The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

(Chapter IV)

Posted by Matt on January 11, 2011

Prologue
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III

Aia had felt that something amiss that day; she couldn’t pinpoint why, but she began anticipating something happening anyway. She didn’t know what to expect exactly, or even if it would be good or bad, but she began to prepare for it. Of course, something did end up happening, so at least she wasn’t getting worked up for nothing.

That day, Aia was able to get out of the shop on time. Since they finished their latest job, a series of posters commissioned by the Council to remind everyone to put their trash in the proper receptacles (which was their response to a large number of complaints from street sweepers that the amount of litter was abnormally high and worsened by the rain puddles that coalesced on the pavement), the day was mostly spent cleaning the machinery. Still drudgery, but at least a different kind of drudgery to break the normal tedium. However, the result for Aia was a thin coating of oil and grease, and thus a need to visit the public showers at the east end before going home.

The east end was one of the nicer sections of the park: it was where the pond was located, always accompanied by a flock of people sitting on the edge, letting their lives pass by in tranquility. There were usually no beggars or layabouts, as there was a security booth very close by. Most of the scrap metal pulled from the structure that originally towered over this part of the park was moved to the yards at the other end, so this was one of the few areas free of debris and the skeletal remains of mysterious juggernauts from the era of the Poster People (they all guessed). Even better, it was clean and pleasant without a subsequent invasion by the councillors, whose large, over-decorated eyesores they called homes were located in an otherwise equally pristine chunk of land on the north end of the park. Even though there was a perfectly practical reason for Aia to go there, she still thought of it as a secret reward of sorts. Any excuse to experience the nicer parts of the park.

She passed by the security booth on the way to the showers. Everyone but the homeless seemed to have an amiable relationship with the security force, who spent most of the time in their cramped little booths, barely watching their screens. Security was the one occupation where it seemed there was an equal number of the ordinary citizenry as there were high-class appointees. The captains were all of the same stock as the councillors, yes, but they never found a reason to restrict the other positions to just themselves. They were all equally capable, and there didn’t seem to be a need for the Poster People lookalikes to dominate it. In fact, most of the ordinary people, especially the ones who were larger and more intimidating, were considered to be far more suited to handling the job. For this reason alone, most people had a great deal of respect for security. They were one of them, after all.

It was entirely reasonable, then, that Aia did not even glance at the booth or its occupant, a stubby, beaked creature with lanky arms that looked too big for him, and a dull grey colour scheme not at all enhanced by the old ragged security uniform. If she did, however, she would have likely seen that he was glaring rather menacingly at her from his tiny glass chamber, studying her every move as she made her way to the shower entrance and all the way back after she had finished. Neither did it strike her to pay attention when she heard the booth door open and close while making her way back home. If it was anything, how could it possibly involve her? No one around thought anything of this short, disgruntled looking officer following someone who didn’t seem to notice. He was one of them, after all. What could he possibly do?
He followed her for almost ten minutes, and Aia was oblivious all the while. To be fair, she had never been followed before, and thus had no idea what kind of signs to be looking for. She kept on her way, right until she heard a very forced-sounding cough behind her, a sound she didn’t immediately recognize and out of curiosity turned around in order to see the source. The security officer looked barely half her size, something rather odd considering the mammoth proportions of the most of the officers she’s seen in her life. Even with his disconcerting expression, she had no idea what he would want; surely it couldn’t be anything that bad.

“You” was the first thing he said as soon as their eyes met (which took slightly longer because she had to look down).
Aia pointed at herself, looking confused. She didn’t want to risk saying anything that would offend him and possibly make the situation worse, so she decided to keep her mouth shut.

“Yeah, that’s the one. Come with me.”

He himself pointed in the direction of his booth and started walking back to it. Aia had no idea what to think of this. She couldn’t imagine doing anything that would result in a need to visit a security booth, not even losing something valuable. The gruff demeanour of the officer didn’t help matters, as she certainly couldn’t imagine breaking any rules, especially not when she could be seen by anyone. It never occurred her that this could be about the horrible night from some time ago; out of all the things she had thought about while reviewing that inescapable event, the idea that the authorities would get involved never came up. She thought about being found out by Pearl, yes; the neighbours maybe for a moment or two. But never security. Even now as she was led towards a booth, she never thought it could possibly be about that. She didn’t want to ask any questions either, fearing she might say something that might be construed the wrong way, so the whole thing was left an agonizing mystery for what felt like an eternity; the officer himself did not speak as well, and only stared back at her every once in a while, probably to make sure she didn’t try to escape.

When they got back to the booth, he opened the door and motioned her to step in. Aia had never been inside a security booth before, and never even peered inside a window to see what it looked like. However, just from the outside, she could tell that there was barely enough room in it for one person, let alone two. She was partially right: while she was able to wedge herself in, leaning against one of the windows without touching the officer’s stool (which was actually a stool stacked on top of another stool), which faced his collection of three or four monochrome-hued monitors. It was a little uncomfortable; she was thankful he was short, as it could have been worse.

