Sometimes children are born in the city. Well, you would think this happened with some frequency, but truth is no one really knows what makes the city tick. It’s not known how it works or how people work inside it. Pregnancy is one of those fully natural things you expect happens when people in love or lust meet under the covers. But for reasons outside anyone’s awareness, this doesn’t happen very often. When it does happen those children grow up in the city, they play in the streets and they get stared at a lot because no matter how much weirdness you see within the city walls somehow nothing really prepares you for a child, playing in the cobblestoned streets, with fat kittens in his arms and curly hair peeking up from under a hat. In any case, it’s really unnerving when you’ve spent three weeks agonizing over the loss of the love of your life, and there is it, a chubby child, unaware of the wailing coming from the windows above it, more concerned with deciphering exactly what shade of grey it’s kitty is in the sunshine.
The Salesman used to be a child. He wasn’t always a tall man who was well grown up. He was a child with a mother and a father and they lived in a big house in the middle of the city. His mother was a frantically nervous woman who cried a lot. His father worked down at the docks and he didn’t cry a lot, but he wasn’t home a lot either.
When The Salesman was seven he discovered by accident that if he told his mother to close her eyes and relax and he massaged her temples at the same time, liquid would come seeping out of her temple and when he was done she couldn’t even remember what it was she was supposed to be upset about. He was a child and so he sometimes did this when he had done something he knew would get him into trouble. Washing his hands of his mother’s memories in the sink afterwards, sometimes a particular hue of shimmer would stick to his fingers and under his nails for days after.
When he finally realised what he was doing it was much too late and all he could do was continue to soothe his mother as her mind slipped into oblivion. It was after she had passed that he was contacted. By a series of strange letter that smelled like rotten sea weed , they were written by one hand, but they were from a collective that presented themselves as bosses, high leaders of the city, The last letter came signed simply “The mayor” it was a sort of joke, although if he got it then he didn’t find it very funny. It was somewhat grotesque and twisted and now that he is older he gets it, but he still doesn’t find it very funny. But he went to their “office” nonetheless.
Down by the dock there was a staircase straight into the water, he was sixteen year old when he was taken there by a man thin and tall as himself whose face was torn and weather beaten. The man reminded him of a wrinkly pink eel, his face had furrows where it looked like steady splashes of water had worn away at flesh. He stood at the stop of the staircase “where is the entrance?” he tried to sound sure, but his shallow breath cut his sentence short, the small smile of the man betrayed what he already knew, he looked like a scared kid cause he was a scared kid. It had only been days previous when his mother had grasped his hand and looked at him “I know what you’ve done” she said, with a soft voice that reminded him of the woman she was when he was little, full of panic and worry “damn you” she said before she drifted off, he took the last bit from her, seeping flaming red between his fingertips and into a small jar he had kept around for this moment.
The jar rested now between two heavy books in his backpack that he had slung somewhat carelessly over his left shoulder. He was bringing it to the mayor’s office because they wanted to do some sort of trade. He knew what city he lived in, he had never known any other city, he knew the hidden languages and codes and how people were afraid. He knew that when someone who called themselves the mayor of this strange city comes knocking, you kind of have to go. “The entrance is under water” the man said, his voice sounded forced, like he didn’t do a lot of speaking. “What do you mean the entrance is under water?” the Salesman who wasn’t a salesman yet, but a sixteen year old boy named Jared, almost shouted to the man with the furrowed face. “I mean it’s under water, better leave the backpack here, it’ll be safe, no one steals from anyone around here.” The man said and then added ”I assure you” The boy nodded uncertainly but wasn’t much assured of anything. None the less he put the backpack down and took the jar out to keep it firmly between his fingers. It looked like blood mixed with fire and raspberry jam. It wasn’t much and it was splashing up the sides leaving slimy looking tendrils hanging from the lid, he pushed it against his own chest and started following the man down the water.
Jared gasped when the cold water brushed against his shins, then his stomach before he finally took a deep breath and was under water. The man held his thing arms firmly around Jared’s waist and he was being led down the stairs, it took everything he had not to float back up. He could feel the panic rise in his throat his heart beating quickly and hard like a hammer against his chest. By the time they reached the door and he was shoved inside, to a room without any water what so ever, he collapsed and thought for sure he was dying, that this was it, this was his punishment for doing what he did. All those times, to all those people when all he wanted was just to not get in trouble. But there was no death waiting for him, only the smell of rotting fish. The doors ahead were of dark oak and gold massive doors 5 times his height. They got shoved open by the skinny man who was as soaked as him. He walked inside, his socks made squishing noises inside his shoes and he heard what could only be described as a guttural giggle from behind a massive desk. Behind the desk was sat a thing.
It would be unfair to say that the word monster came to mind. Jared had expected something monstrous. What sat there was merely looking like a fat Axolotl, one of those walking fish creatures. It was pale white with blue undertones, pinkish ears that poked up from under a collar of what was a cruel joke of a suit. It was grinning widely. It had not the vacant looking expression you have come to know from looking at fish through aquariums, nor was it menacing, it was a look of amusement and slightly overbearing. “Welcome my dear boy, I am sorry about the wet entrance” it said with a voice that was both deep and ended on a squeak. He was so taken aback that he didn’t say anything, he just stood there until the Mayor motioned for him to sit at the chair in front of the desk. The room was dark and musty, there was a yellow glow that would point to a fireplace being kept burning, but there was neither warmth nor the source of any glow that he could see, only cave walls and the mayors face, so close to his own. The grin widened and he could see the wet glistening shimmer of teeth behind the non-existent lips. It was really as if someone had cut a permanent smile into wet, white shark looking skin. “So your mother has passed, my condolences.” It said, again starting the sentence on a low rumble and ending it on a squeak. It was disconcerting to say the least, but Jared finally got his wits back and he nodded. “Thank you, sir.” He said, voice almost not trembling and the Mayor nodded with what looked to be a face saying well done, that was indeed the correct response.
