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Chaper One of Serj
Mihael sat there smiling. He knew what was going to happen to me, and he loved it. My brother had never displayed any love or compassion for me in our life. Since I was an orphan, not native to the village, adopted by Mihael's parents, I never could be part of the society. So at age 14, the age where someone would usually gain citizenship in the community, I was to be exiled instead. The community was always xenophobic, always scared of outsiders. It was a miracle that I was allowed to live with Jonas and Sheila. I always thought that they loved me, or at least tolerated me. But they way they stared seemed so alien as I walked down the path to the river. Was it all an act? How horrible that they would do that, pretend to love me. Maybe it was just my imagination, but they stared just like everyone else. Except Mihael, of course.
'Goodbye, brother' Mihael said with nothing but a smirk
'Goodbye, Mihael' I said with nothing.
I turned on my heel and gazed at the dusty path leading away from this eerily bright town. I slung my sack around my shoulder and gave a slight wave to whoever was watching behind me. Not that I thought that anyone would remove themselves from the conforming look of a sturdy brick wall to reply, I suppose I was just used to being human.
Trees wrapped around the dusty path, in fact trees surrounded the entire dusty village that was so secluded from the world, the place I would now be a part of. I assumed that I would stay in Kailia and work up some money so I could get as far away from this prefecture as possible. I wanted to live where nothing was like life here. I didn't want much, just a real home to live in, real friends to talk to. The path was quiet, which reminded me how unsettling the stillness of this place was. I followed the curve in the path to the one place where I felt any good emotions, a small shore of the river that connected to Kailia, right next to the steep hill where the little hut Old Man Hal lived in.
Hal was there at the big bend in the river, sitting by one of his rafts where he would ferry items and people to and from Kailia, the nearest village. He was quiet. Hal was quite wood worker, he had skills that could deal with almost any situation, and I'm glad for that because he was the only person who seemed to like me. He sat there with a solemn look.
'So, I see that they decided to cut you loose, eh Serj?' He gave a small smile, which contrasted with his sad eyes, failing to give the comfort intended.
'I have to say that I'll miss you, son.' he continued.
'I will miss you too, Hal.' I tried to match his sad smile.
It was then that I remembered how different he was from the villagers. He actually treated me like a human being, like a friend. Maybe it was because he lived outside the village, his hut outside the reach of the air saturated with hatred and fear. He gestured toward the river.
'If you take the raft down the river, just follow it and you will eventually see a building. The building is where the merchants go to drop off the goods to be ferried here. You can probably get someone to give you a ride to Kailia. That's all I got so far. I never really went outside of this area, so you will have to ask around to find an Inn or a family that will give you a room. Use your imagination because you can go wherever you want and do what ever you want because you have nothing but yourself. You think you can do okay?'
I smiled. 'Yeah Hal. I can fish, build fires; I can pull a tractor in one of the Kailia farms if I need to. I'll be fine it will be just like camping. I love camping, you know that'
His eyes started to glisten. 'You know if I could go with ya, I would, you know that boy.'
'Yes I know, you have to stay, it's your duty to the council after what they did for you'
'I'll check up on you in Kailia for a while, as long as you stay there that is'
'Hal, you're the kindest man I ever knew, and even though Jonas took me in, you were always a father to me'
At this point we were both crying. 'Serj I'm not going to say goodbye to you, because 'goodbye' means the end and this is only the beginning for you.'
'You always said I was more important than I was'
'By the Gods Serj, You are, you just need to keep going'
I stepped on the raft; hoping that it would bring me all the way to Kailia, instead of betray me.
Hal was always, 'creative' with his woodwork. I chuckled a bit.
'Shove off, Hal.' With out a word he bent down on the raft, set his hands on the edge and gave a hard shove
The river was fast from rain the past week. The raft sped off. I couldn't see very well but I could see Hal sitting on his cutting log with his head in his hands. He knew I couldn't stay in Kailia, they weren't as terrorized by outsiders as people from Catsu, but they didn't like drifters just the same. The river seemed to be like rapids. I'd never seen a hurricane but my teacher said they were disastrous, and wet; I thought that this could not be much different. There were many twists and turns, which caused me to plead to the raft to stay afloat, not that I doubted Hal's skill in building it, its just that I wish that he could have given me one of his newer rafts or perhaps given more thought into tuning up this one.
