Chapter 1: One Fine Morning

The Eleventh Day of the Frost Moon, 10-297

 

Coby awoke to another day, not satisfied with his quality of sleep but not unsatisfied, either. He was convinced that the mattress on the floor that he slept on was older than he was but it managed to do its job for the most part. The six-foot-tall, red-headed man struggled to stand up but this was only because it was the morning and he hadn’t had his coffee yet. He had years of training that made it so that he had no trouble transitioning from squatting to standing and when he did this, his knees never made that tree-like creaking that people don’t want to admit happens as early as their twenties. However, the floorboard beneath him creaked, attesting to the number of times he had stepped there. He only lived on the second floor of his apartment, which meant that he could hear the voices of people outside who had to wake up early. After having a nice stretch, he put on his pants and shirt.

After the ritualistic morning trip to the bathroom, he passed by the room filled to the brim with books, a truly rare sight for a building in a neighborhood such as this one. They piled in towers of mixed knowledge, giving information on everything from animals to plants to math to studies on the human condition, as well as the condition of other races. Few, if any, of the books had a terribly thick layer of dust on them since they were read often and therefore, loved often. Nobody else laid claim to that room, so it was the domain of the information, at least the kind that Coby could access.

For breakfast, he ate two slices of toast: one with nut butter and one with grape jelly. The grape jelly tasted sickeningly sweet. If his knowledge of the Sardon food industry was correct, it was from the added sugar to make up for the poor-quality grapes. Whatever. He needed to eat and if he could afford it, he ate it. He assumed that there was a similar story behind the nut butter but, again, he didn’t care… or maybe he did a little.

 

It was always difficult to convince himself to stop thinking about unimportant things like the origins of his breakfast. It was the crack of dawn and he had to get to his job.

 

 

As Cobalt stood outside of the Waste Distribution Center, he admitted to himself that this was one of the few times in his life when he wasn’t embarrassed to wear a one-piece suit, especially since the one in mind was shielding his clothes from stains and bacteria. The sun (and, as far as Coby knew, that fiery ball in the sky was only known as the sun) shone on the lot where a fleet of garbage trucks were ready to roll out and collect the refuse on the street. As Coby hopped into truck C-72, he had the same thoughts as he did every morning: “I may not be able to do much for the conditions of the people around me, but the least I can do is make the neighborhoods a bit more beautiful.”

As usual, he sat in the driver’s seat next to the burly and exhausted Basalt, who wanted little conversation as he did his job.

“Good morning, Basalt,” said Coby.

“Good morning, Coby,” said Basalt as he buckled in, “Last day, huh?”

“Yep. On to bigger and better things.”

“What’s better than dealing with people’s crap?”

Coby figured that this man hid a double meaning in this question since they were sometimes as likely to deal with angry people who didn’t put their trash out in time as they were to deal with their trash.

 

 

As they drove through the neighborhood of Crater City, they saw the sights. It was like taking the same glitzy bus tour of a certain area for days on end except in silence: the stone apartment buildings were standing strong but the houses and apartment buildings made of wood were buckling under dilapidation. What little plant life surrounded the area tried to reclaim its right to grow by taking advantage of the cracks in the sidewalk and roads. The gargoyles, who had been active and hunting the night before, resumed their stance on the tops of buildings and became petrified until the next night. Most of them sat looking out at the city in the same places they usually were, taking care to make time to get there before the sun rose. However, one gargoyle managed to become petrified on the sidewalk, frozen as he was carrying a pigeon carcass. The bloody and broken pigeon body was still hanging out of the gargoyle’s mouth and the gargoyle had left a trail of blood and feathers from where he pounced on the bird. Soon enough, someone’s dog or cat was going to steal the bird from the statue’s mouth. But beware, household pets: once the winter comes and the darkness takes over more of the day, that gargoyle will have a chance to feast on more pigeons… and perhaps your furry bodies as well.

Soon, Coby stopped at the first apartment, which had its garbage bins lined up neatly on the sidewalk like well-behaved children (if only the children in the inner city could be like this!). Coby hopped out, opened the first bin and threw the full garbage bags into the massive trash compactor in the back of the truck. By now, he had gotten used to the gummy smell that was the mix of organic waste and man-made bags and containers that would take thousands of years to join said organic waste on its journey to decomposition. He had also gotten used to seeing at least several drunkards passed out on the sidewalk each morning. This particular one had an exposed, engorged belly and a gaping mouth. In his hand was a bottle of schnapps that still had a little left. As usual, Coby left him alone and treated him as a curiosity. That was what they were, since he saw different ones each day, each from different circumstances that he could only guess about.

