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World in Tatters Ch. 42

By Kevin Barkman

By Kevin BarkmanPublished 8 days ago 10 min read
World in Tatters Ch. 42
Photo by Phil Desforges on Unsplash

I wake suddenly, feeling a boot poking into my ribs. Blinking against the torchlight, I search for Alice. She’s no longer tucked under my arm, but it’s not her boot in my side either. I look up past the firelight into the face of Artemis.

“Hey, get up.” She nudges.

“Good morning to you too.” I croak. “Where’s Alice?”

“Wait…She’s not with you?” I freak out, my mind going on high alert. I jump to my feet, looking around for any trace Alice may have left. That is…until I hear Artemis snicker beside me. “Dude. She’s inside. Relax.”

“It’s too early for this crap, Artemis.” I whine, “Why? Just why?”

Flicking her tongue out at me, “Woke you up, didn’t it?”

“If you say so.”

“You should get a shower. There’s some time before we have to go. Alice is in there now, but there should still be enough hot water left after.”

“A…A shower?” I stammer. “We have running water? Here?”

I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve had a real shower. Actually, I can. Five years. Here in Atlanta. It was a rare occurrence even then. There were only a few buildings that had any form of running water. It was reserved for the President’s mansion and a couple of government buildings. A few of the wealthier individuals were able to set up electrical pumps for themselves, but the general public…A place like this…would have been left without.

“Yeah. Hot water’s limited, but it’s still nice. Say what you will about Elias Drum, but his engineers are amazing.”

“But why would they set it up here? I thought this place was abandoned.”

“I honestly don’t know. But it’s all over the city. They pretty much revamped the old infrastructure. Sewers, power lines, water pipes. Fixed what they could. Replaced what they couldn’t.”

“Hm.” For a moment, I start to question why the resistance is well…resisting him. If I had come to the city without all the pretext, would I have been able to see through the façade? As it stands, I know Drum’s tactics. I know the kinds of people he employs, the lengths he’ll go to in order to make things go his way. I’ve never met the man, but I have a nagging feeling that’s about to change.

Once Alice is out of the shower, I hop in. As soon as I turn the nob, the spray of water washes over me. The warmth soothes my aching muscles and my stiff neck. I stand under the stream, watching the dirt and grime sluff off into the drain. I stand there for a while just enjoying the feeling.

Even as I lose myself in the hypnotic flow, a question keeps nagging at the back my mind. Something I haven’t been able to shake since we saw all the improvements in town. Why would Drum make these changes? What purpose does this serve? He improves their lives…most of them anyway. I know there’s plenty of people living on the street, but everyone else now has ready access to electricity, running water, even fine dining. If his goal is power and domination, what purpose does it serve? It takes all my willpower to force the questions from my mind. There will be plenty of time to sort that out later. Today is about Aunt Nora.

When the water starts to run cold, I quickly scrub and get out. Alice, the twins, and Leeta are the only ones who have stirred. I guess they’ll be following a little later. Lucky them. As soon as we’re ready, Leeta leads the four of us through the city. At this hour, most of the city lights have gone dark. All that’s left are the streetlamps lining the main roads.

I’ll be honest, I feel exposed here. Something about the lamps bathing us in their fiery amber light makes me feel like we’re being watched. I catch myself glancing up into the darkened windows of the buildings rising around us, the imposing structures looming high overhead.

I recognize the part of the city we’re in. There was an open-air market here. Even this early huge groups of vendors would be setting up their carts…before the famine that is. On the rare occasion that she had a break, Aunt Nora would walk around here with Alice. And since I was her best friend, Alice dragged me along too. Not that I complained.

Right across the street from where we are now, there was a couple who sold…oh, what was it… Oh, right! They were these sweets. Little cakes about the size of my eight-year old palm. It was only one of several things they sold, but it was something Aunt Nora would treat us to.

Now the place is just empty. It’s creeping me out.

