OF THE SLUMS
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events are fictitious, and any similarities to real people, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
CHILDREN OF THE SLUMS
2015 by Charles Lee
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.
Table of Contents
Chapter One – World so Cold
Chapter Two – Who we Are
Chapter Three – Friends
Chapter Four – What we Are
Chapter Five – A Day at the Races
Chapter Six – No Quarter Held (part one)
Chapter Seven – No Quarter Held (part two)
Chapter Eight – We’re all to Blame
Chapter Nine – The World Above
Chapter Ten – Innocence
Chapter Eleven – Just Being Kids
Chapter Twelve – Crime & Punishment
Chapter Thirteen – Saying Goodbye
Chapter Fourteen – Dissolving the Nightmare
Chapter Fifteen – Unlikely Factions
Chapter Sixteen – The Resolve for Freedom
Chapter Seventeen – Shadows amongst Shadows
Chapter Eighteen – Pandora’s Box
Chapter Nineteen – Stronger Together
Chapter Twenty – Burying the Past
Chapter Twenty-One – Everything in These Hands
What’s the difference between love and hate?
You thought about it, that was your first mistake. Many things in life have been obsessively thought about just to blanket a simple understanding.
The answer is there is no difference. You cannot separate what was always one. Dirt and water mix, but slowly separate over time. But pain, scars, tender care to cause those scars. These are things you cannot separate once laced and tied… Like me…
My name is John Thanatos, the twelve year old seal bearer for the god of death, also known as an Aeon. Stripped of my last name, I carry the alias of my deity. I was born in a forsaken underworld known by none above as Pandora. My father, a district leader, sits at the head of Pandora with two others with just as much control over its residents. My mother died upon my birth, a side effect for carrying a damned child.
From birth, I was cursed to carry this shadowy mark on my chest for the rest of my life. I wasn’t asked. I wasn’t given a divine right of destiny to carry this, just this stupid mark for the sake of what they deem as right.
Yes, they. They, the ones who forced me to wear this curse. The district leaders, rulers of Pandora, are the sole reason I exist. Though they say I should be grateful. But inside, I feel nothing but resentment for my life and the world above me.
There are billions of people fortunate enough to walk and live freely day after day with no problems in their lives. You know why? Because of me and people like me are harboring all the world’s hardships for them. There’s nothing hard about living in the outside world! You have no problems!
But… I tend to feel confused inside. Sometimes I feel glad that they can smile and be happy without knowing the pain of others like me. I sometimes feel… I feel my hard life is almost worthwhile knowing I can keep something horrible from touching everyone else. A protector even…
A silent, lonesome, protector.
But I don’t do it for them. I don’t do it for anybody. It’s just how things are, and as a kid in the watchful eyes of the district leaders, you can only do what they expect of you. You can only eat and sleep when they tell you to. You can only die when they tell you to. That is the world of Pandora. That is the law of Pandora.
That is the blood of Pandora.
World so Cold
At the same time every morning, droplets of street water drip down from the world above. It travels from the sewer grate, down the rocky cement that has been smoothed from the years of running water, then drips at the edges of the moss before wetting my cheek.
Despite its smelly, run down, wet environment, this was my home away from home. The closest thing I could ever call home.
Many times a week, I set up camp in this far off location for the sake of personal freedom. Bundled up in my dingy, hole-ridden, plaid comforter I found years ago, I rest my head on a smoothed rock that’s buffered with my comforter.
With the slimy feel of the watery moss hitting my cheek, I wake in the dark lit hollow beside the large, cylinder shaped sewer paths. I blink my dark brown eyes for a moment and drift back to sleep.
Not the best choice though. The water droplets usually come slow, but if I take too long to get up, I occasionally was hit with a downpour of water mixed with various liquids. This was one of those times…
Splashed awake, soaking my short black hair, I leaped out my hovel and onto my bare feet, slipping on the mossy ground and into the constant little stream of grossly colored water that’s present in all pathways.
My oversized, stained blue jeans with the holes at the knee and thighs have tripled in weight. My stretched out, hand sewn burgundy sweater had become just as heavy as my sagging jeans. With my arms up, I looked like a four foot eight, seaweed creature scaring tourist from its swamp, which isn’t much of a stretch.
“Great!” I said with an irritated flap of my arms. “This is the perfect way to start the day. What time is it?” I scrambled to my hovel and push my comforter aside, finding my waterproof digital watch. I squeezed the button on the side to activate the blue backlight. “8:17. I’m gonna need to take the express route to Pandora.”
Over the years, I have practiced and timed this express travel and it’s safe to say it always gets me where I need to be when I’m late. I leave spare transport for each drop point and replenish them as need be. Can’t have a place away from home if you’re not stocked properly.
Between a loose section of the wall inside my hovel, I pulled out an old leather bound book before tucking it under my arm and running up the tunnel. Upon reaching the end of the tunnel, a rusty waste pipe endlessly pours murky water down to the ground, draining into another large pipe angled somewhere below.
The area wasn’t big, just enough space for the pipes and four people standing in each corner of the lumpy moss grounds and rocky walls.
I grabbed one of the three beat-up truck tires from the portion of the ground still above water in the corner and line myself at the edge of the pipe. I take a deep breath before smiling.
“The highlight of my day.” I hop into the tire with my limbs out the side as I sit in the hole, riding the speedy stream down the pipe. “YAAAAA-HOOOOO!”
