fog, making everything enchantingly beautiful. The bunker residents have finally fallen asleep when Clyde opened his eyes. He looked around instinctively for his mother, but didn’t spot her among the sleeping adults. He looked up at aunt Lisa. He could never figure out why she smelled so strangely if everyone ate the same food and washed at the same time. He sat up and rubbed his hands together to warm them up, then stood up and did his daily walk around the bunker, trying to spot the first person that wakes up.

      Nothing seemed suspicious about his mom’s absence. Maybe she climbed out for a walk? The little boy grinned and started walking faster. What if she is walking somewhere in the bunker, also looking for the first person to wake up? He stopped to pick at a wall. According to his estimate, if he picked a bit of the paint off this wall each day, in about a month it would be paint-less and he would be allowed to draw on it. He didn’t have any specific numbers down, but he knew he was right. Somewhere down the hall he heard Aunt Lisa call his name. He ran back to her.

      “Clyde!”

      Lisa kneeled beside him, taking his hand instead of her skirt.

      “Where is your mommy?”

      Clyde shrugged. Aunt Lisa always asked stupid questions and worried about everything. It was only natural for her to panic at the absence of her sister. To free his hand from her grip, he mumbled that she might have gone outside. Lisa clutched to her skirt again and ran to the exit, causing an unusual commotion, waking up a few of her and Agnes’s close friends. It all happened so quickly, Clyde couldn’t memorize who woke up second and third. They all climbed out and told Clyde to stay inside, which he obediently did, returning to his morning routine. Soon enough, the rest of the bunker residents woke up. A few asked Clyde where his mom was, to which he replied that she is out with Lisa. In about thirty minutes, according to a golden pocket watch Mr. Morrison had, Lisa and her crew returned. They all looked like they’ve aged. Clyde ran up to his aunt and asked where mommy is. The way she looked at him sent shivers down his back. His smile curved down and he stepped back. Everyone in the bunker looked at Lisa and everything became dead silent. Clyde could hear a light bulb flickering somewhere. Such silence scared him even more.

      “Agnes…Your mother…”

      Lisa forced a smile onto her face and scanned the room, looking at each person’s face before returning her gaze to Clyde. His grey eyes Blinked a few times, tears forming in them. Lisa felt her heart ache as she imagined his reaction to what she had to say. She opened her mouth and closed it, unable to say the truth.

      “I don’t think mommy is coming back. She left somewhere.”

      Her voice trembled. For once, her hands let go of the skirt and dropped down to her sides. she couldn’t stand looking at Clyde’s face and walked past him, to the meeting room, with the rest of the adults following her. Clyde stood in the room, frozen, processing what has happened. He tried to think optimistically, but tears went out of his control and began streaming down his cheeks. He went to the nearest corner and cried for a bit. He knew adults wouldn’t lie, but he couldn’t understand why mother left. More importantly, why she didn’t want to come back. Still sobbing, he walked over to the meeting rooms’ door and leaned his ear against it. He could only catch a few muffled phrases.

      “-Yes. In a few years when he is grown enough, we will… For now, let’s leave it as it is… We will all raise him to our best ability.”

      Clyde heard chairs moving and footsteps heading towards the door. He walked as far away from the door as he could, wiping away leftover ears. A smile made its way back to his face. Mom was probably in a better place, waiting for him. All he had to do is find her. In a few years, the elders said.

      Chapter 2

      In a few years

      Over the years, it seemed all the adults became way closer to Clyde. Rather than neighbors, they all felt like a family, not only to Clyde, but to each other. The responsibility they all felt for him, the group effort they put into teaching him and taking care of him for the past three years, have been very bonding for all of them. Although they put all of their effort into replacing Clyde’s mother, he sometimes felt lonely. He tried talking about her many times, but most of the adults had really strange reactions when he tried mentioning her. They never stopped him from talking, but kept their answers short and tried changing conversation topics. Clyde assumed they all missed her and that was something he was sure about. The person he grew most attached to was a very self-respecting man with the golden pocket watch. Mr. Morrison. One of the things Clyde loved about Mr. Morrison is that he never panicked. He wasn’t quiet like Clyde, but he never lost his pride and confidence, no matter what. He had a spark in his eyes that said “Trust me. I know what’s best” and Clyde trusted him. Along came the day where there was nothing useful left in the garbage that was relatively near Clyde’s home. The groups that went out for food came back empty for days and Mr. Morrison suggested to find another bunker. Everyone began panicking, but he simply got out a suitcase and began packing, making everyone follow his lead. He wasn’t one of the elders, but he wasn’t the type of people you could easily disobey. That was the longest trip across the waste land in Clyde’s six year life. When Clyde got tired, Mr. Morrison scooped Clyde up and let him ride on his neck.

      The new place they moved to required some adjustments, but was generally similar to the previous one and soon enough, they were all settled in. There was a supply of food in the kitchen as well as much more all over the wasteland. Another year went by quickly. By the end of it, Clyde had memorized some basic math concepts, could write in cursive with an ink pen and showed overall fast improvements in his development. Although he was curious and childish, he was way more grown up than an average seven-year old. He was responsible and seemed to have picked up Mr. Morrison’s confidence. By then, he was let out into the wastelands more often. He loved digging through random scraps, searching for interesting little machine parts and photographs. He spent lots of time outside, staying in a reasonable distance away from the bunker. His skin stayed pale, but the sun added millions of ginger freckles to match his hair.

      One day, Aunt Lisa asked him what his motivation was to put so much effort into everything. As always, Clyde gave her his honest answer- to make his mom proud once he finds her. For a moment, Lisa’s face resembled the one she had four years ago, the morning she announced Clyde’s mother left. That very day, another adult meeting had taken place, which hadn’t happened in a long time. Curious as ever, Clyde listened to their conversation. He heard his name a few times. He heard his mother’s’ name.

      “Maybe another year? He is still a kid…”

      Another year. The two words repeated over and over in his mind. He stepped away from the door, shaking his head, rejecting those words. Did it mean he would have to wait more to see his mother? No. He couldn’t take it. And he wouldn’t. Clyde went to the kitchen and grabbed a few cans of meat, beans and a flask of filtered water. He went all over the bunker, collecting some necessary things. Once he made sure he had everything, he walked up to Mr. Morrison’s suitcase and pulled out his watch. It was heavy in Clyde’s hand. He could feel the gears shifting, clicking inside it. After slight hesitation, he put the watch in his vests’ pocket and proceeded to the final preparation. He took his pen, dipped it into ink and wrote a message to everyone he knew. He felt the need to hurry, therefore wrote only a few sentences, thanking everyone and promising to come back. One line was specifically dedicated to Mr. Morrison, with an apology for taking his watch and a promise to give it back as soon as he finds his mother. Clyde closed the ink bottle tightly, put some paper, his pen and the ink in the bag and headed to the lid with the note. He thought the best place to leave it at was at the entrance. He pushed the lid open, climbed out and placed the note carefully, so that the lid, once closed, would hold it in place. Very slowly, he lowered the heavy lid on top of it and took a deep breath, letting his gaze wonder across the wasteland. the sun was beginning to lower itself down towards the horizon, but was still up, shining brightly. A thought entered his mind that he might not be doing the right thing. Some small part of his mind told him to stop. He was only standing outside the bunker, but already felt homesick. Clyde exhaled, remembering Mr. Morrison. If he decided on something, he never lost his confidence. The watch ticked reassuringly in Clyde’s pocket, making him feel like he was Mr. Morrison himself. He picked up his bag, threw it over his shoulders and began walking away quickly, heading east, where the sun rises. He didn’t know where he was going. He didn’t know what he would find. His senses told him that his mother was there and that’s all he needed to make his feet move.

      Chapter 3

      Doubts

      Clyde was marching confidently through the garbage. He didn’t feel tired or hungry, his high spirit driving him forward. The light breeze that was always present around here kept him company. He began whistling and was soon further away from the bunker than he has ever been before. The sun set and the moon was replacing it, accompanied by countless stars. To Clyde’s’ luck, there was a beat up mattress leaned against a pile of trash. He pulled it down and climbed on top, curling up, hugging himself. He realised he forgot his blanket and his warm clothing. It was thankfully summer and by the end of autumn, he would already reunite with his mother. He calmed himself down with that thought and fell asleep quickly. In his dream, he saw a silhouette of a woman reaching her hand to him, calling his name, beckoning. With that, he woke up. It was already sunrise. The clouds far away were turning pink, with the brightening sky serving as a background. Clyde shivered and stood up. He was hungry, but decided to wait until the sun was up. He got up and continued his journey, trying to warm up. He decided the faster he travels towards the sun, the faster he will see it and began running, laughing as the sun showed its first rays, shining right into his eyes. He ran out of breath, but continued to walk quickly. When he was younger, he learned that if you stared long enough at the sun, resisting the urge to cover your eyes, the sun would begin to look blue and you would actually be able to see its spherical shape. He occupied himself with that, occasionally looking away to not go blind, seeing dark blotches everywhere.

      Once the sun was high enough to light everything, he stopped and got out his first can of beans. He looked around, found a brick and began rubbing the can on it. It was a rather time-consuming procedure, but a good seven minutes to guilt trip yourself for forgetting the can opener. Next time, he thought, I will definitely remember. Next time… he stopped rubbing the can and looked around. there was no sign of his beloved family. He would be happy to see anyone, even aunt Lisa having another panic attack. But the wastelands were deserted. Clyde knew he wouldn’t come back until he found his non, but he wanted Mr. Morrison and the rest to search for him and find him. Would there ever be a Next Time? Clyde felt his eyes getting wet, but shook the sadness off, resuming to stubbornly rub the can. In about a minute, the liquid began dripping out of it and Clyde put his lips on the hole he made, drinking everything out thirstily. He finished up his work and ate some of the beans, sparing the rest for later. The can returned to his bag and he was walking once again.

      Homesick thoughts were crawling back into his head. He was beginning to doubt his decision. A crow was circling above him and Clyde decided to strike a conversation. He told the crow about his worries. He told it that Mr. Morrison is probably worried. He probably needs his watch back. Clyde took more than one can of food for himself and he felt bad for that too, considering how much effort is usually put into finding one. He could begin digging through the garbage, but he had no time to do so. He had to walk eastwards. The crow screeched as if asking Clyde why he was walking. Clyde smiled, beginning to regain his confidence. He told the crow about his mother. He said she left to a better place and wanted to take him with her, but couldn’t carry him all that way. She needed him to grow up before going there. It’s probably a place for adults only, but they could make an exception for him. The crow screeched again and Clyde chuckled.

