I: Caleb, 15 October 2155, Early Morning
"Caleb. Caleb! Kaay-lubb! Come back here this minute. Do you hear me? Get yourself back here..."
I hate Aunt Sara. I hateherIhateherIhateher.
Caleb was running with Aunt Sara yelling behind him, her words falling like hot hail around him. He didn't look back, he ran. Past the Jackson's picture (no stopping to kneel, no time, and besides, Papa never had), out the door and through the white columns, down the steps, and out onto the hard clay walk (careful, jump over the broken bits of old brick, chunks of asphalt and concrete, great way to sprain an ankle, and then she would catch him), and into the gardens. Max ran behind Caleb, his high quick bark a counterpoint to Aunt Sara's yelling.
"KKKaaaaayyyy-lllubbbbb! You are going to be sorry, you'll wish you had never been born, you little good-for-nothing brat."
She stopped. Caleb darted behind a tree and risked a quick look behind him. Aunt Sara had gone back inside Jackson, no doubt with smoke pouring out of her nostrils. God, he hated her. No point in going back in until she had cooled off. Davy was asleep; he'd be all right. Now, where was Max?
Caleb stood ankle-deep in the last of the predawn fog, a damp white-greyness which drifted across and around tree trunks, softening and obscuring the edges of the chunks of sidewalk and street, the brick walls still standing, and what was left of the tribal garden. The two night-watchers stood at opposite ends of the garden. One covered a yawn, swallowed air, glanced disinterestedly at Caleb, nodded, and turned away. The other didn't even bother to cover his mouth. Caleb felt his face grow warm; the two men had seen everything, heard everything. And would tell everybody. Well, it wasn't the first time he had come tearing out of Jackson with Aunt Sara yelling behind him. At least this time she hadn't thrown rocks and rotten vegetables at him, Caleb thought as he touched the fresh scar on his leg from that episode.
They shouldn't be watching me, anyway. They are supposed to be watching for Lindauzi. The monsters and their hounds could sneak up on these two sleepyheads and it'd all be over in a minute. Max?
"Max? Max, here, here boy."
The sky was still grey-blue, and sprinkled with stars, a fading moon. The garden was mostly weeds now, with only a few cornstalks still standing, brown and brittle, dead vines, empty beanpoles. Only the pumpkins were left, scattered about like the plastic balls Caleb had once found in the Mall with Papa. It was as if some giant child out of the fairy tales had been playing and forgotten to pick up his toys. The trees were just beginning to change color: the maple leaves were both green and red-gold, as if there was a hidden fire inside, slowly burning.
Ah, there was Max. Caleb could see the dog's tail in the middle of the garden, wagging in what was left of the squash and cucumber vines, a dark brown wiry antenna. "Stay, boy, I'm coming." Caleb made his way through the weeds, dead cornstalks, beanpoles and more weeds until he found Max snuffling around what looked like the remains of a very large and quite dead rat. The dog looked up and barked at Caleb: neatstuffhuhcanweplaywithithuhhuh?
"No, we can't. C'mon, boy," Caleb said and scooped the dog up. He made his way through the rest of the garden and then down another clay path, bordered on both sides by asphalt and cement chunks. The farther away from Aunt Sara the better. He went past the old kiln, the silver maples, and then down into the street. Caleb walked carefully there, as the tribe hadn't bothered to clear out what was left of the old pavement. Grass and weeds had split the pavement into irregular chunks of different sizes and shapes. The tangle of weeds made it hard to see where to walk on the uneven surfaces. Caleb stepped gingerly, with Max whimpering in his arms.
She called me a dirty little halver. A foul-mouthed brat. Just because I yelled at her in Lindauzi. So what? She'd be even angrier if she knew what I said in Lindauzi. Call me a halver. I wish I was fourteen -- she couldn't bother me then, I'd be an adult. I'd take Davy and tell her to go to hell. I hate herIhateherIhateher.
But he was only eleven and Davy was four. Where would they go? And the tribal elders claimed they needed Lindauzi-speakers. No one else in Jackson's Tribe knew any Lindauzi. Even if they did, they would never speak it aloud. It was the speech of nightmares, of the furred monster aliens, the Human-killers.
Caleb stopped at the street corner. He looked back over his shoulder. No one. It was too early for anybody but the watchmen to be out, anyway. He took a deep breath and exhaled in a noisy whoosh. There, he felt a little better. Imagining Aunt Sara walking back inside and tripping down the stairs and whacking her head on the wall made him feel a lot better. Max whimpered again and Caleb let Max down and the dog pressed close to his feet, tugging at Caleb's boots with his feet.
