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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a short story about a boy who has to find his own strength and who learns to hope again.

Submitted: April 20, 2008

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 20, 2008



A swirl of dust raced down the street, gleaming like gold in the rare beacon of light from the lanterns. All of the houses were dark and silent. Everybody slept, except for a small boy in the corner of an alley. His clothing, ragged and ripped in many places, revealed a dirty, scrawny body heaving with silent sobs.

Through his haze of tears, the boy looked up and tried to make out the tall figure approaching him. The woman’s deep blue cloak spun as she strode towards the boy. She stood in front of him, her slim hands the only parts of her that were visible. Her ivory skin shone pure and bright as a fire in the night. The boy’s tears stopped as he stared at her. He lost himself in the wonder of her perfect form, smooth skin, and soothing nearness. He finally drifted off with the feeling that she stayed beside him, watching over him and protecting him.

The boy slowly stirred, then jerked awake as he heard the rumble of a wagon. Looking towards the sun, he cursed, realizing he had overslept. He needed to get away from the alley he had slept in before the guards began their rounds. He had no wish to face their unsympathetic eyes and hard justice.

He scampered off, heading towards the market. He stumbled every once in a while on the rough cobblestones beneath his feet, catching himself with a hand on the stone walls of the narrow passages and alleys.

He broke into a large and bright square, momentarily blinding him. He paused and waited for his eyes to adjust. “Get outta the way, yeh lousy rat!” A horse and fully loaded wagon bore down on him. He jumped forward, out of the man’s way, and threaded his way through the traffic of moving wagons and of people setting up stalls.

Finding his normal perch, he hunkered down to wait for more people to arrive. As trade picked up, the venders called out their wares. The boy heard their yells jumbled together: “Fruit … cheap and fresh … beautiful jewelry … warm bread … best in town … won’t find a better bargain anywhere.” Their voices blended with the general noise of shuffling feet, wrapping of items, and the chink of money. The boy pleaded with those passing by. “Please, kind sir, just a copper if you can spare it.” “I need food, ma’am. Please help me.”

Only a few people looked on him with a measure of pity and gave him a small coin or two. Most regarded him with scorn and repugnance, scowling down at him as they passed by. Others responded with anger. He recognized the angry ones by the flash of their eyes and their straightened stances as they approached him, but he could not identify all of them.

“Sir, a copper if you please,” he called up, reaching out his cupped hands pleadingly.

“Ill-gotten beggar…” he heard muttered before the man’s foot flew at his outstretched hands. With the muttering as a warning, the boy curled in on himself, but the kick still reached his arms. He gave a yelp of pain, but stayed in a ball. The man commented to his friend, “The guard should be more watchful. We shouldn’t be troubled by these beggars and thieves…”

Uncurling slowly, the boy rubbed his arm, trying to ease the ache that followed the stinging pain. He knew he would be bruised for a week from that kick. Then he remembered what the man said. But I’m no thief, he thought. I may beg but I don’t steal from people. I’m doing nothing wrong.

With the tears of pain and injustice still in his eyes, he returned to begging and got a few more coins from his unfeigned misery. By the end of the day, he had amassed a small collection of coppers and even a silver from an old lady in rich silks and velvets. He slipped his hand into the tiny bag at his waist and counted the coins: six coppers and the silver. That was enough for meals for the next four days. He smiled.

He rose after most of the stalls had been packed and the wagons were leaving. He walked all over the square, eyes intent on the ground, searching for food or coins that had fallen over the course of the day. Finding some crushed and overripe fruit, he picked it up and ate it in small bites, trying to make it last. It was the only food he had had since the beginning of the day when a small bun had dropped out of a basket and rolled close enough for him to snatch it. His stomach rumbled, but he didn’t find any other edible scraps. Most of the fallen stuff had been pounded by the passing people and was just a mess mixed with the dirt on the ground. No matter how hungry he was, there was no way he could eat that.

Afterwards, he trudged back to his alley, tired and bruised from his day’s labor. Once he arrived, he collapsed on the empty sacks that were his bed.

