The exchange

The city lights dimmed, right on schedule. Behind her, the towering fortress like tenement buildings sucked up the last of the fading light, leaving nothing for the stragglers to see by.

She stood on the central platform of the waterfall of stairs leading to the lower city. Beneath her, in the most ancient parts of town, creatures of darkness moved, living and dying in the near-endless night. Faintly the victorious cries of hunters and the shrill screams of the doomed floated up to her.

Waiting for her contact to arrive, she had time to reflect on life, history, and everything else. The countless treads above and below brought to mind a lesson learned in a long-ago history class, before such classes were outlawed. Somewhere, down below, perhaps those ancient steps and fountains remained.

The glow ball, hovering inches above her hand, changed colors. Brilliant white to dull, pulsing blue, meant her contact was nearing. She waved her hand above the orb, dimming its light further. The man coming to meet her was no friend of the light.

From the stairs below came a shuffling sound, of many feet on plasticrete. The durable building material held no heat, bore no chill, making it almost perfect for any use. Except stealth. The drawback to the plastic and cement mixture is that it carried sound, for leagues, sometimes. She thought, perhaps, that’s why the central government used so much of the stuff.

The man approaching her was disheveled, wearing cast-off vinyl clothes, in garish colors that would have clashed had they not been splashed with mud and excrement. The woman wrinkled her nose at the stench, but didn’t dare show her disdain. This man lived below. He held no compassion, no reason to refrain from reveling in her murder, if she disrespected him.

Three steps down, he waited.

She bent, scooping up the squirming bundle beside her. The greed on his face was palpable. The woman nearly felt regret at her actions. But, it was her job, what the desperate citizens of both worlds relied on her to do.

The baby started to cry, the drugs she’d used to keep it quiet until now beginning to wear away. The man snatched it from her outstretched arms. He cooed and blew in the child’s face, sending it back to silence. He tucked the bundle into a shallow carry-sack, close to his chest, then tossed a ragged, filthy bag at the woman’s feet.

A last nod at her, then he vanished into the darkness.

The woman from the upper world brightened her sphere, then let it hover over the dirty bag she tore into. Inside, remnants of the lost world: porcelain dolls with cracked faces and torn rags for clothes; chipped ivory combs, missing teeth; small, colorful stones in beautiful patterns on large pieces of pottery.

The treasures, once turned in to the government officials, would ensure enough rations for the child’s family to eat for weeks. The child, in the care of the underworlders, would, one day, become a treasure hunter himself.

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3 thoughts on “The exchange

  1. I feel like I just get a taste of the story before it’s already over. Such is the way with short stories. I really liked the glowing orb. I definitely wanted to know more about it. There’s so many different details and the possibility for a bigger story. I could see this being part of a novel.
    I found myself laughing at this line “in garish colors that would have clashed had they not been splashed with mud and excrement.” I think it was the surprise of the clashing colors being resolved by something far worse than wearing mismatched clothing.
    Another great story. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s awesome. I’m unfamiliar with ArtStation, but I just checked out the website and it’s great. I love being inspired by other artists.

        Liked by 1 person

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