The homemade door slammed shut like a screen door to a country side home.
“I’ll get you some clothes.” Leech disappeared around the corner, but Crop could hear the scuffs of his feet on the floor all the way down the hall and back.
He handed Crop a pair of jeans and a smelly T-shirt. Leech plopped down into the sunken cushions of his recliner and flicked on the television. Crop stood by, almost as if he were awaiting orders.
“Take a load off.” Leech tossed a bag of dried potato slices onto the couch next to him, inviting Crop to indeed take a load off.
The potatoes were the closest thing to chips in The Byways. They had a similar texture to dried apples, or any fruit for that matter. Most were plain, but every now and then one might be lucky enough to find the salted variety.
The television continued coverage of the highly anticipated biannual event: The Drip. Interviews, pre-shows, all fashioned up like a red-carpet extravaganza. It was a time looked forward to by all in The Upper Echelon.
“Here we are in the Cloud City, getting ready for tomorrow’s big event.” The reporter said. “As you can see, everyone is in great spirits. Ma’am, how are you going to celebrate tomorrow?”
“Well, I plan on donning my best dress and showing up at the city center. I think that’s where a bunch of us are going.” The lady said.
“Oh really? Is that what you do every event?”
“Well, on the first of the year we just had a small get together at a friend’s house, but I’ve always wanted to hear The Crest speak at one of the big events, even if it is still on TV.” Her voice trembled. A barrage of lenses pointed at her face..
“The Crest will be speaking tomorrow, what is it about hearing him speak that you look forward to the most?”
“I just admire him so much, he sacrificed so much and worked so hard to get us to where we are today. I just…” She paused before getting choked up. “I just remember what it was like back then.”
“As we all do. Thank you for your time, Ma’am.” The reporter faced back to the camera to send it back to the anchors in the studio stationed somewhere in the forest of buildings. “I hope that in all of tomorrow’s celebrations, we can take time to focus on what this all really means and who helped us get there. Back to you guys.”
“What a bunch of bullshit.” Leech said as he sat the recliner back up into its resting position. “We’re the ones fucking sacrificing.”
He moaned as he stood up, the lactic acid now settling in his muscles from all of the crouching and running. He walked into the kitchen, replacing a bucket to catch the water dripping from the ceiling with a new, empty one.
Crop sat, munching on the potatoes.
“They only show the glamorous side, the good part,” Leech cracked open the fridge and grabbed a drink. “They don’t talk about the factories or the Polling. They don’t wanna talk about that,” He slumped back down in his recliner, snapping his fingers at Crop, signaling for some much-needed dried potatoes. “But I’ve seen the bad part, first hand.” He said while cramming the slices in his mouth, followed by a splash of whatever drinks he had left in that mildewed fridge.
Crop looked down at the fold of his arm, blood dried from just hours earlier when Leech helped himself. He looked up, judgingly at Leech, you could see the questions of morality written on his face.
“Oh you think I’m the bad guy, huh?” Leech reached down and grabbed a belt from the floor and flung it at Crop. “That will do better than that hose, if you’re still bleeding.”
The siphon hose still wrapped around Crops bicep, barely doing its job. He loosened it. Fresh blood formed on the surface of his skin, but it wasn’t enough to justify applying a new tourniquet.
“They’ve been doing this for years.” Leech had a small bit of guilt lingering. “I just get what I can, when I can.”
Crop continued to watch the television as Leech flipped through the channels, frustrated. Partially at Crop, but mostly at himself. No doubt that he would go back to his junkie ways as soon as the cravings resurfaced.
They sat in silence as the TV narrator went on and on about how “we can all do our part to keep the world clean”, the same shit they’d heard for years. It’s the same story that’s being told today, but in reality, the decision has already been made. The Crest made that decision along with the rest of the leaders in The Upper Echelon. The narrator seemed to hold a bias towards The Upper Echelon and especially The Crest.
“Ever since The UE rolled out the Family Planning policy in 2161, the population has been on the decline, back to a healthier level. The streets are cleaner, the water is cleaner, and even the air is cleaner…” He spoke over archival footage of individuals which inferred they had some relevance to The Upper Echelon, but no one really knew who they were. They were just faces to names for people down there in The Byways.
“The Crest took chances; risks.” The voice continued. “It paid off, and now look at us.” The archival footage switched to aerial views of the sweeping landscapes and emerald skyscrapers which only existed in dreams, dreams of the people of The Byways. In the Cloud City, materialism was a commonality.
“Shit, I’d love to see that shit.” Leech said as he nearly exceeded the limits of his recliner.
Crop looked up at him with an excited expression. The place looked beautiful on the TV, but it didn’t do it justice.
Leech slung up in his chair. “We should go!” He fiddled with his fingers. “We could see those buildings!” All he really wanted to do was get into The Drip to get another taste. He had never been to The Drip before, but he had heard of the glamour of it all; the extravagance. A little too flashy for him perhaps, but he was more than willing to make due.
Crop shook his head in excitement. He wasn’t dumb enough to think Leech actually wanted to go to see the city, but he didn’t really care. He had never seen anything like that place.
Leech became giddy like a little child, but almost frustrated at the fact he had to wait a whole day before he could get relief.
“You can sleep over there.” Leech pointed to a small mattress in the corner of the living room. “I don’t have many blankets, but it don’t get too cold in here at night.”
Crop nodded in agreement.
Leech got up from his sunken recliner and stretched. “Well you know what they say, ‘the sooner you go to sleep, the sooner you wake up’.” He rolled up the bag of dried potatoes to keep them fresh and sat them on the table beside his chair, took one last gulp of whatever was in that cup of his and headed to bed.
Crop did the same. He walked over to the cot on the floor and laid down looking up at the ceiling. He watched the shadows and colors dance across the room with every flicker of the TV. He had forgotten to turn it off, but he liked it better that way. The way the television screen morphed into a spectrum of purples and blues mesmerized him, watching them for hours before he finally slipped off to sleep.
That night he dreamt of those humongous emerald towers and could feel the warmth from the reflection of the bright sun bouncing off of the infinite windows. In the dream, he seemed to float in midair and either way he looked, up or down, the building seemed to reach forever. He envisioned a park full of families and children playing. Crop walked through the streets and mingled with the happy people who populated his mind. He rode the elevators up and down the skyscrapers until the cables were molten, pushing all of the buttons so that he could see each and every floor.
Even the alleyways were clean, unlike The Byways. As he had a break in his amazement, he saw a man waving to him at the end of the alley. A wave as if he wanted Crop to join him. He ran to the man, but in his dream, it was as if he was stuck in quicksand.
Once he got closer, Crop could see the man was pointing at something in the sky, smiling. Crop gazed up into the sky, shading his eyes from the bright sun. The man pointed at a catwalk spanning the length of the city.
“He’s searching for you.” The man said happily.
At the end of the catwalk, Crop saw the man in the lab coat from the factory, The Cultivator. He paced up and down the catwalk, peering over the rails, at the busy streets below. Crop could hear the clank of his shoes as he walked down the path echo throughout the blocks of buildings. He was so scared, but he couldn’t move, and the man just continued to point saying “He’s searching for you.”
Crop tried to lift his feet and run until The Cultivator peaked over the side of the catwalk and spotted him. The two locked eyes as if they were in a standoff. Neither moved. The man didn’t yell or try to capture Crop. He stared until finally his eyes crept back over the edge of the catwalk and the rattle of the metal continued to ring throughout the city.