      “Why East? It’s where the sun rises and where everything begins. I know mom’s there. Aunt Lisa said mom loved the sun and that’s why I look so sunny. It only makes sense for her to go there! “

      The crow seemed satisfied with that answer and flew away somewhere. Clyde wished the crow followed him, but it seems it had better things to do than listen to the ramblings of a little boy. Clyde concluded that the wastelands aren’t so lonely after all. He heard from the elders that there are many people out there living in bunkers like them. Sooner or later, he was bound to bump into one of them.

      While searching for a place to sleep, he dug out a perfect pair of brass goggles. One of the adults in the bunker had a pair. He used them to protect his eyes from winds and would always wear them around his neck, so Clyde didn’t hesitate to follow the lead. There was nothing to lay on. Clyde collected lots of used up paper and made himself a bed. It was even colder that night and he couldn’t fall asleep for a while. In the darkness, he heard some sound resembling a siren. The sound didn’t have such frequency though, it was closer to a voice. It was responded with a similar sound somewhere closer. Clyde sat up and howled too, laying back down, satisfied with his participation. He soon drifted off into sleep.

      Chapter 4

      Four Legged Creature

      He woke up in the middle of the night because of a noise. He opened his eyes and saw a dark silhouette of a big, four legged creature lit by the moon. It was hunching over his bag trying to rip it apart with its mouth. Clyde yelled and threw something at it. The creature jumped away and growled. Seeing that his method worked, Clyde began throwing anything he could grab off the ground and yelling at the creature to leave. It quickly caught on and ran away. Clyde watched it up until it disappeared completely and he couldn’t hear its footsteps on the garbage. He sighed shakily to catch his breath and felt around for his bag. Not caring about anything else, he hugged it and fell into nervous, easily disturbed sleep.

      In the morning, it turned out the creature made a few tears in the bag and spilled the leftover beans all over it. Clyde scooped them out, ate them, drank some water and quickly headed out. He had to get as far away as possible in case the creature wanted to come back. He would react to every little sound, thinking it was the creature following him. He wondered if that’s what Aunt Lisa always felt. Must be terrible to live like that. As he walked, he scanned the ground for something to patch his bag up with, but needles and thread do not simply lie around and therefore, his hopeful searches didn’t lead to anything. He wished there was another crow he could talk to. Or, even better, someone to assist him. He heard stories of similar creatures sometimes appearing here and there. He was told they won’t attack if they see a group of people, but he was all alone. He was somewhat used to the homesick feeling at this point, but it wasn’t something pleasant.

      At noon, he sat down for a break and began opening his second can. His ears caught the sound of some garbage shifting. He stopped rubbing the can and listened, holding his breath. Quietly, very quietly the creature stepped on a plastic wrapper, getting back to his hiding spot. It was enough to alarm its prey. Clyde stood up slowly, barely breathing out of fear, put the can in the bag and then sprinted as fast as he could away from the place. He could hear the creature behind him run down a garbage pile and chase after him. Clyde’s strength was running out and the creature was faster than him, he only had one choice- to turn around and fight. He saw a pipe sticking out of somewhere and grabbed it, turning around instantly and dropping the bag on the ground. The creature ran a few more meters and pounced on the boy. He jumped away, whacking it with his pipe and throwing the off balance. It didn’t land well, dragging its side along the ground, but that only angered it more. It got up and went for another pounce, but Clyde was ready for it and attacked with his pipe again. Before the creature had time to spin around, Clyde ran after it, hitting it again and again. His was a greater force to him than anything else. The creature was caught off guard and tried escaping like last night, but Clyde wouldn’t allow it to haunt him anymore. He continued hitting it, tears in his eyes and only one thought in his mind- to survive. After a while, the creature was motionless. Clyde’s spontaneous pipe swings slowed down until he dropped the pipe and collapsed to his knees, sobbing loudly, scared and confused. He looked at the grey fur of the creature, at its sharp teeth and pointy ears. As his mind calmed down, the first thing he was able to process was I killed it. He began wondering why the creature was alone, if it had children to feed. Maybe it was a mother? A sudden theory hit him. What if his mother was dead? What if this was a mother and he just killed it? Maybe she was just hunting for its children and now they will be raised by someone else and then go out to search for her…

      The thoughts filled his head, his fear returned to him as he stumbled away from it, towards his bag. He felt sick looking at the corpse. With shaky hands, he picked up the bag and checked if his watch was still in his pocket. It didn’t fall out. He opened it and stood motionlessly, staring at the spinning gears. No one knows how much time has passed as he stood there, watching them, but it felt as if with each gear movement, he grew up a little. His mind became more mature, more accepting. He became more serious and his grey eyes seemed to get a little darker. The spark of childhood faded away from them.

      “They lied to me…”

      He whispered, tightening his grip on the watch. He was sorting through all of his memories and all of them led up to one thing. His mother was probably dead. She couldn’t have gotten anywhere in this desert. Something happened…but what? He closed the watch and put it back into his pocket. He wasn’t on the journey to find his mother; He was on a journey to find out what happened to her.

      Chapter 5

      Two Loners

      Clyde was stubbornly walking east. The fact that he was lied to for the past years was filling him with frustration, but he used everything to drive him forward. The sun didn’t seem as happy to him anymore, just a blinding heat source that woke him up every day and abandoned him in the darkness every night. Each day was a repetitive silent routine of slowly emptying cans and sore legs. He didn’t see a specific reward waiting for him at the end. He didn’t even know if the end exists. It seemed the wasteland was simply a desert full of unwanted scraps and building ruins leftover from war and eaten away by toxic rainwater. Sometimes, Clyde imagined that there is nothing left of the world, that the whole planet is covered in bunkers and trash. The only thing that saved him is the hope that still lurked in his big heart.

      Today would be the day when he finishes his last can of meat. Meat could be stretched out for longer than one day, but Clyde already fed off that can for two days and it felt as if he would pass out any minute. He ran out of water the other day and was now desperately in need of any liquid. The sun was merciless for most of his journey and water didn’t last long. Clyde wasn’t sure how long he has spent here. All he knew was that he would probably collapse soon.

      Clyde licked his dry lips and noticed the light of the sun dim a little. He looked up and saw storm clouds that covered the sun, quickly heading in his direction. The last thing Clyde needed was to dissolve, so he spent the time he had before the rain to find a place to hide. He had to go back some significant distance to get to what used to be a small village. Most of it was just piles of bricks eroded by time and rain, but there were a few buildings that managed to keep their shape. Clyde walked into the most stable – looking one and found a room that still had some of the roof leftover. Clyde ran outside and began piling sheets of metal, and really anything he could find that would manage to withstand rain. He covered the frame of the roof to the best of his ability and ran in, waiting for the rain to start. He didn’t have to wait long before he heard the first drops drumming on his roof. He sighed in relief and sat down on the floor, opening the bag and getting out the leftovers of the meat.

      Something, or rather, someone, disturbed the monotone of the rain with their quick, light footsteps. Clyde put down the can and backed into a darker corner. The room was empty, he had nothing to fight with. Even if he found a weapon, he was too weak to fight another four- legged creature. But the creature that ran, into his shelter was standing on two feet. It bent over slightly, panting heavily and straightened its wide, colorful skirt. It looked up and saw Clyde.

      “You!”

      Her loud, confident voice cut through the rain noise so sharply, Clyde flinched. She straightened out and pointed her finger at him. Clyde didn’t yet figure out whether this person was friendly, but the girl seemed older than him and way stronger.

      “Are you one of the orphans?”

      It sounded more like a command than a question. Clyde opened his mouth to ask what an orphan is, but realised he cannot talk. His throat was too dry to utter any sounds, just some strange, muffled whistling. Clyde began coughing and turned away. The girl sighed and walked over to him, handing him a plastic bottle of water.

      “Here…Just don’t drink all of it”

      Clyde snatched it out of her hand and began drinking. The warm water poured down his throat, returning life into him. It seemed to Clyde that he has never tasted or felt anything better. He would probably finish the whole bottle if the girl didn’t take it away.

      “That’s enough! Can you talk now?”

      Her voice wasn’t as demanding anymore. She smiled gently at Clyde and he nodded unconfidently. Her face was more visible now. She was definitely a girl, maybe even a woman. Her skin was either dirty or very tanned. Approximately the same applied to her clothes, that looked like they were very bright a year or so ago. Her hair was sticking out in all directions and consisted of long, strands of black curls and some colorful dreads made of bright ribbon and string. Clyde made a second attempt at talking.

      “Wh-hats an orphan?”

      The girls smile grew a bit wider and she leaned down to match his eye level.

      “People without parents. Where are your mom and dad?”

      The question threw Clyde off and he didn’t know how to answer. He still had doubts about his mother and couldn’t say she was dead for sure. And his father…Who is my dad? He was slapped in the face with the fact that he never questioned where his father was, let alone knew anything about him. He didn’t know if it’s bad or only natural to be raised without one. So many questions rushed into his head at once and all he could mumble in reply to the girl was

      “Mom is…gone. I think.”

      The girl stared at Clyde for a few moments, trying to figure out if he was still dehydrated or traumatized in some weird way. She flipped some hair off her forehead and sat down, leaning against the wall.

      “I’ll just assume you are not an orphan for now. At least you don’t look like you’re part of the orphanage. On a completely unrelated note, hello and sorry for intruding your home. I’m Lucinda Garrison, nice to meet you! “

      She grinned and reached her hand out to Clyde, throwing way more questions at him. He told himself to calm down and clear his mind.

      “I’m Clyde… Clyde Shanks…What’s the hand for?”

      The girl laughed and grabbed his right hand, shaking it as if it was supposed to fall off, but was stuck for some reason.

      “It’s for shaking it, stupid! when you introduce yourself to someone, you shake their hand!”

      Chapter 6

      What is The City?

      The two sat in the silence, listening to the rain. Clyde was  still hungry, but felt that if he got out the food, he would have to share it. While Lucinda wasn’t looking, he bent down and picked up the can, reaching for his bag.

      “Hey, um, do you have any food?”

      Clyde quickly shoved the can into the bag.

      “No…”

      This was the first time he lied. He instantly felt guilty, but couldn’t take it back. The girl took one of the bags she carried in with her and dug out an unfinished bun and  some bits of freshly cooked, not canned meat. She handed him the food, encouraging to eat, since he looked too skinny for his age. He gladly took the offering, but was still concerned.

