A young boy discovers he lives in an alternate space separate from violence.
|Tris moved through the tight corridors. It was a dark, squat place with a dirt floor and beams of heavy wood that ran in right angled patterns across the roof. It was home, the only place he knew.
The outer walls were pressed out and concrete. Within this space his Little family had carved out a cozy area using bits and bobs of found things. The only large items belonged to Tris, but even his blue blanket no longer covered him if he stretched out to his full height while he slept. In fact, the only time he was able to stretch out to his full height had been when he was laying down. Unlike the rest of his family, he towered over them, stooping to avoid banging his head on the beams that dropped down in odd spots.
On quiet nights he could hear singing. Tris would make his way along the corridors and find the spot where the wall was not concrete. Here, he could hear the words clearly. The woman's voice clear and beautiful. The songs she sang he had learned and he would sing along as he leaned his forehead to the cool plasterboard that separated their two worlds.
His friend, Alex would often accompany him. She would sing along too, but her voice was as tiny as she was. He would sit cross-legged and she would perch on his knee as they listened and sang along.
"That's your mother," Etta Vay would say.
"My mother?" Tris had asked confused when the little wise woman had told him.
He'd heard disputes through the group as to who and when he should be told, but Etta had decided for them all.
"He needs to know," she told the others, "he is not like us. He will grow. He needs to know we have accepted him into our own. Raised him.... for her."
"Your mother. She is the one who sings to you. She is the one who leaves us food, provides your clothes and whispers through the wall."
"But why?' Tris had asked.
Etta held her head up and pressed her lips together before speaking, "I think she meant to save you...
"From the Beast who bellows and rages and creates the thunder and chaos."
There were times when the house seemed to shake and tremble with the ferocity of a wild animal. The Little People cowered and headed for the lowest parts of their home. Even there, the vibrations of the beast's anger seemed to reach them. Leaving them all a little shaken. But they had stayed. At Etta’s insistence and for Tris’s sake, they had stayed
There were times when the house sat quiet, but their were other times when there was an undercurrent of tension that seemed to permeate the entire space. When Tris was small enough he would follow his family into the bowels of their realm, but as he got older and bigger he could only watch as they picked up there bits and bobs and scuttled off, leaving him alone in the dark where the tension would twist and wind itself into a turbulent storm that raged within the house above. He would hide in the lowest part he was able to find, but still, the sounds scared him. The bumps and thumps carried into his nightmares. There was no escaping it.
When he was five he decided he needed to find out what was happening and while everyone else made their way away from the tension, Tris crawled his way up so that he was closer to the place where the sounds seemed to emanate. He was sure that knowing what the sounds were would help him be less scared.
“Are you coming, Tris?” Alex asked as she began to follow the others.
Tris shook his head as he whispered, “No. You go. Keep mama Etta safe.”
“But what about you?” his friend said imploringly.
“I’ll be fine. You go.”
“No Alex. I need to see what is behind those sounds.”
Alex gave a tremble and shook her head.
“I need to know what’s happening Alex.”
She nodded with grim understanding. When she hesitated, Tris gave her a reassuring smile. Giving him a smile to mirror his own, she turned and followed the others.
Alone Tris waited. The building tension seemed to ramp up. The first thumps and bumps could be heard. A deep male voice grumbled. It was not long before that voice began to bellow.
The ceiling above Tris vibrated as something fell. Quietly, Tris made his way along the corridor to where the noise was the loudest. He could hear the man’s words. Words he was not familiar with. They were spoken in anger and seemed to be launched like bullets across the room.
Tris could also hear quiet pleas and sobbing.
Something hit the wall, piercing the membrane that separated the two worlds. Tris jerked back. Stunned for a moment he could only stare at the jagged edges of the hole. His finger reaching to touch the torn surface.
The words and bellows were clearer now. More brutal without the barrier. He could hear thumps and slaps and the woman crying. Begging for him to stop.
Curious, his stomach clamped tight, he edged closer to look. The space on the other side was illuminated with a yellow glow. A large figure moved bulky and broad through the light. It cast shadows that stretched long and ominous across the space. It seemed to tower over the smaller figure of the woman. He could catch glimpses of her tear streaked face. Seeing her tears, his heart squeezed with a torment of wanting to protect her. This monster hovered and glowered. - like this was his kingdom and she was nothing but his servant.
