A Penny for your Thoughts

 

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Prologue

MALE NEWS REPORTER I

A group, known as the Fatalities has officially become our first successful form of government to gain world domination. After close to a decade in the making, the United States has become the final country to join the Fatalities.

 

FEMALE REPORTER I

The US is the new Central Command Station for the entire Fatality System. If accepted, citizens will be given their pennies tomorrow and must keep them the duration of their life. Any child born after will also be examined and assigned a penny.

 

MALE REPORTER II

Central Command has bought all major forms of business, sending former owners and employees plummeting into poverty.

 

FEMALE NEWS REPORTER I

Security upgrades are complete. No public access on or off Nantucket Island will be permitted.

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Chapter One: The Dull Day

Rain poured; allowing for water to drench the red velvet curtain. Brixton and his mother neglected to patch up the crack in the bay window. For years it went overlooked. A light drizzle here and there didn’t affect them. Only the occasional downfall like today brought attention to the heavy drape. Brixton watched as the water spot grew larger and larger. He hated that curtain. It blocked out not only the sun but all of civilization. Not to mention, it was about five feet longer than it needed to be. The excess fabric sat crumpled on the floor causing a tripping hazard that Brixton fell for almost every time he came near the window. The five extra feet did come in good use today though. He used the massive wine-colored velvet as a dam to prevent it from soaking the window seat. As he dabbed up the escaping puddle he wondered.

How powerful can thoughts be? Thoughts are like the wind; just as invisible. Yet they can embrace any amount of turmoil. Both can destroy everything. A single thought can take control and rule a nation. One thought put in the mind of an innocent person can ruin it forever. One spark can lead to a great fire in a dry forest.

He drew back the curtain and peeked outside.

“Nobody. Good.”

He opened the drapes up even further. There wasn’t as much to worry about when nobody was outside. Finally, he could feel like he wasn’t hiding something.

No matter what they did, the people in the Court were always hiding. Hiding from Fatalities. Hiding from their past. Or even from their doomed future. To be overlooked was a good thing. He watched a stream of water make its way through the cracks of the cobblestone streets like a giant maze. It winded to the left for a bit then changed course completely and took a sharp right.

What of memories? They are like those streets. Over time they fade with wear. Each stone also locked into place forever embracing new characters. If told right, a memory will carry on in the stories read generation after generation.

Both of these things, thoughts and memories, were so strong and so pliable at the same time. Brixton shuttered to think about the fragile position anyone would be in if they crossed with a Fatal.

The warmth of his house and the window seat soothed him and carried him out of his thoughts. This particular spot became his favorite area in the entire house to sit in spite of his mother’s requests not to do so. Pillows stuffed with feathers made this the place he could relax in his tattered WWI army jacket and read.

Sonu, Brixton’s mom, bought it for his birthday two years ago. He hadn’t taken it off in the apartment since. Only when he went outside did he leave it hanging on the coat rack. As soon as Brixton came back in, though, he wrapped the history around him again. Some of the pockets had holes, but he didn’t mind. He liked to imagine that a soldier wore the fabric out in it from heavy grenades.

His hair fell on the collar of the jacket just enough to cover it. At one point, his hair was a light blonde. Each year it lost its yellow hue and turned more to a hazelnut brown. He could barely see the blonde anymore. He swiped his bangs across his face. That part was annoying about having long hair. He was constantly pushing it out of his eyes. On some days it felt like he had a constant twitch.

Maybe I’m the exception to aging. Instead of getting lighter and turning gray, my hair will be like a raven’s feathers by the time it finishes getting darker.

“Be jealous ladies,” Brixton said to nobody in particular.

Although a haircut sounded good, Brixton chose to keep it. Other boys his age grew their hair out. He wasn’t one to follow in pursuit of the latest fashion trends but with the hair, girls swooned all over the other guys on a daily basis. Of course they were better looking. Brixton liked to think of himself as an average teenage boy with glasses and a medium-build body.

At least I’m not too skinny like some of the other guys. He thought. I’ve got some definition. He flexed in the reflection from the window.

“I could definitely be a soldier.”

He kicked off his worn out shoe and lifted up the inside sole of it. A penny flipped out into his hand.

“What do you think? Am I destined to be a big “war hero”?”

The penny given to him at birth said 1880. 1880? Eh, an okay year from what he read in history books. Not that he could find anyway. The only thing of particular interest was the place he was named after. His mom found a city in the same history books and named him after a district in London.

