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Seattle, during our historically brief but significant dim, reclaimed some of the natural beauty that must have distinguished it to early inhabitants. Or, perhaps more accurately, it was reclaimed by this beauty. The constant stream of traffic, cut back to no more than a trickle, no longer formed a barrier between the city and the surrounding woodland, and a near moratorium on luxuries such as lawnmowers, hedge trimmers, weed wackers and the like, allowed new habitude for the animals, curiosity piqued by the calm, which crawled across the city’s innocuous arterials. They lived in our lawns and under our homes, fed in the untended trees along our streets, and played in the buildings vacated by an industry dependant on excess.

Though it was a tenuous agreement, Seattleites did make some concessions for our new four-legged neighbors, the overgrown yards they considered home, and the moss that reminded us to conserve what little we still had. The state government, in a move arguably betraying a foreknowledge of the blackout, had jumped ahead with it’s Back to Nature® campaign, playing on desperate traces of environmental ideals we’d shallowly claimed, and inside each one of us was kindled, real or imaginary, the stirrings of actual concern. Besides, there were perks. The air, for instance. Long deep breaths free from the smog we’d grown so accustomed to. And the stars. Marred only by the one remaining bastion of brightness – the entertainment industry – the night sky was a city dweller’s wet dream.

After a few hours of searching, stars were beginning to peer down on Zara’s peripatetic pursuit, indifferent. She was losing hope. Not sure if he’d show up again to school, she didn’t want to lose track of this strange brown boy, but the day had drawn to a close and she was getting hungry. Knuckle's? The second the idea crossed her mind she retched. Her stomach was still tender from that morning's Dirty Dog, and besides, she thought, in an attempt to assuage her still unsettled gut, she didn't want to give el Farto company, whose straight A's were still upsetting the curve. She needed something non-violent.

Zara had spent most of the evening roaming around her own south-central neighborhood, where she'd seen Asseem enough to suspect that he too lived. She’d never seen him enter or exit a particular house, however, and so had spent her afternoon tracing a path up and down the streets she knew – and some she didn’t – hoping to catch a public glimpse of her emotionally energetic classmate. But as darkness fell she began to drift westward, drawn downtown by the smell of street vendors, whose booths lined the lanes adjacent to the major vein of Seattle's nightlife. She trotted through Chinatown, staying to the center of Jackson where the starlight lit her path, and watched people come and go from the small shops to either side, the more wealthy armed with flashlights, the poor carrying candles or glow-sticks.

At one point a car made its way past her, stealing her street. It rose up from downtown and people stopped to watch it pass, shaking their heads and snickering. The early show must have let out. Zara watched too as it rolled by, though without any opinion, one way or the other. She’d met people with cars before, and they didn’t seem any more or less interesting than anyone else. Maybe fatter.

She needed food.

The stalls along this street boasted mostly spicy menus, Asian and Mediterranean, Mexican, but as she drew closer to the cinema district, the flavors grew more benign. Their cooks catered to less adventurous mouths. Zara’s preference never took her too far into town, but her belly, on the verge of another rebellion, bullied her past her more familiar haunts, and deeper into a part of town she normally took pains to avoid.

That Zara had spent as little time as possible in the cinema district was a quiet and, I'd wager, unintentional victory for Jennifer and Marshal, who loved cinema, and thus couldn't bear to watch what passed for it those days. It simply wasn’t talked about. Had Marshal, for instance, made a point to point out what was wrong with the sort of high-wire bewitchment that tarnished the silver screen nightly, in Seattle and elsewhere, since the government had gotten its act together and realized it had to deliver some serious entertainment seriously soon before people began to create it for themselves, that is, in the streets, Zara would have been a plumped-up popcorn junky by mid-morning in the day of our disaster. But he was dismayed enough to keep it inside, where he pined away for the Godards and Tarkovskys and bit his lip when "Earth Day 11" was released, all feel-good and well-wishy. If he'd been asked, of course, he would have gone into great detail about what the big screen could have accomplished in such a depressed time, but he wasn't, not by Zara at least, whose only exposure to film was the inexcusably entertaining garbage being projected to replace the population's ability to process what was going on around them. She had no use for it. Had her father been slightly less heartbroken about it, just enough to cause the pain but not enough to silence, he would have spilled his guts and spilled Zara, de facto, right into the impossibly cushy seats. Thus what kept her away from the movies was, at that point, the only thing that kept Zara away from anything, namely, simple disinterest. It was one of the few things about which the young girl had had the opportunity to privately opine.