The further along we get, the more familiar sights we pass. I can see it on Alice’s face too. For her, this is a homecoming, so it’s not surprising this is harder for her. So much has changed here. I can see the tension in her body as her eyes flick around the city.

It takes a while to get to the President’s mansion. As we approach the gate, we come upon a small group of tired looking workers gathering in front of a set of registration tables.

“You four should get in line.” Leeta says. “Agnes, Abderus, get in the left line. That’s the one for the gardeners and groundskeepers. Alice, Steven, take the right. That’s the one for house workers.

“Mom, please just call me Apollo like everyone else.” Abderus whines.

“Not the time, bro.” Artemis interjects.

“Yeah, but…I hate that name.” He mutters.

Artemis grabs her brother by the back of the back of the neck, leading him on toward the other workers. Alice and I follow shortly after. Leeta flashes some sort of identification to the men at the desk. They let her pass with a courteous greeting. They clearly know each other. Even though we’re separated, I believe we’re supposed to meet up with her later, if we can get positions near the kitchens.

Leeta explained it to us a little bit earlier. The day workers they bring in usually end up doing menial tasks around the mansion and grounds for a meager wage: cleaning, washing dishes, keeping fires going in winter, those sorts of things. Because of the need, they let a lot more people in for grounds keeping. Luckily, we got here early enough that I doubt we’ll have trouble getting work.

Alice and I get in line behind an older gentleman. It doesn’t take long before they start signing people in and giving them their assignments. Most of these people appear to be familiar with each other. I’d bet they’re here every day at the same time. I feel bad though. I’m sure they need the money. I can’t help but feel a little guilty for taking up four spots, even if it is just for the day.

The sun hovers above the horizon by the time we make it up to the tables.

“Next!” Calls the attendant. “Alright. Two more spots left for the kitchens. The rest of you can go.”

Dejected, everyone behind us begins to disperse. Some jump over to the other line, hoping for an extra spot gardening, but it looks like they’re filling up too.

“You two. You’re peeling potatoes.” Letting us through the gate. “Big event tomorrow night. Plenty to do.”

The man pulls the gate closed behind us and sends us off with one of the kitchen staffers. We walk several paces behind the young woman and other workers, trying not to be too conspicuous. Unfortunately for me, being somewhat of a giant, that can be difficult. We’re led around the side of the massive rectangular building. It’s another strange building, columns rising on all sides. A relic of a long-lost era. I can’t help but think that the people who kept this place running—even rebuilt parts of it after a big fire—are just trying to hold on to an idea of a past that never existed.

I’ve always felt like that here. My dad loved the place. He said that it’s been the seat of power of this region for centuries. Even before the Fall. But I always thought that was the problem. A place like this…they should have let it burn. Let it burn and start from scratch. Instead of holding on so tightly to the past, they should look to the future.

Not that my parents listened when I said that. They always just called me naïve, and that I’d understand when I’m older. Well, I’m older now, and this place bothers me more than ever. Look what their policies got them. They built a house of cards on wealth and power, and the second someone messed with the food supply a little bit, the whole thing came crumbling down. Now we have to deal with their mess.

If Aunt Nora and my parents, and all the others of their generation had been more diligent, there’s no way someone like Drum would have had as much support as he did.

The staffer, a young woman about our age, stops occasionally to send small groups to different tasks. Our group is the last to be set up. Alice and I, along with three other workers, are led out back behind the kitchens. We’re led to a large pile of potatoes, some chairs and stack of baskets.

“Well. You have your work cut out for you.” She chimes, vaguely gesturing to the work area. “Knives are in the basket. One of you come find me in the kitchens when you finish this. There’s always more to be done.”

I don’t know if I expected everyone who works for Elias Drum to be like Butch and Rolo, but I do know I am surprised at how kind this woman seems. I can’t help but crack a little smile.

Our group takes their seats around the pile, each taking a basket and a knife for themselves. Alice and I pull up next to each other. Gathering a basketful from the pile, we set up away from the others, far enough away that we can talk quietly without being overheard. The others seem content with that arrangement, mostly keeping to themselves.

