Dream a Little Dream Of Me
Job Details: Defender of Dreamland!
The year was x878, but despite it being in the midwinter month the Neutral Grounds cozied itself a lot more than Fiore’s other cities. Its warm blanket of spicy orange pea soupers—seething from the belching factory chimneys and from the boiling sewers—kept the snow so thin that it barely made the stone alleyways slippery enough for the muggers to fail escaping from their victims. It was cold enough, however, for people to see their own smoggy breaths. These puffs of smoke, colored yellow to a thick orange from the smog, gleamed through the dimly lit underbelly of the mega-city as the main streets roared with violence.
The ward’s main square was littered with men in torn brown and black jackets against other men in armored high visibility jackets; the former holding fire bottles, throwing it against the center of the square, while the latter were holding man catchers. It was a standoff that had been struggling for the past week. The city mostly ignored the rioters since the better part of the past few months; after all, there were yearly union strikes that were worse than them. But since the past week, where hunger and desperation paved away to anger and resentment, cost the lives of a man and a woman. The two were the son and daughter of one of the elder families that built the megacity into what it was now; it was one of the families that lived in the Ivory Towers.
As an act of retaliation, the guards were mobilized and the rest became history. It became a citywide riot spanning multiple wards, and multiple fronts for the authorities to face. The funny consequence of people in power holding monopoly to who the city guards focused their attention on was the smalltime crooks and delinquents of the mega-city had free reign over everything else.
The city suddenly became their playground.
“Hey, newbie,” One of the older kids called over a hunched figure in the corner of a parked truck. “Did you get all that?”
The hunched figured was smaller than her, but the pair of brown eyes that glared back was anything but helpless. “Yes.”
“Good,” The older kid gave him a mischievously toothy smile. “If you get the old fart to chase you around the back, I’ll give you what we agreed on—”
“You think he can do it?” Another kid whispered.
“Only one way to find out!”
The streetcorner suddenly erupted to a loud cheer of sharp voiced youngsters and across it was a shop that displayed ‘Addy’s Surplus and Securities’. A dozen children, the oldest not aging more than fourteen and the youngest not older than eleven, came running! Two of them dashed through the store corner and into the dimly lit alley beside it, the other nine slid into the sides of the cars parked in front of it while the last kid, the one hunching earlier, made his way into the front of the store.
“Hey—” He called.
“Louder!” A girl hissed at him from behind one of the cars.
“Hey!” He repeated, this time pulling out something from his jacket pocket. “Think you’ll live in the Ivory Towers selling your city out?!”
The threw an egg smack dab into the store’s sign! The boy then threw another through the metal barred front, and into the glass. That earned a scream from inside the store itself.
“Do you know how hard it is to wipe the smell off that!?” An accented man howled at him.
The boy answered by throwing another egg at the shop, this time at the door. The storeowner then opened the door, man catcher on hand.
“No,” The boy replied. “But I hope it’ll last till the next time I visit!”
“That’s it, you’re dead!” The boy sprinted into one direction, the storeowner hot on his trail.
“Did you tell him to say all that?” The skeptical girl asked the eldest one.
“No,” A toothy grin formed over the latter. “But I owe him half of my haul, c’mon!”
The rest of the children dashed inside and went to work. The shop itself had nothing but arms supplies—from pepper sprays to guns and ammo. But that was not what they were after. The children broke the glass casings and took gasmasks, anti-shrapnel goggles, ballistic helmets and even armor. Some went out the back and picked up crates’ worth of teargas and smoke grenades. They hauled what they could with the amount they could carry, and just as quickly ran out of the shop. One of the two children were fast to come out of the side of the shop.
“It took a while,” She said, panting. “But it’s on.”
They followed her back into the side of the alley to find a small van, one of its windows broken, and loaded their haul into the back. In no time at all, they were all ready to bolt out of the shop.
“He’s taking too long,” The eldest girl was frowning now, her toothy smile long gone.
“Think the old fart caught him?”
“If he did, then that kid’s dead,” Another shrugged.
The eldest girl almost snarled at the one who made the comment, but opted to glare at them instead. “I’ll go.”
“Are you f—”
“Yes,” She made a thin smile. “If I don’t come back in a few minutes, leave us behind.”
The others gave a noncommittal nod and the eldest girl ran to the direction of their newest member. Even since he joined she was admittedly too harsh to the boy. It was probably because he was the first one that actually had the balls to try and join them in a long while, but she wanted to test his loyalty. She finally caught a trail of them leading into an alleyway; a whiff of rotten eggs and a trail of blood made her chest skip a beat. This was only one of many times she used him as bait, and this time it looked like the boy finally ran out of luck.
As she ran deeper into the alleys, running past burning barrels that were swarmed by adult men and women that only spared her a glance before dismissing her as an urchin, she finally found him. The boy was sprawled on the ground as the older man pummeled him by his foot, the man catcher slinging its noose over the child’s hooded neck.
“If anything in my shop’s gone I’ll break another bone, you little sh—”
The girl didn’t spare another moment; she unpinned a grenade and threw it hitting the older man in the back of his head. The metallic piece landed with a thunk and earned a swear from him. She then pulled out a penknife off her pocket and cut the noose up. The boy coughed from inside his hood, but she pulled him off the ground as quickly as she could.
“Run!” The two children ran through the smoke covered alley as the older man finally recovered, and could only see them escaping him as he cursed at their faint silhouettes that finally disappeared in an alley corner.
Further away, the elder girl and the boy she just rescued were sitting three floors up by a building’s fire escape. She was looking at the boy coughing his lungs out. She didn’t know how long he was being beaten, since they escaped the store? Even before that?
“You okay—?” She asked, half wincing at the stupid question that left her mouth.
Another cough was her only reply.
“Let’s get you that hoodie off, let the fresh air clear your lungs out…”
“No! Wait—!” The boy protested, but it was already too late. A scream left the girl’s lips as she found herself face to face with what she could only describe as a monster: The boy—or what she thought was a boy—was now draped with a pitch-black tar ‘thing’, with only a pair of blood red orbs acting as eyes that looked back at her. Without even thinking she, still holding her penknife, stabbed the monster!
She crawled into a corner of the fire escape, but when she finally turned she only found the monster sitting dumbfoundedly, staring at her. It wiped its face with its jacket sleeve and what greeted her back was the face of the boy she came to know for only a few weeks, but she had never seen him look at her like that before: he was in tears, looking at her wondering what he did wrong. But they both know what he did.
He revealed what he truly was.
“I’m sorry,” He finally said, his voice didn’t change. But it was noticeably softer, almost holding a sob. “I…won’t bother you anymore.”
He jumped! The elder girl screamed in terror as she peered her head to look down, but there was nothing at the bottom of the building. No body, and definitely no trace of the monster—no, of the boy.
“I…I didn’t know,” She finally said as she felt her cheeks flush. “Why didn’t you say anything, Tim?”