As he slowly drifted off, the beautiful cloaked woman appeared in front of him. She knelt, raising her hands to take down her hood. Her face was as perfect as her hands with smooth ivory skin, full red lips, and dark sympathetic eyes. She smiled tenderly at him, taking all his cares and needs away. He reached out a trembling hand to touch the woman’s face, to cup her flawless cheek. His hand drew closer and closer, hesitating more and more until finally reaching her cheek and passing through her skin.

The boy closed his eyes tight from the shock of the loss. The glimmer of hope had reached into his heart and caught hold, and he could not let it go. His eyes opened again, blinking quickly to hold back tears. The woman was gone.

The boy happily woke the following morning. Despite his upsetting dream from the night before, he had money in his pocket and would live well for a couple of days. He could buy fresh bread that was crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside. He could have fruits and jams. He could have warm meat pies. He could even have pastries and sweets like he had never tasted before.

He ran out to buy the food and eat until he was full. He walked into the bread store, looking at all the different sizes and shapes of the fresh breads. He was lost in the amazement of choosing what he wanted to eat.

“You here for the old stuff, lad?” the baker barked him. “Don’t just stand there; it’s in the corner like usual.”

Jolted from his trance at seeing all the new breads, the boy looked over to the corner. The rolls were sitting in a little basket off to the side of all the other breads.

The boy almost said he wasn’t there for the old bread. Ever since the woman appeared in his dreams, he had been looking into shop windows at the good food and pretty crafts. Every time he did, he couldn’t help but imagine himself in a life where he had the food and the well-crafted boxes and the scented candles. Now he was inside with the smell of fresh bread all around him. His brow wrinkled as he fought his knife-sharp desire with common sense. He couldn’t buy the new bread. He had to stretch his money as far as he could. If he spent the way he wanted to, he would eat like a king today and be without food until the next market day. Resigned, the boy sighed.

“Hurry up, boy,” the baker said impatiently. “I don’t have all day for you.”

“Yes, sir,” the boy mumbled as he went for the old bread. He picked up the basket and slowly walked back to the counter.

“And don’t think I’m not watching where your hands go. I know your type. None of my fresh bread had better end up in that basket.”

The boy looked up at the man, eyes flashing, and nearly responded with the outrage he felt. Instead, he put three coppers onto the counter and didn’t say anything.

“That’ll get you four of the rolls and the basket.”

“What? That much should get me all six of the rolls. It’s not new bread.”

“Well, I say it only gets you four rolls, boy. Another copper for the others.”

“Sir, you can’t sell this food to other customers. I know you save it for me each week because no one but me will pay you anything for it.”

“One more copper or get out of here with the four rolls. I’ve wasted enough time on you.”

“Please, sir, I need the food. You have no use for it. I’m giving you all I can.”

“Fine. Take the other rolls. But you better have more money next week because I won’t do this again. I know you’ve got more money on you. You just want to guilt an honest working man out of his goods.” Still muttering, the baker grabbed the coppers. The boy fled the store.

That night, he ate his second roll of the day. It was stale and crumbly, giving him no pleasure. He went to bed slightly hungry, but he knew it would be worse when he ran out of coins.

He didn’t see the woman in his dreams that night. He felt her cloak being draped around his body and smiled, but he couldn’t open his eyes.

The boy opened his eyes to stars as pain burst through his side. He rolled over, staring at the booted foot next to his face. His eyes rose to the starched uniform and the stern face, clearly visible. He groaned as he realized it was already well into the day.

“Get up!” The guard shouted the command and kicked him again for emphasis.

The boy stood up and was promptly marched to the guard station, with many prods and cuffs along the way. There he was ordered to empty his stash of money, which was confiscated as stolen property. The boy’s aching ribs told him it was better not to profess his innocence. Then he received a haranguing lecture about being a disturbance, which he listened to with his head down to avoid meeting the guard’s disgusted glare. After the lecture, he was put to work. He hauled and cleaned and scrubbed for the guards.

At the end of the day, the guards let the boy go. He headed towards the poorer district until he was out of sight of the guard, and then turned to get back to his alley. The bread he had bought the day before was gone.

