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Chapter 33


||TW: child abuse, domestic abuse, emotional distress, emotional abuse, gore||


Kiol’s twin was born first, and born dead. Kiol came after, writhing and screaming like his mother. Kiol was the second twin, and because the first was stillborn, it also made him the second child of the house. The day after he was born, a fire destroyed all of their crops two weeks from harvest. They almost starved that winter. When he was four months old his father tried to drown him in the wash basin until his mother saved him. His father said, another mouth to feed, and a cursed one at that. His mother said he was nursing and he wasn’t eating any of their food.


Not yet, his father had said.


His earliest memory was kneeling at a makeshift table, a cracked clay bowl at his side and porridge spilled across the floor and his robe. His first memory, but not the first instance. His mother lifted him away from the mess and hugged him tight.


“No worries, no worries,” she comforted him. “It’s not your fault.” She cleaned it all up and they both pretended not to see his father’s smoldering anger and hatred.


When he was a bit older he tried to follow his brother into the fields, even when the boy pushed him down hard. “Dad says you’re a curse,” he snapped. “You ruin everything.”


“Mommy says I’m not a curse!” he protested, and kept following until his brother threw rocks. That was how he lost his first tooth. He ran all the way home with a bloody nose and mouth. His mother opened her arms and he flung himself into their warmth, crying.


“It’s not that bad,” she soothed. Her smile was soft and sweet and caring, the exact opposite of his father’s constant scowl. He worked out in the fields all day. When Kiol broke a dish or tore fabric or spilled food, his mother hurriedly cleaned it up so no one else would know. But it was impossible for his father not to see sometimes. If it was especially bad, usually when it involved food, the man smacked Kiol hard enough to make his ears ring and his brain turn fuzzy. His mother shielded him with her body and berated her husband, but he ignored her.


“It’s not your fault,” she reassured Kiol, stroking his hair.


“It is his fault,” his father fumed. “Cursed little shit! Shoulda let me kill the fucker, you stupid bitch. He’ll destroy this family.”


His mother covered his ears. “Don’t listen to him,” her lips read. “It’s not your fault. You’re a good boy.”


At night he’d often fall asleep with his head in her lap as she mended the clothing he had ripped, the fire warming his back.


His father wouldn’t go near him, his brother wouldn’t let Kiol follow him, his mother was always busy cooking or weaving or sewing. Kiol had to keep himself entertained. He wandered into the barn one day. It was empty of any big animals, his father having sold them to get through the winter after the crop failure and having never scraped up enough to purchase more. Only chickens pecked around in the dust, and two goats munched hay. The sky was gray and so the barn was dark. Everything towered above his head. He climbed the ladder, literally, as each rung was so far apart he had to pull himself up one at a time. The hayloft was even darker than the rest, but it was dry and the hay smelled crackly and sweet. He lay down in it and counted the slats of the ceiling. He could only count to ten, so when he reached ten he just started over again at one.


He must have fallen asleep. He woke to the sound of splitting. He sat up, brushing hay from his hair and looking around. It sounded like wood splitting, but his father wouldn’t be chopping firewood in the middle of the day. He stood and felt the boards beneath his feet give a little. He didn’t have time to jump away before they fell out from under him and he plummeted down.


He struggled out of the pile of hay and wood splinters then looked up. The hayloft had collapsed, bringing the hay down with it into manure and mud. Not even his mother could fix that.


When his father came back from the fields she hid him in the pantry and he covered his ears but couldn’t block out their screams. He had destroyed all the hay for the winter and spring, meaning the goats would have nothing to eat. The sound of a slap and a thump brought him running out. He only caught a glimpse of his mother on the floor, hand over her cheek, before a giant shadow fell over him. His father slammed him onto the ground, one hand wrapped tight around his neck. He kicked and scratched but it was futile. His father’s anger suffocated him.


