Today is just an ordinary day for me.
I wake up on the cold hay floor of the rundown windmill I’ve been using as this month’s makeshift home. The sun still isn’t in the sky yet, but the calmness that hangs in the air tells me it will be soon.
It’s days like today that keep me going.
Sure, I’ve gotta work at Cheapskate Chad’s today, and the walk is far from convenient, since the windmill sits right between the Industrial and Housing districts, but at least on the way I’ll get to hear the birds chirping and feel the dew on my hands as I run them through the morning grass.
Spring, for me, is fresh. It’s the cold bottle of water you pull out of your cooler while walking the hilly countryside. It’s soaking in the sun after spending your eight-hour workday illuminated by harsh industrial bulbs. It’s watching the innocence of a house finch bounce around on the cobbled streets, searching for worms in between the cracks.
Those are pretty good descriptions. Maybe poetry is in my future.
I’d need to stop working at Chad’s first, though.
Unfortunately, this is not spring. This is fall. And this day in particular is the anniversary of the end of my life. Or I’m pretty sure it is, considering I don’t have a calendar readily accessible. Fall is everything spring isn’t. Hopeless, brutal, heartbreaking.
I thought I’d feel more on the anniversary. More sad or angry, that is. But I don’t. Not yet, at least.
My trip to the scrapyard from the windmill is roughly forty-five minutes, which means the sun won’t have even started painting its spherical canvas a rumbling orange by the time I clock in.
The birds, like every other respectable creature, are still asleep right now. I’ll just have to listen to them while sorting my bins today. I’m sure today’s song will be as beautiful as yesterday’s. I’m counting on it.
I jolt awake. Someone in front of me touches their foot to my leg. I gag a bit, bend my leg a little further so I’m out of range, and my heavy eyelids close shut again.
“Good morning, Luna,” Cheapskate Chad says, marking me as present on his timesheet.
“Yeah, we’ll see about that.”
“Oh, please. You love working here. Why else would you walk forty-five minutes across Carmsborough?”
“Probably because nobody else will hire an underage homeless black girl. You’re the only one with standards low enough.”
“Oh, please. I’m blushing. Go get to work, Luna.”
I begin my day at basin thirteen, per usual. I don’t understand how Carmsborough comes up with all this metal and scrap, but there hasn’t been a single day where we’ve even gotten low on truckloads to sort. Half of the iron dumped into the basin rusts before it even makes it into one of the sorted bins.
In my first hour, I wheel off four bins full of plastic or metal. After wheeling off my fifth bin, however, I return to find my pile even bigger.
“What’s the big idea?” I yell, looking at the truck driver who just dumped into my basin. Half of the material doesn’t even belong in my tin. It’s just a bunch of electronics that don’t match the plastic or metal that I normally sort through.
“What’s happening here?” Cheapskate Chad asks, making his way to my basin.
“This numbskull just dumped electronics into my basin! I’ll be working for days to get this stuff out!”
“Hey, Jeremy!” Chad yells to the driver. “What the hell are you doing? You’re gunking the system!”
“Sorry, boss,” Jeremy shouts from his vehicle. “I got confused about which one to put it in.”
“You’re gonna be even more confused when that comes from your paycheck, kid!” He turns to me and says, “I’ll give you double for the next couple days while you clean this and wheel it to eleven. Try not to stab yourself on any wires. I can’t afford more first aid kits until the thirtieth.”
Apparently, I need the wrong stuff dumped into my bin more often. I’ll take a mishap like this any day if it means I can afford food for once. I wheel an unused bin over from the front of Chad’s office and start loading some of the stuff. None of it seems very valuable, which is a bummer, considering how easy it would be to make off with it. Honesty is such a chore.
Someone in the room yells, startling us all awake. A wave of cramped shuffling ensues as everyone searches for a more comfortable position on the hard floor.
“Shut up, Lanny,” I hear. “Nobody wants your ramblings this early in the morning.”
“They’re coming for us. They’re coming for us. All life in London will end. And then the monster will kill us all.”
“Are you really on that stupid crap again, Terry? Go to bed.”
With less than an hour left before the end of the day, I’ve already removed a sizable chunk of the electronic mess that blessed me this morning. Besides four or five loose batteries that may or may not still have some juice left, the only thing that’s jumped out at me is a perfectly intact rotary phone. I don’t have any calls to make, but maybe Shady Shane knows someone who does.
Still, an entire phone would be hard to carry off without being noticed. That one’s probably not gonna happen.
I reluctantly pick it up and put it in the bin. Then, right as I move to wheel it away to basin eleven, the sound of rustling metal erupts from my pile. Am I witnessing an electronic avalanche?
The clattering and scraping continues, but I don’t see anything moving. I walk the perimeter of the basin, trying to locate the source, and find the spot where the noise is the loudest. With thick gloves that I use for grabbing metal, I dig into the electronics pile, hoping to discover whatever’s moving things around.
And then, a head appears.
A robotic cat head.
“Oh my God, what are you?”
I help dig it out the rest of the way, and it springs to the top.
It really is a mechanical cat.
“What were you doing in this mess, big guy?”
“Now what’s happening, Luna?” Cheapskate Chad walks this way again, somehow sounding more exhausted than the first time.
“I found this cat here in the electronic pile. It’s still fully functioning and everything.”
“Well, I’ll be darned. I wonder how a steambot ended up going for reclamation.”
“You think maybe he’s defective?”
