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She waited there crouched next to the dumpster hoping the small group would pass before her without any trouble. All Julia wanted was to continue her journey without any disturbances; she’d already encountered more people than she had wanted to on her flight from Tatieago. She paused a moment longer to ensure the band of people had indeed continued on their way, and when she was sure they hadn’t noticed her presence, she looked out from her hiding place. Gathering her belongings she decided it was time to continue her pilgrimage to find a new homeland. She just hadn’t been lucky enough to find a place that truly felt like home since the death of her mother almost five years ago. Fingering the delicate chain around her neck and gaining her courage, she set a determined pace away from the city she had hoped would be the last stop on her seemingly endless journey to find a place where she felt she belonged.
set her sights for the small town of
* * *
Luskan wasn’t at all what she had pictured the town to look like. Rather than the high buildings that seemed to touch the sky and loud traffic noises of the bigger cities, Julia felt as though she was transported back to a simpler time. The town was of modest size with tiny houses that dotted the streets. There were trees the size of buildings that seemed to blend in to the architecture of the city itself. Julia had never seen anything like it.
She felt herself wandering around in awe of this truly unusual city. As she was strolling through a busy section of town that included many merchant carts, she realized she was hungry. With all of the open fruit and vegetable carts set out for daily sales, Julia doubted they would miss one simple apple. She gingerly reached for the nearest red one and then carefully placed it into one of the many pockets of her traveling cloak. She then turned around and kept admiring what looked to be one of the main streets of town. All of a sudden Julia felt a tiny hand with a firm grip on her arm. She spun about, readying to fight if need be, but what she saw truly surprised her. Standing in front of her was a tender looking woman who looked to be about sixty. Her face, while slightly wrinkled, reflected someone who had been through a lot in her years, but was also filled with kindness and compassion.
What she said was simple yet to the point, “I don’t believe that is yours.”
Julia tried to cover but was clearly caught red handed. She recovered after a brief pause and replied “I’m not quite sure what it is you’re talking about.”
“Is that so, well I happen to know that Mr. Herms counts his apples regularly, so my guess is that soon enough he’ll know that one was wrongfully taken and will then alert the city guard. So, I’ll ask you one time, did you by chance take one of Mr. Herms apples?”
Julia was a bit confused as to what exactly this woman was hinting at, she had obviously seen her take the apple, but it seemed she hadn’t yet alerted the authorities. Julia realized that if she relinquished the apple now, she could possibly avoid dealing with the authorities. She reached into her traveling cloak and produced the apple.
“That’s what I thought,” said the older woman, taking the apple from Julia, “Why don’t you come with me?”
Julia, feeling she had no other choice, dutifully followed the woman through the crowded streets of the city. The woman wound her way onto one of the many side streets that ran perpendicular to the main market street. The woman then turned left on what looked to be a cul-de-sac and headed toward one of the houses situated at the end of the street.
By this time Julia was really worried. The entire time she had been following the woman she had been thinking about a possible explanation as to why she hadn’t paid for the apple, but she couldn’t come up with a convincing story. She wondered what would happen to her when they finally reached the woman’s house. They arrived at the doorstep to a quaint little house surrounded by lilies and tulips. The woman turned to Julia and bade her come inside the house. Julia couldn’t quite say no, so with no other choice she followed her in.
The woman’s house was modestly furnished and seemed to hold the same amount of greenery inside as it did outside. The woman, once inside her home, turned to Julia saying, “Well let’s have some introductions then, before we both get to feeling too awkward to have a decent conversation. I’d love to hear your story, I can tell by looking at you that you’ve certainly got an interesting one.”
Julia was astounded that this was where the conversation had headed. She fully anticipated a trial for stealing the apple, not a pleasant chat. Deciding not to press her luck, she answered, “I’m Julia Thembury.”
The woman smiled genuinely and answered, “It’s nice to meet you Julia, my name is Eleanor Pickson. Welcome to Luskan. I must say though, that it’s probably not the wisest idea to go around stealing when you first arrive in a town; it doesn’t make for the best first impression.” As she said this she winked at Julia, which helped her relax a little, knowing that this woman truly had no intention of alerting the authorities to what she had done.
All Julia was able to offer back was a weak smile, which was more than even she expected to give, for she hadn’t smiled in a long time. She found it difficult to smile or express happiness when her life, at least up until this point, had been so full of pain.