Every so often on his garbage route, Coby saw purple and white vehicles drive by. These vehicles had a symbol on them that looked like a bell with a slash through it. Underneath were the words “Crater City Police Force” along with the words “To uphold the law and morality.” Coby saw them writing up tickets for the people who were publicly drunk, although they wouldn’t know they got in trouble until they woke up. They seemed to leave the scantily-clad women alone since there were so many of them that they would waste all their resources if they bothered. One such car was parked on the side of the road. A frizzy-haired, disheveled-looking pregnant woman was at the door while her barefoot children were playing on the steps. If Coby had to guess, the police officer was simply there to make sure the woman was still pregnant. Goddess help her if she were to have a miscarriage, since the law treated these as intentional pregnancy terminations unless proven otherwise.

On his next stop, a toothless, bearded junky was shooting up and looking at an area at the top of the building across the street that had nothing of interest. Then again, Coby didn’t have the mind of a high man. For all he knew, that man was seeing the most interesting thing in existence, something that would have everybody in Sardonica staring. What was it? He would never know unless he joined the world of hallucinogenic substances, where dried herbs, powder or sparkling, inject-able liquid were the round-trip tickets.

By now, Coby was desensitized to all these depressing sights, although still a little bothered by them. People normally thought of the darkness as scary but in these parts, it was the light that was unwelcome. The light, which gave life and warmth to the land, also exposed the ugliness therein.

 

 

Once he returned to the Waste Distribution Center, he talked with his boss, a plump, middle-aged man in cherry-red suspenders. The middle-aged man took out his check book, wrote out the value of Coby’s labor and ripped it out. Coby looked at it, looking at the amount of money, written in both letters and numbers, along with the man’s sloppy signature.

“There you have it,” he said, “Your last paycheck.”

“It’s been a pleasure working with you, Mr. Sanoras,” said Coby.

“Same here. Good luck with your adventures and junk.” That was his thing. Instead of saying “et cetra, he would say “and junk,” which wasn’t surprising considering his trade.

 

 

Coby’s next task on that memorable morning was to go to church. This meant that he had to lie to himself the entire time, for he was not one to believe in gods, angels, demons or any other simple explanation for the laws of nature and the motivation for good and evil. He had to admit, religion often did work in comforting people. It made them feel like they were in a special place in the universe and that another world waits for them after the hand of death pulls them from this miserable existence. It acted as a gentle assurance to the able-bodied and a lullaby to the elderly: “Everything will be all right. Shh…”

But why would anyone convince people that there was a better world out of reach of the living? What if there was a better world right on this planet? Would such a thought be too optimistic?

He arrived at the Evening Star Church of the Underground Queen. These places often had elegant, over-the-top names like this. Then again, the building itself was elegant and over-the-top: a modern design with a roof covered in windows, a grand self-opening door for the masses and pointed pinnacles that stood like spikes driven up from the ground by the Great Omnipotia Herself. It was a feat of construction that stood out among the grey slums. People crowded around the entrance during one of the few times where they wore clothes that made them blend in with the elite. Coby himself was in his brown corduroy pants and button-up shirt, which he changed into quickly after his messy job.

“There’s Chendrick Trembloe!” said one person.

From down the street came a long, shiny blue and white car that ignored the speed limit and coasted just slow enough for the people to gawk at the person inside. Coby caught a glimpse of the man: a fellow who was shorter than the average male whose remainder of his hair was tucked behind his ears to avoid the fate of the hair that had previously been present all over his head at some unknown point in history. Three other women were in the car with him: his wife, who looked to be about his age, and his two “lady friends.” People could be forgiven for thinking that they were his daughters or something else more reasonable.

The car eventually parked in its designated space behind the church. Those who hadn’t yet gone inside rushed to the back of the monstrously large, tax payer-funded building to catch a glimpse of the people about to step out, although they were undoubtedly going to do much more than that.

The man then stepped out.

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