Categories > Books > Generation X > Mindquake

Chapter 1

by Awestruck 0 reviews

Jessy’s world is a difficult place to be, and it’s about to get even harder. To this point her life has been a strange mixture of little girl innocence, and the kind of cynicism that only comes...

Category: Generation X - Rating: R - Genres: Sci-fi - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2013-05-29 - Updated: 2013-06-03 - 4366 words

Jessy plunged into the dark, fetid alley and stopped, looking frantically around for a place to hide. Her heart was pounding and she gasped for breath, almost gagging on air thick with the stench of the overflowing dumpsters that stood beside each door lining the narrow passage. She heard footsteps and dove behind one of the slimy containers, covering her nose with her dirty, ragged sleeve. It was little improvement. She crouched there, listening intently. The footsteps faded into the distance, but she kept listening, straining for any sound. Finally, she crept forward on her knees and one hand, trying to keep her nose covered with the other. She peeked around the dumpster. After watching for several more moments she allowed a small, feral grin of satisfaction to cross her face. She jumped to her feet and darted to the corner, flattening herself against the side of the building and pausing to listen once more before peering cautiously around it. There was no one in sight.
She didn’t meet anyone who was awake – or alive – as she made her way home, although she passed several prone forms on the sidewalk and in doorways that could have been either. She didn’t stop to investigate, in fact the thought would never have occurred to her. She kept her mind closed tight as she scurried, stopping to sniff and listen like a mouse. Soon she had traversed the maze of blocks between the alley and the abandoned building in which she had made her nest. She wasn’t sure what the building had been; whatever furniture and equipment it had contained were long gone, leaving a honeycomb of empty cubicles. Jessy sometimes tried to imagine what they had been used for, but she had no frame of reference.
The building was only two stories. She avoided the taller ones, not being able to stand the thought of all that concrete and steel hanging over her head. It had a few long skinny, metal barred windows with some kind of coating on them that kept out the light. There were two huge metal doors on one side, and smaller ones on the other, but they could not be opened. The only access was a vent just barely big enough for her to crawl through. She felt safe there, for now. It was where she had been staying since Grannyma had died, and Ma had thrown her out. Grannyma had been the one who had taken care of her, made sure had food and taught her what little she knew. Jessy called herself after Grannyma; she thought her last name was Brady, so that’s what Jessy always claimed as her own. She had no idea what her real name was.
Ma had lots of men friends who she entertained, and after Grannyma died Ma informed eleven-year-old Jessy that she would be doing the same thing. She said Jessy needed to earn her keep. It had not been a pretty scene. Ma told her a man would be coming in to see her, and she should do what he said. Jessy tried to run when she found out what the man wanted her to do, but he and Ma held her down. She had to resort to using her teeth.
The man, when he had recovered sufficiently, had beaten her, and then he had beaten Ma. After he left, Ma had beaten her again, and told her what a hard time she had getting a man to want anything to do with Jessy. “Man take one look at them weird eyes o’ yours, he runs t’other way,” she had sneered. “Fin’ly get one don’t care, ‘n you got to do ‘em that way. You jes’ get on out ‘n don’t come back!” She could barely talk through her swollen, bloodied lips, but Jessy felt little sympathy, even though she did feel her pain. She figured it was better this way; with Grannyma gone Ma was impossible to live with, and she was used to the street. It had taken weeks for the bruising to completely disappear, but Jessy hardly noticed the discomfort, she had felt far worse.
After looking around carefully to be sure she was not observed, Jessy squeezed through into her hideaway. It was getting harder to do, lately. It wouldn’t be long before she had to find some other place, or another way in.
Once inside, she felt around for the small candle and matches she kept a few steps from the opening. She found them and made her way to the pile of rags she had collected to sleep on. Placing the candle carefully beside her, she reached into the deep pocket of her frayed jacket and pulled out her latest acquisition, the one that had almost lead to her capture.
It was a small, elegant dagger with a jewel encrusted handle and razor sharp cutting edge. It was the most beautiful thing Jessy had ever seen. She ran a grimy finger down the smooth, cool blade, entranced by the way the tiny light from the candle was captured and amplified by the gleaming jewels and burnished metal. She had no names for the shiny stones. Some of them were green, some were red, and some looked clear as glass, until she held them near the candle and turned them this way and that, then they sparkled in an iridescent shower. All of them were beautiful, but the one that captured her attention, and her imagination, was the one at the top of the handle. She remembered seeing the night sky years ago, when she was very young, before the gray blanket had completely settled in, blocking out the stars. It was as though someone caught one of those points of light glowing in that long ago midnight blue sky and confined it in this stone. She closed her eyes and tried to remember what it had been like.
