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Dusk in Kalevia: Chapter 4

A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #009 back issue.

The building hummed with the muffled crank and whir of heavy machinery, and light from its fogged windows cast geometric patterns upon the newly fallen snow. For what could have been the hundredth time, Vesa checked his written directions to this little back alley in an industrial neighborhood on the far side of town.

This must be the place, he thought.

Vesa had sat alone on the bus ride, staring out the window and watching the lights come on. As the bus had taken him farther and farther from home, streets had blurred together in the afternoon dusk, leaving only a vague impression of a city drifting by in the darkness outside. He felt little of the elation of his previous transgressions–just the apprehension and gravity that accompanied forays into the unknown.

He had to admit that he also felt a little guilty. After all, it really wasn’t Mika’s fault–but Mika would bear the brunt of the fallout should his newfound delinquency come to light. Mika thought he was with his tutor; his tutor thought he had gone on to meet with his violin teacher; his violin teacher had been told that lessons would be canceled today, due to an impromptu family excursion that included his faithful bodyguard–all of them duped in a shell game that had won Vesa the privilege of freezing in the snow outside the print shop on Leppä Street, trying to work up the courage to open the door.

Vesa remembered returning to the car after running away in Market Square, and the way his bodyguard’s expression had crumbled in relief. It didn’t matter that Mika subsequently tried to affect the tone of a harsh disciplinarian; if he had a tail, he would have wagged it. The canine demonstrativeness of his bodyguard had always annoyed Vesa. Here was a man whose sole purpose in life seemed to be thwarting the adolescent desire to be left alone–did he have to be so earnest in the execution of those duties?

Perhaps there was still time. Vesa could still catch a bus back, dodge the questions of the guards at the gate, and be home in time for supper. No fuss, no damage to anyone’s livelihood.

But no. He had come too far to turn back now and risk losing contact with the first genuine human he’d come upon in years. If he ran, all would be as it always was: safe, proper, and unrelentingly, maddeningly lonely. With that thought, he tugged the big steel door open and slipped into the stifling heat and cacophony of the shop.

Vesa crept forward between the rows of presses, twisting his knit cap between his hands in an attempt to wring comfort from it. The great chattering behemoths loomed above him, churning newsprint through their jaws, and the oily smell of ink hung heavy in the air. He could feel it seeping into his skin and clothing, permeating every bit of him with the evidence of his misdeeds. He didn’t belong in a place like this.

He was about leave, but a worker, catching sight of him from across the floor, jumped down from his perch by the feeder. Casually wiping his hairy hands on a rag, he ambled over to the threshold, where Vesa hovered awkwardly in the throes of indecision.

“Can I help you?” the worker asked, with the wry hint of a yellow-toothed smile.

“Does someone named Kai work here?”

In lieu of an answer, the worker turned and bellowed over his shoulder, causing Vesa to cringe in embarrassment and retreat farther toward the door.

“Kai! Hei! Someone askin’ for you!”

Kai emerged from behind the machine and cleared the steps down to the main floor in a single bound. Clad in a filthy canvas apron, hands stained black and shirtsleeves rolled up to reveal the sinew of his slender arms, Kai looked so much taller without his layers of winter clothes–and Vesa felt what remained of his confidence going down in flames.

After their first meeting, Vesa had thought of this boy as an equal, oppressed by the same powerless teenage existence as himself. But as he looked at Kai now, so graceful and self-assured, he knew how wrong he had been. He felt like such a child standing in front of this adult, this heroic worker from a government poster made flesh and blood.

“If you’re busy,” Vesa murmured, “I can come back another time.”

“No, no, I get off my shift soon. Stick around, I’ll be with you in twenty.” Kai gave him a soft punch on the arm before disappearing once more among the whirring giants.

