One More Day
The sun rose over the horizon, bringing an unusually beautiful day to the town. The early risers of the town stared in wonder at the spectacular display of colors in the sky. It sparked conversation and admiration throughout the few townsfolk who had been fortunate enough to be wandering around so early. The colors slowly faded into a brilliant blue, an ocean, as the sun rose high. Birds began to chirp. It was morning, and most of the town would be waking now.
The morning sunlight fell upon my sleeping face, stirring me to the faintest bit of consciousness.
I opened my eyes slightly, enough to make out the blurs of everything in the room. I felt the pillow I was on and found it uncomfortable, so I threw it down the bed and lie with my head on the mattress. Squinting in the sunlight, I rolled over so my back faced the sun. The sounds of people talking and footsteps echoed into my window, far worse than any alarm clock.
I gave a small snort, and tried to go back to sleep, but I was disturbed a few moments later by a sharp knocking on my door.
"Alec! Are you going to school today? Get up!"
I moaned at my father's voice beyond the door before replying. "I'm not going to school today… it's my last year… and they can't teach me anything anymore."
I heard Father sigh. "If you aren't going to school today, at least go to work."
I responded with a muffled "Mmhmm," before hearing Father's footsteps fade away. When they vanished, I moved the pillow over and moved into a better position. I remained where I was, comfortable with my leg around my pillow and my head on the bed, for a little while until the noise outside became unbearable and I realized I could not fall back asleep.
Groaning, I got out of bed. Throwing my blanket aside and opening my eyes, I saw the window had been open all night.
I must have forgotten to pull the curtains…
I closed the curtains, and realized anyone looking up that night would have seen me sleeping in my undershorts. Unfortunately, I was too tired to care.
Quickly getting dressed in a brown long-sleeved shirt, black pants, and some black shoes, I opened my bedroom door and walked down the upstairs hallway in our house.
Our house is a small, brown two-story, one of the many houses on the side of one of the cobblestone roads that made up Kaibito City. Downstairs is the living room and kitchen, and upstairs has two bedrooms with a bathroom in between them.
Walking downstairs, running a hand through my long, brown hair, I greeted Father in the kitchen.
He sat alone at the table, reading the newspaper with a plate of toast next to him, using the time he had before he had to arrive at his job to relax a little. The picture of the ideal man at the breakfast table, but I'd expect a man like that to wear a suit and reading glasses. Father is a big man, tall and strong. He ran his own business, a log-cutting place near the outskirts of town. Work like that required large muscles.
Since I was 18 and nearing the stages of manhood, I was expecting to grow large, but it hadn't happened yet and I was still the size of most of my classmates.
"Mornin' Father," I mumbled.
He looked up from his newspaper.
"Well, look who decided to get out of bed."
I walked over to the pantry and opened the small door. Peering inside, I tried to select what I would have to breakfast. We had bread, and a few pieces of fruit in that cupboard.
"Anything interesting in there?" I asked, referring to his newspaper.
"Not much," Father replied, turning the page. "Just a little piece about that man who tried to stand up to The Master last month."
"Interesting," I said, selecting an apple for my breakfast. "You know, I never got the whole story on him." I walked over to the table and sat next to Father.
Father sighed and flipped back to the front page. A colored picture of The Master's home, a legendary tower standing over his capital city, stood on the front page under a headline:
One Month Since The Master's Victory
Underneath the photo was a long wall of small text, which I assumed would be the story of the man who tried to stand up to him and smug quotes from The Master. Father cleared his throat, and began to read.
"'Exactly one month today since The Master was challenged by an unknown man at Caries'… oh, so this man was in the capital city. Probably the only way to see The Master recently. Have you noticed he doesn't make many public appearances anymore?"
"Keep reading," I urged Father. He cleared his throat again.
"'At Caries. The man was heavily armed with a sword and iron armor. The man sparked a mass gathering composed of citizens who were regarded as members of a riot. Official word from The Master has yet to be announced.
"'The man is reported to have fought his way through The Master's Tower to the top floor where he engaged The Master in sword-to-sword combat. Members of the riot outside watched as The Master himself appeared on the roof of the Tower and faced off against the man.'"
"But there wasn't really a riot, was there?" I asked. "The only photos I've seen haven't had a riot in them. Just the people standing in a crowd outside the Tower to watch the man."
"Hell if I know, Alec," Father responded. "Remember, The Master controls the news. Should I keep reading?"
