Edge of Collapse. Short Story.

Jason looked up and around the room, it had gone quiet. He didn’t like the quiet. The deep grinding noise that filled the air of the city had stopped, and that made Jason nervous. It wasn’t supposed to stop, it was supposed to always be there, a comforting background noise. Jason hated the silence, he hated oppressive the silence was, his ears started to ring, that annoying high pitched buzz that always accompanied silence. What if something was wrong down there? He didn’t even want to think about what that would mean for the city as a whole. Everything was powered by the Works down below, without them to city would wither and die as so many others had. As it was the city was a technological beacon. The only place that had electricity, water that flowed freely through pipes. Jason didn’t really know how it all worked. Few people did. He had just been a grunt when he worked there. It was mandatory. Ever citizen living in the city had to work there for at least two years. If you died before your two years were up your time was passed to your family. Once they were up you could choose to keep working or to move on. Jason had chosen to move on. He didn’t like it down there in the dark, with the heavy, bitter stink of grease filling the air. The huge behemoth gears spinning slowly, spinning quickly, towering over him, daring him to step just a little bit closer. There were accidents regularly, people sucked into gears or turbines, people having limbs ripped from their body. It wasn’t unusual to see a cripple as you walked the streets of the city. But it was a necessary price to be paid. Their limbs, their sacrifices, helped keep the city alive.

The city had started about fifty years back, when someone discovered the Works beneath the city, they had managed to start it up again, get it going and soon people heard of it. Gangs tried to take over, but they were fought off until there were too many people to be attacked. Jason had come when he was just a boy. His mother seeking a better life for them both after his father died of the wasting at their small farm. They had always managed to get by out there, but with his father gone his mother hadn’t been able to keep things going. She had packed the few meagre belongings, sold off the animals, scrawny though they were, and together they set off. The journey had taken months on foot. Now it seemed like one long, terrible day. He remembered the cold, the hunger, the noises of his mother doing things that helped keep them alive for just a few days longer. They arrived to the city in rags, Jason’s previous life already seeming like a dream, something imagined on their long endless walk. They had been welcomed in, his mother immediately starting her time working in the Works. Jason had been sent to school for a few months, until he was able to prove he was sufficient at math’s and reading. Then he was sent out to find work. He had a few odd jobs here and there, not much but it brought in something. Each morning he would get up early and race off, seeking to beat the other children, the jobs were always first come first serve. His mother died shortly after he started in the Works, sucked into one of the gears.

She had been a kind woman, and always believed in him. His favourite memory of her was when he tried to grown plants in an old pot on their windowsill, he had planted them carefully and made sure to water them every day. His mother had told him not to expect much, if anything, to grow, but he kept at it, making sure that there was enough water and light, as if having enough of both would trick the dead seeds into growing. One morning he woke to find a huge flower in the pot, he had been amazed, elated, he knew that it would work if he tried for long enough. It was several years later before he realized what had really happened. During the night his mother had gone out and dug up the flower and replanted it in the pot to cheer him up. He had been upset the night before, sad that nothing was growing.

His mother had always tried to make the world a little brighter, a little happier. She enjoyed being in the Works, knowing she was making a difference, helping to make everyone’s lives a little easier. He took solace in the fact that her death was quick. She wouldn’t have felt a thing. Sometimes he had to walk passed where she died. Occasionally the pools of dark grease would look like blood in the low light. He had even cleaned it away a few times, but it would always return.

There was a deep groan from below, then the noise started again, Jason released a breath he didn’t know he was holding. The lights flickered briefly then came back on. Jason had always assumed that they knew what they were doing down there, that someone understood all the cogs and gears and what exactly they did, but as time went on he began to doubt it a little. Maybe it was a case that it was just failing by itself, old machinery that couldn’t be replaced, but nothing looked damaged or old from what he remembered. New parts were manufactured all the time, and it was usually a simple matter to replace anything needed. But the brownouts had been getting worse and blackouts were getting more commonplace. Maybe he should leave? Once the power was gone the city would devolve, Jason was sure of it. It would be safer to flee now, while there was still power and light, than to flee when everything was in darkness and rioting started. He took a deep breath, he was panicking, he just needed to stay calm. Besides, where else would he go? He didn’t have enough money to buy land, and land that was unprotected would be worthless anyway. He had to stay, there was no where else he could go.

 

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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