Chapter 09: Nightfall.

He lay on his back for a few minutes, exhausted, drunk and trying to keep his ears open for any surrounding people. In the distance, he could still hear some faint rattling from the trading post, but the area immediately surrounding him was quiet. He fought the urge to nod off and gradually pulled himself to a sitting-up position. Finally rolling over, he misjudged the height of the wall and plummeted face first, being broken by a pile of garbage stacked near the chemical toilets. It was surprisingly soft, considering that you never know what the hell is in a public garbage pile, and that was motivation enough to reach blindly back toward the wall and try to grasp his way back up. He missed, of course, and managed to fall back over his head and regain his balance just to trip his ankle backwards on his missing pack.

He hit the ground again, this time falling on his side from trying to avoid his bag, and again was lying down. He sat there, considerably more sober and even more annoyed and pulled himself standing upright for the first time since he had fallen from the ridge.

The bag was its own mountain. He could hardly stand the thought of re-strapping the load of bottles and meat back on himself, but couldn’t afford to leave it behind. He leaned back against the wall, the wind rustling the back of his head. Taking a deep breath, he heaved the pack back up above him, stumbled forward, but stopped before his complete collapse. Stretching his legs out, he remained bent and hobbled his way past the chemical toilets.

This was a side of the south ridge that he had never seen, or at least an angle of it. He had managed to climb his way in to the communal dumpster by the toilets that had been emptying on him. He was filthy from the endless labor, hiking and then wall climbing and trash diving. Even for a hermit, he was a miserable sight.

The market was still in front of him, but he had half the length of the wall to walk back before he got there. To his right, the wall of premium trailers rose above the moon, and the platform underneath the chemical toilets ebbed and swayed out the pipe in the end.

Thankful to be in front of that mess and not under it, he stuck to the side of the trailers, parallel to the wall, rather than walk down the corridor of toilets on the non-pumping sewer platform. I mean, what would you do?

The trailers were reinforced with heavy wood scaffolding, with small entries every other trailer with short ladders to the scaffolding servicing the next tier. After the bottom floor, they were built out, the trailers were stacked closer together, and the platform ran across the front. They were not as wide as the walkway outside, but still wide enough for some reclining chairs. The top floor, not having a ceiling over it, was the de facto social area for the people who lived in the stacked homes. The walkways were all fenced to avoid accidents, and provide an additional layer of security for the well to do of the South Ridge. The bottom row was inhabited by the superintendent, and local watch, junior members of the enclave putting in their service and waiting for an opening.

These workers were scuttling through the scaffold, shutting down with the nightfall. The ladders were fed back to the second level and the openings were sealed up. They did this quietly and quickly, avoiding looking at Sartoris and signaling their work to each other with quick gestures.

Sartoris could tell they weren’t interested in talking to him, and he could tell that his appearance was probably worse than usual. He quietly kept to the side and so they could continue unabated, and looked forward, convinced that they were harmless.

Long walks alone pretending not to see people, and pretending to not be seen, is an awkward situation. Especially when you are conspicuous and look like a derelict. From his time in the woods, the residents seemed like trapped animals, he could smell their fear. Despite his current exhausted clumsiness, he was still an expert woodsman and animal shaver/felt maker.

Shaking off these thoughts, he continued his walk in the agreed silence, stretching his ear to get back towards the trading post, to see what he could do about his situation. The local sounds, though quiet, managed to drown out the distant rustling from the communal areas. He looked up at the wall, but with the moon blocked, and the only light coming from the hovels to his side, he could not make out the top of the city wall. Looking back, the toilets and shorter plateau wall had faded into the darkness. He continued, burdened, injured, and far from sober.

The path to his left was irregular, at times it seemed like a wall, but would occasionally break into narrow paths, too dark to see down, but he could hear a strange mixture of sounds. The alleyway would end, and there would be another wall, occasionally a small gazebo, or a neatly built shack of wood.

At last the left wall broke away, and the trading post sat in front of him, deserted. Behind him, the last of the workers closed their doors and the light behind him waned as the shutters were drawn. To his right was the closed gate, arched still by trailers, above him, he could hear voices from the social area. They were muffled, but content, safe, and confident the servants and juniors below had taken care of them. Glib at the impossibility of their eventual acceptance.

He turned to face the trading post. It was the only place he had been in the city for longer than he cared to remember. He had toured through in his youth, before he chose isolation, before he chose felt. The way had changed since then. It was mostly a campground and small communal area back then. It was before the great isolation, before the trailers on the ridge, and the chemical toilets and the whole social order had been established.

At least thats how it seemed. He couldn’t quite place how long he had been in the woods.

The wall and the trailers blocked the moon, but he could see the light begin halfway across the post, and he made his way out of the darkness. The moonlight was not much better, but he could at least make out some shapes of the buildings around him, and in the distance could see some small fires.

He stepped quickly over the trading post, a few of the hermits were curled in isloated piles, small blotches of darkness in the shade, wrapped amorphously around their gear for their safety as well as their supplies. Sartoris knew not to even bother there. He was well loaded and hardly a theif, but there could be few things more dangerous than a sleeping hermit from the west valley. They were older than he was, and had originally not chosen the complete desolation, they were hermits by circumstance, not choice. The lean years after the settlements crumbled and the road closed had left them pitted against each other, doing little more than setting and springing traps. They slept publicly with their merchandise because no one would dare come near them.

“Hrmph,” he shrugged, jostling his bottles to clink each other. “Half of them are sleeping under Sartoris Onion Felt tonight.”

Sartoris took pride in his work.

Seeing the hermits sleeping him made him realize how completely defenseless he was. The hermits would occasionally sell traps, or other forms of personal defense, but he never bought them, always choosing to make his own way home, and never sleeping in treacherous areas.

He turned back, and approached the gate. It was heavily barricaded, and even more sober, he was not willing to walk the path of the outcasts as weak and beaten as he was. With a sigh, he turned back south and walked away from the gate, past the trading booth and towards the flickering lights at the edge of his view.