Like an old fashion log ride, but wilder, I splashed about with the fluids in my head spinning round and round. Not a ride that should ever be done on a full stomach, that’s for sure. As I see the light coming at the end of the pipe, I take a breath and hold it just before I hit the pool of water below, splashing my face with lord-knows-what.
I floated out to the middle with the tire’s spin slowing. I hand paddled my way to the mossy edge across from the running pipe before pulling myself closer with a rope I attached long ago to a spike wedged between rocks.
Though dirty, this area had an interesting smell of nature. Maybe because a fair amount of plant life had spawned over the years. The rocky areas were mossy with grass growing in the softer soils, and the leafy plants came in various sizes, some of which reaching up to my chest. I guess a lot of the seeds from the things people above discard had come to this place over time.
I sometimes joke that I have my own garden down here, but I add the word “dirty” before everything. Like dirty apples, a nice snack when it’s late. Dirty peanuts, a fine treat you can’t hate. Dirty grapes, sour to the taste. I’m still waiting for dirty melons.
I pulled the tire up out the water and leave it behind as I ran across the ground. I turned right, just pass the abnormally tall grassy areas ahead and sprinted up the hill. And I mean freaky tall, like up to my neck and higher.
I reached the top of the first part and turned left twice, running up the second half, passing the draping vines along the wall, moving on to the last part of the hill.
Once at the top, I was able to see the whole world of Pandora. Almost comparable to a futuristic rat farm, Pandora had numerous dim, yet visible lights coming from its semi city of moss. Many treelike plants, thick and small, grow all around Pandora, reaching a fixed height in near symmetry of the short, stocky buildings. Though not trees, just a cluster of mixed plants weaved together in united growth.
It’s cruddy, yet fitting to its form. The slums of Pandora—nothing pure here can exist.
From the outside, it looked like nature and civilization as having a battle to see who’d win. Pandora’s surrounded by poorly grown wild plants, feeding off garbage in a sunless place. It’s a wonder they even matured this much, let alone still thrive. But as big as it seemed from here, standing above it all with bare waste all around it, Pandora’s a small community. Everyone knows everyone in that round shaped cocoon of seclusion. No secret can ring unheard.
I put my hand to my chest, clutching my sweater. “No secret…,” I muttered before remembering what I was doing. “Right, I’m gonna be late!”
I ran across the grassy ground, reaching a mossy root connecting from the sewer to Pandora. Thick, strong vines from the trees of Pandora have spread independently. The trees may have limited their growth, but the vines seem to spread far and wide across the area like feelers for its immobilized body. Sometimes, they move on their own, it’s eerie.
With so much moss and slime from the moist air and dampness of the root, boarding down to Pandora was an easy task. I grabbed the largest piece of cardboard available, placing it on the root before grabbing the sturdy vine above, hoping it’ll hold. Grabbing one of the many rags I’ve left in the corner with the boxes, I wrapped it around the vine and hold on to the rag like a hook.
I stepped onto the board and bend my knees, tilting slowly before taking off briskly. Like a zip line, it took little time to reach the middle of the thickening plant life below as I whizzed past large leaves. As I race along, nearing Pandora, the vine twitched and slowly moved to the left.
“No, no, no, no, no, no!”
Before I knew it, it had taken me off the root as I continued to descend upon Pandora with my feet dangling. As my feet near the ground, the vine curved upward to weaken my heavy descent before I let go, crashing and rolling to the ground. The vine curled under my shirt and lifted me back up on my feet.
Scared, I quickly pulled away as it released me. Watching the vine slowly move back to its original position, it gave me chills.
I turned and swiftly made my way through the clustered community of Pandora’s buildings.
In these slums, everyone is everyone’s neighbors. From the houses to the shops, all was overlapping with one another, leaving travel through open areas nearly nonexistent, excluding main streets. All housing and other buildings were a couple feet below the actual ground people walk. You got to step down a bit and enter anywhere you go.
Taking the tightly spaced alley to the canned goods store, I ran past a neighbor’s house. “Hello, Ms. Martin,” I said, waving as I rushed by her kitchen.
“John!?” she said in alarm. “Boy, you better hurry! You only have a few minutes!”
“Sounds like a new record to me!” I said before clearing around the corner. I squeezed between two houses before sticking my book under my chin and climbing up between them like a bug pressing their back against the wall. As I moved up, a resident came rushing to his window.
“Damn it, John, stop climbing on my walls you damn fool!” he said.
“Won’t happen again!” I shouted before reaching the roof. “Not until next time anyway!”
I laughed and ran across his roof, knocking things down in his crumby house. I jumped from roof to roof until I made it to the open street. Grabbing a group of dangling vines, I jumped down, burning my hands a little and ran across the street at an angle, bumping into people.
“Oops,” I said, “sorry, pardon me, coming through!”
I entered the alley with the only four bulb streetlight out front. When I neared the building to my left, I grabbed the horizontal pipe above the window and glided right inside, nonchalantly landing in a chair inside a small classroom in rows of three.
Some of the kids noticed my arrival. The kid next to me stared at me with irritation. I smiled and put my finger to my lips for him not to tell. He rolled his eyes and looked away. Up front, the teacher had her back to the class, writing on the half usable chalkboard that hadn’t been damaged over the years. I put my book in my rusty desk and calmly sat there as she continued to lecture.
“With the addition of parentheses,” the teacher said in her stained, long jean skirt and dingy white blouse, “how would we solve for X, John?” She slowly turned to me in the last row, causing the class to do the same. “Nice of you to drop in.”
“How did you—?”
