I wake up feeling like I’m on a cloud. The soft, clean blankets that engulf me are bathed in morning sunlight and for the first time in years, the first thing I do is smile. I stretch out my limbs and bury deeper into the blankets. Beneath them, it’s the perfect kind of warm, but my head and arms above them are basking in the clandestine sun rays. My head sinks into a feather soft pillow, so squishy that I hug it close to me and pull up my knees.
“I have never seen somebody smile in their sleep that much before,” Kezlin comments from beside me. I open one eye to see her propped on a couple pillows so she’s sitting upright and gazing out the huge, floor to ceiling window that makes up the entire wall, showcasing the end of the awe-striking sunrise.
“This is fantastic,” I say with a crack in my voice.
She reaches over and picks up a glass of water from her bedside, then hands it to me. I grateful glug it down, and sit up, transfixed on the sunrise. “So, what do you want to do today?”
“First, I’m going to take a piss,” I announce, tearing myself away from the heavenly warmth and onto the cold tile floor.
“Hey, take a shower while you’re at it!” she calls after me.
A shower? Is she saying that I smell? Well yeah, I probably reek. I haven’t taken a shower in months after all. Not since I went to that hotel to stay a night, then was gone before check-out. Hilarious. I walk into her crisply clean bathroom, painted with blues and purples, with little fish dancing across the walls. I open the lid of the toilet and relieve myself. As it flows, I notice that there isn’t a single makeup appliance on the sink, nor is there a cupboard where there could be one.
I find myself searching for anything that could be some sort of cosmetic appliance, but I find none. Wow. Then, as I examine myself in the mirror, I almost wish she did have some cosmetic appliances. My eyes and cheeks are sunken, like a zombie, dirt smudges still paint my face artistically, and my hair is so tangled that I can’t run my finger through it. I’m not wearing my jeans or the hoodie, but my stained, red checked boxers. I remember the day I bought them. I still lived with my parents.
“Mom, can I get these ones,” I had asked.
“Why? What’s wrong with the ones you have at home?”
“They were smalllllll. I want real boxers, like Brandin.”
“Ok honey but those are too big for you.”
“I’ll grow into them mom, I swear.”
“Alright, if you want them… it’s your underwear after all.”
I had never really grown into them. All my childhood I had expected to reach six foot, or at least near it, like Kaloaan, but here I am, not even five foot nine, and wearing oversized, dirty, red checked boxers.
I pull them off, and pad to the shower. I turn it on, adjust the temperature until it’s hot enough to make me tingle, but not burn me. I step in and relax. The pressure of the water massages my shoulders, and the warmth engulfs me. I rinse my mouth and let the water pour directly into my face, through my hair and down my back. Dirt swirls at my feet, and then down into the drain. My past. My mistakes. My flaws. I already left them behind. I don’t have to go back to them. I could wash them off like the dirt caked to my chest. I close my eyes and try my best to get the dirt out of my scalp. I then see a couple of shampoos, shower jells and body lotions. I consider masturbating, but then decide against it, taking a purple shower jell and dripping it over my chest. I use her sponge, hope she won’t mind, and scrub my past away from me. I scrub away my family. I scrub away the Swifters. I scrub away the doctors. I scrub away the police. I scrub until I’m crisply clean.
I turn back to the tap, and sharply switch it to cold. I fell my adrenaline surge and my heartrate quicken, then I turn it back to hot, relishing the feeling of the warmth pulling me back from the iciness. I turn off the towel, grab a soft pink towel and dry myself then reach down for my clothes, but they’re gone. I glance around, but they’re nowhere to be found. I wrap the towel around my waist and open the door. “Kezlin?”
“Don’t worry I took your clothes to wash,” she explains. She’s also wrapped in a pink towel. “Now come here I want you to try something.”
I pad over to her, standing next to her and facing the ocean before us. Only the last bits of the sun touch the horizon. Then she drops her towel, exposing her glory to the watery world.
“Come on, do the same.”
“The hell? Why?”
She pulls the towel from me and chucks it across the room. There I am, standing completely naked, next to Kezlin, who is also completely naked.