“Die, you useless bastard,” the man spat. “Stop struggling, you fuck, this is your fate! Accept it! Fucking accept it! It’s coming five years too late!”


His mother threw herself at him, screaming. Her kicks and scratches did much more than Kiol’s did, and she pried the fingers from around his throat. “Kill me first!” she screeched, hugging him tight. Her hair and eyes were more feral than Kiol had ever seen. “If you want to kill him you’ll have to kill me! Kill me! You coward!”


The man spat on the floor and stormed out. His mother burst into tears, sobbing into Kiol’s hair. Tears stung his eyes too, but he blinked them away. At least he could breathe.


“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” his mother sobbed, clutching him like he was still dying. “It’s not your fault, good boy, it’s not your fault. I’m so sorry.” He combed her hair until she calmed down, like she always did for him. That winter they ate a lot of goat.


It was night in early spring, when flowers poked up from melting frost but the air still nipped exposed skin. He lay curled up in the warmth of his mother’s arms when all at once everything was loud and fast and chaotic. He thought at first someone had lit a lot of lamps, it was too bright inside for the middle of the night. Then he saw the flames eating the walls. His father was beating at the fire with a blanket while his brother was grabbing food from the pantry. His mother was rushing around, grabbing a bunch of different items and piling them onto a quilt. Kiol didn’t realize she was saving valuables like cutlery and heirlooms. He jumped out of the blankets and tried to help, tossing in soap and sewing supplies and toys.


He reached for a dishcloth on the table when he was yanked roughly away and thrown. His back hit the wall and he crumpled down dangerously close to the fire. It was so blindingly bright, its flames hotter and more blistering than Kiol had ever known fire to be. He scrambled away from it and hid in the pantry. His father was still yelling, giving orders, and feet stomped around before the sounds faded outside. Through the crack in the pantry door he could see light and the lurching shadows it cast, angry and menacing. It was so hot he didn’t dare go close. He climbed a barrel of rice, hugged the far wall, and closed his eyes.


He didn’t know how long he was there when desperate arms closed around him. Pulled from the wall and hugged tight in her thin arms, his mother clumsily carried him through the heat. She was not very strong, and he had gotten quite big, so he slid down and her knees hit him as she stumbled, but she made it into the cold night air. Hefting him into her arms only for him to fall down again, she managed to drag him over to the small crowd that had formed. His father stood at the front, watching the house he had built with his own hands crumble to ash.


His mother sank to the ground and clutched Kiol to her chest. He buried his face in her shoulder even though it shook violently with her harsh coughs. But his mother’s secure solidness was suddenly gone, and he flailed in the air as the lapel of his robes choked him.


“Why did you save him?” his father screamed. He tried to lug him back towards the burning house. His mother grabbed on to Kiol’s legs and he thought he would tear in two as they both tried to rip him from the other.


“Let him go!” she screamed, her voice somehow both shrill and raspy. “It’s not his fault! Let him go right now!”


Kiol’s head hit the ground as his father relented and chucked him down. He didn’t care about the burst of pain on his skull, he clawed his robes away from his neck and gasped for breath. His mother pulled him back into her arms.


“You want this little shit?” his father spat. “Fine! You can have him! Take him and never come back! I’m not going to harbor a fucking monster any longer!”


By daybreak the crowd had dispersed, leaving only their neighbors who helped dig through the rubble and salvage what they could. Kiol was still clutched in his mother’s arms. He cowered back against her as his father stomped over.


“You think I was fucking joking? If he stays any longer we’ll all be dead. Drown him in the river or get the fuck out of my sight.”


His mother packed a few things in a handkerchief and with Kiol’s hand clenched so tightly in hers it was hurting him, she walked away without looking back.


They left the farming village and walked for hours without stopping. When the sun started to go down Kiol started to whine. “I’m tired.” “My feet hurt.” “I’m hungry.” His mother coughed into her arm and kept tugging him along. Finally they made it to a town. Since it was dark, there were no street vendors and most of the shops had closed. A pawn shop was open and his mother brought him inside.


