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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

Fleck smiles, but it fades. I can’t stay with you. I have to get to my dad.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 42


Fleck leans against the rusty rail of the stairs and puffs a stolen cigarette.  His dark eyes read half surprise, half expectation.  Fleck tosses the cigarette to the floor and Hektor realizes that it is dirty and bent, not even lit.  Probably found in a pile.  The basement is where the smokers hide.  Lorenzo.  Others.  But not Jose.  Hektor can smell the dampness and the ashes jamming the wood rafters.

Where ya goin’? asks Fleck as he fake-stomps the butt with his boot.

Get out of my way.  You can’t stop me.

Hektor muscles his way past.

I’m not tryin’ ta stop you, stupid…

Shhh, be quiet.  Hektor jumps from the stairs to the foundation.  Arms out, he dives into the basement.  Storage stalls line the area.  Between the stalls are stacked crates.  Hektor scans the crate labels as he jogs past.  Clothes, condensed milk, medicine.  But he is more concerned with the doors and where they lead.  He wheels each knob.  All locked.

Fleck points, matter-of-factly, and says quietly, If yer looking for Prial’s tunnel, it’s ‘round that way.

Hektor stops, turns to Fleck, and then revolves once more to face the stalls.

Yeah, Prial tol’ me, too, explains Fleck.  I found it a few days ago.

Show me.

Fleck leads Hektor down the stalls.  The younger boy is smugly satisfied to be in control, it shows in the way he walks, and in his confidant and winking eye.

Hektor is the opposite – flushed and nervous.

Why you leavin’ anyway?

None of your business.

Come one.  Tell me.  You’re running away now because Jose’s bringing someone to adopt you.  That’s what you said, right?  You’d rather run than have new parents.

You don’t know anything, Fleck.


No, you don’t.  I’m leaving because—

Hektor hesitates.

Why?  Come on, you can tell me.

I’m going to find those kids.

Fleck makes a face.  You crazy, he grunts.  You never gonna find them.

Hektor ignores Fleck’s pessimism and keeps on around the corner until the stalls abruptly shore into a wall.

Fleck thumbs to a shut door at the end of the line.  Hektor dives forward and shakes the door’s handle.  The lining cracks.  Through the door lies Prial’s mysterious tunnel, revealed to be a loading ramp at the rear docks of the orphanage.  The tunnel goes out 10 meters and coasts into blackness, the floor rising, ending at 2 bay doors suspended at the top, with a crack of light through the flaps.

Thanks, Hektor says to Fleck as he moves out.  Adios.

No, I’m coming with you.

Hektor waves him off.  You’re getting adopted.

I don’t want them.  They’re old.

Don’t come with me.

I won’t slow you down.  I promise.

Hektor stares at the escape.

No, swear, I’ll be great for you, swears Fleck.  You can ditch me when we’re in the city.  I’m gonna try get to 14 and find my dad.  I can find him.  I know it.  Just like you think you can find all those kids.  Only my odds is better.

You’ll never make it to another city, Fleck.  You don’t have a coat.  Or any of what you need.  Look, I’ve packed.  I’ve thought about things.

Fleck retreats to a narrow space beside the stalls.  His arm disappears to the elbow.  When he withdraws, he holds a plastic bag and a short, thin jacket.  Through the bag, bare essentials can be seen in outline.

I’ve been waitin’ for you, Hektor, Fleck says with a scoop.  I knew you’d run.  I was hopin’ it would be before they took me to those old people’s house.  I saw you slip out of the gymnasium so I came down to the basement and waited.  I already stashed this here a few days ago.

You could have run away at any time.

Fleck nods.  Yeah.  I coulda.

You’d rather tag onto me?

Yeah.  I didn’t want to go alone.


Fleck dusts his City Orphanage uniform.  Well…you’re good at geography, aren’t you?  You can help me find the highway.

Yeah, I don’t know the city too well, though.  In Akkawi’s class, we don’t study the city maps.  That’s for a reason, Fleck.  You wonder about that?  They don’t want us to go anywhere. I’ll be as lost as you.

Fleck mulls this over then says, I think I still got a better chance with you than without you.

All that stuff you told me about what people think?  You make that up?

