TerrierA Chapter by Domenic Luciani
the final character to enter the city.
September 14, 2010
Shadows danced about the walls as the children sat, crouched, in a dark silence.
There were men just outside the window, flashlights playing around in the dim light. It was day time, and though the beams were hardly noticeable outside, they slowly played through the darkness of the room with an eerie brightness and illuminated the specks of dust drifting through the air.
Terrier looked at the others, his dark eyes wide with fear. In total, there were six orphans living in the basement of the abandoned flat on Manhattan’s lower-east side. The men outside belonged to a famed group of child grabbers who had plagued the city for almost a decade now.
The shades were drawn, of course, but they were thin lace and the lights ran through them like spears.
Hope began to whimper and Terrier’s heart started in a panic. He held her shoulder with one hand and swiftly covered her mouth with the other. Thankfully, the men hadn’t caught the small noise and eventually the lights faded away. The six of them sat there for a while longer, wondering if it was a trick, and the men were simply waiting for them to crawl out from the darkness.
Terrier peaked out first, slowly standing up and propping himself up on his tip-toes, so that his small frame could reach the window. The curtains fluttered at his touch, and he only peered through a small portion of the glass, searching for the black boots of men.
Luckily, the dark shapes hadn’t lingered and Terrier gave the all clear signal: a snap and roll of a finger.
The other children cautiously moved through the small space and back into the living room.
The basement living room was cramped and cluttered with odd items of little value to anyone other than the orphans; disposable cameras that had been emptied of film, soda cans lying in dried puddles of stick, rugs tossed over the few pieces of furniture: the old, smelly couch and two equally reeking armchairs, a bicycle tire with a bent frame hanging from the ceiling, and a tiny portable television that only emitted static. In an isolated backroom, a cluster of generators provided power for the few remaining occupants of the building.
Terrier was fourteen at the time, and the other children were younger, still - all runaways from the orphanage upstate.
Hope, a twelve year-old girl with long blonde hair, sat cross-legged on one of the decrepit armchairs, fiddling with one of the cameras and pretending to take a snapshot of Rag and Luna, boy-and-girl twins who constantly held each other’s hand, as if one of them would be blown away by the wind if the other let go. Barney, the youngest at seven, began tuning one of the knobs on the television, as he did every day, possibly in the hope of finding an alien signal, or so he told the others. Harper, a fourteen year old, as well, was the only one of the group who could cook at all. He stood at the stove and began to boil water for spaghetti noodles.
The grabbers were a relatively common occurrence, and came by almost on a set schedule once a month. There was nothing from the children those haunting men would want, other than the children themselves.
To any one of the ‘normal’ people who walked up and down fifth avenue during the day, the orphans seemed like regular children, headed somewhere in particular because ‘kids always had free time on their hands. However, in the time it took for this thought to pass through the synapses in the brain, that particular individual would no longer have a wallet, keys, change; something that most likely wouldn’t be discovered until the children had spent the money and vanished back to their hideout later that day.
There was no shortage of parentless children in the city, and by extension, no shortage of abandoned buildings for them to hide in. In some places, an entire block would be covered in rusted scaffolding and translucent tarp that billowed eerily in the wind.
In the darkness of the hideout, Terrier and the others survived off stealing, a life which proved much less adventurous than previously thought. After they had left behind the orphanage, they were taken in by an elderly couple who had done the same for a number of street children, most ragged with dead or abandoned family. Any sensible man would have turned them all away without as much as a flick of the wrist. But the couple was both Holocaust survivors, and so felt a passion for those chased away and with nowhere to go. During the day, they were treated to meals they didn’t deserve, and by night, they stole away with the older kids to learn the trade of survival in an otherwise corrupt world.
Eventually, though, the man had passed away, and the woman, stricken with grief, soon followed. Out on the street once again, the six had made their way through the enormous silver and black skyscrapers to find the rundown, sullen building they would soon call home.
Once there, they scribbled down their names on a soiled piece of paper, then cast it into a fire in a childish ritual. They donned new names like masks and became nuisances to the public; the ones people picture when they think of pickpockets. However, the transformation made them, in their minds, superheroes, like the ones in comic books. It was a new life for them, in a sense.
