Chapter 5:

The Glowing Town


Where the dirt became gravel, and then became tar-black road, a sign stood that read: “FLYTRAP TOWN LIMITS.”  

While she ought to have seen this for the bare-faced warning it was, Mayfly proceeded anyway. The lights were too enticing.

There were no towns like this in the Valley. There everything was sparse, but tidy, and built along the Carys, the shores of great lakes, or the shade of the barrier ranges. People settled with consideration for the land and the placements of their fields, or their forges, or whatever their works were. Everything made sense. Even where it looked unplanned, it still seemed natural, like a formation eroded into the land by time and the weather of civilization.

Flytrap looked natural in the same way the metal forest did. There were buildings, and roads, and she saw the shapes of people moving about between them, but everything seemed off. For starters it was much too large, twice as big as anything in the Valley, but without any of the thought. Its streets ran long and wild, its buildings varied in height and distance from one another seemingly without reason. From above it must have looked like a sprawled-out corpse laid out in the middle of a barren wasteland.

Only corpses weren’t nearly this bright.

Mayfly didn’t know how to describe the lights. From a distance the town was little more than a rainbow smudge, but up close the details became simultaneously clearer, and incredibly hard to decipher. They were everywhere, above every door, inside every window, on every sign and in every streetlamp. Most were small wires burning in glass bulbs—a sort of alchemy, maybe?—whose lights were cold and white.

Others though, the ones that truly caught her eye, were thick, translucent tubes that were practically exploding with colors she’d never seen in any candle or torch. Pinks that bled from their casings, icy cyan that looked hotter than fire. Green, purple, even the colors from the dreary sky were scattered here and there and were made lively. It was dazzling, radiant, violent. And it really hurt to look at for too long. She tugged the hood of her cloak back over her head and kept her eyes low.

Then she tripped over a man sitting against a big metal bin that smelled like trash.

“Oi!” he shouted, pulling his outflung leg back beneath him. “Watsch wher’the fuck ye’goin!”

Mayfly gasped at his language, and then gagged when she caught a whiff of his breath. Rotted like his teeth, and sour. She expected to find a cup of ale in his hand, but instead he clutched a glass bottle to his chest. A handful more lay around him.

On the bright side, she could still smell.

But now the first thing she’d done in Gen was make someone mad.

“I’m really sorry,” she said, dusting herself off as she sat upright. “I will, I’ll look where I’m going. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. Are you okay? I’m sorry.”

She noticed then that the hand he wasn’t using to death-grip his drink was metal. It wasn’t quite like hers, it looked…rougher. Rusty iron plates, visible bars for the muscles of his segmented fingers, and where it connected to his wrist the skin was peeling and discolored. It seemed locked in a half-fist, unable to do much but twitch.

“Oh, you have metal parts too!” She pulled up her sleeve and showed her own arm. The vibrant light above them made her gold marbling glow. “That’s so cool! Did you come out of a cocoon too? How’d you keep so many of your people-bits?”

“M’fuckin whut?

“Y’know, my mama says you shouldn’t swear so much. Makes you forget all the important words.”

“Yer mama?” his eyes stumbled sleepily between her arm and her face. “Says…don’t swear.”

“Yeah! Her name’s Margie. She’s the best, taught me all sorts of stuff like that. I know how to raise cats, how to run through a forest without tripping up, how to tend a garden—oh! I can chase chickens really good, too. I’ve got trophies. Best in the Valley four years in a row, and that’s cause mama taught me how.”

The man blinked heavily, but said nothing. Mayfly assumed that meant she ought to continue.

“She’s real sick though, so that’s why I’m here. I gotta find this flower, see—” she patted herself down, more frantic as she got to her pants-pockets and found them empty. The moonbloom was gone! But how? Where? Even if her body hadn’t come with her, her clothes had. Why hadn’t the moonbloom come too? “Shoot, well…I guess I’ll know it when I see it. It’s got silver petals, and its head is like a ruby. It’s called a moonbloom. You ever see one of those? Maybe around here?”

“Here?” he swallowed and burped at the same time. Mayfly politely held her ‘breath.’ “Ain’t see nothin’ here. No flower. No sick mamas. No moobloom. S’bullshit.”

“Not here, huh? Any idea where I could start looking?”

“Bull. Ssschit.”

“Okay…uh…I guess I could just keep going.”

“Go? No goin’. No. No one goes. Flytrap…s’like…it gets ya.” The bottle slipped from his fingers, and he clapped his hands together—as best he could with the twitchy metal one being uncooperative. “Like that. Can’t go. Shtuck. Train comes, no money. Then the train goes, and you don’t.”

“Stuck? Stuck for how long?”

“Me? I’m…I been…” He groaned, pinched his eyes. “I’m here ten years. No ticket. No money, no ticket. No goin’.”

Mayfly recoiled like she’d been hit in the gut. “Ten—nonono, I can’t wait here ten years! I don’t even know where I’m going, I can’t afford to get stuck in one place that long! How’d you say people get out, the train? Where’s that?”

He blinked again, burped again. “At the…station? On the…train…tracks…?”

“Okay, good. Train. At the station. On the tracks,” she said. “What’s a train?”

A lot of staring, but no answer. She leapt up to her feet.

“No biggie, I’ll figure it out. Sorry again for tripping over you.”

“Oh tha—thatsh’okay. Yeah, s'okay.'re good talkin'. Hey, hey.” He leaned up from the trash bin, digging around in his pockets. Eventually he produced a small copper coin, which he held out to her. “I don’t…seen any mooblooms, but you could prob’ly buy a flower with’at.”

