Fractal Myth

THE TOWERS

It's a Beautiful World

[Michelle Chapman ©2001]

She was a thief, and she was proud that she was a thief.

As a very little girl, faced with a world where everything and everyone seemed to have a price, Mandy had vowed that she would never be a commodity. Curious as a cat, and just as subtle, Mandy had learnt her trade trailing home the endless succession of 'men-friends' whose urges her mother relied on to feed and shelter Mandy and herself.

Not that Mandy was the product of such a union. Oh no.

Every evening, from the day of Mandy's birth until she died when Mandy was twelve, Mandy's mother had cuddled her daughter close and told her of the true love that had led her to Mandy's father, and the golden happiness of their brief time together.

Now that she was older (though she doubted she was wiser) Mandy cherished this image of herself as the much-loved child of a rare romance, keeping it as a glowing bubble buried deep in a labyrinth of blackness lest her inevitable cynicism convince her that her dream was all just so much dross, like everything else she saw around her. She had clung to a sense of herself as different, from the time she first became aware of a world outside her own self.

It hadn't been very difficult - it happened naturally you might say. With little to divert her except her imagination and an immense desire to learn, she had started out by stalking her mother's customers back to their homes or places of business. She followed, silent as a shadow, too small and insignificant to be noticed, let alone considered a threat. Her only memory of her real father (which her mother told her came from before she could walk) was of sitting on his lap as her father amused her by lighting matches, one after another, and holding them before her while he told the story of 'The Little Match Girl'. Mandy had always identified with that poignant, shivering little ragged girl, as she peered wistfully in the windows of the rich, at the happy, well-fed, laughing children in their idyllic settings. However, Mandy felt herself to be too practical and pragmatic to dwell in this nostalgia. She wasted no time on longing for what could never be, but slipped neatly through tiny cracks and unnoticed gaps, helping herself without a qualm to whatever she wanted.

She was quite proud of the fact that she had never been caught, until she hardly even considered the likelihood of capture. And then came the day she met Harry Chan.

Not that she had tried to mark him. She was much too clever to pick on someone as alive as he. But no matter how she looked at it, there was no escaping it. She had been careless.

The 'gameboy' had been stumbling along for hours, oblivious of everything and everyone - if it didn't move out of his way, he went through it. Mandy had had no trouble following the carnage in his wake, and she knew he was a worthwhile target - a straight from the highest levels with pretty clothes and expensive shoes, tasting his first experience of life on the wild-side. He was big, strong and clumsy, raving and frothing at the mouth like a mad dog, but Mandy knew that if she followed him for long enough he would eventually fall over in a stupor so profound that nothing on earth would wake him for at least twenty-four hours.

It was all a big game to them, these brightly dressed young men bored with the strictures of polite society. They came to play with the 'animals' in the seedy streets, placing bets amongst their friends on what sort of adventures and misadventures they could imagine might befall them. Mandy saw no reason not to indulge them in their fantasies, and she had developed her very own calling card, stripping her victims naked and leaving them clutching a fresh flower. Real flowers were almost unknown in the cement jungle of the city, so her method was unique.

Mandy used dandelions, for her mother had loved their cheery yellow, and all her life had kept the hardy little plants flowering in tin cans to brighten their dingy rooms. Since her death, Mandy had carried on the tradition, carefully collecting and saving the thistledown as her mother had before her, for while she had seed she could never lose her plants.

It was quite a thrill for the rich young gameboys. Living high in their luxurious towerblocks most had never before seen a flower that was not man-made. As a result, Mandy figured very highly amongst their betting games. The young man she was following was likely to double his fortune from his meeting with her, unless further damage occurred to him, in which case one of his relatives or friends would no doubt reap the benefit of a successful guess.

Mandy had almost given up on this gameboy ever falling over (though she knew from experience that the effects of the drug-cocktail, with which the gameboys released their inhibitions, were inevitable and unavoidable) when he turned into a narrow dead-end alley, littered with waist-high piles of detritus and debris. She should have waited longer, she knew that, but she was impatient after having followed for so long, and he seemed to have knocked himself out when he fell.

Anyway, she tapped her foot outside the alley for ten minutes, and then went in and started removing his shoes. She should have noticed the danger signs - it was too easy, this slipping into a familiar routine - but she didn't. 'Should haves' rarely occur to one at the appropriate time.

Suddenly a beefy hand was gripping her hair and she was hoisted up to face two glaring blood-shot eyeballs and a slack tongue fighting with inner demons to slur out the words "I bet I would get you!!!" as the gameboy's mouth collapsed into a leering little boy smile. Without thought and with all her strength she drove her sharp fingernails into those mad eyeballs, twisting, writhing and scratching with wildcat ferocity, trying without success to loosen his grip on her hair. The gameboy was quickly gaining the upper hand, and then Harry Chan was there.

