This is part of a story, one of the four that I wrote this year for our @steemfiction project. The first two were included in anthologies that we published on Amazon, striving to bring some more attention to the Steem community and the possibilities for creative collaboration one can find here. Then people got carried away, each on their own journeys. But still, a core of the team worked hard and completed the fourth challenge. Which was to get stories ready for the winter holidays. While some of us did it, we're not enough for a book now.
Maybe at some point in the near future we shall have a large and motivated team again. For now...
I decided I should at least publish my story here so that the community for which it was written can read it. Coming in three or four parts. Here's the first one:
The Winter Rhymes Game
One of those mystic voices again...
To be joined in a bridge
For the few who can see it.
Ash has no idea how or why those words have formed in his mind. Except for the obvious — the shadows are long, indeed. But that is only to be expected near sundown, especially in late December. That poetic form, though… Unless you consider half-learned song lyrics poetry, he has no experience with the thing. It’s not his brain, as he knows it, that provides the verses.
“Maybe it’s in my blood, and now that I pump so hard on the pedals, some poetic gene has awakened,” he muses as he goes at 20 mph with his bike. “Nah, I don’t think so.”
He is going against the light and the dark lines cast by the trees alternate with blinding stripes in quick succession. The shortcut through the park goes on for another three hundred yards. Then Ash finds a ramp of stacked earth which allows him to jump straight out of the park and on Kuber Avenue, trailing a tail of autumn leaves in his wake.
He is almost hit by a truck speeding uphill. Turning the whole bike sharply to his right while still in mid-air, he manages to land parallel to the heavy vehicle, only momentum causing him to bump against its side. The driver shouts his casual curses while jumping on the horn instead of on the brakes. And drives away.
High on adrenaline from the close call, Ash decides to use the boost and ride as fast as he can, climbing the steep slope first, then left around the radio tower. It is all downhill from there, the spire jutting up from the highest natural point in Downtown Sredets. Although people seldom think of that fact, since the building is surrounded by parks on all sides and mostly stays out of their minds.
Invisible on its watch
Shouting its silence
“Shut up! I almost got splattered on the asphalt. I need to focus here!” Ash snaps at his inner voice or whatever is bringing those thoughts to the surface of his mind at this busy and not easy moment. One hand stabilizing the bike’s course, he uses the other to retrieve the Intelli-phone from his backpack’s small front pocket. He still has time, albeit dwindling by the second. Leaving the tower and the sunset behind, he pedals eastbound, even harder than before. He has always delivered on time.
He dials the package recipient’s number before taking the elevator to the eleventh floor of the St. Petersburg Park Hotel, where they would meet. Once up there, he sets off along the old-school red carpet with a bold stride. Ash doesn’t have the name, but he almost never needs it. The app takes care of formalities.
It’s getting dark outside, as Ash can see by the only window far down the hallway. Most of the electric lights are not working. No surprise there. The hotel management of this old structure seems reluctant to put a lot of money into maintenance.
The suit of the man in the doorway is anything but cheap, though. It makes Ash think of a shark. As far as he can tell from his not that rich experience, it is immaculate. The buttons of the man’s sleeves and shirt look more expensive, each one of them, than the Ram XC Mark III bicycle waiting for Ash down on the street.
“Quite timely!” the shark of a man comments.
“This is what we do, sir,” Ash says for the hundredth time. “Could you, please, log in to your app and confirm delivery?”
“Done,” says the customer.
The strong smell of too much ladies’ perfume wafts out through the open door. Ash makes the mistake of looking inside the darkened boudoir. He catches a glimpse of an elegant woman not quite dressed yet, one long leg lifted upon a leathered armchair, slim hands struggling with something around her white ankle. He orders himself to look away at once. But not before more alien thoughts pour into his head.
That always capture, guide the strong?
Is it the other way around?
In this world, I’d say that both are right.
And both are wrong.
“Your jacket. Is torn,” the man at the door points out in his deep voice, bringing Ash out of his dream state. “Here.”
“That damned truck!” Ash thinks. Now those thoughts he recognizes as his very own. Aloud he says: “I must have cut it somewhere on my way here. You understand we’re often in a hurry, sir. To deliver our packages with no delay, that is.”
“Sure,” the man replies. “I understand. Here. Small tip. For you.” And with that, he produces a fifty-dollar bill.
Well, it is not against the rules to take tips. And this is a generous one, more than what Ash is making that evening in terms of regular wage.
“There is bonus,” the man proceeds in a tone that speaks of a mentality that will allow no rejection of what is to come.
“Here’s another tip if you deliver a package for me. This evening. One hour.” This time he produces two hundred-dollar bills. And a silvery flash drive. No envelope.
Now, that is against the rules, taking such side jobs. But Ash has done it before. It is not life-changing money. He knows well that it is all the things one does, for money and for free, that are life-changing. Yet, he sees nothing bad in working some extra, off the grid, when the chance presents itself. And after all, he needs every single cent, every stotinka of a lev, every virtual coin he can get his hands on. The holidays are coming. And that means two things…
“All right. What’s the address?”
Ash has no family left. Nothing to connect him to his place of birth, deep in the mountains south of Thrace. No support to rely on but a few good memories. He has honored his grandfather’s wish, and fought for, and won a scholarship at the University of Sredets.
Now that he is in his second year there, he feels there’s no other reason to put up with all the hypocrisy of the academic society but to keep his right to free accommodation at the campus. Which requires him to be a hypocrite himself and maintain the illusion of being interested in things like Exotic and Dead Languages.
He already knows he could complete his studies if he would choose to do so. But he finds less and less meaning. In just under one year, he has lost most of his idealistic views. He has learned that university lessons give him nothing but vanity. Life has taught him all that he needs to know. For now.
Like the prosaic fact that no girl anywhere near his age would choose to stay with a poor guy like him. The city is bustling with opportunities. It has taken almost a year and a broken heart to learn that. After Irina, his first love, eventually left him for a guy with...more opportunities. She had been attractive, intelligent, and strong-minded. The only kind of girl Ash cared about. But obviously, no love is strong enough to keep an attractive, intelligent, and strong-minded girl in the arms of a weak man. Obviously, a man with no money is a weak man.
There have been others. And they have all brought confirmations to that theory. And so Ash has become hell-bent on making money. He does not mind starting small.
To be continued...
The books already published by the @steemfiction team:
Voices in the Darkness — Paperback:
And the e-book version:
Our book Voices in the Darkness: Tales from the Steem Blockchain is out! It's alive! It's electronic! It's supernatural!
Dead Silence — E-book version:
Stories authored by:
Huge thanks to all the people who made this happen, including our ninja editor!
And thanks for your support! I hope you enjoy reading the stories. They all have murder in them.
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