"It's OK, buddy, go on and run. She never follows us, she just likes to yell," Caleb said in a low voice. He knelt down to stroke the dog's rough mottled skin and scratch behind the floppy ears.
"Let's just walk. We'll go back in a while. Let's go this way," Caleb said and pointed to his left, down Tate Street. He stood, sighing. He knew Tate Street like the back of his hand. He looked back up McIver: more completely familiar territory. The old green and white street signs were gone, carefully stored down in the lower levels of Jackson as prized relics of the years before the Sickness and the Arrival. Caleb knew, like every other Jacksoner, every street name by heart. He could name all the buildings on Tate Street as well; Papa had taught him that, even though neither Papa nor anybody else knew what had been a particular building's purpose. To Caleb's left, so the litany went, were The Corner, Hallmark Cards, The Clothesline, The Exchange, Coffeehouse, Hong Kong, Sisters, Spoon's Bar, Addam's Bookstore. Across the street were Valencia's, New York Pizza, Copy-One, and so on.
Caleb could remember all the names, all the way to where Tate ended at Lee Street. But then he had a perfect memory: he forgot nothing. He could remember Papa's exact words when he had explained why to Caleb: The Lindauzi bred Humans, Caleb, for different traits. Perfect memory, intelligence, longevity, stamina, endurance, strength, endurance, empathy. I know you don't know what all those words mean yet; I'll explain them to you in a while. They wanted us to be a certain way for their Grand Project -- but, never mind that. As for what Hong Kong and Pizza are, I don't know, son. I do know New York was one of the biggest of the Human cities before the Lindauzi Arrival. Umium, their capital, is there now. Remember, I told you they took me there with Phlarx to go to school and I got very sick....
Caleb remembered, just like he remembered everything. Some things he wished he could forget, like all the mean things Aunt Sara had said to him since Papa had left. He shook his head. He couldn't forget, yes, but then he could think of something else, like following Max down Tate Street.
Caleb kicked up the leaves as he walked. Tate Street was deep in leaves and broken branches. Trees grew between what was left of the pavement, tall pines and oak and maple and sweetgum saplings. Vines crawled in and out of the empty windows, twining around the shards and spears of leftover glass. Max was a few feet away, snuffling and sniffing. Probably another dead rat, Caleb thought. There couldn't possibly be anything left to find on Tate Street. The tribe had scavenged Tate Street so many times over the years that there was little, if anything, worth finding. All the old stores, from The Corner on, were empty, except for rats' and mice nests, snakes, and thick spider webs. Oh, there were little things, bits and pieces of glass, metal, plastic, but not much else.
It was dawn; he could just see the sky beginning to change color, with streaks of yellow and orange staining the grey-blue. Caleb's stomach growled. Maybe if he concentrated on looking for something, anything, he wouldn't feel hungry. He wasn't hoping to find anything really special. Maybe one of the metal pop-top rings tribal women made into necklaces or some of the plastic loops which were woven together to make tunics. Or one of those tiny multi-colored glass balls Papa called marbles, even though he also called some of the big slabs of smooth white stone marble, too. Another puzzle from the past. The marbles Caleb liked the best were one color, and when he held them in his hand, they cast a shadow of that color, a tiny little blue or green or red shadow.
Mama had worn one of the pop-top necklaces in long graceful loops. The necklace jingled as she walked. Caleb remembered playing with her necklace, pulling it slowly through his fingers and then swinging it back and forth, back and forth.
There was nothing new in the leaves this morning. Caleb wondered what Aunt Sara was doing. He hoped she had gotten so mad that her face had turned bright red and exploded, just the way puffballs did when he kicked them. If Papa were still here, she wouldn't have even dared to be so mean, Caleb thought. Aunt Sara had hated Papa, but she had been afraid of him, too. Papa had shielded Caleb and his little brother from the hard stares and the sharp words. Such things never seemed to bother Papa as much as they did Caleb. Maybe it was because he was a grown-up.
Papa didn't think so. "Things could be a whole lot worse, son. You waste too much time worrying over things you can't change -- just like your mother did."
Papa worried over nothing. Caleb, on the other hand, worried about everything. He lay awake at night, replaying whatever had happened, imagining what he wished he could have said or done. It didn't help that he could replay every conversation verbatim. Papa called Caleb an old man pretending to be a little boy.