"'The Master struck the man down and made an announcement to the crowd. 'Should any rebellions form, or anyone like this be born, I will rain down fire from the heavens.' After making the announcement, The Master picked the man up, and threw him from the roof into the riot'… that's terrible."
"So the man is dead?"
"Even if he survived the fall from way up there, which you know is impossible, The Master would have had him executed."
"Anything else in the article?" I asked.
"Just some official word… 'The Master has not made an official announcement on the incident yet'."
"I wonder why."
Father suddenly leapt up from his chair. "Good lord, Alec! Hurry up! You're going to be late for work!"
Standing up from the table, I bid my Father farewell and left our small home with my apple in hand.
Kaibito is a village with plenty of cobblestone roads that are always full of people walking or horses or whatever. I heard somewhere that there used to be things called "Cars" in the roads that were faster than horses, but they stopped making them for some reason.
On the sides of the road are houses and shops. We live between a house and a bakery, so the smell of bread is always wafting into our house along with the sounds of our neighbors arguing with each other.
I set off down the road in the direction of the tavern, where I was fortunate enough to work at the age of 18. I was not allowed to drink any of the liquor sold there, but I didn't care because I loved working there.
I almost bumped into a few people, but I managed to navigate through the crowds in the streets to get to the tavern.
I stepped onto the street, and the Foxhead Tavern came into view. It was a large bar, tables, chairs, and booths on one side of a counter and glasses, sinks, cash registers, and rows of bottles on one wall. There were two rooms on the employee side of the counter. One was an employee break room, and the other was a Manager's office.
When I went inside, I flinched at my name being called.
Mr. Westbrook, owner of the Foxhead, lumbered out from behind the counter over to where I stood by the door. I always wondered how he could fit through the narrow space between the counter and the wall to get from one side to the other. He's a terribly obese man, but he has a splendid sense of humor.
He sported a large grin on his face. I couldn't help smiling. The man has that power.
"And how are you on this fine morning?" Mr. Westbrook asked.
"I'm fine, thanks. What about you?"
"Oh you know. Usual day at work. That bloke over there's bought a bit too many, so I think I oughta keep an eye on 'im!"
Mr. Westbrook motioned toward a guy sitting at the counter who was drinking a beer and staring off as though deep in thought, then he turned back toward me.
"Shouldn't you be in school, Alec? Or did'ye decide to work today?"
"I think I'd like to work today, sir, if you have anything for me to do," I replied. "Not much to do at school anyway."
"Oh, don't have that kind of attitude about it. After all, I got through it okay."
Mr. Westbrook told me he needed the floor mopped because another employee had spilled a beer on the floor before I arrived, and when I was done to clean off the counter. I quickly obliged, and cleaned up the spill with no trouble. I proceeded to mop the rest of the floor to impress Westbrook and hopefully earn myself a small bonus.
Afterwards, I got a rag and started toward the counter. When I walked past Mr. Westbrook, he put a hand out to stop me.
"Alec, you see that guy over there?" He asked, pointed at the same man from earlier who had "bought a bit too many" and was now gazing off into space dreamily. He appeared to have not finished the same beer he was drinking.
"What about him?" I asked.
"Don't serve him," Mr. Westbrook said. I noticed his face appeared to be turning red, and he seemed to be trying not to look at the guy. "I know you serve the customers sometimes when you're supposed to be cleaning- and that's all right- but there's something off about him. If he asks, do NOT serve him. He's had too many, and he hasn't paid me for that one yet."
I continued toward the counter, and proceeded to wipe it off. The guy was off to the edge of the counter, and I started on the other side, away from him. Mr. Westbrook was right, something was off about him.
I wiped for a few minutes, moving in a circular motion. A blonde man came up and asked me to serve him. I did, and when I had finished, he paid me extra and told me to keep the change before leaving. I continued wiping. Still in the circular motion.
My mind started to wander. What was Father doing at his log-cutting business? Circular motion, hypnotic in such a way. What was going on at school today? Circles, wiping the counter…
My thoughts were pierced when a large hand grabbed the front of my shirt. I found myself pulled up against the counter by the man who Mr. Westbrook had been suspicious of.
The man's face was red, and his beer was knocked over on the counter, spilling everywhere.
"More… Serve me again…" He seemed to be struggling to speak.
"I, I… um… You need to pay for those," I tried to say.
He grunted and started to pull me off the ground by my shirt. This man was taller than I expected.