His stomach rumbled, protesting the lack of food. His body ached from the labor and the guard’s rough treatment. He desperately wished he still had his money. He felt the unfairness of the world like the blow of a hammer.

As if to compound his misery, it began to rain as he settled down for the night. He covered himself as best as he could with rags and sacks he could easily reach, but the cold rain seeped through.

In his dreams that night, he sensed the woman and turned towards her. She stood fully cloaked at the end of the alley. He crept closer to her, seeking the comfort she always brought. But she faded as he sought to reach her. He called out, pleading with her to stop, to help him. He shouted until his throat was hoarse, but she disappeared all the same, leaving him alone.

The boy woke cold, stiff, and hungry. The rain that had started the night before continued as a slight drizzle. He was soaked and knew that he wouldn’t get any coins today because no one would be out.

Still, he had to move or else the guards would catch him again. He could even try to find some shelter and dry off. In the center of town, most of the shops were still closed and would only open after the sun rose completely. The boy looked for a shop that would open as late as possible so he could stay under the awning.

He stopped, backed up. Double checked what he had seen. Yes, the door to the shop was slightly ajar. Glancing furtively about, the boy stole towards the door, nudging it further open and peering in to make sure no one was there. Satisfied that no one could see him, he slipped into the store and closed the door firmly behind him.

Standing inside out of the rain, dripping all over the floor, the boy looked around him to see what shop he had entered. The dawn light, already obscured by the rain clouds, only shone dimly through the glass windows. Tables and chairs were stacked around the edges of the one-room shop. A case stood across the room from him. Slowly stepping forward towards the case, he heard the creaking of the floorboards and nearly jumped. He began to smell a mixture of luxurious scents. He smelled the fresh scent of bread, the dark aroma of chocolate, the tangy scent of roasted coffee beans. His mouth watered.

Rushing forward, he stopped just before the case of chocolates and pastries. He leaned against the glass protecting the sweets, eyeing each one in turn. His stomach rumbled louder at the sight of food, and the boy’s cold misery was forgotten. He tore his eyes away from the pastries, moving around the case so he could grab them.

He reached out his hand to grab a cream filled, puffy pastry covered in drizzled chocolate. Just before touching it, he jerked his hand to a stop. He looked at the pastry, smelling the rich food all around him, tempted by his hunger, but he hesitated. He wanted the food, but knew that it was wrong, that he would be stealing. He remembered his thoughts from before: I’m no thief. I’m doing nothing wrong.

He cringed, shrinking away from the food while at the same time leaning towards it, yearning for it. At last, slowly, his fingers touched the pastry, and then grabbed it. He sank his teeth into the pastry, ripping off a large bite. He treasured the sweet, sugary, creamy taste. He couldn’t get enough of it. He finished the pastry in his hand and grabbed another one, and then another. He couldn’t stop himself. Finally sated, he leaned away from the case and sighed.

The sound of hurried steps passing by the store brought the boy out of his trance-like state. He tensed, expecting someone to look in and see his crime. I needed it to survive, he told himself. It isn’t wrong if it’s necessary.

After a moment, he slowly got up and peered out from behind the counter to make sure no one was nearby. The rain was still falling. He opened the door, shivering at the cold outside after the warmth of the dry shop. He paused as he glanced inside one more time, and then closed the door firmly and ran away.

He flung himself down in a secluded alleyway and stared at nothing. His mind was blank. He felt empty, like someone had scooped out all his feelings and left him a shadow of himself. He sat like that for a long while.

When the shock wore off, he cried with great wracking sobs that shook his entire body. He pounded his fists against the walls. He tore at his hair. His thoughts focused on his own appalling deed and would not release him. He tormented himself with reliving the theft – his temptation, his moment of weakness, his complete surrender to his desires. He knew he deserved suffering for what he had done.

