Children of Gliba
A fuzzy-haired boy slammed a tin plate with a crowbar atop the ruins. When he made a sizeable dent, he looked at the abandoned buildings. The hollow structures whistled with air. He wiped his nose with the back of his arm covered in festering wounds, gazing into the mist on the road. He jammed the crowbar in the hinges of a thing beneath his feet and gave it a swirl. The hatch opened.
Atomic suit on a soldier stood out from the rubble and tumbled vehicles. Bones and skulls littered the sidewalks, skeletons in the seats of a car turned to a rusty frame. A memento of horror from decades ago. The soldier tottered downhill and fell at the bottom of the rubble. The boy looked at him and then turned towards the casket this foreigner was sleeping in.
„What’s your name, kid?“ deep growl boomed behind the mask, the boy continued bending a tin plate.
The soldier grasped the rifle tightly and moved as the coordinates in the visor instructed.
Somewhere in the city, getting around the crumbled buildings, the soldier came to the edge of a swamped street. The map showed he was standing on the main avenue, nowhere near the river. He concluded the water came from the broken pipes that breached the asphalt. A thirteen-year-old who wore a tunic made from a thorn blanket shadowed him. He tied an appliance cord in the middle highlighting his skinny figure. No pants or shoes, the kid was covered in mud from head to toe. A native of a destroyed city, the little one was like Mowgli from the Jungle Book, and the soldier named him like that. He was more beast than a man.
The artificial river stretched wide, no visible cross in sight; the soldier climbed one of the fallen buildings to scout the terrain. No available pathways that led to where the coordinates pointed, it said in the visor. The boy stood on a steep slope a little bit behind his new friend, curiously observing him defy the cold wind. The commando glanced at Mowgli.
“You wouldn’t know what’s on the other side, huh?”
The soldier sighed, shook his head, and went back down.
“Where to, Mowgli?”
The soldier surveyed the rippling water while the boy fixed his eyes at a distance and inhaled in horror. Through the mist, a four-legged thing leaped over the rubble.
“Did you hear me? Where do we go now, kid?” he turned and saw a pack of rabid dogs running straight at them.
Without stalling, the commando ran up to the boy, stepped in front of him, and took the dogs in sight. With a whistling sound of a bullet exiting the chamber, he dispatched the closest beast and adjusted his aim on the second coming in a curve. Upon impact, their bodies ripped in shreds splattering blood over the ground. The pack pushed them to the edge of the river, where the soldier took a stance and maintained a kill streak. Mowgli screamed fanatically while vigorously holding for the soldier’s leg plating. With the last dog thrown in the dust, the commando laughed and swapped the magazines. He ran his glove over the boys head.
“That was a close one, kiddo,” He looked at the trembling thirteen-year-old savage. “All right, that’s enough scare for today. Let’s go, buddy. Let’s go find what we are looking for.”
The kid squealed and grunted, pointed at the passage, and pulled the soldier’s hand to follow him. Commando checked the coordinates that glowed in the mist and looked at the boy who tried to move him.
In an hour, they spotted a mound made of metal and concrete with streams of smoke coming from the crevices. Mowgli was first to enter, the soldier bowed, getting inside and froze at the sight of candles, an open fireplace with burning rubber and glistening trinkets hanging from a ceiling.
“Where the hell are we, Mowgli?” the visor couldn’t breach the thick black smoke that filled the room when a short metallic sound broke over the helmet.
The commando faltered and tightened when something hit him again, but with a growl and more force. He swung his arm and caught a spiked wooden club.
“So you got a friend here?” he looked at Mowgli, who skipped the trash and feces to squat next to the pile of rugs near the wall.
The assailant repeatedly punched him, but the force dropped with each strike. He saw a tall black twenty-year-old boy with a disfigured forearm. That must be the result of a poorly healed breakage. And poor diet didn’t give him the energy to knock him down. The soldier threw the snarling teenager to the ground, flashed the LED lights, and growled. Blinded host retreated backward while lights remained on him. The soldier smirked and thought of another wild boy he read in a book, so he decided to call this taller boy Friday.
“Aga, bubu, eeea. Aooo. Dwlack, gliba.” Friday mumbled.
The soldier frowned and tried to differentiate what sort of language the boy spoke. The registry in his suit didn’t find a positive match in the archives. Mowgli patted someone’s head under the shroud; when the commando approached the coverings. Friday motioned he will swing his baseball bat again, spoke in tongues, and screamed at the intruder.
The red fabric fell from the face of a person, and hollow eyes looked back at him. Whoever lay there, died. He proceeded to uncover the body and saw a blanket tunic, shards of glass and pieces of plastic stacked around the arms and torso with a big chunk of crystal positioned on the corpse’s chest.
“You poor kids don’t have basic knowledge of medicine, do you? Did you think this will make her get better?” he looked at Mowgli, who whimpered and began jumped around to cheer the deceased. “I assume burial is abstract to you. Let’s just hope you haven’t gotten cannibal by now.” With a slow hand, the soldier covered the girl and stood up.