“Come on,” she takes my hand, and leads me through a door, up a staircase, out onto the flat roof of her apartment. The view only gets more stunning, but this time, it’s combined with the crisp, warm, morning air, and the smell of the sea wafting against us. “Isn’t it… liberating?” she asks. “To have the wind touching each part of you equally? To expose yourself as you are naturally with no consequence? To be naked, with somebody of the opposite sex, but in a completely natural, nonsexual way?”
At first, I’m uncomfortable, and find myself glancing at the other apartments. Never would I think that I, Kallix Rane, would be the self-conscious one. After a few moments, a learn that it’s truly therapeutic. You’re not anxious that somebody will see you. You’re not mischievous that your breaking the law. You’re not lustful that you’ll get to be touched. You’re just purely natural, a feeling that’s been lost with the industrialization of the modern world.
“When you look at it from here,” she breaths. “In the grand scheme of things, none of this jack shit matters. Right?”
I nod, slowly.
Not too long after, I shiver. She smiles at me. “Let’s go back inside. Getting cold.”
I’m not looking at her breasts, or her vagina. As she turns, I don’t look at her backside or her thighs. I merely follow her back to her room. I feel cleansed.
We get back into bed, as I wait for my clothes to finish in her dryer. It feels odd, but good to have my bare penis touch against the blanket. When they finish, I slip them on. Soft, pampered and clean. The boxers first, then my jeans. But there’s nothing else.
“Hey, Kelzin,” I call, without turning to her. “Where’s my hoodie?”
“Oh shit! I’m sorry, I forgot, it’s on the balcony.”
I nod and open the sliding door. It lies in a crumpled heap in the corner. I pick it up, but don’t put it on and walk back inside.
“Do you want some?” Kezlin asks.
I stop, dead in my tracks. Before me, Kezlin inserts a needle with a clear, gelatinous substance within it, into the inside of her elbow. Her eyelids flutter with pleasure. “I… I’ve got plenty around here, if you want some,” she says, her words turning slurred.
My heart starts to race.
“Hey, man, don’t worry. It’s cheaper over here on East Side,” she says with a grin, flopping backwards onto her bed.
“Uh huh, and why’s that,” I say, inching towards the door.
“Manufactured here. This is the homeland!” she shrieks.
I stop and cock my head. “Who is in charge of this? And where are they?”
“Oh that’s easy! It’s on Foragger road… Tweny second, I think…”
“And who is the leader? Who is in charge?”
“No’ody knows his name,” she slurs. “Bu’, we call him, Ravven.”
“B’cause he’s… ravvegous,” she continuous, sitting up.
“Nice time with you,” I tell her, slipping out her door. I fly down the stairs and out onto the road. Of course. She couldn’t have been that perfect.
As I run, I put on Rieka’s hoodie, her soft, candy smell is still prevalent over my musk. My past hasn’t left me. It clings to me like a spiderweb. But this Ravven bastard? I’m going to get rid of him. He’s the shit who ruined so many people. Who destroyed so many childhoods. Who wrecked so many friendships. Who shredded people’s lives from the roots, forcing them to fend for themselves on the streets when they were twelve. I don’t kill people, but this Ravven guy might just be special.
Twenty second Foragger road. This is my destination. A giant, warehouse sized building, covered in tarps and scaffoldings. I can scarcely make out the name and its slogan beneath. K and H, everything you need to build your dream home. The building is so big that it’s hard to imagine the police of East Side haven’t suspected it yet. From where I stand on the road before it, I can’t exactly see much of it. I would’ve gone on the opposite building’s roof like I did as Hubarickers, but there is none. I see no guards or doormen or even a door. Might as well try my luck.
I walk through the doorway and find myself in an abandoned waiting area, with bank teller like glassed off spaces. I clamber over one the glass barriers and into the cubicle. It’s got a monitor, tablet, a couple strewn about notebooks, pens, pencils, and an already looted cash drawer. This must’ve been where they took in orders and relayed it to the workers.
I push through a door at the end of the cubicle into something like a workers lounge. Coffee mugs, plastic cups and half-finished crosswords are strewn about, littering the ugly colored sofas. The people here must’ve left in a hurry. I see another, thickset, metal door in the corner, and move to it, but it’s locked.