They had no money; there hadn’t been much to take. But his mother had brought a few things that could be pawned. She opened her cloth and passed the man a bronze spoon. He examined it with a bored expression.


“It’s not worth much,” he said dryly. He glanced down at the handkerchief and pointed. “How about that comb? If it’s genuine jade I can give you a good price for it.”


Kiol’s mother hastily tied up the handkerchief again. “No, that’s a family heirloom,” she said. “I’m not pawning it. How much for the spoon?”


“Ehh.” The man fidgeted it between two fingers, glancing between Kiol and his mother. “Half a coin.” That was not even enough for a one-person meal. But his mother had never bartered before, let alone pawned anything, so she simply accepted the money and took Kiol back out.


The inn was a large building with warm light and bustling noise inside. Kiol had never seen anything like it. He hid behind his mother’s skirts, scared as much as he was awed, while she walked up to the desk. He couldn’t even see over it, craning his neck all the way up to see the person standing behind it.


“How much for a night?” she asked.


“For an adult and child, it’ll be five coins.”


She coughed into her arm for long enough to make the person look uncomfortable.


“Sorry,” she offered when she managed to catch her breath. She put the half coin on the table. “Is there any food you can give us for this?”


“For this?” They looked at it like it had offended them. “Not much, ma’am.”


“Whatever you can give us, we’ll take, please.” She must have sounded desperate enough. They sighed and picked up the coin and went into the back. His mother pulled Kiol out of the way to the side wall, and he sat by her feet and watched the patrons sitting at tables. They ate delicious smelling meats and soups and drank wine, and their joyous laughing faces looked grotesque in the candlelight. He hugged his mother’s leg and buried his head in her skirts. She stroked his hair until the person came back.


“Here.” They handed her a bowl. Then they dropped the half coin into her other hand. “You can take this back. This is what we give beggars for free, anyway.”


“We’re not beggars,” his mother said obstinately, trying to give the coin back. “And you’re not the Society, why should you give out free things?”


They held up their palms and shook their head. “The Society gives us the rice because they’re rather out of the way and people tend to come here first. If you need a place to stay, the temple is to the north. They’ll give you a dry place to sleep, ma’am.”


Kiol looked up at his mother. She gnawed on her lip like she always did when she was frustrated. “Thank you,” she said briskly, and pulled Kiol out.


They sat on a dark stoop and she pushed the wooden bowl of hot porridge into his hands. “Are you hungry? Eat up, eat up.” He was hungry. He tipped the bowl to his mouth and had eaten more than half of it before he realized. His mother watched him with a small smile.


“You’re hungry too, mommy.” He tried to hand the bowl to her. She laughed and pushed it gently back.


“I’m not, you eat it all.” She turned away and started violently coughing again. Kiol set the bowl aside and patted her back.


“Are you sick?” he asked. It took her a while to get her breath again and she turned back to him with a weak smile.


“No, I still have smoke in my lungs. It’s alright, I’ll be good as new soon.” Her eyes shifted and her already weak smile grew strained. Kiol followed her gaze to see that the wooden bowl had split when he’d put it aside and the remaining porridge was all over the ground.


He curled his legs to his chest, trying to make himself smaller. “I’m sorry mommy,” he whispered.


“No, no, it’s not your fault. Did you get enough?” He was still hungry, but he nodded. “Then that’s all that matters, isn’t it?”


He bit his lip and stared disconsolately at his lap. She sighed and gripped his head, pushing it around playfully. “Would you like to comb my hair? Isn’t that better than an apology?”


He looked back up with a smile. She took out the jade comb and handed it to him, then untied her hair. He stationed himself behind her and began gently, as gently as possible, combing it through her long, dark hair. He had done it many times before. He knew why she wouldn’t pawn it, too. She told him it had been a gift from her mother, who had gotten it from her mother, who had gotten it from hers, and so on. Kiol’s grandmother had died before his mother was even married, and that’s why he had never met her. And because the comb was jade, she said, even he wouldn’t be able to break it.


