Clara had noticed that the journey home seemed longer tonight than most nights. The moon, who usually graced her with its silvery light was hidden by a mass of dark rolling clouds. The smell of rain hung thick in the air, and she knew that soon enough it would come pouring down. And yet the forecast had went on about clear skies. The streets -devoid from any life but her own- seemed to carry the echo of her footsteps; completely quiet but the sound of a Weatherman going on about the oncoming torrent of rain.
Clara’s mother had told her that during the war- something she had heard of only through her grandfather- it scarcely rained. The Bureau of Human Resources had limited the children per family to two. She had heard tales of cities left as only hollows of buildings, of famine that stretched throughout the land.
Her thoughts of war were interrupted by the scuffling of shoes against asphalt. She froze, listening for the sound again. Instead, the pit-a-pat of rain filled the night air. She heard nothing and continued on, this time with a quickened pace, her head tucked low between her popped collar.
Suddenly, hands grab at her, yanking her into an alley that she would’ve sworn was filled with shadows alone. Instinctively she screamed, the sound bounced off the high walls of the alley, drowned out by the pouring rain. A large dry hand clamped over her mouth, stirring up panic. She’s dragged backwards farther into the alley, her hands flailed searching for something to punch or scratch. The hand on her mouth retracted with a shriek as she brings her teeth down, the metallic taste of blood filling her mouth. For a moment she was free, and that was all she needed. Clara’s mind raced, should she head home? Should she go to the police? But what have they ever done?
Her feet pound against the concrete, sending up waves of water as her pace increases; the rain still coming down around her. She takes a glance behind her, slowing down but all she could see was rain- in every direction. A light in the distance caught her eye- the light of a Stratus board, advertising in broad letters Head to your local CloudStore and get your very own MARC! The boards had been posted everywhere for the last few months, casting light in an otherwise lightless city.
Finally after what felt like hours of trudging through the rain, she made an all too familiar turn and was welcomed by the building she called home. Much like all the other squat one-story buildings on the block, hers at one point had been a pristine ivory white with a barn red roof. Now after years of wear and a literal war, it’s the color of bone, chipping and peeling in places.
She looked up and down the street before unlocking the door and slipping inside, the lock clicking in place. Her feet pounded against the wood floors as she bound up the stairs. In the floor of her closet under a board you’d never even notice, was something she’d been hiding. She removed the paper covering the hidden item, and was met with shining metal, curved in some places and straight in others.
Her father had given her the gun, a cold night a long time ago, the night that he had died. Just like all the nights before, she sat cross legged at the window, gun tucked into the waistband of her jeans. She was there at that little pane of glass for hours, the darkness and the shadows her only companion. A place where no one would see her tears. The creaking of the door shattered the silence, and without moving she already knew who it was -who it always was. Sock clad feet padded across the floor coming to a stop behind her, a frail hand rested on her shoulder.
Just like all the nights before, his voice a quiet whisper, had said, “Aren’t you coming to bed?”
She had peered at him over her shoulder. “Yeah, in a minute.”
He had tilted his head, the light from the window caught in his bright hazel eyes. “Do you think I don’t know what you’re doing? Go to sleep, it’s late.”
David had been 3 years old, when their father had died, too young to remember him, old enough to know what he was missing. Clara, who at the time was 12, had been racked with grief, it had consumed her, and so she sat at the window protecting what was left of the Wilsons. Their fragile mother, a girl encased in shadows, and a boy too bright for the darkness of his family’s past.
Clara had eventually put the weapon back in its secret place. Hidden by the boards and the shelves of clothes, sheltered from the eyes of onlookers. Sleep had consumed her, but not without a fight. Not without the pleas of her younger brother, a boy who had never known their father.
The early afternoon is the time at which the streets of Volt are most busy. It it also the time in which Clara had her lunch break. The bustle of life contrasted greatly with the quiet of the library, but Clara liked it. She found energy from being around others, even if those were strangers. Don’t get her wrong though, the stillness of the library always held a special place in her heart, It just didn’t compare to her city, teeming with life and light.