She marched down Jackson only reluctantly, pushing toward the bright lights of the cinema district wanting only to find food and again retreat eastward. A nice man she knew served a superb miso soup to upscale customers, gracefully letting them over-salt it themselves, and Zara set out to find him. He'd slip her a bowl out the back if she teased him a little, and her mouth started to water in anticipation of the soft seaweed and tofu bits bobbing up through milky clouds of spoon-bothered bean paste.

The bustle of 5th Avenue bled into the surrounding area, and foot traffic flew by, couriers carrying errands, schemers scheming, scammers scamming, and folks generally running amuck. Normal nightlife, in other words. Though perhaps a touch more intense. Zara peered down all the cross-streets as she grew closer, keeping an eye out for her chinaman. Her stomach growled as she passed all the secondary food-booths, those catering to the caterers and to the lower-movie-going classes, and she had to walk by forcibly, remaining strong. The dense smell of grease sifted into her nostrils and made her eyes bulge out both with craving and disgust, while above her head the mind-bogglingly bright lights advertising the night's various cinematic offerings afforded her more visibility than she was used to, and she was forced to note things she normally tried to ignore: the pitiable shape of the food stalls, their total lack of sanitation, and of course the condition of the food itself. This made her decision to continue easier, but made her worry for the condition of her chinaman's addition to this fiasco, which she hadn't seen since he moved his cart down here from its former perch at the top of Jackson, where he'd sold to his own kind.

6th Avenue was more of the same, and Zara walked north, parallel to the source of all the action. She saw faces she recognized among the vendors and customers both, but none she knew well, and it began to excite her, being in such unfamiliar territory in a city she took for granted. She'd been operating on auto-pilot to an uncomfortable degree, and this thought, as it took shape, drove her further northward, and brought back her ambition to find her classmate. Asseem was something she didn't understand. He was somewhere she'd never been. He had things to hide. She recalled him standing before the class, spitting a Eubonic tongue from his mouth to make room for an articulate message that damned its speaker even as it hit its mark. She recalled watching the pencil sharpener, fueled by this, or something inside it, some part of it, gobbling down the pencil until its teeth ground against the little metal end. She frowned then, remembering her own attempt, which ended in unproductive daydreams. What had she done wrong?

Before an answer could assemble itself, her mind was brought to quick focus by a hand against her neck. It was there only for an instant, but the unmistakable sensation of skin on skin lingered as she turned around to see a figure, her size, running back down 6th with a fist of flashing silver. Her necklace. She didn't stop to consider who this might be, whether they might be armed, or that the necklace was worth next to nothing - even to her - but bolted instead after it, turning and running like she was tethered to the little thief. He blew through the bramble of food booths and their patrons like he could predict its motion, and Zara had to swerve in and out, against the grain, bumping into as many people as she passed. But she was faster. Zara's feet found sound placement on the unsure path and carried her closer and closer to the dark bobbing head of her criminal, who cut across the street, back and forth, backandforth, like he was looking for an exit he couldn't find. Zara drew near. But as she came close enough to do damage the kid broke right, heading toward cinema street, and as Zara turned too she was temporarily dazzled by a face-full of speeding photons, doing their worst. It caught her off guard, and she would have had him before he reached the corner but she lost a step because of it, and had to look to lock onto him, a silhouette against the onslaught of ugly light. She bore down on her target again as they neared 5th Avenue, her vision restored and her arms stretched out before her, and she was soon close enough to feel the fuzz of an old wool sweater on her fingertips. But the peace she’d made with the light was only as good as the steps she took toward the end of the block, and when she reached the corner she was caught by a second wave of discombobulation as the scene burst through her pupils, explosive. There were no shadows here. There were bubbling bulbs and fast flashes and neon signs burning unthinkable titles into her eyes. There were people exposed like film against the near-reflective surface of the street. There were too many things to see any one of them well. Her thief had disappeared into complete visibility.