      “What about you? Aren’t you going to save it?”

      Lucinda waved him off like he was a fly and sat back down.

      “I have some. In any case, I can always get more, I’m surprised you are so skinny “

      Clyde blinked a few times and began stuffing himself with bread. With a full mouth, he managed to ask where food comes from. He knew that what he was eating up until now, were leftovers from the war, which were very hard to find. The way Lucinda treated provision made it look like something easily accessible. With the same laid back expression in her voice, she explained that each day, airships dump out many leftovers from the city. It’s often hard to spot one, so you have to know their routes. In addition, if the men on the airships spot you, they instantly kill you.

      Clyde stopped chewing and gave Lucinda a questioning, frightened look. Feeling as superior as ever, she said she never got caught, but pointed out that many people she knows were killed by following too close to the airships. Seeing that Clyde was still confused, she went on, explaining everything she knew. She explained that airships are giant inflated machines constructed by humans that fly really high up and carry loads of trash from the city. They dump it all out on those wastelands and sometimes land on the ground for their personal reasons. She told Clyde that everything in the wasteland is either waste that came from the city or post-war remains that no one remembers about. She noted that most of this information came from her father, who lived here with her for a while before the airship men spotted him.

      “He even made me a map of the airship routes. I memorised everything, but I still keep it as a memory of him”

      She reached into the depths of another bag and got out a rolled up piece of dirty white cloth. Once she unrolled it, Clyde could see lines to represent the routes, a few landmarks that the man either drew or described in brief words, a compass and an arrow pointing west with the words “Post war zone. Nothing”.

      “I came from here”

      Clyde pointed at the arrow. The girl gave him a strange glance and started rolling up the cloth. She didn’t seem to believe what Clyde said. He sighed and started explaining. He told her about groups they sent to search for food, told about the adults he knew and the more he talked, the more he realised how small his world was up until now. All he really knew was the view around the bunker and the people there. At some point he stopped talking and looked over at Lucinda. She was sitting, staring at the floor blankly. One of her hands was still in the bag. A lightning flashed, making her twitch and come back to her senses. She put her bag down and brought her knees up to her face.

      “Clyde… How did all of you survive? So many people in the west…At the time dad was around, airships already stopped going there. How are all of you not starved to death?”

      Clyde shrugged and mentioned that many abandoned shelters and bunkers have spare food left from the war. She nodded, satisfied with the answer. For a while, it was silent. The two sat against the wall and listened to the rain, each thinking about their own things. Clyde played everything Lucinda said over and over in his head. He somewhat understood most things, but there was one he still needed explanation for.

      “What is the city?”

      Lucinda shrugged and played with a strap on her bag.

      “I’m not really sure… I never saw it. Dad said its where most people went when the war ended and all the radiation settled down. He also said to never go there because it’s a dangerous place. All I know for sure is that’s where the airships come from. It’s on the map too, Dad just didn’t draw the city and the sea”

      Clyde took a moment to process and came up with a new question.

      “And you never tried going there? Even to take a peek?”

      Lucinda shrugged again and looked over at him.

      “Dad said not to and I won’t. He knew what he was talking about. And no, I won’t take you there.”

      She added the last sentence when she saw the way Clyde’s eyes sparkled. Clyde began pleading and begging, but she just turned away. Clyde, as stubborn as he is, used his last argument on her.

      “I will never know if I’m an orphan or not!”

      She turned around and looked at him sympathetically.

      “Do you really need to know? It’ll be sad in any case. Even if they’re alive, that would mean they lived happily ever after in the city and abandoned you. “

      Clyde furrowed his eyebrows and nodded confidently. Lucinda chuckled and sighed.

      “How could I say no to your cute face? Once the rain stops, I will help you get there.”

      Chapter 7

      Airships

      The rain was beginning to calm down, but there was no point in heading out. The sun was already setting. Lucinda refused to go anywhere and laid down, surrounded by her bags. She pulled a blanket out of one and covered herself with it. Clyde stuttered out something about an extra blanket, but got instantly turned down. He chose the spot in the corner and put his head on the bag. The can under his head was uncomfortable and smelled of food. Clyde pulled it out and turned away to face the wall. The leftover meat was gone in seconds, leaving behind Clyde’s guilt. After a while though, it stopped bothering him and he fell asleep. It was the calmest night he had since the ones he spent in the bunker.

      Lucinda was up before dawn, shaking him by the shoulder. Unwillingly and lazily, he pulled himself out of his relaxed dreams. He opened one eye and asked what’s wrong.

      “Um… Nothing, it’s morning. Aren’t you going to see the city?”

      Both Lucinda and Clyde were confused. Clyde was wondering why she got up so early and Lucinda questioned why he didn’t get up like everyone should. It lasted for a painfully long moment, before Clyde sat up and smiled awkwardly. Lucinda pulled him up and they began walking south. Clyde looked at Lucinda cautiously. He assumed his destination was in the east and although he had no valid reason to believe that, he thought he knew. He asked Lucinda to show him the map again, but she didn’t bother to, leaving him with the statement that she knows where to go. He couldn’t argue, or rather, he didn’t choose to. Lucinda reminded him of Mr. Morrison in quite a few ways, beginning with her attitude and ending with her face expressions. Clyde felt safe and above all- relieved to be around someone. He couldn’t build any assumptions yet, but he put her on the friend list just in case.

      The day went by quickly. For once in a while, Clyde wasn’t focusing on the soreness in his legs or the sun trying to burn him off the face of the earth. Lucinda kept him occupied with lots of fun stories, most of which included her dad or The Orphanage. According to Lucinda, The Orphanage was a pretty large group of kids who lost their parents in one way or another. She said they roamed the wastelands and were aggressive and rude to everyone they met. With a hint of shame she admitted that when her father died, she joined them for a few years, but was kicked out for her soft heart and unwillingness to kill animals. Lucinda claimed she would abandon them anyways, for they were rude to each other too and although they seemed like a pack, each orphan was for himself in the end. It seemed Lucinda knew which piles were fresh. She stopped a few times to dig through them and managed to find bits of food here and there. For a while, Clyde was concerned that they were wasting time. If they were going to stop every thirty minutes and then take a break for separate meals, they wouldn’t travel even half of the distance they would have. That concern soon faded away though, for it turned out Lucinda had no concept of meals and wasn’t planning to stop in the middle of the day for an abstract chunk of a day called “Lunch”.

      “Over there! Look!”

      According to Clyde’s watch, it was after five when Lucinda stopped walking and pointed Somewhere in the sky. Clyde shaded his eyes and saw a black dot that was gradually getting bigger.  He saw such dots before, but the flying object never headed towards him. He stood and watched as it got closer, letting him see more and more details. It seemed to be a giant sphere, but more elongated made out of thin sheets of metal. Attached underneath it, was a small box-like department. Clyde would be able to see even more if his observation wasn’t wrecked by Lucinda’s voice somewhere from behind.

      “Come here, you stupid! What are you doing, standing there?!”

      Clyde turned around and saw Lucinda peeking from underneath her blanket and waving him over to herself. He obediently ran up to her, instantly getting pulled underneath Lucinda’s blanket. She whispered him a lecture about letting the airships see you and told him to stay still until it passes. He began asking how he will know when to move, but she cut him off with a simple “You will”. After a minute or so, he heard a gradually growing sound. He couldn’t identify what it was until Lucinda whispered an explanation about propellers. Seeing that Clyde grew more restless and curious with every word she said, Lucinda took his hand, restraining him from going anywhere.

      “Curiosity killed the cat.”

      Eventually, the two couldn’t hear the airship and stood up, bringing their numbed bodies back to their senses. The blanket got folded up and they continued walking. Lucinda said that Clyde reminded her of her little brother. That statement was followed up by a few stories from Lucinda’s childhood of how she raised the little boy, taught him with her father and how he stuck to her side when both of their parents passed away. After that, Lucinda grew silent. Clyde looked up at her and saw a tear roll down her usually smiling face. He decided that the best thing he could do was to keep quiet and so the rest of the day went by in silence, sometimes interrupted by brief exchanges of sentences.

      That night, it was colder outside and Lucinda shared the blanket with Clyde. Each of the two felt like they have found something that was long lost to them. Clyde didn’t remember his mother that well, but he subconsciously felt that Lucinda was a worthy replacement. before he fell asleep, he decided for himself that if his mother was still around, she would probably be a lot like Lucinda. Lucinda lost her brother back when she was ten and after six years still had a pretty good memory of him. She knew Clyde would never replace him, but she finally found someone to take care of since the death of her brother. Someone to get attached to. The strange skinny boy that came from the west…as weird as he was, Lucinda felt a connection to him. She felt that warm feeling she hasn’t experienced since her brother was around. If the moon had eyes, it would see that the two kids in the desert were smiling in their sleep.

      Chapter 8

      Orphans

      It was another bright morning and once again, Lucinda had to pull Clyde up from the ground in order to wake him up. The morning went by cheerfully and rather uneventfully. The two saw another airship, but it passed by somewhere far in the distance and couldn’t care less about them. Lucinda stopped by a few fresh piles and Clyde helped her search for something eatable. In the afternoon, Clyde noticed Lucinda getting uneasy. She tried to keep up her confidence, but kept looking back cautiously as if someone was following them. He noticed how her grip tightened on the strap of her bag and her eyes kept scanning the garbage they passed. Clyde dared to break the silence, questioning what was bothering his acquaintance. She glanced down at him nervously, but before she could make up a reassuring excuse, their eyes met. She stopped walking and stared at Clyde in the most concerned way.

      “You’re not as childish as you seemed.”

      Clyde smiled, not sure how to react. As far as he was concerned, being almost eight wasn’t enough to be considered an adult. He had to be at least as old as Lucinda. To end the awkwardness, he repeated his question.

      “So, what’s wrong?”

