The wheels of the man’s wooden cart thwack and squeak on the cobble stone road. Someone new to the street vendor racket would have a headache. But not Johannes. He’s been working these streets for 45 years and his ears are numb to its noise. Grizzled hands arepractically frozen around the handles of his small cart. His stern face and bushy eyebrows scare away the punk street thieves that harass the newer vendors.
Each week he rotates through five locations around the large city. One day it’s the market—hawkers crying their wares, guardsmen hustling starving vagrants away, tourists paying for overpriced knick-knacks to remind them of the wonderful time they had in the lovely capital. Another day he works the town-square in the heart of the city. A giant statue of the capital’s founder lords over the politicians and knee-benders passing by in their finest regalia. So on and so on, everyday pulling his cart and setting up, selling what he’s brought with him from the shop.
Today is different. It’s the Spring Festival. There’s a parade, and Johannes sets up shop at the end of its route. Where there’s a festival parade, there’s a huge crowd of happy people with happy money. In fact here it comes now, the echoes of music and merriment preceding it.
Johannes picks a spot in an isolated sliver of sunlight, peeking through an alley between two tall tenement houses. The joints of his hands and knees ache when it gets too cool, so the warm light is welcome—for as long as it will last. He tugs on the long, grey beard that hangs from his chin. Almost show time.
A ripple of commotion in the parade crowd reaches the front. Johannes watches as the wall of bodies crumbles and a boy scrambles through the breach. By the look of the boy Johannes figures he’s probably running from the army conscriptors. Kids these days don’t want to do their duty. They don’t realize the only way to become a man is to serve your time in the army. Or maybe he cut somebody’s purse and is now running back to whatever hovel or sin bin he comes from. They’ll probably never find him again.
The boy gets closer and closer. Behind him, several men in strange masks smash through the busted parade in pursuit. Weirdos then. The boy upset some strange cult. Stole their idol or something. The kid reaches Johannes’s alley mouth and turns into it.
One of the masked men holds out his hand and shouts something unintelligible. A ball of blinding light coalesces in the palm of the masked man’s hand and launches forward. Johannes has no time to react. He’s thrown to the ground by an explosive force. Several sharp pains appear along the length of his body facing the cart. Johannes can’t hear anything as the masked men follow the boy down the alley behind him.
Johannes slowly stands, pulling multiple slivers of wood from his arm and leg. His head is pounding and he touches a palm to the epicenter of pain, just behind an ear. Gods that hurt. And his head is bleeding. The cart is shattered, but a couple of his goods are salvageable. How in the name of all, is he going to get this crap home? He sits against the wall of a building and closes his eyes.
A shaking jolts Johannes awake. No, not again. The sunlight is gone, the sun having slid past the confines of the alley. There’s a man kneeling next to Johannes that he recognizes. It’s Bertrand, a fellow merchant that works the town square. Bertrand asks Johannes if he’s okay to move. Johannes nods his head and stands, using the wall to brace himself.
Bertrand has a larger cart, pulled by a mule. He offers to let Johannes transport the surviving goods and usable pieces of cart in the back of his. Bertrand then insists on Johannes riding in the back as well, citing Johannes’s condition. Again Johannes nods in assent. He’s too tired to be proud right now.
On the way back to Johannes’s shop, Bertrand tells Johannes about the rumor he’s heard. A bastard son of the most beloved lord in the capital, a lord recently slain mind you, has turned up. He asks Johannes what he thinks it means. Johannes apologizes, a bit curtly, and informs Bertrand that his only concern right now is building a new cart. After forty-five years he’s so close to retirement. So close.
Alonzo is a scif-fi/fantasy geek disguised as an academic literati. His works appear due to the patience of his uber-supportive wife, who is busy distracting his two lovely children. He currently writes for the Oklahoma State University student paper The Daily O’Collegian, and is falling down the creative writing rabbit hole searching for a bachelor’s degree in English-Creative Writing.