Kindle Edition- Free. From 12/2/17-12/2/17
by Matthew Tysz
Publisher Matthew Tysz
Kindle Edition- Free. From 12/2/17-12/2/17
After the world endures a slow apocalypse, an ambitious scientist discovers he has the power to doom humanity or save it. Unsure which path he wants to choose, he finds himself on the run from a greater evil who doesn't want him to make that decision.
He hated this, but he had no choice. His building needed it, and it was his turn.
'It could always be worse,' his elders liked to say. 'We're not in Chicago.'
In fact, it was probably the most thrown-about expression Morgan knew. People said it to remind themselves how fortunate they were.
We're not in Chicago.
No one on Morgan's street had ever been to that city, yet all seemed intimately familiar with the terrors of it. And these terrors got people through the day. As did stories of the Western Government, where there lived a terrible man called the Wizard of Seattle.
His mother would often recount a time when people told stories about a good city called Heaven, and how that was what used to get people through the day.
'Prayers have changed a lot,' she always said. 'But they're still about places no one's ever seen.'
There was a time Morgan's mother believed in a skylord named God who ruled the city of Heaven; now she doubted there was even a Chicago.
'All we have is here.'
Whether there truly was such a place as Heaven or Chicago, and whether they were as good or bad as legends told, it mattered nothing to Morgan today. He had to believe in something. He was scared. More than he ever was.
Today he had to go shopping.
The shadowpastors of Manhattan lived on Long Island, tilling and harvesting the fertile ashes of Queens. None were allowed east of the Cross Island Wall. The shadowpastors had to be contained: not too close but certainly not too far.
In return for the food, Manhattan bestowed a gift on their shadowpastors— the Long Island Market. The LIM. It sold none of what the farmers on Long Island produced and a small portion of what the factories did. The selection was supplemented by old world salvage, making it important to check the dates on perishables. Some of it was newly made, some of it was half-a-century expired.
So particular was Manhattan about the output of every farm that the landowners could only take enough for their own families. Everything else had to be sent immediately to the city. If inspectors caught a landowner giving an apple core away, or turning an unauthorized profit on a cornstalk, they would strip that man of his land and recall him to Manhattan to await his sentence. Depriving a city of its food was a crime against humanity. While this restricted landowners a great deal, it also gave them a great deal of power. They needed only point a finger and the worker they didn't like was gone. Usually forever. Morgan worked for a good landowner. People were either for better or worse as far as that went. But everyone had to go to the LIM eventually.
Morgan had often been told how lucky he and his neighbors were to live within walking distance of the LIM, that people farther east had to plan the trip days in advance. One day, when Morgan was twelve, he spoke back.
'If the Market's so great,' he had said, 'why are you so afraid of it?'
The man with whom he was speaking then lowered his head and walked away.
Morgan Veil was a good-looking man of twenty-six, a strong but humble way about him. Some of the people in his building said that would make shopping easier. His mother wasn't sure. She had him dress in dark clothes and gloves to blend in. It was said that the darkest thing about the LIM was its lights.
The closer to Manhattan, the more buildings stood untouched by the renovation that produced Manhattan's farms. Morgan held his hands in his pockets as he walked a street just over a mile from his home, weaving through the long-forgotten buildings.
"We're not in Chicago..." he kept muttering. "We're not in Chicago..." He held his hands in his pockets like weights were pulling them inside. "We're not in Chicago... We're not in Chicago... We're not in Chicago..."
The streets were always filthy, but they got filthier as he walked. Everything got darker: the buildings, the streets, the water that flowed into a sewer up ahead. And there was this smell— 'the everything smell,' as Morgan had heard it called. Everywhere smelled like something: farms smelled like dirt, houses smelled like food, the streets smelled like sewage. The LIM smelled like all of it and more.
Now and then, Morgan spotted a rat headed in the same direction as he.
Then he saw it. It sat between two rotten buildings and in not much better condition. But it was big. A wide slab of crumbling road covered in weeds spread before it. Morgan crossed. Others were crossing from different directions, from other filthy streets, from alleyways, wearing clothes picked from dusty shelves and washed in buckets of second-hand water. They looked even more afraid than Morgan was.
A vehicle approached the building as he came close. A big vehicle. All those who approached the market alongside Morgan stopped.
Two men came out of the vehicle, rifles on their backs, pistols on their hips. Then another man. Unarmed. He wore black pants and a blue long-sleeved shirt with a black tie. Clean-shaven. Sunglasses. Morgan's age.
He was an associate: a resident of Manhattan paid good money to keep the LIM in order. He looked out to the motionless, frightened band of filthy people. He straightened his name tag as two more armed men came out of the vehicle behind him. Then he turned and entered the building. The people outside proceeded behind him. Then Morgan.
The place was dark, but not as dark as he expected. He could see okay.