Nothing much happened in Brixton. Electric Avenue turned into the first market street to beam electricity to the area in 1880. Sonu told him that one day he too would bring light back to the world. She probably said this out of electricity deprivation. They hadn’t had the convenience of a light switch since he was a baby. Everywhere else did. But not Sonu. She said it would bring too much attention to them. That and she refused to support anything that had to do with the Fatalities. Since they owned the electric company, the gas company, the water plant and everything else in the Court, he and his mother had to resort to doing things that she liked to call, “the old fashioned way”.

He imagined some sort of superhero there to save the day. “I am here to bring light into the world!” Superheroes paraded around in his imagination all the time when he was smaller. He defeated the powerful Fatals and ended the madness for all.

As a teenager, his world remained the same boring place. The superheroes were replaced with reality. He knew superheroes never even existed. They didn’t even live remotely close to England anyway. Why did she name him after a place she never traveled to?

Nevertheless, he kept the penny safe in a hidden compartment in the sole of his shoe.

I wish my penny could be just thirty years older, Brixton thought. I could really make a difference with a penny like that.

War fascinated him. Maybe because there hadn’t been a full out battle for a couple of decades. Some uprisings here and there but not to the extent of tanks, armor and the good stuff he liked. The Fatalities’ idea to end all conflicts actually worked.

They became the first form of government to gain world domination. Complete control took close to ten years to accomplish; the United States being the last to agree. Since they were the last, immigrants poured into the country. Brixton imagined millions of refugees crashing onto the shore; just one solid wave of nothing but desperate people.

Of course, the idea sounded good at the time; everybody flees to the last place standing. What they didn’t predict was that as soon as the States did convert, they quickly became the central command station for the entirety of the Fatality system. It was their idea to take over all businesses. Grocery stores, gas stations, electric companies were all owned by the government. They knew what a citizen was doing before they did it.

To give the Fatality system credit, the initial idea seemed quite logical. If the world was all under one roof of governmental control then they would all be the same. There would be no fighting about differences. A dispute free life came with a heavy price though. To gain freedom from war meant to lose freedom from life.

Two tanks occupied his street at that very moment. One sat on one end of the street while the other stationed itself at the opposite end. Day in and day out those tanks perched like vultures waiting to exterminate anything that wandered into its path.

“Please find somewhere else to read, Brix. I hate it when you read in the window like this. It brings –“

“Too much attention to our house,” Brixton finished for her in his best motherly voice. “Someone will see you. You know how nervous it makes me.” Mom, you worry entirely too much.”

Brixton chuckled. She said things like this too many times during the day for him to count. Plus entirely was a new word he had picked up that week. Alone, it ranked as a weak adverb, but it felt like the perfect word to try with his mom.

Sonu was a small, petite woman. He couldn’t figure out how she had been able to have him. Her tiny frame could’ve snapped in half trying to carry around a baby all day. No matter what she ate, she stayed the same for as long as he could remember. Her hair had faded some, but still glowed a soft honey-brown in the sun. She wore it down during the day. Not once did she cut it shorter than the middle of her back. One time the hairdresser did just that and she cried for days. She actually cried. Over hair. Although ridiculous, he agreed. She did look different with shorter hair. Even though it was still long compared to other people’s.

Where she lacked in height and size, she made up for in mind and spirit. She stayed strong when citizens were asked to conform and pay for the power. She refused to buy food from the government run stores. On the roof of their house, Sonu grew her own garden. She became good at it too; so good that she actually sold half of the extras to close acquaintances and neighbors. Any remainders that she didn’t use for the night’s dinner, she snuck down to the docks and gave to the people who needed it more than they did. Brixton hated the kale and ginger anyway so he was thrilled to see it go.

Everyone spoke of her beauty and strong heart too. It was at night though that Brixton admired his mother the most. She wore a loose braid to keep the hair out of her face while she worked on projects around the house. She was always rearranging or making some craft project that she swore would make the house better for whatever reason. For the most part, it did. Some projects turned out better than he would have expected with a piece of junk.

Once, Sonu found a tattered old suitcase and stuffed it with tufted fabric. She then added legs on the bottom for a rather conventional chair. It sat in the brightest corner of the room so she could gaze upon it from every location in the great, open living space.

That was the beauty in his mother no one else knew about. He could see the passion in her eyes and the ideas churning in her head. She still had the spark that so many people lost over the years of New Policy.

“Nice word, Brix, but that isn’t going to make me feel any better. Actually it scares me even more. Entirely,” she repeated under her breath as she brushed her hair out of her face.

“You’re so smart. One day your smarts are going to get you into a lot of trouble.”

