Life in Exile

Written and illustrated by Pauli Kohberger

Pt. 1: The Town of Refuse

The day after their arrival in Junk Town, the old man known as the Cursebreaker led both Bob Sparker and Percy King to the shoreline. On a hill near the beach was a small, dusty house, though again, like the houses in town, it was made of a combination of wood planks, concrete, sheet metal, and other debris. "This house has been abandoned for quite some time," the Cursebreaker declared. "I'm sure nobody will kick up a fuss if you move in."

Then, he led them to the beach itself. "Junk Town subsists on the waste that floats up here," he explained, motioning with his staff to some of the flotsam washing up on the shore. "Take a look."

Bob crouched down and wedged a tin sign board out of the sand. "Hey, this looks familiar," he said, turning it back and forth. "The Pine Room--wasn't that a bar in Electricopolis? I used to go there before it shut down."

"That's right," said the Cursebreaker, nodding. "And that's not all. Old television tubes, monitors, magazines, plastic bags and old clothes, all kinds of stuff turn up here. And it's all from your fair city in the valley."

Percy stroked his chin, thinking. "Fascinating. I knew some of the companies in town used the underground sea as a dumping ground, but I never realized the currents bore the refuse all the way out here..."

"There's a lot of things you folks don't realize," said the Cursebreaker, turning away from the water. "But there's time for that."

There was a moment of silence. Bob stood up and looked out over the water, shielding his eyes from the sun. It was a cloudy day, but still bright enough to sting his eyes, unfamiliar with the sunlight as they were.

"So...what should we do?" Bob asked. "Just kill time until we go back to town?"

"Oh, you're not going back," said the Cursebreaker matter-of-factly. Bob and Percy turned to stare at him. "Not until the clouds clear."

Not until the clouds clear.

What did he mean by that? Bob tossed and turned, thinking about it. Thankfully, the abandoned house by the shore did have a couple of beds in it, lumpen and worn though they were. It was, as the Cursebreaker had said, better than nothing, but only just.

"I mean, the city's power is shot," Percy explained. "So it probably will be quite some time before that subway's running again. But I don't understand what he meant about the clouds."

"The clouds have always been there, right?" Bob asked.

"As far as I know."

"As far as you know." Bob shot him a pointed look. "You sure you're not hiding anything?"

Percy rolled his eyes. "Come on now. We're stuck together, so we may as well trust each other, don't you think?"

"I have a better idea." Bob sat up, restless. "I'm going to get something to eat."

He walked into Junk Town along the road from the beach. Given his gawky, long-nosed appearance, and the fact that he was still wearing a dressy vest, pants, and shoes, the people of the town avoided him and whispered as he walked by. He tried his best to ignore it, and walked up to a food stall.

"Excuse me," he said politely. The smell of grilling fish and hot rice made his mouth water. " you take cash here?"

"Cash?" said the proprietor. "What do you mean by that?"

"Cash," repeated Bob. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and drew out a couple bills. "Or--I don't imagine you take cards."

The proprietor regarded him with a wary look. "That stuff's no good here," he said. "We don't take that kind of money."

"What do you take?"

"Junk Town tender. Coins, mostly. Barter sometimes, if you got something good to trade." He looked Bob Sparker up and down. "You got anything to trade?"

"Trade?" Bob blinked. He looked down at himself, patting himself down quizzically. "I don't think so."

The man shook his head. "Sorry. No can do. You come back with something good, I'll give you a bowl."

It was the same story everywhere he went--none of the businesses in town took any kind of tender aside from coins, medals, rings, mostly small metal objects that Bob had absolutely none of on hand. Occasionally he would see a customer trade for something larger, like canned food for fresh, or a parcel of cloth for a finished dress. Then he saw a familiar face with a large head of lettuce in his hands, haggling with a nearby shopkeep.

"Hey, it's you," said the farmer, turning away from the shopkeep. "Found yourself a place in town, did you?"

"For what that's worth," Bob complained. "I'm starving, I've got no money, and I can't get anyone to give me the time of day."