“Flrp, eoooo, gliba!” the host pointed his bat at the commando.
“Gliba.” The soldier replied and whatever the youngster said, he answered the same. “Gliba.”
The smoky mound had him get outside for fresh air and to his surprise, someone sat on a swing set in the courtyard. Long black hair reached the ground, blanket tunic hid the body shape, yet it seemed the one who sat there was female, much taller and older than the rest of the gang. Mowgli and his friend came out hearing the squeal of rusty chains.
The soldier circled the set and stopped to see a depressed thirty-year-old woman, scars on the thighs and wounds on her arms that almost hid her natural skin color. She stared at the ground under her feet and rocked on the swing.
“Tell me, do you speak?”
“Yes.” The woman said and shifted her head to see the suit through dirty strands of hair.
“I am on the mission. I need to get to the other side of the river. What’s on the other side? What will I find?”
For a moment, all of them stood silent while Mowgli came closer to the soldier and watched his visor as if he was begging for something. The soldier asked again and the woman got to her feet and began walking away.
“Hey. Stop! I need your help!” he tried to catch up to her, but she speeded up and began running. “Stop, goddamn it! Stop!” a warning shot froze her and the boys who followed them took cover. “What’s on the other side?!” the soldier said it through his teeth and watched at the woman in the gun sight.
“A bear cave. Dario knows the way, but he will not take you there.”
“I can deal with animals. The world is in danger. I must go there.”
“You are on your own.”
“How come you know the language and these two are mute?” the soldier brought the aim down and the woman slightly turned to spot the boys and the ruins topped with a layer of thin mist.
“I had a mother to teach me; they had each other. We took them in, but they were already doing the baby talk and haven’t had time to learn.”
“Was that your mother in that hut?”
They went silent for a moment.
“I’ll help you bury her if you help me get to the bear cave.”
The woman bowed and passed the soldier, showed the boys to follow her and all of them went back to the mount. She pointed at the pile of used tires and both of the boys rolled them inside of a hut. They covered the entrance with a big metal plate and threw dirt on the sides to seal it shut. Soon, the whole shelter went in flames, the fiery leaches spiking high carrying a cloud of black smoke to the east where the wind blew. City ruffians silently got on the path that led towards the river.
They used a fallen structure of a building to get to the supportive steel beam, bent in the middle, and crossed to the other side. From there, they took another path that led where the coordinates pointed. A few hundred meters from their destination, the group stopped and didn’t move a step forward. The soldier left them and continued towards the bear cave alone. Upon coming to a place obstructed with pieces of a wall, it said BEWARE on an aluminum plate with two letters scratched off by rust.
“Bear cave,” the soldier whispered and entered the facility.
He came to the door with a mechanical lock and cut it through. Right from the door, he saw a staircase leading down and a yellow stencil nuclear sign on the wall. Shaft 33, tactical reserve for when the war comes, to be activated as a secondary defense, a retaliation plan that never got set in motion. The apocalypse beat them to it and nobody got the chance to activate the program. Now, the missiles got old, exposed to elements, became unstable and someone had to shut them down, pacify them and secure the area. An old pod was faulty and it took him weeks to get to his objective after he was airdropped. The people who built it didn’t care if he was going to get out of this alive. “Just a machine built to clean the humanity’s wrongdoings,” they said. “Send a machine to do a man’s work,” they said.
The soldier went downstairs and came to the central console. With no power supply or generator, he connected his own power source and turned the system on. Monitors went alive with shivering ribbons going up and down the screen. He typed in the orders and watched everything go dark once again and forever. After that was done, he found the silo with missiles and opened the plating. Cranking the warhead’s inner mechanism, he sealed the nuclear material and disconnected the wires so it would never come to life. The soldier saw the facility from the doorstep on his way out and concluded his job was done, and the bear will remain dormant.
The soldier came back to the group that waited on the trail where he left them. He stopped above them, looked how Dario and a woman sat in a circle, while Mowgli bent some aged vehicle nearby.
“The bear cave is secured. There is no danger anymore.” He proclaimed and looked in the direction the wind was coming from.
“Aeooooo, flrp gliba.” Dario said.
“What’s gliba? He keeps saying that.”
“It means cold.”
“Cool… Gliba.” the soldier smirked under the helmet.
Far behind the horizon jagged by ruins, the Sun was getting ready to set. Woman, Dario, and Mowgli got together and took the path which led somewhere to the city. The soldier followed them.
“What is your name?” the woman asked, holding her head elevated and dragging her legs while walking.
The soldier marched sharply and held his rifle like on parade.
“Pleased to meet you.”
They kept walking and never turned back.
I wanted to experiment with lining up the scenes that did not correlate and get to how they were connected at the end. In the process, I made a different concept and completely changed the way of progression. I have found that my experiment would not function, as I desired, so the return to a more fundamental approach is justified.
There are plot holes, like, why is the time difference so vast? If the apocalypse happened decades ago and our main character is waking up so late, his batteries would run out, and he would not be able to finish his mission. I acknowledge that therefore I made a slight switch and made him come with a drop several weeks before the story happened. This scenario does not work as best as I wanted, but it fits the narrative, and it seems possible.