Fleck shakes his head.

Hektor gives a grumble.  Do everything I tell you.

Hektor offers no hand as he steps up the loading ramp.  Fleck follows, plastic bag over his shoulder.

Their boots echo on the concrete and the sound shortens as they rise.  The enclosure smells of old fruit and winter.  At the ramp’s end, the bay doors stand shut above their heads.

This must be where they drop the food, Hektor deduces.  He feels for grooves on the bolt and slides it with a clack.  Standing beneath the handles, he pushes on the left-side bay door.  The gap between the slats widens and the door rises on the hinges.  Hektor’s arms are not long enough to reach the tipping point and the door slides back into place.  He snaps his fingers at Fleck.  Bring me that box.  I need to be taller.  He points at a crate against the wall.

Fleck abandons his plastic bag and with all his might attempts to lift the box.  It’s heavy, he groans.

Both boys are at the box.  They slide it under the doors.

Standing on the box, Hektor strains against the door until it falls from his fingers and bangs hard against the outside brick with a thunderous clap.  Hektor and Fleck wince.  But no one shouts.  No one comes running.

Hektor surfaces above the hole.  We’re in the yard, he whispers to Fleck below.  But a different part.  Not where we play.

Do ya see anyone?

No.  I see the fence.

Oh.  The disappointment rings from Fleck’s voice.

It’s behind us.  We’re outside of it.  And I can see the street.  Hektor crouches to meet Fleck’s eyes.  There’s a truck backed against the building, he reports, but no one’s inside.  We can hide behind it.

Let’s go then!

Hektor wrinkles his mouth, judging all the angles.  Yeah, he says slowly and cautiously.  I think it’s okay.  Give me your bag.

Fleck hands it over.

The jacket.

Fleck surrenders that, too.

Hektor lobs the objects through the overhead door and they listen for the landing.

Give me your foot.  Hektor laces his fingers together and Fleck obeys, placing his right boot into Hektor’s palms.

Fleck trampolines over the frame.  The boy flops awkwardly to the rear drop-gate of the truck, deployed all but a fraction from the ground.  He nearly slices his head open.  To Fleck, the truck resembles a great mechanical bear ready to swallow him whole, jaws open and strong.  Writhing, he’s able to overcome his landing and get to his feet.  His bag and jacket are a few feet away and he snatches them just as he is being tackled.  Hey—! he bites as Hektor pins him against the brick wall.  Any further objections are blotted by Hektor’s hand over his mouth.

Hektor tilts towards the street.

Two patrolmen in identical in blue uniforms strut on the sidewalk.

Those must be the men Ms. Ximon told us about, Hektor guesses, barely heard.

The two are talking with each other, but the boys can’t hear what is being said.

Hektor delicately releases Fleck and stretches into sunlight.  The afternoon has become a blend of the seasons – autumn air, summer sun, and winter cold.

Fleck shivers.  His jacket is on the ground in front of him, near to his bag, but to bend to get it would be a risk.  The plastic would make noise and draw attention.

Hektor sweeps beside the truck’s wheel then makes his way to the passenger-side mirror.  Angling, he catches the police as the 2 part company.  The taller goes north up the walkway.  The shorter whistles south, to the front doors.

Hektor crumbles to the ground and rolls under the truck just as the tall policeman inspects the zone between the truck and the building.  Hektor signals for Fleck to stay against the brick wall.

Fleck makes himself as thin as possible.  Palms against the brick, his heart races.  He didn’t expect his body to react so badly to danger.  This is easy, he lies to himself, and wishes he had Hektor’s courage.  Inside the building, the roles were reversed, but not that they were actually going through with it Fleck is crumbling like he knew that he would.  He would never have been able to do this alone.  Never.

Slowly, the policeman moves out of their site.

Fleck snatches his bag and jacket from the ground.

And the boys run.

They scuttle as fast as they can across the street – the same street Fleck watched every day as city strangers passed in waves, none of them his father, none the ghost of his dead mother, and wondered if he would ever be home again.

Fleck cocks his head over his shoulder.  The tall policeman turns past the building.