A key card reader is implanted next to it. I look up to see if I can lift a ceiling panel up and move through the attic space, but it’s solid. Fortunately, it only takes about thirty minutes of rummaging through the cubicles before I find one. Back in the lounge, I’m about to swipe it, when I see the name written. Jereva Karactus. Kezlin’s brother. He must’ve been working here before Ravven came.
One swipe and the door clicks open. I push through and find myself in an utterly massive storage facility. Hundred upon thousands of boxes lay scattered across the vast space. Ten times as many are stacked in gargantuan shelves that rise fifty feet high. Dozens of moving vehicles are placed throughout the room. I move to the nearest box and tear it open. Is this all the Bansilin? Have they been hiding it in plane sight all this time?
I pull the carboard flap to the side, only to see a thick layer of packing peanuts. I delve my hand inside, and quickly piles of sealed plastic bags. I yank one out, but to my dismay, it’s filled with bolts.
Why did I think it would be a good idea to take advice from somebody higher than the clouds? Dumbass. A sharp sound, metal on metal, shrieks through the room for the briefest of moments. I spin around. A rat, scurries from across the floor and under the shelf. As I pop one of my pills, I notice a nearby lifting truck. My steps are quiet, but in here, they sound like thunder. My eye catches onto a bullet hole through the yellow metal of the vehicle. A fight? Must’ve been. A short one. I don’t see any others, nor is there any blood.
I spend the next half our walking through the aisles and tearing open boxes and looking for anything that might help me. Could just be an abandoned warehouse. It makes sense for it to be here, but it might be wrong. If there is any sort of factory, it’s upside down, like the one in West Side. But that gargantuan generator electrical thingy was no drug producing factory. That was something else. Something for another day.
After I’ve searched every nook and cranny for the tell tale pills, or sealed plastic bags of clear liquid, every wall for a hidden door, and every vehicle for a clue, I slump down against a giant tire and sigh.
“Damn. What a waist of a day. What a freaking waist.”
Ravven. Ravven is the bastard behind all of this. Ravven isn’t his real name, and he’s not called Ravven because he’s ravvegous. That’s not a word. Ravven. Ravven, Ravven, Ravven. Sounds like Raven. Ravens are birds. Birds that are often friends with wolves. Partnership. Symbiotic relationship. I like wolves. What do Ravens do? They hunt, they scout, they eat, they forage… Foragger road. Ravens forage. Ravven on Foragger road. This is definitely the right place.
I spring to my feet and begin to pace. What must sound like nonsensical muttering escapes my lips. “Foraging Raven. What’s the Foraging Raven? What do ravens like to forage? Food scraps? Bones? Stuff for their nests? This is the Foraging Raven’s nest. Makes sense. Doesn’t help me. If this is the foraging raven’s nest, then its stuff must be at the bottom. That’s where a raven keeps its eggs. At the bottom of the nest. Obviously. So, the stuff is at the bottom. But how do you get to the bottom? Well first you have to be on the nest. Then you just kind of step off that edge part and you’re at the bottom. Not very complex. But how do you get to the nest in the first place? Well, if you’re a raven, then you have to fly to the nest. If I’m not at the nest yet, that means I need to fly to it. If I were a raven, but I’m a human. For the most part. That means… I need to climb.”
My head snaps up to the ceiling. Construction beams crisscross, beneath the higher, metal roof. I scamper to a ladder raise it to the top shelf and commence my ascent. If jogging had a climbing equivalent, that’s what I would be doing right now. It doesn’t take me long to reach the top, but the ladder only reaches to top shelf. Not the top of the shelf. I spring up, grabbing the edge and hauling myself up. The height is daunting, but nothing compared to the skyscraper, or the train. The top has half an inch of dust, that blooms when I step on it making me erupt with coughing. I cover my nose and mouth with the hoodie and look around. Nothing. Flat shelf top. Fantastic.