Vesa parked himself in an out-of-the-way chair and observed the printers at work. He watched Kai, far off at the end of a raised walkway, carry heavy stacks of pages over to the trimming machine and position them with a deft, practiced motion of his hands. Kai seemed an entirely different creature than the boys at school, freed from the soft chrysalis of childhood and now soaring far above. When Kai spoke, his words were shot through with a fiery conviction that Vesa had never encountered among his peers–a strength and honesty that deeply impressed him.

Was it only because Kai didn’t yet know whom he was talking to?

Vesa curled up like pupa in his coat and waited, despairing, for the shift whistle to blow.

**

As Kaija hung her apron in her locker at the end of her shift, she began to have doubts about meeting with the boy. She desperately hoped he wasn’t still on the run. He had seemed so nervous when he’d seen her–barely able to make eye contact–and while the idea that he’d accidentally brought a tail with him was nerve-wracking enough, she feared that his unease had its origins in a more sinister purpose.

Yesterday, in a moment of weakness, she had said things–given out personal information to lead him here. And what did she know about him, really? Kaija pictured him leaving their tête-à-tête in the cathedral ruins to denounce her as a dissident to the police he claimed to be running from. It seemed like the sort of trick they were likely to pull.

She emerged from the back room almost hoping for him to be gone, but she found him sitting quietly in a chair by the door, eyes closed and resting his chin in his hands. She tapped him on the shoulder, planning to exchange a few pleasantries and send him on his way.

“Vesa? Thanks for waiting for me.”

He looked up into her eyes, and the way his face brightened drove any lingering suspicions from her mind.

He’s not with them, she thought, with genuine relief.

The snow had started to fall again as they left the print shop. Before Kaija could stop him, Vesa bounded from the curb and spun around in the empty street, kicking a drift into sparkling showers. Kaija looked around in dismay, dreading the sight of a windowless van or a parked car containing a solitary shadow. Nothing stood out as suspicious, but she still felt the need to reign in his terrifying exuberance, lest it draw any unwanted attention. She hooked her arm around his neck and pulled him toward her, their faces close in conspiratorial communion.

“Watch it!” she whispered. “Aren’t they still after you?”

“What?” He struggled against her arm, looking shocked.

“The police!”

“No way, no way!” He shook his head, laughing, disentangling himself from her clutches. “Don’t worry! I mean, I’d rather not run into them, but…”

“So you don’t need my help?”

“I just wanted to talk again,” he began, but she held up a hand to silence him.

As she passed her gaze over the boy who stood in front of her, a new suspicion began to take hold.

How could she not have seen it before? The hand-knitted hat, the new winter boots with hardly a scratch on them–he was no wanted man, just a boy dabbling in youthful rebellion, looking to get in over his head.

“Listen,” she sighed, and struggled to harden her heart against the crestfallen look in his eyes. “You should probably just go back home.”

“No, please, come on…”

“Sorry. I don’t need any more trouble than I already have.”

“I won’t be any trouble, I swear!” he pleaded, but Kaija had already started to walk away.

It’s for your own good, she thought. It’s not too late for you.

“Go home,” she called back over her shoulder. “Your family’ll get worried if you’re out after curfew.”

“What family?”

His words echoed off the stone walls and stopped Kaija like a bullet through the heart. She slowly turned around.

“What did you say?”

“I don’t have a family! Who the hell cares?” The boy stared at the ground, fists clenched, his voice wavering with the strain of holding back emotion.

She felt a prickle in the bridge of her nose–the hurt she had caused rebounding back on her as her own.

“Didn’t you mean what you said yesterday?” Vesa continued. “That was the first time I’d met someone who feels like I do. Us against the world! I thought we were brothers, man!”

As Vesa began to walk away, Kaija caught up to him and grabbed his shoulder. He turned to her once more.

His face was sad, but his eyes were dry. Even in the dark of evening she could see how unreasonably blue they were.

They’ll never see us coming, right?” she said with a hint of a smile.

He didn’t reply, so she tugged gently on the sleeve of his coat. “Come on.”

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“My place.”

Proceed to Chapter 4, page 2–>