After staying in the alley for a week, the boy’s hunger broke through his self-inflicted agony. He tried to return to begging, but whenever someone muttered insults at him, all he could hear was, “We shouldn’t be troubled by these beggars and thieves.”Whenever someone glared at him, he hung his head and tears burned in his eyes. He couldn’t bear it and tried tumbling instead. He didn’t get much, and his near starvation finally forced him to go back to begging. He hung his head and bit his lip to keep from crying.

“Hello. You look like you need a friend,” he heard from right next to him. Gasping, he spun towards the girl. She was scrawny like him, but she wore patched clothing with only a few holes and she looked a couple of years older than he was. Her dark eyes shone warmly and her smile came easily. He stared at her. Who can possibly be my friend after what I did? Probably someone just as wicked as I am. I don’t want to know someone like that!

She stood, pulling him up next to her. “I’m Zaria, by the way. Who’re you?”

“Let me be.” He pulled her arm off his shoulder and started walking.

She scampered next to him, continuing as if he hadn’t spoken. “Well, I wanted to know if you wanted to join us. We do better together, working as a group. We teach each other and we have our own place to stay. Come on, say you’ll come with us.”

“I said, leave me alone!” He walked faster, trying to ignore her as she matched his pace.

“Hey, I just want to help. At least tell me your name. Maybe then I’ll go away.”


“Well, nice to meet you, Mykael. Like I said, I’m Zaria and I’m the head of our little group. How about you come and meet the rest of us?”

“You said you’d go away. I told you my name, so now you leave. That was the deal.”

“Nope. I said I might leave you be, but I don’t think I will. You should come with me instead. There’s a lot of food and a bunch of great people. It’s a real blast. I promise you’ll have fun.” She smiled eagerly at him.

Mykael stopped and turned towards her, his arms crossed and his eyes narrowed. “And how do you get all of that, huh? Do you and your friends go out and steal? Are you a little gang, teaching each other the tricks of the trade? Ever wonder about the people you steal from, about whether they’re living on the edge and you just put them over it? Well, I don’t want to be a part of that. So just leave me alone!”

“We don’t do that! How dare you-”

“Like I believe that,” Mykael interrupted, caught in his own feelings. “You’re just like me, living on the edge, and so you turned to taking what others have. That’s the only way you can be living like you say you are. Only thing is, I can’t live that way!” He turned and fled, escaping through the crowds of people still packing up after the market.

He ran all the way to his alley. He collapsed when he got there, panting and crying all at once. He didn’t know when the tears had started. He felt despair well up in him. He was the worst scum in the world for taking what others worked for, what others needed.

He was sure Zaria was lying, and he would not join a criminal gang. He could not sink that low. And he could not afford to hope that she was telling the truth. I’ve learned that hope is dangerous for someone like me, he thought, for when it is gone I’m left with even less than before.

Mykael woke the next morning with a driving need to know the truth. He wandered the squares and gathering places of town, searching for Zaria. He peered through a crowd at a group of tumblers. Zaria’s brown hair swirled and her eyes flashed as she performed. Mykael jumped back, hiding in the crowd. He crept away to a nearby alley and sat down to wait.

When the crowd finally dispersed, Mykael eased out from the alley to watch Zaria. She held the sack into which people had been dropping coins. The youngest of the group crowded close to her. She piped, “How much did we get?”

“More than last time, Sara,” Zaria said, smiling down at the child.

Sara’s eyes widened. “More? But Tani said tumbling wouldn’t make money. He said last time was a fluke!”

“Tumbling brings in plenty of money if you know how to do it. I’m pretty sure we have at least as much here as Tani’s group will have. It was well earned, too. You did great with the flips from Corin’s shoulders.”

Sara beamed and threw her arms around Zaria in a hug. Then they walked off with the rest of the group following. Mykael heard their laughter and friendly chatter easily, although he only caught glimpses of the group as he trailed them through the dark streets.

They reached a small, run down building past the edge of town. A tall boy opened the door in answer to Zaria’s knock. Warmth and light spilled out from behind him. Once the group was inside and Mykael was sure he wouldn’t be seen, he crept up to one of the boarded windows. He found a crack and pulled it further open so he could see inside.