Zara took a step back as her eyes adjusted. Her face burned from the chase, and with the anger at having lost it. She caught her breath and looked around. The first thing she noticed, could focus on concretely, were the cars. Cars lined the street, parked along either side with their drivers standing next to them, ushering people on who lingered too long before them and handing out small candies to the kids who stared with dreaming eyes. The vehicles were kept clean but in varying states of disrepair. Rusted and tarnished with patchy paint. She didn’t normally care very much for these rolling coffins, but to see so many at once was a rush, and she marveled in spite of herself. She stood still, and the flow of people past her was at once frenetic and deliberate, crowds dawdling up and down the avenue looking like they had somewhere to be and that place was here, right now. Mothers were pulling their children across the street and into theatres, and fathers were smoking and smiling and shaking hands, watching their families run amuck.

Zara took a deep breath, noting the unfamiliar trace of exhaust, and stepped out into the teaming foot traffic. She headed north. The buzzing signs above her head projected brilliant blue scars on the vacant high rise buildings to either side of the street, and door after door yawned to reveal the Blockbusting Summer Events they advertised. Fascinated and somewhat nauseous, Zara moved through it all, eyes now open wide, pupils broad and blooming. The exposed steel, concrete, and seafoam-green glass that by some sinister, anesthetic manipulation had been built in the years before the blackout into every single architectural eruption, now stood emotionless before this spectacle, supporting enormous billboards blaring the week’s releases while, from the floors above them, vines cascaded out of windows, cut short before they disrupted the display, withering upward like sneering lips. The city had hollowed out this tunnel to ignore the world around, and it required a muscle in perpetual flex, pushing outward against the impending greenery that had crept so far, come so close to completely reclaiming the region it once defined. The street, she realized, was as free from anything living as it was from shadows. No roots broke up through the sidewalks, no animals – other than human – scurried across the road. No moss. She was being thrown back in time, back to what it must have been to live before. She was vaguely repulsed.

And it made her hungry.

Zara made a commitment to herself to come back and explore this incredible scene further, but decided to commit herself first to sating the hunger that was growing again in her gut. And at this point, she was over being choosy. She dug in her pocket to see how much trouble she could get herself in, and found her resources to be severely depleted. Sigh. The prices posted in front of the booths along 5th were way out of her range, but as she began to reconcile herself to the Dirty-Dog-level fare she’d have to ingest, her eyes wandered and locked on to a fruit stand across the street. Which gave her a better idea.

Fruit was in short supply in those days, and expensive. Even regional crops were heavily protected, and though some farmers grew their own small supply, most orchards were owned and run by the state, which had taken over all food production. To its benefit, all the best farmers had been hired to care for these precious plants, and the produce, though scarce, was always of excellent quality. Here it was no different. The apples shone with pride, and pears, rarer still, peaked out from higher racks, daring you to touch them. On any other street this merchandise was kept under glass, and more often than not, fruit was only found in government grocery stores, where they could be traded for an obscene number of food coupons. It rarely made an appearance at Zara’s house.

She ogled the bright apples eagerly. She rubbed her hands. It was a night, after all, for thievery, and the thieves seemed to be winning. She took a moment to plan her approach.