When the tangles were all out of her hair she stopped him. “Good boy,” she praised. “Are you done?” He nodded and handed the comb back. “Good, let’s find somewhere to sleep.”


“The temple?”


“No.”


He followed her around until she found a clean alleyway, and she sat down against the wall. “Here.” She patted her lap. He lay down with his shoulders resting there, and she stroked his hair. It wasn’t as cozy as the rug in front of their fireplace, and he twisted around incessantly.


“Hush, hush,” she sighed. She pulled off her outer robe and tucked it over him. “You won’t feel uncomfortable once you’re asleep, but you won’t sleep if you toss around so much. Are you warm enough?”


He settled down onto the cold hard ground and pouted. “Yes,” he muttered. A few beats of silence passed. “When can we go back home?” he asked.


His mother was silent too, for a long time. If she ever replied he didn’t know, because he fell asleep waiting for the answer.


The next day the main street had a few booths set up. Kiol followed his mother as she wandered between them and smiled at the people trying to sell their wares. She stopped by a fruit stand and held out the half coin. “Is this enough for an apple?” she asked. Kiol stood on his tiptoes and pulled himself up with the edge of the cart to ogle all the colorful bins of fruit. The woman nodded and took the coin, and his mother lifted an apple to examine it.


“That one, that one!” Kiol pointed at a pretty half-red, half-green apple.


“That will be too sour,” his mother told him.


“I want that one!” he whined, slapping his palm on the booth. Suddenly his hand was holding nothing and he toppled backwards, hitting his tail bone hard on the cobblestone. Fruits bounced and rolled around him. He looked up to see the booth had cracked in the middle and bowed inward, knocking over the bins.


“Ya!” the woman hissed, pointing at him, then his mother. “This is my livelihood! You’ve broken my booth and destroyed my produce!”


His mother knelt and began scooping up the fruits, mumbling, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it was an accident, I’m sorry.”


“This is worth five hundred of your half coins! Pay up!”


His mother put the bruised fruits back and the woman picked one up and threw it back down. “I can’t sell these! Pay up!”


“It was an accident, you saw that, please understand…”


“So I’m supposed to not eat for a week because of your accident?!”


Kiol’s mother grabbed his hand and started running. The woman shouted and started following them, but either decided she didn’t want to leave what was left of her good wares or that it wasn’t worth it, and gave up after only a few steps. Kiol’s mother didn’t, and they ran out of the town and well down the road before she slowed. Kiol’s tail bone was still throbbing, and he burst into tears.


“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, mommy,” he sobbed, sinking to his knees. His mother sat in front of him and rubbed his arms as he apologized over and over.


“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she comforted. “Don’t cry, oh, it’s okay, it was an accident.” She opened her arms and he threw himself into them and sobbed into her shoulder. When he had cried himself out she held him at arms length and he looked at her blurry smile. “We have to keep walking. Good, strong boy, come on. That’s it.” She helped him up and they started the slow trek down the road.


They didn’t reach another town or village by nightfall and slept in the crook of some tree roots. She kept him up most of the night with her coughing.


When they reached the next town, she pawned another piece from her small collection of items. As Kiol sat devouring the simple steam bun she had bought, he watched her out of the corner of his eye. She barely touched hers, gazing distantly at it. When he was finished, he was still hungry, and he pulled on his mother’s sleeve. It tore at the seam and he let go immediately.


She looked down at it, expression unchanged. Then with a sigh she handed her steam bun over to him. “Here, my love, finish this for me.”


“Mommy, I’m sorry,” he mumbled.


“It’s okay, it’s not your fault. It must be mine for not sewing this strong enough, hm?” She took a needle and thread from her pocket and smiled at him for the first time that day. “It is a good thing you saved these from the fire after all. What a smart boy.” He slowly ate the steam bun while she mended her sleeve. She used to hum while she sewed, but she didn’t now. She only stopped every so often to cough.


