The Sponsors

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Chapter 10

Walking through the city from the village, dragging his wary feet, Charlie dropped into the nearest cafe and picked up some coffee, something he hadn’t seen in months. Sitting down to rest, he looked outside at the bland grey pavement and all the people rushing about above it. Each person was frail and gaunt, running on the same type of coffee he was sipping gingerly. Everyone had their heads down, clothing all neutral so as not to stand out. He was reminded of Moria’s yellow raincoat and it suddenly struck him how bright the clothing was in the village; their lives were so much greater. draw the city in your sketchbook and then describe it here. Gulping the coffee down once it had finally cooled to an acceptable temperature, he set out from the cafe with renewed energy - but upon coming up to the door and reaching for the handle, a flyer caught his eye, stuck to the inside of the door so every passing customer could be informed about the election. Martin Strachan’s face was glowing from the top centre of the page, his speech from earlier in the week published in small print below this, and wedged in between was his slogan: “Together they aspire, together they achieve”. Ripping the flyer off the door Charlie slipped out, folding the paper up so many times in his pocket so that he could barely feel it with his own hands, fingernails scraping the seam of the pocket in order to find the bundle. Two hours later the walk to the retreat was complete, after many miles walking. His twenty four hours were up, and he’d made it back just in time, as the sun was almost in the middle of the sky. He was completely dry, but his clothes were still limp and wilted from the rain. He strolled into reception, and picked up his key again from the office, surreptitiously taking the paper from his pocket and slipping it into his keyring, a tiny bundle curled up in his hand as he changed his clothes, the others being undertaken through the mandatory checks necessary for bad things from the city. Once given the all clear, and a pat down from security, he walked downstairs and went straight to Chris’s room. As it was almost the afternoon and the staff were now sponsors, no sessions were taking place and everyone was assigned to their dorms, full and napping after lunch. he knocked on the door and waited patiently, staring blankly at the white screen in front of me, sparking back to life again as soon as he heard a click in the lock, Chris finally peering round the door, cautiously seeing who was knocking in his down time. Once he saw his face,he saw his shoulders relax and his head drop down, opening the door to finally let him in, his room immaculate. He hugged him in greeting, arms reaching up to wrap around his shoulders, bringing him in. they stood there for a while, holding each other close before letting go, and he sat down on his bed.

‘What did he miss?’ he nonchalantly asked, seeing if there was anything said about the election in his absence. Chris shrugged his shoulders and lay down on the bed by his torso, his knees bending over the end of the bed, feet dangling just above the floor.

’Nothing to report from here, but tell him about your time in the city.’he told him the tale, about his plan and how it fell through, and while his face reacted in many ways, mainly surprise, he kept his cool. At the end of the story and about visiting Moria and Richard, he nodded.

’It was the right thing to do for sure. We’re not worth that much, and they wouldn’t be able to live with the guilt.’he hummed in agreement, knowing what he said was the truth. he then handed him the crumpled up paper from his keyring,

‘Oh, and this is what he picked up from the city, saw it in a café.’ He sat up at that, taking the paper and unfolding it carefully, the damp seam of his pocket making the paper fragile at the folds. His hands curved the paper towards his face as he saw the image of Martin Strachan, hands clenching the paper tighter and reading with fervour, the headline, slogan and inaugural speech before actually talking to him again. His head snapped up when they read the final word and turned to face me.

‘Do you know what this means?’ His harsh whisper attacked his ears, and he suddenly felt ignorant. he had no idea what this meant for us. he hadn’t been here long enough to notice the changes around camp, as Chris had. He had noticed how the food was used to lean us out, and our cortisol levels had dropped, making us more in shape, lean and happy, and thought it was a good thing. However, Chris’s eyes now scanned the page over and over, thinking carefully as to what to tell me.

‘I know things, from his time as leader’ he said to me, murmuring under his breath, telling him a big secret no one else needs to know. ‘These guys aren’t good news, not in the slightest. The camps have changed. It hasn’t always been like this.’ what was it like before? ‘This man here, he’s his brother.’ He spoke to him again, eyes lifting from the piece of duvet he had been gnawing at with his fingers. The sun’s base started to fall below the horizon, breaking the perfect circle of light that beamed through the open doors, and casting a shadow onto the paper. he left him to his thoughts after a time in silence and walked back into his room, saying hi to Annie on the way and walking into her room for some phatic conversation and a cup of tea, before using his time to sleep and wait for Chris to announce his next move to me.

***

I think you could definitely make more of Charlie and Martin’s childhood memories and experiences.