Max waited for Caleb at Addam's Bookstore, the last named building before the beginning of the tangle of vines and trees marking where the old houses had once been stood. Max looked up at Caleb: Tooslowletsgoletsgo. Caleb knew where each house had once been. The trees that grew out of the old cellars and foundations weren't as tall as those around them. The other trees were towering, growing up and over the middle of the old street to create a green-turning-red-and-gold-and-yellow canopy. Thick vines and briar brambles covered the old rotting boards and broken bricks. Caleb was sure he might find a few small things in the undergrowth, but not much. Jacksoners had scavenged here as well.
"I'm coming, I'm coming." Caleb had told no one he could hear Max's doggy thoughts. Or that he was beginning to sense how others felt, see their feelings shining around them, like a corona of light. Aunt Sara had been surrounded by a red fire this morning. It had only been in the past month or so that Caleb had been able to see these personal coronas. He would be watching someone and there it would be, like flames flickering around them. And as the light shimmered, Caleb felt how the other felt; he could almost reach out and touch the anger or fear or worry or love. Papa could have explained and had even hinted there would be changes the older Caleb got. Puberty he called it. Caleb didn't know and he didn't dare ask or tell anyone. It would be only one more thing for them to hate him for. Besides, he could only see the coronas some time and then just for a little while. On the other hand, it was getting easier and easier to understand Max. Feeling how much Max loved him was almost embarrassing. But, then, he frustrated Max, not being able to smell or hear well enough smellthisyoucan'tuhyournoseistoolittlejustsniff....
When Caleb came to the next corner, he stopped to pick up Max. Holding the little dog against his chest, Caleb shuffled his way across Tate Street and sat down on a low stone wall. He held Max tighter and pressed his face into the dog. Usually Max hated to be held and would squirm to get away. Today he seemed content to stay in Caleb's arms IloveyouMasterIloveyouCaleblove....
By now the sun was well above the trees. The blue sky had been scoured of clouds. Caleb looked up and down the street. Nobody but him and Max. He wasn't surprised; he knew where everybody was. The night-watchers had gone inside; the day-watchers were at their posts, gnawing on dried strips of deer meet and maybe an apple or two. The always-burning fire beneath the huge black iron cauldron would have been resurrected from its banked night coals and would be licking around the cauldron's fat bottom. Inside the cauldron the stew would be beginning to bubble, its aroma fingering its way throughout Jackson, awakening anyone who might still be asleep.
I'm so hungry.
Caleb's stomach growled at the thought of the hot stew ladled out into the rough wooden bowls. One or two of the elders would have one of the precious plastic bowls. No one dared used one of the even more precious porcelain bowls. A third elder would be standing in front of the cauldron to recite the food blessing, calling on Father Art in heaven to make the food wholesome and good and that it would fill the empty stomachs.
Caleb hoped Aunt Sara would still be so mad she wouldn't be able to swallow her food. Maybe she would even choke on it. She would be standing there, talking to anybody who would listen, waving her free arm and going on and on about what a worthless no-good boy Caleb was and whatever was she going to do with him and if he wasn't her own sister's son she would have had the elders expel him long before this why... Then she would gag and choke and have to spit all her food out, her face red and wrinkled, the anybody whaling on her back. Father Art, since you're so angry, be angry at her.
Davy was probably awake now. Caleb winced. He wasn't there and Davy, who was just four, would have to deal with Aunt Sara all by himself. She hated Davy only a little less than she hated Caleb.
"Take care of Davy for me, Caleb," Papa had said just before he left. "Take care of your little brother."
"I will, Papa. I promise."
At least Caleb looked like most Jacksoners. Only his dark blue eyes marked as different from the other short, dusky-skinned and dark curly-haired tribe folk. Davy looked more like Papa and Papa was fair, golden hair, blue eyes that seemed to have a white light behind them, and fair skin, fairer than even the fairest of the Footwashers and the Covenant-keepers.
Caleb's stomach growled. He knew he should go back up to Jackson. Aunt Sara was probably already slapping Davy around, making him wait to eat before her two boys did. And besides, he was really hungry; he should go home. I don't want to go home, though. Not to stay. I want to go get Davy and go.... Where? Where could we go and live? Where could two boys and a dog go around here?
