Published: May 27, 2014
Series: Shadows of the City
1. The Artful
New York City, 2025: Everything is changed. The city that never sleeps is now a land of death and decay. A rampant virus has taken over and the survivors have become carriers, quarantined from the rest of the world.
Twist and Dodger grew up in the streets, the sewers and underground tunnels - their playground. They aren't heroes. They just like attention; and stealing meds from the rich and giving them to the poor is their golden ticket.
On their latest raid, they unknowingly steal a cure that puts them square between the ailing Emperor of Manhattan and the war hungry Governor of Brooklyn and forces them on a quest into the darkest shadows of their putrefying world.
About the Author:
Wilbert Stanton was born and raised in New York City. From an early age, Wilbert decided he would either write books or take over the world; everything else was just a precursor to his end game. Along the way, he has studied Psychology, English, and Computer Science. He’s held jobs in a wide range of fields and met people from all walks of life. Wilbert is constantly learning and growing as a person, in order to solidify his dreams. In the end world domination was a bit tedious, so he decided to focus on writing books.
Character Interview with Dodger and Twist:
Wilbert: Hi everyone, today I have a special treat for you, flown in on a secret military chopper from the shadows of New York City, are Twist and Dodger, better known as —
Dodger: Dodger and Twist.
Wilbert: Excuse me?
D: It’s Dodger and Twist.
Twist: Oh come on, really?
D: Well it just sounds better. Straight from the shadows of New York City, Dodger and Twist, better known as the Gutter Punks!
W: Ok, well… sorry about that.
T: It’s really not all that important—
D: We were promised a really attractive female reporter, not a writer… What happened to her?
W: Well she couldn’t make it; she’s conducting an interview with Gia.
T: Gia is getting interviewed too? Did she say anything about me?
D: Here we go again, all you have to do is mention Gia and he falls to pieces.
T: I don’t fall to pieces… I just wanted to know if she mentioned me.
D: Yeah she mentioned what a dork you are. Am I right Wilbert!?
W: Well, no, I’m sure she thinks very highly of you—
W: Yeah, you’re a nice guy. You steal meds from the rich and give them to the poor. I mean that’s what you guys are known for right? Helping out those in need, trying to make New York a better place?
D: I do it for the women, really. I mean not that I have problems in that area, but it’s a really good way to get into a girl’s—
T: He’s lying! We do it to make a difference. It isn’t right that all those rich tower babies get all the meds and live in the safety of their towers, while the rest of us are forced to live underground. We couldn’t, wouldn’t stand for it anymore. So we had to make a difference!
D: Also the women love it, did I mention how they drop their—
T: Oh, god, can we just get on with the interview without you saying something offensive?
D: We can try, but I make no promises. You know the longer I talk the easier it is for me to say something inappropriate.
T: Nice to meet you Wilbert, and thanks for having us… did you have any questions?
W: I… um… yeah, we got a little off track there, didn’t we?
T: Sorry that happens with us, we have the gift of gab.
D: Oh would you let that go? Gia once told him we have the gift of gab and he acts like she wants to date him or something.
T: Let’s talk about something else.
W: Okay, why don’t you tell us how you guys met?
D: That’s easy, I saved his life.
T: He didn’t really save my life—
D: He was a scrawny little orphaned street rat with nowhere to go. If it hadn’t been for me protecting him from some street kids and taking him under my wing, he’d be dead.
T: He tried to rob me, when he saw I didn’t have anything he decided to help.
W: So wait, Dodger and a bunch of street kids tried robbing you?
D: We wouldn’t put it like that… would we?
T: No what actually happened is the street kids were robbing me, and then Dodger joined in!
D: I decided to help in the end though… that counts for something.
T: Then we both got beat up.
D: Yeah, but after that I took you under my wing, and taught you the laws of the street.
T: I will admit I learned a lot from Dodge.
D: See I saved his life!
W: Well… it actually looks like we are running out of time, I guess one last question.
D: Okay, where is the hot interviewer I was promised, the one with the huge—
T: I think he meant he has one last question…
W: What do you guys have planned next?
T: We are going where no one has ever gone before, beyond the quarantined zone.
W: That sounds frightening.