Grannyma used to tell her stories about once upon a time when the sky was blue and dotted with fluffy white clouds, and the city had been shining and beautiful; all the shops filled with fine things for sale and the streets bustling with well dressed people going to something called, “jobs.” Most kids were taken care of by mothers and fathers. She wondered if all the stories were true; why would things be the way they were now, if it had been so good before?
Opening her eyes, she looked down at the dagger in her hand. It was something from another time. Nothing like this had been made in…she didn’t know how long; at least going back before Grannyma’s day. She hefted it, feeling the way it nestled into her palm as if meant to be there. She was curious about who made it, and why. Why would someone take so much time to make a knife into something so beautiful, and how had they done it? It was a sure thing that the man from whom she had stolen it would keep looking for it, and her. She would have to lay low for quite a while.
Usually she didn’t venture as far afield to scavenge as she had today, but lately the pickings had been very slim. Fewer and fewer shops were open, and fewer and fewer patrons visited them. It wouldn’t be long before only the predators were left. It was like the city was some huge creature that had died and was decaying. Every day the decay spread a little farther. She knew all of this somewhere in the back of her mind, just as she knew that her hideout would not be safe forever.
She had managed to keep it a secret for several months from the ubiquitous urchins roaming the dirty, colorless streets, most of whom traveled in tightly organized, fiercely loyal packs, preying on those weaker than themselves, or alone. It was unusual for a kid as young and small as Jessy to survive without being attached to a gang, and she had thought about it. There was, after all, safety in numbers. She knew though, what she would have to do in order to prove her loyalty, and something inside held her back. So far she had succeeded in going unnoticed, for the most part, made invisible by the grime covering her face and clothes, and her uncanny knack for sensing danger.
She could feel it coming toward her, like a chilling, oily touch on the back of her neck, and she would slip away like the shadow of a ghost. She had gotten to know a few individuals in several of the gangs, contacts for trading and exchanging information. Her life was a strange mixture of little girl innocence and the kind of cynicism that only comes from having seen the worst dregs of humanity. She lived every day with death and danger; from others, from disease, from hunger.
She had no knowledge of the politics that had created the world she inhabited, no contact with adults except the dangerous ones from whom she stole what she needed to survive, and the hollow eyed vampires that she saw staggering, or slinking, or sometimes crawling the same streets as herself. She had no friends, and not one single person to lend any moral guidance. Grannyma had tried, but her own principles were a little vague, and there had been so little time. She had passed on certain things, not exactly what could be called a conscience; conscience died a quick and violent death in these streets, but she had given Jessy the realization that she was different, and a desire to transcend. With no way to do anything to satisfy that need, so far it had only led to frustration.
Then there was the strange feeling she had when anyone around her was suffering. If she got too close, she felt their pain. It was muted, unless she touched them, which she never allowed to happen, but even from a few feet there was a definite empathy from which she could not escape. She knew that, for these reasons, and others she couldn’t define, the gangs were not for her, and she couldn’t have them aware of her presence.
None of this was in her thoughts as she sat; staring at the dagger she had pilfered, trying to decide how best to use it to her advantage. She needed to trade it; She needed water and food. But, the more she held it the more she wanted to keep it for herself. She gathered up some rags, and after carefully wrapping it, she tucked it back into her jacket pocket. She didn’t have to make her mind up right now, she had enough food and water for a couple more days, and she could scavenge more if she had to. It would just require more planning, and travel time.
She would not be able to go back to the part of the city where she had stolen the dagger for months, if ever, even if she changed her jacket and all-important hat, which was usually all it took. The hat was vital because her hair was so noticeable, bright red-gold and wildly curly. But, this time she had made the stupid mistake of making eye contact with the shopkeeper. She had not meant to even look up, much less in his direction, but there was a musical instrument hanging on the wall behind him just like the one Grannyma had when Jessy was very small. She used to play it and sing Jessy to sleep. It had been traded for food, or something, or perhaps it had been stolen. Jessy’s eyes had been drawn to the thing –she couldn’t remember what it was called– hanging there shining a rich honey color, and she flashed back to Grannyma sitting beside her on the floor with the thing across her lap stroking the strings that ran the length of it, making beautiful sounds come out. She could hear it almost as if Grannyma was in a little room in her head, still playing.
She flushed now with shame at how she had closed her eyes, right there in the store, and swayed to music only she could hear. Feeling the shopkeeper’s gaze upon her, she had opened her eyes and met his. She had no clue what he was thinking, but she knew he would recognize her if he saw her face again. Her yellow-gold eyes were different, too, and she would normally have had on dark glasses, but she had broken her only pair, and they were hard to come by. She made an about face and bolted for the door with the shopkeeper right behind her.