He slammed the door shut, locked it, and then proceeded to roll down a series of silky white curtains that were hidden above the four windows of the booth. She knew this was a sign that this was something far from usual. The only light in the booth emanated from the screens, all showing different parts of the east edge, including a shot looking outward over the murky pond, and even some inside the showers. Even though the showers were completely open and public, there was something very unnerving about the idea that they were being watched all the time in there. She looked away from the screens, and down at the scraggly thing, now staring up at her and still appearing to be angry about something. Once he saw he had her attention, he began to speak.

“Alright, look: me and some of my associates know what went down at the Area C5 alley three weeks ago, right?”
This was all it took to set her off. She had no idea about the naming conventions of different park coordinates, but there was nothing else he could be talking about. She began shaking, her began to hyperventilate, and it began to feel like her insides were churning. This was her worst nightmare come true (well, her second worst nightmare: at least it wasn’t Pearl). All this was noticed by the officer, too, whose stony faced grimness morphed into a sadistic grin.

“Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, said associated have told ME to tell YOU that because we know what happened, we think it would be a good idea to ask you quite kindly to keep your trap shut about anything you saw or heard there. As long as you say nothing, so will we. Got it?“

This calmed her a tad, although just knowing someone else had seen her perform a ghastly act brought back that shame she had not felt since the night in question. She was quite willing to do whatever he said to make sure no one else found out, which she knew would tear her apart. She was desperate.

“Think of it as…a little gift from them…I mean, us. So we got ourselves a deal?”

She shook her head immediately.

“Of course we do.”

The officer was just about to put up his emergency curtains and let her go when he stopped, looked back at her and then up at the ceiling. He started to laugh a little, and his expression took on a tremendously more grotesque appearance. Aia was starting to miss his angry grimace.

“Oh, right…just as an extra reminder, if you ever think about turning on them…us…consider this: all you have to go on is you….all we have to go on is camera footage. Something to think about, right?”

He opened up all the curtains and let the light into the booth again. He unlocked the door and showed her out. She was visibly shaken, and started walking back home without looking back. If she did, she’d probably see the officer, halfway out the door, watching her intently as she stepped out into the distance. Not that she really needed to see that, either: just having the possibility in her mind made her want to get away as fast as she could. Her regular steps were interspersed with moments where she seemed to gallop; no one else on the streets noticed.

It was unfortunate for Aia, whose life had already been overtaken by the whole thing, to have it made even worse with this new information. Someone had seen her. Someone had seen her, and could see her again and again if they wanted. There was someone out there who could destroy her if they wanted. She didn’t even know there were cameras in the midways. Who were these shadowy tormentors that have now involved themselves in her life?

Of course, the first thing that came to mind were the voices she heard in the midway while she hid. The ones that found her handiwork. Those boisterous, youthful voices. Were they the ones? There couldn’t be anyone else, could there? Hopefully? And what did they do? Why would they want to silence her? She had no idea why they were, had no desire to know for sure. As soon as they left, she bolted. What incriminating information could she have, of all people, to warrant blackmail?

This was the first time she ever thought extensively about those voices since that dreadful night. It was the first time she really thought about the fact that the homeless man’s body disappeared with them. They must have took it with them, but why? What could they possibly do with him?

She thought about the way they talked. It reminder her of the security officer, who sounded incredibly smug for someone of his stature. Then she remembered what they said…they called the dead man a ‘leech’, didn’t they? She remembered what Pearl said the next morning…or, what Benny and Jenny said to her. All these little things Aia never really took the time to look at, and she started to make connections…but then she stopped. No, that’s not the thing to do now. This could only makes thing worse. She already knew too much. She didn’t want to know any more. She didn’t want to think about this any more. It doesn’t mean anything to me, I don’t care, I don’t want to risk it. What would happen to me? What would happen to Pearl? No, no, this is as far as I go.

It was difficult for several days afterwards for Aia to hide her new-found despair, her constant attempts to block any further thought about the situation and the implications surrounding it. It was imperative to her to hide it from Pearl especially (it was pretty easy to convince coworkers, the neighbours, and the people at the marketplace that she was just having some trouble sleeping, or she was a little sick, or anything else that was no big deal), but she noticed anyway, the sweet, sympathetic thing; Aia chalked it up as another one of her failings.

“What’s wrong? You don’t look well at all”

“It’s nothing…I’m just a little sick.”

“This must be a new kind of sick, because I’ve never seen you look like this before”

“It’s nothing, really”

“You sure?”

“Yes”

“Okay”

Aia hated lying to her more than anything else. But she wasn’t going to to draw Pearl into this mess. She did nothing to deserve it. She decided lying was a slightly lesser evil in this situation. This was something she never thought she’d have to decide, and something she didn’t want to decide. It seemed like there this whole ordeal was making her do many uncomfortable things.

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2 Responses to “(Chapter IV)”

  1. […] Prologue Chapter I Chapter II Chapter III Chapter IV […]

  2. […] Chapter I Chapter II Chapter III Chapter IV Chapter […]

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