The initial few months of excitement had passed. Now they ventured outside only in the daytime, when crowds were thick and grabbers few. When at the hideout, they were forced to take up mind-numbing hobbies in order to stay sane.
Now, the sky beyond the un-insolated brick walls was a miserable grey as fall cautiously approached the fine white edges of winter. The children wore thick clothing, or rather as thick clothing as they could afford on the money they pooled together.
Once the children were certain the grabbers had moved on to another block, they left and headed toward Central Park.
In the streets, people crowded the sidewalks and cars of every shape and make were packed into roads in tight grids. Exhaust could be seen rising from the rusted pipes in miniscule white wisps. Couples held onto each other’s arms with tight grips. Many wore recently purchased coats, black wool or shiny leather. The children couldn’t help but be jealous when they looked down at their own clothing; worn paper-thin, with holes and loose stitching, the colors faded to ghosts of their original hue.
In the park, the grey of the sky had seemingly seeped into the air, rendering everything but the orange and red leaves of the trees, pallor and dull. The skyscrapers were bleached white in the daylight and shadows stretched through the vision made monochromatic. Down here, beneath the towers, Terrier had always felt so small, or at least, smaller
Hope immediately latched onto Terrier as he began to wander the park, carefully analyzing everyone within its fifty-five acre boundaries. There were people who stood around, looking at the trees; joggers running through, wearing sweats; businessmen who sat on benches, holding newspapers and sipping delicately from plastic coffee cups. And then there were the others; people who were just passing by.
Photographers never had much money, businessmen always held on tight to their wallets, and joggers were simply too difficult to consider, but there were plenty other unsuspecting people to turn to.
Harper had always been the worst at pick pocketing out of the six, but charming Barney made up for that flaw by being irresistibly adorable to the sympathetic. They turned out their pockets at the mere sight of him, clasping his hands together and quivering his lip slightly.
The trick to pick pocketing was figuring out where the money actually was. If you accidentally delved into the wrong pocket, there would be nothing to run away with, and the endeavor would be useless. It was a one-shot-one-kill scenario, because people weren’t often kind when they find and orphan’s hand stuffed into their pocket.
The first one, a large woman who looked out past wire-rimmed glasses with beady eyes, was tossing feed at the frost-covered grass. A pigeon dropped out of the sky and landed on it, took a quick nibble, then fluttered off.
Terrier couldn’t help the hungry look in his eye. He pulled Hope along towards the woman, trying to be as silent as possible without slowing down or making their approach look to direct. The woman was looking away, distracted by another pigeon that fluttered towards the patch of seed.
It happened so quickly that even if the woman or anyone else had been looking, they wouldn’t have been able to see it. Terrier’s arm, like a trained viper, had shot into her purse and come back full of a clasped coin purse covered in those plastic red jewels.
It was replaced empty.
Twenty minutes later, six children gathered near the Azalea Pond. They placed all the results of their collective efforts into Terrier’s hand. The movement of his fingers as he flicked through the bills reflected off the pond’s icy black water.
We’ll have enough to replace some of them blankets when we done with food, Terrier said, stuffing the most of the roll into the folds of his Yankees windbreaker. The rest he handed to the children.
Rag and Luna accepted their money graciously and left. Harper took his as well, grabbed Barney by the hand, and receded from the area, always the careful one; he made sure nobody was strolling along the path just beyond.
Hope shoved her money into the pockets of her jeans and jumped back onto Terrier’s arm, pulling him through the park and back into the enormous pulsing movement of the streets.
Terrier’s cheeks had already begun to sting from the cold when Hope pulled him up to a shop window. Beyond the glass, jewelry glowed under golden lights. Diamond necklaces sat on red velvet and rings were arranged according to gem size and color. This was Hope’s process. Even though she knew they couldn’t afford anything beyond the border of the shop window, it must’ve given her some sort of comfort to at least see the things.
Her hands slid across the glass as her hungry eyes moved onto the next row. Terrier noticed the clerk inside the store look over, peering at them with curiosity. He quickly grabbed Hope’s arm and pulled her away, much to her disappointment.
They were eating at a burger joint out near the oddly shaped Guggenheim museum when something caught Terrier’s eye: a van. Normally, a van isn’t exactly an omen, but to an orphan pickpocket, a white, windowless van was like a police car to an escaped convict. Grabbers didn’t usually waltz into populated areas, especially in the day time. But a windowless van was a windowless van.