The fruit merchant was about the same shape as his produce, and his body was wrapped, for no reason Zara could divine, in a white smock that fell down from his midsection to just above his knees, leaving his legs to dangle out like stems. No chance that he’d outrun her. She craned her neck to see in past the pears, deeper inside the stall, but from what she could tell he was working alone, and he walked the length of his booth – about twenty feet – back and forth, sweet-talking the women, pointing out prices to their men, and waving ripe fruit before the children’s faces. She watched his routine, wanting to match his rhythm, and found herself impressed. He was good. So good, however, that he spent just as much time bending over his merchandise, back to the street, as he did face-forward, bringing in new customers. This was too easy. Zara, at first having nearly fallen for this robust, red-faced fat man, began now to warm up for the trespass, picking out things to dislike. His simple, stupid smile, for instance, or the oblivious way he ran his business. She’d grown used to this custom. Criticism would build inside her like a pitcher’s windup, and only when it outweighed the good she saw would she release herself into the task, her decision made, her vector unveering. It was a handicap, she knew. But she just couldn’t bring herself to steal from someone she liked.

Cars crept along between her and the fruit booth, and Zara swerved slowly among them, locking down the fat man’s rhythm, a mini-golf windmill, closing in for the snatch. She readied her five-finger discount. As she grew near, just as she’d planned, the man found a buyer on the far side of the booth, and was leaning across the fruit, reaching for an untouched apple. Zara came in swiftly and saddled up beside the tiered fruit and quickly chose a piece and reached out and that’s when she heard it. A low growl growing under the table. Fuck. The fat fruit man, ears no doubt tuned to this sound, looked up, spun around, and locked eyes with Zara, holding an apple in one hand and a pear in the other. He put them slowly down.

“It’s hard to resist,” he began, “but you’re going to want to put that apple back down, little girl.” He had a high, sing-songy voice and a strange accent, but this did not rob his suggestion of seriousness. Zara held his gaze, and started to slowly back away. She could not outrun a dog. She wasn’t thinking about this. She wasn’t thinking. She continued backwards, almost imperceptibly, and the growling grew.

“You’re going to want to put that back,” he repeated, more slowly this time, as if to match her movement. The family he’d been dealing with looked on, curious, not interceding on either behalf, though the kid’s attention was torn between the crime-in-progress and his apple, still gripped by the vendor, now waving back and forth, indifferent to his little needs.

“Listen kid, just give it up.” The voice was darker now, and the sing-songy quality was all but extinguished. The growls below the table gave way to a short burst of sharp barks, and any moment, Zara felt, she’d be forced to put a face to the formidable noise. At the other end of the stand, the little brat, apple wagging just out of reach and now confronted by the brush of danger, began to cry. The fat man inched farther forward. The barks grew louder.

Zara turned her back and fled.

She launched into traffic and cruised back southward, looking for the alley she’d come through, hoping to cut back to 6th into more familiar territory. The barking was in her ears and on her skin. She could feel it dripping down her back like soda pop. She aimed herself at families and burst through held hands, popping fingers out of joint and parting partners like the sea. She hoped she could confuse the animal, but the piercing barks followed her down the block, the shrill voice of the fruit man above it all shouting for the cops. But where was she? She didn’t have time to look around, just run, and she charged toward the end of the block, deciding to flip left the first chance she got. But the block wouldn’t end. The growling barks were right behind her, and her heels began to tingle, sure they’d be caught by teeth each time one arched back, in line to take another step. She was cursing herself, holding the apple tight, and when she felt her arm grabbed by a sure hand and her body begin to swing around she almost felt relieved, resigned, ready to hand it over and make her way back home. She flew through an open door and heard it shut behind her, shutting with it the dog’s screaming, now significantly muffled, and she closed her eyes, holding out the apple, hoping she wouldn’t be told to apologize.

“You’re Zara, right?” She felt the apple being taken from her outstretched hand, and heard a loud crunch, then chewing. “Thanks.”

She opened her eyes.