      Lucinda stopped staring at him and looked around again. She readjusted her bags and sighed. Clyde was patiently waiting for her reply. She opened her mouth, but before she could utter a sound, someone whistled from behind. Clyde flinched and turned towards the sound. On a pile of garbage, stood a boy about as old as Lucinda. Or, at the very least, about as tall as her. Although Clyde didn’t look in the mirror for quite a while, he was sure he didn’t look as messy as the stranger. The boys’ hair was quite long and just as disgusting, all knotted up and dirty. His clothes consisted of a shirt that was too large and a vest that was too small. Clyde assumed the boy was wearing shorts of some sort too, but the shirt was long enough to stretch down to his knees. On the top of the pile, the wind was easier to catch and it made the boys hair and clothing wave around like he was a ragged flag. As he stood in all his selfish glory, many other heads peeked out of the trash. They were all quite different. Some had long dreads, some had really short hair. Because of the monotone of rags and dirt, Clyde couldn’t really tell what gender some of them were. The only thing obvious in that mess is that they were all kids. Their ages were ranging from about eighteen to five years old and they all had the same expression on their faces. They seemed constantly hungry. It would be a disgusting sight even if they bothered enough to clean themselves up. Clyde never saw so much greed, lust and hatred condensed in so many people at once. The sight of the underage band made him want to gag. His eyes shifted to Lucinda, hoping for some sort of advice such as “run” or “fight”, but she didn’t even turn around to look at the kids. She just stood, staring into space. Anyone who would have looked at her from further away than Clyde would think her face was expressionless. Clyde, from his angle and short distance could see her eyes overflow with terror and despair. Deep deep despair.

      “What’s wrong, Lucy? Aren’t ya gonna say hi to your good old friends?”

      The kid who was on the very top of the pile began slowly walking down, feeling his superiority. The rest of the gang followed close behind. Clyde noticed that aside from worn out bodies, some had incorrect, hunched over postures and were nearly moving around on all fours. They were looking at the boy in the oversized shirt as if impatiently waiting for a command to attack. He walked over to Clyde, scanned him with his eyes and smirked, putting his hand on Clyde’s head. Clyde swallowed quietly, not daring to look up.

      “I see you have found a replacement for the long- dead scum, huh? I never liked that kid.”

      The smirk disappeared from his face as he pushed Clyde away roughly and took a few steps towards Lucinda. She tensed up more than she already have and continued staring straight forward. The boy did a small gesture with his hand and his human hounds surrounded her, shifting around in anticipation. He shouted a command and they all pounced on top of her. All Clyde could do was watch her get abused and robbed of her bags. The kids were merciless towards her. They kicked her and punched and tore her bags out of her desperate hands. They were deaf towards her cries, they were blind towards her blood and Clyde was simply numb. For the first few seconds, he wanted to help her, but quickly realised he was powerless here. For the next fifteen minutes of her helpless battling against the bandits, he simply stared at her, feeling less and less sympathy. He didn’t feel violent like the ones surrounding Lucinda. He didn’t feel the need to help her either. He didn’t feel any pleasure from looking at her suffering, but he didn’t look away. As the kids walked off with Lucinda’s bags, leaving her curled up on the ground, he continued observing her. His mind switched from being blank to a single thought. Clyde thought now that he could have done something. He could have at least tried. For a reason he couldn’t figure out he didn’t even hesitate before leaving her to the bandits. As thoughts came back to his mind, he walked over to Lucinda and kneeled down beside her.

      “Lucinda. Who were they?”

      It was more of a demand than a question. His voice, although still too high-pitched to be manly, somehow seemed to belong to an adult. Not even the voice, but the tone belonged to a grown up man. Lucinda heard that change and made an effort to reply in between sobbing.

      “The orphans…”

      Chapter 9

      He Saw The City

      This night was one of the most sorrowful in Clyde’s and Lucinda’s lives. Clyde was filled with nearly uncontrollable rage. He was sitting with his back to Lucinda, silently ripping apart an old magazine. He kept coming back to the thought that he is too weak and helpless. He wasn’t able to save Lucinda or even protect himself. At the same time, his anger was directed more toward the orphan bandits who seemed to be the offspring of cruelty itself. By midnight, Lucinda ran out of tears. She was bandaged up and was sitting, looking at the moon, listening to Clyde ripping paper. Up until now, she felt like a piece of her family was still with her. The Map her father left behind, other family belongings, she carried them with her as a memory. As a token of her loyalty to the family. It was something to prevent her from all the grieving. A sort of belief she created for herself, that parts of her family’s souls dwelled in the objects and protected her, gave her power and confidence to keep going. It was sickening to acknowledge that she had nothing on her anymore. After years of carrying the bags, the lightness of her body was uncomfortable. Lucinda shivered and hugged herself.

      “Hey, Clyde… “

      He didn’t reply, but stopped torturing the magazine

      “I thought about it and I might as well go to the city with you”

      Lucinda smiled slightly. She couldn’t cry anymore, but felt a pain in her chest. The last thing she had left in the desert was herself and the promise she made to her father. It would probably be better to let all that go and start fresh.  Lucinda wasn’t the type to get depressed. Positivity was already beginning to fill her up as she looked towards accustoming to the city. Sure, it would be a challenge, but if she and Clyde stayed together, they would be able to overcome anything. Even armies of orphans. Her smile was becoming wider as she began imagining the city life. She laid down on the ground and couldn’t care less about the uncomfortable garbage and the cold night air. Clyde looked over at her and sighed, she calmed down so he might as well. What made her change her mind?  This was one of the rare cases when Clyde didn’t want to know the answer. As curious as he was, some things he didn’t need to know.

      In the morning he was, as always, woken up by Lucinda. She acted like nothing has changed, just limped a bit because of a hurt leg from yesterday. Clyde wasn’t sure if he should be alert or happy, but chose the second option. They continued marching across the wastelands side by side. Due to the lack of supplies Lucinda was walking faster but stopped more often to pick through garbage. By her estimates, they would reach the city by this evening, so she wouldn’t need all of the supplies she used to have. Or, at least, those were her hopes. From what her father said, The City was either somewhere you live in poverty, or somewhere you prosper. The majority, he said, was suffering under the ones who prospered.

      Here. Look at this.

      She remembered his voice as he pulled out a green rectangle of paper out of his bag, That was the day he taught little Lucy about the concept of money. It was stupid to trade valuable things for green paper, but apparently that was how it worked before war and how it resumed working in The City. That was one of his reasons to never enter it.

      This, Lucy, is what kills people

      He shook the money bill in front of little Lucy and put it back in his bag. Later on, she took it out and carefully examined it, it wasn’t more dangerous than casual paper. It didn’t even have edges sharp enough to cut through skin. Lucy shook her father awake that night and asked for more stories about money. He told her how people killed others for it, how they died from hard work to get some and how they died because they didn’t have any. Of course, he explained it in the most innocent way possible, but made sure Lucy understood the meaning behind those seemingly harmless scraps.

      As Lucinda and Clyde neared the edge of the dump, she decided to share that knowledge with him. He listened very carefully, trying to memorize everything. Once she ran out of useful information, he asked a question to make sure he understood her well.

      “So, everything in the city is based on money?”

      She nodded

      “That means, as soon as we get there we need to get some green paper”

      “I guess so”

      For once in a long time, Clyde’s gaze shifted from the ground to the horizon. He stopped, thrown back by the beauty and the obscurity that opened up to him. Giant grey towers, millions of them, covered in a large grey cloud of smog.  He saw small dots flying around them like a bunch of fruit flies over rotting food. Probably something similar to airships. It was too far away to see the details yet, but Clyde knew exactly what he saw. He saw The City.

      Chapter 10

      The Wall

      Lucinda hesitated to keep going. Although she said she would go along with Clyde, this was something that she had to break her own morals for. She looked at the city, mesmerized by the opened up view. She really wanted to let go of the wastelands, but couldn’t move a muscle. The girl would continue standing there, lost in herself, if Clyde’s’ voice didn’t pull her out of the trance.

      “Lucinda! Cover!”

      Two airships were sailing parallel to each other, heading towards the kids. Lucinda twitched and looked around. Before she could analyze the situation, Clyde was already  pulling her down with him onto the ground. They climbed underneath a broken mattress and listened for the sound of propellers to pass them

      “I…I forgot to tell you…the airships are mostly flying around the city. There are lots of them here.” Lucinda whispered as the sound got closer.

      Judging by what the two could hear, one of the airships sailed away, but the other one was taking a painful amount of time. It took a few more minutes for clyde to lose his patience. Before Lucinda could hold him down, he peeked out from underneath their cover. He saw the airship, blocking the setting sun as it lowered itself towards them. He gasped and looked back at Lucinda, searching for an answer. The propellers were getting closer and louder. Lucinda flipped the mattress away, took Clyde by the hand and they began running as far as they could. Over the spinning of propellers and the gusts of wind sent by them, they heard someone call out to them. Clyde wanted to turn around, but Lucinda urged him to keep going. Based on the sounds, the ship landed and propellers were slowing down. People were running after them, heavy footsteps of legs stronger than the kids’, but less accustomed to the dump, were following them. Clyde was running out of breath, the footsteps were getting closer. He remembered the chase with the four legged creature and stopped abruptly. Lucinda ran a few steps forward before slowing down and looking back at him. He bent down to search for a weapon and her eye got caught by the two men that were quickly approaching them. She ran back to Clyde to protect him and pulled him behind herself, spreading her arms wider, ready for any attack to knock her to the ground.

      The two men finally caught up to them. Both were wearing a blue uniform, made up of a one-piece suit out of some rough material. One had a brown beard with two red streaks going along the sides. He looked like he was in his late thirties. The other one was about ten years younger and had a noticeably big nose. For almost a minute, everyone on the scene were just standing and panting, eyeing one another. The bearded man took a deep breath and spoke up.

      “Stop running! We won’t hurt you!”

      Clyde peeked out from behind his human shield and asked why would they chase someone if they had good intentions. The man leaned in and grinned at Clyde.

      “And why were you running?”

      Caught off guard, Clyde looked up at Lucinda.

      “Airships land down to kill people, don’t they? Airship men killed my father! It would only make sense for us to avoid you!”

      The two men exchanged glances, as if asking each other “did YOU kill anyone?”. The bearded man looked back at the kids and shook his head, beginning to approach them.

      “We are humble garbage collectors, killing anyone is a crime and a lowly act! I don’t know who your father ran into, but it wasn’t us.”

      He stopped once he was a few steps away from the kids and gave them a friendly smile.

      “We’re nice.”

      After some brief talk about where the kids were traveling and a few sentences summarizing their backstories, the two men introduced themselves. The bearded one went by the name Ronald. He used to own a bakery, but ran out of business and had to search for a new job. With a bit of shame, he admitted that he never got a proper education and due to the lack of skills, had to take a job at the wasteland. He complained that the only benefit you get is a rather high payment, to which the second man nodded and laughed. His name was Alfredo. He came to the city from a country across the sea and claimed that fate simply brought him here. Ronald made a joke about Alfredo’s fate never giving him enough brains to work anywhere else, but focused on his nose instead. The garbage collectors kindly offered a ride to the city and the kids gladly accepted it, because they couldn’t trust anyone else.

