It’s important to note that when one is standing on a rooftop forest and the sun hits a small furry animal just right, one might assume said animal is not a harmless corgi, but in fact a terrifying—
“BEAR!” cried Charlie, backing away in a flurry of swinging arms and stumbling feet. It was unfortunate that only moments ago he’d built a fence, because as he stumbled, he backed into it and toppled head over heels, legs flying up over the rest of his body as he landed in a heap between two sprouting lettuce leaves. He reached out his arms and stood back up, jumping back over the fence. Charlie, however, was not very athletic, so he fell a second time, his foot getting caught on the top of the fence and betraying him at the last moment. He scrambled to his feet and made for the elevator.
He jabbed the call button manically, summoning the elevator up to the roof. “Come on,” he cried. “Come one, come on, come on!” But the elevator seemed to not be responding. Behind him, he heard heard a steady scraping noise like something being dragged across dirt. Perhaps the bear was also capable of wielding a giant axe or club which was now being dragged along behind it, ready to crush his bones to make bread. That was something giant monster creatures did, right? Then came the sound of panting, the repetitive huffing of air which got ever closer by the second.
He pressed the button again and again but to no avail. He pounded on the elevator gate, praying for it to open. He saw no other option. He would have to face his attacker. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and turned around slowly. In his mind, he was preparing to face an eight foot tall grizzly in thick battle armor, wielding a giant axe that it used to obliterate its victims.
But as he turned to face his demise, to his relief, there was nothing in front of him at all. That was, until he looked down to find the deep blue eyes of a small corgi. The dog was darker than most corgis he knew, with speckled black and gray fur along its back. It was also longer and had a more pointed face and even pointier ears. It was definitely a puppy, but he figured it wasn’t too far from being full size. After all, corgis were never going to be the largest dogs in the world. The most peculiar thing about the dog was that it was dragging its two back legs behind it. The dog looked up at him expectantly.
“Uh, hi,” said Charlie. He gave the dog a little wave. “How did you get up here?”
The dog began to pant and stare up at him. He knelt down and looked the dog in its kind eyes, then lifted a hand for it to smell. He heard somewhere that this was a good way to approach new dogs so they could get used to you. The corgi extended its short neck and gave his hand a few sniffs, before pulling back with slight uncertainty in its eyes.
“I’m not gonna hurt you,” said Charlie, raising his hand, palm down, over the dog’s head. He let it hang there for a moment, keeping his gentle gaze fixed on the corgi’s blue eyes, before gently placing his hand atop the dog’s head. The corgi’s whole body seemed to relax as it nudged its head gently up into Charlie’s hand.
Charlie smiled and proceeded to pet the dog. “Hey there buddy,” he said. The corgi moved in closer for the optimal petting position, and Charlie obliged by petting the dog with both his hands. The dog had no collar which Charlie assumed meant that it was a stray.
Behind him, the elevator finally arrived and the door slid open. “It’s gonna get cold out here, you wanna come inside with me?”
The corgi quirked its head to the side, then looked around the interior of the elevator. After a moment’s hesitation, it slowly started to make its way into the elevator, dragging its back legs behind it.
Charlie reached down and scooped the puppy into his arms and walked them both into the elevator. “Mind if I give you a lift?” The corgi licked his jaw and he laughed as he pulled the elevator gate shut and hit the button for the third floor. Looking down at the corgi, held in his arms like a baby, he realized that the dog was male.
They returned to Charlie’s room where he used his backpack to create a couple of chairs, one of his newly acquired creations. He sat in one and placed the dog on the table. They sized each other up.
“So, do you have a name?” Charlie asked the dog. The corgi’s tongue hung out of his mouth as it panted, content to be in a warm place after so long in the cold.
“Hmm,” said Charlie pensively. “Well I’ve got to call you something. Let’s see.” He bit his lip as he thought. “I don’t know if you realize this, but I thought you were a bear at first. Like a big scary bear.” Charlie smiled at this. “So how about I call you Bear? With a name like that, anyone will definitely think twice before messing with you.” He wasn’t sure who ‘anyone’ was, but he figured this little dog, helpless as he seemed, could use a big strong name.
The dog gave a small yip.
Charlie laughed. “Happy to hear you approve.” He gave the dog a pet on the head. “Sorry about your legs,” said Charlie. “That must have made getting around the garden pretty tricky.” Bear simply snuggled into his hands. “Maybe we could get you something to make getting around a little easier? I’ve seen doggy wheelchairs before. I don’t know where to get one, but I’m sure I could swing by a pet store. Someone there should know, right?”
Bear’s stomach growled and then Charlie’s followed suit. “Oh right, you must be hungry. I know I am.” He stood to go to the fridge where he had leftover food from earlier in the day. Before reaching the fridge, Bear barked, and he looked back. A soft golden glow emanated and pulsed from the opening at the top of the backpack that he hadn’t quite closed completely. It was the first time he’d seen the glow since he first opened it the previous morning. Bear’s blue eyes sparkled in the light.
Charlie wasn’t sure how he knew, but he was certain that there was something important waiting for the two of them inside the backpack. Carefully, he unzipped it the rest of the way, letting the light wash over them. He carefully reached inside and felt around until his fingers wrapped around something solid. He pulled his hand back out, along with a strange contraption. At first glance, it appeared to be a collection of smooth cerulean metal discs and straps, gray tubes, and two wheels, each a little under 12 inches in diameter.
