Stepping Up 2.02

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AH, graruhah. Ghyaah.

Blistering butthole! Fizzling fucksticks!

Ok, ah, ok. Not that bad. Almost worked.

Fah. Right. Another try?

Unless we want them to beat us until they get tired.

Maybe a sweep to some kind of wall launch?

“Kid? Wha’thafuck, Kid?! Ba’tha FUCKUP, y’li’l fucks!”

Twitch stood at the edge of the alley, with a group of boys who looked closer to Twitch’s age, looking at the group huddled around one smaller boy. The abusers straightened, looked up at the new group and the one with the bloody face spoke, and not to Twitch.

“Aien non’ya bid’ness, Big.”

The speaker held himself straight, but two of the others huddled around Kid began to edge away. The one addressed in Twitch’s group, the shortest of the lot but with arms that threatened to tear the seams of his shirt, gave his head, clean shaven all over, a slow tilt.

“D’ya think you get’a choose my fucken business, rat?”

His words were clear and even, not loud. The thick boy standing over Kid flinched, and took a step back, which was met with a glare from Rat.

Um, is his name Rat?

Might just be calling him a rat.

I hate rats.

So Ratty and Big are in charge?

Notice no one else talking? Yeah, I think they are.

“Why’a giv’a’fuck? Aien y’ur turf, wha’, this’in y’urs?” Rat flung the back of his hand in Kid’s direction, “Takin’ babies, na’?”

Rat stood straight, not looking at anyone but Big. The rest of his crew straightened a bit, and squared themselves to face the older boys. A half-smile crept up Big’s face, stopping before it reached his pale, watery green eyes.

“My turf’s where ever the fuck I am, rat. An’, I d’kna’, Twitch? You giv’a fuck abou’ this kid?”

Big never looked away from the smaller leader, never stopped smiling. Or started smiling, depending on how one views such things.

“Fuuhck, I kin’a do, boss?”

Twitch had a ready grin, eye wandering, brows waving. Big took a few slow steps forward, lifting his hands in a kind of shrug.

“Guess I just giv’a’fuck,” Big said as he kept walking, kept the half smile, “You gonna fuck-off?”

Um, did you see. . .

The look at his dudes?

Why? What is it?

He can’t leave.

“Fuck you!” Rat stood his ground, blood covering the lower half of his face, “Y’aien’er ev’n seen the fuck afo’e! We ca’ jack who the fuck we wan’ i’tha Dow’!”

The half smile dropped from Big’s face so fast it seemed to go back in time and never have existed at all, and he looked at the other boy for a short, still moment. Kid peeked up from where he still curled on the ground in time to see Big explode into motion.

A hand shot from Big’s side so fast Kid couldn’t track the movement. The hand was open, half raised in a shrug, then it wasn’t open and it was extended in front of him and a crack filled the alley like a piece of thick wood breaking, and Rat was falling to the ground next to Kid.

Before the boy had even hit the ground Big pivoted on his front foot and his other hand smashed Rat’s thick right hand in the forehead, sending him staggering to bounce off the wall, flopping with limps arms dangling to smack his face onto the asphalt. Kid lost the individual movements in the blur of activity that followed.

Two steps.

Two swings?

Some kind of sweeping kick thing.

Three boys on the ground next to their two immobile friends.

So.

Don’t make him angry.

Two thick hands reached down and grabbed the leather handles Kid was still wearing as shoulder straps, hauling him up to his feet. He met Big’s eyes, still watery, still void of expression. Big eyed Kid from head to toe, rocking back to take in Kid’s appearance.

“What’d they want?” Big asked.

Kid drew his phone out of his pocket, relaxing a bit when he saw that it had survived the ordeal intact.

So far.

“Hah,” Big laughed, “They all beat you down jus’ for a phone?”

“N-no. I, um, hit him,” Kid gestured at the leader of the younger group, then at the thick one, “after the fat one knocked me down. Kicked another one.”

“Y’go’the stones, huh? Goo’ to see,” Big squinted a bit in one eye, pursed his twisting lips for a moment, before giving a sharp nod, and a slight smile. “Rock or roll?”

Is this a pop quiz about music? Does that happen?

Wait, which part is the rock, and which is the roll?

Will he hit us if we get this wrong?

I didn’t read anything about music!

Big looked at him for a moment, then barked another short laugh and raised his hand toward his group.

“Rock,” he said, and something small flew through the air, smacking into his palm. His other hand dug into a pocket and pulled out a tight green roll of paper.  He held the two aloft, “Here, yo pick.”

So we have to choose between a small plastic bag, knotted into a tight ball.

When we have no idea what it contains.

And a tubey thing of paper?

Pretty sure that’s some kind of cashy money. No clue how much.

So we choose between a mystery and a slightly smaller mystery?

Ah, kinda. I mean, he seems to treat them the same, and how many things in the world could be worth any amount of bulky money like that while being that small?

Should we ask Twitch?

I don’t think that it’s a good idea to talk to anyone but this guy. Seems to take that shit real serious.

Good call. In any event, even if we took the little thing, would we even know what to do with it? I can think of lots of things to do with some currency.

Cool with me.

“Roll.”

Big tossed the green tube to Kid who snatched it and tucked it into a pocket without looking too close. Big turned to walk back to his group, tossing a farewell over his shoulder.

“Take care, kid.”

He knows our name?

Is that a good or a bad thing.

Ah, both, probably. But maybe he doesn’t know our name so much as our age.

Um, what?

He can tell we’re younger, and people younger than you are called kids.

So we don’t freak out.

Yet.

But we have one coming, right?

You know that’s right.

