Memorial Hill

On vacation I saw a lot of monuments and such, so here, of course, is a story involving a memorial.

Thanks for stopping by and hope you enjoy=)

Memorial Hill

Every adult said the words like they were programmed and stepping across the threshold triggered the message.

“Now, Johnny, just look, don’t touch the statue.”

His name wasn’t Johnny, it was Edmund, but it didn’t matter the name, the message remained the same. Don’t touch. He never had. Not in two weeks of hiding in the memorial.

“Edmund, Edmund!”

He looked over his shoulder. No one was there.

“Psst! Ed, over here.”

He spotted Soren’s crop of dark hair sticking out of a cracked side door. Edmund ducked into the storage room with the other boy.

“You shouldn’t be out in the memorial,” Soren said. “Someone might see you.”

“They’re all tourists,” Edmund shrugged.

“Marco sends kids here to beg. If they see you, they’ll report back.”

Edmund leaned against the door and folded his arms without responding. He’d gotten tired of the storage room but Soren was right, if Marco found him he’d be in big trouble.

“Has Marco calmed down?”

“Not a lick. He’s still steamed every time he sits to eat.”

“I didn’t steal it,” Edmund repeated but the words were hollow. Soren believed him. There was no need to say it again.

“Doesn’t matter. We still don’t know who did and Marco will blame you unless we can prove you didn’t take the cup.”

Edmund grumbled a response that didn’t require any real words. Two weeks and still they couldn’t place who’d taken Marco’s cup. It was the only thing Marco had from his childhood, left with him on the cathedral steps where he’d been abandoned. Who’d take such a thing?

But after two weeks, it was getting hopeless. All a good thief really needed was a day to disappear. Two weeks was child’s play.

“Here,” Soren handed him a bag with bread and cheese and some water. “I’ll stop back in a few days.”

Edmund accepted the bag and watched Soren leave. The door clicked shut, closing him in the square room of marble. Who had such riches?

Certainly not him or any of the other gang members. The most prized item was a carved cup made from rosewood. And now even that was missing.

Slumping to the floor, Edmund tore into the bread. It was good fare. Soren was taking good care of him but he couldn’t expect it for much longer. He’d called in debts Soren owed him and the other boy was good in paying up but those debts only called for so much.

He’s have to figure something out soon.

***

At night the memorial glowed with soft light. Unlike in the city, on Memorial Hill the  stars could be seen. Gazing at the velvety expanse was Edmund’s favorite thing.

He lay on his back against the white marble steps of the memorial and watched the stars twinkle. It kept him from looking at the statue that dominated the circular inside of the memorial.

Marcus Orien. The philosopher who founded the city.

Edmund snorted. Marco was named after Marcus Orien but he doubted the philosopher would care much for the boy who bore his name. The philosopher probably wouldn’t be pleased with his city either. After two weeks in the memorial, Edmund was pretty familiar with all of Marcus’s quotes that lined the walls.

He couldn’t read but he could listen and a lot of parents read the stone words to their kids.

The man who espoused ‘peace as a high goal of humanity’ probably wouldn’t love the gang skirmishes in his city.

Edmund rolled to his feet. Wandering inside, he stared into the stone face of Marcus Orien. Ah, screw the rules. Approaching with solid steps he pushed aside trinkets and gifts that sat at the base of the statue. They were offerings in hopes of a fulfilled wish and they were part of the stern admonition not to touch the statue. People mysteriously died for stealing from it.

Edmund would put them back before he left but for now he wanted to sit against Marcus’s big toe. Why not? He wasn’t stealing and no one was around to yell at him.

Hopping into place on the high pedestal, he scooted his hips back so he could lean against the toe. Since Marcus was sitting, he couldn’t see Edmund, which was exactly how Edmund wanted it. The philosopher’s staring eyes were creepy, like they could see into his mind.

“Hello.”

Edmund jumped up with a screech. The voice was deep and vibrated in his chest.  He peeked around the statue on the right, then on the left. Nothing.

“Hello?” he called, soft and low, but received no response.

Sitting back down, he scanned the memorial. Nothing moved and after a time, he leaned back again.

“Hello,” said the deep voice.

Edmund froze. His pulse spiked as the stone against his back moved and then a great, looming shadow covered him from above.

Tilting his head back, he found himself looking into the staring, stone eyes of Marcus Orien.

“H-hello,” he stuttered.

“Took you forever and a day,” the statue said.

“Wh-what?”

“I observe the world passing by but rarely see a face twice. You I’ve seen many times.”

“How,” he swallowed, “how about that? You talk.”

A chuckle rumbled through the statue. “Only when in direct contact with a human.”

Edmund’s back tingled. “So if I move, You’ll go away?”

Another deep chuckle. “No, I remain. Watching and silent.”

“Ugh. Creepy.”

“Indeed. And enough to bore one to death. Speak with me?”

It would pass the night although Edmund was debating his sanity.

“Are you really Marcus Orien?”

“Ish. I am the memory kept by the people of Marcus Orien.”

“Ish doesn’t sound very philosopher like.”