A big house sat on top of a hill, the three stories held up by beautiful engraved pillars, the embossed white flowers and climbing ivy rising up to carry the balcony. Arched windows marked the centre of the house, the door on the first floor a huge oak art piece, matched by the French windows on the floor above, and the smaller windows that mark the top of the house, each a beautiful archway for the family to walk through. A triangle of grey slate created a mini roof over the extension. The grey tiles continued to the roof, the rising slope tapered off at the top to form a wide, flat surface, one great for sitting and watching the stars on a clear night, ladder carefully propped on the side for this very reason by Mr. and Mrs. Strachan. Four proud chimneys erected from it, standing guard from the sky. The square house was surrounded by a hedge, a white picket fence nowhere to be found but to border the balconies that ran around the first floor. In the garden behind, the patio that matched the weathered white boarding held a picnic table, and steps that led to Martin and Chris’ play set. Toys from this were missing and strewn across the balcony that outlined Martin and Chris’ room, various plastic cars and diablos sacrificed to the rain. The pillars underneath their balcony were worn down more than the rest, due to years of quick escapes from the boys, grabbing material and slinging it around the pole in order to speed down to the ground below them. The veranda at the front of the house looks over the village below, trees marring their view of a clear map, the many willow trees nearest the house had many branches plaited together tightly, as vines for the boys to swing across on their way down to school. Houses similar, but smaller than their own, held their friends, and they could easily spend their evenings pointing out each specific house, using their binoculars to see if any of their friends were outside and willing to come play with them. Away from the city, the Villages become more isolated and peaceful, with more work being poured back into the villages, especially in the past. Away from the city, it was almost as if no poverty was even evident, no policies in place. Chris and Martin Strachan grew up healthy, and while they had their arguments over a lack of equality between them, who was the oldest, who was the most talented at specific games, they were mainly amiable with each other, learning to be each other’s best friend, rallying against their parents in times of need and fighting off boredom together in their own imaginary worlds. Their large garden housed a tree swing and playhouse for the boys, to keep them entertained while their parents worked the fields and kept the animals, all the while looking after the house, their pride and joy. As such, independence came early to them, and as Chris was the youngest brother, he learnt everything he knew from Martin’s words and actions, doing as he was told in order to keep the peace while his parents were away, and slowly learning to be in aThey of his brothers culinary skills, his organisation and his love of order. Chris was then allowed to be much freer, keeping the peace in the house and allowing Martin to have fun once in a while. On bleak days, however, Martin’s rages shook the house. The ornaments broke and were eventually hidden from view just in case, the table scarred with knife marks, and even Chris wasn’t without a bruise from when he tried to intervene. Anything could set off the explosion, from when food burnt to when it was bedtime to when it was raining outside. They were sporadic and scary, a nightmare encased in a child. Chris’ parents didn’t know how to handle it when they were around, and they were kept under wraps when he went to school, meaning that Chris had to bear the brunt of it, almost training Martin to only get angry when Chris was there to either calm him down or to be his punch bag for the day. When Mr and Mrs Strachan came home and saw the bruises, they wept with sorrow. Nothing could pull Martin out of it, and they were in despair at the pain Chris had to endure. The favouritism they showered him with only made things worse, as Martin was pushed more and more out of the family. When the Company went to the school and interviewed the children for future roles, Martin was picked for the path of diplomat, and Chris was picked to be a leader in a camp. His parents were so proud of his accolade, and once again, Martin got pushed to the side, the path of a Company worker known to be one of descent into infamy. Chris was pulled away from his home and his education and his brother and sent off to be trained, and yet on his last night at home, he gifted Martin a pendant, one on a leather strap that he wore constantly.

‘Now, whenever you’re angry, you still have him near, okay?’ Chris mumbled, touching Martin’s cheek before leaving the house, taken away hand in hand with a boy from his class, using each other for comfort as they were bundled into a plush car, never to see his parents again before they passed two years later, leaving Martin alone with the beautiful house, but no family to fill it with.