Terrier tapped Hope on the shoulder, putting down his burger and sitting up off his knees. Hope turned around and matched his stare. She saw it and looked back at him; tense, eyes wide, but otherwise calm. They finished their burgers quickly and stood up.
At the trash cans near the door, they paused. The van was still there, motionless. The driver’s seat was empty and people walked by it without giving it a second glance. Still, though.
Terrier and Hope exited the burger joint and moved swiftly down the street. In the brief moment they passed opposite the van, time seemed to slow down, the cold air burned his throat more than usual, and people seemed to disappear from the block until it was just them and it. Terrier found himself trying to silence his steps as if it were a sleeping giant he couldn’t awaken.
The entire journey back to the hideout, Terrier stole glances over his shoulder. Hope walked with her back straight and her arms locked in a death grip around his. They purposely took looping paths and small alleyways. As far as Terrier could tell though, the van hadn’t followed them.
They never took the subways, and avoided areas that could lead to dead ends. The children preferred crowds, but the subways were too crowded. They could be snatched away in the opaque throng of movement without so much as a curious glance their way.
Just in case, when they at last reached the hideout; passing through the tarp, into the stairwell and down to the basement and the last door at the end of the hallway, Terrier made sure all the lights were dimmed and the generators ran on their lowest setting.
Outside, the sky had grown quite dark - dark enough that the children could hardly see in the room. Terrier refused to turn the lights on. If anything happened, he didn’t want it blamed on something so foolish.
Harper was already beginning to shovel out heaps of spaghetti onto cracked porcelain plates. They hadn’t had the money for cheese, but there was enough sauce.
The six ate in the dark, hopelessly trying to hush the slurping sound they all made. Terrier kept a weathered eye on the window, in which dark, fleeting silhouettes could be made out as people passed by. His heart pounded at the thought of one those silhouettes stopping just before the window.
They finished and stashed the plates in a sink full of murky soap water. Outside, streetlamps began to emit their dull glow, giving light to the more questionable crowds that wandered their streets at night.
In their small room, the children did their best to fall asleep, but it was difficult. The blankets were itchy and smelled unexplainably terrible. Without them, though, the children shivered in the cold.
Terrier woke up during the early hours of the morning to a group of teenagers laughing raucously just outside apartment. He rubbed his eyes; mashing his palms into them and looking towards the source. The light was still dark. Outside the window, the streetlamps had just turned off as weak morning sunlight illuminated the sky, broken up by the canopy of enormous spires.
He removed himself from his curled position on the Laz-e boy armchair. With every movement he made, something cracked. He lowered his arms from their pretzel-like shape above his head and nearly fell over as his vision went fuzzy with lightheadedness. He pulled the edges of his windbreaker closer, gazing through the morning stillness at the other children who remained still and content in sleep. Hope sighed and nuzzled her head against the arm of the couch.
Up the stairs, past a spider web of scaffolding, on the next floor, there was a port-a-potty. One of the few maintenance jobs the children had in the apartments was cleaning the enormous blue compartment of waste. Terrier sat down on the filthy seat and relieved himself as quietly as he could while listening to the sounds of the city as the steel monster itself awoke.
He cleaned out the potty, removing the compartment underneath and pouring the foul-smelling mass of feces over the edge of a hole in the wall. Terrier replaced the compartment and looked towards the sky. It was grey, almost like ash had settled over everything. Soon, he though, soon it would snow. Winter had always been his favorite season, even if it was the hardest to bear. He loved how dark everything became, how monochromatic the city looked during the day. It made him want to cry, and for some explainable reason, he enjoyed the feeling of being sad.
His thoughts were interrupted by a strange sound; like a scream muffled by a hand. His body reacted seemingly before he himself did. He raced down the stairs, nearly stumbling on the dusty concrete. He had the feeling again: the one he had had when he walked by the van the first time; that terrible, uneasy feeling that someone was close by, someone who wished him harm. At the time, his heart had begun to race without him fully understanding why, but this time he had a reason to be afraid.