      Chapter 11

      Smog Clouds

      The airship lifted itself off the ground slowly, but gained speed as it flew higher. The children felt uneasy to sit inside the machine they were hiding from for months, but quickly got used to it. Clyde peeked out over the border and gasped, both scared and amused. The ground below him was racing somewhere to the back, as if the wind was blowing it away. After a few moments, he started getting sick and returned to observing what was in front of him, rather than above. They were quickly nearing the tall wall, that was built all the way around the city. Even from above, it seemed like a massive structure, impenetrable, able to withstand anything. He started breathing heavier. The air didn’t feel right, as if they were entering another atmosphere. Ronald noticed his reaction to the new air and said they entered the smog layer above the city. It was thick and grey, as if the airship was riding through fog. It smelled of chemicals and ashes and it felt like all of the components were piling up in Clyde’s’ lungs. He coughed and gasped for air, but the grownups on the ship didn’t seem to have a problem with it. Lucinda patted his back cautiously and Ronald assured Clyde that they would get out of the smog soon.

      As the smog cleared, it revealed towers and towers of the industrialized city. Many stone and cement buildings with bizarre windows and decorations passed by too quickly for Clyde to fully soak in the beauty of it. The airship maneuvered between bridges and buildings. It circled around a giant statue of some man. It was so strange, like a completely different world. It seemed the ground was dominated by the ones  who preferred walking, while the air was infested with airships, flying chaotically, avoiding each other skillfully. Clyde heard so many unfamiliar sounds, weird smells floated around the city, but most of all, there were so many people, he began feeling anxious. He prepared himself for something of the sort, but the city was far beyond his imagination.

      They landed in front of a bar, which occupied the first two floors of a large building with gargoyles. The sign above the main entrance said “Clockworkers’ Sin ” and the inside, as could be seen through the windows, was packed with wild, drunken citizens. Clyde knew they were adults, drinking alcohol, doing whatever adults do, but it looked more like a zoo cage, full of yelling, laughing animals. Lucinda hesitated to get off, taking Clyde’s’ hand just in case, but Ronald and Alfredo beckoned them to follow. The kids walked into the bar, staying close to each other, and followed the lead of the garbage collectors towards the far back. They walked through a door that read “Staff Only”. There, waiting for their arrival, was a tall, scrawny man, with a face wrinkled like a raisin. He was bald, dressed wealthily and was smoking a cigar. Behind him, stood two buff thugs, looking identically intimidating. The old man grinned at the sight of the children, showing his yellow teeth with a few golden crowns. Clyde heard that smoking wrecks teeth, but this was the most severe case of it he has ever encountered.

      “Who did you bring me today, Ronnie?” The man spoke in his raspy voice as the cigar smoke burst out of his mouth in bits.

      “Two more orphans from the dump. Those ones were trying to get into The City themselves.” Ronald turned to the kids, suddenly grabbing Lucinda and pushing her towards one of the thugs. The shrieked and tried to run, but got restrained by the buff man.

      “Children, I forgot to mention,” Ronald smiled his warm smile, but his eyes had an evil twinkle in them “Most of the money in my job doesn’t come from dumping garbage out. It comes from kids like you.”

      As Clyde got handed over to the other thug, Lucinda tried to protest, but Ronald cut her off.

      “It’s a cruel world, kiddo. I’m just doing my job.”

      Alfred and Ronald received two stacks of paper bills and walked out. Clyde figured that the old man was the big boss here and cautiously asked what will happen next. The man laughed, took a drag from his cigar and exhaled, adding to the already dirty air.

      “Why, you are a curious one. We clean you up, get you a uniform, and then you work until you drop! ”

      Clyde and Lucinda got dragged away by the two men. At first they arrived into a brightly lit room, where a woman chopped off Clyde’s and Lucinda’s hair, giving both of them short buzz cuts, similar to the ones the thugs had. Lucinda continued to protest, making the thugs hold her down, while Clyde endured everything silently and obediently. He knew there was no purpose in rebelling at the moment. After that, they were taken to a shower room, with gross fungi and moss on the walls. The water in the showers was cold and orange from the rust in the pipes. After a quick shower, they were presented with uniforms similar to the ones the garbage collectors had. The ones the kids had were grey, with the initials “C.S.” sewn into the fabric above the heart. Lucinda spoke up again, addressing one of the thugs.

      “What is this? You can’t possibly think this is okay! This is illegal! You can’t just buy and sell humans! We are not just objects!”

      “Oh yea? Rules don’t apply to the ones that have money.” The thug chuckled.

      “I’ll get out of here and bring all of you to justice!”

      “Oy, be grateful, ye brat!” The second thug stepped in “Ye got yerself daily housing, food, and free clothes. What else can ye ask for? ”

      “Freedom.” Lucinda glared at him, but both thugs burst into laughter.

      Chapter 12

      Dead Eyes

      Clyde asked for some privacy to dress himself and received a rough shove into a bathroom stall. Carefully, to avoid any extra noise, he pulled his golden watch out. The chain made a few quiet clinks, but the thug guarding the stall didn’t pay attention. Holding his breath, Clyde slipped the watch into the pocket of his uniform and smiled. It was the only memory he had now. The bag was carelessly left on the ship, since Clyde considered coming back. He didn’t regret the loss as much, since it was as ragged as Clyde’s old clothes. Gladly, he put on the uniform and sensing the familiar ticking in his pocket, came out of the stall. The uniform was a few sizes too big, but he wasn’t in the position to complain. The guard lead him towards the exit, where Lucinda was waiting with the second thug. Her lip was busted, as if someone punched her in the face. She was wiping fresh blood off with her uniform’s sleeve, staring angrily at her guard.

      “She bit me! That brat.” The guard raised his sleeve, exposing a row of bitemarks. His partner chuckled, telling him to keep his arms away from angry animals. As the kids followed the guards down a staircase, Lucinda leaned over and whispered.

      “How can you be so calm? This is like prison!”

      Clyde simply shrug her off. He wasn’t scared. Rather, he was somewhat excited to see other kids, other people, to ask them about the city. Everything was happening too quickly for him to comprehend and therefore feel anything specific. As the four proceeded closer to the bottom of the stairs, Clyde felt the atmosphere change. He expected it to drop like it did in the bunkers he lived in, but it began to rise. The air felt moist, almost thick. It smelled of smoke, sweat and something else just as gross. Clyde heard loud noises, as if a giant metal animal was awaiting for him downstairs. It was moving around, breathing rhythmically, like some mechanical dragon. Clyde recalled hearing similar sounds in the airship, though they were way more toned down. As the staircase ended, Clyde’s eyes were introduced to another bizarre scene. He saw many kids, of different ages and sizes, walking around with tools in their hands. They walked among strange, giant machines that all seemed to be synchronized, producing the noise that Clyde had mistaken for breathing. He gave Lucinda a questioning glance, hoping for some useful piece of information, but it seemed even Lucinda was incapable of explaining the situation.

      One of the thugs pulled down  some sort of a microphone and asked the administrator to come down. Soon, pushing through the kids, in came a disgusting, fat man. Up until now, Clyde haven’t seen someone so fat. He instantly wondered how much the man eats on a daily basis and how much he would have to scavenge to feed himself. The man was sweating heavily and constantly wiped his forehead with the already soaked handkerchief.

      “Ah, two more. The tall one can carry bags, the little one to the machines.”

      He had a strange manner of speaking. Every word spoken made him sound like he just ran a few marathons and now someone was trying to choke him, jealous of the administrators’ victory. Clyde didn’t have time to investigate that, however, because he got grabbed by the collar and pulled roughly towards one of the biggest machines. Clyde got shoved towards some kid and left to make decisions on his own.

      “Um… I was told to work here. Do you-” He got cut off by the kid.

      “Ye climb under thee machines and swipe out the metal shavings. They fall through thee gaps. Also, check for any loose bolts and screws. Find any, tighten ‘em”

      Clyde got a screwdriver tossed at him and left to figure out the rest again. He knelt down and peeked under the nearest machine. He saw the metal shavings, as well as some moving parts on the bottom. Gears were turning, smoke was everywhere, making it hard to breathe, let alone move around under there. He tried reaching for some of the shavings with his arm, but it wasn’t long enough to reach most of them. Clyde took a gasp of relatively fresh air and began crawling underneath the machine. Scared to go too far, he tried to limit himself to going halfway in, but it also limited the amount of shavings scooped out. After twenty minutes, he had a few bleeding scratches and a pretty large pile of metal shavings with nowhere to put them. He looked around in search of someone who could help him and landed his eyes on someone with the same job as him. He walked up to the little boy and tapped his shoulder.

      “Excuse me sir… where do you put the shavings?” The kid turned around and gave him a tired smile.

      “I’m a girl, sir. The stuff goes into a bucket and then into the giant oven.”

      “Giant oven, huh? And where did you get the bucket.”

      “You have to ask Joey for it. It’s the round man in the booth.”

      Clyde figured it was the administrator. He also figured that he couldn’t tell anyone’s gender here, for they were all kids in the same uniforms with the same buzz-cuts. He looked around searching for whatever the girl referred to as “The booth” and finally spotted a window that was lit up somewhere close to the tall ceiling. By all logic, that would be the lookout point to watch over everything. He walked over there, trying to avoid bumping into people. It seemed they weren’t easily bothered. They didn’t care if you bumped into them at all. They were emotionless and speechless, like the machines in the room. It seemed like they were part of this mechanical madness, they were moving in the same organised, monotone manner as the cogs in the machines. Looking around way too much, he bumped into someone, almost knocking them to the ground. He quickly apologized, but got no response. The person glanced down at him and Clyde saw that his eyes were dead. They weren’t blind, but they didn’t belong to someone who is alive and happy. They looked dead, dead like all emotion in those mechanized souls.

      Chapter 13

      Get out

      Clyde finally reached the far wall of the sweatshop. There, he walked through a door and onto a staircase that lead to the so-called booth. He walked up quickly and knocked on the door. The administrator opened it, blocking the doorway with his mass.

      “Whatcha need kiddo?”

      “I need a bucket for the metal…”

      “Didn’t you get one?”

      “No sir, you sent me to work.”