T: It is, we have no way of knowing what’s out there. But it’s something we have to do. For all the people who look to us for help, for a better tomorrow.
D: Oh god, really? Is that what you’re closing with? Let’s just say we are about to save the world. And be done with this interview.
W: Well thanks for your time, I think. I look forward to hearing about your adventures. And um, good luck with everything.
T: Thanks, sorry about him. I enjoyed meeting you.
Dodger was only eighteen, yet he stood at the center of the party, a gravitational force attracting everyone. He wore a fancy-tailed coat and top hat with loose, brown hair falling from underneath, framing his sun-tanned face. With a glass elegantly in his hand, he acted the part of Mr. Cool with little thought. People, women in particular, flocked to him.
I was never jealous of Dodge, not really. I envied him and readily acknowledged I would never be as intriguing. In all my seventeen years I could never have the confidence he had. I was just a hopeless scrawny kid in comparison, average at best. I accepted that. I did, however, hate that I felt myself forever in his shadow. You see, Dodger and I were Gutter Punks, the best crew of thieves the world has ever seen, but I think the world believed I was his sidekick.
“Twist, here, boy, now there’s a lad!” he yelled in the mocking voice he used to make fun of the wealthy.
I sauntered over, awkwardly pushing my way through the group of giggling girls surrounding him. I felt uncomfortable, my pants too big, the fancy dress coat too long for my liking, and the gold-tipped cane all but useless. While Dodge wore his disguise like a form-fitting glove, I looked like a child wearing his father’s clothes.
Dodger was busy talking to a well-endowed socialite; her high heeled boots met a Victorian bell-shaped dress, and her corset was so tight I wondered how she could breathe. Her skin was pale, and her eyes had the usual bloodshot look we saw in drug users. Many of the other women were of the same cast. They were ghosts, hanging onto every word he spoke as if he were a magician, able to conjure up whole new worlds.
“So I was telling my fellow Twist here”―he looked deeply into the cleavage of his mark―“We’ve explored so much of this city, our skin is permanently tanned. It’s time for new adventures, wouldn’t you say? With Mayor Reynolds nearly set to go to war with that Brooklyn tyrant Chrysler, Manhattan will soon be a battlefield! You would think each mayor would be content to stay in his own borough, and yet they both want a piece of our great Manhattan. I shudder to think what would happen if these parties were put to an end. All we need is to hijack an airship, which would be no challenge for me.” He ripped the cane from my hands and pointed it at a passing waiter.
“Move and you die, good sir. Alas, what have you to offer me in your surrender?”
The waiter frowned, and held up his tray of wine.
“Very good.” Dodger finished off his glass and replaced it with a full one.
Dodger’s swooning admirers laughed and whispered in thrilled excitement.
“You see, I am quite skilled in swordplay. Once we have control of the ship, we will sail past the quarantine border and to the end of the world.”
His mark gasped in exaggerated fear.
Cigar turned his head to the side until his neck cracked, then again to the other side. He reached for one of his guns. I knew my face went pale, my hands began to shake, and the prospect of throwing myself through the glass window seemed more and more inviting. He put the gun on the counter with a noticeable thud, taking care to aim the muzzle at Dodger.
“Now, now, Fred, we’re all friends here.”
“Name’s not Fred, and you’re no friend of mine.”
“And here I invite you into my place of business and offer you my liquor, thinking we shared the bond that comes with supply and demand―”
“I’m beginning to wonder how you came to own this place. Last I been here, the bartender was a lot older.”
Dodger slammed a cup down on the counter. Prying the whiskey bottle from my frozen fingers, he poured a drink and chugged it down. “Maybe you don’t want to find out.”
This made Cigar laugh, a slow chuckle. “You got a set on you, huh? Now why don’t you tell me where this vault is, and pray to God that there’s more value in it than in turning over a couple of Gutter Punks!”
The game was over. He knew who we were. Frankly, it wasn’t surprising. Dodger and I had made quite the reputation for ourselves, but this, this wasn’t in our favor. And the threat was on the table in the form of a shiny gun.
Dodger held up his hands in mock surprise. “Ahh, you made us. Fine, maybe we can help each other. I tell you where to find the vault, and you walk away?”
“I’ll decide on that when I see fit.”