We spend the next several hours slowly whittling away at the spud mound. Alice is much quicker at it than I am, her proclivity for knives paying off. However, the longer we’re here, the more anxious she gets. After an hour or so, her foot starts tapping. A while later, her hands become less sure, shaking a little as she butchers her potatoes.

“Hey.” I say, tapping her on the leg. That seems to snap her back to reality. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Fine.” She insists. “I just don’t like being so close and not being able to do anything.”

“I get that. We’ll have an opportunity. Just have to be patient.”

My words clearly don’t help, but it’s not long before one of the kitchen staff shows up. Following behind him is none other than Leeta.

“You two!” He shouts. “Come with me. I have a different assignment for you.”

We ditch our potatoes and knives into a basket and set it beside the other workers. Alice brushes herself off, flicking the remnants of potato skins onto the ground.

“Hurry up. I haven’t got all day.” The man insists. He turns back toward the kitchens, rolling his eyes. “Let’s go.”

Leeta hangs behind him a moment to let us catch up. “Who’s that guy?” I nudge.

“Oh, only my boss. So, be nice.” Leeta lilts.

“Only if he is.” I jest, eliciting Leeta’s mischievous grin. We follow them in through the back door of the kitchen. He leads us past a group of line cooks furiously chopping vegetables and prepping dishes. At the end of the counter, Leeta’s boss gestures to a large plate of meats and bread.

“You.” Pointing to Alice, “You’ll take this down to the opposite end of the building. When you find the room with guards, go in there.”

“Yes, sir.” Alice glances over at me before picking up the plate.

“You, go with her. There’s some cleaning gear in the hallway closet.” The shear disinterest in his voice is palpable. “Clean the room. Thoroughly. Toilet too. Make sure there are no sharp objects, blah, blah, blah. Guards will fill you in on the rest.”

“O…kay.” I see Alice’s reaction to the mention of the guards. I know she must be thinking the same thing I am. I just hope we’re right. I glance over to Leeta who flashes me a knowing smile.

“Whatever. Just go.”

Alice and I head out of the kitchen into the main hall of the mansion. I open three different closets before finding the one with the cleaning supplies. I grab a broom, a couple of dusting rags, and a vacuum cleaner and follow Alice through the building. I can see the tension grow in her body as we walk through her childhood home. Down the main corridor, we pass through a large dining area and multiple parlors before coming across the guards. The closer we get, the more antsy she becomes.

A man and a woman, each wielding a large rifle, stand on either side of the hallway near one of the doors. Neither one of them appears terribly interested in our presence. Her hand shakes a little, rattling the silverware against the plate. I tuck the broom under my arm and lay my newly freed hand on her shoulder, which seems to steady her for the moment.

When we approach the guards, they finally snap to, “Is that for the prisoner?” The woman says.

“Yeah. We were sent to deliver the food and clean the room.” I offer. “Is that alright?”

“We gotta search you first.”

“Of course.”

“First day?” She asks as she sets my cleaning supplies aside. She has me spread my legs apart and hold my arms up, patting me down.

“Yeah. Kind of.”

“So, then you’ll need the rules.” She begins. “Rule one: No talking to the prisoner. You go in, you clean, you leave. That’s it. As for you,” gesturing to Alice. “You just give her the food. Watch her eat. Make sure you come out with everything you took in. Understand?”

Alice nods.

“Good. Now hand your stuff to Joe.”

Alice complies with the order and assumes the position. The female guard pats her down, same as she did me. Finding us both clear of weapons, she has Joe return the plate of food. I gather my supplies again while Joe unlocks the door.

Young AdultSeriesSci FifamilyExcerptAdventure

About the Creator

Kevin Barkman

Somehow, my most popular story is smut. I don't usually write smut. I did it once, and look what happened. Ugh.

Anyway, Hope you enjoy my work. I do pour my heart, soul, sweat and tears into it.

PS: Please read more than my smut story.I beg

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