Jessy ran almost all the way home, taking a circuitous route and losing him somewhere in the maze of alleys and basements she knew so well. She wondered how he knew about the dagger, she was sure he had not seen her take it. Most of all though, she wondered what had happened to the alarm that always went off in her head when there was any form of danger; the entire time the shopkeeper had been chasing her, calling for her to stop, the alarm had been silent.

Jessy was awakened in the night by shrieks of laughter and loud voices. She crawled groggily to the vent, the better to hear. There were whoops and whistles, and someone was pounding out a beat on what sounded like a one of the large metal drums lying abandoned in places all over the city. Jessy shuddered. She knew what it meant. Someone was being initiated, and someone would die.
She covered her ears and tried to block it out, but she couldn’t. A guttural scream rose over the party sounds and she knew it had begun. From the cries she could tell that it was a man they had captured; this was a matter of happenstance, as they had no more regard for females than they did males. In fact, they probably would have preferred a girl. They would spend the night entertaining themselves with their victim, and in the morning they would kill him.
She jumped to her feet and began to pace the small room, plugging her ears and humming to further mask the horrible screams, and catcalls. The sounds penetrated every time she had to pause for a breath, and she knew she would not be able to bear it much longer. She was trembling violently, and her stomach felt as though someone had kicked her there. She sank to the floor and sat rocking back and forth, teeth clenched, tears leaving pale trails through the dirt on her hollow cheeks. She felt that if she did not do something, she would explode. Her fists were thrust into her jacket and suddenly she felt the dagger.
The idea was so crazy that she rejected it immediately. There was nothing she could do. They would catch her and kill her, too. She told herself that she was just going to get out and get away from the sounds, even as her hand was bringing the knife out and unwrapping the blade. She was telling herself ‘No,’ in no uncertain terms, even as she put the blade carefully between her teeth and squeezed through the vent.
Jessy had no plan; her body was listening to her heart, not her mind. Her personal alarm was screaming in her brain, warning her to run the other way, but instead her feet carried her down the alley toward the festivities. They had chosen the concrete courtyard on the next block to hold their party.
She darted across the street and slipped between the buildings, where she dropped to her stomach and crawled forward on her elbows until she could see.
The only light came from torches carried by the revelers. It flickered wildly and cast nightmare shadows on the walls of the dirty, gray, stone buildings. The windows looked down on them like hollowed out eye sockets, watching the proceedings as the torchbearers danced and circled around two altar-like structures that looked to be made of wooden crates and pallets. That was bad news for the two victims. It meant there would be a bonfire, probably sooner rather than later. Upon each pyre Jessy could dimly make out the silhouette of a prone form, one huge, the other of more normal size. They had started with the smaller one, and it was his cries that hurt her ears.
The sickly sweet smell of hashish assailed her nostrils when she crept a little farther in, making sure she stayed well back from the light. She was close enough, now, to feel the man’s injuries burning her; knives had been used to inflict small, but painful wounds up and down his legs and torso. She would have to do something fast, or the pain would incapacitate her.
Her jaws were aching, and she realized she still had the small dagger between her teeth. She took it out and tucked it up in her overlong sleeve as she slipped, unnoticed, into the circle, dancing around with them, waiting for her chance to get close enough to cut the two men loose. No one paid any attention, she was just another ragged scarecrow; she was grateful for the anonymity their drug-induced stupor lent her.
She finally got a glimpse of the face of the smaller man, and started with surprise. It was the shopkeeper who had chased her. She thought about leaving him there, and then she saw it, lying discarded like refuse at the edge of the circle of light, the instrument like Grannyma’s.
Her eyes darted from it to his face and back again as she tried to make sense of it. What was he up to?
Someone behind her gave her a shove, and she stumbled forward almost falling on top of the man. Under the guise of leaving her mark upon him, she slid the dagger between his wrist and the rope. It was done so quickly, no one noticed, not even the victim. She looked into his eyes, willing him to understand what he needed to do. She saw recognition and then hope dawn, as he felt the rope loosen. He caught it to keep it from falling, and attracting their attention.
She danced around with the rest until she got the chance to cut loose his legs. He looked pitiful in his nakedness, his skin shining fish-belly white in the torchlight. Dark rivulets of blood ran from the numerous cuts they had already inflicted, and his eyes were wide with pain and shock. She could see the effort it took for him to lay there after the ropes were cut, trusting her to have a plan. She wished she had a better one.