“John, I run a class of fifteen students. Do you really think I wouldn’t notice when one of them magically show up out of the blue?”
“But you didn’t even see me.”
She proceeded to solve the problem. “I see everything. Adults have eyes everywhere. Alright class, for homework, I want you all to look over the notes I’m going to hand you after class. Solve the problems the best you can.”
“But I was late, Ms. Lawrence.”
“Yes, you were. Get help from someone else. I can’t hold up class because of your carelessness.”
I looked around and everyone who was looking at me, quickly looked away while others made mean faces. I sighed and irritably looked ahead at the first row, catching Laura looking at me from over her shoulder with those whiter than white irises. She quickly looked away in that same nervous manner she has whenever she saw me.
Laura’s a strange, soft spoken girl. She’s very quiet, timid, and seemed like she’s always trying to disappear in her own skin. Never talked unless spoken to, and moved about so silently, as if she wishes not to bother anyone. She had a fair light complexion, a bit on the pale side and messy dark brown hair that reached the nape of her neck. I think the slum’s damp atmosphere leaves her hair in a constant state of frizz.
She dressed like the rest of us—poorly, but with one difference. She covered herself up as much as possible. Every day she wore a worn-out, loose-fitting deep green turtleneck with loose-fit gray sweatpants that were covered in numerous stains. She even carried around a pair of grimy brown mittens she wore from time to time.
Such a strange girl. But she is nice. Probably the nicest kid in this whole place.
“Everyone,” Ms. Lawrence said while erasing the board, “take out your history books on Pandora. As you all know, Pandora was established centuries ago,” she said as most students pulled out textbooks. “But the location has not always been the same. Can anyone tell me where Pandora was before locating here?”
A kid raised his hand. “It was on the surface world,” he said.
“Yes, but where specifically?”
“Uh… On an island at the Atlantic?”
“Very good. And does anyone know why it was relocated?”
Another boy raised his hand, “Overcrowding?”
“Lack of resources,” a young girl called out.
“No, it was—”
“Stop toying the answer, Ms. Lawrence,” said a fair skinned young boy in the back row, four seats across, irritably chewing a plant stem. “There was relocation due to failure of Aeon containment, right?” he said, expressing annoyance in the subject.
“That’s correct, David.”
I understood David’s annoyance. People like “us”; we hate this subject more than anyone. It’s not because we hate learning. It’s because it’s a divider that separates us further from those who are fortunate, and the “us” who are not. I think that’s the very reason we became such good friends, David and I.
David was kind of a rebel; had the looks of one too. He usually wore a white t-shirt and dusty blue jeans with a hole in the knee. His hair was quite short, a bit longer than a dark caesar with an odd color mix of mostly black and some blond. Despite his fairly light blue irises, the dark circles around his eyes may be due to a bad diet.
“In fact,” Ms. Lawrence continued, “the cause has been for the same reason for the past two hundred years. It’s becoming a more frequent event in Pandora’s history. And apparently, the containment is becoming more troublesome,” she said, glancing at David and me. “Does anyone know which Aeon it was last time?”
“The Aeon of death!” the class loudly said.
“Correct. The Aeon of death has caused the end of Pandora three times in the past seventy-four years. The cause is hard to pinpoint, but the district leaders believe it’s a containment issue.”
“Or maybe it’s because these freaks are dangerous and can’t control themselves,” the boy sitting ahead of me said before turning toward me. “Do you even care that you’re a walking time bomb waiting to happen, screwing up the lives around you?”
“It’s not—” I muttered.
“What’s that freak? I can’t hear you.”
“Leave him alone, Tom,” the boy diagonally from him said. “It’s bad enough we have to take class with these monsters, no need to make them curse us.”
“Can’t curse us if we bury ‘em.”
“What was that?” David said with a threatening tone.
Before the topic could get further out of hand, Ms. Lawrence calmed the class, “Tom, David, that’s enough, now stop it! Tom, it’s not their fault for being what they are. They didn’t choose to house such evils.”
“But they did choose to keep living,” Tom said, “despite not being any worth besides causing the death of thousands. Tell me, killer,” addressing me, “how many died in Pandora last time you lost control?”
“Tom, I said stop!” Ms. Lawrence demanded. “This is your last warning.” Tom brushed me off and turned back around. “I do not wish to entertain such behavior, but his question was next to be asked. How many lives were lost on that day, class?”
“Eight hundred seventy-two,” I guiltily muttered, looking at the desk. “And that’s before the containment team could slow it down. Another two hundred lives followed that tragedy.”
The containment team’s a special group under the control of Pandora’s leaders. They were trained to combat, seal, and eliminate any threat Aeon host may cause to their foundation or the world. Just think of S.W.A.T. for monsters.
Ms. Lawrence turned around, writing on the board our answers. “That is correct.” As I stared into the desk, I’m hit pretty hard with a paper ball. I looked up to see two boys in the second row giggling. Laura was giving me those sad eyes she tends to have before looking away.
The small clock on the teacher’s desk rang, signaling for us to leave. “Already?” Ms. Lawrence said. “Make sure you grab your assignments off my desk!” she said with only some doing as she asked. Ms. Lawrence finished erasing the board as the class cleared out before she sat at her desk.
I stood up and approached her. “Ms. Lawrence? I wanted to thank you for making them stop the shaming.”
