Authors: Brian Martinez
I know where we have to go and I don't like it.
The mouth puts us onto a part of the Mountain I've never had my Feet on. This is good and not good. It looks down at the other side of the City, far from the nest I entered a few hours ago, where the Munies who hunt us have returned by now to sleep until the Day comes, but I don't know this place. Don't know its secrets.
The nest makes me think of the Axe. I dropped it in the Water where the trains sleep. It makes me sad to think of it drowned. Thinking of the Axe makes me think of the Watch, dead on the Watch Arm, and thinking of the Watch makes me think of the Trailer, and thinking of the Trailer makes me think of the Records, and thinking of all those makes me think how much I miss them.
This is why thinking isn't good.
“We have to reach the City before the Sun does. The Cavern is filled with too many Beasts, but it's worse to stay in Open Ground. At least in this part of the City the Munies will only hunt us for Supplies and not for revenge.”
We start the way down through the Wood. Many of its Trees are dead here and we walk over their dry and fallen arms. The Sky isn't as dark as I want it to be and I don't like breathing Outside. The Tree Beasts scream their familiar scream.
“The first of the Munies will start to wake soon, we need to find someplace to...” I try to say it how she'll understand. “We need to make a nest of our own, so we can hide until Night comes again.”
Child barely hears me. She catches a Small Winged Beast out of the Air and then opens her hand to let it go so she can catch it again. Minutes ago she was terrified of Water and dark, and now she runs with floppy arms and legs.
She doesn't look as dirty as you remember.
“Are you listening to me? This is important.”
She aims her pink eyes at me. “No answer.”
“I'm not asking for an answer.”
“No answer Child. No answer what call.”
My Throat feels dry. “You still want to know my name?”
“But it's not my name anymore, that name is gone with the Real Times. I'm not the same person.”
She lets the Small Winged Beast fly away.
“There's something you need to understand, Child. When I took the Mask off in the Cavern, I breathed the Bastard Air for the first time. Do you know what the Bastard Air does to a Real Person?”
She shakes her head.
“Remember the story about the leaders and the sand. The Real Times were full of Real People, like me, but then the Bastard Air came and brought the Death and the Change to the World.”
“The Death is when you get sick, very sick. You fall down and you don't get back up.”
Without pause she asks, “What change?”
I hate thinking of it. It's an old memory. A bad one.
“That's when you fall but you don't get the Death. You get back up. That's where the Munies came from, how the Real Times stopped.”
“Child not fall.”
“You were too small to remember. The Munies have babies like all things, like Beasts and Real People, but Munies are born sick. They breathe the Bastard Air when they're still inside the stomach and most of them get the Death, but a few of them get the Change. But it's good that so many of them get the Death, or there would be so many more.”
Be careful what you say.
She's silent for eleven seconds. Then: “Change like Child?”
“I don't know yet. I don't want to know.”
“What wrong like Child?”
Yesterday I could answer her, but today I can't. We walk the rest of the way down with the Tree Beasts and foot sounds in the Air, Bastard Air, and the Voice of the Outside as always, whispering to the Mountain.
Back below the Trailer, where the Wood meets the City, there's a Bridge that keeps the two apart. The one I crossed yesterday to help Child. It made the Mountain and the City two things, next to each other but different. But here, where the Mountain collides with this part of the City, there is no Bridge. The Mountain and the City swirl together into one. The Wood leans into the Buildings and the dirt and leaves creep over the hard Ground until it becomes difficult to tell where the Mountain ends and the City begins.
I like to know where one thing ends and another begins.
The Gloves make me itch so I take them off. I see the Watch on the Watch Hand, with hands of its own, not itching, not moving either. This makes the Watch Hand only a Hand. I leave the Watch on my Hand even though it doesn't move.
We pass cars which have Grass and Flowers on them as thick as in the Wood. Trees grow out of the seats, where Small Beasts have made nests to feed their babies safe from Rain and teeth. The Beasts are smart. Always have been. That's why they got the World back.
Child sniffs around one of the cars. She pulls herself up to a broken Window and looks inside.
“What are you doing?”
“Hungry.” She sniffs some more and decides the nest is abandoned.
“We don't have Time to find Supplies, the Day is coming.” I point to the end of the Sky where Clouds are wearing color, but she ignores me and keeps sniffing around to the back of the car. She becomes very interested in the pipe there, the place where cars used to breathe, her nose sniffing stronger and deeper and her eyes closed. Then she opens her eyes and pushes her small hand inside the pipe with a fast move and the pipe comes alive with sound, flapping of wings and screaming of voices, and pulls her hand out holding three, small eggs with blue skin and black spots.
She holds them with her face bright and open.
“You can eat them on the way.”
She lifts her hand. “Want?”
“No want,” I say, and her face closes.
We walk through the City with our feet as quiet as we can make them, easy on the thick Grass that grows here. The Munies will be waking soon and that makes their sleep easier to stop, their ears more sensitive. I know the Munies as well as anyone can know them, and I know this well. I stopped leaving the Trailer close to the rising of the Sun a year and eight months ago. That was the last time I woke a Munie other than to take its head.
It's dangerous to go as far into the City as we are, but the Buildings aren't as tall as we need here. Ten Floors. That's the smallest I would hide in, ten Floors but twenty would be better, and I wouldn't sleep anywhere but at the top. The Munies aren't afraid to go that high, not like they're afraid of Water, but they usually won't. Not without a reason. Something about the height bothers them, which is why Munie nests are always on the Ground.