She spoke with a frantic tone. He couldn’t help but picture her as a twisted rabbit that lost its hole. She polished pieces of furniture that hadn’t been touched in months. She beat pillows to give them a good fluff. She tugged on the drapes to close them up tight again. Then for extra precaution, clipped wood clothespins to the edges to make sure they would not open with even the slightest breeze from outside. The wind sometimes slipped through the poorly set windows causing the curtains to dance within the wind’s faint whispers.

Brixton thought she had lost it once she started moving the furniture around. Any other day this would be normal, but she had just done that two days ago.

She usually leaves it for a while; at least a month or two.

Sonu continued to dart about; always looking over her shoulder at the window. Every time she did, so did Brixton. He kept thinking something was behind him which made him feel nervous too.

“What are you doing? Are you expecting someone?”

No visitor ever stepped foot in their loft apartment. Sonu liked to keep things private. She did the visiting around the Court.

His mother continued as if she didn’t hear his question over the screeching of the couch on the hardwood floor.

“And – if you must know, ummf, I worry, uummf, because I’m a mother. I’m allowed to. It’s in the rule book right next to Kiss Your Child More Than Five Times a Day.” Sweat glimmered through on her already natural glowing face.

“That’s pushing it. I’m nineteen-years-old. Don’t you think that’s a little old? I’m pretty much old enough to kiss other girls who are not my mom.”

“You’re never too old to kiss your mother,” she said as she tugged on the bulky curtain for the second time.

“Mom! What are you doing?”

“This place has gone long enough without a good cleaning. I’m sick of living in this somber hole! It’s about time you started helping out around the house, too. What about school? Have you done your work?”

Brixton grew discombobulated with all the questions that were so random and all of the different topics. He put his arms out and shrugged his shoulders.

“It isn’t even that bad. If there isn’t enough light, why don’t we open these stupid things, then?” He opened the barricaded drapes.

“Don’t argue with me, Brixton Bex. Today is not the day.”

Sonu drew them closed again and secured them with even more clips. She never called him by his full name, Brixton Bex. Something was wrong.

Why so wound up? Had something happened she wasn’t telling him? Surely my own mother wouldn’t keep a secret from me.

“I’m going to the library. Make sure to lock the door behind me-”

“And don’t open it until you hear me knock,” he finished for her. Another thing Brixton heard more than he wanted to.

“Very cute. One time, Son. I’m telling ya. That mouth will get you into a hole you won’t be able to talk your way out of.”

“Wait,” Brixton stopped his mom before she shut the door. “The library? It’s pouring out there. We haven’t even finished the books we have here.”

With all the hustle, this idea had just occurred to him.

“Keep those. I’m just going to get a few more.”

“They must be important with the way you’re acting. Is there a certain Prince Charming in a fantasy book filled with romance and suspense that’s got you all flustered? Perhaps War and Peace for the hundredth time?”

“You don’t even know the meaning of flustered when it comes to love nor that book. But no there isn’t,” Sonu looked her son directly in the eyes before taking another step back toward him; leaving the door wide open. “Okay, I’ll be right back. Watch for me.”

She stepped again and hopped over the pile of books they were keeping and kissed her son gently on the head and tugged on his hair. It completely messed up any attempt for his rugged look he was going for.

“You need a haircut,” she said as she made it back to the open front door and slid the industrial metal frame shut. Brixton bolted all the locks and sauntered back to the window seat fixing his hair as he went.

This day spiraled into quite a peculiar one very quickly.

It’s gotta be the rain, he figured as he opened the curtain back up.

On dull and gloomy days like this, hardly anybody walked the streets. Beggars even tucked away. It also meant the Fatalities weren’t on duty. They were too lazy when the weather turned bad. There was no need to keep their home on such a locked downstate.

The empty streets looked and felt relaxing. They actually made the Court look somewhat normal for a change. Even the tanks faded into the gray buildings and fog accumulated between them.

The dreary scene reminded him of some sort of fantasy world where the Court rested on a cloud and monster tanks blew smoke from underneath. Its entire people, demolished. Only a few survivors remained hidden within the shadows and safety of the buildings.

“Man, you have a weird imagination,” he said to himself as he shook his head back into reality.

He looked down at the book in his hands. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. He had already read it twice but repeated it every now and again on days like this when it rained.

“Each story has a purpose, Brix,” Sonu told him the first time he read it. For herself, she took out War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and grazed the cover lightly with her fingers.

