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The Chronicles of Maggie Zephyr — How it all began
Short Story #01
Maggie Zephyr stood on the edge of Macabre Tower, bo-staff in-hand, the tips of her black leather combat boots overhanging as she stared one hundred storeys to the ground below. That fall would kill anyone. She had done stupid things before, but never this stupid. But what choice does she have? It was either a jump to certain death, or turn and face the Reeves of the Realm.
‘Don’t come any closer,’ Maggie yelled.
The Reeves, all five of them, stopped dead in their tracks.
‘I’ll jump’ Maggie said unconvincingly. ‘I’ll do it, I swear I’ll do it. Jjust don’t come any closer.’
Maddox, the most infamous of all the Reeves of Area 99, smiled. ‘No you won’t, Maggie. You’re not that brave.’
Maggie and Maddox had known each other since they were little kids. They went to the same school, lived on the same street… once, just once, they had even shared a kiss. Then Maddox signed up for the Reeves of the Realm and became different.
The Reeves protected the Octan Realm. But they did more than that. A Reeve had the power to arrest, judge, and sentence a person for their crimes against Octan. They will tell you it’s their job to keep everyone safe and protect society from the evils which lay round every corner. Maggie, and many others however, will tell you an altogether different story, one of oppression, segregation, injustice.
The adjacent building was fifty feet away. Too far to jump.
Thinking quickly, Maggie held out the small, felt bag containing the glass vials of oxy-meds. ‘I’ll drop them,’ she said. ‘ Then nobody gets what they want.’
‘It doesn’t have to be like this, Maggie,’ said Maddox. ‘Hand over the oxy-meds and we will forget this whole thing. I promise.’
‘Your promises mean nothing.’
‘But you have no choice, Maggie. If you don’t, the OM’s will perish, along with everything you’ve ever known. Then those wasters in the oxy-slums, the ones you seem to care so much about, gone forever. You can’t win this one, Maggie. Just hand over the vials. It’s over.’
‘It’s over when I say it’s over,’ said Maggie through gritted teeth. ‘I won’t allow you to oppress us anymore, I won’t!’
‘Forget about all that, Maggie. The rules of the Realm are not for people like you and me to decide. Leave that to the ones at the top. Hand over the oxy-meds and you’ll be safe. You’ll have a normal life. No more fighting for a worthless cause, no more running, no more hiding. Safe, Maggie, safe.’
Maggie took in everything Maddox said. She knew she couldn’t trust him anymore, he’d proven that. Her eyes fluttered from left to right as her brain ticked, trying to think of a way out of her predicament. ‘And what about everyone else?’ she said. ‘I won’t betray them.’
‘You can’t help them,’ said Maddox. ‘Nobody can. They’re beyond help. People change if they want to.’
‘You’ve changed,’ Maggie cut-in. ‘ You’ve become one of them.’
‘I’m still the same person. Just wearing a different outfit, that’s all.’
Those words took Maggie back to her father. Even though he was dead, she could hear him clearer than ever:
We are what others perceive us to be, Maggie . If you want to change their perceptions, change your actions . [_ _]
Maddox’s actions had shown him to be a deceptive, incredulous being. Maggie continued to stare down, down. She refused to turn and face Maddox through fear of him seeing the terror in her eyes.
‘You can trust me, Maggie,’ said Maddox.
From the roof doorway behind Maddox appeared Oswald Macabre, The Ode, the Governor of Octan. ‘He’s right, Miss Zephyr,’ he said in his calm, masterful voice.
Maddox attempted to speak but Oswald raised his hand, a sign for Maddox to say nothing.
‘You can trust him,’ Oswald continued. ‘And you can trust me. Those oxy-meds are very valuable. Very valuable indeed, as I’m sure you’re aware or none of us would be on this roof at such an untimely hour. Do the right thing, Miss Zephyr. Hand them over. Work with me.’
Maggie looked over her shoulder at Maddox, then at Oswald, and spoke the words of her father: ‘If you want to change their perceptions, change your actions.’ She looked straight ahead. The wind gusted and swirled, and Maggie inhaled deeply, exhaling slowly. She seemed calm, calmer than ever. Then, with a cheeky grin, Maggie Zephyr held out her arms and fell forward, rigidly from the edge of the building.
Oswald gasped, then screamed, ‘The oxy-meds!’
Oswald, Maddox, and the others couldn’t believe what they’d witnessed, their mouths open in a state of shock. Would Maggie Zephyr rather die than surrender? As the wind flurried, silence, silence.
