Outlive (The Baggers Trilogy, #1) (4 page)

BOOK: Outlive (The Baggers Trilogy, #1)
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The consequences could be tasted in old, dry tobacco, stale bread, and the metallic taste of the faucet water. Baggs found that if he drank too much tap water too fast, he got heartburn. He could taste the consequences on the single toothbrush that the Baggers had all shared for the past ten years.

             
The consequences were most apparent in the sights, though. Olive’s skinny ribs. The cracked windows of the apartment buildings. And the mansions in the suburbs with pristine green lawns, statues out front, and healthy young boys and girls playing catch in the front lawn, smiling in carefree ways that Baggs rarely saw his daughters do.
They can smile that way because they’re not afraid of starving.

             
Baggs stood on the pavement just before he entered Rolling Gardens, one of the nicer neighborhoods in London, and finished his cigarette. Rolling Gardens was between him and Greggor’s place; it was the kind of neighborhood where when you called the police, they actually came. The humans that lived in those houses probably saw doctors when they were sick, drank clean water, and had never seen the message, “SORRY, YOU DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH CREDITCOINS FOR THIS PURCHASE,” flash on a computer screen when trying to buy food for their families. Baggs dropped his cigarette and then stomped it out, just beyond the nice neighborhood.

             
Before continuing on, he turned and looked at the Happy Jack fast-food kiosk on the corner of a deserted London building. For the price of 8.99CC he could get a cheeseburger, and his stomach was growling.
I could use some food before I go and meet with Greggor. I need to be sharp when I talk with him.

             
Baggs’s mouth watered at the thought of the greasy food, with melted cheese.

             
But then he shook his head.
Let’s see how Greggor’s goes before I buy any more food.

             
He knew he wouldn’t actually
buy
a cheeseburger, though. He hadn’t had one in over half a year. Tonight, he would have a small portion of the cheapest noodles on the market, like he did every night.

             
Still hungry, Baggs entered the pristine streets of Rolling Gardens. The pavement was monochromatic gray, and completely void of cracks. On either side of him were homes that stretched back and sideways and up so far that it struck Baggs as gluttonous. On a previous day he had systematically taken stock of how tall each house was. He found that none of them seemed to have fewer than six floors, and most had around ten. They all shared similar features. The homes had dustless glass windows that were cleaned on a weekly basis. There were living flowers in their front yards at all times of the year. They had front porches bigger than the Baggers’ apartment, and sofas on their decks that were bigger than the bed Olive and Maggie shared.

             
Baggs looked down at his hand and gritted his teeth in frustration. He knew that if he lived in one of those houses, he could afford to get his hand fixed. There were physicians who could easily mend his deformed hand, but none would, because he didn’t have the money.

             
His mind flashed to Olive’s ribs beneath her t-shirt. Her skinny shoulders.

             
She’s going to starve.

             
NO!

             
Just enter Outlive, why don’t you?

             
NO! SHUT UP!

             
Baggs was almost out of the neighborhood when he saw something appalling happening in the side yard of a giant, grey rock home. A woman wearing beige slacks and a crisp, white, dry-cleaned button down was walking across her lawn, carrying a cake encased in a plastic container to the trash bin. Baggs felt his cheeks flush as he watched her. The cake appeared to be red velvet, and divided into five layers by thick sheets of white, sugary icing. She opened up the bin, and placed it delicately inside.

             
Baggs, thinking about how neither of his daughters had ever tasted cake in their lives, spoke to the woman without considering the consequences of such an action. Her side yard was so far away from the street that he had to shout; “Uhh! Ma’m! Uhh! If there’s nothing wrong with that cake, uhh…”

             
Baggs stopped speaking.

             
The woman froze where she stood on her walkway. Her jaw trembled for a moment; her blue eyes were fixed on Baggs. She took two steps backwards, and then put her hands up, palms facing Baggs. She was acting like Baggs was a rabid dog. He probably sounded just as uncontrollable and foreign to this plastic surgery ridden woman, asking to take something out of her trash bin. Baggs became uncomfortably aware of his tangled mess of thick black hair atop his head and running over his chin and above his lips. He saw the woman’s eyes move over him, and he became aware of his size, and of how much his shoulders filled out his XL t-shirt, which said: “BOUYETTE PRIDE MARCHING BAND!” Tessa had found the shirt in the library, wadded up behind a stack of old psychology manuals. She brought the shirt home, washed it in the sink, hung it up in their apartment, and even though he didn’t know what the Bouyette Pride Marching Band was, it became his favorite shirt; it was the only one he owned that fit him properly
and
didn’t have holes in it. Baggs realized that the woman felt very threatened by his appearance. He copied her stance, holding his hands up, palms out so that she could see them. Her eyes went to his massive hands, and he thought,
if I were smaller, this would be a submissive gesture, but it looks like I’m showing off my size. It looks like I’m showing her that my hands could hurt her. She probably sees my broken left arm and thinks that I broke my arm in a fight. She sees me as violent. She thinks I’ll hurt her.

             
“I’m not going to hurt you!” Baggs shouted. After the words left his mouth, and he heard them spoken in his deep, booming, cigarette-gritty voice, he regretted them.

             
The woman took two more steps towards the door, and tilted her head slightly so that her shout would carry inside: “GEORGE! GEORGE!” She shrieked, sounding like a bird.

             
Baggs turned and ran like a criminal, even though he had done nothing wrong. The woman would probably call the police on him, and they’d believe whatever story she told if she wanted to press charges. He ran until he was out of Rolling Gardens, and back in the stinking city, where he began to walk, his heart thudding fast.

             
This world isn’t made for guys like me,
he thought.