Mr. Westbrook ran over and shoved the guy aside. He let go of my shirt, and I nearly fell down.
"Oi! Leave 'im alone!" Mr. Westbrook yelled.
Bar patrons at various tables stared with wide eyes. The guy was pushed back a few feet and knocked off balance, but he quickly recovered. He walked back over to the counter, and got right in Mr. Westbrook's face.
"I said serve me, old man, so do it!" He delivered the last two words while bringing up his fist and pounding it down on the counter.
"You haven' paid for the last few," Mr. Westbrook said calmly. "I'm afraid I'll need to ask for payment before I serve you any more drinks."
"I don't need to pay," The man said. "Do you know who I am?"
"Someone about to get banned from my establishment for a while?"
"I'm Jack Gordon!" The man shouted his name, as though it was supposed to make us cower in terror of the almighty Jack Gordon.
There was a pause.
"I've never heard of you," I said.
"Neither 'ave I," Mr. Westbrook followed, looking bewildered at this man standing on the other side of the counter.
"I'm the captain of The Master's soldiers in Kaibito! If you refuse to serve me, we will enact swift justice."
"Wha- This ain't justice!" Mr. Westbrook said indignantly.
"Of course it is. What do you know about justice?" He scoffed. "You'll regret not serving me."
The man turned and began to walk out.
"Don't come back!" Mr. Westbrook called after him.
The patrons seemed shaken up by the sudden encounter with Captain Jack Gordon, and seemed in a hurry to finish their drinks and leave. A few minutes later, the tavern was empty aside from two employees, Mr. Westbrook, and I.
"Well, I suppose that's the end of the day," Mr. Westbrook sighed. "You can all go home now."
The other two employees who were there that day left before I did. I lingered behind, and Mr. Westbrook spoke up to stop me.
"Alec," He started. "Today's encounter with Mister Jack Gordon made me think."
"About the soldiers, sir?" I asked.
"Yeah, they're everywhere. The Master's got 'imself an army in every city." Mr. Westbrook cleared his throat. "But y'know, if you ask the oldest person you can find what life was like before The Master came to power, they can't tell ya."
"Why? Did they forget or something?"
"That's the thing, The Master has been in power since they've been born or even before their grandparents were born. 'Course, nobody talks about him when they don't need to, so how long he's been in power isn't known.
"But Alec, I want you to know that you can't stand up to people like that. I only did it 'cuz I'm an old man. I don't got much to worry about, but you, you've got your life ahead'a ya. If you get on the wrong side of them soldiers, you'll regret it."
"Aren't you worried?" I asked him.
"Well a'course I am," He waved the question off, "These people ain't like you an' me. If you give a man power, you can be damned sure he'll use it. How a man uses that power, though, is what sets the good men apart from the bad men."
Mr. Westbrook cleared his throat. "Y'know Alec, I lost friends in that city The Master burned down three years ago. 'Round the time you came to me lookin' for a job. What was the name a'that town? A-something, Ar…"
"Arbituos." I said numbly.
"Yeah, Arbituos. One o' my friends was the bravest damned man you'd ever saw. We were here in Kaibito once and saw a soldier for The Master demanding a pie from a shop for free. That's why I reacted so violently toward Captain Gordon today, he reminded me of that soldier.
Well, that man managed to get himself a free pie from that terrified clerk at the shop. I don't remember her name, but she was a young, cute blonde. This was about twenty years ago though, so I wonder if she's still so cute. Anyway, the soldier walks away with that pie, and my friend walks over t'him and puts his hand under the pie and slams it into the soldier's face!"
"He didn't," I gasped.
"He did!" Mr. Westbrook said proudly. "That soldier never saw it comin'!"
Mr. Westbrook threw his head back and laughed. "That soldier looked up, cream and pie filling all over his face, and just blinked at us. 'You just threw a pie in my face,' he said. It was the stupidest thing I'd ever seen! My friend an' I just walked away."
"Just walked away? Just like that?"
"Yup, though I suppose the soldier had the last laugh. My friend was right in the middle of the town they burned."
I didn't say anything, and certainly didn't tell Mr. Westbrook that my mother had been in the fire of Arbituos.
Mr. Westbrook talked a little bit more, and then I left. No more customers showed up.
I was back in Kaibito, surrounded by the people who all were going to their jobs or home. The city is always full of people, endless waves of people, each with a different story and destination. Now I was one of those people, and I chose to start walking toward home. Kaibito didn't really have anything interesting to me.