They didn’t see us! Fleck calls forward to Hektor, whose brown coat jumps with each kick of the leg.  Fleck wants to see Hektor’s eyes.  The boy is fixed on the windows of City Orphanage.  Fleck knows what he must be thinking: Is this right?  Will we ever come back?  Have we made a terrible, terrible mistake?

The boys land on the opposite sidewalk.

You know, Hektor—wait, this is kind of funny—they’ll think we gone missin’, too?  Hektor peels into an alley’s end and Fleck races, out-of-breath, to catch up.   Wouldn’t that be funny if only 1 kid went missing and then a bunch a’ kids just went looking for the kid and that’s how this all happened?

The alley branches and Hektor follows the left path.  Fleck brakes to put on his jacket but Hektor doesn’t wait for him.  Frustrated, the younger boy has only time to tie the jacket sleeves around his neck like a cape.  He has to battle twice as hard to catch up.  Hey, I thought you said you didn’t know where you were going!

Hektor doesn’t answer.  He takes another curve and the alley empties onto a two-lane street with blasting traffic and noise.  From his coat pocket, Hektor retrieves the notepad and short pencil.  KILLERMONT, reads the sign above the boys.  Hektor writes the name of the street in the notepad.  I don’t know where we’re going, he tells Fleck.  I’m guessing.  But I want to know where I’ve been.  The older boy then jumps into the flow of pedestrians on the sidewalk.

Hektor rips something from Fleck’s sleeve, handing it over in swift gesture.  It’s Fleck’s shirt patch – CITY ORPHANAGE stenciled in an arc above a moon.  Hektor’s own insignia in covered by his coat.  Thanks, says Fleck.

Fleck imitates everything the older boy does.  The way he walks, the way he wears his face, his confidence.

The boys walk for blocks and blocks.

Crest Street.

Sherwin Street.

Right on 99th.

Broadway to Monte Carlo.

Hektor writes the names and makes little symbols to show direction.

Fleck touches Hektor’s arm as he copies the latest street name.  Something’s wrong, the boy realizes.

Hektor looks at the space in front of them.

The streets are packed.  Glides knit together, facing in  a single direction.  In every glide, children are in the rear and adults nervously tap the controls, eyes forward.

Hektor stops a middle-aged, dark-skinned woman on the sidewalk who, along with everyone else, appears loath to be interrupted.  Excuse me, where does this street lead?

Goes to the highway, she replies.  She gives a suspicious glare.


The woman is soon lost at sea.

Hektor drags Fleck.  It’s a panic, he explains.  Eleven more children went missing today.  Everyone who has children is trying to get out.

Fleck scans past the stalled glides and toward an overpass he can see in the distance.

Hektor points.  That’s your way to City 14.

I guess it is, agrees Fleck, who does not move.  He stays glued to the pavement.

Do you have any food?


You didn’t bring any, did you?

Fleck frowns.

How about money?

I have some.  I stole a few dollars from the old lady’s purse when they were playin’ with me.

You shouldn’t steal.  Here…  Hektor reaches into his coat and takes out one of his three candy bars.  Don’t eat it unless you’re really hungry.  He hands it to Fleck.

Not unless I’m starving.  Do you have any money?

Hektor shakes his head.  I’ll be all right.  Put your jacket on.  Hektor waits while Fleck sets his plastic bag down and draws on the sleeves of his too-thin jacket.

Do you even know where City 14 is, Fleck?

Fleck nods.  Oh, sure.  Yeah.  He zips the jacket and shivers.  Pause.  No.  No, I don’t.

Adults whiz past on the sidewalk and the 2 two are momentarily separated.

Do you want to just stay with me? A gusting wind flutters Hektor’s coat.

Are you really gonna find those kids?

I am.


I don’t know.  I just am.

Fleck smiles, but it fades.  I can’t stay with you.  I have to get to my dad.

Hektor places a hand on Fleck’s shoulder.  Good luck.

Fleck starts to move away.  I’ll be all right, the boy declares.  I’m used to goin’ alone.  My mom will be with me every step.  He backs away further, silently, wishing he had gotten to know Hektor better during his time in the orphanage.

He doesn’t sense the cart behind him and bumps into it, jarring the stand and making hasty apologies before running as fast as his feet will carry him in the direction of the overpass.