The water was getting calmer so I had to be close to the cove where the merchant's shed was. There were less turns and were there were, they were wide and soft. This still was not the optimum journey; my arms were getting tired from using the oar to keep my path strait. The rest of the way lasted for about 7 miles till I had reached the end. A small building painted red, with a roof made out of sheet metal poked out of the trees and I knew I had found my destination. I pulled up the oar and pushed myself out of the current towards the shore of the cove. A small wooden dock stuck out of the shore, and a boy sat on the deck fishing off the side. He turned and waved to me, and I managed to free one hand to return the gesture for a few seconds before returning to my rowing. He stood up with a rope in hand and threw one end to me. He waited for a while, until I grabbed one of the pegs on the dock and used the rope to tie off the raft. I lugged my bag on the dock and hopped up. It rocked a bit and I pondered to myself what the weight limit on it was. Not willing enough to test its limits I picked up my bag and started to walk towards shore.
'Thanks lad' I said with a sigh.
'No hassle mister, where ya off to?' he looked at me with skeptical curiosity, probably wondering why he'd never seen me before.
'Kailia. You know anyone willing to give me a ride?'
'Um, Mister Yazzzey is here with his big delivery truck, maybe he will.' He started to jog to the building, holding on to his straw hat so that the wind wouldn't blow it away.
'He's gonna leave soon so we better hurry.'
'Alright.' .I walked at a brisk pace, my long strides matching his quick feet.
On the other side of the building was a large truck that was used for delivering goods. It was bulky and the dark green paint was chipped and riddled with mud. It was the kind of truck with a big tarp on a frame above the bed, so that the goods would survive inclement weather. A scruffy looking man with an unkempt beard to match his thick brown coat, and rain boots splattered with mud was stalking towards the truck. I suspected that he was Mr. Yazzey.
The boy quickened his pace ' Mr. Yazzey! There's a man here who needs a ride to town!'
The man let out a sigh, and smiled. 'Does he now Zaff?'
'Nice to meet you sir, and yes I would be very grateful if you were to take me to town.' I held out my hand and he took it and gave a hard shake.
'Got a name Son?'
'Well Serj, I'm about done here; you can help unload these last bags and then I'd be glad to help you out with your travel.'
I followed him to the back of the truck and he hopped up into the bed. I examined the cargo, curious as to what it all was. He came to the edge and dropped a burlap sack into my arms. Its weight strained my arms, but the pain was brief. I noticed that dimples were showing, suggesting that is was some sort of seed.
'Carry that inside and Markus will tell yah were to drop it.'
'Certainly.' I swiveled toward the door to the building. Zaff darted passed me and opened the door.
'Here you go Mr. Serj.' He gave a wide smile, charming young lad.
I walked through the door into the trading post. But only half was visible. The building was separated into two parts, the back was used for storing larger boats .It wasn't to busy. A couple of tall men were deep in conversation of what I could only guess was a business arrangement. A man with a bright red vest and a long white sleeve shirt stood behind a counter with his hands firmly placed on the table. Behind him were some rafts and sets of keys hanging on the wall, perhaps for the big motorboats.
'Are you Markus?'
' Trades master Markus. You with Yazzey?'
'Yes sir, where should I put this?' He nudged his head towards the far right corner of the room where similar burlap bags were stacked neatly.
'You can drop it over there with the rest of the coffee.'
'Thank you very much, trades master.'
He gave a stern look and nodded. Mr. Yazzey came in with three bags of coffee in his arms; he was a lot stronger than he let on. I dropped the sack on top of the others and jogged back out the door for another sack, maybe two this time.
It took a total of three trips with both of us handling the bags. Mr. Yazzey dropped off the last bag.
'See you in two weeks Markus.' The Trades master nodded and stalked off to the two arguing men. Mr. Yazzey dropped his heavy arm on my shoulder and gave a deep chuckle.
'Thanks for helping with that son.'
'My pleasure sir.'
He walked around to the driver's side of the truck, his hands rummaging through his pockets.
'Hop on in, Serj. You just earned yourself a nice dinner with my wife and I, unless you need to be somewhere.'
'That's very kind sir. Its not necessary, you did a lot of the work anyway.'
He swung open the door and climbed in.
'Serj, do you even have anywhere to sleep? By the looks of you, you don't have much.'
'Well, I hadn't figured out my living arrangements, I thought I'd take care of it when I went into town.'
I climbed in my side. I fumbled with the seatbelt and Mr. Yazzey started the truck. It took a few tries for the engine to kick in.
'That wont do boy, we have a spare bedroom at my place, you can help out in the shop till you find things out, and I'll give you a bed.'
'That's very generous.'
'Oh, don't worry about generous. I'll make sure you pull your weight.'
The truck roared as he turned onto the dirt road leading up a hill.
'Kailia is about three miles up this road, by the way Serj where are you from.'