“Well, John it would seem only right,” she said apathetically while filing papers. “But honestly, between you and me, if I didn’t have to be legally involved in your teachings, the hazing you were going to endure wouldn’t have been stopped.” She looked up at me. “Those kids and their fears of what you children are isn’t far from how all of Pandora feels. No, John, I didn’t do you a favor.” She stood and grabbed her worn-out leather tote bag. “I did a service,” she said before leaving the classroom.
I angrily clenched my jaw and snatched my sheet off the desk before storming out the room. I didn’t see her at the time, but Laura happened to be waiting for me by the classroom door, almost saying something with an urgency to follow me, but quickly stopping herself.
Who we Are
I exit the alley and walked up the main street. “Hey, John!” David shouted from behind as he jogged toward me. I looked back and kept moving. “Hey, John, wait!” He cut in front of me, grabbing my shoulder. “I said wait up.”
“What is it, David,” I said, not wanting to be talked to.
“Why are you in a bad mood?”
I gave him a look like he should know before I started walking while he followed. “Because everyone in this stupid place is a walking jerk-a-tron.”
“You just realized that?”
“No, I just—!” We stop suddenly. “I don’t really want to talk about it. You know the deal around here, David. They mock, we cry, it’s the usual.”
“Pfft, speak for yourself,” he said as we resume walking. “I don’t cry over things like that.”
“You did once.”
“Uh-huh, and I was like what, eight? Grow up, John. Stop letting these idiots get under your skin over every little thing.” He jumped in front of me with his arms up, smiling. “One day we’ll be the owners of this world, and one day they’ll be begging for us to save them! That’s what I look forward to.”
I smirked. “At least you have a dream,” I said before walking ahead.
“Don’t you?” he said, quickly catching up.
“Yeah, I’m full of dreams, can’t you see it?” I said sarcastically.
“No need to be that way man.”
Not paying attention, I bumped into a teenage boy with his two friends. “Watch it, freak!” he shouted.
“Sorry, I didn’t see you there.”
“Really? The killer shrimp didn’t see me there guys,” he said to his friends, each wearing matching black bennies with baggy sweatpants and long-sleeved shirts twice their size. “Hey, can you see this?” he said with his hand out.
“Look closer.” I lean in and he slaps his hand into my face. The three of them were laughing like there was nothing funnier.
“Hey, lay off him!” David demanded after pulling me behind him.
“Oh, and whatcha gonna do about it—freak!?” he said, shoving David into me.
David fully faced him, lightly smiling before tilting his head a little as the three young men laugh. David’s eyes, excluding his pupils, become a toxic green with irregular shaped specs of black.
Suddenly, the young man who slapped me hunched over with his face reddening before violently vomiting. He vomited twice before falling to his knees with bulging eyes. He was first vomiting some kind of noodles before it became stomach acid and dry-heaves. People gathered as the young man began to convulse.
I slowly took my hand down from my face and looked to David. “David?” I said, realizing what was going on. “David, stop.” He didn’t listen to me and continued to harm the young man. “David, stop it!” I said before strongly shaking him.
The young man stopped vomiting as David blinked a few times, reverting his eyes as if to be coming out of a trance.
“Come on, let’s go, now!” I said, pulling him along before running.
After fleeing a safe distance from the main street, we walked through a narrow alley. “Did you see that back there?” David excitedly said as we passed between tightly spaced houses. “He was kneeling so quickly. God that felt—!”
I pushed him against the wall. “What the heck do you think you were doing back there?”
“Umm, sticking up for you?”
“You could’ve killed him!”
“But I didn’t.”
“Only because I stopped you!”
“I was going to stop.”
David stared at me for a moment. “Look,” parting my hands off him, “that jerk had it coming. He was bullying us. Besides, I was only trying to help you out.”
I disappointedly shook my head at him. “No. I’ll never want that kind of help,” I said before leaving him in the alley.
“Hey, John? John, come back! John!” He huffed as he watched me turn the corner.
After moving through the slums, I made my last stop for the day at the Aeon honing hall; another annoying thing I have to do several times a week.
The honing hall was a rundown underground area where one or more district leaders teach, test, and ‘train’ Aeon host. As for the purpose of all this, I do not know.
Stepping down the half flight of stairs, I entered the damp, gray cement hall where three other Aeon children waited for the arrival of a district leader. One girl was sitting in front with jet black hair and pale white skin, almost like a corpse. She wore an oversized white long-sleeved shirt with knee torn polyester gray pants.
I recognized her right away by that standoffish demeanor of hers. Erica… she’s probably as cold to the touch as she is to be around.
When I tried speaking to her once, I noticed her eyes were a very dark brown, so dark that they could pass for black without proper lighting. At least, that’s what I hope. She wasn’t very friendly, nor did she even respond. She just glared at me until I left. It was the last time we ever spoke… Or I spoke. As far as I knew, Erica had no friends. She was cold and distant toward everyone.
The other one is someone I know little about. I rarely see him anywhere, but he isn’t hard to miss in his once-white-now-yellow long-sleeved shirt and baggy gray torn jeans. Oddest thing about him isn’t that I don’t know him beyond his name, Amon, but it’s the fact he doesn’t even reveal his face.
His head was always covered by various ski masks, cloth wraps, and hooded shirts. Today’s ski mask was black with a visible hole at top where some of his dirty blonde hair stuck out.
Not looking to make conversation, I sit fairly far apart from the others, taking my seat on the chipped floor in the far corner by the back doorway. Even though we are all in the same space with the same condition, we don’t even consider one another friends, just more people with more problems.