At the bottom of the landing, he collided with a man who obviously wasn’t expecting it. The two toppled into the street in a mess of asphalt and bruises. Terrier was the first to recover, having had the man to soften the impact. There were four others there, surrounding a white van " the same one from yesterday. The man beneath Terrier began to shake himself back to consciousness. He wore a thick sweater and gloves with black jeans. His hair was pulled into a tight ponytail. In his pocket, a switchblade gleamed. Terrier took it, but before he could draw out the blade, he was grabbed from behind and lifted into the air. His arms clenched to his sides, Terrier could only articulate his hand just enough to shove the knife into his pants pocket.
The man holding him grunted in effort as he carried a struggling Terrier towards the rear of the van. He was thrust into the side of the car, tasting blood in his mouth as his tooth scraped the inner wall of his cheek. Something was bound around his thin wrists; something plastic, and tightened until he could hardly feel his hands. He was then tossed carelessly into the back of the van, glimpsing only a few frightened faces before hitting his head on something hard. His vision went dark.
The rocking of a van in motion had not yet ceased when Terrier first became aware of his surroundings. Hope leaned over him, a golden spindle of hair dangling over his chest. He tried to sit up, but it was difficult with bound hands. Everything was dark. Only a single ray of light emerged through the blackness from a faded patch in the paint that covered the windows.
They got us, Rag said hopelessly in the corner. Luna was sobbing into his shoulder, her head a mass of black curls. Barney sat next to Harper with a vacant look on his face. The older boy seemed the calmest out of them, eyes darting around for anything to use as means of escape.
Head clearing quickly, Terrier began the same process, recounting the events that had lead up to that subconsciously and recalling the switchblade he had swiped from one of the grabbers. He pulled his arms around his legs and dug in his pants pocket, frightened that the blade would not be there.
His hands came upon frigid metal at last and he pulled out the blade. The plastic that bound Terrier’s hands was so tight he could not cut them himself. He passed it to Hope with instructions to cut him free. She immediately began to saw through them.
It took ten minutes, but at last they were free. There was another window towards the front of the compartment, also blacked out. There was nothing else to do. If they could not stop the van, then they would be sent off to wherever it was children ended up when the grabbers took them " a dark place, most likely. Terrier thought of slavery, or a psychopath’s plaything. They could probably work the back door, but where could they go from there? They would certainly be killed if they dove out of a moving van.
Terrier bunched cloth around his elbow and attempted to bash at the window, with no luck. He tried again, but the window held fast. He allowed Harper to try, and Rag after him, but the window was beyond their strengths. They sat down with bruised elbows and an even worse sense of hopelessness. Maybe they could do something when they reached their destination, come out swinging and take the grabbers by surprise. But they weren’t fighters, or anything of the sort. No, they would be rounded up again just as quickly as before. Terrier sagged a little lower against the vibrating wall at the thought.
The van jostled around and bounced easily, sending the children airborne a few inches every time the vehicle hit a pothole. Then there was a steady incline as they turned onto a bridge. The grabbers didn’t seem to be going particularly fast, as if they were in no rush whatsoever to get their cargo to its wayward destination.
Terrier would never learn this, but if the van had been going even a single MPH faster or slower, his life would have been radically different. As it were though, the white van happened to be at the exact wrong place at the wrong time, or rather, in Terrier’s case, the right place at the right time.
An explosion occurred. The children couldn’t see it, but the van jumped nearly ten feet into the air. Terrier felt vertigo as his body left contact with all walls and hovered in midair for a split second. They landed right side up, but the driver apparently was in shock; his foot remained on the pedal. Offset by the explosion, the van rammed through the low concrete wall and then the steel fence, sailing off the side of the bridge.
There was a moment like no other, in which Terrier could feel nothing but absolute terror. He remembered having dreams like this, of falling in a space with no bottom. He would wake covered in cold sweat, and over time, high places began to frighten him.
Have you ever done something for five seconds, and thought of how unremarkable an amount of time it is? Well have you ever been in a freefall for five seconds? Because that is another matter entirely. Terrier’s heart seemed to stop in that time, in fact time itself seemed to stop, and he remembered thinking of everything, of everyone. He hadn’t believed in the notion of one’s life flashing before their eyes, but became a believer in that five second span. The other children’s faces seemed frozen with inaudible screams.
And then it all ended as quickly as it had begun. A tremendous CRASH as the van collided with water. It didn’t take long for the beaten vehicle to sputter water into its insides, still full of people. Now, the front end began to sink and the children were forced to bang the doors above their heads and yell cries that would reach no ears.
