SHADOW KILLER: A Silo Saga Story
Our very own Dave Larson released an 89 page novella for Kindle through Amazon’s Kindle Worlds program. By their rules, Dave can share up to 20% of the book for promotional purposes.
The goal is to get you to spend $1.99 to buy this thing and find out what happens in the other 80%.
If you enjoy what you read here, please do consider it.
[it’s available here: www.amazon.com/dp/B076CWJVMS]
Here’s that first fifth:
I was seven years old when the man came and took me out of class. I thought of him as old, but I now know he was likely somewhere around forty-five. Fifty tops. The other kids went silent as he walked into our play area unannounced and snapped his fingers to get our teacher’s attention.
Miss Edna was already seeking the reason for the diminishing racket from her rambunctious students, so the snaps were unnecessary. Adults did not usually just walk into the school. There were rules about that sort of thing. We all knew something was off.
“May I help you?” She said, standing up. The look on her face said this was not normal.
“I’m here for that one,” he said, pointing at me.
I was lying on the floor. Billy Wilbur tripped me when Miss Edna wasn’t watching.
“Bryson, do you know this man?” she asked.
I didn’t know him. I had never seen him in the foster hall, and if he had known my parents when they were alive I would have been too young to remember.
My father died down deep in the mines shortly after I was born. My mother was sent out to clean a year later. I didn’t really understand any of that at the time. I wasn’t familiar with death yet.
“He don’t know me,” said the man before I had a chance to answer. His manner of speech was pure lower level. Even at seven, I would have had my knuckles rapped by the teacher if I said don’t instead of doesn’t. We didn’t hear that kind of talk very often at the top of the silo. I thought it sounded funny.
The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. White paper, expensive, not the greymash stuff they let us use for coloring. He handed it to Miss Edna.
She unfolded the sheet and frowned at it.
“Direct from Kinderson in IT. Said to tell you this was a special case,” he said.
“Special case,” she repeated.
“Yeah. For the kid. They need him half days. I’m his escort.”
“Why do they need him?” she asked, re-folding the paper and putting her hands on her hips.
“Didn’t tell me. Not my job to know.”
Some of the other kids sensed the exchange between these adults was not going well and moved closer to Miss Edna.
“I’m just supposed to let you walk in here, show me a piece of paper, and waltz off with a young child?”
“That’s from IT,” he said, pointing at the paper in her hand. “Kinderson himself.”
“You could have made this. The IT head should have sent me an official wire.”
The man smiled. “He did. Said if you let me take the kid outta here without verifying my story he was gonna have you replaced. Looks like you passed the test, teach.”
Some of the kids laughed at this. We definitely were not allowed to call her “teach.”
Miss Edna walked to her desk in the corner to check her computer, all the while keeping the man in her sight. She hit some keys and read something on the screen. When she came back, she had the same look on her face as when she was scolding a student. Her reaction was confusing to me because she seemed to be angry that the man had been telling the truth.
“It seems you are correct,” she said.
“I ain’t a liar,” said the man.
“What is your name?”
“Cal,” said the man.
“Well, Mr. Cal, I want you to know that I will be filing a formal complaint about the way this was handled.”
The man smiled and young as I was I could still sense the danger in his manner.
“If you wanna complain to Kinderson that I did just what he asked me to do, you go right ahead. Heard he loves to be second guessed.”
And with that he turned his attention to me.
“You’re with me, kid.”
I looked at Miss Edna for guidance. She nodded.
“It’s okay, Bryson. Go with him. He’s going to walk you down to the IT level,” she said. She must have been able to see the uncertainty in me. She added, “There’s nothing wrong. It’s an honor to be called on by the head of IT.”
Even at seven years old, I could tell she didn’t believe that.
I followed the man out into the hall and then to the landing in the center of the silo that connected to the great staircase. He descended the stairs quickly, but I paused before getting on the steps. At my age I was not allowed to move from level to level on my own very often. For most of my life if I needed to move up or down the levels I’d be carried by an adult. For the two years I’d been in school I’d been led on the staircase by a porter while holding onto a length of rope with other students from my section of the silo. Walking down those steps alone was a daunting task.
