Living in the Last Sane City on Earth
Warnings/Disclaimers/that sort of thing: This story contains violence, implied sex, implied sexuality of various varieties, references to child abuse, some crude language, horror, occult themes ... basically this story has stuff in it people might find offensive. I don't know which bits might be offensive because, really, I don't find any of it offensive. It's not a story I would show to my grandmother.
This story does not contain explicit sex scenes or extensive graphic violence. It is not intended to be purely titilating. Sorry.
Summary: Since the Cataclysm the world has been thrown into chaos. The laws of science and magic have fused, creating a new set of laws that are as yet unfixed. Even as humankind struggles to adapt, the world settles into its new groove. Of all the cities in the new world Kallai remains a beacon of sanity amidst the madness, and even she has her lunacies.
This is the story of four adolescents caught up in the flow and flux of the aftermath of the Cataclysm, and how they deal with the terrors of the world and each other.
We were having chicken schnitzel for dinner. Cadogan cooked it. He's a much better cook than Father Brannon, he chops the vegetables small when they should be small and big when they should be big, and into interesting shapes, and everything is full of flavours in layers. Like his lemon cake on Thursday; it was all sweet and tart at the same time, with a sort of aftertaste of something that might have been cinnamon but wasn't.
Anyway, we were having dinner and Falcon was telling us about the skinks out under the back step. They live in the rockery by the door, and sun themselves on the steps all over the place. They're beautiful, little slivers of silver and grey flashing in the sun. Falcon and Julian were out there this afternoon, drinking iced tea and watching the skinks, and Falcon kept trying to catch one but they were too fast for him.
Julian told him he was doing it the hard way, and put his palm down on the step, in a patch of sun, and waited. It took a few minutes, but eventually a skink came out from between the rocks and climbed up onto his fingers. Julian tipped the skink into Falcon's hands and smiled. "That's the easy way," he said. "There's nearly always an easy way. Sometimes the easy way is better, sometimes not."
Falcon was obviously impressed, because he told us all over dinner, his hands making quick, earnest motions over his plate. Falcon only ever talks with his hands when he's excited, and when he does it's like he's sketching, only in the air with his fingers instead of pen and paper.
"If you like Julian so much," Rowan said, low and quiet, "why don't you just fuck him?"
Falcon clammed up immediately, flushing dark and hiding behind his fringe.
"Rowan!" Father Brannon chastised her. "That is not appropriate for the dinner table. If you cannot be civil you can eat in your room."
"Yeah? Well, I don't want to eat with you lot anyway," she said, tilting her chair back on two legs and crossing her arms. "Like I could care less."
"Rowan," Cadogan murmured, watching Falcon from under his black lashes, "I think you should apologise. That was cruel."
"Apologise? Why?" She gave Falcon a hateful look. "I'm sick of hearing about how much wonder-boy's in love with his hero. Wouldn't surprise me if he offered to suck Julian's --" but at that moment Falcon jumped up and ran out of the room, leaving his dinner and Rowan's words unfinished.
Father Brannon put on his dangerously quiet tone and told her to go to her room but she just smirked. "You can't make me," she said, getting up anyway. She did it slowly, even languidly, and paused to say, "You can't make me do anything," before walking out. Then we heard the back door slam and knew she had left the manse, and probably wouldn't come back for hours.
I sat there, feeling awkward. Cadogan looked from the kitchen door, where Rowan had gone, to the hall door, where Falcon had gone (presumably up to his room) and then at me. For a moment I thought I saw something that could have been fear in his eyes, hidden in all the regret, but then it was gone.
"Falcon didn't have time to eat much," he said at last. "Do you think I should take his plate up to him?"
"The boy will eat when he's hungry," Father Brannon said in a tired voice. "Coddling him will solve nothing." Cadogan hesitated, and then nodded, leaning back in his chair. He glanced at me and then down at his dinner, his lower lip caught between his teeth.
I stood up. "I'll take it to him," I said, grabbing Falcon's plate and bolting before Father Brannon could tell me to sit down.
Falcon was in his room. He was sitting on his bed with his back to me, facing the window, and he flinched as I came in. I shut the door.
"Don't you knock?" he muttered.
"You would've told me to go away," I said, setting the plate down on the dresser.
"Go away," he told me.
"No." I walked over and sat next to him. His bed is harder than mine, more springy, so I bounced a little rather than sinking into it as I'd expected.
He was staring out the window, his fringe shaken low over his eyes. I couldn't see his expression, but I could see the colour in his cheeks, burning like a wildfire of shameful embarrassment.
"She's just venting," I told him. He didn't respond. "She's a bitch sometimes."
"She's a bitch all the time. She's nice sometimes," he corrected in a vicious undertone. "I hate her."
"You don't really," I said. He bowed his head, looking down at his hands in his lap. He was picking at his fingernails. I saw he'd been biting them again, the nails on his left hand chewed down to ragged quicks. One of them was red, bleeding and sore.
"Don't worry about her," I told him. "We all know how she makes stuff up and twists things. No-one really thinks you like Julian, not like that. It's just stupid."
He hunched up, pulling his knees to his chest and hiding his face. "Just go away, Fran," he told me. "I don't want to talk to you right now."
"Fine," I said, and stood up. "I guess I'll go help with the dishes while you sulk then."
I left his plate and went back to my dinner. Father Brannon had already gone over to the church to do something, I don't know what, but Cadogan was sitting at the table, toying with his cutlery. He looked up when I came in.
"How is he?" he asked, kind and careful as always.
"He'll live." I sat down and went back to my dinner. It was a bit cold but still good.
"Do you think I should talk to him?" Cadogan tried to balance his knife and fork against each other on his plate.
"No, I don't think he's in a talking mood."
"What about Rowan?" he asked, intent on his tower of cutlery.
"When she comes in? It'll be really late. You can if you like, but she'll probably just climb in her window and you won't know she's here 'til morning. Unless you wait in her room," I added., Like that would go down well.
"Maybe not, then," he conceded. "And you, Fran? How are you?"
I blinked at him, surprised. "Me? I'm fine." I shrugged. "I'm always fine. Why shouldn't I be?"
"I just thought ... never mind." He smiled at me. "There's some rhubarb crumble in the cool room. How about we finish it off?"
See? Solicitous. That's what he is. Julian's sweet, Nathan's protective, Father Brannon is fair but Cadogan is solicitous.
to be continued
for a picture of the gang, and assorted other related artwork, see my profile as FictionPress insists on stripping the URL