Stepping Up 2.03

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Even in the refined latter years of our earthbound culture, it should be noted, children with such well developed memory palaces were not common. The cultivation of such a structure involved hours of purposeful visualization, which most children, even now, are seldom willing to devote.

This is not to suggest that this child was some kind of a remarkable prodigy, though there are of course those cultish enthusiasts who like to claim such. The more reasoned view has long been rather that even the biological human brain was capable of remarkable things in adverse conditions.

While it may take have taken an adult brain several years of concerted effort to achieve the mental discipline to maintain a reliable memory palace, a child’s neuronal structure was more flexible, more adaptable. A child who awoke in pitch darkness without even the hint of a memory to define either himself or the world around him might well develop an imagined place of security and safety where he could begin stockpiling memories as they happened, investing them with the intensity of his desire remember… anything.

The rat and the fish were two of the first memories Kid had collected after waking at the bottom of an old concrete drain with broken bones and a broken brain. From the comfort of the cave he had explored the underground for a time undefined, separated from the sunlit world of days and hours. He did, as we have reason to know, find the buildings leading up to the city proper, and begin to reintegrate himself into the world.

It has been the case, both before the Ascension even now, long after, that patterns are a central part of how we as humans structure our understanding of the world, and order our interaction with it. We are creatures of habit, which, even our earthbound forebears knew, are but patterns wired so deep as to become subconscious. We look for patterns, think in patterns, act in patterns, live in patterns. Even divorced from the context of societal schedule dictations, we set up a regular order, or rhythm, to our days. At least, the functional among us do.

It happens that the small boy living under the city of Seattle was such a functional one.

In the earliest days after finding his way up to the city surface, Kid had fallen into this pattern: upon waking, drink and then ascend, eat the berries by the window, explore the city, berries, water, explore the underground, water, city, food, sleep, dream.

During his explorations, Kid would grab as many little things as he could fit into his bag, and bring them back to the cave, examining them in the dim light from the pool. Some things were familiar: cups, some cans of beans he couldn’t open, an old heavy door handle… Some of the others were just unrecognizable, broken pieces of things he couldn’t identify. The things he liked, for whatever reason, he began stacking across the desk. The rest he took back out into the underground with him, trading them for new curiosities in the dark.

Kid’s forays into the city had extended further and farther from his tiny gap in the window, and he started remembering so much about the city, and her people, and discovering so much more. He remembered the word homeless. He remembered dogs. He remembered that he liked the dogs, and realized he qualified as one of the homeless.

Upon his discovery of the Market the pattern of Kid’s days shifted, as all of our patterns will do as we weave through the fabric of spacetime. Kid broke the day into five parts: one for reading (which was even better for figuring out what he did or didn’t know than exploring was), one for above ground exploration, one for underground exploration, one for sleeping, and one just for the Market.

Everything that he could need or want was at the Market, just a short walk down the water from his window. Food, bookstores, trinkets, clothes, all right on top of each other, in a very literal sense. Most of the little shops, though, had a peculiar insistence that their customers keep their feet covered, so Kid hadn’t bothered much with going inside.

In addition to the shops and all the people to watch, the boy’s first prolonged search of the Market had uncovered two more entrances to the underground, leading to buildings and tunnels he couldn’t access from his established network of subterranean urbanity: a storage closet with a loose air vent cover, and a grate that drained straight into the buried room beneath a bathroom.

This more invasive manner of exploration also led to a series of discoveries about how attached people are to the things they are trying to sell.

Kid had learned that clothes were tricky. Some places cared a lot, alarms went off and people chased little boys until they almost got lost. Might have gotten lost if that little boy hadn’t stumbled upon a street map engraved on a manhole cover. Other places would just let the boy walk right out the door, but they yelled at him if he came back. Bags turned out to be very similar to clothes in that regard.

Food soon ceased to be a real issue. In addition to the shopkeepers in the market who would just give a little boy food, as long as he didn’t come by all the time, there were huge stores where the food was just, well, out for the taking. And no one yelled at him when he ate it. Well, as long as he didn’t eat a lot. And behind those stores they dumped all the extra food and no one ever yelled at him for eating that.

Now electronics…

Electronics, Kid had discovered, people cared about a LOT. They locked them up, chained them down, cased them. The first day the boy had walked into an electronics store, the tv display was showing a mix of athletic contests, both basketball and football. This was in those late years when they still played the barbaric version of football, but after they knew that it caused severe and long term brain damage.

They knew that the brain was the most irreplaceable thing in the verse and they still allowed children whose brains had not yet even reached maturity to play this violent, harmful game. Again, please remember that this humanity was still young at this whole responsibility thing. They did get it right, even if it took insurance companies pulling the cord for them.

Before the end, though, the game was something to see.

The entire spectacle of the athletic culture in the late years laid the foundation of our own more intentional appreciation of physical and intellectual melded display. Athletic competition was, at the heart, a celebration of what we could do, what we could be.