The man stopped before the turn took him out of sight and looked back up at me.
“C’mon kid. I ain’t gonna hold your hand. We got a couple dozen floors to cover and I aim to do it quick.”
I stepped onto the stairs and grabbed the rail for support. I was still short enough that I could slip under the rail and fall down the shaft if I wasn’t careful. A loaded down porter who wasn’t paying attention could knock me off the staircase with ease. I moved as quickly as I could down to where the man waited. Once I reached him he started descending again, a little slower this time to allow for my smaller legs to keep up. A couple small groups of people passed us, likely headed up to the cafeteria. After the second group had passed, the man stopped. He listened for a moment and I did too, trying to figure out what he was listening for. All I could hear was the chatter of the last group growing fainter above us. The man looked down at me with a strange smile on his face.
“Wanna hear a secret, kid?”
I nodded. It seemed like the right thing to do although I wasn’t sure I did want to hear his secret. This man was a little scary.
“My name isn’t Cal,” he said.
We kept up a steady pace until we reached the landing of level 34. A guard at a turnstile just inside the main door of the IT department buzzed us through without so much as a word. The man led me down a hallway to an office door.
“Are you ready to meet the boss?” he asked.
I had no answer. I didn’t know what was going on.
The man reached high on the door and rapped a single time hard with his knuckles.
A muffled voice called from inside, “Come in!”
The man opened the door and we stepped into an office bigger than most of the living quarters I’d seen. A huge wooden desk took up one end of the room and behind it sat Albert Kinderson. He was the head of IT and arguably the most powerful person in the entire silo. I didn’t really understand this at the time but even to a child it was obvious he was a big deal if only from all the space he commanded. He was a large man with gray hair and a close-cropped beard.
“You must be Bryson,” said Kinderson, looking up from a pile of papers as we approached the massive desk.
“Can he speak?” Kinderson asked the man.
“I don’t know. He was quiet on the way down. No questions. No complaining.”
“Good,” said Kinderson. “How about it Bryson? Do you have any questions or complaints?”
“Am I in trouble?” I asked.
Kinderson smiled, then began to chuckle.
“No, not yet,” he said. “Maybe never if you play your cards right.”
I looked up at the man and saw he was smiling as well. It was different from the kind of smile he’d given Miss Edna. It wasn’t mean. And his voice sounded different now too. More polished like he’d faked his accent before.
“Cards?” I said, thinking of the number card game we played in class.
“Yes, in a manner of speaking. It means how well you manage the opportunity you’re about to receive,” said Kinderson.
I didn’t even understand all those words.
Kinderson shuffled a couple of the papers on his desk until he found the one he was looking for. He held it up and squinted at it.
“Says here you’ve been placed with two different couples since you came into the foster system but both times they sent you back. That’s not so good.”
He looked over the paper at me, right in my eyes. I looked away and could feel myself turning red.
“What happened there, do you think?”
“They won the lotto,” I said.
“They got the news every couple hopes for, that they would be allowed to conceive a baby of their own? That they could actually have a child they would be able to love as their own flesh and blood?” He was asking questions, but somehow it sounded like he was gloating.
I began to shake.
“And so they just sent you back.”
I nodded again, but I was going to start crying. It would be like the kids in class when they found out, only somehow I knew breaking down like this in front of the silo boss would feel much worse. I fought it as hard as I could.
“What a bunch of assholes,” he said.
I laughed, totally unexpected, and snorted out a mess of snot. It felt like it went everywhere, even though I’d caught most of it with my hand. I didn’t know if this was better than crying.
There was a nudge at my shoulder. The man held a handkerchief out to me. I’d never used anything much nicer than a rag but it was obvious what it was for. I took it from him and cleaned myself up.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Well, you’ve got something in the way of manners at least. You seem like a fine kid. These people should have been happy to have you,” said Kinderson, letting the paper drop back to his desktop. “Did they tell you why they sent you back?”
I wiped the last of the snot away from my face. I didn’t feel like I wanted to cry anymore.
“The first people, no,” I said. “The second people, the Roys, they said they needed the space to try and have the baby.”