Again, they slept in a cold alleyway.


“Father said there was a temple in every village worth anything more than ours,” Kiol said as he stared up at the stars. “If they will let us sleep there, why can’t we go?”


“It’s not true charity,” his mother said, combing her fingers through his hair. “They might take you from me and make you work for them. Would you like that?”


“No!” he said immediately. She sighed and nodded.


“I wouldn’t like it, either. Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of us. You know that, right? I’ll always take care of you, my sweet, precious, adorable boy.” She pinched his cheeks and he wiggled away, laughing. She smiled too and pointed up at the stars. “See that big shiny star close to the moon?”


“Yeah?”


“Then down a bit, that one to the lower right.” She traced the stars into an image in Kiol’s mind. It looked like a deer. “Some stars together make a picture like that, they’re called constellations. That one is ‘deer who found clear water.’” She told him the story of a herd of deer who lived off of drinking rain puddles. One time it hadn’t rained for so long that there hadn’t been puddles in days, and the deer were dying. One of them declared it would find water somewhere. Despite its family begging it not to go into the dark, dangerous wood, it went anyway, and it met a hare. The hare tried to trick the deer into becoming food for a wolf, so that the wolf would be full and wouldn’t eat the hare, but the deer saw through the trick. Instead he convinced the hare to work together and together they scared off the wolf so it didn’t eat anyone. In gratitude, the hare showed the deer a stream of clear, running water, that never ran out. The deer brought its whole family and they never ran out of water again, and deer and hares were always friends from then on.


When the story ended Kiol asked, “Is there a hare constellation?”


His mother laughed. “Oh, you’re still awake? Aren’t you tired?”


“No, I want another star story.”


His mother leaned over and rubbed her nose against his. “You will get another constellation tomorrow night. How about it? Whenever we sleep under the stars, you can learn another constellation.”


“Yes!” he exclaimed. She hummed a laugh and scratched his head.


“Good. For now, it’s time to sleep.”


The next day they left again and on the road Kiol noticed that his shoe felt funny. He looked down but it looked fine. Not until he tripped and landed on his hands and knees did his mother notice.


“Your sole is coming off,” she sighed. He had ripped one knee of his pants, too. That, she could sew easily, but she didn’t have strong enough thread and needle for his shoe. He had to carry his shoes and walk barefoot to the next town, and she pawned a silver thimble to get money for some strong waxed thread and a thick needle. But without a thimble, the needle didn’t pass so easily through the leather. She grit her teeth and bore the pain with her bare skin, and when she was done, her fingers were bleeding. But she passed the shoe back to him with a smile.


Eventually, his mother ran out of things to pawn. She tried to get some jobs, cleaning or sewing or mending. But her cough still hadn’t gone away after weeks, and she was too weak to clean. And Kiol always, eventually, broke something, and they had to leave town again. They went from town to town. If Kiol didn’t break someone else’s things, he ruined their own. His mother was constantly trying to find thread to fix their shoes and clothes, until their clothing was a patchwork of rags. In the end, despite her hardest efforts, they had to resort to begging. They walked to a city and sat to the side of a busy street, and his mother called out to passerby with extended hands. Most looked purposefully away from her, not even giving her a glance. Some shoved her and spat at her feet. But at the end of the day, she had just enough money for some porridge, and they split the bowl. She barely ate half, and let him have the rest while she coughed. She had gotten pale and gaunt, and even her smiles unsettled Kiol now instead of comforting him. But she insisted she wasn’t sick.


“Mommy?” he whispered when she had stopped coughing.


“What is it, sweetie?”


“Can I comb your hair?”


