Authors: Brian Martinez
Now I know how serious this Room is: even the Windows have buttons. I try to open it, but instead of being stuck open like the Door its stuck closed. The Night is awake Outside. The City sleeps in the dark, and under us I can see the Building with eight stories. It's close enough to reach like I'd thought, but not easy. It has a Roof made of Glass so the Sun can get in and make the Plants in there grow, because Real People did those things in the Real Times. They cared for the Beasts and the Plants until the Time came for them to take the World back.
Some of the squares of Glass are missing, but none that are close enough.
I try to open another Window and that one is stuck, too, but I'm glad I tried it because there's a Table under this one with a roll of Silvery Tape. I take it and stuff it inside the Suit and then take a Machine from one of the Tables and go back to Child.
I hold the Machine over my Head and throw it against the Window. The Glass is thick so it doesn't break the way I want, but it does leave a picture like the small Beasts with Eight Legs make. It also makes noise. I pick it up and throw it again and it makes an even bigger picture that bends toward the Outside so I pick it up and throw it again and this time it goes right through the Glass and into the Sky.
With my Elbow I push away the rest of the Glass, and when I put my head Outside I see the Machine did better than I'd hoped. It landed on the Roof below us and broke two squares of Glass, one of them too far but one of them closer, maybe close enough. Through the holes are Plants. I hope they're nice to us.
A sound echoes in the Building. It comes from the Hallway that smelled of the Death and I know it's the Door to the Stairs. The Munie heard the Glass like I knew it would and it's coming for us.
Child squirms in my Hands when I pick her up and sit her on the edge of the Window. “No want,” she says, but I push her feet around and let them hang Outside. Under them the space between the Buildings goes down nine stories and ends with the Street.
“I don't want to, either. But I want to stay with the Munie less.”
She squints down at the Glass Roof. She can't see the Street but she knows it's a long fall down. With my Face next to hers, I speak.
“I know you're scared. I'm scared, too. But life is doing the thing that scares you.”
“Because not doing it is scarier.”
The Voice of the Outside shouts her hair alive. The entire City in front of her, I see her body relax and lean forward and tell me she's ready.
I put my Hands around her small waist as foot sounds come through the Hallway.
“Do you see where the Glass is gone?”
“There are Plants there. They'll help you, but you have to move your legs toward your face when you hit. Like this.” I bend her arm at the crease and hope she understands. “I'll count to three and push you and you jump at the same time.”
“It's the number after one and two.” The Munie smashes into the Door behind us and Child twitches from the sound.
“Okay, this is the Time. One...”
The Door opens.
The Munie steps into the Room.
I've never spoken to the God, but at Times like this I think about it. I wonder if its really alive. If it looks after Real People with People who fly. It sounds strange to me, like a joke or a dream, but the Real Times were very different Times and I have to remember that.
Seconds change into hours as Child falls. Hours my Lungs don't work.
She passes the space between the Buildings and makes it to the Glass Roof. She falls through the missing square, into the Plants, and the Winged Beasts fly away startled, but that's all I see. If she survived I don't know. If she's hurt, I don't know.
The sound of an Apple hitting the Floor comes from behind, and I turn to face it.
Standing between the Tables, the Munie from the Stairs licks its lips. The gray tongue is dry, the way they get when they're very hungry, which means it hasn't eaten in hours. That's why it followed Child's blood scent so far and so high. The Munies do fear some things, but their hunger is stronger than everything else about them. I've seen them hunt Beasts the size of three or four of them when they were hungry enough.
With slow moves, I pick the Machine up from the Floor.
“You can't have me, you dirty Beast. I won't be your Supplies.”
It hunches low and starts to croak. Croak-croak. Croak-croak.
“I know how hungry you are, how bad you want it, but it won't happen.” I lift the Machine onto my Shoulder. Something happens before I can throw it, though, something I don't like. The Munie rubs it's filthy fingers on the Tables on both sides and starts to croak louder, and longer. Then it opens its dry, filthy mouth and the croak becomes something else:
It sounds so much like Child's voice. The way she would say it. I don't know the words for what it does to me, but whatever they are, they're dark words. I feel them flapping in my Chest.
I can't explain it, but my Face does something strange which the Munie doesn't like. It hisses and runs at me with it's filthy feet crunching the Glass, and the Machine lifts over my Head and the Munie runs harder and jumps and the Machine leaves my Hands and as it does I hear someone scream.
It's my turn to fall.
I hit the Plants hard, breaking mostly dead branches. My Legs and Body bend at the creases as I roll forward and again the Winged Beasts explode into the Air with wings and screams and feathers. In the Suit I hear another tear run up the back before I land on my Face and the roll of Silvery Tape digs into my Stomach and pushes the Air from me.
I lay for eleven seconds. Alive. On my Back I can see up to the Window I jumped from. I have to squeeze my Eyes to do it. The Munie isn't there, but that doesn't mean it won't be soon. It was only stunned when the Machine struck its filthy face and made it fall to the Floor, flopping and bleeding from its mouth. I used those seconds to get to the Window and jump away.
What about Child?