“Of course,” said Kinderson.
I nodded like I agreed, but I didn’t know why they needed me out of their small living quarters in order to make a baby. (Don’t worry, I figured it out eventually.)
“I suppose I should get to the point. I brought you down here to offer you a job. Does that sound good to you?”
I stared at him, snot-filled fabric in my hand, shakes receding, and found myself again with no idea what to say. A job? Most kids didn’t even start to shadow until they were out of school.
“I know you probably think you’re too young, and for most things you are. With the job I have in mind for you, a person must start young. This isn’t something you can jump into later, there are too many little details you have to grow with.”
I still just stood there. How was I supposed to know how to act? What to say?
“I don’t remember being your age. Not really. There’s only flashes in my memory of a few significant events,” said Kinderson, leaning back into his chair. “But I bet I would remember if I’d had no family and someone came along and offered to change my life for the better. That’s what I’m offering you. Do you want a better life?”
I nodded. I still didn’t know what he was offering.
“Not good enough. I need to hear you say it out loud.”
“Yes. I want things to be better,” I said.
Kinderson smiled big and leaned forward again.
“Good! I hoped that was the case. Now, why don’t you hand that snot rag to Mario? I don’t expect you to need it again.”
I looked at the man standing next to me.
“Mario?” I said.
He plucked the handkerchief from my hand and tucked it into his back pocket.
“That’s my name,” he said.
“Let me ask you a question, Bryson,” said Kinderson. “Do you ever play dress-up? Where you pretend you’re someone else?”
I looked back at the IT head and nodded.
“Well, that’s what Mario does for his job. Sometimes he pretends he’s someone else to do what I need. It’s what I want you to do, eventually. Does that sound good?”
I nodded. Play dress-up for a job? Why not?
“Good. Mario will give you all the details. You listen to him and do everything he says, no matter what. He’s your boss for now, understand?”
“Say it out loud.”
Kinderson leaned back into his chair with a warm and fatherly smile I would come to learn was as evil as everything else in this godforsaken tube.
“Congratulations, Bryson. You are officially the youngest shadow in the silo.”
The man, Mario, led me out of Kinderson’s office into the hall. He walked to a door at the other end and stopped. Print on the door said MAINTENANCE. A keypad next to the handle had ten digit buttons and a small readout display that was currently blank.
“Watch what I do.”
He punched the buttons slowly. The numbers 4243 appeared on the screen. A clicking sound came from the door and it popped open an inch.
“You need to memorize those numbers. That’s lesson one.”
Mario pulled the door shut. There was another click and the numbers disappeared from the display.
“Open the door,” he said.
I punched in the numbers. 4243. They weren’t hard to remember. The door popped open again.
“Good,” he said, pushing the door open. “Get inside.”
I stepped into a smaller hallway. One wall was made up of the backsides of computers, with various cables connecting them to each other and to power. The other wall had a small closet–more of a nook really–containing various cleaning supplies.
Mario walked down the hallway and pointed at another door at that end.
“Same code, same deal. That door takes you out into another IT hallway. Turn right and it takes you straight out front past the guard.”
He pointed up and down the hall.
“This is a good way to get in to see Kinderson without people out front seeing you. That can come in handy. Remember it.”
He lowered himself to one knee so he could look me in the eye.
“Will you remember all this?”
He reached up and stopped my head from moving with his hand.
“Non-verbal communication is going to become an important part of what we do, but for right now I need you to answer me out loud when I ask a question. Got it?”
“Yes sir,” I said.
He smacked the side of my head. Not hard, playfully.
“Just yes will do.”
“Good. Follow me,” he said, turning and walking back to where we entered. He stopped before opening the door.
“In fact, from now on, you follow me wherever I go unless I say otherwise. I turn around, you’d better be right there. Got it?”
I nodded, but quickly added, “Yes.”
He opened the door and I followed him back out into the hallway to Kinderson’s office. We headed out to where the guard sat at the turnstile. A porter waited on the other side, holding a medium-sized duffle bag.
“That the stuff?” said Mario.
“Yep,” said the porter.