She smiled down at her lap. “Of course.” She took the jade comb, the last thing they could call their own, from her inner pocket and handed it to him. He hadn’t combed her hair in a while, and she had stopped bothering to put it up, so it was full of tangles. He tenderly worked through them, making sure never to pull too hard or sharply. She leaned her chin against her chest and sighed. “This is the capital, Kiol. Do you know what that means?”


“No.”


“It means it’s the biggest city. There are many, many buildings, and many people, and many businesses. Tomorrow we’ll look around, and maybe find someone who will let me work. Then we can make our own money again.”


“We made our own money today.”


“No,” she sighed. “We were given other people’s money.”


“But when you work, the boss gives you money. Isn’t that being given other people’s money, too?”


“No, Kiol. It’s not the same.”


“Why n—”


When he cut himself off and didn’t continue for several seconds, she straightened and glanced back at him. He stared down at his lap in horror. In his hand was one half of the jade comb. In his lap were two broken pieces of the rest of it.


His mother stared in silence too. For a long few minutes they both sat there and stared.


His mother’s chilly hand enveloped his own. He dropped the comb into it and she picked the other pieces from his lap. He opened his mouth, but the words got stuck in his throat, and the apology wouldn’t come out. Without a sound his mother tucked the pieces into her robe and lay on the ground to sleep.


The next day she brought Kiol around the city and asked almost everyone she saw if they knew of work she could do. Most turned their faces away and hurried off. A few scolded her, telling her she would never find work in her state and that she would get herself and her son killed, that she should just let the Society take him. No one offered a job.


They had to beg again that evening, but because it was so late in the day, they didn’t get nearly enough. No matter how Kiol tried to plead with her, she refused to eat, so he ate the tiny bowl of porridge by himself.


She tried again the next day, and the next. She had been right; Kiol had never seen a place so big. It seemed they never stopped walking, but they never went to the same street twice. Still, at the end, his mother didn’t have a job, and on the third night they didn’t have anything to eat at all.


That morning she took Kiol to a pawn shop. They hadn’t been to one in months. She lay the broken shards of the comb onto the counter. She had learned now, and she bartered, but it was a broken item. She got twenty coins for it. More money than they’d ever had at once, but even Kiol knew it wasn’t as much as they needed. Nothing ever was.


But that day they ate steam buns with meat on the inside, and it was so delicious Kiol savored every bite with tears in his eyes. It was still gone in less than a minute.


The two of them sat between a closed vendor booth and a building, silent and gloomy. It was dark but not late enough to sleep, and people still occasionally wandered by. His mother didn’t like to sleep on the ground when there were still people around.


She straightened with a determined exhale and Kiol glanced over at her. She forced a smile. “Do you want a star story?”


He looked up at the sky, then away from her. “It’s cloudy,” he muttered.


“But the stars are still there, behind the clouds. And I can still tell a story.”


“No,” he said.


She was quiet for a bit longer, then spoke up again. “Do you want to comb my hair?”


He looked over at her. He didn’t even have the energy for guilt. “We don’t have a comb,” he reminded her.


“So? Who needs a lousy comb? Creator made us with everything we’d ever need, right on our bodies.” She held up her hand and wiggled her fingers. “You can just use your hand.”


“My hand is dirty.”


“So is my hair,” she laughed. Laughing made her cough, and she bent over as her body shook violently. Kiol watched her face turn red and her desperate gasps for breath before she managed to quell it. Her coughs lately were hoarse and deep and painful.


Kiol scooted himself behind her and began combing his fingers through her hair. It was already tangled to mats, and without a comb, no matter how slow or careful Kiol was, he thought it must have hurt when his fingers snagged on a knot. But his mother sat still and said nothing.


He paused when the hair under his fingers slid too easily. Strands of her hair always came out, but not a handful. He finished pulling the knot out, then held up the chunk of hair. At its end, it was still attached to a bloody piece of scalp. “Mom,” he whispered.


“Mm?”


“You’re getting sicker.”