Big walked out of the alley and the rest of his group went with him, except Twitch who came over to Kid, one eye looking him over while the other appeared to be dancing a little jig. In as much as an eye could be said to dancing anything jiglike.

“J’a’righ’, Kid?”

Kid looked down at the youth spilled around him on the alley floor, then back at Twitch, blinking back some tears. He nodded. Twitch looked at him for a moment, clapped him on the arm, throwing a glance back where his group had gone.

“Gotta je’. Tomorrow? Lib’ry? You goo’?”

Kid nodded again. Twitch gave him another clap, then turned to shuffle jog around the corner. Kid gave a short look down at the bodies on the ground, and left. At a pace that wasn’t a walk while still not being a run, Kid pushed through the few blocks to his window, dropping into the underground.

Memory?

Gah, I don’t even want to think about it again.

Is that a no?

No.

The three figures in their private haze conjured the scene they had just experienced, recalling the amateur street art on the ally wall, the monochromatic theme to the group’s accent color choices, the cold smell of asphalt mashed against his face, the sharp tang of the taste of his own blood, to the rescue and even reward that followed.

As the finishing touches were added to the memory, Kid reached his round wooden door and shoved his way into his home.

The cave, now dim lit by a silvery glow from the pool and dappled by the movements of the fish therein, bore the gradual littering of Kid’s many forages both above and underground. A small collection of wooden puzzles, in boxes bearing the faces of the great men of our history: Shakespeare, Bacon, Tesla, each sitting on a stack of books of varied heights.

Beside the desk mason jars were stacked in a shape that recalled the Library. Rolls of cardboard cut to varying heights supported the twisted overhanging edges of the wrenched top, almost invisible in the dim light as the jars caught and twisted what little light there was in to a delightful prismatic spray of arcs across the cave wall.

Crates once filled with jars now held blankets and a collection of misshapen, broken scraps of metal. Strewn across the floor were various articles of clothing, jackets and scarves and hats. In the corner the not as small as it used to be pile of blankets spilled in a shape more or less rectangular, upon which a not as small as he used to be boy curled under more blankets.

So. Wow. That was…

Fucking awful?

Yeah. I did NOT like that.

Why? Why the flying furry fuck would anyone do that?

They, ah, maybe, he wanted our phone?

We’re a fucking little kid! Odin’s crusted eye-socket, who does that?

We knew.

What?!

I mean we should have known. It’s in all the stories, right? The shit that happens to all the other people, the ones not-the-heroes? They just keep getting their lives wrecked over and over, while the heroes are figuring out their shit. And those older stories? With the gods and everything? Sometimes even those heroes were just walking around cutting other fuckers heads off and screwing all the women. 

What do you mean?

I mean maybe that’s just the way people are? Maybe not all people, but enough that they are in all the stories? Like a warning, keep your head up, cause these little fuckers might just wreck your whole life. What if they had really hurt us?

What if they broke our leg? How would we get back to the cave? Or out? Or anywhere?

What if they broke our brain?

Again?

We. Can. Not. Let. That. Happen. . . Again.

Ok. Right. So, um, what do we do?

Learn to fight?

Nope.

Huh.

I mean, ok, but really? There were five of them. And they were all bigger than us. Even if we could fight like. . . Um.

Batman!

Hah, ok, then I think we might be ok, but in real life, we still get our ass kicked. In the literal sense.

Wait, why not Batman?

Um, he was a fictional character?

So?

Huh?

You were at the SciFi museum. Science fiction inspires science fact. He was the fiction. We can be the fact.

I feel inspired.

Um. I mean, I guess if we worked at it, and got enough money to get some cool toys?

Ok? We could start with the cash Big threw us, then. . .

Batman!

Ok. But that is going to take a while, both with the training and the getting more money for toys.

That’s ok.

I mean, what do we do in the mean time?

Oh. Right.

Just so we are clear, what is the exact problem?

We don’t want to get hurt?

All hurt? Or just people hurt?

People hurt.

All hurt. But we would settle for people hurt.

Do all people hurt others?

Maybe not? Twitch didn’t! Twitch helped?

And they didn’t hurt Twitch. They got hurt.

Right. Twitch didn’t even have to do anything.

Cause Twitch had his own people. Who were even bigger.

Maybe we should get some people?

Does Twitch count? 

Well, he is a person, but not so much people. He’s just this guy, you know?

But he has people. Can we join his people?

We could ask him tomorrow.

Sure. That sounds like a good step. Do we want to go live with them?

What? NO?

I like our place.

Do we want them here?

No.

Definitely not.

Then I think we still have a problem.

What?

We don’t want to always be with these people, so what do we do when we aren’t with them?

Oh. So what is the problem again?

People.

But not all people.

And not being able to tell which is which.

Ok. So, um, when we aren’t with our people.

Which we don’t have, yet.

So all the time, still.

Until we get training and sweet gear.

Which might take a while.

Avoid people?

I think so.

Right. Um. How, again?

No people down here.

Not a lot of food either.

Or Twitch.

Or books, or internet. Ok. We have to go up.

But we stay below as much as we can.

Which brings us to the exact problem.

What is that?

How are we going to get to the Library tomorrow?

Oh.

Right.

We could take some rooftops?

Not the whole way.

We could take the hotels, down by the water? To the market, almost all the way.

Early, then, so people don’t see us running the wall?

Ok, then we can slip back underground at the market, and get out…

The space in the middle of the mental replica of the cave was not cluttered with abandoned clothes, and flickered to portray the map of Seattle, floating buildings and streets suspended waist height for the three embodiments of the boy’s consciousness.  The trio began marking entrances to the underground, and places to get up on a rooftop, and which rooftops were next to accessible rooftops, tracing a route from their underground abode across the downtown to their local public library.

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