The farmer looked at him, then down at the lettuce. "Hmm. I wouldn't mind giving this to you, but I'd need something in return. You sure you don't have anything on you?"

Bob thought. He turned his pockets inside-out. "I've house keys, my phone, my wallet..."

"Lemme see those." The farmer grabbed his house keys and turned them around, admiring them. "Yeah, these'll melt down okay."

Bob grimaced. Well, it's not like I was going home anytime soon, he thought.

The farmer handed him the lettuce. It was surprisingly heavy, and Bob struggled to hold it. "Well! Looks like you're getting the hang of things here in town," said the man, grinning. "Pleasure doing business with you."

Bob arrived back at the house with the lettuce. "Well, look at you," Percy chuckled. "Grew it yourself, did you?"

"I'll have you know I traded for it," said Bob proudly, setting it down on the table. "They don't take cash or cards here, so you gotta trade for everything. They do take coins, though...and keys."

"Interesting." Percy swung his legs off the bed. "We're not going to get much of a meal out of just a head of lettuce, though. You said they take coins?"

"Yeah. You have any?"

"I do." Percy took out a change purse from his pocket and upended it onto the table. A clattering of coins fell out--only about ten or twenty of them, but enough to make a nice little pile. "It's not much by Electricopolis standards, but it might get us a meal out here." He stroked his chin, thinking. "Maybe..."

"Maybe what?"

"I have an idea." He scooped the coins back into the purse, set it on the table, and grabbed the lettuce in both hands. "I'll be back soon."

"Hey! That's my lettuce!" Bob yelped, blocking the door. "What are you going to do with it?"

"Are you really that territorial over a vegetable?"

"Mr. King--Percy," Bob replied, exasperated. "I can't believe I have to explain this. You turned everyone in town against me and exiled me just because I didn't want to be under your thumb anymore. If we're gonna stick together--and unfortunately, it sure looks like we are--then you gotta tell me what you're thinking. Preferably it won't involve stealing my stuff."

Percy sighed, maddeningly condescendingly. "It's simple. We keep the coins for a rainy day, and we trade the lettuce up for something more substantial. If we play our cards right, we can get a full meal without dipping into the money at all."

Bob blinked. He considered this. "That's...that makes sense, actually."

"I should hope it does. I am a businessman, after all," Percy said proudly. He paused, thought, then added: "And if it doesn't work out, you can spend the money however you like."

"All right," Bob capitulated, unblocking the door. "Good luck, I guess."

Percy walked back in about half an hour later with some heavy plastic bags in his arms. "Whoa," Bob marveled, watching as he began to empty them onto the table. "What's all that?"

"First, our dinner." Percy set some plastic takeout containers of fish and rice onto the table, followed by some canned vegetables and tinned fish. "Food for later, though it isn't very much, and some utensils. I also found our friend the woodsman, who offered us some wood for the stove. We'll need it."

"Man." Bob sighed heavily. "We're really roughing it, huh?"

Percy nodded. "It's not the accommodations we deserve, but it is what we have. We may as well get used to them."

The accommodations you deserve are behind bars, Bob thought snidely, but held his tongue.


Percy cracked open one of the takeout containers. "I had the cook at the food stall cut up part of that lettuce when I traded it. Since it's the first thing we owned out here, I thought it would be nice to try it after all."

Bob opened his container and looked at his meal. The rice was nestled up to one side of the container, with the fish on another and the cooked, sauced lettuce in the other third. "Huh. It looks good."

Percy handed him a plastic fork, then took the other for himself. They began to eat.

It was delicious. It was absolutely delicious. It was almost more delicious than anything Bob had had in the city, and he'd sampled quite a few dishes, usually on Percy's dime. The fish was tastier than anything you could find from the fisheries in town, and the lettuce was fresh and crispy, not like the sorry, soggy mess that usually came on a burger.

"This...this is exceptional," Percy muttered. "This is quite a meal."

"It's good," Bob choked with emotion. "'s really good."

To be continued...