User:Sweetirony/Awakening

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Malton chronicle.jpg This story is part of the Malton Chronicles.
This story is fan-made, and is not officially part of any background history for Urban Dead.

Awakening

a truish story by SweetIrony


It was a chill night in early May, and hours yet before the first light of dawn would break on Dowdney Mall. Even when it finally did, it would never make it to the people inside; Dowdney's thick barricades managed to keep out both danger and natural light. Instead, the mall's inhabitants relied on generator-powered lights, but the generators were kept always running, and as well-fueled as the doors were kept well-barricaded. The glow of those lights fell now on the people of Dowdney, some searching among the scattered merchandise in the abandoned stores of the mall, some looking for any wounded who needed healing - but there were never very many of those here, not these days. Others sat together and talked in hushed voices out of courtesy for the rest, who lay sleeping in a darkened section on the hard floor of the mall - not a very comfortable place to sleep, but they were used to it and all slept more or less peacefully.


The most peaceful sleep of all belonged to a young boy, curled up in his chosen corner of Dowdney like a child in its mother's arms. He looked very small, though he was nearly fourteen years old, and his unkempt brown hair was getting too long - but who was there now to tell him he needed it cut? He would have named himself Artaxerxes - Art for short - to any who asked, but no one ever had, and he was content in his anonymity.


If he slept like a child in its mother's arms, perhaps it was because that was how he felt. Ever since that moment he had raised his shaking body from the cemetery ground, he had been Santlerville's son. He had vowed to stay long enough to work off what he saw as his debt, but it was a debt he was in no hurry to repay. In truth he had no real intention to ever leave. He was content to stay inside the mall, spending his days in the food court, or in the mall's bookstore, reading. Content to let his contribution to Malton rest at helping to treat any wounded that chanced to enter the mall. Content to never see the sunlight when it broke on Malton each morning, and each night, to fall into the same untroubled and contented sleep.


Contentment, in fact, was the blessing that had plagued him ever since he first came to Santlerville. The simple fact was that Santlerville was too safe. Artaxerxes was too comfortable there. There is much to be said for safety, but to Art it was dangerous. He was drowning in complacency and comfort; he was asleep now in more ways than one. But this was to be the day of his awakening.


It was a voice that woke him. Words came crashing in upon his dreams, shattering his sleep as a thrown rock shatters a window. He stirred and then slowly sat up, pushing the hair out of his eyes and squinting out of his darkened corner to where a man was standing, directly under the brightest of the generator-powered lights. It was his voice that was ringing now through Dowdney, startling those already awake and awakening the sleepers. What was he saying? Art pushed aside his blanket and crawled forward to listen.


"And raising his eyes toward his disciples, he said, 'Blessed are you who are low on ammo, for the kingdom of God is yours...blessed are you who are now infected, for you will be healed...blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh...'" Art thought it sounded like something from the Bible, but he wasn't sure. Low on ammo...? The boy was now close enough to take a better look at the man as he went on speaking. The stranger was like no one Art had ever seen before. He didn't look English... Spanish, maybe? He seemed to be some kind of priest... Art supposed that would explain the Biblical quotations. But he had never heard of a priest with guns, yet this man carried pistols, though not like the pistols the boy usually saw people carrying.


The mysterious stranger continued, "Woe to you who destroy generators now, for you will walk forever in darkness. But to you who hear, I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you...it really pisses them off." At this Art had to crack a smile. He sat there as if hypnotised, looking up at the man and listening to his every word as if it were gospel truth. But really, it wasn't so much the words themselves as the power and passion behind them that drew Art like a magnet.


The man concluded, "Supply ammo to everyone who asks, and from the one who takes fuel cans from you, do not demand it back. Do unto others as you would have them do to you, but most importantly...maintain the barricades and kick serious ass!!!"


And with a quick "That is all" he turned and walked away, disappearing from Art's world as quickly as he had entered it. But the damage was done. The boy felt as if he had just awakened from a dream he was sure was truth, to the knowledge that it had all been illusion and this, this at last was real. The same event may be insignificant in the life of one person, and yet be the fulcrum upon which the life of another turns. For Artaxerxes, this man was that fulcrum. His words had been intriguing, that is true, but the mere sight of him, the mere sound of his voice, would have been enough.


