– Chapter Three –
The old world left an impression on the new, a footprint in the mud after a devastating rainstorm. Cities still stood, with their tall spires and twisting streets, everything cramped, claustrophobic, larger than life. But those same cities were graveyards now. Everything was dead. Kudzu was quickly reclaiming the cities, swallowing the metal and concrete. Bridges were crumbling. Older buildings or those made with shoddy materials were crumbling to dust. Nearly a hundred years of neglect does that.
People—those smart enough to move away from the metropolis graveyards, as Grammy was fond of saying—moved away from the cities to the suburbs, towns with older construction more manageable by human hands, a hammer, nails, and spit and gristle, no machines required. Spit and gristle was another Grammy adage.
Another thing the old world left behind—or rather birthed—were conduits. People like Clara.
Clara walked through the town of Linden Grove toward the front square where the market would likely be setting up for the day. In total, Linden Grove was only an old neighborhood fenced off from the world by a huge wall, about a mile north to south and three miles east to west.
The town’s structures were set close together, the alleys between narrow enough that only two people could walk abreast. The largest of these structures were concrete and steel, the concrete in places broken or chipped to show rebar and brick. Three to four floors were common in the older buildings, the facades wearing but the insides maintained by the owners who rented the apartments to families. Post Black Out Thursday structures were squat, made of wood and stucco or other refurbished materials salvaged from the big cities before fear began to keep most people from venturing into the ruins. Engineering and knowledge of construction methods from the old world never died, only the scale of the structures, completion timelines, and design changed. There were no cranes to lift heavy beams or bulldozers to move earth. None of the mixers could churn concrete. No factories mass-produced steel. A strong backs, many helping hands, and long hours kept the old buildings from disrepair and raised new structures, albeit smaller than the progenitors.
Over Clara’s head people were starting to throw open shutters and pull back curtains. A few adults were pulling on the clotheslines between the buildings. The pulleys squeaked as they drew on the lines to bring in the dried wash from the previous day. To Clara, the multitude of clotheslines crisscrossing the alleys high above looked like a spider’s web.
Children were darting for the streets to meet friends for a quick play before Linden Grove’s school bell rang. A couple bumped Clara before she leveled her gaze and watched her path. As she wove through the young crowd they seemed to think it a game and she found herself smiling as she danced between the children.
One of these children, a boy of an age with Clara’s brother, waved a greeting at her.
Leo should be out playing, Clara mused, returning the greeting. Her thoughts returned to her family’s apartment, to her brother sitting at the table with that handheld junk game. She hefted her pack further up on her shoulder and continued walking along the street, immersing herself in a guilty memory that curved her lips into a small grin. I’m just as guilty, playing with that game all hours and not caring about what my friends were doing outside. Junk tech has that pull on you, especially when you’re younger and curious. Especially when you were a conduit and you were fascinated with machines instinctively. An instinct compelling you to Wake the machines. To touch the Field.
Clara’s smile disappeared.
About to pass the apartment on the corner of her block, she slowed so as to peek into the alley. Inside a dog was tearing a piece of cloth that had gotten loose from a clothesline above. It ignored her, shaking the rag about without a care, and she paid the mutt no mind either. In the front of the building a couple of boys were throwing a ball back and forth while chatting. Glances at their faces produced faint recognition but nothing else.
Shrugging her shoulder, Clara decided Sammy must still be inside, probably with her friend—and his sister—Gabby.
Sammy was a conduit. Gabby—Sammy’s older sister—was a normal girl Clara’s same age, and a friend from school. That was before they both became too old for the classroom and needed to get jobs. About a week ago Gabby came to ask Clara about talking to Sammy. Gabby revealed then that Sammy was a conduit. She knew of Clara’s abilities and all Gabby wanted was for Clara to speak with her younger brother about his powers, about not attracting the wrong attention, controlling the urges to touch and the use the Field. Yeah, like I’m the model of a conduit who lays low and doesn’t draw attention, a conduit who stays out of trouble. Clara chuckled lightly. She was no role model.
She became aware of the portable device in her jacket’s inside pocket. The device suddenly weighed very heavy. Clara touched her breast, patting the pocket where the device lay secreted. Lots of people had tech, junk by most standards, about as useful as paperweights. Some considered the junk antiques and placed high values on items from the world gone. Either way, no one but a conduit could Wake the machines.
With eyes on her feet, Clara was about to pick up her pace again—she needed to get to the market and catch a ride—when someone bumped into her.
A woman, frantic and crying, rushed up the building’s front stairs and inside. Two of the town’s local militia followed her, they nearly ran over Clara. Each man was wearing cobbled armor, a sword at one hip, a pistol on the other. Electricity and power in general didn’t work anymore but gunpowder still helped things go boom. Ammo was expensive, more so pistols and rifles, so soldiers and militia were just as adept at fighting with blade as firearms because of convenience and the expense.
“What’s going on?” Clara inquired of the boys who had been throwing around a baseball. When the militia arrived, playing ball quickly became boring and the boys’ attentions were now centered on the building she stood in front of.
“Don’t know,” one said.
His friend added, “Mrs. Cresson, she’s the lady who ran inside, she started hollering this morning. All the adults on the second floor came running. Then more people from the first and third came too. My mom told me to go to school and not bother any of the grownups.”
“My dad told my big bro and I to scam. Didn’t say anything about school,” the first boy said.
“Where’d Dav head to?” Clara asked, suddenly remembering his older brother. Dav was cute and his little brother would be too, when he lost the baby fat and started running more.
“I think you’re brother saw something, he’s almost a grownup like her,” the second boy commented to his friend, hooking a thump at Clara to indicate who “her” was.
“He didn’t say nothin’.” The first boy seemed upset, as if he’d been completely passed over his friends picked teams for a street game.
“Like he would tell you, Stev,” the second boy taunted, rolling his eyes. The two friends continued to argue, forgetting Clara.
Clara glanced down the street in the direction Dav’s little brother had indicated when talking about where his big brother went. That’s when Clara noticed the small crowd of people gathering around the building’s front steps, peering up to the second floor and whispering with gossipy interest.
Conduits don’t tend to grow out of their natural curiosity, and it usually extended out to all things, not just junk tech. Clara doubted very much her lecturing Gabby’s little brother would deter his own. After her own father’s death, Clara’s mother had insisted she rarely—if at all—use her powers. That had not worked. She only wanted to touch the Field and Wake machines more. Being a conduit was to defy the conventions of a new world, the supposed new laws of nature. Well, man had once wanted to fly regardless of not being given wings and prior to a hundred years ago had defied nature every day in that respect. (Or so Grammy would have me believe.) Why shouldn’t Clara and Sammy do as humans have always done and thumb their noses at nature?
That same curiosity had Clara place one foot on the first step up to the apartment building.
A hand reached out and gently grabbed Clara’s upper arm.
Clara spun on her heel and came to face her mother.
Silent tears streamed down her mother’s face, her expression similar if not as deep to the heart as when Uncle Marty told her about the demise of Clara’s father.
Instantly, Clara knew whose apartment the militia had run.
Wanna keep reading?! Turn the page to Chapter Four.
© 2015 Clinton D. Harding, All Rights Reserved