The few florescent lights that still worked were flickering in random spots across the ceiling of the store. There was more light coming in through the carelessly-patched holes in the roof, counters by the front door with lit numbers on them. Some were flickering. Associates with their blue shirts were standing at the counters, typing on computers as frightened shoppers passed through with their items. An old, discolored sign ran above the large front windows, overlapped by the dirt that covered every wall:
"THE ASSOCIATE AND YOU: FRIENDS FOR LIFE!"
Beyond the checkout lanes, shelves towered up and obscured the depths of the LIM in a maze of rusted metal.
Morgan looked around until he saw a sign that read "Courtesy." Below that sign was a counter, where there was another blue-shirted associate. Morgan reached into his pocket as he approached it. The money was still there.
The people of Long Island used real goods when trading amongst themselves, but the laborers were paid in money, and money was only good at the LIM.
As he drew closer to the courtesy counter, Morgan passed a woman holding a toddler close. She was having a quiet argument with a man.
"I don't have a choice," the woman was in tears. "There's no one to watch him."
Morgan reached deeper into his pocket as the counter came closer, pushing the money aside for something equally important: a piece of paper given to him by the state. Relieved it hadn't fallen out, he grabbed it and stood before the man at the counter.
Don't look at them! Morgan heard his mother's whip of a tongue crack inside his head. His eyes shot to the floor. He held the paper up, praying the associate would accept it. Nothing happened for a long time, his gaze fixed all the while on the chipped linoleum floor. Finally, he felt the paper slide from his hand. He sighed under his breath.
The associate reached under the counter and dropped a basket on the surface. Morgan was shopping for his whole building, so he had special privilege to carry one. Those shopping for themselves or single families could purchase no more than they could carry in their arms.
"Thank you, sir," Morgan recited as he had rehearsed, took the basket and retreated into the maze, head down. He began his search for good food. This wasn't the kind of shopping you needed a list for— it was the kind where you were ecstatic over anything you walked out alive with.
It wasn't crowded in the LIM. From what Morgan could see, everyone seemed to have their own place to search. A web of beams spread just beneath the ceiling, from which bits of rotten plywood fell regularly. The "everything smell" began to subside, dominated by the smell of something that must have been sitting around for a very long time. His work boots hit the tile with an echo as the aisles passed him by on either side. He almost tripped over a rusty can. The can rolled unevenly, hit the base of a shelf. A rat crawled out.
He searched carefully, as he had been taught. He stopped when he saw a sign that read "PHARMACY" with the C and the Y flickering. Having studied the old world, he knew what that word meant. It was still in service. The heavier stuff was usually sold out. Even over-the-counter cough medicine was a good idea to grab if you were lucky enough to find a bottle. Fortunately, no one in Morgan's building was ill. But somewhere, surely not a hike from this very place, somebody was. Somebody always was.
Morgan didn't want to think about it. He didn't handle anger well.
He kept his head down as he found the canned goods aisle. He only knew where he was because "CANS" was spray-painted in black across the dirty floor. There were hardly any cans there— and most of those were empty. The ones that were full had grime on them, but grime could be washed. The important thing was to make sure they were sealed. He picked up a can and checked it. It seemed okay. He put it in his basket.
He turned down the long aisle of empty containers and busted cans to a vicious scream. A woman was shoved. She took a rack of toothpaste with her to the floor. Two associates stood over her. A third was on the way.
"Maybe she has a permit for free tuna nobody told me about?" one of the associates asked the other.
"She doesn't seem to have it on her," the other replied. "Maybe we should speak to the manager."
The woman stumbled to her knees. Her emotional pleas sounded like a drawn-out squeal. "I just wanted to see if it would fit in my pocket when I went home..."
The closest associate struck her across the face with a closed fist. The associate last to arrive closed in on her. The others followed. "Let's find out if it fits."
The basket fell from Morgan's hand. He grabbed his head and chanted to himself, "We're not in Chicago, we're not in Chicago..." He held on tighter and chanted louder and faster, pushing the sounds out of his head. Something heavy fell. "We're not in Chicago we're not in Chicago we're not in Chicago we're not in Chicago..."
When he stopped, there was silence. When he looked up, the aisle was empty. Just an overturned rack and rusty shelves of empty cans.
It didn't take long for Morgan to finish his shopping, taking any full container he could find, perishable or not. He fit what he could into his basket and found the checkout lanes.
He made it to the counter. There was no line. The cashier was staring at him. He looked down.
Wait until you are instructed... his mother had warned.
"Let's go," the cashier tapped on the counter.
Morgan took the items out of the basket and stacked them on the counter as fast and as orderly as he could.
"So I can see them all," the cashier demanded.
Morgan spread the items out at once. The cashier looked at them for a moment. Then he turned on his stool, looked at his computer. Morgan watched as he typed.
"One-twenty," said the cashier.
Morgan handed him six twenty-dollar bills.
"Return your basket to the courtesy counter." The cashier stuffed the money into a drawer. "You'll then be permitted to place your purchases into your clothing." He slammed the drawer shut and looked coldly at Morgan. "Have a nice day."
"Thank you, sir."
Years ago, a man had told Morgan he was lucky.
His body trembled as he made his way home.
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