“Should we debate ish? Humans, it seems, are very -ish these days. Their passion runs cold. Now they see the suffering of others and feel sad. How -ish an emotion. They are no longer moved to act. Moved to alleviate other’s pain.”

“No.”

“No?”

“I don’t want to debate -ish.” Edmund’s stomach rolled. Alleviate other’s pain? Where would someone even start?

“Oh, I see.”

Silence fell and Edmund enjoyed it. He wasn’t alone for once.

“Why do you hide here?”

Edmund sighed. “Someone stole from my gang leader, Marco. He thinks it was me.” Short and to the point. ‘Nough said.

“Have you told him it wasn’t you?”

“Loudly. While running from him.”

A hum vibrated against his back.

“No justice in that. You fear this Marco? Is there no one you could turn to?”

“Marco’s gang leader,” Edmund shrugged. “Abandoned kids survive in the gangs and die outside them. The only ones Marco bows to are the Overseers. They demand payment to allow the gangs to work places like this without issues with the guard but they don’t care what happens with in the gangs.”

“How many abandoned kids are there?”

Edmund chuckled but it tasted bitter. “Lots. We’re the litter of the streets.”

The statue harrumphed. “The what?!”

“The litter, the refuse. You know, the trash.”

“Well I never,” said Marcus. “Never in my day would kids be considered less than the responsibility of those who spawned them.”

“Shhh. Geeze. Someone might hear you. No one knows who ‘spawned’ us. We’re all left on the doorstep of the cathedral. Gang leaders take in kids as an investment for later when they can scavenge food and beg coin. The rest of the city turns a blind eye.”

The stony face just stared at him. No response. No movement. Totally creepy.

“Okay, I’m gonna leave you to your thoughts.” Edmund braced to slide away.

“Wait.”

He froze.

“Come back tomorrow to speak with me?”

“Um, sure.” Edmund shrugged and slid from the pedestal. When he glanced back, Marcus sat upright with the hint of a smile on his lips.

***

He woke with the nagging sense he was going insane. The walls of the storage room closed in on him and he escaped into the memorial before he started screaming.

The circular memorial already sported visitors. Middle to upper class citizens doing their ‘duty’ by remembering their heritage.

And there, on the front steps, begged two of Marco’s crew. Edmund ducked behind a pillar and peeked out at them.

One was a boy they all called Chap. No one knew his real name but when Marco pulled him into the crew a few years back his skin was so chapped by wind and sun it was cracking. Marco introduced him as little chap and it stuck.

The other beggar was Sophie, Marco’s little sister. That was an odd one, someone knowing who their sibling was, but Sophie and Marco shared the same flat nose and wide eyes. it was easy to see they were related.

And Marco adored Sophie. She had say in her duties to the gang because of the relationship and she hated begging. She shouldn’t be at the memorial.

Edmund’s spine singled. Seeing Chap wasn’t odd but Sophie? It didn’t fit.

Scanning the memorial, he headed back to his storage room, keeping to the wall as much as possible to keep the crowd between him and the crew members.

He stopped half way there. A maintenance man stood in the open door of the storage room and watched the throng of people. Edmund had run into this man before. He’d threatened to hang him by his feet from the memorial ceiling.

Edmund had a place he’d hid from the man before…inside the storage room. It was well beyond his reach now.

Retreating to stand behind the pillar he’d just passed, Edmund scanned the memorial again. The crew still sat to the left of the front steps. They’d move around as the day wore on though. Glancing back at the storage room, the maintenance man didn’t appear to be moving any time soon.

Edmund would just have to avoid them all somehow. He called it pillar hopping but it became infinitely more difficult as the day grew old and the memorial started to clear of people.

The crew sat only two pillars to Edmund’s left because he hadn’t wanted to chance being seen the last two times they’d moved and the maintenance man hadn’t moved an inch. He was stuck now. If the crew moved one more time, they’d see him.

Edmund breathed a sigh when Chap and Sophie started packing up to leave but instead of heading down the steps, Sophie approached Marcus Orien. She pulled an object from her small bag and placed it among the trinkets at the foot of the statue.

“Come on, Soph. We’ve got to meet the crew.” Chap called.

She didn’t answer but instead spoke her wish before turning and leaving.

Edmund almost stepped out to see what she’d left but then he remembered the weird maintenance man and stepped back behind the pillar. He waited…and waited. Finally the sound of the storage door closing thudded into the silent memorial. Then the soft pad of feet. The man didn’t thud his heels like most. Curious. There was a pause in the steps like the man was looking at the statue and then they continued from the memorial.

Waiting a while longer just to be sure, Edmund only ventured out when the sun faded and stars began to appear. He stopped dead when he saw Sophie’s offering.

A carved rosewood cup.

His stomach sank. He couldn’t take the cup but neither could he blame Sophie. Marco would never believe his sweet sister stole from him.

I’m screwed. 

With shoulders slumped, Edmund approached the statue and slid himself onto the pedestal. He rested his back against the big toe.

“Welcome back,” rumbled from the stone.

“I’m dead, Marcus,” Edmund said.

“I don’t see you dead.”

“That,” Edmund pointed at the cup, “Marco’s sister left it today.”