I shifted in my seat, I had completely forgot about my past, even though it was only hours ago.
' I was living with a family in Catsu for a while.'
' Really? They usually don't like outsiders, not long I suppose.'
'Ten years ago, on this day as a matter of fact, and your right, they hate outsiders.'
'Must have liked you enough though right? You're a charming young man.' I was silent, and he looked at me with eyes filled with pity.
' Well you can stay with me and Liz as long as you need Serj.'
'Thank you. But I don't think that I will stay in Kailia for too long. I need to get as far away from there as possible.'
'That's just fine, son. Well, we're here!' He turned left at a crossroads and a sign read 'Kailia'
The town was cut by a long dirt road. Shops and houses lined the edges. It was a simple town, but at least it was a town and not a village, a few hundred, instead of tens. Some people couldn't have lived in town anyway; there was a lot of farming to be done in Kailia. A couple hundred feet down the road was a Yazzey's General, a quaint little shop. The farmers all brought their goods to the General Store or the trading posts so send to other towns via riverbank. Mr. Yazzey backed in a small gravel path to the back of the store. He cut the engine and shook his door open. I hopped out of the truck and followed him to the door in the back of the shop. He pushed open the door and a small red headed woman with a wide cotton apron.
'Good day there wife.' He smiled and kissed her on the cheek. She blushed. It was funny, she must have known him for most of her life, and still he exited her with his loving touch. They were both the happiest they could be.
'Hello husband. Who is this strapping young lad?' she looked at me, approvingly.
' This here is Serj, he is looking for work and a place to stay for a while.'
' Well Serj, you are welcome here and I'm glad to finally have someone help me in this shop.' She was very sincere, the kind of woman that says exactly what she means.
' I thank you very much ma'am.'
'Polite too, ah husband you pick the sharpest workers don't you?' She gave me a wink, and I smiled back. The woman had so much energy and happiness. The perkiness of a schoolgirl, even though she was well in her thirties; she had gotten a lot out of life, and she was happy to give twice as much. She wasn't complimenting me so much as she was Mr. Yazzey, not that she didn't mean what she said, it was just that it wasn't really directed towards me.
'So ma'am what kind of work will you need done here?'
'Oh not much, dusting, cleaning, restocking the shelves, taking orders from customers, real easy work.'
'Then I will have to do it twice as good to earn my keep.'
'We are generous people here Serj, you don't have to work so hard.'
'I'm just used to it I suppose.'
'I see,' she paused, 'Well, enough chit-chatting; Mr. Yazzey, Mr. Corpus has called for you down at his farm, seems that those Riley Boys have damaged his fence again.'
He gave a frown. 'Those hooligans better learn some respect soon. I might not get home till supper, I will see you both then.'
' See you Love.' She smiled then turned to grab a broom.
'I'm off.' The door shut loudly behind him.
'Well let's get to work,' she smiled brightly and handed me her broom.
I took it and started to sweep the floor; it was dusty from the dirt road and customers opening the door throughout the day, but it didn't take too long to clean up. After that she showed me around the store; our rooms were upstairs, mine across theirs. It was smallish, but great compared to the quarters I had at Jonas and Sheila's. I tossed my bag on the bed and she walked me back downstairs and through a door that opened into the supply room. She pulled a chain, turning the lights on and I could see the vast array of goods that stocked the shop; I guess it had to be because it was the only place townspeople could go for, well, anything.
'This is where you take things we buy from the farmers and such to, and when you need to restock the shelves you take the new goodies from here, got it?' She turned, waiting for a response.
'Yes, I understand. How often do things need to be restocked?'
'Oh, it depends. Most people come in once a week, so about 2 or 3 times a week. You'll need to check. September is different though. Lots of birthdays to celebrate, lots of preparing to do for September.'
'I'll bet.' I nodded in agreement.
Working at Yazzey's General wasn't bad at all. Mrs. Yazzey had a great work ethic, and was a nice lady to work with considering her ecstatic attitude at all hours. Mr. Yazzey would go on errands to help the farmers and get their supplies. After two weeks everything seemed to click, people always came on their day: Mr. Luke on Wednesday, Ms. Olive on Thursday, almost no one on Tuesday, though. The Riley boys, well David Riley, Mark Riley, and Jean Riley to be exact seemed to be the local troublemakers, and I didn't like that. All the trouble they caused seemed to come back to Mr. Yazzey, and give the townspeople grief. Why couldn't there be order?
'I'd like to talk to those young Rileys. Mrs. Yazzey who are they? What do they do? Who raised them?' She had a surprised look.
' Why Serj? Are you looking for friends? Because they aren't the direction you should be looking for.'