“Once upon a time, we lived in a different world. Someday- it will be better again.” She brought the book close to her heart and held it tight. “Many battles were fought then, too; like in this story I always read. “Countries invaded other countries and forced them to live in ways that they didn’t want to. Although these are all just stories, they come from the author’s perspective of some event in their lives or the lives of others. But their lives and experiences on paper are nothing like the fall of our island and everywhere else. We aren’t the only ones in this world. Did you know that? Our entire nation fell as well as all other nations. The whole world handed itself over to the Fatalities.”

Brixton couldn’t help but think of WWII and the children that suffered then. Surely their lives were worse than his. If anybody suffered, it was them. He and his mother never had to go to the camps described in the hundreds of volumes he read. Then again they did live in a barricaded city, on an island, with no way to escape. He was surprised he could read stuff like that in the first place now that he thought about it.

The Fatalities didn’t want the people to learn about those things. The pain, the failure of domination, the “good guys” winning. They didn’t want children to read about anything, really. Hope and positive values that so many of the stories concluded with seemed to be the worst.

To prevent any ideas for uprisings and “good guys” winning, schools closed ten years ago. Brixton was among the lucky few that learned how to read before they shut it down for good. By not teaching children to read, the Fatalities gained more control. Eventually, the entire population would be uneducated and easier to handle. They figured an ignorant person wouldn’t understand any better life than their present state of living.

Even if he didn’t know how to read, Sonu probably would have taught him anyway. She still gave him lessons each day and it was nice to have somewhere to start besides at the beginning. He felt ahead of the curve when his mom created lessons of her own to teach him.

On one hand, Brixton felt lucky to still be learning. On the other, on some days, he didn’t see the point. Nobody else would care about the things he learned so why bother with it? It wasn’t like he could discuss it with anyone. That would just get him and whoever else that listened into trouble.

One of the few places Brixton felt safe consisted of the bolted doors in his own home. He liked his apartment. Sure, it was no mansion, but the exposed brick and plastered walls around the room suited him and his mother. What was it his mother called it? Eclectic meets New Century loft. They were far from the New Century. But that seemed to be the time she liked the most besides the Victorian era. The New Century was the first part of the two-thousands; before the big fall; before the Fatalities. Brixton couldn’t understand why anyone, even of that era, would want to live in a building that looked like it was falling apart.

Sonu didn’t see it like that though. She saw in the walls a time when people were happy. She loved the vastness of the room. Their entire apartment opened up to beams and rafters above the second floor.

During a history lesson, Brixton found his island, then his building. He lived in Nantucket. Massachusetts was the bigger chunk that neighbored it about thirty miles away. Their island was one of the last places to go under. He guessed it was because they were such a small island that they would be easy to control. The bigger cities became a bigger focus. New York, London, Paris, Mexico City, and so many more were the first to go.

A candle factory claimed the building they lived in at one point long ago. It later became a museum. Remnants of the museum still decorated the walls today. He was surprised at how the building and even the island still looked like it did back then in the photographs. His mom kept the carved whale teeth on the mantle above the fireplace.

“I love the history. Plus it livens up the place,” she said.

The island was small. Its area was close to 100 square miles. It seemed even smaller knowing that no matter what they did, they would never be able to leave. That was part of the system. Nobody came in and nobody left. The one bridge that connected Nantucket and Massachusetts stayed heavily guarded round the clock. A giant gate blocked the way and two guardhouses planted themselves on both sides. Spotlights dotted the entire 30-mile stretch. From afar, it looked like a single white line that disappeared over the horizon. Brixton thought about what it would look like from space and how many other lines like this connected other islands to the mainland.

He opened his book for the third time. He figured, an hour for every two chapters, his mom should be back in three chapters; an hour and a half.

On a good day, he could sprint to the library and back in eight minutes. It wasn’t far at all. Three blocks down, turn right, and then there it was.

The library took up the entire block. Its statuesque appearance made it stand tall like some Greek structure. The whole thing was white. Even the brick wall around the front was made out of white bricks that the citizens repainted every year in the spring. The library was one of the only buildings the Court’s citizens took pride in. They held mini celebrations and fed whoever volunteered to help paint and clean the outside of the building. Sonu and Brixton helped every year by bringing extra paintbrushes and fresh sprigs of parsley for the buffet tables. He read once that the building next door to it used to be a children’s library. He must have known those went together at some time since they looked so much alike. The building was now a public mess hall for families who needed extra meals. Nobody went there though. It made for an easy target with the Fatals.

The Fatalities’ main quarter positioned itself directly in between their apartment and the right-turn to the library. If Brixton ran by and they were outside, guaranteed one of them would stop him.

“What’s the rush? Are you running from someone?” They would ask.