The man’s words ripped at Tris. They were like razor blades over sensitive skin. Such words were vile and manic. Tris could feel his body sick with tension and tremors. He felt hopeless to move; as if frozen or glued to the spot. He was unable to drag his gaze away.
The man swung around a bottle that he took swigs from until it was empty, then he threw it violently at the wall just missing the woman as she ducked out of the way.
When the man grabbed the woman and yanked her about like a rag doll, Tris felt his insides squirm with hate. He wanted to rush out and help her, but something told him to stay hidden. He was far too small to take on someone of that size. Someone that violent.
He watched as the woman crumpled to the floor. The man kicked at her, almost losing his balance, before kicking her again and them staggering off out of the room.
Tris held his breath wondering if she were dead. He could see blood seeping from her nose and a gash on her forehead. Time seemed to stop.
After what seemed like forever, Tris could hear the rumblings of the beast snoring. The woman began to move. Slowing at first. Gingerly she made her way to the sink where she ministered to her cuts and bruises. He could hear her crying softly.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
The woman whirled around looking wildly for the source of his voice. When she noticed the hole she pressed her finger to her lips to silence him and rushed towards him.
“You must be quiet,” she whispered as she reached out to touch the hole. “He cannot know you exist.”
Tris poked his finger through the opening and she gasped when he touched her. More tears streamed down her face as she moved her finger to his.
Worried that he had hurt her, he pulled his finger back. Her finger reached into the darkness on his side as she whispered that these were happy tears. Seeing her smile, he curled his finger into hers.
“He must not know. You’re safe from him...” she whispered, then at a sound from the other room, she jerked her finger out of the whole and stood up to block the hole.
They waited for the noise of deep snores to resume before she bent down once more, kissed her finger and poked it through to touch his. Then, just as swiftly she took her finger back and pressed it to her lips before moving the sofa to block his view.
Then the lights went out and Tris was left in the deathly quiet of the aftermath.
He pressed the finger she had touched to his lips in a kiss. His heart broke for the woman whose soft voice and sweet words had been crushed below the heel of this beast’s big boots. He clamped his fists tight wanting to defend this woman and vowing to stay close and try to find a way.
Tris began to plead with the elders of the Little People to help him help her, but they refused.
“We are not here to help the giants. We keep to ourselves. Make our own way,” they kept telling him, but he persisted.
He hoped one day they would change their minds.
On his sixth birthday, the elders called him before them. The oldest of them told him, “It is time for you to help provide for our family… and maybe in time we will reconsider your request.” Even at his young age, he knew the elder’s word was final.
In the meantime, life continued. Tris stayed close. Choosing to sleep up near the hole in the wall. His mother had not fixed it, but she had moved around some of the furniture to hide the spot. Like Tris, she chose this spot to be close to him. It was her favourite place to sit. She would read him stories and talk to him. He would whisper back, but only when it was just the two of them. She was careful to let him know when it was okay to do so.
He was her secret and for his safety, she was bound to keep him that way.
So while he slept near his mother’s wall and watched the comings and going through the small hole in the wall, he also learned the skills the elders wanted him to learn. To gather and steal. Pick the pockets of unsuspecting giants and bring the lot back to his family.
He was shown the way to come and go through the myriad of tunnels beneath the city. Alex was learning too and she often came with him. She was much better at snatching small bits and bobs and escaping back to the tunnels than he was. She had the agility of the Little People, while he felt brawny and big even at the young age of six.
One day, as he tried to snatch a few apples from a vendor’s shop, he managed to topple the whole display. He stood staring at his blunder in dismay. Before he could scramble away, a hand grabbed him up and held him dangling over the pavement. He was brought eye to eye with his captor. The man was wizened and greying. Tris was terrified. His eyes wide with fright. He had heard tales of vengefulness that these giants could rain down upon a person like himself.
The man just looked at him, shaking his head sadly. After a moment he spoke, his English broken as he said, “should call cops… haul you off for stealing from me.” The old man pressed his lips together as if considering, then smiled. “I give you a deal… you understand?”
Tris swallowed unable to move. His eyes stared into the eyes of the old man. After several moments,. the old man set him down and smoothed out the wadded up material of his t-shirt that had bunched up around his neck in the tousle. Unable to move, Tris continued to stare.
“You work for me… I pay you, but you steal again. I call cops -- they hang you.”