My eyes scan the tops of the other shelves, when I see a plank of wood perched from the top of one shelf, propped precariously up to one of the metal support beams. I lie flat on my chest, reach my arm down over the edge and grab the upper rung of the ladder. I don’t think I’ve every achieved such a difficult feat of physical strength as lifting the end of the ladder up high enough for me to use the edge as an axis. I grip the rungs and pull, then release, letting the bottom of the ladder catch itself on the lowest shelf opposite to me. I pull, lift it up and drop it onto a higher shelf. I continue this process, of pushing the top of the ladder down, sliding it up, and releasing until the huge thing is caught on the second highest shelf, and then diagonally up over the edge, stretching high towards the roof. I pull it up one last time, allowing it to fall over the tops of the other shelves with a loud smack. I let myself flop onto my side, drenched in sweat despite the warehouse being undeniably chilly.
Wouldn’t it have just been easier to go down the ladder and go up the one where the wooden plank was? Dumb…ass. Pure dumb ass. Not fine ass. Not smart ass. Not even plane old ass. You’re a dumbass.
When my chest stops heaving, and the twitching in my biceps reduce, I grab the edges of the ladder and slide it across the tops of the shelves. I start crawling, slowly and precariously between shelves. It’s not difficult, it’s just slow. I’m just glad there’s no wind, or this would’ve been next to impossible. The rhythm envelopes me. Push, slide, crawl. Push, slide, crawl. Push slide crawl. Finally, I reach the right shelf, and teeter to the wooden plank. It isn’t fixed by anything, but rather just rests with one side against the metal beam, and the other on the top of the shelf. If I put any pressure, it will slide, I will fall, and I will die. Perfect.
I grab the end of the giant ladder again and haul it to the edge of the shelf I’m on, and move the plank so it’s somewhat snug against a ladder rung. That will give me some friction. It’s my weight against the weight of the ladder. I have one shot. A misstep, or not being quick enough means I turn into a bloody pancake on the bottom of an abandoned warehouse. Not how I want to die. Luckily, I’m Kallix Rane. I don’t misstep. And I am usually quick enough.
I place one foot, tentatively on the beam. One shot.
I move with lightning speed, stepping on and rocketing myself off with so much force that I hit the metal beam with my collarbone, but manage to wrap one arm around it. I’m dangling by the crook of my arm. Painfully. I swing my legs around so I’m clinging to the beam like a sloth when the wooden plank falls away and lands on the ground with an obnoxiously loud clatter for something its weight.
I haul myself up to the side of the beam and lie flat down. It’s barely as wide as me. For a moment, I wallow in the pain of my collarbone being smashed against the metal and the twitching of my right bicep for being overstrained. Then I’m on my feet, walking with my arms out like I’m on a tightrope. Probably isn’t leading anywhere. Probably shouldn’t have done all this bullshit based on my goldfish sense of deduction. Probably should stop moving as fast as I am.
As I near the end to the support beam, glinting in the shadows before me. There’s a small area, shrouded in darkness, past the wall but beneath the ceiling, where all the support beams end. I step onto it, and sure enough, hidden away in the corner, is a little… something. Not really sure what it is.
I walk to it, dust billowing up behind me to a little, metal box. The top is plastic, covered in a thick layer of dust. I swipe it away to see a set of dials and buttons beneath it. I lift the plastic case off as set it aside, taking in all the meaningless signs and colors. Too many buttons. Too many options. Then I see a large green one, with ENT written on it. Eel North Trucks. The hell is ENT? Maybe it’s not ENT, but ent. Ent like enter. Screw it.
I slam my thumb down on the button, and the ground beneath me starts to shudder. Behind me, the floor slides away to reveal a clean, dust free, steel staircase.
“Holy shit,” I mutter. Tentatively, I creep down the stairs. “Holy mother of goddy shit.”
Factory noises, hisses, clinks, revs and stuff echo into my ears. When I reach the bottom, there’s a long white blue hall. I pad down for half a minute or so until I reach a door. I open it, to see that I’m on the base of a catwalk, stretching over a giant conveyor belt, with different levels and machines working around it. Dozens of people, most of whom are armed with guns, man each and every station. I can see white powders, clear chunks, and dozens of other things moving along the conveyor. At the end, which is just beneath me, the little clear pills fall into plastic bags, which are sealed and transported out of the room. I found it. I freaking found it.