Every time allotted the same questions which in turn, the individual in question responded with the same nervous answers. The same laughs of conquering poured out of their wretched, crooked smiles along with slaps on the back by their fellow partners. He hated the humiliation. With that being said, he didn’t time himself much. He preferred to walk rather than go through all of that. The temptation haunted him every time a day like this came about.

Today would be a good day to time. I bet I could get under eight. I bet I could get less than that.

His legs itched to be set free from the confinement of the apartment. If it weren’t for his promise to stay put, he would have done it. Instead, he took a deep sigh and began to read.

The rain tapped against the window like the ticking of a distorted clock. One tick then two ticks back to back. Its irregular pattern soothed his desire to go outside. He felt its relaxing ticks take over him and soon enough he forgot about the time.

Chapter ten had just come into view when heavy footsteps echoed in the empty hallway just outside the sliding door. A wave of sound like bombs exploding accompanied the increasing running stride. As Brixton neared the front door, so did the stomping. Chills fizzed up and down his spine. The most terrifying thought he could ever think came into view.

Fatalities. They’re coming for me. My mother is still at the library. Wait. What if they caught her first? How long has it been? What if they already killed her?

Brixton’s heart sank into his stomach. He didn’t know which was louder, the pounding in his head or the pounding in the hallway. Both expanded to immeasurable heights. More echoes bounced off the walls making them screech with agony. They were so old and could crumble if shook just right.

In that brief moment, he concluded that any slight chance of running away came to a halt when the running ceased. Panting hovered at his front door. The hallway still echoed with disturbance.

His mind fell into sudden obscurity. He knew in a matter of seconds his life would be over. But then again what reason was there to live anymore? His mother was probably dead. She was all he had. A lump welled up in his throat. He swallowed hard.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Pounds on the door jolted Brixton back into the living room and to the front door pulsing with rage. The door handle jiggled in frenzy. Too afraid to open it, he squinted and looked through the peephole.

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Sharina Wunderink

Enjoy where this is going so far. My only feedback are a few grammatical errors at the beginning and a few confusing sections.

Chapter Two: The Figure at the Door

Like this helps. I can’t see a thing. Mom, why did you make me color the glass with marker? Mom? Mom!

BANG!

“MOM!”

“Brixton! I told you to watch for me!”

BANG!

“Open the door, quick!”

Brixton fumbled to unbolt the locks. Once he unlatched the first, his hands moved faster than he ever thought they could. In almost one swoop, they all unlocked and he flung open the door. It opened with such force, pictures fell off their rusted nails and onto the floor with a shatter. Glass shards bounced then slid across the cement floor. Alarmed, Brixton sprang to the crash site to pick up the broken pieces.

“What are you doing?! Leave that and help me! Run and grab the rest of the load I dropped all over the place.”

He looked over her shoulder at the books scattered along the hallway then headed toward them. That must have been the bombs dropping sound.

“Don’t walk…run!”

Sonu’s forceful demands brought back the anxiety he had just gotten over once he saw her blurry figure through the peephole. Never had he been so afraid, startled, excited, and confused in all his life. He sprinted down the hallway and grabbed all the stragglers. Sonu already threw her load over the broken pieces of glass. She waited for him; one hand on the handle the other on the largest of the bolts. Brixton raced through the door and plopped the remainders on the table. A few slid off and landed with more bomb bangs on the floor.

“What took you so long? You’ve been gone for hours!” he gasped.

“Just a minute…let me catch my breath...are the blinds shut?"

“Yeh, you pinned them shut,” Brixton lied.

“Okay good. Don’t touch um.”

“What was that? Mom, what happened out there? Why do you have so many books?” he asked while fumbling to pin the curtains back up without being noticed.

“They’re going to burn it down.”

“Burn what down?”

“The…the library.”

“Who is?”

“Who do you think? The…Fatalities,” she said still trying to catch her breath. “A week from tomorrow. I had to go the long way around so they wouldn’t see me.”

“So who wouldn’t see you?”

“The Fatalities. I just told you.”

“How did you find that out?”

“I had to do this, Brix. You can-NOT tell anybody that we have these. Anybody. Do you understand?”

“How did you find out so far ahead of time? Who told you?”

“Anybody, Brix.”

“Yes, don’t tell anybody. How did you hear about this?”

His patience grew weary. Sonu had hardly answered any of his questions. He felt concerned for his mother and started to question her sanity. Had she gone mad? Was she making this up? How could she have possibly heard about something like this?

“I’m going again tonight. I’ll go before the spotlights turn on. Please be on a better lookout next time.”

“This is absurd! We can’t keep all these books!”