Chris entered the training program under the heavy weight of obligation. An empty retreat was used for training, a brand new compound to live in before they either got shipped off to replace another person, or to stay here and help bring in new people to the place. They had a whole week to enjoy their surroundings, getting to know one another and enjoying their new-found freedom in their very own rooms and very own gardens, spending hours exploring the different sections of the garden and the small river that runs through it, dabbling in the cool water and making up their own imaginary games to play while running round together. Old, retired leaders were there to supervise, watching from a distance and smiling at the preliminary freedom of the children. After the week was up, Chris and his friend from school were still attached at the hip, and this was noted, as they had to learn detachment and a lack of emotion in order to help the future people in the retreats. However, before their own training even began, the children had to learn what it was that they were teaching. The military-style base showed them pictures of the poverty and hardship that swept the world when the population density grew too large, the very same pictures that Charlie will witness later on in life. Chris sat in front of the screen, alert and able from the nutrients he was given, barely blinking as he was forced to look at hundreds of images and short videos of the dying generation. His chest twisted in empathy for the dead people, his pain demonstrated on his wincing face. A video of twisted chronology took place, as babies and children with protruding ribs shrivelled up and shivered in the dank rooms of evacuated houses, outside hotels on the streets where they had been abandoned. This moved on to people Chris’s age, and the clenching feeling from his chest took over his stomach. He felt himself drained of all his energy in empathy for the children his age who had managed to survive the early stages of hunger, like the other children. Their hollowed mouths and sunken eyes made them look skeletal, but a defiance held its place in their eyes, hope is paramount in their fragile bones. This, however, had been dulled and destroyed by the time the pictures flicked over to the adults and the elderly, some even dead in their chairs, as the camera panned over grieving loved ones. It was a slow chaos that engulfed all. The picture that haunted Chris in his nightmares was a black and white picture of a man, naked and crawling in the dirt, his legs the same width as his feet that were barely dragging him forwards, arms spindly and long, making his hands look disproportionately huge. But the haunting expression on his face was the thing that encapsulated his emotions the most, his mouth hanging open with a lack of energy to shut it, eyes sunken in his eyes and eyebrows raised, as if begging to the camera man. It reminded Chris of the fact that these people could have been saved by the people who took the pictures. He ended up turning away at this point, head bowed to the screen in a sort of acknowledgment of the past, his eyes closed with the image of the man burned into the back of his eyelids, one that was never to fade. A darkness filled the room as the tape ended and the lights faded up, each child huddled in their chairs, each one in their own stage of grief, expressing the horror they had just witness on their faces. The leader of the camp walked onto the stage, each child in perfect silence, breathing deep and slow in order to calm themselves down. His sharp navy suit and plain black tie contrasted his shirt and created the image of a bruise in Chris’s mind.

Chris was separated from his friend not long after, the children divided into groups to learn their specific tasks. His school friend became a martial arts specialist, using tai chi and an upgraded form of Bartitsu to release endorphins and strengthen the weak in the sponsor community. Chris was in the section of dreams, using different herbs and meditation, sitting in the library learning ancient wisdom, Yoga Nidra, Pranayama and Hatha postures in order to create a balanced calm in people. He learnt to keep his head down and became solitary, turning to his books to be his only friend. The Company library was substantial, each book bound in a dark navy cover, silver seals shining the names of the book out onto the dull wood of the shelves. The windows created a dome at the top of the building, snow frosting onto the windows to create tendrils of ice, snow crashing and breaking away as the wind blew, the changing environment of the cold outside contrasting the insulating warmth of the company building. On a clear day, he could see the compound, the many children outside learning their physical skills, bundled up warm in heavy coats to protect their health. Chris and his classmates who were to become dream keepers were isolated indoors, each person on a separate table in the library, occasionally exchanging words to borrow books. The smell of library paper dominated Chris’ memories of his early life, and the oaky musk infiltrating his herbs and oils in his laboratory experiments, his own signature scent prodigal in comparison to the rest of his class. Once they had gained scientific and ancient knowledge, they were able to enter into a chemistry class, each person given the freedom to create their own sleep scent. At 11, Chris entered the class and was introduced to his tutor. Matthias was young, around thirty, and took a shining to Chris, helping him to develop his herbal sleep infusion, combining the chemical compounds with the smell of books to create Chris’ favourite atmosphere. Chris looked up to the openness Mathias had for all students, his thin frame constantly surrounded his floral scents, his hair pushed to one side, marginally covering one eye creating a constantly sleepy look. His thick Brazilian accent cut through the English-speaking class when needed, but when speaking to individuals was soft, a sweet purr climbing across people’s ears. By the time Chris was fourteen, he had perfected his experimentations and has fully grasped the concept of the sleep chemical compounds. His speech had turned into a tiptoe, soft and sweet, and his yoga Nidra had helped people to sleep in all his sample classes. He had gathered all knowledge he needed to take his final exam, a day of text papers and sample classes in front of three examiners from the Company, who, should he pass, would send him on to the retreat that needed him the most.

Running to Matthias’ office after he found his passing results, he walked in on an empty chair, the whole place cleared out and stacked high in cardboard boxes in one corner. One of the other tutors walked past and saw him standing in there, confused and alone. He told Chris that Matthias had been diagnosed with cancer, and that he had to leave to become a sponsor now he was too ill.

‘Sorry, kid,’ he ended with, walking away with a shrug of his shoulders. Chris took one of the boxes off the stack and looked inside, piles of books and notes on scents were stacked haphazardly on the top. Chris took the first page and went to the lab, destroying his work of four years, the warmth of the book smell burnt away into a sticky syrup and poured into the bin, his notes ripped up and crumbled into ashes. He took the piece of paper out of his pocket and smoothed it out, getting to work on creating Matthias’ signature, the smell of lavender reminding him of the professor he once lost.

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