The group he had been following settled in at tables already full with people. The little ones jumped around and yelled at one end while the eldest, including Zaria, sat at the other end. A plate with food sat in front of each person, but no one touched the food. Two open sacks sat on the table in front of Zaria, gleaming with coins.

She stood, raising her hands for silence. “Everyone did great work today! We almost have enough saved up to finish paying for this place.” A cheer went up from the crowded children. “Now, I know everyone is hungry from their tumbling or cleaning or crafting or selling.” She nodded her head at the leaders of each group in turn. “So dig in!” Chairs scraped on wood and utensils clattered as everyone pulled closer to the table and began to eat. They talked and laughed and smiled.

Mykael eased away from the window and quietly backed up. His face was white and his eyes unseeing. He turned and pelted away from the scene of comfort and family. He tripped and fell, landing hard on the ground. He curled up into a ball and sobbed. He hurt, he was miserable, and worst of all he was alone. Zaria had told him to go with her, but he couldn’t. Even though she appeared to be telling the truth, he didn’t belong in that happy group. He didn’t deserve friends after what he had done.

Still shuddering, the boy slipped into his dreams. The woman stood at the end of the alley again. This time he got up and ran towards her, trying to catch her before she could disappear. “I need you!” he shouted. Instead of fading, the woman looked over her shoulder at him and softly said, “You don’t need me. All you need is yourself. I simply help show you the path.” Then she was gone, whipping around corners in the dark night with only the flash of a shadow showing him where to go. He finally caught up to her, and she turned to face him. He reached up and pulled down her hood so he could see her flawless face giving him comfort again. Instead of finding the beautiful woman, though, Zaria’s smudged face was revealed beneath the cloak. He froze in place as shock hit him. “Mykael,” she whispered. “Let me help you.” Her bright eyes flashed and she grinned recklessly at him. Her grin was infectious, and he couldn’t help smiling back even as he wanted to cry.

Zaria met him at the market again the next week. He saw her approaching this time, and was surprised she had come back. He wasn’t sure yet if he was glad. Too many conflicting emotions existed inside of him, stirred up even more by his dream.

Zaria walked up to stand in front of him, and slapped him across the face. He took a step back in surprise but couldn’t look her in the eye.

“That’s for your comments from before,” she declared. “We don’t steal. We simply work together. I offered to let you join us because I can see you need it, but I don’t want you spreading your poison among us. I’ll leave you alone now.” She turned to walk away.

Mykael’s thoughts raced. He shuddered at the prospect of continuing to live alone, always hungry, always facing the temptation to steal. He knew deep down that when he was pushed far enough towards starvation he would not be strong enough to resist stealing. When he compared that to the life he might have if he joined Zaria’s group, his eyes grew wide and wistful. She seemed honest, but he had to be sure. He couldn’t live with himself if he went with her and found his trust misplaced. He grabbed her arm. “Zaria, wait, please. Are you saying you don’t steal?”

She glared at him. “Yes, that’s what I’ve been saying the whole time. Clearly you don’t trust me, though. I can’t convince you with words if you don’t want to believe.”

Mykael bit his lip in indecision. He looked deep into her eyes, and saw reflected in them her inviting and reckless grin from his dream. He remembered the beautiful woman’s comment: “All you need is yourself. I simply help show you the path.”And he knew his answer. But there was one more obstacle.

“I believe,” he said quietly. “But I don’t deserve that. There are things you don’t know.”

Her gaze on him softened. “They don’t matter. We’ve all done things we’re not proud of. That’s why we help others.”

“You’re willing to give me a second chance?”

“Yes, Mykael. Now come on, let me show you the rest of my friends.” She stretched out her hand to him, and he slowly, tremblingly, reached back. Their hands clasped, and Zaria smiled at him. He smiled back as she led him through the darkening streets. The sun set, its bright colors playing across the sky and reflected in their eyes.

Mykael did not dream of the woman and her flawless beauty and imaginary comfort that night. He had real people around him. He had Zaria. He had himself and his own strength. He would not need to dream ever again.

© Copyright 2018 Zaria. All rights reserved.

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