But who said they had to stay around Jackson? Papa had said more than once the world was a huge place, they had no idea how huge. He had seen it from space, from the Lindauzi space station when he was a boy. The world is a great ball, Caleb, a great turning ball. You can't even see people from up there, just the clouds and the ocean and the land, green and brown and red and yellow.... Davy and Caleb could go anywhere. They could go to the summer country, where they would not only be free of Aunt Sara and her anger, but of the Lindauzi as well. The summer country, or so the stories went, was a warm, gentle place, by a green-blue sea, with white, white sand. Fruit with strange and wonderful names -- oranges, grapefruits, bananas, lemons, tangerines -- grew on trees with branches close to the ground. You could just reach out your hand and pick something to eat.
Papa hadn't known where the summer country was or how to get there, except to go south. "It's just an old story, Caleb," he had said, shaking his head. Mama had believed it was real. "Walk with the sunset on your right and the sunrise on your left. When you come to the end of this land, this earth, take sail over the sea and when you see the white sand a line against the sky, you will know you are almost there. That's how to get there," she had said.
Caleb saw something glinting in the sunlight and, still clutching Max, he leaned down and picked up a pop-top. I wish I could give it to Mama for her necklace. Aunt Sara had that necklace now, along with everything else her younger sister had that had been worth saving. After Papa had disappeared, she had taken everything, telling Caleb boys didn't need women's things. "Remember her in your dreams," Aunt Sara had snapped.
It had been a dream about Papa that had caused this morning's fight. Caleb had woken up calling for Papa. Now the dream seemed distant and faint. Caleb wondered if he had even dreamed it at all. In the dream, Papa had been somewhere in the east, toward the sunrise, toward the nearest Lindauzi plantation, Kinsella. In the dream Caleb could see Papa but he couldn't get to him. And Papa didn't seem to be able to hear, no matter how loud and long Caleb said his name.
Caleb looked up. Something was in the eastern sky, and it was moving fast. A cloud, a dark storm cloud? Could a cloud move that fast? Now he could make it out -- that shape...three shapes. The trees started shaking and waving as if there had been a sudden wind just as before a storm. There was a low hum in the air. This wasn't a surprise storm cloud. These dark shapes in the sky that were getting closer and closer were Lindauzi airships. All the stories were explicit about their size, shape, sound, and speed. Caleb had never seen one, but he knew. He watched as the three moved apart, one staying in the rear, one moving to Caleb's right, and the third straight toward him. This airship was flying low, just above the trees, its vibrations knocking them about, showering the street with even more leaves. The ship cast a long wide shadow. By now Max was hysterical and Caleb let him go. The little dog ran in circles, barking at the ship then running back, turning, barking, running back again badbadbadrunhidebad.
"Come back here, Max," Caleb shouted. The Lindauzi hated dogs; they killed them when and wherever they saw them. Another story told at night around the fire, Caleb thought. Was it true? The airship stories were true, there one was, a half-block away, now moving very slowly, as if it had all the time in the world. And the other two -- one was gone, but Caleb could see the other hovering at a distance -- over what? The Footwashers? The oldest of the Lindauzi stories, of the moment of the Arrival, over one hundred and fifty years ago, told of men and women in the biggest and greatest of the old cities, New York, ill and tired, afraid, the Sickness everywhere. They came out of where they had been hiding, rubbing their eyes, blinking, to watch a sky filled with dark shadows, dark descending shadows.
Papa had told Caleb exactly what the Lindauzi looked like. They were taller than any Human, even the tall hounds and the long-legged racers they had bred. The Lindauzi were completely covered with fur. Their hands and feet were clawed. They had muzzles, snouts, instead of noses, like the tribal dogs, but shorter and blunter. Their fangs were shorter than any dog's, and they could retract and extend them, like their claws. Lindauzi eyes were yellow or golden-brown. According to the stories, the Lindauzi looked like a cross between bears and panthers, and Papa had agreed. Mama said the Lindauzi were supposed to smell when they got wet, like dogs, a thick sour smell. Papa had shrugged when Caleb asked him about the smell. "It never bothered me. They just smelled when they were wet. And besides, they said we had a smell, too." (Max had agreed: allyouhaveyourownsmell ilikeyours....)
Once before Papa had left, the Jacksoner hunters had brought home a massive black bear. Its skin covered an entire wall.
"The Lindauzi are just about as tall," Papa had said as Caleb stroked the pelt, "but their fur is softer. Much, much softer." Papa had reached up then with one hand and brushed across the fur with his open fingers. Caleb had wanted to ask Papa what he was seeing and what he was remembering. Papa's eyes had gone far away.