The small boy had watched, enraptured, as a player blew through a mass of bodies, twisting and changing direction with deception and simultaneous power and grace, exploding into a gap in the wall of flesh, a gap that even in the slow-motion replays didn’t seem to be there before the player launched himself into the air, hurtling over another player, the oblong ball tucked in one arm, the free arm propelling a player in the opposing colors wheeling over backward, and the ball carrier was spinning in a purple blur, whipping behind a teammate into the open space and gone, then buried by a mob of teammates when they met at the end of the field.

Had someone been near the little boy staring at the screen in awe they might have heard him whisper to himself:

“We can DO that?”

Of course, had someone been near, the little boy might not have said anything at all. That moment marked another beginning, for the boy. He wanted to see what his body could do. So he set out to investigate.

From that point the boy had only walked when he needed complete silence, and even that was more of a prowl, waiting for the opportunity to spring into action. He ran everywhere, and jumped on or off anything that he could reach, learning necessary lessons about falling when he misjudged. Underground he would try some things in the dark, testing the accuracy of his mental map, but the underground was not great for jumping.

Above ground he’d begun treating the artful contemporary sculptures populating the city as his own personal jungle gyms.

Near the water there was a park full of sculptures, tended by people who were very committed to making sure that little boys did not profane the art with hands that he didn’t think were that grubby at all. The park had all the best sculptures, large with unusual shapes, so he came back when the park minders weren’t there, at night and early in the morning.

There was one sculpture he liked to call the teepee, three long poles joined at the top, making a triangle almost the height of a small building, with three more poles, ranging from waist to knee height above the ground, connecting the longer poles at the base. From the top of the teepee hung a heavy, thick metal chain, holding suspended three logs, each bigger around than the boy’s arms could encompass. The logs were staked together in a small, thick triangle of their own, the hole in the middle maybe large enough to fit a fourth log through.

Most of his morning city explorations began on the teepee, wheeling around the poles and jumping from the swaying logs to catch himself just off the ground and whip, sliding around and under the base poles. The long rich grass of the hillside cushioned the falls that happened with decreasing regularity as his hands learned how to catch a pole in flight, his legs how to twist to guide his momentum as he swung from pole to pole, his feet how to land on the ball, and how to hit a precise spot on a log, and later on the poles themselves.

It would, on occasion, rain. This was Seattle, Rain City. Of course it rained. He fell more in the rain, then after a while, he didn’t. But there were things he didn’t do in the rain.

Kid had discovered, for what felt like the first time, that no one pays attention to children. He had continued walked around the city unbothered, unbothering, watching everything, and everyone. He began considering what kind of things apart from sculptures might be fun for climbing and jumping. Which is how Kid had learned something new, and found some shoes.

Sitting in his cave the morning getting beaten by the Rat-led horde Kid was working those shoes onto feet unlined by socks, wincing whenever a bruise or laceration twinged in pain. Which left his face in a more or less constant wince.

In Kid’s mental reflection of the cave three hazy figures lounged. The darker one crouched over the pool, watching the fish twist and twine around each other. Fuzzy was running a finger along the framed portraits covering much of the cave wall above the desk which represented books they had read, triggering a mini-cascade of the contents rumbling through his awareness.

Whiney was sitting in the lone chair, in almost the same pose as the boy in the physical cave, holding a pair of shoes that looked like the shiny new version of the ones being tied to the small boy’s feet. Running a hand across the dark green heel of the shoes, Whiney triggered the memory while Kid’s fingers handled the laces without active direction.

The boy’s work on the teepee had opened the rooftops. Where he used to climb just to watch and hide, he had begun to explore in earnest. He hurdled over low walls dividing adjacent buildings, jumped to hang from eaves and ledges, flipping his slim frame up and over walls with comfort, and ease. His exploration took him ever higher, until he began to jump small gaps between buildings, and the larger gaps if one building was lower.

No one looked up.

It might be read as a sign of the particular malaise of the time, but while ignoring each other on the sidewalk, everyone in the city walked with their eyes straight ahead, or on the ground at their feet, never looking at the marvel of the city reaching above them.

Never looking at the sky.

The boy was always looking up. The buildings were fascinating, so big and solid, each a peculiar derivation within the broader theme of Seattle. It was while looking up at the buildings that he saw the first pair of shoes, hanging by the laces from a line stretched across the top of an alley.

They were enormous. He would never be able to wear them. He tried to get them anyway. A quick scan revealed a stick and some rocks by a nearby bush, which the boy gathered. He threw at the shoes, fetched and threw again until his arm got tired. Then he looked down at his feet, blackened and rough from the grime and grind of life underground. He looked back up at the shoes. And kept throwing until his other arm got tired.