Eleanor looked at this child, who couldn’t have been more than 17 years old. She looked as if she had the weight of the world on her shoulders, and she had obviously been traveling for some time. Her clothes and cloak were soiled and tattered and even her fair face looked wind chapped and smudged. Eleanor wondered what could have driven this girl to a life on the street. She looked into Julia’s eyes and saw a determination and drive there that she recognized as something she herself possessed. “Well you must be hungry, and I’m sure you’d like a place to rest until you decide to continue your journey. The only thing I ask for as payment is your story. Like I said before, I’m sure it is an interesting one, and in turn you may stay here as long as you like. I recognize a certain quality in you that I can’t yet put my finger on, but I’ll tell you that from the moment I noticed you take one of Mr. Herms apples, you struck me as being more than the common thief. If you wait here, I’ll get us some tea and lunch and we can begin with it then.”
* * *
That day at Eleanor’s house, surprisingly, was one of the best Julia could remember since the death of her mother. They talked about all sorts of things, some good and some more painful. Julia spoke of her mother’s death and showed Eleanor the delicate chain that had been her mother’s, which Julia now wore as a constant reminder of her. Eleanor spoke of the little family she had left, and particularly of a beloved grandson that was lost as a toddler in the confusion of the last war between Luskan and Canterberg, and she now sadly assumed he was dead. Eleanor and Julia, from that day on, began to forge a friendship, which was very new to Julia. In the five years she had been on the street she had learned to rely on only herself, to trust only her instincts. Learning to trust Eleanor wasn’t as difficult as she had thought it would be though; Julia often found herself thinking of Eleanor as a surrogate grandmother.
* * *
As the weeks with Eleanor passed, Julia began to find a respectable place in the Luskan society. During the week she helped Eleanor prepare for the market, something Eleanor loved to participate in, and on the weekends could often be found helping Eleanor in her garden. The more time Julia spent with Eleanor the more she found herself feeling like she belonged to an actual family. Before she even recognized it had happened she realized that she truly loved Eleanor, and knew that Eleanor held the same feelings for her. Julia believed that her life had turned around, and that she had finally found a place to belong.
* * *
Julia awoke one morning and started to get ready to help Eleanor take their produce to the market. She realized when she was almost finished loading the cart that she hadn’t seen Eleanor all morning, which was odd considering she was usually up before Julia ever was. Julia went to look for Eleanor in her room; she walked up to the door and knocked, waiting for an answer. When she didn’t get a reply she slowly opened up the door and peered inside. Eleanor was still in bed. Julia walked over to Eleanor and bent down to talk to her.
“Why aren’t you up yet Eleanor? Remember there’s market today, if you’d like I can take it in myself.”
“What? You crazy child you know I don’t go to market any longer, I hate dealing with the crowds.” Eleanor responded. “I don’t even like growing the produce, getting so dirty just to pick the flowers, fruits, and vegetables; it’s an awful way to make a living.”
Julia took a step back and considered what Eleanor had just said. It greatly worried her because it was so out of character. She wondered what had happened to the Eleanor she knew, the Eleanor who above everything else loved to garden. Eleanor at one point in time told Julia that nothing gave her more pleasure than selling the plants she grew, and now it seemed she wanted nothing to do with any of it.
Thoroughly shaken after her encounter with Eleanor, she decided to continue with her plan of going to the market anyway. She didn’t see any point to let the produce and flowers picked go to waste because Eleanor wasn’t feeling like herself.
* * *
Julia got home from market even more thoroughly shaken than she had been when she’d left the house that morning. Not one person had been at market, neither to sell nor to buy, which was unheard of on a Saturday. Julia at first wondered if it was some sort of strange Luskan holiday, but concluded that that wouldn’t account for Eleanor’s strange behavior or the fact that nobody had mentioned any sort of holiday earlier that week.
Julia found that the strange behavior of both Eleanor and the townsfolk continued for the next couple days. By Tuesday Julia was thoroughly worried. Eleanor was the only person in the world left for Julia to care about and she wanted to get to the bottom of her strange behavior. With no other option Julia decided to see the mayor of Luskan to see if he had any ideas as to what might be going on.
* * *
Mayor Villon’s secretary ushered Julia in to see the Mayor just as he was finishing a phone conversation. Julia had pictured the mayor to be a diminutive figure, so she was surprised to see that he was a man of considerable size and stature; he towered over her five-foot-six frame. He looked up from his desk when he had finished his conversation and flashed a huge grin that showed every one of his pearly white teeth.
“Well, well, what can I do for you little lady?” he said in a smooth, low voice.
“I’ve come to discuss the strange behavior that seems to have enveloped the entire town. I was wondering if you had any ideas as to the cause of it, or any information on someone who may know more about it. I’m terribly worried about the well-being of the townsfolk, as I believe you should be.”
“Well I certainly have no idea as to what you’re talking about. Are you sure that the entire town is suffering from this ‘strange behavior’ as you call it?”
“If you’re insinuating that this is all just a figment of my imagination, then I urge you to go out among your own people and see what is happening to the citizens for yourself.”