“Go ahead and hand it over.”
Mario reached out and the porter put the straps of the bag into his hand. Mario lifted the bag over the turnstile, shouldered it, and immediately walked away. It took me a second to realize I needed to follow.
“You’re welcome!” the porter called after us.
“I know,” said Mario, not looking back.
The guard still never said anything.
Mario led me into the IT floor and past a row of computers. He turned down a hallway and stopped at another maintenance door with another keypad.
“Put in the code,” he said.
I entered the numbers from before and the door clicked open. We went inside and I realized this was the door at the other end he had shown me earlier. The bank of computers and monitors we passed outside now made up the wall on my left. It made sense.
Mario walked to the supply nook. He set down the duffle bag and pointed inside.
“Lesson number two is in here.”
I looked into the shallow closet and saw only a mop bucket, broom, and a couple of shelves of supplies to service the computers. I couldn’t imagine what I would be expected to learn from that stuff. Was I to be a janitor? Work on the computers? As far as I knew the people who did those jobs shadowed after they left school like everyone else. Mario saw I was confused.
“You’ll get it in a minute. Before we go further, do you have any questions?”
I nodded while I thought about how to ask what I was thinking. It was harder talking to adults than other kids, especially when they expected you to be able to speak the way they did.
“I’m your shadow, so I have to learn how to do your job,” I said. A statement, but I’m sure it sounded like a question.
“So then… what is your job?”
Mario smiled. I had asked the right question.
“My official title is IT courier,” said Mario.
“Cu-rier?” I repeated clumsily. It’s not an easy word to say when you’ve never said it before.
“Yes. A courier is something like a porter,” he said.
“Like a porter.”
“Yes. But a porter is nothing like me,” he added.
“What does a… cour-ier do?”
“I deliver private messages, make classified deliveries, and perform specialized tasks that can not be trusted to a porter or anyone else. I work for the IT head, Kinderson now, but I also worked for Barnes before him. My orders come from the IT head and no one else.”
I had no idea who Barnes was and some of this was confusing but I got the general idea. He was a special porter. I also got the sense I should never call him that.
“Okay,” I said. “Do you have to walk up the stairs a lot?”
“Every day,” he said. “But I do a lot more than that. And you will too.”
It was too much for my brain to think about what that meant. I had already had a big day full of new things and I was getting tired. My shoulders must have slumped or something because Mario grabbed me by the arms and made sure I was paying attention.
“I know this is a lot to take in all at once, but stay with me. You have one more thing to learn today.”
I nodded. I hoped that was good enough.
Mario turned me to face the closet again.
“What do you see in there?”
“It’s just a closet,” I said.
“Yes. That’s right. Just a closet and nothing more. An unimportant space no one would ever look at twice,” he said.
He reached out with both hands and touched two small spaces in the back corners. After a moment the rear wall moved slightly backward. He removed one finger and the wall settled back into place.
“What was that?” I said.
“A big secret,” said Mario. “Did you see where I put my fingers?”
“Then you try it.”
I stepped closer to the rear wall and ran my fingers up the corners of the closet on each side. As I passed the spots where Mario had pressed I could feel the slightest indentation. I took my fingers away and squinted at the spots but I could not see any difference. It was there when I put my fingers back though. Just a slight amount of wear in the unpainted metal. I pressed my fingertips into those spaces and held them there the way he had. After about a second the wall moved inward for me as it had for him.
“Good. Now take both hands away at the same time,” he said.
I did as he instructed. Nothing else happened.
“Push on the wall.”
I pressed against the wall with my palms and to my surprise it had become a door. It swung open to reveal a short hallway leading to a larger room. I looked up at Mario with a shocked expression on my face.
“Secret room,” he said with an excited smile. I didn’t realize it at the time but this must have been a big deal for him as well. Someone shared this secret with him when he was my age and now he was finally getting to pass it on to someone else.
“What’s in there?” I asked, my voice a whisper.
“Go in and find out,” he said.