      The man chuckled and began shifting around to get the bucket. It seemed that the office was too small for his massive body. After some struggling, he handed Clyde a bucket, already covered in the Administrators’ sweat.

      “What’s your name, kid?”

      “Clyde, sir! Clyde Shanks!”

      The man raised an eyebrow. “Shanks? Who’s your father?”

      “I’m an orphan…” Clyde began questioning that statement right after it left his lips.

      He was sent back to work with a reminder that lunch lasts only twenty minutes. Clyde suspected that the Administrator knew something. It could have been another man, of course, but if there was any chance to meet a relative, Clyde would take it. As he walked back to his workplace, pushing back through the crowd, he felt a few drops of sweat drip on him as if there was a cloud above, ready to burst into heavy rainfall.

      Someone in front of him began coughing. It was common to hear someone cough in the sweatshop, but the boy in front of him fell on all fours, gasping for air and making horrible raspy noises. Disregarding him, the mob kept moving, walking around the boy. Clyde dropped his bucket and ran up to him, trying to find a way to help. He heard a shriek and lifted his head, to see the little girl he talked to before, pushing through the crowd, yelling a name. She tugged on someone’s’ uniform, asking them to help, but got pushed away. Crying, she kneeled down before Clyde and the coughing boy, wiping the tears from her dirty face.

      “Alex! Alex please stand up! We can get you water when lunch starts!”

      Alex arched his back, spitting out some blood. Clyde noticed that the boy was shaking. He reached out and grabbed Clyde’s collar, pulling him down roughly. He could barely breathe, but he managed to utter a few words.

      “Get…out…”

      Alex couldn’t say anything else, he fell to the floor, coughing, choking on the disgusting, humid air. The girl looked up at Clyde and their eyes met. Clyde sighed and stood up.

      “He needs medicine, so we can’t help him. He won’t blame us”

      The girl burst into tears again, muttering something, but Clyde didn’t hear what it was. He grabbed her arm, dragging the struggling girl away from Alex. She tried to get out of his grip, but soon gave in to his authority. Clyde looked around, quickly spotting three adult men without uniforms pushing through the children. Production has stopped and so has most of the movement. The men were shouting commands at the kids, but the children refused to obey and simply stood, staring them down. Clyde realised, he was given a chance to escape, but he needed one more person…

      “Lucinda!”

      Clyde yelled as loudly as he could, unable to recognize his best friend in the forest of buzzcuts. He saw a familiar face turn towards the sound and yelled again, waving his hand. The men noticed it and two of them headed towards Lucinda. Clyde spotted four more adults running out from the back. He looked at Lucinda, desperately hoping for a miracle, but she shook her head and smiled. It was a sad smile. A smile that said “It’s ok if they kill me. I have nothing to lose. Go on.” Clyde felt his eyes get wet, but told himself to move. The kids made way for him as he dragged the little girl after himself to the exit. The shouts of the men became louder, he heard them hitting children, pushing them out of their way. Panting, Clyde reached the exit, the doorway through which he came in. He spun around in the doorway and took a deep breath of the nasty air.

      “Kids! Orphans!” His voice was still high-pitched, for he was but a kid, yet it sounded mature and confident “They can’t fight us if we run together! Follow me upstairs, break towards your freedom!”

      There was a moment of dead silence. Everyone, including the adults, stared at Clyde in disbelief. Clyde’s heart began to sink. If the kids remained here, he had no chance of breaking out. There was someone upstairs most likely, waiting for his arrival. In the crowd, he caught Lucinda’s smiling, shiny eyes. She nodded to him like a proud mother would, giving him all the courage she ever had. He saw her lips move, saying something quietly.

      “Look around you!” He yelled desperately. Some kids began shuffling, looking at the machines. Many still stared him down with hopeless eyes. “They can’t stop you from leaving this horrible place! Let’s go!” He spun around and started heading out. He had nothing else to say to that crowd of expressionless faces. His only hope was that they would follow him. To his joy and surprise, he heard the sound of quick footsteps behind him and the resumed yells of the guards. He tried to speed up, but the girl whose hand he held couldn’t keep up. However, they needed to hurry, for the staircase was filling with other children. He stopped for a second and ordered the girl to climb onto his back. He was nowhere near strong, but while he was in the condition to carry her, he would. They kept going up, hundreds of footsteps sending echoes up and down the stairs. With relief, Clyde felt the air change to a more clear, fresh and breathable one. He soon saw the white light of the fluorescent light bulbs that were in the room beyond the staircase.

      “We’re almost there!” He shouted, not sure if he was addressing himself, the girl or his followers.

      Chapter 14

      Let’s Make a Deal

      Squinting from the light, breathing heavily, with a small girl clutching to him, Clyde stepped into the room where everyone started out from. He couldn’t see much and therefore kept walking, navigating only by his memory. He heard the kids behind him, silently following his small figure. Many of them were older and could easily take over, but no one dared to step in front of Clyde. He felt everyone’s eyes on him and felt the bits of hope that were slowly coming back to the children. He put the girl down and they continued to walk hand in hand. They crossed the large room with no obstacles, but once they reached the next one, everyone’s hope faded instantly. Clyde, walking in the front, didn’t notice the line of guards blocking the next door until it was too late to warn the children. They began piling up into the room, lining up parallel to the guards, still hesitating to step forward. He heard the ones in the back whisper to each other to stop and soon, he heard no more footsteps. Everyone in the room were waiting. The guards were very outnumbered and hesitant to attack, the kids seemed to never act without a proper command. Clyde gathered his courage up and decided to negotiate first.

      “Why are you doing this? It’s cruel!” His sharp voice cut through the silence. The guards looked at one another, bewildered by the question. Seems like they never thought of it.

      “This is our job. Now turn around and return to yours.” One of them spoke up unconfidently.

      “Or what? You can’t kill them! They die on their own too often, right?” Clyde felt his advantage.

      “Why don’t you tell me?” The voice that replied sounded familiar, but not a single guard had spoken.

      The guard blockade shifted slightly, revealing a tall, scrawny figure of a man. The kids shuffled nervously, sensing his gaze of authority upon themselves. He walked out to the center of the room and smiled, doubling the amount of wrinkled skin that seemed overwhelming even when he had a straight face. Clyde gulped, recognizing the man who bought him from the garbage men. He felt scared and disgusted, but stared right at the man. Their eyes met.

      “Why, aren’t you the gentleman I took in today?” He was talking slowly, almost mocking Clyde.

      “I am” Clyde frowned. “And I hope you get your money back.”

      “I presume you and your little army would like to get out. But what will you do once you are free?” Clyde didn’t think it through that far, but showed no signs of defeat. “You know, son, I see some potential in you. Maybe we could talk this through and I could promote you to a better position?”

      “Only me?” Clyde felt the need to speak for everyone “What about the rest? Will you promote them?”

      The man chuckled, showing off his wrecked teeth.“There is only one position,” His eyes scanned the face of every kid in the room “But I’m afraid not everyone here are suited for the job.” Clyde took a deep breath, trying to come up with a reply. The little girl clutched him by the sleeve of the uniform, scared. He glared at the man. In one quick movement of the man’s arm, Clyde witnessed a fancy musket, cocking inches away from his forehead.

      “Let’s make a deal, lad. You kill one of the adults in the room and I give you freedom by making you my apprentice. I cannot fill the streets with orphan children, for that would be just as cruel as keeping them here. However, you will be able to make it better for them here.” The man leaned towards Clyde, handing him the gun. Instantly, Clyde pointed it back at him. The man chuckled, straightening himself out. “Good choice. Unfortunately, it would be the last one you’d make.

      “She will stay with me.” Clyde said quietly, pulling the girl closer to himself. “You will let them have medication and better food.” He took a step towards the man, slowly regaining his confidence. He was still aiming at the skinny figure. The man smiled in acceptance to Clyde’s terms and gestured towards his loyal men.

      Clyde leaned over to the girl and told her to close her ears and her eyes. Then, he walked over to the row of adults. Some were smirking, not believing that a small boy could shoot at them, some stared, hiding their fear. The boy walked up to one of the thugs who had no faith in him and pointed the gun approximately where the man’s heart would be. The man grinned, silently urging Clyde to pull the trigger. Clyde glanced up at the man and suddenly felt numb. Just like he felt when he watched Lucinda get beat up by the Orphans. It was a strange feeling. As if there was cold water running down his throat on a hot day, but the icy water was spreading from his heart and through all of the veins. It was relaxing, slightly concerning. He inhaled slowly, preparing for a loud gunshot and pulled the trigger. He knew that the hundreds of kids behind him flinched. He knew they felt betrayed and lost. He lowered the gun and glanced at the leftover men. None of them were smirking, none had doubts about his ability to shoot a gun. Clyde’s head started to spin, his muscles gave out and he collapsed onto the floor. Before his eyes closed, they obtained a new color, slightly darker than the previous one.

      Chapter 15

      A New Life

      He woke up. It was dark everywhere, perhaps because his eyes were still closed. Clyde shifted slightly, acknowledging the fact that he was laying on a bed. Maybe he was still in the bunker and everything was just a dream. No, it was too quiet for the bunker dormitory. No one was snoring or shuffling, the mattress was soft, the sheets didn’t feel old and worn out. There was noise, however. Lots of separate muffled sounds, mixing into a city life cacophony. Curious, Clyde opened his eyes, to see brown and yellowish blurs. He blinked a few times and slowly, the smudged picture gained more details. He was definitely on a bed, facing a bedside table. Further, he saw a bookshelf and a small lamp that gave off warm yellow light. He sat up carefully and instantly felt the sickening need for food. His stomach felt like it could eat itself and his dry throat wasn’t doing so good either. He was thrown into a coughing fit and hunched over on the bed. The door opened and a lady ran in with a glass of water. Clyde snatched it from her and gulped the liquid down greedily. She promised to bring in some food and left the room, leaving behind a jug of water and a note. Clyde reached for the jug, but the piece of paper caught his attention. He picked it up and started reading.

      “Clyde, I will be home as soon as the tavern closes; Around midnight. Your young lady is resting in a room parallel to you. The maid’s name is Margo. This note was primarily to check if you are educated enough to read.

