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May 16, 2012 / Daniel

Trial and Error 2: Incoming

(Read the complete Trial and Error series in the GSU: The Wastes section.)

[748 words, rated PG]

“Why do I have to always be the one to carry this shit. You could help you know.”

“Look who suddenly knows so much,” Toby glared over his shoulder and down at Liam. “I do help. There’s no way you could manage this alone.”

“I do manage this alone.”

“You don’t know what all goes into this line of work, little man. If it weren’t for me, all the deals and trades I make behind the scenes, they’d be beating you to a pulp daily, every trip both to and from the dig. They hate you.”

One of the oncoming kids threw little pebbles at Liam absently, grinning a very not friendly grin.

Liam stumbled across the rubble, trying to keep up and stay balanced.

“You don’t hear how they talk about you. Clumsy. Weak. I’m keeping you alive. I keep them beat down so they’re not all over you. I’m your protection.”

“Sure don’t feel fair,” his feet skittered between rocks and gouges along the path, but he keep finding his footing, kept moving onward.

“Yeah well how fair would it feel if you had to carry all that with a bloodied-up lip? Or a couple of eyes swollen shut from fists and elbows. Any of a dozen of them would love to put you low. They think you slow us all down, that we’d be better off without babysitting you.”

“Why do you do it then. Why am I worth your bother.”

“When you’re old enough, you’ll find something bigger than your own self to care about, then you’ll understand.”

One of the kids in the outgoing line stared at Liam oncoming. As soon as they were close, he lunged at Liam suddenly, yelling “GWAH!”, then backed away again, laughing with the others.

Liam double-stepped to speed up, get past him, catch up with Toby a bit more. The weight of the buckets swinging shifted forward and Liam tried to lean back a bit while half running to counter the sway. Rubble underfoot went loose, and Liam lost his ground.

The right end of the yoke speared forward into the ground ahead of him, spilling that bucket onto the ground. The left yoke end cartwheeled overhead and sent that bucket flying off the side of the path in a long spinning arc. Liam himself spilled in slow motion, fully expecting his face to catch the sharps on the rocks under him.

In his ears, Toby heard the seeker tone as it followed the flying bucket, and he turned around to see what exactly had happened.

The left bucket landed in a patch of scraggly shrub and underbrush, spilling the gray powder around. The stuff glimmered and buzzed, began to pour itself upward the into the bushes, coating the branches, surrounding the twigs and leaves and buzzing around itself in a frenzy of fuzzy blur. The shrubbery dissolved, vanished, and the powder fell silent and dead.

Liam got his hands in front of himself in time to catch his fall and not land face first on the craggy path, but his right hand went right for the pile of gray that had spilled from the first bucket.

When he landed, his left arm jabbed the earth like a tree trunk, jarring the force of his body weight onto the palm of his hand, clicking his teeth together hard.

His right hand sank into the gray stuff as if it were soft jelly, and he felt a slow sinking sensation as his fall slowed against his right arm.

He went breathless as he realized, though, that he was not sinking into the stuff, but the stuff was dissolving him — his right hand was gone.

Liam rolled to the side, pulling what was left of his right arm out of the powder.

The line had stopped to crowd around and laugh at the fallen boy, but fell silent instead.

Toby rushed over and wrapped his shirt around Liam’s arm stump to stop the gushing redness.

“MY ARM MY ARM TOBY!” Liam gasped and winced in pain.

“Shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up…” Toby worked desperately to tie off Liam’s arm as fast as he could, hoping he could get the blood to stop.

“The Librarian!” Yelled some of the boys, “Get him to the Librarian!”

“Yeah, quickly!” Others agreed.

Toby picked up Liam in his arms and stumbled, running, past the outgoing line of kids, and back in toward the crumbled library building.

[Jump to Part 3]

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