Caleb turned himself into a ball, his hands over his head, his feet tucked under his buttocks, and waited until the shadow was gone and he could feel the sun again. Maybe he was too small for the Lindauzi to notice and they would go away and he would be safe. Max kept barking frantically and pulling at Caleb's tunic sleeve with his teeth dangerdangerbaddangerbadbad....
"Shut up, Max. Please. Shut up," Caleb begged. If the Lindauzi were listening through their airship, they would both be dead. He looked up to see the airship down the street, slowly turning toward Jackson. The trees were still. The last of the sudden leaf shower drifted to the ground. Where was it going now? Caleb stood. There it was, hovering above Jackson's white columns and the broken tooth of the old tower. Flying around the airship, like angry wasps, were the small flyers of the hounds. Instead of stingers, they were shooting out thin needles of light.
"Lasers," Caleb whispered. The fiery weapon of the hounds, which meant their hunterbeasts were with them as well. They were hunting -- not for rabbits or deer or possums, or even for foxes or bears. From time to time, as everybody in the tribe knew, the hounds and their beasts hunted Humans. The hounds and their beasts didn't just chase Humans. They hunted them down and killed them, cutting off their heads as trophies. Everyone. Men, women, boys, girls, babies.
"Davy. Not Davy."
Caleb took off running. He didn't look back or call for Max; he knew the little dog was right behind him hurry run runbadobadCalebrunrun. Up the street, left, then past the kiln. Up a little hill. Through still dewy grass, stumbling, jumping over broken cement, asphalt, bricks. Shoving back low branches and saplings. One snapped back and slapped Caleb in the mouth. He fell hard on the ground. He tasted blood, salty and warm in his mouth.
Screams. Screams louder than any he had ever heard, different screamers. Barking that became shrieking. Then one screamer, another, stopped. Hunterbeasts snarling, growling. Caleb pushed himself up, wiped the blood off his mouth, started running again. There were the dogs, the beasts, the dogs biting at the beasts' legs. The hunterbeasts were more than three times the size of the biggest dogs. They had scaly reptilian skin and a crest of sharp spikes ran from their heads to their barbed tails. Giant lizards whose whiplike forked tongues and talons drew blood and shrieks from the terrified dogs who were all running now, their attack-lust swallowed by their fear.
"Their tongues are poisonous," Papa had said. "It takes a little while, but one or two flicks makes you dizzy, slows you down. Three or four and you are out."
"Max, come back, Max, come back, come baaaaccckkkk!"
It was too late. One of the four beasts' tails snagged Max on his head and he fell, whimpering hurtCalebhurtstop and before Caleb could move, the return stroke ripped the dog open. Then another beast, with one quick taloned slash, finished the job. Caleb felt a doggy tongue on his face, quick and light, and, just as quickly, it was gone. A few dogs escaped, howling. The beasts made short work of the rest. Then the monsters galloped off toward Jackson.
Caleb spit out blood and bark and started running. He had to get there, he had to get there, now, now, now. He stopped at the gardens, gasping, wiping more blood. The gardens were in flames and all the trees Caleb could see were great torches. The heat pushed him back as if it were a giant hand. Through the smoke and the fire, Caleb could see the motionless airship and the flyers, dropping to the ground, one by one by one.
"Go back, boy, go back, run, they're killing us, run, boy, run...."
Caleb jerked around. It was Ezra, the tanner, pushing his way out of the smoke.
"Run, get away...."
Ezra staggered and fell, twitched, and was still. Caleb saw a hole in his back, where the leather had been burned away; he smelled the burnt flesh. Ezra's tunic was soaked in blood. The flesh on one side of his face and up and down his legs had been torn and ripped. Beast tongue marks made angry red stripes all over the man. For a brief, brief moment, Ezra's corona glowed bright yellow, then an intense hot white, and, then, like Max's ghost tongue, was gone.
Caleb reached out his hand toward the man and froze again as another scream came from Jackson. "I'm sorry, Ezra, I'm sorry, but I have to go find Davy," he whispered and turned to run again but met another man, Micah, the fisherman, swaying out of the smoke. Blood covered Micah's hands and face, as if he were wearing red gloves and a red mask. Micah fell beside Ezra, making a dull thud that Caleb almost couldn't hear over the sounds of the fire and beasts.
© Warren Rochelle 2001. All rights reserved.
The Wild Boy is published by Golden Gryphon Press.
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