Tris swallowed audibly, then nodded, not really sure what he was agreeing to, but thinking it had to be better than hanging. He’d seen this old man before. He seemed kindly. Tris had stayed close as if drawn to the old man and his family. Still, he had snitched fruit and taken it back to his Little People family within the tunnels. They had been impressed with his finds. They were always so much bigger than anyone else could carry.
“First you help me clean up this mess… then, I got other jobs you can do.”
Tris nodded. He’d made the mess after all. He was grateful for the man’s help. It was not easy to stack the fruit and keep it from falling. Afterward, the man gave him a broom and had him sweep up the shop. When he had finished that, the man gave him a job refilling shelves.
A little girl about his size came to help him. She showed him how to put the proper side out.
“Don’t you know how to read?” the girl had asked and Tris shook his head. “Not even stories?”
He’d heard many stories, but these squiggly marks on the boxes meant nothing to him.
“Grandpa, can we teach him?” she asked the old man as he passed along the aisle to check on their progress.
“If he wants to learn, we can,” the old man said kindly.
Tris nodded. Excitement bloomed.
By the time he left the shop at the end of that first day, he had a belly full of fresh homecooked food and a head full of new bits and bobs of knowledge – the alphabet, they called it. He even knew how to spell his name. The little girl had given her one of her old books and they had written his name in large stick letters just inside the cover under hers – Kimi Koe.
“You don’t know your last name?” she had asked giving him a wide-eyed look.
Tris could only shake his head. He had no idea.
Just before he left, the old man pressed a small purse with money into his hand. “Your pay,” he said. “Spend wisely, my son and do not steal… you come again tomorrow.”
Tris nodded not wanting to disappoint the old man. He waved to Kimi and her mother who smiled at him warmly. He almost didn’t want to go, but he also did not want to be away from his own mother.
And so, Tris continued to join the kindly Chinese family. He worked hard and learned many things his Little People family couldn’t teach him. Although he didn’t go to school, Kimi was more than happy to teach him what she learned. It was during these times Tris could almost forget about the dark and the bellowing thunder that beast brought to the house. He could almost forget his mother’s tears and her bruises. But like nightmares they resurfaced.
With the work, Tris grew strong.
As the fall deepened and the weather started to get cooler, the old man had gifted him with a jacket. That night when he left, he forgot it. Kimi ran after him to make sure he had it.
She caught up to him as he stood perched by the tunnel’s entrance. He was talking to someone.
“Hey, you forgot the jacket,” she called out to him as she approached. Noticing a movement close by him, she stopped and stared. She spotted Alex.
It was Alex’s routine to return to the tunnels to wait for him each night. They turned to see who was calling out to him. Very rarely was there any one this deep into the back alley. Alex jumped and quickly hid.
“Wow. A fairy princess....” Kimi whispered as if star struck.
“A fairy princess?” Tris asked looking from Kimi to Alex and back. "You've been reading too many fancy stories, Kimi."
Alex had jumped behind the tunnel grates and peeked out. She was as curious of Kimi as Kimi was of her.
"I saw her there. Don't tell me you didn't see her or I'll think you were talking to yourself," she told him, before cranking her head around to see if she could spot Alex again.
“She’s no fairy prin....” Tris began.
“Let her think what she wants,” Alex scolded him clearly pleased with the title.
“They do exist...” Kimi said in whispered awe.
“You can’t tell anyone,” Tris said coming to his senses as he remembered the teachings - you must never let the giants see you.
“Oh, no. I won’t tell. No one would believe me, but wow.... I can still believe.”
Satisfied, Tris introduced them.
Tris made sure to walk Kimi back home before returning to the tunnel entrance.
“You won’t tell?” he asked a tinge of anxiety coating his tone.
“No, of course not silly,” she told him. “It’s our secret.”
Satisfied, Tris gave her a hug good night and headed back into the growing dusk.
About ten months after he had started working at the shop, he saw the man. The man that beat his mother so brutally. He stopped his sweeping and stared, watching the man pushing his way through a group of people. He was swearing and calling someone a name.
“What’s up, Tris?” Kimi asked stopping to follow his gaze.
“That guy beats my mother,” Tris whispered.
Kimi stared over at the man who seemed to be demanding something of one of the other smaller men. Even though she was fascinated, she glanced back at Tris ready to tell him not to stare.