"Who was that man??" There was something almost frantic in Art’s voice as he asked this of the person nearest to him, who was rolling over and groaning a little as she tugged on her blanket. "Ugh, I don't know, but he woke me up," was her only response.


"My God! It's 2am!" Art heard someone exclaim, "What was that madman thinking??"


Undaunted, the boy continued to ask the survivors of Dowdney about the stranger. No one could tell him anything, until finally Art saw a woman motioning for him to come near. "You want to know about that man?" she asked Art, who nodded his head eagerly. "I've heard of him. He's a priest, a Jesuit, Padre Romero by name. They say he runs a group called Malton's Angels."


"Ah, so he is a priest... and that... was some kind of sermon?" Art asked, still slightly puzzled by what had seemed a strange message.


"It is a Sunday morning, after all," the woman replied with a wry smile. She studied Art's face, which had a strange look about it as his thoughts raced. "Do you believe in God?" the woman asked him.


"Oh - uh, I don't know..." Art replied, looking off to the place where the priest had disappeared from his sight. He laughed hesitantly and then finally answered, "I guess I'm still not sure about God, but I think... maybe now I believe in Padre Romero."


Finding the woman could tell him no more, Art thanked her and wandered, still in a daze, back toward the sleeping area. He lay back down in his spot on the floor and tried to sleep. For the first time in ages he lay awake and restless, the spell of the strange priest holding him yet. Never before had he thought that there might be more than what his life was in Santlerville, more than security and quiet, more even than the careless vow of a child lost on his own. This night visitor had been the olive leaf carried over the waves, proof that there was land somewhere outside his ark of safety. It seemed to Artaxerxes now that a whole world existed somewhere, and he was not a part of it. He lay there twisted by a newfound feeling of longing – to be more than he was, to know more than he knew. His contentment had been shattered.


A wild thought seized him and he sat bolt upright. He could find the man, follow him out! He couldn't have gone far, surely, or at least there was still a chance that he was nearby, perhaps even still somewhere in the mall. For a moment he was ready, he was poised to leave... and then the memory hit him. He had made a promise to stay, a vow to Santlerville that he would pay his debt, and it had not been paid. For the first time that promise seemed like a burden to him instead of a comfort, a shackle that tied him down at the very moment he knew there was a good reason to be free. Up until this moment he had not taken his promise very seriously. He had had every intention of keeping it, of course, but only now did what he ought to do finally come into conflict with what he wanted to do. Art clenched his fists in frustration. But such conflicts never last long in a person like young Artaxerxes. His course was clear. He would not break his vow. Slowly he lay back down, his thoughts still churning. He decided then that if he must stay, then he would set about to work off his debt with interest, and he would begin right away. So he closed his eyes and fell into a restless sleep, troubled despite his resolve. He could not yet leave Santlerville; his mother held him still for now. But he had heard a father's voice and for him it was a call he could not long ignore.


In the days and weeks which followed, Artaxerxes worked harder than he ever had in his life. He began to learn from other survivors - how to build a barricade, use an axe, fire a gun. He ventured out from Dowdney to heal wounded survivors far from the mall, to build up any barricades that had been broken down, even to fight the infected horrors that stalked Santlerville's streets. He was finding there was much that needed doing outside the safety of the mall, and now he worked with a will. But always in the back of Art’s mind was the voice of Padre Romero, and the vague idea that one day he would leave Santlerville and wander Malton in what he thought was probably the vain hope of finding him. Malton was large, and the thought of wandering alone through that vast unknown both excited and frightened the boy.


It wasn't long before he began to hear rumours of an event planned for the coming July - a fireworks show on the anniversary of the outbreak. He didn't pay much attention until the same woman who had told Art the priest’s name came to him and said, "You've heard of the Extravaganza, child? Well, the man behind it is your Padre Romero. He's going to be at Caiger for it too, I hear."


Caiger! All that Artaxerxes had heard of that famous place came back to him, and now what had seemed a vain hope transformed in a moment into a glorious certainty. July... he would have a birthday before then. By that time, he would have done all the work Santlerville could expect from him and more, and having given new life to others in the cemetery, he would consider his debt finally paid. And then he would travel across Malton to Caiger mall, where he would look for Padre Romero. Maybe, just maybe, the boy dared to hope, he would even get to speak with him.


The End! Or the beginning...


Bonus!

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