Well, except for Jane. She’s also a strange girl who happens to be quite optimistic in any situation. Sitting at the front, she looked at us brooders and waved hello with her dimples pressed as she smiled. Resting over Jane’s shoulder was her long, dark brown ponytail with colorful old scrunchies at the end that she started to pick at.
Naturally, no one did the same when she greeted. That friendly demeanor was not something we as Aeon host embodied.
Shortly after Jane’s oddness, a set of footsteps is heard from the stairs. It was the arrival of the district leader. I can safely bet I know who our warden for the day is. An older gentleman approached with short, white hair styled with a part at the top left corner of his head. His steps were light. A light step as if he’d rather die than touch anything in this place.
When he sternly walked through, his hands were behind his back in his clean, black leather trench coat. His pants were black slacks and his shoes were of matching leather. From his left cheek was a scar reaching up over his blind eye, mismatching with his blue one. He wasn’t alone. His brother, Ben, accompanied him, even though Ben was not a district leader.
Ben was in poor entire like the rest of us. He had on a navy blue, wool poncho with dirty tan slacks and worn-out brown shoes. His left shoe was opening just a bit at the front, preparing to talk to the world.
Ben was a fat man whose black and slightly white hair had begun to thin at the top. Although our district leader was entering with his usual deadpan express, Ben kindly smiled at us and waved.
The district leader stopped before us with Ben beside him. “Stand,” he calmly said. As we stood, he slowly looked at each of us. He slowly pointed to Jane in her red sweatshirt and smoky, snug-fit sweats that might as well be black from all the stains. “Vulcan, stand with Thanatos.”
She quickly came to me and smiled. “Hi,” Jane said with her hazel eyes.
“Hey,” I muttered, taking a second glance at her golden olive complexion.
The district leader scanned over the room again. “You two watch them,” he said to Erica and Amon. “Vulcan.”
“Yes, master Tarvess?”
“Beat Thanatos unconscious.”
“What?” she said, surprised by his sudden demand.
“Vulcan, what have I told you about questioning higher authority? I want him to lose consciousness. Do it.”
Jane looked stunned at first, but then looked to my nervous face and smiled. She winked at me, as if everything was going to be fine. Next thing I knew, Jane struck me in the neck with a chop and I was immediately out cold.
When I came too, I see the other two kids kicking Jane repeatedly while she’s on the ground crying out and bleeding. As they stomp her back, she looked at me and winked again with a bloody smile before being kicked in the face.
That monster Tarvess watched emotionlessly while Ben couldn’t stomach the beating as he looked away.
I stood up, “Stop it!” I shouted. “What are you two doing!?”
“Silence, Thanatos,” Tarvess said. “She’s going through punishment for disobeying.”
“But what did she do?” They continued to kick her as she no longer could be tough and began to cry helplessly. “Please stop this! Stop it!”
Tarvess raised his hand for them to stop. Jane turned onto her side and coughed painfully, spitting blood. “Nyx, get on top of Vulcan and pound her face in with your fists.”
“Yes, master Tarvess,” Erica said with a hint of sinister joy.
“Erica, stop!” I shouted. She climbed on top of Jane and began to slowly punch her face from left to right.
Jane… Poor Jane looked like her life was about to end. She just lied there, taking it until she looked to be in spasm. But this didn’t stop Erica. No, this actually made her punch harder before strangling Jane.
“Nyx,” Tarvess said, getting Erica’s attention, “I said use your fists.”
Erica turned back to Jane and started pounding on her again. “ERICA!” I shouted before running toward her. Amon stepped in front of me and pushed me to the ground. “Please…,” I begged. “Tarvess!” I shouted, looking to him. “I beg you to please stop this-FATHER!”
Tarvess looked to Erica. “Nyx.” She continued to beat on Jane with a faint sideways smile. “Nyx!” She quickly stopped with fist raised and smile gone. “Enough.” She climbed off Jane and calmly sat with legs tucked beneath her. “It would seem Vulcan is a strong container, though that test was not meant to be concluded today.”
“Is she even breathing?” Ben asked as he prepared to approach.
Tarvess put his hand before him. “Don’t touch the container.” He slowly walked toward me. “You asked what she did. Isn’t it obvious, Thanatos? I told her to beat you unconscious. Jane thought she was clever and decided to knock you unconscious in a single hit. That was a violation. Furthermore, when she was ordered to continue, she refused. So I had to be sure if she was either defective, or I wasn’t Tarvess, leader of Pandora. I ordered her classmates to assault her and they did. That resolved my doubts.”
“What’s the point of beating her so badly?” I asked, trying to hide my anger. “She just—”
“She disobeyed me. Something I will discuss no further.” He looked to the others. “Nyx, Amon.” They looked in his direction. “Now, Thanatos, I want you to beat her awake.”
“Tarvess, you can’t be—”
“It’s either her or you. And I’m sure you don’t want that, do you? Your disobedience will not end as swiftly as hers.” I grit my teeth and looked to Jane lying motionless. “Nyx—”
“Wait…! I’ll do it,” I said with reluctance.
I slowly approached and looked down at her. She was so badly beaten up. Her lip was busted and swollen, and her face was covered in blood and bruises. It actually felt like I could feel her pain.
When I raised my shaky fist to strike her, Ben came from behind me and grabbed my wrist. “This has gone too far, Tarvess,” he said. “Your test prove—”
Before he could finish, Tarvess backhanded Ben. “You do not conduct these test, I do.”
