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Gil looked up at the sky through the sewer grate, and the sky looked down on him. He could see the Megalus tower from here. The windows shone like a million fire flies in the night sky. They lived a life of luxury, eating meat from animals raised in a field. The infinite sea of traffic roared above him, merging with the endless droning human voices. The traffic in London seemed to get worse every year.

He was on his way back from work at the sanitation plant. The dim, lamp lit halls of the sewer illuminated the dark, black brick walls, reflected biblically from the satanic tar coloured water in the canal, and flickered on the putrid paths beside it. He had a spring in his step, although his springy step was careful not to step in any faecal matter or worse. His home was around a 15-minute walk from the plant, or a 5-minute swim if he was running late. He was coming up to the slums; rusty metal shacks squeezed tightly together and brimming with life like a newly hatched brood of maggots. Gil skilfully evaded shady looking people and junkies. Down here you get a good eye for who you can and can’t trust; which narrowed it down to almost no-one.

Relief. He had made it home at last. Adrenaline had been pumping hot in his veins the entire way home. You could never be too careful. He lived on the floor level of the sewer in a house made of scrap metal, (like most people down here) stricken with rust, especially around the lower outer walls of the shack. The smell of roasting meat hit him like a gentle fragrant train. He opened the thin, rusty metal door, eyes scouting for what that truly godly smell was: A plump rat on a spit, roughly the size of a Pitbull.

“Where’d you find that?” He gestured to his wife, Almira, who had her back turned as she was peeling potatoes. They were spotted with small spots of mould, but good quality for down here.

“Eddie caught it earlier today, didn’t you my brave little soldier?”

“How’d you catch it? It’s huge!”

“Tell him Eddie” Almira commanded softly.

“I was down by the trash heap with Belle, I saw it rummaging through rubbish. I checked to see if any of its mates were around and they weren’t, so I got my stick and jabbed it through its back when it was all turned away like.” His words shook with excitement.

“It almost bit me as well.” He added

“Well I’m proud o’ ya. Anyway, I’ve got some good news, I got a raise at the plant!”

“That’s-” Her knife slid down the rough skin of the potato and on to her finger, peeling some of her skin off. She promptly put the now bleeding finger in her mouth. “Great news!” She finished.

“We’ll have that shack I’ve been talking about in no time.”

One by one they sat down near the spit cross legged. Ready to tear a piece of juicy meat from the fresh kill Eddie had made. Gil let Eddie, his daughter Belle, and his wife take a piece before he himself took any. He tore off a leg and ravaged it like a wolf into a young calf. Hot juice spurted into his mouth and around his chin. He was famished. Working at the plant was hungry work. His wife was an excellent cook, although he didn’t tell her nearly enough. He chewed for a few seconds and swallowed. He looked out of the window hole of the shack and saw, no less than 50 yards away, the shack that he had had his eyes on for quite some time. It was at the top of a shack stack, as they called them, a stack of metal shacks similar to the apartment buildings they had up on the surface, except consisting more of cold, soulless metal and rust. It touched the sewer ceiling and had a window a few metres away from a sewer grate. If the conditions were right, at about 3pm, light would shine through the window hole like heavenly beams, illuminating the shack. Light, a beacon of hope in this dark, unholy pit of unending misery and foul living. It would dance, as the dust, smog, and grime corrupted the light, juxtaposed, paradoxically making it even more beautiful than words can describe.

In two more weeks… He thought to himself. With pay like this, I could buy that shack. We’ll be movin’ up in the world.

He looked to his left. He saw the vase his mother gave to him before she passed away sitting delicately on the counter beside him. It was patterned with red roses layered onto a white porcelain background. The roses conquered the white no-man’s land triumphantly, growing ever higher to the top of the vase. His mother inherited it from her father. He planned to sell it to help pay for the house. His mother used to tell him that if he worked hard enough he may even be able to buy himself a nice place on the surface. He never believed her. But now he was starting to have second thoughts. A place up on the surface didn’t seem a million miles away. Somewhere, a rat clawed at an old tin of tuna. He tucked in to his leg some more, nourishing his very soul.

There was a knocking on the door. Gil looked up from his leg toward the fragile metal door. He wasn’t expecting visitors. He placed his meat on the cleanest part of the floor he could find, wiped his hands on his grubby dungarees, and walked toward the door, positioning a knife within arm’s reach on the oak table beside him. He opened the door carefully to a crack. He peeped his head through.

“Alright Gil!”

“Dean…” He tried to hide the feeling of disturbing trepidation that washed over him.

“I wasn’t expecting you so early.”

“Mind if I come in?”

Before Gil had time to answer, the lizard like man, bald and with rough skin, barged through his door. To Gil’s surprise three other thug like men walked through the door. Gil noticed a lead pipe gripped in Dean’s right hand.

“What’s going on? Who are these men?” Almira demanded clarity.