Five Years Earlier
The bright yellow sun shone down, but its rays couldn’t penetrate the layer of smog which permanently covered Area 99. Maggie Zephyr packed her entire week’s allocation of Oxus into her backpack. She looked at her little brother, Julius, as he sat on the floor playing with his building blocks. He looked at Maggie and she smiled. He coughed, his chest wheezing terribly. Maggie dropped her smile, wishing there was something she could do for her little brother. But there wasn’t. There wasn’t anything anyone could do. She picked up her backpack containing the vials of Oxus and headed for the door, grabbing her bo-staff from the wall-rack as she left. As she closed the door behind her, she shouted goodbye to her father, Danny. Backpack over her shoulder and bo-staff in-hand, Maggie made her way through the streets of the oxy-miners. She was heading for the oxy-slums with a smile on her face.
Her father, Danny, dashed out of the house onto the street. ‘Maggie!’ he called, ‘Where are you going? Maggie?’
Maggie smiled cheekily to herself, but didn’t look back and didn’t reply. She heard him, but chose not to answer.
Danny called again, hoping she’d hear this time. ‘Maggie! Make sure you’re home for six, please! Dinner will be waiting!’
Maggie looked at her watch: just gone twelve _. Plenty of time, _ she thought _. _ She held her bo-staff in the air, a sign to her father that meant “I’ll try”.
Danny shook his head and attempted a smile, but it was in vain. His little girl was growing up and soon she would be ready to face the world alone, a sense of independence which made him both proud and sad. Proud of the woman she was quickly becoming, but sad for the world she was about to encounter and knew so little about. It’s too soon, _] he thought. [_She’s not ready.
[_ _] But Maggie knew she was ready. Ready to face this world and say “here I am. I’m coming for you.” She walked off into the smog-filled distance, acknowledging the people as she walked. ‘Hi Maggie,’ one said, ‘What’s up, Mags?’ said another.
It was a grey day, but things would soon become much darker…
As Maggie walked through the rancid streets of the oxy-slums, the rain lashed down unforgivingly. The world around her suddenly became cold and wet. The people were tired and huddled together under boxes, trying to take shelter, whilst others simply stood and stared into the middle-distance. Maggie kept walking, hunched over, hands in her pocket, hoodie up, affording each and every person she passed a single glimpse, which was probably a glimpse more than they had received all week. This was still Area 99, but nothing like the misty-grey streets where she lived. The streets here were dark, the air black, the people forgotten. She couldn’t be her normal, cheerful self here, but she didn’t need to be. That wasn’t why she was here. She was here help those who lived on standard oxygen .
Maggie stopped and looked around. [_It’s another world, _] she thought. That’s not to say that where she lived was nice, but it was a world apart from the oxy-slums, where the poorest members of the Octan Realm are deserted by the State, ignored, forgotten. Without an octanly entitlement to Oxus every eight days, most of them will die before the age of twenty, some sooner. Maggie gets good grades at school and has a fairly healthy supply of Oxus, even though her behaviour sometimes lets her down. Her father, Danny Zephyr, as a teacher of Oxygen studies at the local secondary school, also gets a reasonable octanly supply of Oxus. The people of the oxy-slums, however, receive nothing. The Octan Realm considers them worthless creatures, a nuisance, unworthy of support from the State.
Out of the corner of her eye Maggie spotted a young child, a boy of about 10. The boy was lying on a damp floor, breathing heavily, barely visible under several layers of cardboard. Maggie looked around: everyone was breathing heavily. That’s what happens in the oxy-slums: people struggle to breathe and people die. The young boy coughed, which reminded Maggie of her little brother, Julius, but older.
Maggie approached the young lad, perching on one knee beside him. The boy opened his eyes and tried to speak but Maggie shushed him, gently placing a finger to his lips, smiling to reassure him. She reached into her jacket pocket, pulling out a glass vial of Oxus. Fresh Air! Genetically-engineered air, yes, but in Area 99 that’s about as good as it gets.
The young boy wanted to react excitedly, but he didn’t even have the energy to raise a smile. He simply continued to lie there on his side, eyes half open, wheezing.
Maggie looked around, scanning the alley for the many thieves and muggers who would kill for one vial of Oxus. All clear. Holding the glass vial in front of the young boy’s mouth, she cracked the vial in half and, as the boy inhaled, the blue-coloured Oxus flowed upwards, like an upside-down waterfall, and disappeared into his lungs. Taking it deep into his lungs, the boy then exhaled slowly. Almost instantly, he breathed easier.
For the next week or two, he’ll be fine, _] Maggie thought. [_Beyond that, it’s up to him . Harsh _, _ but life in the oxy-slums is harsh.