“Forgive me, Tarvess,” he cowardly said with hands over his head, “but I was not trying to interfere. I just didn’t want you to waste time on the obvious conclusion. Joh—Thanatos is not embracing his Aeon. He was still too focused on not hitting her than doing so. You’ll need him to reach it in another way.”
Tarvess looked toward me. “You’re right. I’ll think of something. In fact, I think I already have.” He turned to Erica and Amon. “Nyx, Amon, you both performed well. Follow me to the tower. There are further things I need done to you two.” As the three of them leave the honing hall, he looked to Ben. “Ben, clean up after these two.”
As Ben watched him leave, he looked down at me. “You alright, John?” he asked, reaching out to me.
I smacked his hand away and kneeled down. “Jane?” I said in a whimper, lightly nudging her. “Jane?”
“She’s not dead, John.”
“I’m tired of seeing this,” I muttered. “She’s always doing this stupid stuff. Why doesn’t she just do as he says!?”
Ben kneeled and picked Jane up. “I’ll get her some treatment. You try and relax,” he said before walking toward the back doorway.
I sniffled and wiped my eyes. “Heh, yeah, right, until the next test. Or have I not gone dark enough,” I said, looking at him with angry eyes as he looked back at me.
Ben didn’t say a word before walking away. I put my hands to my face and shook my head, not moving from the bloody smears of Jane.
After a while, I left honing hall to walk the backs of Pandora where the main sewer pipe traveled across the entire backside. It’s the best place to be, despite the hills of garbage everywhere and the rotting smells from it as well. To limit the spill of garbage, a wall divides the backside of Pandora from the main pipe line and the trash we throw here.
I was hoping coming this way would get my mind off things, but seeing Jane like that rattled me. I’m not close to her, but she’s usually so chipper. Seeing her cry not smiling; it hurt more than seeing myself not smile. It isn’t the first time she did something so stupid, but this was the worst assault she’s gotten. I wonder… Will she smile again?
While in my own thoughts, I looked ahead and saw Jane sitting alone on the pipe with bandages around her face and arms. She had her head down, slowly kicking her feet. I suppose that answers my question…
When I reached her, I tried to see if she was okay. “Jane, are you alright?”
To my great surprise, she quickly looked up at me with wide, bruised eyes before smiling. “John! Hi! Are you okay? I didn’t leave a mark, did I?” she asked, looking at my neck where she struck me.
Jane… so odd. She gets beaten to a pulp and she’s more concern about her single strike to my neck. No, not odd, stupid. She’s so stupid!
“Heh, uh, no I’m fine,” I said, rubbing my neck a little. “I barely felt it before going down.”
“Good, I’m glad. I’ve been practicing less painful takedown methods, so I’m glad they’re paying off. I figured if they want to focus on my fighting ability, I might as well use it the way I want,” she said optimistically.
“But it’s good no one got hurt today,” she said with a big smile. “Owe! Looks like I can’t get too excited for awhile,” she joked before laughing.
“I wonder if Erica’s okay too. She was hitting me pretty hard!” she lightly said. “I hope she didn’t hurt her hands.” I balled my fist, listening to this idiot go on about everyone else while she sat there in pain. “Oh, and Amon! His kicks got a bit weaker after awhile. I hope he was just getting tired and not hurt from an improper kick.”
“There was nothing proper about it…,” I muttered, still trying not to burst.
“Hmm, I guess. I just hope Erica didn’t feel bad about what she had to do.”
“My god…,” I said in a low voice before she looked to me. “Are you just stupid or do you think this is funny?”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at you! You sit here beat up and dare to ask if everyone else’s doing alright! Erica!? Really!? She didn’t care you were hurt, no one did! Why do you do this all the time!? Why don’t you just do as he tells you so you don’t have to get hurt like this!? Why!? When will you get that NO ONE CARES IF YOU GET HURT!”
My outburst left me winded as she calmly watched me. “But you do, John,” she said, surprising me. “You and the other Aeon host are like family to me. You all understand the struggle of harboring terrors inside you. You all understand what it’s like to be forsaken and used like a dishrag; to have no choices. And certainly, with no parents who wish to admit that we are theirs is another level of loneliness only we can share. How can I hurt the only family I have? I can’t, you hear? I will not hurt you, any of you. I’ll die first.”
Jane… Here I was judging her like she was a cheerful idiot who didn’t know any better. And yet, after all this time, she’s seen us as family, even though I know none of us see her or anyone else in the same light. Jane wasn’t a weird girl. She was a really strong one.
Jane giggled, “Hey, this may be the most you and I have ever spoken to each other.”
“Yeah… it is. Let’s fix that.”
“Yeah,” she said, kindly smiling at me.
“John!” When I turned, I see David running toward me. “I’ve been looking for you. Look, I know you’re mad about this morning, but—”
“Forget about it,” I said. I glanced at Jane. “Hey, David, you know Jane, right?”
David stepped back with that analyzing hard face he gave strangers. “Yeah, the host for Vulcan. Got your ass kicked again?”
“Something like that,” Jane joked.
“Mmhmm. Being so weak is an unbecoming characteristic. You’re an Aeon host, act like it.”
“David—” I said.
“I’ll work on that,” Jane said positively. “In time, I’m sure I’ll become stronger. Thank you, David,” she said with a smile.
David stared with a displeased expression before smirking. “Heh, no excuses. I like that. Maybe you will be strong one day.”
“What makes people strong to you?”
“For starters,” he said, climbing on the pipe to stand on it. “Not taking other people’s crap!” he emphasized by kicking a crushed can off the pipe. “Next is never letting the people around leave you feeling like an inferior. Most importantly, never letting who you really are crumble under the beliefs of others.”