“Meow.” The cat gives me a look.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it. You’re definitely not defective. Seem fine to me.”
“Fine enough to be resold instead of scrapped, I’d say,” Chad says, approaching the cat. The cat backs away, clearly not in favor of being sold or scrapped.
“Actually, you think I could keep it instead?”
“Are you kidding me, kid?”
“I mean, no. I’d be willing to give up my new bonus, and maybe a week or two worth of pay for it. Unless, of course, you want me to call the government and let them know you have a thirteen-year-old girl working for you under dangerous conditions for ten hours a day.”
Chad weighs the thought, but I’ve obviously won the discussion.
“Alright, fine. This week’s pay, including the bonus. But the next time you find something like this, it’s getting resold without debate.”
“You’re the best, Chad. Here’s a rotary phone for your hard work.” I grab the phone and toss it at him, but he just lets it fall to the ground and break. Guess he’s not a true purveyor of worth.
A buzzer sounds across the scrapyard, signaling the end of the workday.
“Come here, robot kitty-cat. It’s time to head to your new home with me.”
It’s hesitant at first, but eventually slinks up to me. It even rubs against my legs.
“Let’s go, friend. I’ve got to go hunt for dinner in the Commerce District for a moment, and then we’ll swing our way over to my windmill home in the west.”
As I plot our path through the city, the robotic cat trails behind me by only a few feet at most. It stops for oncoming traffic when I do, and rushes ahead when I speed up to cross a road. This thing’s already completely loyal to me, even though all I did was dig it out of a pile of scraps.
Too bad it’ll feel betrayed when I take it to Shady Shane in return for a massive chunk of change.
Like the dozens of other trips I’ve made to visit Shady Shane, I stop to look at the countless cloudships lining the commerce docks. The cat stops with me, as if doing the same. He’s making it really hard to hate him, that’s for sure.
It. It’s making it really hard to hate it. I literally can’t afford to get attached right now. I have a dream to achieve, and he’s gonna make it a reality.
“I wonder if my good friend Shane is in the neighborhood today. I’m sure he’d love to see you. He’s probably never met a steambot before, either.”
I can’t believe I’m trying to play my actions off to a cat.
The two of us walk to Shady Shane’s usual spot, but his bench is empty, and he’s not lingering nearby.
“Hey, Shane, are you around?”
I go to check in a nearby courtyard, which is disturbingly quiet for this time of day. Where could he be off to?
A low, metallic growl kicks up to my right. I look down and see the cat hunched over, as if ready to attack something in the courtyard.
“Hey, kid,” a voice says, appearing from the direction the cat’s facing. “Searching for someone?”
“Yeah,” I answer, suspicious. “You wouldn’t happen to know where Shane is, would you?”
“Nah, I’ve never heard of a Shane,” another voice says, on the opposite side of the courtyard. “But we do know about some defenseless girl and her cat standing in our courtyard.”
“I’m beginning to think I’m looking in the wrong place. We’re very sorry for intruding in your courtyard, sirs, and will be leaving. Thank you for your help.” I start to scoot out of the courtyard, never losing focus on either of the two hostile men. The cat, on the other hand, doesn’t move an inch.
“I don’t think so, girl. Come here, let’s stay awhile.”
“Not to be rude, but you two are acting exactly like a stereotypical pervert, so I’ll have to pass. Surely you understand.”
“No. We don’t.”
The two men rush forward and chase me to the courtyard entrance. I run onto the street, my heart beating hard. My feet take me all the way to the end of the block, where I stop to breathe and see how far behind they are. Back at the courtyard, the cat is pouncing at and pummeling the two men, throwing them up against walls and on the ground.
He’s… defending me.
I return just in time for him to send the second man to the concrete again. Neither decide to get up this time.
“You are one feisty thing,” I say, crouching to pet him. Petting a mechanical cat is the most natural unnatural thing I’ve ever done.
“You’re telling me. These guys didn’t stand a chance.”
“Let’s we see what we can scavenge real quick for dinner, and then we’ll head home. Do you eat anything?”
“Yeah, that was kind of a stupid question.”
I offer to pick him up, and he accepts. I hold him like a baby over my arm for a second, until he climbs onto my shoulders and curls around my neck. The tick of his mechanical heart resonates through my body.
“What on earth am I going to call you?”
He looks at me blankly. “Meow.”
“Well, I can’t just call you ‘cat.’ Maybe Cali? No, that’s too basic. Butterscotch?”
“No, you’re right. You’re more aggressive than a Butterscotch, anyway. What about… Freckles?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty good at names. Freckles it is, then.”
I walk to my windmill house with Freckles clinging firmly to my shoulders. Something tells me this four-legged machine is going to be worth more to me than a chunk of change.
That night, I cried more than I had in a long time. The anniversary, compounded with my new friend, finally took its toll.
“Wake up, dear,” I hear, startling me awake for the third time tonight. An older lady is hovering above me and staring into my eyes. “It is six o’clock. You do not want to make the supervisor upset.”
“What? Yeah, I’m awake.”
I wipe small tears from my eyes. I miss my cat already.
- United States
- Michael Heckman
Michael has always had a love for writing that stems from writing a short story about turtles on his family computer in second grade. From there, he never stopped writing, and wrote his first ten-thousand-word book in the third grade, igniting his passion for storytelling.
Now, the only thing stopping Michael from writing more is his schedule. Ideas like LUNA ON THE RUN and THE GHOST OF THE HINDENBURG keep him up at night, plotting his creative path forward.