      -C.S. ”

      Clyde felt slightly offended by anyone’s doubt in his education, but set the note aside, settling down on the thought that his new guardian was a cranky old man and meant no harm. He poured himself another glass, suddenly noticing that he was neither in his old rags nor in his worker uniform. He was in a white nightgown with no practical use and no pockets. The watch. Clyde threw his blanket aside and jumped to his feet, instantly collapsing. He caught himself on the edge of the bed and had to return to his sitting position. He scanned the room, but the watch was gone. Clyde was panicking on the inside, but forced himself to stay put. He would have to ask the maid once she came back. She seemed to be taking for ever. Finally, the door opened and she hurried in with a steaming bowl of soup on a tray, setting it on the table. Clyde stared at it, mesmerized by the steam coming off the bowl. It has been about a year since he ate anything hot, let alone eating with silverware. The young woman folded her arms and waited for Clyde’s commands. Feeling her eyes on him, he picked up the tray, setting it on his lap carefully. He glanced at the note to remember her name.

      “Margo, where is my watch?”

      Her calm face changed to a more confused expression. It occurred to Clyde that the old man had at least an hour to search through Clyde’s pockets. That realisation made him rather uncomfortable. He also acknowledged that Margo may have no idea where his belongings went, for it seems like the mysterious C.S. had all the control around here. Seeing her concern, he changed the question.

      “How long did I sleep?” He insisted.

      “Why, about two days, sir. Will that be all for now?”

      Clyde nodded. The maid bowed a little and walked out quickly. As soon as Margo was gone, Clyde attacked his bowl of soup. Halfway finished, he remembered how Lucinda told him to restrain from eating quickly. When they first met, she noticed how quickly he chewed everything down and pointed out that that was the cause of stomach aches and occasional vomiting. It was never pleasant, so Clyde forced himself to slow down. Lucinda… Where was she right now? Suffering from the hard work and heavy, hot air in the sewers. Memories of the day when he betrayed everyone rushed back to him. He put the tray away and leaned back, staring at the ceiling blankly. His chest felt like it was contracting, trying to push out the tears that built up over time, but Clyde swallowed them down again. There was nothing he could do to change the past. What happened has happened and now all he could do was go along the flow, hoping he could change the future for the better.

      Clyde has no idea how long he spent, laying and contemplating his past. The twist of the door handle made him flinch and sit up. The door opened slowly and silently, revealing the boss of the house.

      Chapter 16

      The Hand That Feeds You

      Clyde held his breath, eyeing the man who took him in. It was the same man that he has seen twice before. The first time, the man bought him, the second time, the he offered Clyde mercy at the cost of others. The man grinned and walked over to Clyde slowly, not breaking eye contact. His eyes stared Clyde down in a condescending manner. It felt like a scary silent game, one that Clyde didn’t want to lose. He tried to pull a poker face and stare right back into the man’s eyes, but his weak attempts could not hide his nervousness. The man chuckled, sensing his obvious power, even over a cold-hearted kid. He sat on the edge of the bed and smiled in a way that was supposed to look warm. Clyde couldn’t help but grimace at the awful tobacco scent that seemed to float around the man like his own nasty atmosphere. Clyde’s new caretaker began talking first. He introduced himself as Carl Sanchez. As he had pointed out, the same initials could be used for his factory and bar, the Clockworkers’ Sin.

      “I am already ninety six, you see,” Clyde saw that very well “I will be dead in a couple years.”

      Clydes’ eyes widened. Carl chuckled and bobbed his head at the absurdity of it. He seemed like a sly man, but he wasn’t the type to lie. Not the type to joke either. Carl stood up and paced around the room, talking partially to himself.

      “You are here because I said I would make you my apprentice. Eh, how old are you?” Clyde held up his hands, showing a one and a three. ”Alright, well, I suppose it didn’t really matter. You will have about four years to become the next Carl Sanchez.”

      Clyde was not too excited by that idea. He remembered the deal he made, but he had to do it under a gun. Carl saw his concern.

      “It’s for your own good. You simply won’t survive here otherwise. Consider it both a blessing and a curse, Clyde Shanks. You will have an education, all skills necessary to be a leader like myself and you will have the power to polish those skills. ” He returned to his seat near Clyde. “What do you say?”

      Clyde cleared his throat “Do I actually get a choice?”

      Carl laughed and stood up. He stopped by the door and exclaimed “No.” Before making his exit.

      Clyde relaxed on the bed again, looking up into the ceiling. Just how did things get so complicated? His philosophical process was interrupted by Margos return. She announced that Master Sanches expected him to breakfast tomorrow morning. A neatly folded stack of clothes was placed onto a chair near Clyde and the maid made her way out.

      “Wait!” The maid peeked back into the room “Is the girl awake yet?”

      “No Sir. However I assure you that we will be alert and ready for it.”

      Clyde thanked the maid and slid down on his pillow. The last thing he felt before falling into another deep sleep, was the shift and rustle of the bed sheets as Margo tucked him in.

      Chapter 17

      New Beginning

      Clyde couldn’t tell if it was morning or noon. He could, however, see everything in the room with the lights turned off. He stood up carefully, afraid to have his head spin again. Holding on to the bed, he got dressed to the best of his ability. The boy rang the bell and soon enough, Margo rushed in. Clyde held out the tie, questioning its purpose. She laughed, helped him tie it and then escorted him to the dining room. As Clyde stumbled down the hallways, leaning on the maid, his eyes wandered all over the place. He didn’t know how big his new home was. However, it was already bigger than his bunker. Carl had a knack for luxury and he made sure that anyone who set foot in his house knew that. Paintings in wooden and golden frames hung on the walls. Every hallway had flower vases, full of blooming bouquets. All glass was thin, all china was fine and all wood was polished. He noticed that the maids’ clothes were clean and ironed, although she probably did the dirty work in the house.

      The hallway that his room opened to lead to a staircase, then a large hall and then the dining room, which was a very large room on its own. Clydes eyes instantly fixated on the girl he has brought with him. She was smiling, clean, wearing a cute light pink dress. Her hair was still as short as his, however she was offered a hat to go with the dress. Carl stopped the conversation they were having and pierced Clyde with his eyes.

      “Well don’t count on a lady to walk you, come sit down on your own!” Clyde was unable to disobey. He pushed off of Margo and moved as quickly as possible to occupy a chair by the girl. Carl scolded him for being late and made a gesture towards the girl.

      “Miss Lizbeth, here, made it on time. She woke up in the middle of the night, as a matter of fact.”

      Lizzie. So that was the name of the girl. A plate with a poached pear was placed in front of the kids. They both stared at it in bewilderment. Finally, Lizzie picked up the fork and picked a piece off the pear. She licked it, grinned and proceeded to devour the dessert. Clyde shifted his eyes over to Carl, not trusting the strange food.

      “It’s not poisoned,” Urged the man “Go ahead, try it.” Clyde hesitated.

      “Then why won’t you eat it?”

      Carl shrugged “I’m diabetic. There are many things I don’t eat anymore.” A bowl of oatmeal was placed in front of the man. Clyde had to admit, that looked less edible. It appears that although the man had so much power, he still couldn’t control nature and time. Clyde also had to admit that the pear was very sweet and disappeared quickly.

      The breakfast passed in near silence. Occasional small talk was made, however, the silence gloomed over the table. People often joke how they are so hungry they could eat a whole giant animal, but as hungry as the children used to be, they found themselves unable to fit in even half of the offered breakfast. After the meal, Carl motioned Clyde to come along with him and began walking. Clyde glanced at Margo, however she shook her head and, instead, handed him a cane. It was a bit big for Clyde, but it was better than nothing. Clyde hurried after his new Guardian.

      Their end location was in the man’s’ office, where Clyde finally collapsed into an armchair. Carl sat down behind his desk and folded his arms. The window behind him illuminated his silhouette, making the figure as menacing as it could get.

      “So, Clyde Shanks, are there any questions before we begin?”

      “My watch.” Clyde raised his head, suddenly angry at the man. Carl chuckled, and fished the pocket watch out of one of the drawers. The gold shined in the sunlight; the old man likely polished it. Clyde didn’t move, just stared at it both in awe and in disgust. This was no longer the relic from Mr. Morrison, but a new, refined watch with a clean cover and, no doubt, with replaced parts.

      “It was filthy, you see. I figured I’d fix it up a bit.” The watch was placed on the desk before Carl. He urged the boy to come and get it, but Clyde didn’t move. The old man raised his eyebrow.

      “You ruined it. You took the only thing I had and ruined it.” Clyde’s voice was about to tremble, however his eyes began to shift to a darker shade of livid. He wanted to pounce at the man, strangle him, break everything and set the world on fire, however he knew that he was just a boy, weakened and small. Carl shrugged and leaned back in his chair.

      “Isn’t it better to start fresh? Your new life is starting, it’s like a rebirth, a fresh start. This watch has seen way more than you did. It was made before the war, likely belonged to some soldier, then traveled to you. However, you will be a new person starting today, so let the watch symbolize your new self.” Carl picked up the watch and stretched his arm out to Clyde. Hesitantly, Clyde rose from the seat and then snatched the watch away from the man, returning back to the armchair.

      “Now, let us initialise your new life.”

      Chapter 18

      The Next Master Sanchez

      “You will hold your posture straight. You will look stern, yet you should never look grim. Look down at the ones below you, strive to push the ones above you to your feet. Nothing you say has to be true, nothing you do has to be genuine. This is not the survival of the fittest, this is the elimination of the ignorant. Their ignorance is your bliss, Clyde, so don’t you ever run out of knowledge.”

      Clyde woke up in cold sweat, coughing and wheezing. His hand tried to feel for the inhaler in the dark, but he only knocked it over. Frantically trying to wake up, he turned on the lamp, grabbed the inhaler and finally relieved his asthma attack. Over the year that he has spent in the City, he discovered his lack of tolerance towards air pollution. It wasn’t usually too bad and rarely got to him, however lately, the need for an inhaler increased. He laid on his back, breathing, staring at the ceiling. His watch showed 4am. He sighed and got up, throwing a robe over himself. On such nights, he would get too paranoid so go back to sleep. He drew back the curtain of his large circular window and gazed down onto the dark streets. It was hard to make out the road beneath, the view was covered by passages between buildings, clothes lines and wires. He could see the yellow light of the street lamps, illuminating patches of the ground. In a few hours they will be turned off by lamplighters.

