Running Shoo – Episode 77

Another reason I’m glad I’ve got the shovel is that people keep staring. Some are glaring. Poor Nom is trying to walk while hiding behind my legs. I’ve kicked her more than once.

The ‘City’ of Ash End is a one-road affair. Calling it a city is like calling me a giant; all the bits are there, but the proportions are completely off.

In fairness, the one road they have is kinda impressive.

Ash End runs uphill on either side of a hot stream. They’d probably call it a river, but I could jump over it without a run up. The water steams in the cold air and it is edged all the way up by flowers and vegetation. Small fences and allotments mark areas where people have cultivated the plant life. There are even one or two little dams, creating misty ponds. In this snowy wilderness, the stream must be a vital source of life, nutrition and, you know, generally not freezing to death.

It’s the structures that are impressive though. Set back from the stream are two long dark stone buildings. They stretch all the way up the hill and they’re massive, about ten storeys high. The floors are made of strangely jagged stonework that has been separated into living areas by wood and cloth. It’s like these people have set up home in something that was already here. Rickety homemade stairs and walkways cobweb the structures.

Nom and me are walking nervously up one side of the street. I’m trying to clutch the shovel like it’s not a weapon but not too much. Just enough so people know I don’t mean any harm but if they’re naughty a face-full of shovel is a definite possibility.

All the people here are like Pappi; diminutive, blue and with predator teeth. Funnily enough, I am something of a giant compared to them. The tallest of them is not quite my height. This wouldn’t help me much if they decided to get together and lynch me, but it does put off casual bullying. They’re all dressed in dark, formal clothes made from some material not quite suited to the job but immaculately maintained.  I’ve not seen a single person from another species. Everyone is looking at us as if our existence is somehow in bad taste.

Behind me, I hear Nom’s stomach growl. Immediately, mine goes in response.

“Shoo,” comes Nom’s plaintive voice.

“I know, I know,” I say. “I’m on it.”

A little further up, is what looks like a fruit and vegetable stall. It has a sparse display of little yellow apple things, some greenish leafy stuff and various phallic tubers. The owner is a pot-bellied blue bloke with a luxurious mane of black hair down to his shoulders and moustaches to his chin.

Warily, he watches us approach.

“Hello,” I say.

“Blessings,” the man says, like he means the opposite. “Why are you in our city?”

“Um… just passing through?” I say, which is certainly true given the general vibe.

“That is for the best,” he replies. “Be on your way then.”

“Absolutely… it’s just, um, we need some food… for the journey.”

“I only trade with humans,” he says, loudly, so passers-by can hear.

“Well, that’s a bit of luck then,” I say and point at myself. “Human.”

He makes a grumpf noise and looks me up and down. “You are too tall. Your teeth are blunt, and your skin is… what colour is that?”

I look at my hand, “I dunno, kind of a pale peach, I guess. I go more orange in the sun. Where I’m from, this is what humans are like.”

He chews this over, “Hmm. There are stories of humans like you, but no, you are an outsider. Your trade is no good here.”

“Look, we’re just hungry,” I say. “Have a heart.”

He points at Nom, “So eat your cattle.”

I look at Nom.

Nom stares back with wide, scared eyes.

Slowly, she reaches for the shovel. I move it away from her.

Right. So, when Pappi said ‘they’ll eat you up there’ he wasn’t being flowery. These people would actually eat poor little Nom. Gods, where have I ended up? My anger comes bubbling up through the cracks in my personality. Suddenly I want to upend his stall and kick him right in his stupid moustache.

That would be a really bad idea though.

I take a breath and choose my words carefully.

“Generally,” I say, slightly through my teeth, but it’s the best I can do. “I don’t eat things that could articulate an argument against it.”

He makes that grumpf sound again, “A liberal,” he says as if that’s somehow worse than being an outsider. “You should leave.”

Good advice. He’s right, but I’m going to give it one last go. We need to eat. I’ve got Daisy’s magical pocket of endless tat after all. Maybe there’s something in there that could get us at least one of those weird yellow apple-looking things to share.

“Okay, what could we get for…” I reach in and rummage around until something lands in my palm like it’s been placed there. Come on, something useful, come on. “This?”

I whip my hand out.

I’m holding a large plastic comb.

It’s rather grimy, like someone’s used it to comb a yak, and it’s missing most of its teeth.

Crap.

Daisy’s pocket of tat delivers again.

The man squints at it, “is that… plastic?” he whispers.

“Um… yes?” I say. “Sorry. It’s quite nice plastic though.”

It’s really not.

He glances around at the other people, then back at the comb.

Oddly, his eyes are hungry.

“You could buy everything on my stall a dozen times over for that,” he breathes, clearly not one of nature’s hagglers. His hostility is gone. In its place is a kind of yearning. I think it might be greed. “What do you want for it?”

“Good question, um, do you do bags?”

He looks at the floor behind his stall, “I’ve got sacks,” he says.

“Right. Just two of them. Full.”

He looks at me in disbelief, “you would give me plastic for two sacks of food?”

“Yep,” I say. “It’s your lucky day, son.”

He’s got that hungry look again. A bit of guilt pops in as he looks around at his friends and neighbours, but it vanishes whenever his eyes rest on the comb.

I suspect he’s having a crisis of conscience.

*

Nom and I are walking up the street, both eating a yellow apple thing. They taste like crunchy vanilla. I’m on my second. Nom, I think, is on her sixth. The sacks have convenient handles, so mine is slung across my shoulders. Nom is dragging hers behind her.

“Hey, Nom,” I say.

“Yes, Shoo,” she says, her mouth full. She tosses another yellow fruit in and crunches it around. “Tasty!”

“They are,” I agree, taking another bite. “You know what, Nom?”

“What’s that, Shoo?”

I don’t want to say it.

It’s tempting Fate and Fate traditionally likes nothing more than to torment me. It’s about time something went right though, and Daisy’s pocket of endless useless tat is, in Ash End at least, potentially a bottomless pit of fortune.

Screw it, I’m going to say it.

“Nom?”

“Yes, Shoo?”

“I think we might be rich.”

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