She took it carefully, surprised by how light it was. It looked like a medal, only thinner and smaller, fitting perfectly in the palm of her hand. Stamped on one side was a hooded head wearing a plain mask, and on the other was a five-pointed star.

“It’s so pretty! I can buy a moonbloom with this? I didn’t even think about that!” Mayfly shook the man’s hand excitedly. “Thank you! You know, you swear a lot, but you’re really nice!”

He leaned back again, fumbling around for his bottle. “Uh-huh.”

She waved farewell to him, but he looked like he’d already forgotten they’d met. That was okay, people drank a lot during Wearytide, too, she was used to it.

Holding the coin tightly, Mayfly headed off. She didn’t know how much it was worth, but if it could buy a flower as rare and as special as a moonbloom, then she must have had a fortune in her hands. And the man hadn’t asked for a single thing in return. Even after she’d made him mad, he was still nice. Maybe El was wrong about this place, or at least the people.

As she walked further into Flytrap, she tried to think of it the same way she’d compared the metal forest to the woods in the Valley. The idea was the same, it was just the details that were different. Everywhere had lights, these lights were just brighter, and not fire but glow. The buildings weren’t wood, but brick and metal. No one rode horses or pulled carts along the streets. The air was thicker, smokier, and even being generous she would have described the smell as “bad.”

The people were the hardest to reconcile. There weren’t as many as she’d have expected of a place so big, but they were utterly fascinating. Their clothes were as bright as the lights; some bore wild designs of colorful animals or obscure shapes, others had names or sayings in bold letters, and others still were entirely solid. None of them were as plain as her own clothes. She was a muddy island in a rainbow lake. That same vivacity touched their hair, done up in every style she’d ever seen, and even more that she hadn’t. What would mama think if she came back with half of her head shaved like this, with fascinating patterns tattooed on her scalp?

Like her companion at the bin, some of the people had metal limbs. Not just hands, but whole arms, or legs. Some had jaws of steel, or metal balls in their eye-sockets, which made Mayfly shudder. She supposed her own eyes were similar now, but they at least looked like eyes, and so it was easy not to think about. Most of them seemed better off than the man had been, but none had the sleek marbling, or the doll-like form that Mayfly did.

No one paid her any mind until she came to a crossroads. There, just off the road, a lone man was setting up a table. He was dressed almost as plainly as she was, and when he caught sight of her, a wide, toothy grin spread across his face. His eyes were dark but flecked with gold and brimming with excitement.

“Hello, shiny-girl!” he said. “Where are you off to all alone like that?”

She gave him a smile back, as she knew was polite to do. “I’m going to the train! This place is neat and all, but I really can’t stay.”

“The train, you say? I suppose you must already have a ticket then.”

“Ticket?” The drunken man had mentioned it before, but she hadn’t given it much thought. “No, don’t think so. Do I need one?”

“Sure do. And they’re expensive too, but you’re in luck!” He flicked his wrist, and as if from thin air he pulled what looked like a metal card into his fingers. Mayfly had spent enough time around El to know the difference between real magic and sleight of hand, but she marveled anyway. It was still impressive. “There’s more than enough credit here to nab one for yourself. Now, normally I don’t break this out right away, but since you’d be my first customer of the day, and since you look like you really deserve to ditch this place, I could make an exception. What do you say?”

“What do I say to what?”

“What do you say to us playing a little game? You win, you get to keep the card.”

“Oh! No thanks,” she said, and showed him the coin. “I’m all set on money! This thing here can buy a whole moonbloom, so there’s probably plenty for a ticket.”

The man seemed confused, she guessed, because he also didn’t know what a moonbloom was. Unfortunately, she didn’t know if she had time to explain it; she didn’t want to risk missing the train. So, she waved farewell again, and he returned the gesture, albeit limply.

A sign labeled: ‘Flytrap Station’ pointed down the street. Mayfly hurried along. She passed buildings that labeled themselves as bars, and apartments, all with their bricks chipped, their paint peeling, their metal rusting. The smell of alcohol spilled from open doors, and rotten food from the alleys. Things moved in the few unlit nooks, man or animal she couldn’t tell, but she heard Ealdwin’s warnings in their shadows and stayed away.

The further she went, the sparser things were, but the quality improved as well. There were restaurants with pristine faces, whose lights weren’t as harshly bright as the others, and a handful of offices advertising services she’d never heard of.

‘Maud’s Loan House.’

‘Broadstone Travel Facilitation.’

‘Prosthesis Rental and Repossession.’

‘Hunter Collections.’

Mayfly didn’t know what any of it meant, but the fact that the people behind the windows all looked miserable was enough to keep her moving.

At the edge of town she found Flytrap Station, a long, narrow pavilion with rows and rows of seats, all of which were empty. In fact, the whole place was barren save only for a single woman, who sat behind a desk, in a metal box barred by thick glass.

Mayfly walked to the end of the station and saw metal rails laid into the ground below. They ran so far in either direction that she couldn’t follow them. These must have been the tracks—not quite what she’d expected, but by now, what wasn’t? It was almost like a road, but the layout was too narrow for a cart, and too awkward for a horse. She couldn’t imagine anything balancing on these rails and still being speedy about it. Perhaps it was best if she just walked? But that horizon was so empty, without even the lights that had guided her to Flytrap. No, walking wasn’t a good idea. Being lost was an accident, but getting lost was a mistake.

The wind picked up, briefly, and on it she heard something odd. It sounded like a horn, or a very deep whistle. She followed it along the tracks, and saw a glint in the distance growing steadily and rapidly closer. Her strange heart fluttered.

The train.

Steward McOy