All around her were moans and groans and coughs and splutters, Drops of water boinged and the air was still, like the calm before a storm. Maggie began to feel uneasy because, let’s face it, this is no place for an eleven-year-old to be. But in truth it’s no place for anyone to be, and that’s why she wanted to be there: to try and ease the suffering of those less fortunate than herself, those whom she believed not to at fault for the hardships they faced.
Maggie tore off a handful of bread and gently placed it beside the boy. He blinked in recognition, the best he could manage, and Maggie returned his thanks with a smile. She got to her feet.
Suddenly, she heard unfamiliar footsteps. She turned to see who they belonged to. Her face dropped. In the distance, towards the end of the alley, were five Reeves of the Realm. She quickly pulled the tarpaulin over the boy and turned back the way she came.
‘Stop where you be!’ one of them shouted. ‘In the name of The Ode I command you to stop where you be!’
Maggie didn’t listen and kept walking, picking up the pace. Then, she looked over her shoulder… the Reeves began chasing her. She put the other strap of the backpack over her shoulder, gripped her bo-staff and began to run as fast as her legs could manage.
The chase was on…
Maggie ducked into a doorway to a warehouse. Running down a corridor, she burst through another door which lead her to an old factory floor. Maggie stopped and covered her nose from the awful, rank smell. It was now abandoned and instead was filled with hundreds of people sleeping. All squashed up together, tightly, as if to keep each other warm, Maggie thought to hide. She ran to the middle and led between the people sleeping rough.
The Reeves burst through the door, covering their nose as well. They removed their retractable metal batons from their belts and snapped them to full length. ‘She’s here,’ said the leader. ‘Find her.’
They split up and slowly worked their way through every rough sleepers, poking them to see if one could be Maggie.
Maggie led their hoping they wouldn’t find her, but deep down she knew they were coming. She softly placed her hand on her bo-staff. One of the Reeves approached. Maggie gripped the bo-staff.
The Reeve poked her. Maggie grabbed his baton, opened her eyes, and looked straight into his, then… Whack!
[_ _] Maggie swung her bo-staff up and cracked the Reeve on the chin. He stumbled back. Maggie does a kip-up and springs to her feet with no hands. She swings her bo-staff up between her assailant’s legs, cracking his groin, then turns to run.
Another Reeve is on her. He attacks her with his baton, but Maggie blacks it with her bo-staff. He tries again, but Maggie blocks again. And again, but again she blocks. This time he charges at her, yelling aaaarrrgghh . Maggie spins around, redirecting his anger and flipping him with the bo-staff.
Meanwhile, the first Reeve is still moaning, holding his groin in agony.
Maggie realises she has forgotten her backpack with all the vials of Oxus inside. She hooks one of the straps on the backpack with her bo-staff and flips it into the air, catching it and putting it on her back.
Two of the other three Reeves are now running towards her. She looks for a way out. There’s a door at the other end of the factory. Maggie begins to hop in between the rough-sleepers, ‘Sorry, so sorry,’ she says as she catches the occasional hand or foot on the way.
Her assailants care not. They run across the sleepers as if they weren’t even there.
Maggie makes it to the door and out onto the alley.
As she runs, she looks behind for her assailants who, once again, give chase. Then [_bang! _] Maggie runs into the fifth Reeve. The leader. He grabs her by the ruff and holds her high off the ground. Maggie drops her bo-staff. She terrified. Her heart is pounding faster than ever before. She’s more scared than she has ever been.
‘Well, well, what do we have here?’
The other two assailants catch up, out of breath, breathing heavily, the other two following closely behind.
The leader continues. ‘You know it’s illegal to hand out Oxus in the oxy-slums, don’t you? These people are beyond help. Giving them free air won’t help them.’
Maggie looks at the other four Reeves breathing heavily. ‘Looks like you’re the ones who need it.’
The two Reeves look at each other, embarrassed.
‘Oh, we’ve got a smart one, I see. Well let’s see how smart you are in prison.’
A voice at the end of the alley bellowed out, deep and commanding. ‘Nobody’s going to prison today.’ It was Danny, Maggie father, his own bo-staff in-hand, a dark silhouette amidst the smog.
A sense of relief swept over Maggie when she heard her father’s voice. Shw was saved!
‘This is nothing to do with you,’ said the Reeve holding Maggie. ‘Move along, sir’
‘On the contrary,’ said Danny. ‘That young lady has everything to do with me. She’s my daughter. ’
‘Well, your daughter, sir, has been handing out Oxus vials without a permit.’
‘A minor mistake. She’s only a child.’
The Reeve smirks, ‘This child attacked two of my best Reeves. Is that a minor mistake?’
‘No. No, it’s very serious, and I’m sorry.’