He dropped from the buildings above like a superhero in one of the comic books Mandy used to appropriate as a kid. His arrival seemed to have struck a similar nerve in the befuddled mind of Mandy's target-turned-attacker. The poor little rich boy's slack, open jaw dropped even further, and Mandy was almost certain she could see gears turning behind his eyes. The single moment for which his attention was distracted was enough.

With one sharp sinuous twist Mandy was free, hardly even noticing the tearing as she left a hank of hair behind in his hand. Her movement broke the spell however, and with a roar of rage the gameboy prepared to continue his game.

"Watch him, he's really wired." Mandy warned Harry Chan, speaking in the pidgin slang of the streets, which she hoped Harry Chan would understand, but which would be unintelligible to the berserk boy they faced. And so it proved.

From past experience, Mandy knew that a gameboy, no matter what his condition, severely resented any suggestion that he was not in control of his actions. In fact, all gameboys were brought up to believe they were in complete control of the game of life. This one was the strongest specimen Mandy had ever seen, and the fact that he couldn't understand the content of her message only inflamed the gameboy further. Lunging clumsily towards her, his mouth suddenly clicked back into working order, spewing forth the arrogant vitriol of his privileged, wealthy life. "What did you say to him, you ------ ???"

Before Mandy could even consider a reply Harry Chan stepped in. "She said 'Mind your own business, you slant-eyed creep', and very good advice I thought it was too, but I make it a point never to take advice from anyone, it only complicates things, don't you agree?"

The gameboy started to froth at the mouth again - by rights he should have been comatose half-an-hour ago, but the longer he forced himself to stay aware, the stronger he seemed to become. Growling low in his throat, with his hands stretched forward ready to throttle whatever they closed around, he lurched suddenly back towards Mandy. With one swift silent move, Harry Chan reached into the backpack he wore, drew something out and flung it full into the gameboy's face.

Within seconds, the gameboy was flat on his back, never to move again. Harry Chan gave a low soft whistle, and Mandy gasped in shocked surprise as the thing Harry Chan had thrown came slithering back out of the gameboy's clothing.

It was a snake, green, glistening iridescent and incredibly beautiful.

"Is it alive ?" Mandy asked Harry Chan, unwilling to accept the evidence of her own eyes. Harry Chan nodded as the snake (she still couldn't believe it - it was impossible) quickly made its way up the arm Harry Chan extended to it, and stowed itself away safely in his backpack. "But how?"

In all Mandy's life, she had never seen a living creature that wasn't human, except perhaps once, when in one of her younger nefarious expeditions she had explored a child's room in one of the richest apartments she had ever been in, and found a creature she had always accepted as completely mythological - a cockroach - here inhabiting an elaborate dollhouse with a glass front, and furnishings even more luxurious than those of the apartment itself. She had had to leave before she could determine if it was really real, but it had remained in her mind as a miracle that such a thing might have survived.

Of course, there were always the popular stories about the 'City Zoo', which supposedly housed all the surviving specimens of the animal kingdom. From what she had heard (and the subject fascinated her) Mandy knew that even in the Zoo the majority of exhibits were man-made. She had overheard the subject discussed by a gaggle of society women one day - 'so much easier to care for than the real thing : no fussy eaters, or piles of manure, or inevitable mortality to worry about.'

Harry Chan winked at Mandy and placed a tiny emerald-green iridescent scale in her hand. "She's only ever shed one!" he said. "Give it to him," pointing at the body behind them. "We'll have a people's pot !!!" Mandy looked startled, then laughed. "Why not!"

A 'people's pot' happened when a gameboy's adventures proved so outrageously unbelievable that no-one had considered them a betting possibility, and in the city that Mandy knew so well she could not imagine a more bizarre fate then death caused by snake-bite.

If no-one could claim the prize, all the money from all the unsuccessful bettors would be scrupulously collected and then distributed to the streets from an air-car, fluttering and floating down to those waiting below - a veritable confetti storm of cash.

The last people's pot Mandy remembered was over a decade ago, when a perfectly confident and healthy gameboy had died before even reaching the streets, apparently from a heart-attack caused by overexcitement. Mandy had been twelve at the time, and had managed to collect enough of the bounty to buy a memorial for her mother, and get herself a room in a safe house with carefully mended windows overlooking the extravagance of 'The Gardens'.

It gave Mandy a peculiar feeling to look out her tiny window over the dandelions blooming on the sill, only to see the vast triple-walled securely-guarded expanse of green rubber, where the affluent came to exercise, and exclaim over the mechanical insects busily pollinating the plastic flowers.