I walked into the narrow hallway and in a few steps it opened into a room as big as Kinderson’s office. Larger, perhaps. It was hard to say because there was no desk in the room, or any furniture of any kind that wasn’t against one of the walls. I stepped into the room and discovered that the floor was strange. It looked normal, but it was spongy, like a thin mattress. My feet sank into it as I stepped on and it was a strange sensation. I wanted to jump and see how it felt, but I didn’t know if that would be appropriate.
Mario followed me into the room. He set the duffle bag down and stepped up next to me. I was looking around at the walls now. They were covered in big pictures, like the ones we had in school with the ABC’s and imaginary animals, only most of these had images of men doing strange things that looked like dancing.
“What do you think of the floor?” said Mario.
“It’s squishy,” I said.
“It’s called a mat.”
“Yes. It helps you learn how to do things like this.”
He sprung forward two steps, spun to face me, then flipped himself all the way over in the air and landed back perfectly on his feet. I’d never seen anything like that before, from anyone, much less this man I had thought was so old. I laughed out loud.
“You think that’s good? Watch this.”
Mario turned and jumped forward, then caught himself with his palms. He pushed into a handstand that he extended to full height without losing his balance or shaking at all. I had tried to do a handstand before. They were hard. He made it look easy.
He fell over backward and at the last minute, before his legs slapped the floor, rolled out smoothly, launched into a front flip, and landed crouched with one hand touching the wall on the side of the room. I didn’t know a person could move like that. It seemed impossible. I stared at him with my jaw open.
“How did you do that?” I said.
Mario stood and walked to the center of the mat.
“I practiced for many years. In this room.”
I looked down at the floor and took a couple of small hops, watching the way the mat indented with my weight.
“Is it the mat?” I asked. “Does it help you fly through the air?”
“It helps you learn.”
I looked around the room at the pictures on the wall. They made a little more sense now. Some of the people were doing things like what Mario had just done.
“Did you have a teacher?” I asked.
“Who was it?”
“Barnes’s IT courier. A man named Price,” he said, looking at me like I should understand what he was getting at. I was too young and too tired. Mario sighed and made himself clear.
“He came and got me out of school when I was seven years old. He brought me to Barnes, who asked if I would like a job. I said yes and then Price showed me how to get into this room. Sound familiar?”
I got it. I sat down and pressed my hands into the mat, feeling the resistance.
“It’s a lot to take in all in one day,” said Mario. “I suspect you are about ready for a nap.”
I shook my head. How could I think about sleeping?
“Trust me. You want to lie down,” he said.
He crossed back over to the duffle bag and picked it up. He walked to a small bed in the corner of the room that I hadn’t noticed and set the bag next to it.
“Come over here.”
I got up and joined him. He unzipped the bag and inside I saw things I recognized.
“I had the porter get all of your things from the foster hall. You’ll sleep here from now on. I’ll walk you up to school in the mornings. We spend the afternoons in this room, training. This is your life now.”
He was right. I did need to lie down. I sat on the edge of the bed and looked around the room. Mario stepped back and gave me a quick overview of my surroundings.
“There’s a bathroom with a shower right there,” he said, pointing to a door in the same wall as my bed. “You’re going to get into the habit of showering after every workout. We eat meals at that table.” He pointed to a small table in another corner.
“You’ll eat with the other kids at school for lunch, but we don’t sit with the general population if we don’t have to. Unless it’s for a job. Otherwise, we keep ourselves out of the view of people whenever possible.”
He pointed at the far wall where there were three doors.
“My bedroom is on the right. You don’t go in there unless the world is ending. Maybe not even then. The other two rooms you’ll see when you’re ready. There’s a lot of stuff you are going to learn that nobody else knows about. It’s going to take a long time.”
I was nodding again. What was there to say? I had many questions but couldn’t begin to ask them all. Mario walked to his room and dimmed the lights with a dial by the door.
“Get some sleep,” he said.
Then he went inside and left me alone in a room I could never have imagined where amazing abilities could be taught and learned. No one else knew about this place. It was inside a secret door in a closet in a locked hall.
How many more secrets were there like this in the silo? Would I get to discover them all? How long would it take me to learn to flip around the way Mario did?
These were all questions I might have asked myself if I hadn’t already been asleep.