I stood atop a rooftop trash pile, in the midst of Down New York. Lower East side of Manhattan, although in a way, the whole city was 1920s Lower East Side, if they had been willing to give up just a few more feet of space per person.
I breathed in. Nothing I could do to avoid that, I suppose. Breathing in is what people do. Only, they usually breathe in oxygen, not whatever combinations of gas rose from the trash pile. I think there was some oxygen in the mix somewhere.
I imagined people lost their sense of smell in this place pretty quickly. It probably killed the taste of food. Then again, that's a short-term survival skill in a place like Down New York. Eat what's on your plate, avoid starving, and probably live another day.
I'd picked a loose-fitting shirt and a pair of sweat pants from the pile. Serviceable, but too smelly to wear at -- then again, I wasn't going home, was I?
The wind blew towards me, bringing the stench of garbage from near and far. And on the wind, I could even smell a bit of Spirit. As if there was so much in the city that it rose from the heaps of buildings like steam off a pile of dog turds.
I considered breathing the whole city in, or as much as I could at once. If the smell didn't kill me first, the spiritual overload would. Maybe I'd be obliterated. Maybe I'd ascend to become a god-like being who ruled...this dump. Either way, it had to be better than standing here and feeling sorry for all I'd done.
A familiar voice behind me.
"Pat, what are you doing here? I told you not to come here without me."
I turned around. Jo stood there, still with her green cloak, despite the rotting heat of uncounted piles of garbage from the harbor to Harlem.
"Where have you been?" siad Jo. "I haven't seen you at school for a week. Mom told me there was talk of you escaping from prison. It's been crazy since you disappeared -- my master came in covered in blood, the Harlem police station was ruined by some kind of monster, and the police came to my place asking after you. And now you're here. You found Down New York without me. Nobody does that unless they're -- what the hell happened to you?"
"Jo, I...forget it. Leave me."
"Pat, I'm not going to just -- "
"Fine. Fine!" I stepped off the roof.
Jo screamed. She didn't know that there was a walkway eight feet below me. Then again, neither did I, but there was bound to be one at some level. That's Down New York for you.
I landed heavily and sprawled on the walkway, at it shook with a clatter. It held. I picked myself up and ran to the right. Someone had constructed a wooden cover over this section of the walkway, and I ran straight into the darkness.
"Pat, come back here!"
Jo's voice was closer behind me than I had expected. I picked up speed and kept going. Down a set of stairs, down another set of stairs, hard right into a four-foot-wide alley lit by flickering track lights, down another set of stairs. No use. Jo's footsteps clattered on the walkway behind me, no matter which way I turned.
I finally moved into the Speed Walk and let the whole cityscape blur around me.
I wasn't sure where I was at this point, but I'd been Speed Walking for five minutes, so I had to be somewhere way the hell away from where I'd started.
Above me hung a net, weighed down by some manner of debris. A little sunlight peeked through here and there.
Before me stood a 1-story building of red-painted corrugated metal. Tin roof, it looked like. Glass windows. What luxury. They didn't even look scavenged.
And a door, which hung open.
And no light inside.
Well, what did I have to lose?
I stepped inside. I fumbled along the walls for a bit until I found a switch.
The lights came on dim, and brightened slowly. As they did, they revealed a fairly plain octagonal interior space. Somewhat smaller than the outside. The walls were pretty thick, from what I'd seen in the doorway. The floor was occupied by metal benches, arranged to face raised platform in the center at the back. The platform had two podiums.
And behind the podiums, at the back wall, was a space, a cabinet hanging open, and within, a space large enough to hold a human child --
Or an especially large scroll.
"Makes you wonder if they worship here at all," said a familiar voice behind me.
I turned around. Jo was there, not a drop of sweat upon her pretty face.
"I told you to leave me, Jo."
She grinned. "Who would I be if I let my best friend and trusted confidante disappear out of my life? I couldn't just abandon you, Pat. You don't deserve that."
I sat on the warm bench. "Do I not? Do I not deserve to lose even your company, after all I've done?"
"Why don't you tell me what happened," said Jo, and sat beside me.
I told her the whole story, starting with my journey to the sewer. Jo said not a word, but I saw her looking more conflicted as I went on. When I was finished, she said, "Great. You've compounded error with error. No wonder you wound up here. And Coyote is within the city after all."
"Yeah." I kept my gaze fixed to the floor. "So I don't expect you to hang around someone who's caused the deaths of who knows how many people, and severly disrupted a police station. I told you, you deserve someone better than me."
"Perhaps I do," said Jo. "Perhaps I deserve someone wise and brave and bold. But who says that isn't you?"
"About a hundred police officers and my entire extended family."
"Ah. But who says that can't be you?"
"What, are you trying to fix me or something?"
"I'm asking you if you want to become a better person. I'm asking you if you want to go back and atone."
"How could I possibly? After all I've wrecked? My family's reputation is ruined unless they disown me, there's a huge amount of property damage I'd have to pay for, there are lives I can't bring back, I've disappointed everyone who ever believed in me, and I can't even argue that it was manslaughter because I knew, when I became a rat-beast, that it could be a disaster! What am I supposed to do now?"
"The right thing."
"Which is what, exactly?"
"To go back and face the music. Tell them you're sorry for what you've done. Explain the situation, plead guilty in court and see what happens. Then at least everyone would understand you weren't entirely immature."