“You would rather see them turned to ash?”

“No. But we’ll get caught. They’ll kill us on the spot.”

“They’re already killing us, Brix. Without these.” She picked up a book that slid onto the floor and placed it back on the table. Her gentle touch soothed the books as if they were living things. The room felt calm again. “Our minds will surly turn to mush.”

“How did you find out about this?”

“Never mind that. Just remember this, Brixton Bex.” Sonu’s voice was calm now as well. “There is a small door on the side of the library where no cameras reach. It’s in the alleyway. A door opens up to the basement. Go up the winding stairs until the main lobby opens up on to the second floor. That’s how you get to the books from here on out.”

“They’re going to burn down the library in a week?” It had finally sunk in and became clear to Brixton what she had just said. He felt as if a part of him had died.

“Yes. They’re calling it The Burning Ceremony. Real original, I know. Like it’s some big celebration; a “cleansing of the mind”.” A tear streamed down her already glowing face from sweat.

“Why would they do that?”

“Because they can. They feel threatened. That’s what they do.”

“Feel threatened? By who?”

“By us. All of us who go to that library. All of us who still know how to read. All of us who have an opinion and who care about that place. They’re trying to stop us.”

“From doing what though? We aren’t doing anything.”

“Not yet we aren’t, Brix. But someday we will and that’s what scares them.”

“What, like rebellion to go against them?”

“Exactly.”

Brixton looked around the designated dining room. Books lie scattered across the floor and table. They were everywhere. And she was going to get more?

“What are we going to do with all of these?”

“We’ve got one week and a lot of rearranging to do. I’m going to need your help.”

“Where do we start?”

Brixton could tell that she was in fact telling the truth. She hadn’t lost her mind. Somehow, someway, Sonu found out what the Fatalities planned to do to the library books. She was creative, but there was no way she would have gone this far with a made-up story. To risk getting caught stealing books? She would never do that just for fun.

In a way, he was kind of happy she didn’t tell him the whole story. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to learn how she found out. It had to be from someone on the inside and the thought of his mother in close contact with someone like that scared him. Maybe it was best he didn’t know.

That night, Brixton could hardly sleep. The thrill of going against a Fatal had his stomach churning for hours. If they could sneak in unnoticed with the library and take the books, what else could they do? Would it be possible to do the same with the store? He hadn’t had a decent dessert in years and the cupcakes he saw citizens with when they walked down the streets looked heavenly. His mouth watered every time he saw the swirled frosting and the moist, crumbling cake. Or possibly a glazed ham oozing with juices would be divine.

Of course, his mother would never allow for them to sneak into the store. They were stealing the books for a good reason. They weren’t stealing for the sake of stealing.

Robin Hood and his merry men, he thought. Except my merry men consists of just my mother. Or would she be more like Robin Hood and I’m the merry man?

One good robbery would have to do. What he liked most about taking the books was that it meant he would never have to sneak past the headquarters again. All the questions and the stares made him too nervous. Even just one day without having to walk past that black brick building made this whole escapade worth it.

The days passed and they began to fall into a steady routine. His mother made all of the back and forth trips, while he organized them into categorized piles. Brixton forgot all about that headquarters building and who lurked behind the doors and windows of it.

Each trip became easier. By far that was the easy part. Finding a place to put them was the hard part. Things quickly shifted from an exciting rush to a tortuous day in and day out chore. Every imaginable muscle in his body begged for an end that was nowhere in sight. Blisters erupted like miniature volcanoes of puss all over his hands. When they sat down to rest, neither he nor his mother could sit up in their chairs. Their bodies fell limp and surrendered to the soft cushions of the tufted chairs every evening.

Sonu accumulated so many bruises that she reminded him of a cheetah or some other spotted animal roaming around in the wild.

It kind of felt like that, he thought. Mom does roam the empty streets; ready to pounce on anything that so much as moves a millimeter.

The temptation to celebrate overpowered both Brixton and his mother when she decided they had saved enough books. It was perfect timing too. They hardly had enough space to walk around or sit comfortably without fear the slightest movement would send a book falling into their laps.

In the one week they had, they managed to convert every bit of available space into bookshelves. The walls made of plaster were easy enough to carve into. Those shelves cascaded from floor to ceiling. They wrapped around corners and into doorways. Sonu chiseled at loose bricks in the walls to form smaller cubby holes. Some of the cubbies housed one book while others crammed three or four. It all depended on how many bricks fell out. She only worked on the already loose ones to make sure the structure of the house wouldn’t cave in and crush them. She figured if they were already loose, they weren’t doing much good anyway.

