Staring from the gutters

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The far side of the river was a different city, somehow more confusing and contradictory and baffling than where Tarn had first emerged into the light.

That first night, after the sun dropped away, he'd sat at the water's edge, having clothed himself, and taken in his surroundings. Where the river flowed between the two towering mesas were factories, row after row, with their innards spilling out of high windows and doors onto the quayside. It was familiar, seeing the machinery and grease and chains, even as they remained oddly still in the twilight. They were memories of the only life he had known. Tarn wasn't sure why the machines were inactive, but it was a pattern he could see played out across the city, as activity dwindled, the fishing boats returned to shore and the roaring noise of people, animals and thing lessened.

Across the river and around the curve of the lake it was very different, as a broad area of the city had gradually come to life, light bursting from windows and strange sounds echoing softly across the water. As one half of the city slept, the other awoke. Perhaps it was similar to how when he had used the sleeping hole, the other boy had gone to work in the machine rooms? He could see the lights of boats moving across the lake, the vessels seeming less functional than the fishing boats, instead favouring comfort.

Not wanting to be left among the deserted, shadowed factory warehouses he had resolved to cross the water and find his future on the other side. A footbridge led over the waters, with a steady flow of people heading across from the fishing area and the docks. He kept his face turned down and shuffled along with the rest of them.

The river seemed to serve as a divider in more ways than one, Tarn noted as he walked cautiously through the streets, keeping to the edges and trying not to be noticed, trudging through where the mud and water flowed stickily downhill, while keeping his distance from the ominous maws of doorways. The elation of having escaped had dissipated more rapidly than he could have imagined, replaced with a gnawing fear and uncertainty. The city was too large for him to comprehend and had no clear purpose, unlike the machine rooms which had been ordered and logical and based around process and order. That life, until very recently all that he knew, had been dangerous and unpleasant and worthless but it had at least made a kind of sense. The city wanted to be a million things, simultaneously everything and nothing.

He'd expected to discover a new direction once he'd made his way to the surface. Instead, he was left with an empty, open question: what next? Rather than the enormous world presenting him with a dizzying array of possibilities, he realised that he had none; there was no context he could draw on to give him the shape of a new dream. He knew none of the rules of the surface world, none of its secrets, none of its potential. He was stricken with a paralysis of ideas.

So he walked. Ducking between pools of lamp light, furtively eyeing others as they went about their business in the gloom and disappeared in and out of buildings. Doors would open momentarily, releasing shouts and laughter from within, before swinging shut once more. He thought about entering to see what was happening within but couldn't summon the courage.

The adrenaline of escape and discovery having washed away in the river, his legs now felt heavy and his eyelids drooped. He would need to find somewhere to sleep soon, or he'd collapse in the street. Another detail that eluded him - where did people sleep? Many of those he'd accompanied across the bridge had drifted away and disappeared inside buildings, perhaps to find rest. The houses this side of the river were more closely packed and even more ramshackle than those on the lakefront by the fishing nets. Tarn followed those still on the street, most of whom were heading in a particular direction, towards a glow in the sky that could be seen just above the rooftops ahead.

His curiosity got the better of him as he passed a long, three-floored building. A sign hung above its door, depicting an unfamiliar animal with something on its head, and scaffolding leaned against part of the wall. A group of several men entered through the double-doors, the noise of the interior bursting out as they did so, then becoming muffled again as the doors closed. Tarn edged towards one of the windows, golden light glowing from within, and pressed his face to the glass. It was a mottled, dirty, distorted view but he could perceive a large room full of people, some standing, some sitting at tables. He could hear unfamiliar, rhythmical sounds, like a far more pleasant version of several machines at work. It summoned within him a confusing feeling of joviality.

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