Terrier jammed the knife into the lock, twisting and shredding the weakened metal with the razor sharp blade.
The river was freezing, and the screams of terror shifted to coughs and splutters of icy water. Before Terrier could open the door, Hope began to drift below. She couldn’t swim; in fact, Rag, Luna, and Terrier were the only ones who could swim. Barney clung to Harper, who was having enough trouble treading the black water as it was.
The doors were opened, just as the final edges of white disappeared below the surface. Rag took Harper and Luna Barney. The four vanished through the open doors, while Terrier went back under to find Hope.
The girl drifted lifelessly in the bottom of the compartment, the meager traces of light that pierced through the dark water illuminated the paleness of her face. Her hands floated eerily in front of her as if to embrace someone.
Terrier quickly emerged into the small bubble of air that still remained in the compartment, taking in a deep breath and returning to her. He took her around the waist and began to swim toward the light. He made it past the doors, but the van had sunk incredibly fast and was picking up speed. Dark figures could be seen far above them, one getting closer. Rag had returned to help, but Terrier feared he wouldn’t reach them in time. The sinking van was pulling him down with it, making swimming nearly impossible. For every inch he gained, he was dragged down a foot. His thick clothing made it even harder, but he didn’t have time to even consider removing the garments which weighed him down further.
In a last ditch effort, Terrier shoved Hope upwards, sending her body floating painfully slowly upwards towards Rag who took her in his arms and returned to the surface.
He was running out of air " running out of life. His arms were numb from cold and burning from exertion at the same time. He could barely move, even if he wanted to. In what he pictured to be his last moments, he remembered the taste of the water " a bit like the sewer water he had dumped over the edge of the building not too long ago. And the crushing feeling like a giant had grabbed hold of his torso and squeezed hard. His ears popped, and at last, he ran out of breath.
“But he didn’t die, did he?” the gentleman asked.
“No, no, of course not. I am, however, disheartened to tell you that I don’t quite know what his experience was like, when he passed from his world to ours.” He said, wondering what it would have been like. He imagined the van would have burst out of the sea like the underwater explosion of a torpedo.
“So what did happen to the lad?”
“He washed ashore on some island off the coast of the City of Smells. But that’s enough about that for now.” He looked around the restaurant. Rubbing a hand along his unkempt face and waving the waitress over with the other.
“Could I please have the check, Madame?” He said with a courteous smile.
The woman nodded and walked back through the kitchen doors, where he caught the fragment of a muffled argument between two chefs in the intervals in which the doors swung open.
“I don’t mean to be pushy, but I’m becoming rather desperate to hear this story. I hope this does not signal the end of it, after all, you said it was just beginning -”
“Indeed I did,” He said, accepting the bill from the waitress with a thankful nod. “This is not the end, don’t fret. I’ve merely gotten tired of this scenery. I should think it’s about time for a stroll. I need to stretch my legs, after all.”
He began to pull out a wallet from the folds of his jacket, but the gentleman stopped him, as he had expected. “Please,” the gentleman said, “let me take this.”
“If you must.”
Turns out, he got something out of this adventure after all: a free meal, he thought with a smile.
The check was paid, the waitress bowed courteously, and the men left. Outside, the rain had stopped falling, and some sort of moon could be seen glowing behind the perpetual cloud of darkness, illuminating the infinite spots of water that covered the cobblestones of the streets. The gentleman noted his strange way of walking, as if he were a mechanical man with rusted joints. He didn’t carry a cane, and the gentleman would have suggested one, if he had not figured him to be too proud for such things. Instead, he remained quiet on the subject.
They had walked a long way through the City of Sounds before he finally spoke to the gentleman. “I do believe it is time to check up on an old friend of ours: Fox, if you can remember.”
“How could I forget? The boy who grew up in . . . England, was it?”
“Good, good, you remember,” he said cheerfully. “Are you ready to hear the next part of his story?”
“I would answer yes even if I wasn’t.”
“Very well. This part will vary greatly from the first, because, of course, it takes place entirely in our own world, as will the rest of the story. You'd better hold fast.”
And so they went.
© 2010 Domenic Luciani
Added on September 5, 2010
Last Updated on September 6, 2010
The City of Senses
AboutThat is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if.. more..