Hardly any visible wall space stood in some places. During that Robin Hood time, they acquired thousands of novels. They had so much that many of them became furniture. Sonu stacked the older, sturdier encyclopedias on the floor. She then found a large recycled piece of glass at the junkyard and placed it on top. They now had end tables by the sofa and the window seat.

The fireplace, packed with shelves and books, seemed slightly ironic to Brixton. That would be the last place he would put them. One spark from the wood burning fireplace and all their hard work would go into flames. The carved whales’ teeth made for excellent bookends for the ones that held the honored position on the mantel.

Good thing we never use the fireplace anyway.

“Too much attention with the smoke and all,” Sonu would say. Only on rare occasions did they use it. When the temperature dropped down to unbearable where coats and blankets wouldn’t suffice, she lit up the wood. On those particular days, nobody would be outside anyway so they hardly worried about anybody spotting the smoke.

Even the space in between the stairs provided the perfect cozy little unit for smaller paperbacks. They literally swam in a sea of hard bounds, textbooks, and volumes of adventure. Their open loft gradually made its way to feeling like a small shoebox that smelled like tarnished leather and mildew.

Although the smell was strong at first, they quickly got used to it and began to like it. It permeated through the kitchen and into his bedroom upstairs.

Oh, his room. Even that received a story-fest makeover. He was curious to know if Sonu stole the books to save them or to use them for her decorating purposes. Of course, they needed to be saved, but his mother did enjoy a good renovation. She rearranged all the books in delectable patterns. His room looked the best of all. They spent a day and a half on his alone.

Only certain squares were chipped away on the old painted plaster wall so when she put the dark books in their cubbies, the entire wall looked like a giant chessboard. Squares she didn’t chip out were already white from the image he could no longer tell what it was.

On the wall with the giant circular window, Sonu allowed admittance for a tree to extend its winding arms through it. The branches begged for freedom to burst through for years as it grew. She took great pleasure in finding the biggest hammer she could to bust out the glass when really she only needed to unclip the hinges and it would have popped out.

He knew he’d miss that window. It’s massive size stretched out to a 15-foot diameter making it an excellent tool for his mother to teach him geometry and geography.

When he was still in school, Sonu borrowed a marker from his teacher and drew out the map of the world on his window. She included the equator and all the degrees of longitude and latitude. He was the only one in his class to learn the different continents before the school shut down.

After the marker wore off, the window began to remind him of an oversized submarine ship. To pass the time without school, he found a deflated bicycle wheel and pretend that he was captain of the giant ship. He spent endless nights fighting slimy sea urchins and evil pirates in his rustic war sub. That was probably when he developed such a fascination with war and war machines in particular.

“I’ve wanted to do that for years,” Sonu said as she twirled the hammer in her hand. “What a great stress reliever.”

Brixton laughed at his mother. He found it funny that a person so small could feel such strength and power. Even if it was only glass.

“Yeh, except now we have a huge mess to clean up.”

“Oh Brix, live in the present for once. We needed this.”

“Says the woman who won’t cook or turn on any electrical device because it sucks in too much attention.”

They both laughed at that. He was only telling the truth. They hadn’t used heat since the schools shut down. The Fatalities’ main concerns were those who used the power, so he and his mother went without. Sonu figured if they only paid attention to those with it then they wouldn’t get any attention and that was a good thing to her. Brixton always guessed it was a good thing for him too. Up until now, he didn’t see that there would be a problem if they didn’t have all the things that the other children had. But he wouldn’t have minded getting checked-up on by the Fatalities. They never did anything wrong anyway; not entirely. Now, was a different story. They’d kill him and his mother on the spot if they found out about the books. For once he was thankful they didn’t have a reason for Fatals to come knocking on their door.

Usually, they did just fine during the cold winter months. They had plenty enough wool blankets. However this year, he planned to sleep elsewhere once the first frost came due to the fact that his mother felt the need to obliterate his window leaving a gaping hole in his room. He would have to take advantage of every ounce of fresh air for the next month or so. Soon it would be unbearable once the snow came through. The window would be missed, but the twisting branches creeping in didn’t bother him at all. They intertwined and fit into his room as if they belonged there all along.

Once the limbs loosened up after the jerking and twisting, it felt like the building was built around the tree instead of it being planted after the building was built.

How can trees live so long and we can’t even survive a day on our own? He would always ask himself.

With the month of October in full stride, the leaves glowed as if on fire. Bright red and orange illuminated his bedroom in the mornings. The crisp flames crackled until they let loose of their grip and fell to the ground. Brixton stomped around his room, crunching the fallen leaves. He pretended they were the enemy in some epic battle. He stood towering over them as if they were his victims.