“Oooh?” she said with genuine marvel. “That’s good.”
“Hmph, I know,” he said with a cocky smirking pose.
It was strange. Before today, these two never said anything to each other. Jane greeted, but David would be David and ignore her. I wonder what’s the difference today? They really seem to be talking like this is how it’s always been.
“Hey, John,” David said. “There was another reason I was looking for you. I just came from Tarvess’ home. He wants to see you, now.” Jane looked to me as I didn’t show any emotion about the request.
“I’ll see you guys tomorrow,” I said before heading back.
“Wait, I’ll go too.”
“Nah, it’s better I see him alone. Besides,” I look back at Jane and David, smiling. “I think you should hang back. No reason for the day to end sour, right? I’ll be fine.”
“Alright…” I take my leave and David awkwardly looked to Jane as she suddenly smiled at him. “Soooo, you want to explore the junk yard?”
“Sure!” They both hop down from the pipe and walk onward through the backs of Pandora.
Seeing my father normally wasn’t a good thing. Correction, it was never a good thing. I never know what to expect, much like the fact he made it clear by the age of five that I was not his son, throwing me to the curb. He said he refused to socialize with vermin, or something like that. Though he is my biological father, he’s just another man to me. But at times, my sentiment of knowing that he is can rear its ugly head.
Tarvess lived in the slums, but not in the slums of Pandora. He and all the other district leaders live on the outskirts of Pandora.
On the outskirts of Pandora, three lone tower-like buildings edge Pandora’s slums. Each spaced a fair distance from one another. No windows, just solid dark steel with one way in and one way out. There were levels to these places, but it was unknown to all of us where each level leads.
Like wide dented pipes turned up to the sky, excluding the tower to the far left with smoke coming out its chimney, these towers have a dark secret. For whatever method the leaders of Pandora use, this is where all the Aeon children had spawned.
When entering the center tower, the door wasn’t locked. The small lobby had little flooring, leaving you with the only option of going downstairs. The further you go, treading along the steel ground with large silver bolts, the creepier this place made you feel. It was always silent. The only sounds you heard were the air conditioners or the wall bulbs.
Luckily, Tarvess was only two floors down.
I slowly descended and passed through the yellow door. Upon entering, my bare feet touch a dirty rug. “That’s far enough,” Tarvess said before I could even take another step. “I don’t want your dirty feet touching my carpet.”
I looked down at his dark blue carpet, knowing the dirt on my feet wouldn’t show. But that wasn’t the issue. He just didn’t want the “trash” from outside to come in.
Tarvess sat behind a wide mahogany table with neat paper stacks and a fancy black penholder. On the desk was also a small owl statue with marble-like eyes. On both sides of the room were bookshelves, finely brightened by the crystal ceiling light above. It was a nice room, I suppose. Even the walls are painted a fine deep sea green to match his décor.
And yet, he had no chairs in his entire room beside his own. Not a soft recliner, not an extra table. No, this was a place built with the goal of “number one” in mind. That’s very much like him. Only willing to cater to himself.
I look toward Tarvess, “David said—”
“Sit down. Right there in your habitat.”
I sat down, knowing this was his way to continue putting distance between us. “You wanted to see me.”
“No, Thanatos. I never want to see you. But I do need you to understand some things. I’ve noticed since last time we tested your existence you’ve been trying to deny who you are.”
“It’s not that—”
“You are what you are, Thanatos. To pretend otherwise will only lead to your own end. You have to accept your purpose.”
“What is that purpose, master Tarvess? To kill everything that will ever live?”
“If that happens to be the path you walk, then it must have been so. But to not use your gift is not why you are here.”
“Gift? You’re joking.”
“To be an Aeon—”
“To be an Aeon is a curse. What would you know of it?” I said before turning my head from him.
Tarvess stood and slowly walked toward me. He went into his pocket and put on a pair of thin, white cotton gloves. “Look at me, Thanatos,” he calmly said. I slowly looked up. “Who gave me this scar?”
I lowered my head, “Me.”
“Look at me, Thanatos.” I reluctantly do as he asked. “Who gave me this scar?”
My eyes briefly looked away. “Me.”
“Who gave me this scar, Thanatos?” I avert my eyes again before he punched me to the ground. “Look at me, Thanatos.” I wiped the blood from my mouth and looked up. “Who gave me this scar?” I avert again, moments before he struck me back down. “Look at me, Thanatos.” When I looked up, I angrily glared at him. “Who gave me this scar?”
“Me,” I hissed with anger in my veins.
“Who took my eye?” I didn’t answer before he struck me again. “Look at me, Thanatos.” I didn’t sit back up, because all I could think about was how much I hated this man… So much. It was then a faint dark gray and black aura seeped from my skin. “Who took my eye?”
I didn’t respond. As he readied to strike me again, he curved his punch from reaching me. When he raised his hand to his face, the glove had dotted spots of blood.
“How do you feel,” he asked me. I didn’t respond. He kicked me in the face, slamming me against the door. “Look at me, Thanatos.”
“Shut the hell up,” I said with a gravelly, slightly deeper voice that faintly echoed.
“Then tell me who took my eye?”
“The same one who’ll take your life.”
The bastard smirked and walked away from me. He sat at his desk and calmly stared at my lowered head. “You can go now.” I didn’t move. I balled my fist on the door, darkening it like it was being burned. “Or stay, and show everyone the monster you always were.” The dark aura faded as I slowly stood. “That feeling in your heart. Never let it go. It is you in its purest form, Thanatos.”