Even this is the first obstacle someone might trip over it, the rest of the story kind of steers to more common storytelling material. A silent and calm scene, in the beginning, is one way to set the tone of the story, and it gradually gets the reader in this new world. Following the exposition of the world of chaos and decay, I tried to show what happened. Two different characters from two different worlds they belong to bring two primary colors in the story. One is lighter if we follow the soldier, and the other is darkened if we follow the kid. Mowgli being mute, and the soldier being the only one who speaks, sets even greater depth to a world I am trying to bring to life. We can only depend on what the soldier sees and experiences, while Mowgli remains a mystery. Later on, their actions tell more about themselves. I did not want to copy the Jungle Book, but the motif was too much of a good perception piece that I could not let it slide unnoticed. This info provides a melancholy and homesick vibe, and it brings warmth. When I was already playing with elements from other books, why not comparing soldiers with Robinson Crusoe? It goes well with the soldier and compares him with a man that survived a shipwreck and found himself on an island. This subtle detail could be telling the same story but repacked in a military fiction genre. I like this idea, and I continued developing the story on it.
The core inspiration about creating a post-apocalyptic world and society that holds on a thread came from a thought about what the world would look like if we just stopped caring about it? I also imagined how our culture and basic knowledge would suffer if trapped civilians would be left on their own, without schools, without shops and commodities we grew accustomed to? What we would be like if the centers of civilization just caved inward and transformed into a jungle society? Rules of the jungle would apply themselves, and I believe we would soon reach for our animalistic nature if we wanted to survive. With everything having an expiration date, every item found in the city would become junk after a decade. Therefore, we get blanket tunics, little hygiene, long hair, cuts and bruises, poorly healed breakage, and dirty faces as the general description for the natives of the city.
What really happened to civilization and why we just accepted that some cities must be sacrificed, stands a mystery.
One more exciting thing is the way the characters are positioned in the story. They are different by age, ability to speak, and intellectual power. At the bottom is the youngest out of four, Mowgli. He is around twelve years old, and he is mute because he is the one who had the least contact with other people. Mowgli did not need to speak because he had nobody to talk to. His level of personal development is shown in the cover art. All characters are, proportionally to their level of intellect, shown in the cover art, drawn in the way they see themselves.
Second, we have Friday, a fitting name for a native on Robinson’s island and a perfect companion to Mowgli. He is an excellent example of someone who was around people, but the amount of time he spent with them only taught him to voice simple tones. He speaks as if a baby would, with rolling R, long vowels with punchy syllables, but his speech is carrying a thought behind it. When he speaks, he understands he is saying something with a meaning, but nobody else understands the language. This was fun and interesting to make, to research and implement in a story. Friday, or as we later find out his real name is Dario, originated from a character in a movie called “The Hook” with Robin Williams. Rufio is part of the tale of Lost Boys from a Peter Pan novel adaptation. In this sense, Rufio borrowed some of his traits from Dario. His broken arm that healed poorly is a way to show the audience a morbid reality the world is settled in. It is supposed to evoke sadness, grief, and compassion for those we chose to neglect.
The third character, as a way to add dynamic plot in the story, we get a female resident Alina with her long black hair. As the rest of the group, she is wearing a blanket tunic, but as an older native, she spent more time around people. She has the most practice in language skills but left neglected; she is able only to form short sentences and not carry a conversation. This element in her I used to portray the time problem and highlight the frame of this apocalypse. Due time, everything will be lost, especially if we are talking about advanced civilization left to rot.
In the end, the soldier, as we get to know him by Silver, is acting as human, meaning his makers built him like that as a mirror of modern society. Strong language skills and mimicry of human behavior, but also copying common phrases, set this soldier intellectually superior in the group. He is the latest cry of technology sent on a mission to prevent further rotting.
I hid his real identity and function because I wanted a punch near the end. I mean, he could have been a human, and the story would not lose anything. However, if he is a robot, a machine, this goes to solidify the decision of our society that we do not want to mess with the bad things. If this city was abandoned, this is final, and whoever made this decision, it does not want to go against their own words. The symbolism within Silver’s existence brings a shade of dark, and it paints the society as such. We forgot about this city, we forgot about these people, and we do not want to remember them.
Overall, this is a sad story with a silver lining (do you get the pun I made there?). Silver can be seen as a thread of humanity, perhaps as selfishness, because if he failed in his mission, the world would be in more significant danger than it already is with one apocalypse being left in decades of history. This means that progressive society is still aware of the dangers that reside in the broken city and strive to prevent another disaster. They want to live, while they silently agreed that one (or more) cities are lost in the process. With Silver, choosing to stay around, I am saying two things. First, Silver is an advanced robot able to make intelligent decisions and has it is own will. And second, his stay means he is to be one more member of the group of natives, thus keeping the danger away from them, thus making him a champion of humanity.
I don’t know if you liked the story, I can’t read your mind, so tell me in the comments what do you think.
Until the next time, take care, and bye.