“It’s alright Ally.” Gil reassured her. She glared back at Gil, eyebrows concaved with suspicion.

“Didn’t you have two sons? Where’s the other one?” He asked with a calm voice.

Gil stammered for a bit, looked at his family and then answered.

“He was taken by rats a few months ago, while he was out playing… Ain’t that right Ally?”

Almira started to tear up but composed herself stoically.

“Oh…” He said. “Well that is a shame now isn’t it. You know these sewers really are a dangerous place...” He spoke genuinely, but something about his manner gave it a malice matched only by the Lord of the Flies himself.

“Now, if I remember correctly you have a certain payment to make to my boss. £600 if I’m not mistaken?”

“Yes, b-but you see…” Gil stammered, scratching his neck, his pale face blushing. “I got a raise at the plant today, I’m sure I can pay you in a few more weeks. I cou-”.

“A few more weeks?” Dean mocked, half laughing at the notion. “I know about your reputation down at the tavern Gil, I know you like to play a few hands of poker.” Almira looked to Gil with betrayal written in her eyes of autumn wood. He moved with slow confident steps towards the family, he put his pipe into his left hand. His right began to rummage through the left inside pocket of his over coat.

“My boss has a certain reputation to keep around here, stop folks from gettin’ out o’ line. Now ask yourself this: how do you think my boss would look if he let you off the hook for a couple of weeks?”

Gil didn’t answer. The three thug like men moved uncomfortably closely behind Gil. He could hear them breathing down his neck.

“My boss has got to set an example”. He edged toward Almira. Gil’s heart raced faster than it already was, the adrenaline was pumping fast through his veins, like hot steam in a pipeline, ready to burst.

“You think you’re better than us cause o’ this raise Gil?” At this he pulled a surprisingly well-kept knife from his coat pocket and grappled Almira, holding it to her throat.

“Let go of her!” Eddie could not keep his fear from showing. He visibly shook. His eyes teared up. He was not yet mature enough to control his emotions.

Dean gestured to one of the thugs. The largest one came lumberingly to Eddie and held his arms behind his back, restraining him.

“You thinkin’ that it’ll get you out of this shit ‘ole?” His voice raised to an intimidating raspy growl. “Think you’re above all the other pieces shit down here?” His knife edged deeper into Almira’s throat. She screamed.

“See, that’s why my boss has gotta keep order down here.” His voice lowered back to its diabolical calm. “If people get the idea that they’re leaving the sewer without paying their debts, he could lose his valuable income.”

Gil remained silent. A tin could be heard rolling around in the sewer.

Dean let go of Almira. Almira collapsed to the floor coughing and sobbing with fearful trauma.

“Now unfortunately I gotta set an example for my boss in some way.”

Dean made a gesture to his thugs. One restrained Almira and the other restrained Gil. The reptile began to stride with slow steps, he had put his knife back into his pocket, now gripping his lead pipe in both hands. He saw some ceramic plates stacked on the counter of what was known as ‘the kitchen’. He grinned and brought his lead pipe down, fracturing the plates into pieces.

“Stop!” Almira let out a cry. The thug restraining her shook her to be quiet.

Dean beamed like a lighthouse around for more things to ruin. His eyes caught a glint of the vase. Dean grinned again more maliciously than ever, already making his destructive way there. Gil squirmed. He picked it up, holding it at eye level and rotating it to get a better look at the beauty of its intricate patterns.

“Where’d you get this Gil?”

“My mother gave it to me before she died…”

“Ah…”

He placed the vase down like he was placing a golf ball on a tee. He lined up his swing, raising his pipe over his head. A hole in one. The vase applauded him with a crash, the ceramic lying in pieces on the dirty floor. The roses were broken, their triumph lost.

Dean walked slowly toward Belle, who let out a harsh blood curdling scream, before he grabbed her by the shoulder and brought his knife across her cheek. She let out a second more piercing shriek as a dark crimson spread like a plague from her soft, rosy skin.

“Belle!” Gil Fought and Squirmed uncontrollably.

“My boss expects the debt to be payed in full by 8PM next Thursday.” He looked to Almira and smirked.

“You’ve got a beautiful wife Gil, I suggest if you want to keep her that way you pay the debt on time.”

Dean nodded to his thugs, they let go of the sobbing mother and son, dropping them brutishly to the floor, and proceeded to leave out the way they came. Gil looked out the window hole of his shack. He looked up at the sky through the sewer grate. A full moon floated watchfully in the sky. Clouds of smog danced across its serene ethereal glow. The beauty of the surface seemed further away than ever, lost in a blanket of lies and misfortune.

 

Bio:

Daniel Earnshaw lives in the West Midlands, United Kingdom. This is the first piece of literature that he has written. Daniel is currently waiting to study Psychology at University but would like to write more short stories in the future.

 

 

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