For most of his life, Eric had lived in relative seclusion. Most of the families in the foster system tended to live outside the bigger cities, more often in the rural areas. Growing up he’d had few constants, one of the most important being the ability to escape “humanity’s” overbearing and confused hand of influence and “return” out into nature. The land had begun to heal from all the damage dealt to it in the previous years, reclaiming many of former suburbs and rural towns where populations had fled or died. This had left him with ample opportunity to hide out amongst the varied flora (and fauna) that had reclaimed the alleyways and squares of former town centers.
He was never completely alone; a satchel of tattered books, misshapen eyeglasses, and variously procured accessories always slouched slightly, slung over a lone shoulder, or rested within a limbs proximity. A foster child’s feet can only push the walls of his or her cage so far (and push the child always did), but a mind may journey any place it is capable- and books can carry many capabilities. So Eric read: the wind on the grass, the movement of insects, the twisted faces and acts of people, and ultimately, any written word he could lay earnest hands and eager eyes upon.
The train had been bulleting south for roughly half an hour when Eric reached into his trusty companion to feel a foreign rectangular volume. He reveals a surprise token- a worn copy of an ancient scribing. He thumbs through the musty pages of proverbs, and ceases on page forty. V- Energy; 18:
“Hiding order beneath the cloak of disorder is simply a question of subdivision; concealing courage under a show of timidity presupposes a fund of latent energy; masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical dispositions.”
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War
“So people have been manipulative and selfish all along?” Eric jokes to himself half-heartedly. He returns to the page to find the word “weakness” a daunting black hole. His vision tunnels, and every letter becomes a monolith. His mind funnels into the black, inky void.
Eric looks up at a bloodied fist wielded by a positively enraged foster father. His familiar assailant rains saliva and warm crimson with every pop of a ‘p’ and hiss of an ‘s’, flailing his arms and cursing like a madman. “…such fucking weakness! Weakness! Not in my house! Not under my roof! Damn pitiful!”
The dark figure rears back: “Weakness!” Red and black.
A lukewarm voice splashes through the young traveller’s inner-monologue: “Eric, I presume?” The disturbance is a middle-aged man of average height. He has a dull expression on his nearly featureless face and an exceedingly bland aire. A character with no characteristics that warrant any attention is not interesting, and Eric was simply not interested.
“I’ll take the silence as confirmation,” the man forces a chuckle and jumps back into his rehearsed spiel devoid of all personality; “I am a liaison under the employment of Texas Christian University, and I ride this rail line to ensure the safety and ease of transition for each and every Academy Program enrollee. My name is–”
“IF,” Eric projects, breaking his vacant stare, “You are the liaison for all of them, can’t you just come to me after you have spoken to everyone else?”
The man’s solid demeanor moves for a second, then he freezes, computations incomplete.
Eric’s kind hearted nature overtakes his unintentional distance, and he reaches out in consolation; “I’m sorry, sir. I’m a bit out-of-sorts lately. I am Eric Mendev, it’s a pleasure to meet you…”
Eric glances toward the man who appears paralyzed. A few seconds pass and Eric slowly lifts his finger to poke the man in the arm. One poke: nothing. Two then three: goose egg. The young man reclines his hand to rub his head. The mannequin of the man has somehow vanished from sight, except for a fading contour.
“I need some sleep,” he speaks to himself to assure he still is hearing correctly.
* * * * *
The area surrounding Fort Worth was fairly similar to many of the places he’d grown up, a vast unpopulated ring of burgeoning wilderness, with small pockets of human residences scattered along the rail lines clutching roughly at what little structure their brains (and hearts) managed to uncover. The collapse immediately following the Washington DC massacre had cost the American Metropolitan Complex everything it had become over (or under) the twentieth and early twenty-first century. Dallas, Ft. Worth’s once largely successful neighboring older brother, is one of the clearest-cut examples. Abandoned behemoths of man’s once oh so obvious triumph over natural order now stand beaten (or lie weathered) in shadows of virulent overgrowth, understatements of the scarring civil catastrophes mankind wrought upon its matriarch (and thusly, itself). The husk of that bygone era, at times, appears almost etherically serene to the wayward vagabond. Roots of seemingly delicate green children slowly fighting their way through masonry until a robust, communal monstrosity conquers the hardscape and proclaims this world, again, “ALIVE!” Ah, to be a plant- what a gloriously simple and uncorrupted life it seems to the yearling.
* * * * *
“Maybe next time,” Eric jokes with himself. A smile sneaks on to his face for the first time in ages, and Eric feels, for a moment, unfractured.
Eric continues to move east, moving his gaze out into the wreckage of the once bustling metropolis from the shadows of the neo-metropolitan fortress, and nears the roaring channel of the Trinity River. His eye is drawn to the sheared Reunion Tower, it resembles a crooked finger pointing upward into the overcast heavens. The same spot a famously shocking villain had once occupied declaring he would destroy anyone who dared deny him their bounty. The tower once stood nearly twice as high, and bolstered that defiant deviant upon it’s glorious head, projecting his malice like a dastardly antennae– until they showed up. The METRops quickly concluded the event, but not before a large portion of the city and half the tower fell in what was frequently described as “half the blink of an eye.”
The clouds grow more and more bulbous the deeper his eyes constrict into the north-eastern sky. It looks like rain. The atmosphere becomes slightly cooler and damper as he comes upon the river. He hops a fence and heads down the embankment when a voice bolts out of a cove set under the near bridge:
“Hey! You from around here?”