Parts of the tree that grew closer together became more space for books. The ones further apart made steps for Brixton to climb. He climbed to the top and placed all of his sacred adventure books on the rafters and in between the pipes. Being up high like this provided a safe haven for his most cherished collection of sorts.

All the classics made themselves at home up there. Tom Sawyer, Boo Radley, and Gandalf all lived simultaneously amongst the splintered rafters with the autumn leaves brushing against their tattered bindings. In this light, it seemed almost as if the worn out novels gained a newfound strength. They stood taller, glistened brighter, and brought life to the before barren and lifeless room.

“Don’t worry about the window, Brix. We’ll get it fixed on the day of the ceremony,” mentioned Sonu at dinner.

“It doesn’t bother me. I like the breeze that comes in.”

“You say that now, but wait until gusts of freezing cold wind come barreling through. You won’t say that then.”

“Won’t it look obvious if we try and cover up a tree growing through our house? I mean, do you think they’ll notice?”

“The Fatals only see what they want to see. We did get lucky though that your room is in the back and off the street.”

“That’s true.”

“Plus that old tree has been there for so many years, you can’t even tell that it goes through the building. They’ll never notice a few missing branches.”

“Once again, very true. But why the day of the ceremony? What makes that day so special?”

“If we do it then, everybody will be so frantic at the library, they won’t pay any attention to someone hanging outside the building putting in a window.”

“Do you even know how to put in a window?”

“No, but you forget. I too read. I can figure it out easily enough. It’s getting the supplies that will be the harder part. Besides,” she took a bite of fresh lettuce from the garden and cheese from a woman she traded with, “I have an idea.”

“Well, we’ve only got two days to do it.” He knew by now not to question Sonu’s ideas. Even if he did, she’d do them anyway.

“Good thing we finished ahead of schedule. I don’t think I could carry another book. Let alone another load of them.”

“And you made sure to grab all of the good ones?”

“Yes, Brixton. I had to leave a lot behind so they wouldn’t be too suspicious, but I made sure to grab all your favorites. The ceremony is supposed to be a book burning. How are they to do that when there aren’t any books?” she laughed.

“I still don’t see why you never let me make a trip.”

“I couldn’t sit here and wait for you to get back if I let you do it. I would have worried way too much. I’m faster anyway,” she said the last part under her breath with a smile.

“Oh please,” he smiled back. “But I am old enough to take care of myself. I would’ve been fine.”

“Well, it’s over and done with. Your carpentry skills are impeccable too by the way. I’m very impressed with the window seat.”

As Brixton took a bite of broccoli and carrots, an even bigger smile drew across his face. He did do a pretty good job. With few supplies and even fewer bits of hardware, Brixton managed to take a rusted neon “O” from the junkyard down the street and bolt it in front of the window seat. The “O” had an outside ring and then a smaller ring lined the inside of it. This made a perfect place to store books. Once in place, he established sections for the books. Brixton and Sonu both were amazed that the bulkiness of books could flow so gracefully within the “O”. It brought the room together.

“You can let me go to an old landfill packed with all sorts of dangers that could get me into trouble but not to a safe library where the most that could happen to me would be a paper cut?”

“There’s a difference and you know it, Brix. Everybody takes things from the dump. The Fatals don’t care about garbage. They would care if they saw a teenage boy making multiple trips to the library with loads of books in his hands each time.”

“Yeh well, I could’ve done it.”

They ate the rest of their dinner in quiet peacefulness. Their home invited a new feeling for them both. Warmth surrounded and covered them like all the wool blankets they had tucked away in an old cedar crate. Brixton sunk into his bed that night with great relief.

No more decorating. Tomorrow is also Monday.

He put his hands behind his head and watched the leaves trickle down like golden rain. If he listened close enough, their rustling actually did sound like a gentle creek flowing through his room.

“Tomorrow will be great,” he said with a sigh.

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Chapter Three: The Man in the Lighthouse

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Chapter Four: The Fatalities

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Chapter Five: The Burning Ceremony

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Chapter Six: The Window

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Chapter Seven: A Penny for Your Thoughts

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Chapter Eight: The Safe Place

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Chapter Nine: The Unwanted Visitor

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Chapter Ten: The Room

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Chapter Eleven: The New Life

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Chapter Twelve: The Lot

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Chapter Thirteen: The Package

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Chapter Fourteen: The Letter

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Chapter Fifteen: The Writer

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Chapter Sixteen: The Deadly Vow

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