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Unwind, p.18

Unwind, page 18

 part  #1 of  Unwind Dystology Series

 

Unwind
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Page 18

 

  "You aint gotta be eatin other folks garbage, foo!"

  Lev froze, certain it was a security guard ready to haul him away, but it was only this tall umber kid with a funny grin, wearing attitude like it was a cologne. "Let me show you how its done. " Then he went to a pretty girl who was working at the Wicked Wok Chinese food concession, flirted with her for a few-minutes, then left with nothing. No food, no drink, nothing.

  "I think Ill stick to leftovers, Lev had told him.

  "Patience, my man. See, its gettin on toward closing time. All these places, by law gotta get rid of all the food they made today. They cant keep it and reuse it tomorrow. So where do you think that food goes? Ill tell you where it goes. It goes home with the last shift. But the people who work these places aint gonna eat that stuff on accounta they are sick to death of it. See that girl I was talkin to? She likes me. I told her I worked at Shirt Bonanza, downstairs, and could get her some overstock maybe. "

  "Do you work there?"

  "No! Are you even listenin to me? So any-who, right before closing Im gonna get myself over to the Wicked Wok again. Ill give her a smile, and Ill be all, like, Hey, whatcha gonna do with all that leftover food? And shell be all, like, Whatcha got in mind? And five minutes later Im walking away in orange chicken heaven, with enough to feed an army. "

  And sure enough, it happened exactly like he said it would. Lev was amazed.

  "Stick with me," CyFi had said, putting his fist in the air, "and as God is my witness, you will never go hungry again. " Then he added, "Thats from Gone with the Wind. "

  "I know," said Lev. Which, in fact, he didnt.

  Lev had agreed to go with him because he knew the two tilled a need in each other. CyFi was like a preacher with no flock. He couldnt exist without an audience, and Lev needed someone who could fill his head with ideas, to replace the lifetime of ideas that had been taken from him.

  A day later, Levs shoes are worn and his muscles are sore. The memory of Risa and Connor is still a fresh wound, and it doesnt want to heal. Chances are, they were caught. Chances are, theyve been unwound. All because of him. Does that make him an accomplice to murder?

  How could it, when Unwinds arent really dead?

  He doesnt know whose voice is in his head anymore. His fathers? Pastor Dans? It just makes him angry. Hed rather hear CyFis voice outside of his head than whatever voices were inside.

  The terrain around them hasnt changed much since they left town. Eye-high shrubs and a smattering of trees. Some of the growth is evergreen, some of it yellow, turning brown. Weeds grow up between the train tracks, but not too tall.

  "Any weed dumb enough to grow tall aint got no chance. It gets decapitated by the next train that comes through. Decapitated—that means head cut off. "

  "I know what decapitated means—and you can stop talking that way; all double negatives and stuff. "

  CyFi stops right there in the middle of the railroad tracks and stares at Lev like hes trying to melt him with his eyes.

  "You got a problem with the way I talk? You got a problem with an Old World Umber patois?"

  "I do when its fake. "

  "Whachoo talkin about, foo!"

  "Its obvious. Ill bet people never even said things like foo, except on dumb prewar TV shows and stuff. Youre speaking wrong on purpose. "

  "Wrong? What makes it wrong? Its classic, just like those TV shows—and I aint appreciating you disrespecting my patois. Patois means—"

  "I know what it means," Lev says even though he isnt entirely sure. "I aint stupid!"

  CyFi puts up an accusing finger like a lawyer. "A-HA! You said aint. Now whos talking wrong?"

  "That doesnt count! I said it because its all I hear from you! After a while I cant help but sound like you!"

  At that, CyFi grins. "Yeah," he says. "Aint that the truth. Old World Umber is contagious. Its dominant. And talkin the talk dont make a person dumb. Ill have you know, I got the highest readin and writin score in my school, Fry. But I gotta respect my ancestors an all they went through so I could be here. Sure, I can talk like you, but I choose not to. Its like art, you know? Picasso had to prove to the world he can paint the right way, before he goes putting both eyes on one side of a face, and noses stickin outta kneecaps and stuff. See, if you paint wrong because thats the best you can do, you just a chump. But you do it because you want to? Then youre an artist. " He smiles at Lev. "Thats a bit of CyFi wisdom right there, Fry. You can take that to the grave, and dig it up when you need it!"

  CyFi turns and spits out a piece of gum that hits a train rail and sticks there, then he shoves another piece in his mouth. "Anyway, my dads got no problem with it—and theyre lily-sienna like you. "

  "They?" Cy had said "dads" before, but Lev had figured it was just some more Old Umber slang.

  "Yeah," says CyFi, with a shrug. "I got two. Aint no thang. "

  Lev tries his best to process this. Of course, hes heard of male parenting—or "yin families," as theyre currently called—but in the sheltered structure of his life, such things always belonged to an alternate universe.

  CyFi, however, doesnt even catch Levs surprise. Hes still on his brag jag.