      By the time Clyde turned fourteen, he got rather accustomed to the city life. He preferred to stay at home, more isolated from the chaos, however he liked to blend with the diverse crowd and watch so many events happen at once around him. His personal doctor, picked out by Carl, advised the boy to wear a mask as often as possible in order to avoid inhaling the gas emissions. The citizens in the city divided into two categories; The majority was of the new generations, ones that were nearly immune to any lung diseases as this was their natural habitat. Clyde was a rare case, like most people with the same problem. He came from outside the city and although he lived at a wasteland, the air was much cleaner there and kept Clyde away from dust and smog. Upon his arrival to the city, he quickly found out that the air here wasn’t quite compatible with his sensitive lungs. Clyde hated wearing his mask, however looking at his caretaker, who seemingly had every disease and disorder one could imagine, he decided to be responsible from the very beginning.

      Clyde was a fast learner, however the concepts of numbers were hard to grasp for him. At some point, Carl gave up on attempting to educate him the traditional way and exposed Clyde to the business world around his company, where Clyde began showing way more understanding, since it was way beyond mindless paperwork. The progress for the orphans hasn’t been very far. The working and living conditions were still very bad, even though Clyde insisted on ventilation in the workshop. Once he partially took over the workshop finances as part of his education, the boy quickly realised that even if Carl had the best intentions in mind for the kids, he wouldn’t be able to afford much for them. The kids were doing some of the toughest jobs in town, however that job paid for all their expenses. Some percentage, of course, went into Carl’s savings. Clyde had the access to most paperwork, however he couldn’t figure out why Carl was way wealthier than an owner of a few bars. The profit he got out of there didn’t add up to the cost of everything in the house and even the old man’s expenses. Now that Clyde and Lizzie came into the picture, the expenses increased, however Carl couldn’t care less.

      While Clyde became gradually more stern over the year, Lizzie completely rehabilitated and turned out to be a joyous and light soul. She didn’t care much for academics and the cruelty of life, therefore remaining the naive child that she was. Both Carl and Clyde enjoyed her company and decided to not pressure her too much. Clyde was in a more difficult position, as the man was desperate to make him a worthy replacement as fast as possible. Clyde didn’t mind at all and frankly, Lizzie contrasted his darker world quite nicely.

      Clyde stepped away from the window and quickly got dressed. He sneaked out of the house and set out to the streets, wandering aimlessly. It was a habit that he has developed during the year. While most citizens avoided the streets during such hours, Clyde found it to be the most relaxing time for the City. He risked running into some bad luck, however his pocket knife never had the need to flip out before. Most people don’t pounce at small boys in the middle of the night. Such are generally assumed to be orphans. After the war, many children were left without families, however when the City arose, the government couldn’t care less about them. The city on it’s own was like a giant machine, where every part had to do something useful. Otherwise, they would simply die. There were no beggars on the streets, everyone were taken in and although it could be perceived as hospitality, it could also be seen as the use of cheap labour. As far as Clyde understood, it was better than leaving them to die on the streets.

      He eyed the tall bulky man who was leaning on a wall, puffing out cigar smoke from underneath the raised collar. His goggles reflected the yellow street lights as he shifted his head to look at Clyde. Once they locked eyes, Clyde attempted a friendly smile, but remembered that his mask concealed most of his face. “It’s better that way in our circles” assured him Carl. He walked over to the man and leaned on the same wall. He learned to estimate the arm span of a person and stay about that distance away from them. Clyde looked up at the light across the street.

      “Nice night, isn’t it?”

      The stranger shrugged in response and took another drag from the cigar.

      “Say, have you heard the last name Sanchez? ”

      “And what does a little kid have to do with master Sanchez?” The stranger’s voice rumbled like faraway thunder.

      “Ah. I assume you are one of his employees who hasn’t met me before.” Clyde stepped away from the wall and tipped his hat “Good evening to you, sir. I am the next Master Sanchez.”

      Chapter 19

      My Name

      There is an expression when one is described to be laughing at another’s face. It is generally an abstract choice of words, used to describe someone’s rude laughter to ridicule another person. However, what Clyde heard was a rather cheerful laugh, pointed a bit too close to his face, as the stranger bent over, wheezing out small particles of saliva.

      “Get outta here, kiddo, Carl Sanchez may be old, but he ain’t dumb.” The stranger straightened out again and chuckled one last time. “He would never want a twat like you in his place. Scram! I don’t know why you know his name but I tell you, kiddo, don’t throw it around like that.” He waved Clyde off and returned to his cigar.

      Clyde was thrown back. Literally, because a stranger just spat at his face and figuratively, because he felt his status should provoke more respect and recognition. Clyde began quickly walking away. If a person wasn’t convinced instantly, he wasn’t going to be convinced. The boy, once again, came to the conclusion that he only receives respect when he shows up with his caretaker. Carl Sanchez had an unforgettable face of a vulture, the reputation of a man with great power and his initials were stamped on half of the machinery parts in the city. That man had a name for himself that Clyde was now lebeled with. He needed to make one of his own, but what else was there left to do? Frustrated, Clyde sat down on some crate and looked down at the ground. The city was a giant machine. It worked perfectly well and didn’t need much improvement. Clyde’s head jerked up at the sound of someone’s scream.

      Driven by curiosity and held back by caution, Clyde gripped the handle of his pocket knife and began to proceed towards the sound. The screaming continued, occasionally transforming into yells and undecipherable words. It was definitely a woman. Clyde peeked around the corner to observe a predator-like man grabbing at some screaming young lady. She was pushing him away, looking around desperately, but there were no audience for the scene, let alone any heroes among them. Clyde adjusted his mask and stepped out onto the light. The screaming stopped. The stranger slowly turned his head to glare at Clyde over his shoulder. The second time this evening, Clyde was told to scram.

      “Let go of her for tonight. Some people are trying to sleep here.” He tried to play it cool.

      The man chuckled and grabbed the woman’s chin “Look, sweetheart, you got yourself a prince in shining armour.” He grinned, baring a few crowns and a few teeth that required a dentist. Clyde held his breath; This guy was in an aggressive mood. The man locked his glare down and began to slowly stroll towards Clyde, not letting go of the womans wrist. Clyde switched his blade out of his pocket and took another breath to calm down.

      “Jesus, are you really gonna attack me with that? Fight me like a man!” The man threw the woman’s wrist down and she quickly backed away. Clyde considered his battle won, but now he had to go through the physical part. He threw his knife on the ground, trying to figure out how drunk the man was. He was stable in his posture, but already hazed in the mind. His movements were slow, but only promised a fast maneuver. Clyde decided to treat him like a snake and that was to dodge and grab.

      At the invitation to swing first, Clyde shrugged, turned around and started walking away. He tried to step as lightly as possible to listen to the man’s footsteps. A few shouts at Clyde were made from the same position. The voice caught up slightly and then stopped. In one single second, he heard his approaching wind up and as soon as the man’s steps sounded a metre away, Clyde jumped to the side and kicked low, sending his attacker flying to the ground. Before the man got up, Clyde ran up and kicked him a few times, avoiding the ribs. Soon enough, the man lost any will to continue fighting, Clyde flipped him over on his stomach, put his foot on his back like a hunter does to his prey and leaned down.

      “The name is Clyde Shanks. And may god help you if you forget it.”

      Chapter 20

      Beginning of Fame

      Clyde returned home upon sunrise. He couldn’t get rid of some heavy feeling in his chest that he did something wrong. Victory was never too blinding for him, because he always felt bad for the opponent that lost. Upon entering the house, he met eyes with his caretaker, standing right in front of the door, waiting. The old man never bothered to ask where Clyde went; he either didn’t care or chose to mind his own business. This morning, however, the inquiry was very stern. Clyde chose to remain silent and simply stared straight ahead like an interrogated soldier. Carl walked slowly across the room echoing his footsteps in the sleepy silence of the house and concluded the echo by dragging a chair underneath himself. The room was dead silent once again.

      “Listen. I respect you and never bother to look into your personal life. But goddamn it, boy, don’t try to tie me into it!” Carl restrained himself from a burst of frustration. Clyde gave him a questioning glance. As it became apparent from Carls further lecturing, Clyde was already starting to develop a name for himself, but instead of something noble, it was something among the lines of a brat who found out the name of a powerful man and now goes around saying it just like that.

      “But you adopted me, I have your last name now.” Clyde smirked as his guardian furrowed his eyebrows in attempts to explain how complicated it all was. The boy has already heard his lectures about the importance of secrecy, individuality and the complexity of the world, but he felt the need to remain silent. It wasn’t news to him that his attempts to self advertise didn’t go too well. Once the lecture was over, Clyde finally spoke up again.

      “Ok, Sir, I understand that people are annoyed with me. But how else am I supposed to be famous and known like you? No one knows about me but I’m supposed to take over your business and have as much respect as you and as much influence. How the hell do you want me to act?”

      “The best way to let people know about you is not that direct and it appears it is time to begin.”

      Clyde was sent off to bed.

      His morning classes were canceled and instead, a tailor showed up to take Clyde’s and Lizzie’s measurements. After that, they were taken to a room cleared of furniture where a tutor spent the day teaching them how to dance. Lizzie seemed to be a bit more free in her movements and caught on to dancing very quickly. Clyde, meanwhile, was very stiff and clumsy whenever he had to lead and keep in tact, but he liked to see Lizzie dance with him. That lunch, a question ran through his head that he was too afraid to ask. He wanted to know if they counted as siblings, but no matter how he tried to sort his words out, they all sounded too creepy. With a sigh he concluded that if he is too afraid to ask, then they probably do count as relatives somewhere in his subconsciousness.

      It was by far one of the most exhausting and seemingly pointless days of Clyde’s life, however the payoff was waiting a week ahead, in a large house occupied by all the city’s high class residents. Clyde and Lizzie, with Carl right behind them. Walked into the brightly lit hall. Clyde was somewhat used to such places, he even saw a few familiar faces, but Lizzie looked anxious, clinging to his arm. Over their heads and to the sides of them, Carl was giving out polite smiles, nods and handshakes to anyone they came across. The kids were instructed to go find a few peers, who, presumably, were upstairs away from the adults. Climbing up the blindingly white staircase, Clyde regretted forgetting his inhaler. Once they reached the top, he asked Lizzie for two favors; to speak for him most of the time and to not question anything he does. He wanted to have a memorable impression on his future accomplices. Neither Clyde nor Lizzie have ever met any of the rich kids. They kept to themselves in their house and only interacted with adults or the children from the factory. From what Clyde understood, those peers of his could easily pose a personal and a more global threat because of their spoiled characters and influential parents. He was vaguely instructed to be cautious and very careful and respectful, yet not to expect the children to do the same for him. Their eyes locked on a few teenagers, entering some room and with a forceful push through their anxiety, they followed.

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