“I gotta follow him. I’ll be back,” Tris said handing Kimi the broom and disappearing into the throng of people.
Kimi called out to him, but he would not listen.
Tris followed the man as he made his way around roughing up other smaller men, demanding payment. Tris made sure to keep himself hidden, but he was determined to follow and find out where this man got to.
Not long afterward the man went into a grungy bar and hunkered down to drink with some other rather disheveled drunks. He seemed pleased with his plunder and bought drinks all around for the others.
Tris perched himself on some flats of crates nearby to watch and wait. His stomach growled but he ignored it. He did not want to miss the man’s leaving.
The sun was just slipping below the horizon when the man tumbled out of the bar with a couple of his buddies. Tris crouched down to avoid being seen, but he needn’t have worried. All three of the men were soundly drunk and unconcerned about some little urchin, like himself.
Tris trailed them to the corner where the other two men wandered to the left leaving this man alone as he staggered his way along the street.
He followed the man all the way to the house. It was in a shoddy part of town. The house stood as if holding itself together. He hid in the bushes as the man threw open the door and roared for his meal. Even before the door closed, Tris caught a glimpse of his mother scurrying for the kitchen.
Unsure what to do, Tris stood frozen to the spot. He worried that any intervention would be taken out on his mother, but he was tempted to ring the doorbell and...
An idea came to him when he noticed a fallen branch leaning up against the neighbour’s house. He could ring the doorbell and hit the man. If he was lucky he would knock the man out. But was he strong enough to wield the heavy branch?
He crept over to the piece of wood and tried to heft it. It brought him awkwardly around making him rethink his plan. Still, the dark could be a good cover. But what if his mother answered? His heart leapt at that. To be able to see her, touch her. That thought tempted him further.
A crash inside the house made him forget any further thoughts. He ran for the doorbell and pushed it. Nothing. With his heart in his throat and his palms sweaty with nerves he hammered his fist against the door three times, then ran. He ran as fast as his little legs could carry him. He did not see who came to answer, but he hoped the banging might disrupt what was going on inside the house long enough for his mother to get to a safe spot.
He ran all the way back to the Koe’s shop. Mr. Koe was waiting for him with a look of concern on his face.
“Kimi said you left. Went to follow a strange man. She say he not a good man. We were worried.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Koe. He man beats my mother...”
Mr. Koe put his hand on Tris’s head and shook his head slowly. “You must stay safe. You stay here tonight...”
“No, my family will worry if I don’t come home.”
The old man looked at him a moment then nodded and said, “you take food. Come back tomorrow.”
Tris nodded thankful for Mr. Koe’s kindness. When the old man gave him a container of food Tris said, “Tell Kimi and mama Koe I am sorry I worried them.”
The old man nodded and smiled sadly.
After that Tris often found himself wandering into that neighbourhood to see the little house. He caught glimpses of his mother, but never approached when the man was around. He was always around.
One night, as he lay with his ear against the cool plasterboard, he overheard the man telling his mother that he had to work the next day. “It’s a big job. Won’t be home ‘til Friday.”
Tris knew that the next day was Wednesday. That would mean he had two days.
The next day he got up the nerve to approach his mother as she worked in the garden plot at the back of the ramshackle house. He had taken care to comb his hair and mama Koe had even given him some flowers to give her.
Nervously he made his way around the house and watched her toiling in the dark earth. She seemed happy, humming to herself.
When he began to sing along with her, she turned as if startled. Her eyes wide as she started at him. Tears welled in her eyes as she drank in the sight of him.
“I brought you these, mama.” he whispered as he approached.
She took the flowers and pulled him in to a hug. After several moments she whispered, “you shouldn’t be here...”
“He said he’d be gone ‘til Friday.” Tris whispered back.
She nodded, “still, he knows. He has people watch, I’m sure of it. He don’t trust... and I don’t want him knowing about you. He’d kill us both if he knew I lied to him.”
“But why?” Tris asked desperate to know why his mother did not want him. He could not help the tears that welled in his eyes.
His mother bit her bottom lip nervously as she cupped his cheek and leaned in to whisper, “you gotta trust me on this. It’s for your own good.”
Though he wanted to know, he let it go. He took comfort in her hugs and kisses. Before he left her, she gave him a bag of clothes she had been collecting and hiding away.
“Take these. I’m hoping they’ll fit. You’re getting to be such a big boy.”