Which is why I stayed up in the Mountain.
Movement has me ready to run until I realize it's a group of Beasts. Good ones, Tree Branch Head Beasts. They're making Supplies of Flowers that grow in the middle of the Street, chewing the petals and watching over their shoulders. They usually avoid the City. As we walk around the Beasts, they keep their eyes on Child.
The Beasts went through their own Change to survive the Munies. I've seen them recognize the difference in moves between a Munie and a Real Person from very far away, a distance even I would have trouble picking out a Munie. I've seen Beasts which normally make Supplies of meat make Supplies of Wood. Some started waking when they used to sleep.
When we've passed the Beasts, I look at the bright Flowers they're chewing on. They grow from the bones of a Tree Branch Head Beast who fell a long Time ago. It looks like it laid down and became bones and skull in its sleep, a calm Death, even though I see the claw marks and know how it fell. Flowers grow from the eyes. Roots along the ribs. I think this is called beautiful, but the word is still new to me.
My legs are heavier all the Time.
A Building with fifteen Floors of Windows. Next to it a Building with eight Floors. I like fifteen Floors more than eight, and the eight Floors Building is so close we could climb down to it from the fifteen if we needed, if Munies found us and attacked. That's what life is. Planning for the worst thing possible.
Between the Windows of the eight Floor Building are the metal boxes with the buttons and the thin lines that I remember from the Real Times, boxes that came through the Walls or Windows and brought the Voice of the Outside In. To think of it now, inviting the Bastard Air Into the house, seems like madness. But the Real Times were very different Times from now and I have to remember that. The Trailer even had a metal box when I found it. I'd thought about pulling the whole thing out but it would put too much weakness in the Wall. Instead I covered it up in sheets and wrapped it with Silvery Tape.
Fifteen Floors, but what I like most about the Building is the Fountain, a big square only Real People would make. It blocks the Doors and comes up to my Knees, and in the middle a Rock has been turned into a woman. She dances in the dead Fountain with her leg pointed out over the green face of the Water and the leaves and paper that collected there. Her arm has fallen off and drowned.
Child keeps distant. “No want.”
“That's what makes it perfect. If you don't want to go in there that means the Munies don't want to.”
It's been a long Night and it's getting hard to keep her focused. She may be smart but her body isn't made for things like Water and dark, and the Munie in her is coming to the surface.
I try to grab her arm to bring her along, but she moves away from my Hand and shows it her teeth.
“I'm not trying to hurt you.”
A croak forms in her throat. Her gray teeth are dry from lack of Supplies and Water and her pink eyes look through me. Of all the curses the Change brought the Munies, the hunger is the worst. Their fevered bodies burn Supplies faster than three Real People. It makes them hunt constantly.
“Remember me? I helped you in the nest. We escaped into the Cavern.” I reach for her arm again and she snaps her teeth. I tell her to look at the eggs in her hand because they'll help.
Without looking away from me she shoves all three eggs in her mouth. The shells crunch between her teeth as I see the Sun being born over her head.
She doesn't answer but she doesn't croak, just chews and watches me. I take a small step toward her and she moves back.
“I won't touch you, but you have to follow me into the Building. The others will be waking up very soon. Remember your foot, remember they can smell the wound.”
The Silvery Tape hangs off her foot at parts and is dirty and stringy at the edges. I made her weak. Made her Supplies to the Munies. I'm not sure if they do it to keep the weak out of the group or if they like easy Supplies, but it's me that did this to her, not them.
“Follow me. Please.”
I take a few steps toward the Building. I stop and wait to see what she'll do but she doesn't move, so I turn my Back and keep moving, listening for her moves. Finally I hear her feet shuffle on the concrete, one naked foot and one with Silvery Tape. I go all the way around the Fountain with her behind me.
One of the Building's Doors has fallen to the Ground. I step Inside and wait for her. She waits nine seconds, then she steps through.
All the Buildings in the City look like this. Whatever wasn't destroyed in the panic of the Change has crumbled in the years after, either from Water or rot or the Small Winged Beasts living in them. I've gotten used to seeing places from the Real Times this way, seeing how they've fallen.
I'm not used to smelling them.
The Building starts in an open place. There's a large Desk in the center, and behind it another Fountain, smaller and flat against the Wall, where a long Time ago the Plants grew out of control with no one to stop them, then went dry with no one to give them Water. Above the Plants is a metal sign with words I can't read and a picture of the World wearing rust. In the Real Times I could have read the sign, but not anymore. I tried to keep reading on my own, to practice, to keep the words the way I kept the Time, but it was too hard to do both and listen for danger at the same time.
I cough for thirteen seconds, then we follow the pictures of Stairs to the center of the Building and start the climb up. The first Floor we reach, I lean out and check the Building, listening for signs of Beasts or Munies, the usual croaking or breathing or foot sounds, but I hear none.
Child is looking like Child again. She looks at me instead of through me.
“How are you feeling?”
“We can't let you go that long without Supplies, it's dangerous for both of us.”
She nods quietly.
“The eggs won't last you long. After we make a nest we'll search for Supplies. Most Buildings hide some.”
I glance at the rooms around us. They're the kind Real People used to spend their Time in, with Chairs and Desks and Windows, looking at papers for many hours of the Day. It makes me think of my father and the way he used to spend his Time.