  "Yeah, I got myself an IQ of 155. Did you know that, Fry? Acourse not—how would you know?" Then he hesitates. "It went down a few points, though, on account the accident. I was on my hike and got hit by some damfoo in a Mercedes. " He points to a scar on the side of his head. "What a mess. Splattered—yknow? I was nearly roadkill. It turned my right temporal lobe into Jell-O. " He shivers as he thinks about it, then shrugs. "But brain damage aint a problem like it used to be. They just replace the brain tissue and youre good as new. My dads even paid off the surgeon so Id get an entire temporal lobe from an Unwind—no offense— rather than getting a buncha brain bits, like people are supposed to get. "

  Lev knows about that. His sister Cara has epilepsy, so they replaced a small part of her brain with a hundred tiny brain bits. It took care of the problem, and she didnt seem any worse for it. It had never occurred to Lev where those tiny pieces of brain tissue might have come from.

  "See, brain bits work okay, but they dont work great," CyFi explains. "Its like puttin spackle over a hole in a wall. No matter how well you do it, that wall aint never gonna be as good. So my dads made sure I got an entire temporal lobe from a single donor. But that kid wasnt as smart as me. He wasnt no dummy, but he didnt have the I 55. The last brain scan put me at 130. Thats in the top 5 percent of the population, and still considered genius. Just not with a capital G. Whats your IQ?" he asks Lev. "Are you a dim bulb or high-wattage?"

  Lev sighs. "I dont know. My parents dont believe in intelligence scans. Its kind of a religious thing. Everyones equal in Cods eyes and all that. "

  "Oh—you come from one of those families. " CyFi takes a good look at him. "So if they all high and mighty, why they unwinding you?"

  Although Lev doesnt want to get into it, he figures CyFi is the only friend hes got. Might as well tell him the truth. "Im a tithe. "

  CyFi looks at him with eyes all wide, like Lev just told him he was God himself.

  "Damn! So you all holy and stuff?"

  "Not anymore. "

  CyFi nods and purses his lips, saying nothing for a while. They walk along the tracks. The railroad ties change from wood to stone, and the gravel on the side of the tracks now seems better maintained.

  "We just crossed the state line," CyFi says.

  Lev would ask him which state theyve crossed into, but he doesnt want to sound stupid.

  * * *

  Any spot where multiple tracks merge or diverge, theres a little two-story shack standing there like a displaced lighthouse. A railroad switch house. There are plenty of them along this stretch of the line, and these are the places Lev and CyFi find shelter each night.

  "Arent you afraid someone from the railroadsll find us here?" Lev asks as they approach one of the sorry-looking structures.

  "Nah—th
ey aint used anymore," CyFi tells him. "The whole systems automated—been that way for years, but it costs too much to tear all those switch houses down. Guess they figure nature will eventually tear them down for free. "

  The switch house is padlocked, but a padlock is only as strong as the door its on—and this door had been routed by-termites. A single kick rips the padlock hasp from the wood, and the door flies inward to a shower of dust and dead spiders.

  Upstairs is an eight-by-eight room, windows on all four sides. Its freezing. CyFi has an expensive-looking winter coat that keeps him warm at night. Lev only has a puffy fiberfill jacket that he stole from a chair at the mall the other day.

  CyFi had turned his nose up when he saw Lev take that jacket, just before they left the mall. "Stealings for lowlifes," Cy had said. "If you got class, you dont steal what you need, you get other people to give it to you of their own free will— just like I did back at that Chinese place. Its all about being smart, and being smooth. Youll learn. "

  Levs stolen jacket is white, and he hates it. All his life hed worn white—a pristine absence of color that defined him—but now there was no comfort in wearing it.

  They eat well that night—thanks to Lev, who finally had his own survivalist brainstorm. It involved small animals killed by passing trains.

  "I aint eatin no track-kill!" CyFi insisted when Lev had suggested it. "Those things coulda been rottin out here for weeks, for all we know. "

  "No," Lev told him. "Heres what we do: We walk a few miles down the tracks, marking each dead critter with a stick. Then, when the next train comes through, we backtrack. Anything we find thats not marked is fresh. " Granted, it was a fairly disgusting idea on the surface, but it was really no different from hunting—if your weapon were a diesel engine.

  They build a small fire beside the switch house and dine on roast rabbit and armadillo—which doesnt taste as bad as Lev thought it would. In the end, meat is meat, and barbecue does for armadillo exactly what it does for steak.

  "Smorgas-bash!!" CyFi decides to call this hunting method as they eat. "Thats what I call creative problem solving. Maybe youre a genius after all, Fry. "

  It feels good to have Cys approval.

  "Hey, is today Thursday?" says Lev, just realizing. "I think its Thanksgiving!"

  "Well, Fry, were alive. Thats plenty to be thankful for. "

  * * *

  That night, up in the small room of the switch house, CyFi asks the big question. "Whyd your parents tithe you, Fry?"

  One of the good things about being with CyFi is that he talks about himself a lot. It keeps Lev from having to think about his own life. Except, of course, when Cy asks. Lev answers him with silence, pretending to be asleep—and if theres one thing he knows CyFi cant stand, its silence, so he fills it himself.

  "Were you a storked baby? Is that it? They didnt want you in the first place, and couldnt wait to get rid of you?"

 
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