The boy didn’t see another pair of hanging shoes until several days later, as he had made his way up one of the Seven Hills, Capitol Hill, so named despite not being the seat of the capitol, in fact. Up toward the hill he saw not one, but three pairs of shoes hanging from a line stretched across another alley. Two of them seemed about the same size, and huge. 

The third pair, draped over the line nearest to the red brick building on his right, were smaller.

Shoes!

That is what it looks like, but, ah, why. . .

I would like to have shoes.

Really? Not even a little curious why.

Nope. Gotta side with Shady on this one. They could be the droppings of invisible shoe shitting dragons for all I care.

What.

Well, they are out of our reach, pretty sure. Even jumping.

Maybe we could throw something?

Do we see anything to throw?

Also, the throwing didn’t really work out that well, last time.

Maybe we’ll get more lucky this time!

There is a dumpster there near the wire.

We can’t throw a dumpster. I mean, we can’t, right?

I was thinking of climbing it.

Makes way more sense than throwing it.

The boy approached the large, blue refuse receptacle, giving it a quick shove. When he failed to budge the thing at all, he circled searching for an avenue to ascend. Pressing his bare feet against the cold metal, the boy scampered to the top of the dumpster, which was still not elevated enough for him to reach up and bat the shoes free of their suspension overhead.

So now we’re standing on a trash can. That’s pretty neat. Not, you know, helpful, but neat.

That was just the first step!

What’s the second step?

Still working on that part.

You know, this wall is a lot like some of the walls underground . . .

The boy whipped around to examine the wall above the dumpster, eyeing the top of the wall as it ran to where an anchor attached the line from which the shoes dangled. A pipe, about as thick as his leg, stuck out from near the top of the wall, not quite above the dumpster. Leaning close to the wall, he peered at the uneven edges of the bricks, and the little lines between them.

The boy rolled his neck, and shot a look down each end of the alley, but none of the people walking past even looked his way. He stepped up to the wall, hands falling into a familiar brushing pat, probing into the cracks between the bricks. Finding a few spots he could slip fingertips into he gripped, took a breath and repeated the process with first one foot, then the second.

Clinging to the side of the wall he moved one hand, then a foot, then the other hand, inching toward the pipe an arm’s length away. A foot slipped, his heart stuck in his chest. 

Oops.

What ‘oops’?

Fuck.

His grip gave way beneath his fingers, and he dropped. The boy thrust himself away from the wall and twisted to see the ground, and the edge of the dumpster. One hand flared out to guide him away from the dumpster, the other reaching to the cobbled pavement, and he hit, and more sprawled than rolled across the alley floor.

The boy looked up at the shoes, at the wall, the dumpster, then the pipe, and got to his bare feet. Quick to the top of the dumpster, then grip by grip, inch by careful inch, he approached the pipe.

Um.

Is this like the oops?

The pipe.

It’s too thick to grab.

Right.

Thoughts?

Elbow?

The boy worked a foot further up the wall, thrusting himself up to slip his arm over the pipe, and then relaxing a fraction. From that point it was short work to perch on the pipe, and with both hands reaching the top of the wall he was up and over the wall onto the roof.

Leaves and scattered trash greeted him, swirling with a kind of grace in the light breeze. He turned, leaning over the waist-high wall to swipe at the shoes which had drawn him to the roof, still just out of his reach. He stared at the shoes, then looked at the thick rubber line from which they dangled, and the hook driven into the brick where the line was anchored.

So how strong do we think that anchor is?

Wait, why? Are we about to do something stupid?

I prefer to think of it as risky.

With a twitch of his shoulders, the boy hopped to sit on the wall, back to the alley beneath him, and leaned back, sliding his hands along the line. The line sagged beneath his weight, but held. 

When his knees were pulled tight against wall, and his body fully stretched beneath the black cord, the boy reached out and snagged the shoes by the connecting lace from which they dangled, wrapping the shoestring around his hand. He then heaved himself back until he was sitting almost upright, and then pulled himself back to sitting on the wall, and dropped to the roof.

The boy wasted no time at all shoving his feet into his new prizes. He finished lacing up his new, still a bit too large, black hightops, with dark green leather on the toe and the upper heel, and he got up and hopped around, skipping and making little darting cuts around the pipes and vents dotting the rooftop.

This is so very much better than being barefoot.

Agreed.

So what do we want to do now?

. . . 

Wanna watch strangers walk around town?

The boy turned to the wall opposite of the alley, hopping up to just sit, watching the people walking down the street beneath him, all going about their days, no one looking up. That day marked day another beginning, of sorts, as from that day onward the boy climbed every building he could, fascinated by watching the city where they could not see him, or at least, would not see him.

Kid’s feet had grown. Even without socks, they filled the dark black and green shoes, snug at the sides if not quite uncomfortable. He bounced on his toes, rolling his shoulders before reaching down to grab his well worn bag. He smiled, and crossed the cave in a bouncing kind of lunge-jog, pivoting to swing the heavy wooden door to rest against the frame, before loping away into the dark.

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