Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)
At the end of Part 55, Allin and Matthias are prisoners in the mersker village, and they discover that the first person to fall into the abyss, Guppy, didn’t survive the fall.
The Only City Left: Part 56
I stalked away from Matthias, unwilling to stand there and listen to his nonsense. Guppy’s fall was an accident and it was his bad luck that he hadn’t survived while Matthias and I had. I wasn’t a killer simply because I had defended myself, and I didn’t believe that I had some sort of killer instinct simply because I was related to Doyle.
As I turned these dark thoughts over in my mind, the village around me grew brighter. I looked over and saw that the ghosts had caught up to us, a veritable army of them, too many and too transparent to count. They stopped at the border of the mersker village and stood still, watching, waiting. They seemed to be staring right at me, reading my thoughts. Judging me.
I walked over and stood face to face with one of them. He didn’t look angry, or sad, or much of anything at all. His face was neutral, but his eyes followed me as I paced back and forth along the line of ghosts. All their eyes followed me.
“What do you want?” I asked.
No answer except for an abundance of accusing stares.
“Say something. Say anything. Tell me what I did to make you upset. Maybe I can fix it.”
Still no response. They stood and watched and waited for I knew not what. I couldn’t explain why exactly, but this upset me even more than Matthias’ words.
“Fine. Keep your mouths shut for all I care, you freaks.”
I dismissed them with a wave and walked back into the center of the mersker village. I could feel the weight of their collective gaze on my back, but I shrugged it off.
The merskers had emptied their carts in short order and pulled them to one edge of the village. There were maybe a hundred of them, and I watched as they busied themselves with their individual tasks. Although some appeared more masculine or feminine, they were mostly androgynous, clothed in thin rags over their pale, wiry frames. I looked at the large, circular eyes that dominated their faces and I wondered if they were genetically modified like the catfolk or had just adapted to this environment over time. Either way they were a puzzle to me, one I needed to solve if I hoped to get out of their dismal under-realm.
I headed over to the large bin where I had seen my bag deposited earlier. The front of the bin was knee-high, but the sides and back towered above me. Inside, a mersker crawled to and fro over mounds of miscellaneous junk.
“Hey, buddy, you mind if I look for my bag?” I asked.
He stopped, gave me a quick glance, and returned to his work with a mumble of foreign words. Well, it wasn’t a “no.”
I lifted away a huge circuit board of some sort, but the mersker immediately scrambled over and knocked it from my hands. He shook his fist at me and yelled something unintelligible. A shaken fist for anger. It wasn’t exactly communication, but it was a start. Now that I had his attention, I tried to keep the conversation going.
“I’m looking for my bag,” I said, miming the act of putting a backpack on, taking it off, and looking inside of it.
The mersker tilted his head at me and then turned away.
I grabbed him by the arm and pulled him around, which elicited a low hiss and a baring of those sharpened teeth.
“How about food,” I said. “Can I at least get my food out of my bag?”
Again, I followed up my words with gestures for eating: hand to mouth, patting my belly.
The mersker slipped out of my grip and held onto my arm instead. He jumped down and pulled me along to the bio-mass bin. I saw Guppy inside it and looked away, but the mersker tugged at me to watch him. He let me go, plunged his hand into the bin, and came out with a hunk of torn, scaly flesh. He offered it to me and I took a step back, revulsed. He had no such qualms. He buried his face in it and messily devoured his meal in seconds. And this is where they put Guppy? I thought, horrified.
The mersker offered me the scraps, but I waved him off. No thanks. But he was talking to me now, in a way, so I pressed my advantage.
I pointed at Guppy and said, “He fell down here.” I wiggled my fingers in a line from above my head down toward the ground. “He didn’t make it.” I slapped my palms together, tilted my head, and stuck out my tongue. “I fell down. He fell down.” I pointed at my chest and at where Matthias lay nearby, and repeated the falling act. “We’re okay.” I flexed my arms and inflated my chest, a picture of health.
I had no idea if this was making any sense to the mersker. Maybe I looked foolish, but I didn’t know what else to do. The little guy seemed to get it, though. He pointed at me, mimicked my wiggled-fingers falling gesture with one hand, and dropped that hand into his other palm. Then he then drew both hands close to his body. Next, he pointed at Matthias and repeated the sequence. He pointed at Guppy and started the gestures again, but this time the falling fingers missed his palm, so he mimicked my palm-slapping gesture.
“You guys have some sort of device that grabs the falling garbage?” I asked, pulling my outstretched palm in toward my body.
The mersker repeated the same gesture, nodded, and grabbed some more food scraps before returning to his bin.
“You must be a wonder at parties,” Matthias said.
“At least I’m doing something,” I said, walking back over to him. “If I can figure out how we got here, maybe I can figure out how to get out.”
“Sure. And by that logic, all we need do is this,” Matthias said, putting one hand into the other and then lifting it into the air while wiggling his fingers. “Poof!”
I could feel my face coloring. “And you’ve got a better idea?”
He beckoned me closer and said, “Indeed I do.”
* * *
I’m writing this on Friday night before I unplug the Internet access for our house as part of packing. Yes, I am moving, and no, I did not write very much this week. Yes, I am exhausted. Thank you for asking. I may not have Internet again right away, so if you leave a comment, know that I will respond to it once the computer is set up again and the Internet is on. I hope you are having a more relaxing time than me!
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