“Now” he started, the single word stayed rumbling “I have some business to discuss with you as it seems you have acquired a set of skills we need. May I have the jar?” the word jar came out as almost a little girls voice asking curiously about something you’re holding. Jared slid the jar across the desk, it made a quiet scraping noise. The mayor took it In his large three fingered hand and turned it over. “The broken hearted mothers final moment, beautiful. No one would buy or trade for this of course, it’s too raw, it’s too much for people to deal with. It’s usually these jars or bottles that make their way down to us.” Jared said nothing, he had come to the conclusion in his short life that if he shut up, most of the time people would get to the point eventually. The Mayor looked at him. “You can bottle emotions. It’s more than a pretty metaphor, well maybe not. Human emotions are funny like that, this place is even funnier. Strange things happen when you mix the two, in any case. We have people like you in many places around the world. Some can do exactly what you can, other have less finesse, but they all have something in common and that is that we noticed them and for better or worse we’re about to enter a lifelong relationship; you and me and your skill. Tell me, have you given much thought to what you want to do when you grow up?” the mayor leaned across the desk, putting the jar down and Jared shook his head lightly. “not really, no” he said meekly and the mayor nodded.
“You would make a good trader. You can go to places in the human world and pick up memories and feelings. You could become a specialist; take only certain type of emotions. There is a balance we need to maintain here between the feelings and emotions that get taken down to me, us here, the raw and hurt ones. And the more fluffy good ones that are being traded above ground for…well, I don’t know, they seem to like it, it brings in somewhat of a good mix of desperation and happiness so. Well. You don’t really need to know, all you need to know is that there is a delicate balance to how I run this place and the places around “ Jared nodded and kept his eyes at the jar filled with his mother’s last breaths. “Is that like food to you?” he asked quietly and the Mayor laughed “something like that.” he said. The menacing words were somewhat absurd with the weird squeaking it ended on, it grated on him, annoyed him. “Did you create this city” He asked and the Mayor mused the question over. “Not so much created as realise it was here and started using it. There are always places in between. A lot of people might think this is a place that mimics what they call the real world. But it’s a bit more complicated like that. As with the relationship between earth and space, you humans like to think the only difference between the real world and distant planets is that it has people on it, this city has people on it and thus it must be like earth. Confusing? Maybe you don’t understand? I speak from a different viewpoint; it can be tricky sometimes… No matter. But no, we did not create the city or the islands or the other cities they simply are empty spaces that we moved in to.” He finished with a wave of his three fingered arm and leaned back into his chair. Jared nodded.
“I don’t know what I want to do yet, this is all…well, it’s all very sudden isn’t it. Finding out you need to tailor your entire life based on something you discovered by accident” Jared said with a breathless voice and jumped when a red shadow perked itself on the desk, it was a catlike creature only the skin was scaly instead of covered with fur, it had slits in it’s head that were narrow and somewhat mimicked cat eyes only they were black. “Ah, this is one of the keepers. We give them to people with your ability, think of her as a pet. She is very cosy. You need her to contact us, you will find if you try to come down here without an invitation you will simply drown. This one is one of a pair though, but she seems to like you.“ The creature was rubbing it shark like snout against Jared’s hand and a low rumble he assumed was meant to be a sort of purring came from it’s stomach. Against better judgment he started petting the thing, it grinned up at him, it’s mouth full of teeth that looked like broken bones glued together into spikey machinery. He shuddered, but it’s demeanour was so innocently. It rubbed against him for a short while more before it curled up at his lap. Jared said nothing about it but smiled nervously when he petted her. “The other one should be around here, somewhere, oh yes, there she is” The mayor said and pointed at a similar looking creature that was sitting by the door. This one had a white belly and looked at him with a silent ignoring demeanour “Hi” Jared said in a low voice and it started licking one of it’s gigantic webbed paws with curved claws. The Mayor flashed a smile and Jared got up from the chair “I will think about a path to take and await a letter with an invitation, I won’t come looking for the office” his voice sounded steadier now and the mayor nodded “you do that, don’t wait too long. We want you to get going fairly quickly so that when you reach maturity you have a steady job. Youth unemployment is something we take very seriously” the large sea monster said with a girly giggle. Jared nodded shortly and started towards the door. “The… cats, they come with you” The mayor called after him and when Jared looks down the shark feline…things were trailing after him, looking up, the one without the white spot was smiling a toothy grin filled with teeth. “Maow” it said, Jared was not convinced.
The walk back up to the surface was less gruesome and when he finally came to the surface he was not as breathless as on the way down, his backpack was still there and his books were still inside. The two cats came up from the water, only they actually looked like cats now. The fur was damp and red, the cat with the white spot had lighter red fur and the white spot remained on her chest, she was still licking her now mostly normal looking paw. The other one still grinned, the teeth were still big, but not horrendously so and they looked almost like normal pets. He smiled. “What shall I call you?” he looked at them and they looked back, he shrugged. “No names? Fine, I don’t mind. “
He picked up his stuff and walked back to his house, slowly dripping as he walked. The cats trailed after him and when he held the door open they went inside, the house was empty now. It was only him. And two cats that weren’t cats, but he guessed it was better than nothing.