Dodger looked at me and winked. I knew the look. It meant I had to stay on my toes. After taking a swig of the whiskey, he went through his pockets and produced the lighter I stole at the Empire. I sat on the tip of my stool as he held it out to Cigar, who smiled in turn.
“Smart boy,” he said, holding out his cigar in Dodger’s direction. Dodger opened the lid and flicked the wheel, causing the flame to spark. As soon as Cigar leaned in close enough to light his cigar, Dodger spit the whiskey at him, and the lighter’s flame in-between ignited the flammable liquid, shooting a hail of fire into Cigar’s face.
He yelled, clawing at the flames. His beard caught on fire; the smell of burning hair was instant. I used the distraction to my advantage and jumped for the gun before his wild hands could find it, training the muzzle on him before he could regain composure. Dodger and I tensed as he got up, brushing the last of his scorched beard from his face.
“You boys really made a mistake. What you fixing to do, huh? Shoot me? Look at you, ain’t no man in you! Shaking like a leaf. What makes you think I think you have the balls to shoot me? You got the fear of God in your eyes, but you know what, boy? I ain’t God… I’m the Devil.”
New York City 2025 isn’t the place of glitz and glam that it used to be. The city that never sleeps is pretty much the city that never breaths. No more tourists blocking up Times Square, taking pictures of God knows what. No longer are the trains filled with both late passengers and uncomfortable smells. There’s no more hustle and bustle… there’s rarely a bustle. But most noticeable is the silence, the silence that fill the city streets is quite unsettling. That being said, if you, dear reader should still choose to visit New York City, here is a handy guide of things to avoid and sites to see… before you die of sickness, or scavenger attack.
Grand Central: Grand Central was once a busy station where people came in and out of the city. Travelling on business or pleasure, it didn’t matter, this was a mecca of diversity and you could see it all here; people from all walks of life as they travelled about their day. Now, Grand Central is a shanty town made up of people who were lucky enough to find its safe dwellings. Only accessible from the subway stations and treacherous tunnels of the underground, it offers a great sense of security. It is also said to be where the Gutter Punks make their home.
Central Park: What was once a beautiful park situated in the center of the city is now a wild land. Over grown with unkempt vegetation and reckless abandonment the park is not what it once was. It is overrun by the ferocious beasts that were once confined to cages of the Central Park Zoo, but now prowl the shadows looking for a human feast. The park is also the home of the Runts, a group of feral children who live like a pack of wolves. Their alpha, a boy named Peter, is said to be a child prodigy who protects his cubs, not with strength but intellect.
Union Square: It was where all the artistic people hung out. Skaters, artists, people competing in games of chess while street entertainers played instruments behind their hungry tip jars. Now it is home to The Tribe, modern day hippies, who flock to the flag of their leader Red, a woman who can wield a sword as easily as a smile. The Tribe spends their days passed out in drunken heaps while their nights are filled with paryting, music and storytelling. They are a fun bunch but when the call to war is upon them they will easily pick up arms and protect their own.
The Cathedral of Eden: The vast cathedral takes up a number of city blocks; the place of worship is now host to the Sons of Adam, a religious cult that follows their leaders Adam and Eve with a sick ferocity. Followers of the faith are known as Angels, mostly reformed criminals seeking salvation during the end of times. This is a place one must steer clear at all costs. If you are not quickly indoctrinated and seen as a follower, your death will not be pleasant.
Beyond the Brooklyn Bridge: There are many rumors as to what waits in Brooklyn. Lord Chrysler rules the borough with an iron fist. The well-to-do live at its center but to get there you must first pass through savage lands run by Skinlickers, heavily pierced and tattooed men and women who relish the taste of human flesh. If you should be so lucky to make it past them, you’ll have to deal with the Slavers who make sport of catching errant men, women and children to sell into slavery or for unwilling contestants in the Barclay Center arena. Once you have made it past them, what waits is a land of beauty and wealth. A land not seen by many who live outside of Brooklyn.
These are only some of the places that await you in New York City. Tread lightly though, because there is danger around every corner. And if you should be so lucky, perhaps you might run into the Gutter Punks. These modern day Robin Hoods who steal from the rich and give to the poor are wise cracking, quick witted and brave boys, who are making a difference. Know their names well, because their names will one day go down in history.