I sighed. "And follow the example of Tall John, right. The man whose soul could never be brought down, even if it meant his death. I'd be going to my death. I've proven that I'm extremely dangerous and can escape their restraints, so they'd want to do something more effective than putting me behind bars. Hell, they'd probably shoot me on sight before they even thought of giving me a trial, at this point. So what's the point of that? I suppose I could call them and arrange to have them come get me quietly, but who knows if the ones who came decided I needed to be ended right then and there? Just in case? I'd be humiliated in death."
"But isn't this death?" Said Jo. "To be stuck here forever?"
"This is where I deserve to be! I have fallen from God's grace. I've fallen pretty damn hard. Cratered the landscape while I'm at it."
"And yet, you just ran right into a synagogue. Maybe that's a hint?"
"You still have the Shofar." She gestured to my bag.
"Yeah. What about it? I don't exactly know who I'm going to call down here."
"Maybe you can find out. Give it a blast."
"Because," said Jo, "It's supposed to be for calling people to Atone, isn't it? You've got to call yourself to Atone. And then start doing it. You're so busy dying down here, you have no idea what to do to start living. So blow the born and get started."
"Yom Kippur's a long way away, Jo."
"I think your situation is a special case," said Jo. "Blow the horn and get busy living."
I blew. A nice loud blast. It echoed in the metal space.
"First thing," said Jo, "I want you to apologize to me."
I finally met Jo's eyes. "What am apologizing for?"
"For making me choose between you and my home life. Not that it's a hard choice, but I am going to miss my family and my school work while we're down here."
"Jo, I can't ask you to -- "
"And I want you to apologize for not coming to me as soon as you could once you broke out of jail. I could easily have sheltered you from the police."
"But that wouldn't have solved -- "
"And I want you to apologize for not coming to me once you'd busted up the police station, because I could have referred you to your grandmother. You think you're the first person to go nuts with dangerous magic in New York City?"
"How did you know about -- "
"Corinne King is one for the history books, and she's the reason the police started to consult witches and wizards. She got 20 years for manslaughter, by the way."
"So you're saying they might not kill me on sight."
"Exactly, Pat! The city has dealt with this sort of thing before, and if you had actually trusted me to help you at any point you probably wouldn't have done as bad as you did!"
"I told you, I tried to reach my grandmother at her place. She wasn't home."
"And then you ran off into the night instead of trying to find her. Oh, well done! Very well done! What, exactly, is so important about that Shofar that you wouldn't even want Coyote to have it?"
"Who calls us to atone this early in the year?" said a voice from the doorway.
There was a Chinese man there, stooped and shaky. He had a long grey beard, a black robe, and a black hat atop his head. Behind him stood a tall Chinese woman, who had lines on her face. And there was one young man of dark complexion, with a goatee and skull cap.
"I'm sorry," I said, "were we intruding on your space?"
"Oh, no, no, not at all," said the old man. "It's not like there's anything going on here, anwyay! Heh. Too few, too few, that's the problem."
"Too few what?" said Jo.
"Minyan," I said. "You need ten people for a service. Ten adults."
"Ten adult men," said the old man. "So you two don't count, unfortunately."
I bristled. "I think we count plenty well, considering that you're hard-up for a quorum anyway. And how on earth do you not have enough adults for the service? It's a city of 990 million people, for God's sake! There's got to be SOME jewish people down here."
"990 million people?" Said the younger man. "You've got to be kidding.There's only about 33,000 in our area, and maybe 40,000 in the enclave to the south, and...then again, there are quite a lot of enclaves, aren't there? I don't know. I don't know. The Land Lord of our area keeps us in this area, and controls what news we're allowed, so it's not like we can communicate with the other enclaves anyway."
"How long has he been doing it?" Said Jo. "How does he do it?"
"I've been here since I was a young lady rising in the world," said the old woman. "He showed up shortly after I did. Came upon us in rain and lightning. Said he'd run the place and if anyone said otherwise he'd make them go boom. Which he did. Which is why we finally painted the synagogue. That was a bad day. Hey, how did you get into this neighborhood anyway? I've never seen either of you two before, and the Land Lord only lets new people in one at a time. Did you bribe him?"
"No. We just kind of stumbled into this place. Nice synagogue you've got here, by the way. Real solid construction." I rapped my hand against the metal wall.
"You don't know how solid," said the old man. "Ever want to hide from his lightning bolts, you just run in here."
"He sounds like a problem to be solved," I said. "A tyrant to deal with."
"You wouldn't be the first to try," said the old woman, "but when old Shaoqi went up against the Land Lord with tongues of fire, he was exploded. I spent weeks cleaning that stair well, let me tell you...anyway, you can hardly convince anyone to go after him now."
"I can give it a go," I said. "What have I got to lose?"
The old man shook his head. "Pints of blood and all your bones, for starters. Well, good luck. You'll need it."
The small group left us there among the benches.
Jo looked worried. "Tell me," she said, "are you willing to fight him because you want to get back to Central? Or are you just trying to get yourself killed?"
"Probably the latter. What have I got to lose?"
I rose from the bench. "Fair enough. Want to help take down a tyrant?"
"This one's a magic-user. Going to be tricky. We may need to have backup."
"We've got a neighborhood of 30,00 people. If we can get even 500 of them to stand with us, we've got a chance."
"That's the Pat I know," said Jo, as she stood up. "Let's go and see what we can find out about this Land Lord, and then see about freeing these people. The sooner we can get back to Central, the better."
Thunder rumbled and rain began to fall as we made our way out of the Synagogue.
That didn't sound ominous at all.