Feels good to get back on a roll!
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The sky hangs dark, grey, and full of more rain waiting to be released; the air hot and humid. Jake continues to walk cautiously with Mr. Tran clinging to his back. The city after a rainstorm is eerily quiet as people often use this time to collect water and fear any noise will attract marauders or something worse. Over the years people have become adept in doing so; so much that they are rarely seen. If one were so lucky, he might catch a glimpse on someone closing a door or hear the sound of many whispers in a dark alley. Yet neither Jake nor Mr. Tran can catch either of those things. However they can feel the many eyes lurking around the city, watching them.
"This is an interesting perspective," Mr. Tran says, chuckling.
"What do you mean?" he asks, focusing on staying up straight.
"Well usually I'm one of the people on the inside looking out at the streets, not wanting to be caught by an Outsider;no offence."
Jake looks up at the tall buildings and imagines, just for a second, how it would feel to be one of those with a home full of family taking care of each other. "Those thoughts are dangerous," Jake says to his self, almost forgetting he was carrying Mr. Tran.
"What are you talking about?" asks Mr. Tran with a confused look on his face.
"Oh sorry, never mind," he replies, embarrassed.
With a sympathetic look on his face, Mr. Tran pats Jake on the shoulder. "Since I was a child I've always envied the freedom Outsiders had; being able to go wherever they choose and unafraid of Hollow Bastions curse. I guess I never took in account the loneliness you all must bear living this life."
Jake continues to walk saying nothing as Mr. Tran's leg begins to give him a sharp pain. He taps on Jake's shoulder, signaling him to let him down. "Are you ok," he asks, letting Mr. Tran down on the side walk.
"I'm ok; I just need to sit for awhile."
Jake looks around with a feeling of uneasiness. Next to him he sees an old, blue truck with two broken side windows. "Hey Mr. Tran, can we at least wait in the truck over there? I feel like sitting ducks right here. He then nods his head, extending his hand for help to get up. As they rise, Jake helps Mr. Tran into the truck then runs around to the driver's side. He sits in the car and pulls the seat all the way back. Observing him, Mr. Tran does the same.
"I guess this is how you've survived this long, never being too vulnerable," Mr. Tran asks, putting the propane tank in the back seat.
"Shh," Jake whispers peeking through the window with an intense stare. Moments later two cars drive through the intersecting street. Mr. Tran creeps down in his seat, looking wide eyed and with disbelief. "I knew it," He says in a low voice. "Mr. Tran, are you sure these people don't know where you live?
"I am certain of it," he says, grabbing hold of his tank in fear.
"I have to ask you something," Jake says seriously.
"You want to know why an old man is risking his life for a propane tank, right?" Jake nods his head looking focused on him.
"Look, in my line of work I'm put in danger almost every time but this is outside of my job description. I saved your life, okay? I carried you a mile and a half through the streets and now I've got people who want to kill me who I don't even know. I don't mean to be rude here Mr. Tran but, either you tell me what the heck's going on or I high-tail it out of here," he says with seriousness all over his face. Mr. Tran stares back at him then diverts his eyes and lets out a sigh of acceptance.
"I'm sorry, it seems over the years I have lost my sense of gratefulness; please forgive me."
"Hey it's ok, really; I just want to know what I've gotten myself into."
"Ten years ago I had a wife who I loved very much. We helped each other in everything we did. She helped me run my pawn shop along with our son. She always dreamed of a world beyond this one; one where we could live in peace without the constant fear of being attacked or worse. She was a very intelligent woman; always drawing up complicated blueprints for her newest inventions. One day she woke me from my sleep, excited about some new design that was going to free us from this world. I had my doubts but she was my wife and I loved her so I helped her in her with her project. Every time we purchased or got a hold of some gas for our truck, we would roam the town looking for any scrap material that she could use. Eventually, finding an affording gas became difficult so we began to go on foot. My son was against it from the start. He begged me every day to stop what we were doing yet, I didn't listen."
Mr. Tran looks away with tears rolling down his eyes. Jake begins to feel guilty for making him tell his story. "Hey I'm sorry, you don't have to go on if you don't want to," he says in an apologetic tone.
"No, it's fine; it just hurts to remember sometimes. Even now, I wish I would have listened to my son. One day, when almost everything was completed, we decided we would need fuel to last for at least three days. She had it all worked out. She studied Hollow Bastions weather patterns and predicted the best day for us to leave; all we needed was fuel. Back then, there was a man who was the leader of a group of bandits. They had many items from their pillaging including fuel. I snuck over to their hideout one calm night. I stole the fuel and was on my way back when I got caught by one of the night guards. I tried to run but they caught me. The men knew me and my wife because they were, at times, customers of ours. I figured it wouldn't matter since they would never see us again."
Jake slinks back in his chair, rubbing his forehead as he can already guess how this story ends.
"The men beat me till I was half dead, went to my shop, my wife;," Mr. Tran fights back the urge to cry as he looks at the propane tank. "I buried her in the city park. They took my son as one of their own and burned our shop. Years later, I found a new shop and started over, determined to fulfill her wish. I mapped it all out. All that was left was the fuel. I returned, this time to take back the propane as well as my son. Imagine my surprise to find my son as the new leader to the same group of thugs who killed his mother and ruined our lives. I confronted him but it didn't go well. I ended up running from them with this tank. That's where you came in; the man you shot in the arm; is my son."
Jake sits up in his seat, eyes wide open from shock. He then looks out the window, rubbing his face with his hand. "Mr. Tran, I promise, I will get you back to your shop."