             
He passed a storefront where an advertisement for Outlive was posted with the 20,000 CC reward for competitors.

             
Baggs shook his head and kept walking towards Greggor’s.

             

 

3

 

             
This is it,
Baggs thought.

             
As he opened up the front door to Greggor’s All Things Piano Store, he wondered more explicitly than he had at any other time that day if he might be in denial regarding the shape of his hand.
Walking all the way over here seems like something I would do if I actually thought I could play.

             
But there’s still a chance. Maybe my hand works well enough to play.

             
Greggor was Baggs’s piano agent and supplied theaters, piano bars, and churches with pianists. Recalling his thoughts while walking through Rolling Gardens, Baggs wondered why pianists, unlike burger flippers, accountants, and house cleaners were still humans instead of robots. Robots could play piano much better than any human. Baggs thought that maybe it was more exciting to watch a human play piano than a robot because a human might mess up. He didn’t know if this was the real reason, but it was the only one he came up with.

             
Baggs entered through the threshold and shut the front door. Greggor’s smelled as it always had—of lemony wood polisher. The interior of the building was covered in shining wood, much of it coated in shellac. There were wooden bookcases built into the walls in which volumes of beautiful, leather-bound books sat unread for years on end. There was a thick rug on the floor with patterns of red and yellow flowers stitched into the design. On Baggs’s left there were leather armchairs that faced a HoloVision Box in which a rerun of Outlive was being shown. There were no pianos in the entry room. In order to see a piano, you had to speak with Greggor, and if he believed you to be a serious customer (rich), he would take you into the back and show you the models he carried. He said that he didn’t want little pauper kids running their dirty hands on his keys. On the left, guarded by closed, shellacked wooden doors was a staircase that went to a higher level. On the higher levels, there were small one-room compartments where piano players could rent time on a keyboard owned by Greggor. If you had a lot of money, you could rent time on a grand piano.

             
Baggs always played on one of the keyboards, but he never had to pay Greggor any money to do so. Because Greggor was Baggs’s agent, it was in Greggor’s best interest to allow Baggs to practice for free so that he would arrive at his gigs in the best playing condition possible.

             
Greggor was the agent of many pianists. Baggs knew his place among the other pianists. He knew that, though he sometimes fancied himself to be the best of Greggor’s pianists, Greggor did not agree with this view. Greggor’s favorite was a man named Jacque LeDoomas, who at that moment was standing beside Greggor’s desk, chatting with him, and so Baggs would have to wait.

             
He took a seat on the sofa and tried to not watch the HoloVision Box, where some citizens of New Rome were killing each other.

             
Baggs diverted his attention to the desk where Jacque LeDoomas was speaking with Greggor. Greggor was, by self-proclamation, homosexual. He was a short, bald, fat man who wore over ten shiny rings on his fingers and always smelled strongly of cologne. His skin was rubbery from tanning so much, and almost as dark as the shellacked wood that encased his entryway, even though he was Caucasian. Greggor always wore shiny leather shoes, tight patterned pants (sometimes stripes, sometimes polka-dots, sometimes flowers), and a long sleeved, usually white, guayabera. Accessories that Greggor sometimes wore were hats, sunglasses, and dangling earrings. Today, Baggs couldn’t help but notice the man’s pierced nipples through his thin shirt.
Are those new?
Baggs wondered.

             
Jacque LeDoomas was a self-proclaimed heterosexual, although he often flirted with Greggor. Jacque was also bald, but tall and lean. He had features that looked like they were chiseled out of stone, such as high cheekbones and an enormous jaw. When he talked or chewed, muscles moved on the top of his shiny head. Jacque had one daughter and a beautiful wife.

             
He flirts with him so that he gets better gigs than the other pianists. It’s unfair.

             
Greggor was sitting atop his own desk with his knees facing Jacque as they spoke. He looked up at the handsome, younger man, his eyes sparkling as he listened to Jacque’s joke. They were talking in hushed voices and Baggs couldn’t hear what they were saying.
Greggor probably didn’t even notice me come in.
When Jacque got to the punch line, he innocently put his palm on Greggor’s upper thigh, cackling away. His wedding band was shining.

             
Baggs turned away, disgusted. He knew that if he became Greggor’s little pet, like Jacque, that he could be treated like a rich man, too. Jacque was paid considerably more than Baggs, even though he wasn’t a better pianist. Jacque was able to wear shirts that weren’t found in the library.

             
Maybe if I flirted with him some, and explained that I was low on cash, he’d pay for me to get my arm fixed at the nearby hospital.

             
Baggs watched as Greggor’s fat hand came over Jacque’s slender one on his upper thigh.

             
Again, he turned away.
I’m not as handsome as Jacque, anyway. Even if I did flirt with Greggor, he probably wouldn’t like it. There’s no way he’d pay for me to have an operation. No way.

             
Sighing, he began to watch the rerun of Outlive on the HoloVision Box. Outlive and other Colosseum games were shown everywhere. They were shown on HoloVision Boxes and televisions for sale in stores, they were often played for waiting patients in doctor’s offices, and they were often shown at the Friday afternoon Media Time in the library. Baggs usually avoided watching the show. The violence made him uncomfortable. Except, for some reason (
Because I think I’m going to enter. SHUT UP!
), this time he was unable to look away.

             
The HoloVision Box was a clear glass box, roughly the size of a one hundred gallon fish tank. Inside, Baggs saw holograms running across sandy ground, holding knives, swords and shields. The holograms were so realistic that it looked like tiny humans were encased in the HoloVision Box, and were having a very bloody, very violent war.

BOOK: Outlive (The Baggers Trilogy, #1)
12.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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