Marcus Orien leaned farther forward to study the objects at his feet.

“Ah, that one. Very sad face for such a young soul.”

“What do I do? People die for taking from the statue. And even if I did take the cup, Marco would just think me guilty.” As Edmund slumped even more, he felt a deep rumble through his back.

“Nothing is as hopeless as that. It just requires more courage to set things straight. I don’t recommend taking the cup. One of the maintenance men is a wet boy who claims this ground sacred. However, you can organize a few miracles.”

What?” Edmund looked up in total confusion.

“People leave trinkets for wishes. Make this one come true at the same time as you set it up for other beggars to see the cup. Surely word would get back to this Marco.”

“But I don’t know Sophie’s wish.”

“I do.”

Edmund’s excitement built as he listened to Marus explain. When the philosopher finished, Edmund grinned at the statue.

“It might just work,” he exclaimed and stood to go find Soren.

***

He was so twitchy he almost showed himself twice. At the last second each time he remembered how perfectly this had to be timed and shrank back behind the pillar.

Out on the steps sat two of the crew. Chap and a pale kid named Rufus. Soren had succeeded in the first part of the plan, getting Rufus selected to beg. The kid hated being outside. He usually ran indoor scams at taverns and the like and, since he was so successful at it, Marco didn’t complain.

How Soren got the kid selected for the memorial Edmund couldn’t guess.

Rufus stood and inched up the steps.

“Sit down,” Chap hissed at him. “Moving so much makes the tourists nervous.”

Rufus sneered at the younger boy and continued on into the memorial.

Edmund smirked. Good old Rufus. So predictable.

“Oh no,” Chap groaned. “Here he comes.”

Edmund didn’t have to look. When there was a change in the crew, like Rufus at the memorial, Marco always stopped in to check things out. The only one exempt, of course, was Sophie.

He peeked anyway and shrank back when he spotted Marco’s heavy shoulders. Marco left boyhood behind a long time ago. The crew leader stopped in front of Chap.

“Where’s Rufus?”

Chap just pointed and trailed Marco into the memorial. They both stopped behind Rufus, who stood at the foot of Marcus Orien.

The pale kid must have sensed them, because he turned and looked at the crew leader with wide eyes. Then he just pointed like Chap had a moment before. He’d seen the rosewood cup.

“That’s mine,” Marco reached for it and hesitated as several of the tourists around him gasped.

Edmund chuckled and ducked back again when the maintenance man passed him. But the man wasn’t looking at him. Marcus Orien assured him the wet boy wouldn’t be too concerned with him today.

And Orien was right. The maintenance man didn’t care about the tourists or one lone street kid. He tapped Marco’s shoulder.

The crew leader spun, ready to punch whoever touched him. His swing never connected as the maintenance man dropped him to his back and placed a knee in his chest.

“Not a smart move, son.”

The words carried as every tourist watched. Edmund’s eyes teared and his throat ached. He wished it were that easy for him.

Son .That’s why the wet boy wouldn’t care. His flat nose and wide eyes sported more wrinkles and a sadder tilt but there was no mistaking the similarities to Marco and Sophie.

If there was any question left, the maintenance man stood and shuffled a pile of trinkets to the side. Underneath sat a rosewood cup, the match to Marco’s.

“I made a wish,” the man said, “years ago when my boy disappeared.” He set the cup with its mate.

***

Edmund leaned against Marcus’s toe and waited for the philosopher to say hello. The stony face leaned forward to appreciate the two cups sitting side by side.

“Now that’s not an -ish,” Marcus said.

“Not at all,” Edmund agreed. The look on Sophie’s face after she’d been fetched would stay with him for a long time. He’d never seen a street kid smile like that.

He’d always assumed parents just abandoned their kids at the cathedral when they didn’t want them or couldn’t care for them. It’d never occurred to him someone else might have place the kids there without the parent’s knowledge.

“Who would steal kids like this?” he asked.

“People who want money,” Marcus said. “I’ve seen more than one parent place a trinket. Now that you’ve explained some things to me, I suspect the Overseers  pay nannies to steal the kids when they are too young to know how to return home. It’s a way to perpetuate the gangs and thus their income.”

“So my parents might still want me?” The thought was intoxicating.

“Very likely.”

“Edmund?”

Edmund started. He’d thought Soren would come a lot later.

“Here,” he called after making sure Marcus was back in his usual position.

Soren eyed his spot against the statue and then shrugged and sat with him.

“Marco gave over the gang,” Soren announced. His eyes were a bit glazed.

“Well, welcome crew leader Soren. Marco gave over willingly?”

“Kind of. His dad insisted he train with him. Guess it’s kinda hard to tell a wet boy no.” Soren stood and Edmund moved to follow.

With Soren the new crew leader, Edmund could return to the gang. For now, anyway. He kept the possibility of finding his parents in mind as he waved goodbye to Marcus Orien. He’d be back soon to sit with the philosopher.

The End

Blessings,

Jennifer

P.S. I love feedback, so if anyone has suggestions, questions, or comments on what they like or what doesn’t seem to work, please let me know. Just be gentle to my poor thin skinned feelings. Thanks.

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