'How old are they?'
' Well David is oldest- 16- then Mark- 14- and then little Jean- 11. What's the reason for asking Serj, if I may.'
'Its just that they seem to cause a lot of problems, and its hurting the townspeople, and that isn't good.'
'Don't go looking for fights Serj; David and Mark are pretty rough; they could outnumber you, David being older than you and Mark not far behind.'
'I don't think that fighting is necessary, but I can hold my own if it comes to that.'
'Serj these boys would like nothing better than to get a fight out of you. I don't think its going to help things, and these boys will fight you if you confront them; it's their nature.'
'I've been outnumbered before.' I turned serious. My childhood wasn't the ideal one. Relax. I sighed, trying to keep calm.
'I just want to help everyone. I want to help Mr. Yazzey. This is a way I know will work... It's the only way they can learn. I will try it my way, the nice way, and if that won't work I will do it their way' Is that okay Mrs. Yazzey?' I gave a reassuring grin and waited for her reply. She smiled back warmly.
'My, Serj, you are so kind and brave, so selfless and caring. Your plan is commendable and I feel so glad that your trying so hard to help everyone. Okay, they live with Mr. Riley, their father. No one is sure who their mother is; I think that's why they always get into trouble. Mr. Riley tends the pub far down the street. They usually play their games in the back behind the building unless they're roaming the town causing trouble, that is.'
'Thank you. Am I about done here for the day?'
' Yes Serj, I'll take care of stock today.'
'Thanks. Well I'm going to go take a walk.' I handed my broom to her and she nodded, somewhat worried.
The bell rang as I opened the front door. Today my walk will go off its regular path. Now that I think about it, I haven't seen the entire town yet. It's been almost a month now. Hal promised he'd come by to see me. No, he promised he'd try his hardest to come by to see me. The villagers probably wouldn't allow it, since his livelihood is in the village's hands. Its about 5:00 Empirical Time, so the pub will probably be busy with men after a hard day's work. The Pub's sign had a harp on it. Interesting, after years of the Cultural Melt, someone still clung to their 'homeland', even though they have lived in the C.U.E. for countless generations. I heard snickering in the alley between the pub and the adjacent building. Maybe the Riley boys were playing games. I wonder if they will let me join in.
I casually strode through the alley, to the back of the pub to find three scruffy boys. The smallest one, Jean, I assumed, gave me a wicked look.
'Who are you? What are you doing here?' They all stood up. The tallest one stared, sizing me up while the second tallest one continued.
'Well kid? This is our place. You don't belong here. Go back to Mama!'
I shrugged. 'Don't have one, adopted. And besides, I wanted to talk to you all.'
' You have been causing trouble and I would like it to stop.'
'Who do you think you are? You can't tell us to stop. We own this town. It's ours. And we can do whatever we want with it. Got it?'
'That is unacceptable. It stops, now.'
' Jean, you hang back for a bit, watch real close and learn how we take care of things here.' Jean backed away and sat on a box staring with a sly grin. David finally opened his mouth.
'Last chance, Stretch, leave.' Stretch? I guess I was taller than both of them, but not by much.
'If we have to do it this way, I am fully prepared.'
With that, Mark and David began to circle me, Mark with a grin, David with a serious, solemn look. I could tell which of them was a real threat. While they circled I didn't move an inch. I stood there, calm, casual, and ready. Mark was behind me now, gravel shot from under his feet as he jumped at me. I felt his arms wrap around my shoulders, but they did, I thrust my torso downward, flipping him over my shoulder. He landed on his back with a hard thump. He sat there for a moment then scurried to his feet and looked at David, wanting instruction. Without a glance, David shot from the left, his fist blasting through the air. I sidestepped, letting him barely miss me in his tackle. He spun and looked. Though it was not anger on his face or in his eyes, it was satisfaction. It was all a game to him. I believed him to be serious at first, but his child ness was revealed. He walked up to me slowly, and looked over my shoulder. I followed his gaze. The final blow exploded from David. The cracking of bones ripped through the air. Not my bones, but David's. Not only was I taller than him, my arms were longer, before his fist could reach my face, the edge of my hand had reached his collar bone, one of the easiest bones to break. There was a silence, but it was broken from gasping breaths, and muffled yelps. I stared intently at David, the most sensible of them all, which was not saying much. I waited until he was paying close attention to what I was going to do next, until he could feel my eyes looking deep into his. The fight was over.
'No more trouble.' I waited until he nodded, painfully. Jean had run to get their father, and I turned and strolled out of the alley, as casually and calmly as I had walked in. My business with the Riley boys was done.