"Well, look who it is. Shouldn't you be in school, Alec...?"
I froze, and then let off a groan while I turned around. There, leaning against a fence post under the shade of a leafy tree, was Ivan and Pete, the two biggest bullies at my school. It was no surprise they skipped.
"...or did you decide to skip today?" Ivan finished.
"As a matter of fact," I replied, "I was at work, like a responsible person."
Ivan's smirk melted and he stared at me for a moment before throwing his head back in laughter.
"Responsible… that's a good one Alec!"
"A real knee-slapper!" Pete guffawed.
Pete stopped laughing. "Are you saying we're not responsible?"
Ivan shoved me. I stumbled back a few steps and landed on the ground. He stood over me, and leaned down.
"We're responsible too!" He spat out. He straightened up and stepped backward back to Pete. Pete held up a small bag. "See? We're salesmen."
I looked up at the small, clear plastic bag Pete held in his hand, and squinted.
"Is that… a drug?"
"Yep!" Pete said proudly. "We've had a few customers already today just standing here selling this here coke, but we get better business over at the school."
"The children's school," Ivan added.
I got up off the ground. "That's sick!" I argued. "They're just kids!"
"Hey, you make money doing whatever you do, and we'll do it how we do it. Got a problem, Assbreath?"
I stood there for a second, staring at them and breathing heavily with anger, and then I launched myself at Ivan. He was taken by surprise and fell to the ground where I started punching him.
Pete grabbed me by the back of the shirt, and threw me off Ivan, who sat on the ground holding up a hand to a bloody nose.
I was also on the ground, and Pete kicked me a few times. Ivan got up and aimed a kick, but I rolled to the side and he missed.
Pete dived for me, and began punching. Ivan was about to start in, when the air was pierced by a sharp whistle.
The punches stopped. I opened my eyes and looked up. Ivan and Pete were backing away from someone who was walking over. I looked to the person, and recognized the black and red uniform of one of The Master's soldiers. Above the uniform, his eyes were full of fire and his eyebrows were set down in a vengeful glare.
"What's going on here? What the hell is going on here?" He spat out at me. I got up off the ground and brushed myself off. "I saw the whole thing! You started it!"
"I was provoked!" I argued. "They're selling coke to-"
My words were cut off when the soldier swung his hand and slapped me in the face. I fell backwards, clutching my right cheek.
"Don't you dare talk back to a soldier, boy," The soldier scolded, "I oughta arrest you for disturbing the public."
Ivan and Pete were trying to back away while the soldier bore into me, but the soldier snapped his fingers at them.
"You two, back here, now."
They walked back, hanging their heads low to hide smirks.
"I understand you two have cocaine," He reached out his hand, "Hand it over."
Pete faked a puzzled look. "We don't have any-"
"I've been at this job for years. You think I don't know how to tell a liar? Hand it over," The soldier wiggled his fingers, "Now."
Mumbling vicious obscenities under his breath, Pete dug in his pocket and pulled out the small bag of coke and placed it in the soldier's outstretched hand.
"Good," the soldier said, "Now then, you," He pointed at me, "are going to walk away. If I catch you again, it'll be jail. You're lucky I'm in a good mood. Got it?"
"Yes, sir," I said, gritting my teeth together and turning my hands to fists.
"Good," The soldier said triumphantly, "Now then, I'll be taking this," He gestured the bag of coke, "to the trash."
Ivan and Pete walked away, mumbling to each other and laughing. I watched them leave, and then I started to walk away, going toward home. I'm not sure why, but I turned back and looked at the soldier.
He was strutting down the street with the coke in his hand, and as I watched, he put it in his pocket and kept walking.
I got home, and waited for Father to get home. He was late, and didn't return home until night had fallen. When he stumbled in through the door, I rushed downstairs to greet him and my eyes widened in shock.
My father was bruised, his eye was blackened, and his nose was bleeding. When I asked him what happened, he didn't respond. Instead, he went into the bathroom and locked the door. I waited outside to see if he was alright, to see if there had been an accident at the log-cutter, but when he didn't come out, I eventually got up and went to bed.
Through my bedroom wall, I could have sworn I heard the sound of my father sobbing.
I lie in bed for a while before Sweet Slumber visited me and mercifully took me off with her. With the pillow under my leg and my head on the mattress, I was grateful for the comfort of sleep.
That night, I dreamed about fire.