By now the mayor had had quite enough of the girl’s rambling. “Young lady, I assure you that if anything strange or out of the ordinary was going on I would certainly know about it, and since I have heard nothing, this means that as you yourself said this is all in your head. Nothing odd is going on in my city. Now if that is all, then you may leave,” he said as he opened the door to his office.
Julia, feeling even more perplexed by the mayor’s strange reaction to her visit, began to collect her things to be on her way. She left the mayor’s office and walked into the main hallway that led to the door of city hall. As she reached the door to the outside, she heard someone call out to her.
“Wait, miss, hold on just a moment!”
Julia turned to look at the person who had called out to her. She saw a young man running towards her who looked to be a little older than she was.
“I’m glad you stopped, I was hoping to catch you before you went out. Could I have a moment to speak with you perhaps, in private?” He looked down at her and smiled. She blushed slightly, noticing, now that he was closer, his warm hazel eyes.
“Sure, might I ask what it’s about?” she replied.
“Not here,” was all he said. He then tilted his head towards a small room that, until then, Julia hadn’t noticed, off on the side of the main hallway. Julia took the hint and followed him into the room. The gentleman closed and locked the door behind them, and then turned to look at Julia.
He turned around to face her with an extended hand as he said “Hi, my name is James, James Villon, my father is the mayor of Luskan.”
In the weeks she’d been living with Eleanor, Julia had indeed recovered from life on the road. Instead of being too skinny from lack of proper nutrition, she had filled out to look like a proper seventeen year old should. Her hair had since been trimmed and her body was now rid of the bruises she had obtained from living from town to town. Julia was suddenly very glad that she had taken the extra time that morning to make herself presentable for the mayor. “Hello James, my name is Julia Thembury. It’s very nice to meet you.” She smiled shyly, still not quite sure as to the meaning of this obviously secret meeting.
As Julia introduced herself, James took a moment to study her. He hadn’t realized how strikingly beautiful she was in his rush to get to the business at hand. He realized that feelings of this sort would only complicate the situation though, so taking control of his emotions he said, “I wanted to let you know that I heard everything you said to my father about the strange behavior that seems to have taken over our city, but most importantly I wanted to let you know that I believe you, and I think I know what’s behind it.”
* * *
“So let me get this straight, you found a ‘secret lab’ under this building that we’re in right now?” Julia asked skeptically.
“Yes, but that’s not what’s important. This lab contained operating tables and medical charts for every citizen in Luskan, and what’s worse is that each chart states that every person was scheduled to have an operation to insert a newly tested device known as a Deep Brain Stimulator or DBS. This supposedly happened last week Friday, which would explain everyone’s strange behavior as of Saturday, when you first noticed the unusual behavior.”
“This sounds a little far fetched.” Julia replied, not sure what to think about the information she had just been given.
“Listen, this is really important. These devices, the Deep Brain Stimulators, are extremely dangerous. If they fall into the wrong hands, people implanted with these devices can be completely controlled-their every action and emotion.”
“How do you know all of this?”
“I was reading one of the files I found lying on a desk in the lab. Apparently the DBS is composed of two parts, the first being the pulse generator that sends an electrical current along the second part, known as the electrode, to the Vagus Nerve. Through this type of stimulation of the Vagus Nerve, the person controlling the pulse generator that controls the frequency and intensity of the charge, can effectively control the actions and emotions of the person, or in this case persons, with the implanted device. It looks as though the only way to effectively end the mind controlling effects of the DBS is to shut down the main computer that controls all of the pulse generators implanted in the townsfolk.”
“So that means we need to somehow break into this secret lab to find and destroy the computer in order to release the city’s population from this mind controlling device? Count me in, especially if it’s the only way to reverse the DBS.”
James looked at her somewhat surprised, not quite expecting that response. “Really, you’re in? I can’t tell you how glad I am to hear that. For a second I wasn’t sure you believed me.”
“Well, I figure, what other leads do I have? That and I’m not about to completely disregard the first person I’ve met who actually believes I’m not crazy,” she replied with a grin.
* * *
Once they obtained entrance into the lab, they began searching for anything that looked like it could be a computer. Finally, after searching the lab twice, they saw a disk drive lying out on a table. This happened to be connected to a processor hidden under one of the many desks found in the lab. This had to be what they were looking for; nothing else matched the description.
James began to unhook the processor from under the desk so he could properly dismantle it. As he lifted it up to place on the desk, the lab door suddenly burst open.
James’s father, Mayor Villon, walked in purposefully, as if he expected to find two trespassers in his lab. James, not at all expecting his father to be the one behind the DBS implanting scheme, nearly dropped the processor at the sight of his father. The mayor stopped when he saw James.
“James Edward Villon, I want that processor this minute!” the mayor growled.