This time, the Reeve throws his head back in laughter, ‘Sorry!’ He looks at Maggie, ‘Your daddy is sorry!’ He turns around and holds Maggie locked in his arms, facing Danny. ‘Your daughter is coming with me. She’s going to pay her dues to the Realm. End of discussion. Now, last chance, move along… sir.’
‘I’m afraid I can’t do that. And I’m really sorry for what’s about to happen to you.’
The lead Reeve is shocked at Danny’s response. He looks at his companions and begins to chuckle. He hands Maggie to the his companion and starts walking towards Danny.
Suddenly, from the shadows of the night emerges one, then two, then three, five, ten, twenty people holding bo-staffs. The lead Reeve stops in his tracks. All five Reeves are completely surrounded.
‘Rebels,’ says the lead Reeve.
Danny approaches up to the lead Reeve. Looks him in the eye, tuts and shakes his head, then taps his shoulder. ‘Embarrassing,’ says Danny. ‘I’m sorry.’ Maggie wrigles free from the other Reeve’s arms and runs to her father. Danny drops to one knee and they cuddle. ‘You’re safe now, Maggie. You’re safe. The love for his daughter cuts like a knife, deep into his soul, and he would do anything for her.
The lead Reeve is angry. ‘You won’t get away with his.’
Danny turns to face the Reeve and looks at his ID badge pinned to his shirt. ‘Yes, I will… Gavin Percy. You’ve heard of The Rebels, haven’t you, Gavin?’
Gavin the lead Reeve, nods.
‘Thought you might. Cheerio for now. Have a good night.’
The rebels disappear once again into the shadows. Danny turns and walks off with Maggie. As they walk away, Gavin flings a knife at Danny. It lands dead centre in his back. Danny drops to his knees. He looks at Maggie. Maggie is completely shocked. Even The Rebels, who reappear from the shadows, cannot believe what they have just witnessed.
Blood pours from Danny’s mouth as Maggie catches him in her arms. She lays him down. ‘Daddy!’ Maggie says, mumbling through her tears. ‘Daddy, no, please, no!’
‘Do good, Maggie. Always do good.’
Danny stops breathing. His eyes are open, still, staring straight ahead. Maggie hugs her father, crying into his shoulder. The pain in Maggie’s heart is unbearable.
The young boy, who reminded Maggie of her younger brother, approaches from a doorway. He sits beside Maggie and places a hand on her shoulder as Maggie continues to cry and hug her father. ‘My name’s Ray-Ray. Thank you.’
For The Rebels, too, it is too much to take. Normally advocates of non-violent measures, they surround the five Reeves and close-in on them with furious looks on their faces. The Reeve’s are terrified. As Maggie and Ray-Ray sat under the moonlit sky, for the Reeves, all went dark.
To be continued…
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"Everything has a price, even the air we breathe" — Oswald Macabre In the not-too-distant future oxygen is no longer free. The air quality on Earth has suffered severely after centuries of mechanized mass production and everyone must work to breathe. Maggie Zephyr and The Rebels want to change all that. Maggie Zephyr lives with her father, Danny, and her little brother, Julius. In Book One, which is due for release early 2017, Maggie’s blurred childhood memories of her deceased mother, Marie, come to light and she discovers the unsavoury truth about the world in which she lives. This truth threatens to upturn everything she knows, including the lives of everyone in the Octan Realm. Maggie lives in Area 99 of the Octan Realm. Until the age of 8 every child receives a free allocation of Oxus (a genetically-engineered form of air), at which point air-allocation is based on merit: school-grades, behaviour, and eventually hours worked. Oxus is supplied in small glass vials and has immense value. There are 100 areas in the Octan Realm. Each area is split into two recognised factions: Oxy-Plus (OP) and Oxy-Minus (OM). The OP’s control everything, including the distribution of Oxus based on OM-performance. Every OM must work for their air and are at the mercy of the OP. With 8 days in an Octan week, on the 8th day everyone gets their allocation of Oxus, but not before worshipping The Ode, the protector of the Realm, and creator of Oxus — Oswald Macabre. A third faction exists but people do not speak of it: those who live in the oxy-slums. They live on the “standard oxygen” that still exists, and people know them as SO-and-SO’s (because of their reliance on nothing but standard oxygen and standard oxygen). Their average life-expectancy is 15-20 years, compared to 60-70 for an OM and way beyond 100 for an OP. In short story #01, get to know Maggie, Ray-Ray, and The Rebels, a group of freedom fighters. Find out how Maggie Zephyr became a force to reckon with how her friendship with Ray-Ray began. And find out what happened to her father, Danny. You can follow for more free short stories and advance previews of Book One due out in 2017.