“I’m not, I’m not,” she insisted, as she always did. When he didn’t reply she turned around. “What makes you say th—” She stopped upon seeing what was in his grasp. She reached over and took it from him, disbelief and horror contorting her face. Slowly she reached her other hand up and felt the back of her head. She pulled trembling fingers back coated in blood.


Kiol found his voice first. “I’m sorry,” he said, voice cracking. “I’m sorry, it wasn’t my fault, I, it…” She looked up at him. She didn’t smile or laugh. The terror in her eyes made every word and thought die on Kiol’s tongue.


“Even when there’s nothing,” she whispered, her voice shaking, “even when we have nothing, you…”


He stared wide-eyed at her. He’d seen many people in his life look at him with horror, disgust, anger, and contempt. But none of those emotions had ever been on his mother’s face before.


She must have seen his own horror because she forced her face smooth again and tried to smile. It stretched her thin, cracked lips too wide, and it never reached her eyes. “No, no, it’s not your fault, of course. It’s not your fault. Here, come here.” She patted her lap. When he didn’t move she took his arm and pulled him over. “It’s okay, Kiol, it’s okay. Let’s just sleep for now.”


His arms trembled as he lowered himself onto her lap. Her hands hovered over his head. Only for a second, just for one quick second, but the hesitation was enough to notice. Then she stroked his hair and bit her lip. “There now, it’s okay,” she whispered. “It’ll be better tomorrow.”


He didn’t fall asleep for a long time. His mother tried extra hard to stifle her coughs but they weren’t the thing keeping him awake this time. Eventually he did manage to drift off.


He woke to something jostling him, but it was the loud voice that brought him fully to his senses. “Get up! You can’t sleep here!” He sat up and looked at the man who had been kicking his foot. “Ehh, you’re awake now?” he growled. “I have a business to run, I can’t have street rats lying like the dead next to my booth. Get out of here! Scram!” The man tried to shoo him like he really was vermin that could be scared off.


Kiol looked around, confused. “Where’s my mother?”


“Eh, your mother, what? Do you even have a mother?”


“I have a mother!” Kiol defended, angry, panicked. “Did you see her?”


“I haven’t seen nobody but your disgusting face. I’m losing my patience, boy! Get out of here or I’ll call a soldier over!”


Kiol stood up and looked around. Some vendors and random people were wandering the street, but it wasn’t congested. He looked around but his mother was no where in sight. “She’s here somewhere,” he insisted.


“If she’s as filthy as you she better not be! Go find her and sleep in another street!” The man shoved his shoulder and Kiol stumbled into the street, then just took off down it. “Mom!” he called. Everyone was so tall, even the booths at the side of the road seemed to tower over him. It had never seemed so imposing when his mother was next to him. “Do you know where my mom is?” he asked another vendor getting their booth ready. They glanced at him, then quickly turned away.


He ran further, still calling. He grabbed onto a man escorting a woman. “Have you seen my mother?” he asked desperately. The man scoffed in disgust and shoved him off. He reeled backward and fell and the two continued on.


“Disgusting! He dirtied my sleeve!” the man muttered.


Kiol jumped back up and ran the other way, to the other end of the street. No matter who he asked, he was pushed away or ignored. No matter how much he called, he couldn’t see his mother anywhere. What if she had gone back to where they were sleeping and found him gone and left to look for him? At the thought he rushed back over. The man was still setting up his booth. His mother was still no where in sight.


“Mom!”


“Hey, you again?! Didn’t I tell you to scram?!” The vendor waved his hands at him.


“My mom might come back here!” Kiol explained. The man stomped over and Kiol fled before finding out what he planned to do. He stopped in another alcove between two doorways. “Mom! Mom!” He had shouted his throat raw. He stopped, panting, and watched the ever-growing crowd amble past. None of them looked at him. None of them were his mother.


He sank down and hugged his legs, burying his face in his knees. It was dark and his voice sounded loud even as he barely whimpered. “Mommy…?”


Chapter 32<< >>Chapter 34

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