I opened the door and leave his office.
As I left that dark tower, I didn’t bother to see if I could find David or Jane. I just wanted to be alone. He was right after all. I am a monster. I can pretend I’m not, but I am. The Aeon of… Need I even repeat myself anymore? This is who I am. This is who I am…
It’s who I am.
Though I wanted to go home, I needed to retrieve my book from class that I left inside my desk. I would catch hell if I lost it.
When I got to the classroom, I entered the usual way I do and came down through the window. I go into my desk and it was untouched from this morning. I grabbed it and looked around the dark classroom, feeling strange. It was almost as if I wasn’t alone. I brushed off the paranoia and climbed back out the window.
When I left, I failed to notice something.
All the desk had their shadows casted to the right of the room by the street lamp… except mine. My desk had a darker shadow casted on the opposite end as well. It changed into a shapeless shadow that slowly glided across the floor and out the room unseen.
I return to my home away from home and sat at the edge of my hovel. I tossed my book beside me and put my hands to my face, strongly sighing. But it didn’t stop. The sensation of giving in. It didn’t stop. This dark feeling that always lingered in my heart. The thing that always wants me to let it out. The thing I fear more than anything.
“John?” a voice nervously said from the shadows.
I looked up to see a figure. “Who’s there?” Stepping forward was someone I didn’t expect. Laura had found my hideaway. I quickly stood. “Laura!? How did you find this place?”
“I… I followed you.”
I huff and sat back down. “Today hasn’t been the best. Heh, when has any day down here been the best?”
“I don’t know…”
“Whatever the case, don’t tell anyone about this place, you hear?”
“I-I won’t, John, I swear.”
I shake my head and chuckle miserably, “Laura… Don’t you ever get tired of being treated this way? Like some kind of thing instead of having people talk to you like a person?”
“I—don’t know. No one talks to me.”
I turned my head to her and stared at her shadowy figure. “I really am a piece of crap.”
“Here I am talking about how much it sucks being treated like a thing and yet I’ve rarely spoken more to you than a passing hello.”
“It’s not. God, it’s really not. It’s like, because we can’t be loved, we don’t know how to love ourselves or others like us.”
“Laura, come out the shadows.”
“I… I just wanted to see if you were okay.”
“Please, I would really like it if you sat with me.”
Suddenly, the faint sound of moving branches was heard from her direction. “O-o okay!” she quickly said in a high voice. “One moment.”
I see her hands move in the shadows as she readjusts the neck of her shirt and puts on her mittens. She slowly walked out of the dark and sat on a far stone across from me with her head down.
“I see… You’re afraid of me too.” With a hint of confusion, Laura stared at me with her white eyes. “That’s why you won’t sit with me.”
“It’s okay. I would be too if I were you,” I said, causing her to make a meek face. “You know, I scare myself sometimes. Tarvess is always trying to force me to accept who I am and I usually tell myself he doesn’t know who I am. But what if he does? What if he knows me better than I know myself…? What if I’m the monster he claims I’m meant to be?” I said in a sadder voice.
“John is no monster,” she muttered. I looked up at her, seeing her look at me with a less jittery demeanor. “Tarvess is sadistic. He’s always trying to break Aeons into his beliefs, especially you. He wants you to forget who you are, John. To forget that you can be so kind, and caring, and sweet, and brave, and—”
She paused with her eyes settling on me, catching my strange stare by her praise before awkwardly diddling her thumbs.
I was taken back by her kindness though. I would have never expected such kind words from anyone, and certainly not Laura, someone who I rarely spoke with longer than a minute. But my shocked expression must have embarrassed her because she became nervous and tense again.
“I just don’t want you to forget how others see you,” she said in a low, nervous manner.
“Heh, are you sure that’s how people see me? And who’s they?”
“I-I I don’t know,” she quickly said.
“Well, it doesn’t matter. They’re certainly not looking at me. If I was brave, I would be more like Jane.”
“She’s such a tough girl.”
“Oh…” she said, sounding a little bummed.
“Yet I called her stupid.” Laura looked at me with a confused expression. “I thought she was stupid to refuse orders given from the district leaders, knowing she would be harmed. I even thought she was weak. But it wasn’t Jane that was weak. It was me. Because I’m not strong enough to defy their demands, I do exactly as they tell me. That’s not strength, that’s not bravery. That’s real cowardice. Who would’ve thought it though, huh?” I chuckled. “Jane, actually being the strongest outta all of us.”
“I… disagree. Jane may have a solid resolve, but she doesn’t have your gift.”
“What, to run from everything I can’t change?”
“You give Aeons hope that there will one day be a purpose bigger than what we have now. A day we can laugh and be free… Maybe even love… You bring us together. Isn’t that something?”
I sat there, trying to understand what she was saying. But it didn’t seem real. It was as if she were talking about someone else.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. “The things you are saying are not me. I know you’re lonely, but maybe you’ve constructed things about me that’s not true. You know, to feel like you have a friend that you understand.” The faint sounds of branches were heard from Laura as she lowered her head. “Laura, what was—?”
She stood up, looking to the side with a sorrowful expression and watery eyes. “John… that hur—” she said in a broken voice before covering her mouth to not cry. Laura quickly ran off into the tunnel.
“Laura!” I shouted upon standing. “Hey, I didn’t mean—!” I sigh before slowly sitting down. “Do nice guys do what I just did? No…”