Today with the smell of sizzling meat flavoring the air, and the chatter of the crowd, something felt off. Clara, hands crammed into the pockets of her pants, wandered lazily through the crowded city. She found herself before the twisting spires of Weather Tower.
Weather Tower, the home and headquarters of Martin Stratus, Volt City’s self-proclaimed “Savior”, the person that had thrown up his blindingly bright ads all over the city. The Victorian structure, surrounded by more modern-looking buildings, looked right out of a Bram Stoker novel. With sky scraping turrets, and hipped gables. The inside though, which Clara had never seen, was something of the future.
She had tentatively climbed the steps, one steady foot in front of another, following the steady stream of people she hadn’t noticed before. People pressed in from all sides as the flow of bodies moved inside the large glass doors, seemingly out of place in it’s wooden frame.
Inside, the high walls gave off to vaulted ceilings. Some said that Weather Tower -which really wasn’t a tower if you thought about it- was haunted with the ghosts of dead soldiers. Other’s say it’s haunted with the test subjects that had died on the highest floor, in the tallest part of the building; Stratus’s private lab. The thing that was accurately described as a ‘tower’.
Clara stood in the extensive lobby as more and more guests filed in. The elbow of a woman, much taller than herself jabbed into the small of her back. The woman rushed away with a quick Sorry, eager to get to the front, where a stage was hastily thrown together. On the stage was nothing but a podium, behind it a banner that read:
MAKE YOUR M.A.R.C!!!
Clara’s mind cleared like a tidal wave of memories. Today Martin Stratus would be giving a speech, telling the masses exactly what the M.A.R.C was. All had been welcomed, which explained the throng of citizens that should have been elsewhere. What had felt off, was the sound of the streets, it was too loud. Children trailed behind their parents, chattering on about school the day before, and everything else that happened to pop into their heads. As if on cue, two pig tailed little girls, not much taller than Clara’s knees, rushed by hand-in-hand, giggling.
The volume reached an ungodly level, as Martin Stratus rose up from below the stage on a circle of the ground that worked like an elevator, with him came fog, that rolled off the stage into the crowd. Martin Stratus wasn’t someone you’d give attention to on first glance. He wasn’t terribly unattractive, he just had a sour undertone that put his diamond shaped face, and side swept hair to shame. And his eyes, a shade of brown so dark, it seemed as though you could lose yourself in the shadows hidden behind it.
He cleared his throat, and raised a hand, and the crowd went silent, as if put on mute.
“After the war ended 50 years ago, our country was in peril.” he looked over the crowd as if peering into the eyes of every person in the first row. “My family, who had kept their wealth off of betting the outcome of the war, will no longer spend their money on frivolous things. The legacy ends with me, the savior of Volt City.”
Behind him, projection whizzes into existence, the smoke curling around our feet in thick white clouds. The lights lower and Clara, jammed between a man that reeked of day old socks, and a lady who’s breathing almost drowned the sound of Stratus’s voice, was left feeling squished.
“I present to you, M.A.R.C! With my copious amount of wealth, and extensive knowledge, of all things scientific and good I have created something that will not only help this city, it will help our country.” The crowd caught on to his infectious energy filling the cramped hall with cheers, which by comparison was much louder than Clara’s sigh. “Thank you, thank you. This little device, will -once implanted into your brain- eliminate learning complication, and once administered it will excavate the portion of the brain administered to making bad choices. All the proceeds will go to making Volt city, the best city out there! What do you think?” Marcus’s voice boomed, bouncing off the high ceiling, followed by the sounds of the cheers.
All of it was too much for her, the yelling, the cheers, the heat. Clara snaked her way through the bodies, the sound diminishing as the doors drew closer. She was caught off guard when a man, towering over her stuck his foot out, Clara caught herself on the sleeve of someone’s jacket. A string of curses followed her, as she glared over her shoulder too occupied with her escape to care. When she finally breaks free to the now empty streets, she glances at ehr watch in terror. 4:09! Ms.Crawley would kill her! She rushed off, toward the marble steps of the library, oblivious to the scrap of paper slipped into her pocket only moments before.