ONE YEAR AGO
MOST of the buildings in New Dorf had been submerged decades ago. Those who lived here now were accustomed to what they called “swamp life”. Almost everybody had some sort of makeshift boat or raft. On the surface, the waters seemed harmless enough, but if you were more than shoulder deep in the water, you were taking your life into your own hands. There were eels, venomous snakes, and a dominant species of hammerhead to name a few dangers, but the terrifying threat was the great lizards that patrolled these waterways. They were a migrating breed, and one could turn up almost anywhere.
Lukas sat on the edge of what was once an 8-story building in the downtown district of a city that once was. His feet dangled in the murky water, and he kicked gently at his own ripples. He wiped the excess from the wood he was whittling on his dingy, gray trousers and wiped his face on the shoulder of his hole-ridden, green t-shirt. He almost dropped his knife in the water but caught it with his knees. David and Stever stepped out onto the “roof” (now a patio) from the stairway door.
Most of the people who lived in New Dorf built their homes on top of the buildings that once were. Before, there had been attempts at underwater construction, but the local fauna had proved to be too problematic. Construction now extended up to six stories above the roofs of the buildings that were not completely submerged. Bridges connected building to building until the entire community was a network of apartments, plazas, and bridges.
For whatever reason, the entire top floor of the building Lukas was sitting on had been immune to the flooding. Most of the building’s windows were broken leaving the bottom seven stories to be claimed by the swamp, but the eighth story remained as dry as when the floods first came. One could even peer into that murky deluge from the floor-to-ceiling windows that wrapped around the entire building. Lights had been submerged around the perimeter to help with this effect, and a thin, dark film had been put on the inside of the windows to discourage swimming creatures from crashing into them.
Stever’s family had built their apartments atop this building. They’d once been renegades from the Mid-west who’d traveled here to escape the New Democracy; now they were but a wing of one of the founding clans of New Dorf. Stone posts had been erected on each of the building’s four corners, supporting the mud-brick building.
Stever’s building was large, rising five stories above its abandoned foundation. Two bridges connected it to the nearest buildings: one from the third story on the south and the other from the fourth story on the east. Everything beneath the second story was a common area, and the north face was left open to create a covered patio. The largest neighboring buildings were on the east and west, leaving the patio in full shade for almost the entire day.
Stever had a way of yelling intensely at a person without really raising his voice. Upon finding one of his adolescent residents sitting alone and foolishly splashing his feet in the water, he said grimly, “What the hell are you doing?!”
Lukas quickly pulled his feet from the water and rolled into a kneel. He held up his tools, “I’m whittling”.
“Why were your feet in the water, Lukas?” David was just a boy himself. Muscular, energetic, and freshly fifteen. His short, unkempt golden brown hair curved toward his face and a single golden bang nearly covered his right eye. He stood next to Stever holding a spear like it was the staff that parted the sea for Moses.
“I’m leaving today,” Lukas hung his head, “this is the last time that you will see me.”
David’s expression changed, “Wha… What do you mean? Where would you go?”
Stever was a tall man in his late middle ages. Despite his salt and pepper head (mostly salt), his full, brown beard never gave in to any aging. As Lukas looked at him, he thought Stever had hard features that looked like they’d seen more than a few battles. His figure seemed shadowy and looming. His brown broad cloak concealing him in shadow. Even from this distance, it was hard to tell what clothes he wore.
Lukas walked toward him. It had been a while since he’d taken any steps and he began to get dizzy. He pushed his flute into Stever’s hand, “I wasn’t quite finished with it, but this is to make up for the one I broke last week.”
“Lukas…thank you.” Stever’s expression went from one of annoyed surprise to… resignation, “You don’t have to leave Stone B. I was never that mad.”
“No!”, Lukas looked up seriously, “you were still nice to me, even though you were mad.” Tears were welling up in his eyes, “I couldn’t trouble you anymore… My mom would get super mad, and you know how she can be.”
“She’d be a lot madder if you run away…”, as Stever reached a hand toward the boy, he suddenly jumped away.
“I’m not running away!”, Lukas thrust his hand out at them. David and Stever both gasped as they recognized the marks between his thumb and forefinger. “There’s no more antidote left.” Lukas said.
David froze when he saw the marks most of this group were all too familiar with the brown and black water snake that plagued these regions. It likes to sit with its head bobbing on the water and is often mistaken for wood or debris. Its bite is highly venomous and can put a man down inside of twenty minutes. Upon seeing the marks, David suddenly had a flash of memories of childhood with the boy. He’d watched Lukas grow up as he himself had grown up. And now… Is this the end of Lukas?
Stever turned toward the stairway, “There’s at least two left…”
“I’m the stock kid, remember? I help keep inventory.”
Stever ignored him and began to open the door. Lukas dashed for Stever, and slide kicked at his feet. Stever deftly dodged the attack and began to open the door wider. Lukas righted himself into a crouching position, and came up with his two hands clenched together and held out in front of him to throw Stever off-balance. The tall man stumbled sideways, almost hopping on one foot before finally letting go of the door’s handle.
He turned on the boy, “Lukas! Calm down before you get yourself more hurt,” Stever was having trouble keeping the anger out of his voice, “calm yourself so you spread the venom!”
The young boy sprang at Stever, but ducked to the side and tried to dash past him. Stever hand-chopped Lukas on the shoulder and the boy’s momentum sent him crashing into David sideways. David immediately dropped his spear and caught Lukas, cradling him in his arms.
Stever spoke to David while pointing at Lukas, “Just hold him while I get someone to help.”, and turned back to the door. The blonde teen was still nodding his compliance when Lukas suddenly sprang to life, instantly wriggled out of his arms, and dashed toward the north edge of the building.
Reacting as quickly as he could, David made chase but couldn’t catch him before Lukas jumped onto the knee-high railing and nosedived into the waters. David shrieked in terror and leaped after him, but a firm arm took him by the waist and threw him to the dry stone floor. Lukas swam out into the waterway, took one look back at the horror-struck duo, and swam down… down… into the murky abyss.
This is my first web-published story. Please let me know what you think in the comments below. To get the bi-weekly chapters I send out, just click here.
Special Author’s Note
This was the first chapter that I previewed to various groups. At the time, I wanted to get a feel for how my writing came across as well as any interest people might have in the story. ALLYBOT was completely spontaneous at the time and I didn’t know where this story would go. It made me happy that people could connect with this short chapter so emotionally.
Lukas was designed to help build the story for David, and never had the merest shot at being a main character. I intentionally wrote this chapter starting from Lukas’ perspective and shifting to David’s perspective to create a feeling of a proverbial “baton” being passed. People’s hearts went out for Lukas to such a degree that people couldn’t accept Lukas’ demise. As more chapters came out, readers would often ask me when Lukas was coming back. I, of course, would be thinking, Lukas is dead.
This experience taught me a lot about how to use perspective to guide people on a journey and, and that people often identify most quickly with the character in the most pain. That gives me a lot to play with if I have a character I really don’t want people to like, but I can make them irresistible by showcasing their pain.
It also helped me to be more aware of my audience’s culture. Here in the West, people tend to want stories to have a happy resolution where the pains a character is feeling ultimately get resolved in some cathartic way. It was a sublime surprise for me that so many people had trouble with Lukas’ passing: a destiny I’d specifically designed him for.