“You really thought that was going to work? ‘Give it to me or you’re grounded’. Honestly, Dad, how stupid do you think I am? This is a lot bigger than a simple argument that can be solved by your parental guidance; you tricked all of Luskan into having this extremely dangerous surgery just so you could control them.”
“If you don’t hand over the processor this moment I will personally see to it that this girl here dies.” At that, he reached for Julia and managed to grab her arm and pull her towards him. “But perhaps I’ll wait until I have a little fun with her myself,” he finished with a snicker.
Julia had no choice but to stay with the huge man. Even though she wriggled and fought back with all of her strength, she was simply no match for him.
“Don’t touch her!” James yelled.
Julia managed to yell out, “James, the processor is more important! Destroy it now while you have the chance!”
With Julia’s burst of encouragement, James jumped up onto one of the tables and opened a lighter under one of the fire alarm sprinklers, causing a cascade of water to erupt from the ceiling, drenching the computer processor and destroying the control that it had over the citizens of Luskan.
At this the mayor threw Julia aside, where she crumpled to the floor, and stalked towards James. “You, you good for nothing bastard; did you not understand what that computer did? It gave me, it could have given us, ultimate control! I should have let you die when I found you on that battle field eighteen years ago,” he roared.
“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?” James asked, gaining his courage, knowing that even if he died today, he had done his job.
“That means, when I found you wondering all alone and lost, I should have let you die. You were never a proper son to me!” He stopped in front of James, less than four inches from his face. “Don’t you get it, you’re not really mine,” he laughed cruelly. “And now I’m going to send you to live with your true parents, I believe they go by the name of Pickson.” He raised both arms and began to strangle James. James fought for breath but simply wasn’t strong enough to get away, his last thought as he drifted out of consciousness was of Julia; he hoped she’d be okay.
* * *
Julia awoke a little shaky, not sure how long she had been out. She quietly lifted her head to see if she could see where James was, hoping he was still alive. She saw him positioned on the floor about twenty-five feet in front of her. She scooted towards him, not sure where Mayor Villon had escaped to. When she reached him she gingerly turned him towards her to check his pulse; it was very faint.
“James, can you hear me? James please wake up!”
She looked around to make sure that they were alone. She knew she had to call an ambulance for James. She shakily got to her feet and started for one of the desks to see if there was a phone around. She noticed one on a desk across the room. As she lifted the receiver she heard the unmistakable sounds of sirens growing closer. Then all at once they seemed to overcome the building, at that time she knew it was no longer necessary to call for help. It seemed it had arrived on its own.
“Oh, thank god,” Julia silently said to herself. She managed to stumble back over to James, still a little weak from her struggle with the mayor.
At that time, a team of officers burst open the laboratory’s door and immediately secured the area. They took one look at James and radioed for medical backup. One of the officers bent over to help Julia up off of the floor. Julia made sure that James made it safely into the ambulance and watched as it made its way towards the hospital. An officer offered her a ride home and she gladly accepted. As she got out of the police car she again thanked the officer for the ride and then made her way up to the door. As she neared the house, the door opened up and Eleanor looked out at Julia.
“Well hello there, where have you been? It’s pretty late, wouldn’t you say? Well come on in here and tell me how your day was.”
Julia looked at Eleanor with tear stained eyes, so glad to be back in the company of her dear friend. She ran the rest of the way up the walk and buried herself in Eleanor’s arms. Once they were inside Julia told Eleanor everything that had happened the last few days. Eleanor was shocked because she didn’t remember a thing. Neither Julia nor Eleanor bothered to go to bed that night; they each eventually fell asleep out in the living room.
* * *
The next morning, Julia awoke to the sound of someone knocking on the front door. She sleepily walked to the door and was surprised to see who was on the other side.
“James, you’re okay! I was just thinking about visiting you today. What are you doing here?”
“Julia? What are you doing here?”
“I live here with Eleanor; I have for some time now. Why?”
“Can I come in for a second, I have something I need to tell Eleanor.”
“Yeah, sure. Eleanor, a friend of mine wants to talk to you.”
“Well sure dear, bring them in,” Eleanor replied.
Julia lead James into the living room and sat next to him on the couch, she still wasn’t sure why he had come to visit Eleanor.
* * *
Julia couldn’t believe what she had just heard; James was Eleanor’s lost grandson. James explained the strange encounter with his father the evening before and how he had told James about his real parents; how he had been kidnapped in the confusion of the war. Eleanor, overcome with happiness, took James in her arms. She even commented on him looking so much like his father.
Julia looked at the two of them embracing and smiled. She realized she had finally found both a place to call home and people to love and care about. It was more than she could have ever asked for. She smiled on, knowing she would be okay, and that her mother was watching over her.
© Copyright 2005 by the author
All rights reserved