My Eyes move under the long Plant Tables that stretch across the Room. The Floor is covered with the filth of the Winged Beasts who are still calming and landing in their nests after being scared by my fall. Their smell is everywhere, along with the weak Light of the Moon.
I call out to her. A small voice sounds from the corner. I'm so relieved to hear it, I don't bother telling her it's not my name.
“Mother?” She peeks around the end of the Plant Table. Her forehead has a new scratch but otherwise she looks safe. With my Hand up, I tell her to wait.
The Munie appears in the Window above. It sniffs at the Air with it's pushed-in nose as blood runs out of its mouth, down its chin and along its neck to soak the rags it calls clothes.
It can't see you. It can't smell you. All you can do is be still.
When it disappears Inside the Building, I wait forty-one seconds until I sit up and call Child over.
“You're okay? Your arms and legs work?”
She puts a finger to her forehead and says, “Ground.”
“That's nothing, it'll heal.” I look at her, impressed she's barely injured. “You jump very good, you know. I didn't think you would make it.”
Her eyes open wide.
“That was a joke. I'm sorry, I haven't said a joke in a long Time, I'm not good at it.”
She points through the missing Square of Glass. “What happen?”
“Luck. Just enough to escape.”
I get to my Feet. “I heard that, too.”
The Winged Beasts like that they can fly through the missing squares of Glass. This Building is thick with the nests they make out of the things they find, like String, dead Grass and Hair.
Most Buildings have nests, but there are more here than I'm used to. It's been a long Time since I explored inside any building so there might be more Winged Beasts these Days than there were back then, but either way I don't mind. It's good that there are so many. It means the Doors are closed and the Building is safe if so many of them are calm here.
You won't find a better alarm than the Winged Beasts.
Back on the Ground Floor my Legs are weak from the climbing and the falling, but we have so much travel in front of us and no Time to do it. If we're going to leave the City it has to be now, no matter how I feel.
The Door is closed but dark with dirt. The City is almost not seen through it, even after I rub the Glass with my Hand, so I open it, careful, quiet, enough to look out, but the view is still dark without the Glass. It doesn't make sense. The Streets are made up of grays and blacks that run together in a way I've never seen it.
Think about it. Think about what's happening to you.
I don't want to.
But you do understand.
Yes. I understand.
When I'm sure the Street is clear, I take Child back to the Fountain and remove the Silvery Tape from her foot. I learn just how fast the Munies heal. The Axe wound is still bad but not like it was two days ago. It would take a Real Person two weeks to heal this much, and soon I think she'll have a scar and a limp but not much more.
The Water washes the wound before we leave the City.
Child holds my Leg. It's hard for her to see the things on the Ground that might trip or hurt her, so I let her hold on, even though I'm not seeing very good, either. The same as in the New Cavern, I don't tell her anything's wrong. I'm finding I have to hide a lot from Child to make her feel better, and now it seems she's hiding things, too.
What I wonder is, did she do it for me or the hunger? After too many minutes thinking about it, I speak.
“The Apple you brought me.”
She stops trying to catch a small Beast under a fallen Sign. She lets it run back into its Hole in the concrete and looks at me.
“Want Apple?” Her big eyes search for a Tree where the Wood starts. “Want?”
She was planning to make Supplies of that small Beast until I spoke. Then she just let it go.
“No, just...thank you for bringing it to me.”
Her face tells me she doesn't know what that means, so we let it go and continue to walk up the Mountain. I look back as we cross the blurry border where the green and gray mix together, and I can only make out the outside lines of the City, the shadows and corners that make its face and name. That's all my Eyes will give me.
The City. I spent so much Time there, but I refuse to get the Death there.
“There's a low part of the Mountain where we can get through to the other side. I only tried it once. I turned back, but I think it's the shortest path to a new place.”
She looks upset.
“We have no choice. Too many Munies know the smell of your blood here.”
My Skin is hot again. The Suit holds to me and my Hair is string in my Face. The fever went away but now it wants the Time back, and maybe some extra.
I may have to hide some things from Child for her good, but if I'm going to be smart I can't do the same to myself. I have to accept what life is. Life is my Eyes are getting worse, and I need new ones.
I tell her we have to climb faster. There's a place we have to go first.
The last time I came to the Building with the sharp metal Fence, I was taking Supplies from it to the Cavern. I didn't take all the Supplies from it, not because the Yellow Room couldn't fit everything, but because on my last trip I'd seen dark shapes moving around Inside. I didn't bother to see what they belonged to, I just ran from there and never went back.
Watching it from behind a great, big Tree on the side of the Road that leads up the Mountain, I know what it was I'd seen Inside the Building. I know what those shadows belonged to.
Two of them stand Inside the Fence. They have Masks on their faces and Guns in their hands, and they wear strange clothes with lots of pockets. They talk to each other, just like Real People do.
I can't believe it. I haven't seen a Real Person in ten years, three months. A few Days ago I would have killed to see a Real Person again, but things are different now. Now I'd be killed if a Real Person saw me.
But you need the night eyes.
The Building behind them looks the same as it did, except there's a strong Light coming from Inside. It doesn't look like Sunlight, either, but like Real Light, which is hard to understand, and I almost don't recognize it because I haven't seen it in so long.