As a result of the feelings this view aroused in her, Mandy spent as little time as possible in her cramped room, returning only to sleep and care for her plants. Always alone since her mother's death, she found it difficult to reconcile her inner longing to 'home-make' with her overwhelming belief in life's transitivity.

Now, looking down at the sheepish corpse of the gameboy, she reflected that another people's pot so soon after the last one (as a general rule such things tended only to occur in tandem with a blue-moon) might allow her to move further from the city's centre. She had heard rumours that in the outermost outskirts there were still a few real living trees that had escaped the ravages of pollution and the demands for ever more fuel, and had been preserved by sensible sentimentalists like herself, who refused to accept that 'artificial' necessarily meant 'better'.

Reflectively, Mandy stooped and placed the tiny glowing green scale in the centre of the gameboy's forehead, and turned to face Harry Chan. "Are you coming?" he asked, and stretched his hand out towards her. Normally Mandy was totally averse to any kind of physical contact but, as if in a dream, she found herself taking the offered hand in hers. "Where are we going?" she asked and was told: "You'll see."

Harry Chan extended his free hand, and pointed it towards a window high in the dilapidated building above. A clicking noise and a high-pitched whistle came from his sleeve, and before Mandy could ask, a small grappling hook shot from his cuff with incredible velocity, lodging itself in the cracked masonry surrounding the selected window. Mandy had only just begun to consider what his method of arrival might have been, when Harry Chan slipped his arm around her waist and she found her feet lifted from the ground, as whatever the mechanism in his sleeve was smoothly retracted the fine cable attached to the hook, carrying them gently to their destination.

The room Mandy found herself in was much the same as her own, the same as any of the rooms in old buildings which the citizens of the streets were permitted to inhabit. A scarred plastic table with a rickety metal stool and a packing crate ("for guests" was Harry Chan's cheerful explanation) occupied the majority of the room's space. Mandy sat down on the crate, which was definitely more stable than the stool, and watched silently as Harry Chan hospitably searched for some beverage to offer her. She felt she was being rude and staring, but she couldn't seem to turn her eyes away. It was as if her gaze were a magnet, and Harry Chan was pure iron ore.

Mandy had never experienced such an attraction before, but she felt she recognised it from her mother's descriptions of meeting her father. "You hopeless romantic, you'll only get hurt" she told herself firmly and tore her eyes back to stare fixedly at the table in front of her. It began to filter through to her that the marks and scratches her fingers had been tensely tracing on the table actually formed words, carved into the cheap plastic to a depth which suggested that the act of carving this message had been of considerable importance to the room's occupant.

Mandy glanced warily up at Harry Chan, only to find that his unsuccessful quest had led him to leave the room in search of suitable refreshment. She could safely study the message without appearing to pry. Mandy gasped. Surely it was impossible. She looked again at the cryptic message before her.

'Handy Marry Chan'.

There was no way it could mean what she thought it meant. They had only just met, and this carving had obviously filled many an idle hour. Still, a little voice could not be silenced as it reminded her that his window overlooked her usual happy hunting grounds. Despite the impossibilities and the warnings of her common-sense, Mandy hoped more than anything she had ever hoped for that this was true.

The door opened and Mandy jumped up, full of guilt and confusion at what she had been caught thinking, knocking over the crate she had been sitting on with a resounding crash. But before she could open her mouth, Mandy found herself completely at a loss for words, for Harry Chan stood in the doorway smiling broadly, and in his hands he held - yes, it was - a real rose bush, in a pot, bearing a single perfect fragrantly perfumed flower. He placed the pot on the table in front of Mandy, being careful not to cover the carved message that had so disconcerted her.

Looking up at him now, Mandy felt all her doubts dissolve, for Harry Chan was looking at her with the same scared, hurt hopefulness she could feel inside herself. She smiled and buried her nose in the sweet natural scent, so different from the stench of the streets and so much finer than the overpowering perfumes worn by the gameboys. "Where did this miracle come from?" she asked Harry Chan, grinning at him to show that she didn't really expect an answer.

Harry Chan grinned back. "You wouldn't want me to damage my reputation as an inscrutable oriental now, would you?" Then his face seemed to fall into an apprehensive seriousness. "Could you read my message?"

Mandy moved quickly, and before Harry Chan realised it, she had kissed him on the forehead and was calmly seated back on the packing crate. Smiling her most mysterious smile, Mandy flashed her eyes at Harry Chan. "Now really," she said flirtatiously, "you would never expect a lady to kiss and tell!"

The Towers:

Exodus
Romance
Garden of Hope
~ It's a Beautiful World
From a Tower Tall

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