Her intent was to cut both men loose, and then give them a chance to get away by distracting the gang and leading them off after herself. Of course, it would mean abandoning her precious nest. She sighed, thinking of how comfortable she had been there. She was confident, sort of, that she would be able to escape in the maze of alleys and streets
That was what was supposed to happen, but she realized she had miscalculated as soon as she turned toward the giant. She broke the pattern, too soon, penetrating the haze in their brains, calling attention to herself. The back of her neck prickled, and the steady hum of her alarm became a shriek. There was an abrupt silence as the gang members stopped their dance to stare at her.
With howls of rage they fell upon her. She tried to duck and dodge between them, using her dagger to open a path, but there were too many, and she only wounded two or three before they bore her to the concrete. She went down on the knife and felt it pierce her chest. Covering her head with her arms, she waited for the blows to fall.
As she cowered there, all the pain and fear, hers, and that of the two men, collected into a hard little knot in her brain, like a tiny bomb in her mind, and suddenly it reached critical mass. It exploded outward from herself into the minds of her tormentors. She pushed it away from herself like the epicenter of an earthquake, and a shockwave of fear and pain rippled out, paralyzing everyone within a hundred yards.
When they could move, the gang disappeared like cockroaches when the light comes on. Jessy got to her feet and looked around, dazed, unable to comprehend what had just happened. There was a buzzing in her ears and something wet and warm was running down her chin from her nose. With one hand she picked up a torch someone had abandoned in his haste to escape; with the other she swiped at her face. It came away bloody. Her chest was burning, and she looked down to see a gash between her breasts. It wasn’t deep, but there was a scary amount of blood.
Her senses had been dulled, as though she had been blinded by a bright flash of light, but gradually through the buzzing she became aware that the smaller of the victims was still in a great deal of pain. She realized that the two men had not escaped whatever it was she had done. The shopkeeper was moaning and struggling to get up. The giant, still tied down, was uninjured, physically. His pain was mental, and mostly consisted of concern for the other man. She was able to get a good look at him for the first time as she staggered toward him, holding the torch up high.
His head was bald, and massive; it seemed to be connected directly to his torso without benefit of a neck. His shoulders and arms were huge, his legs looked like tree trunks. He was covered in scars and tattoos, and his face looked to have been smashed. He was frightening to look upon, until you looked into his eyes. They were big and brown and gentle, reminding Jessy of a picture she had seen once of an animal called a ‘cow.’
He was looking at her now with complete adoration, and she recognized that she had acquired a follower, whether she wanted one or not. “You showed ‘em. You showed em what it felt like!” he said, his deep voice strangely at odds with his childlike speech pattern. “How’d you do dat?” he wanted to know, “how’d you make ‘em feel it?”
She shook her head and put her finger to her lips like Grannyma used to do when she wanted Jessy to be quiet. He smiled a scary smile that showed filed-to-a-point teeth and nodded his understanding; his soft brown eyes followed her as she cut him loose. Jessy found the clothes that had been torn from them, somewhat the worse for wear, but better than being naked. A question she had was answered when the giant bent down to put on his shoe. She couldn’t figure out how the scrawny gang members had captured this mountain of a man, until she saw the huge knot on the back of his head.
“We’d better book it outa here,” she told them when they had draped themselves in the remains of their clothes, “I don’t know if they’ll stay gone.”
They started off, and then Jessy remembered the musical instrument. To her relief, it was undamaged except for a scratch or two on the back. When she rejoined him and the giant, she offered it to the shopkeeper. He shook his head, holding his palms up to refuse her offer. “I was bringing it to you when they caught us,” he told her, somewhat sheepishly.
Jessy cradled it lovingly, gazing at him in consternation. “When we get where we’re going you can tell me why you’d do such a stupid thing. Do you want the knife?”
He smiled a pained smile, and shook his head again. “I figure that’s small payment for saving our lives.” She could see questions in his eyes regarding the way she had done that. She had no answer for him.
“Ok,” she shrugged. There was no accounting for the strangeness of adult behavior sometimes, and she wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth. And, she had saved them; he owed her something. Normally her alarm would be going off if there was an ulterior motive behind his offer, but she didn’t trust her alarm with this one. A niggling little voice in the back of her mind was trying to remind her that they would not have been in need of saving, if not for her theft of the dagger. She shut that thought down quickly.
The shopkeeper was too weak to make it back to his world; the giant was practically carrying him already. The way she was feeling, he might be carrying both of them. She led them to the only place she could think of that they would be relatively safe. Ma would take them in, if the shopkeeper had goods to trade. That would be all she would be interested in. Jessy just hoped they would make it the twenty or so blocks to her place.
She managed to get them there, and negotiate with Ma for their care, and then everything went dark. She didn’t even feel the giant catch her up in his arms as she fell, and then cradle her gently as he carried her to Ma’s own bed. She was unaware that Ma had wisely decided not to object to the giant’s sleeping arrangements.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual event, locale or person, is purely coincidental.
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