** note: this is a story written back around 2010, posted here so it won’t be lost. **
In the darkness of the Black City, Ithica and four children climbed to the highest rooftop on the Westend neighborhood. Below them, there were only spotted light. Candle flames. Battery powered electric glows. There were forced transactions of cable lines, splintering through the few windows where people still lived. Re-routed television programs. Overhead lamps. Microwaves that still worked for minutes at a time.
Clocks that still blinked the 12:00 hour each and every single moment of the day.
Ithica and the pack of Wolves sat with their legs crossed, their bodies slanted into one another. Fingertips touching thighs, chins resting on shoulders and the smallest boy crawled into Itchica’s lap, the laces of his sneakers undone. On the left side were the teenage twins. On the right was the middle brother and in the center sat the youngest and Ithica, not a mother but a babysitter and their only hope for a sister one day.
They all sat and watched the city underneath them. Too high up to tell what was going on. Somewhere below them, the oldest of the Wolves was, Mathias, working hard to save their mother’s skin. It had begun peeling in the mid-afternoon sun and no one understood why. Radiation. Eastend Sickness. It could have been anything. It could have been everything. Mathias wasn’t a doctor but a scientist. A biochemist. Or he would have been.
If there were universities in the Black City.
They all knew their mother would have settled for a smile before her death.
They also all knew Mathias wouldn’t have anything of it.
So they said nothing about it.
“Mathias says you’re trying to get away…” The youngest Wolf said, looking up. He had bucked teeth that popped out over his slender lips. Dark eyes like all his brother’s had. He was nine years old and his name was Jeremy. He had the longest eyelashes of them all.
“I’m not trying to get away…” Ithica mumbled but all their eyes were on her. The twins blinking in sucession, each hiding behind the long hair that clung in their faces. The middle Wolf who looked least like the rest of them, his nose elegant and upturned. “I just…I just need to find someone.” She stammered.
“Mathias says you’re looking for the Fox.” Jeremy chimed again, his small body squirming against her legs.
“And you only go looking for the Fox if you’re looking to get away.” One of the twins broke in. Jonas. He shoved a strand of greybrown hair behind his ear. “So if you’re looking for the Fox…”
“You’re looking to get away…” The other twin finished. Ivan. Still hidden, his eyes seeming like they were shut.
Ithica, though, was silent. She brought her hands to her sides, fingertips brushing the gravel and tar. It was cool in the midnight air.
“No…” She finally whispered. “It’s not that at all. I’m looking for the Fox — for Etienne, because I knew him once. A long, long time ago. And I need to see him again. You wouldn’t understand…”
And the pack of Wolves thought on it. Their heads casted downwards to the city. Their forgotten home. The broken up streets. The falling apart houses. Somewhere down there Mathias was looking up. Somewhere down there their mother was dying. The wolves were just children and they knew it. The world was too much. There would always be things they’d never understand.
And when told that, the Wolves would always turn quiet. Suck on their teeth. None of them said anything at all. Only Aidien, the middle child took in a breath. It hung in the air, pointless. Afraid. A collective thought come together in a single swish of breeze.
It was rare, but it happened, when the brothers all thought exactly the same.
“You’re not going to be our sister, are you?”
And the city stopped, waiting.
It shot her as she said it, sending her back, leaning onto her elbows and eyes to the star-splattered sky. Around her each of the boys struggled not to let out a cry. The paleness in Mathias’ eyes suddenly explained. The devotion to the sick mother. The desire to heal.
And every soft breath they’d ever known, Ithica’s, their mother’s, was falling away. And it had never seemed clearer that the pack of Wolves would be alone at last. Just them. Mathias and Jonas and Ivan and Aidien and Jeremy. The boys. The brothers.
Lost in the Black City. The city that got it’s name from the lack of light.
They’d tumble down too. Hit cement. Be forgotten.
“So when do you leave?” Jeremy asked, in his quiet child voice. He settled still on Ithica’s lap, head leaning low to hide his tears. They sounded only on the ends of his words with a tiny sniffle. The sound of his hand against his nose.
“Soon.” Ithica said. “Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the day after that…It’s north and far from here. It may take some time. I haven’t been there since I was a little girl…” She paused. “And it’s the Fox. And hardly anyone finds him…”
She frowned to the night sky and closed her dark eyes.
“And if you come back…” Jeremy tried again.
“I don’t know if I’ll be coming back….”
The boys let out a sigh together. Unable to face one another. Each looking up. Or down. Left or right.
“Figures…” Ivan murmured. “No matter what, you’re looking for the Fox…”
“And not matter what…” Jonas continued. “You’re trying to get away…”
And around them the night continued. The Black City flashed the only way it could. Underneath them, far away from the rooftops the channels were changing and the lights were tinkering on and off. The people always remained. There was nowhere else to go. Deadend city. Deadend lives. They all knew it when they plugged their lamps in. Sucked their energy dry.
Everything was borrowed. Time. Light. Love. Sewn together connections and
Ithica and the pack of Wolves.