Later that night he asked mama Etta the story and she told him that she had heard other children crying in that house... but each of them didn’t stay long.
“I suspect the beast killed them.”
Friday night the beast returned and his bellowing was loud and terrifying. Tris tried to make out the words and a coldness thickened his middle when he heard the man talking about the visitor she had had. When she denied it, he could hear the fists pummeling her and it felt as if he too were being beaten.
To keep her safe he would have to stay away from her. It broke his heart. He would have to content himself with sitting by the wall and whispering to her in secret.
“I gotta find a way to help her, Alex. He’s gonna kill her one day. I can’t just sit by and let that happen. I just wish that we could... ... overtake him or something.”
Alex considered Tris’s words. There was no point telling him he was too young. At ten her friend towered over everyone, yet he was the gentlest of beings. “What if we could convince the younger ones...”
“You mean go against the Elders.”
“I am sure there are some of our group that would only too happy to take on a giant and bring him to his knees. If there was enough of us.... I think we could do it.”
Tris listened and nodded as she set out a plan. He was not crazy about defying the Elders, but he could feel the danger brewing in his mother ‘s house. The man’s rages were becoming more and more frequent and he was scared for her.
Together they planned what could be the ultimate surprise attack and rescue mission.
It didn’t take them too long to assemble a group of willing Little People.
On the night of the full moon they gathered. Tris had gone out to follow the man. It was easier for him to gain access to the house from the outside. Kimi had insisted on going with him and her grandfather had given her a cell phone to call if there were any signs of trouble. The old man knew it was better to support them than forbid their plan.
When the man left the bar, it was only after he had been thrown out.
Tris had a bad feeling sitting in the pit of his stomach as he made his way stealthfuly after him. He worried about Kimi, but she reassured him she would keep back and call if anything was going badly.
The man began to yell obscenities at his wife before he even got the door open. Kimi clutched the cell phone, but Tris shook his head.
“Just remember, don’t mention the Little People. They don’t exist. Just call 911 when I whistle.”
Kimi nodded. They were the secret.
Tris and Kimi hid in the bushes listening to the bellowing as it rose. Then settled as the TV was turned on to full volume.
Tris nibbled at his thumb, not sure what to make of the situation. He was desperate to look to see what was happening. Just as he was about to peek over the window’s edge, the man began to yell again. He grabbed Kimi and pulled her to him as the TV came crashing through the window.
They darted out of the way as the man came thundering out of the house and hoisted the TV back into the house. He didn’t see them as they shrank back into the shadows.
In the man’s rage he had neglected to close the door and Tris moved to get a look at what was happening. The man was heading straight for his wife. Calling her awful names.
She stood stock still, but he seemed blinded by his fury and grabbed for a knife from the counter. He slashed at her once. Knocking her to the ground.
Before he could throw himself down and pin her, Tris let out a shrill whistle and bolted for the back of him. Caught unaware, the man whirled around trying to cast the boy off him just as he was engulfed in a sea of Little People. Each of them wielded some weapon to cause him some form of pain. He screamed as if he were on fire.
After a few short minutes, that seemed like an eternity, the sound of sirens could be heard. The Little People vanished leaving the man a twinging mess. He was curled into a ball wailing as if death was coming for him.
Tris had rushed to his mother to bind her wounds and get her bleeding under control. She sobbed into his shoulder as he held her.
“You must not mention our helpers,” he whispered to her and she nodded.
“You need to go. I will be fine now...” she told him.
Tris was reluctant to go, but she kissed him on the cheek and told him that she would press charges this time.
Kissing her on the cheek he moved swiftly out of the house and found Kimi in the shadows. She was crying, but she was also happy to see him. They clung to the shadows as they watched the man taken away.
Two police officers watched him being forced into the back of a cruiser.
“Weirdest case, I ever heard. That man is a violent nutcase. They’ll commit him for sure. Claims he was attacked by Little People.” one said.
“Well, whatever it was, it stopped him from killing his wife.” said the other.
“Thank God for that.”
Over the next few days the little group of renegades faced the Elders. Though there was displeasure at the action, there was also an undercurrent of pride. They had taken on a giant and brought him down. They had saved Tris’s mother from a life of pain and misery.
Tris decided to move to the other side of the wall and live with his mother. It was time.
They shared many happy days together and were often joined by their Little People friends.
Word Count = 4,965.