“Is this … a wheelchair for dogs?” asked Charlie, eyeing it suspiciously. If it was, it was the fanciest one he’d ever seen. It looked like the kind of doggie wheelchair that Apple or Nasa might design. Even more strange was that he knew for a fact he didn’t have any creations capable of making something like it. “Wanna try it on?” he asked Bear.
Bear barked and wagged his small tail.
Charlie fastened the harness portion around Bear’s chest and midsection. Two flat blue circular discs sat on his shoulders while two more larger, rectangular pieces of thickk metal curved around his sides. Charlie wasn’t sure what these were for, but they seemed somewhat like armor. But why would a doggie wheelchair need armor? He made sure the wheels were in place and that nothing was pinching any of Bear’s long hair. Then he lifted Bear up off the table and placed him on the floor.
“Go on,” said Charlie. “Give it a test drive.” Bear took a few steps, adjusting to the shift in weight, and then took off, running around the apartment like a little race car. Charlie laughed as he watched Bear run into different rooms, circle and then run out only to find a new room to explore. It was as if he had been trapped all his life and was finally set free. Not only was he free, he was a regular speedster! Perhaps the Flash or Speedy would have been a better name, but Charlie didn’t have the heart to change it now.
Bear finally scampered up to Charlie, tired out from his little race.
“I suppose I’ll need to take it off so you can sit down and rest after all that,” said Charlie. But at that moment, the wheels retracted into themselves, almost like some sort of miniature transformer and Bear plopped down on the ground. “Woah,” said Charlie, who was possibly more surprised by this than he was just seeing the wheelchair. He shook the surprise away and cleared his throat. “Well then, I think it’s finally time we had something to eat.” He went to the fridge and pulled out one of the loaves of bread he’d been given by Demitri.
He broke off a piece and sat it on the floor for Bear while he bit into the remaining loaf. This one was flavored like all-you-can-eat sushi. They happily ate together in silence.
Once again, Charlie found himself feeling very pleased with how his life was going. If someone asked him to explain what had changed or why his perspective was so positive for the first time in forever, he probably wouldn’t have been able to put words to it. He was just happy to feel at peace for once. It was a strange yet welcome feeling to know that he was actually excited about going to sleep and waking up to a new day.
As they finished eating, Charlie went to put the rest of the loaf into his bag. This way, if he needed food on the go, he’d have it right there. He noticed that a notification had popped up on the screen of the backpack. He tapped on it and saw a few words which sent his mind spinning.
You have created your first Relic!
Charlie jumped out of his chair, dropping the backpack on the floor. “A … relic? But how?” He looked at Bear who had no answers to provide other than to tilt his head curiously. As if he weren’t already surprised enough, there was a sudden frantic knocking at his window. He looked up and fell backwards in surprise at a man sitting at the windowsill, knocking at it with the handle of an umbrella. Bear barked wildly at the window lurker.
“Get up and let me in!” yelled the man. As Charlie looked up at the window, he realized it wasn’t just any man, it was Milo. He was wearing a long dark coat and a maroon beanie atop his head. He scowled angrily at Charlie, which seemed completely unfair since the only person who had any right to be angry just then was Charlie, the person currently being encroached upon.
“What are you doing out there?” asked Charlie, standing back up.
“Keeping an eye on you!” yelled Milo, as if this was a completely justifiable reason to be at his window.
Charlie went to the window and pulled it open. Milo squeezed into the room as Bear continued to bark angrily.
Milo glared at Bear and then hissed at him like a cat. Bear’s ears flopped down as the wheels re-emerged on his chair. He took off at a run, speeding into another room.
“If you were going to get a pet, couldn’t you have found one less noisy?” asked Milo, shaking off his coat and throwing it onto one of the chairs. Charlie couldn’t help but notice that Milo was often quite fashionably dressed. He reminded Charlie of the people photographers captured in their lenses as they walked around New York City. These photos would end up online and tagged as ‘Street Fashion.’
“It’s not like I picked him out. I found him on the roof,” said Charlie defensively.
“The roof?” asked Milo. “What was he doing up there?”
“How should I know?” Charlie snapped. “I just got here! I don’t know what kind of wild animals you’ve got hiding up there!”
“I don’t have any wild animals hiding anywhere!” growled Milo.
“Well neither do I!”
They both crossed their arms and stared angrily at each other. There was a long beat where neither of them said anything.
“Have you been watching me this whole time?” asked Charlie, his voice noticeably quieter.
“Not the whole time,” said Milo, letting his arms fall to his sides. “I have a life, ya know?”
“What do you think I’m gonna do? Burn the building down?” Charlie motioned to the room. “I know you don’t know me, but this is about the only thing I’ve got going for me right now.”
“This place is not your feel-better project!” snapped Milo.
“I know that,” said Charlie. “I just … I’ve liked the way this place has made me feel, okay? I’ve liked the way the people who live here have made me feel.” He eyed Milo nervously. “Well, most of the people.”
Milo rolled his eyes.
“And I know I didn’t really do anything to deserve it, but everyone seems really happy that I helped bring their relics back to life.”
“Of course they’re happy,” said Milo. “Our relics take what we are and make it better, stronger, faster and brighter. But that is exactly why you being here scares the hell out of me.” He sighed. “Look, before you waltzed in here yesterday, we were fine. We’d all adjusted to this new way of life. And that’s saying something because it took all of us a lot of time to deal with your grandfather’s death. It took us even longer to get used to the fact that without him, our relic’s were useless. My relic…” Milo subconsciously touched the star pendant hanging from his neck. “When everyone lost their powers, I … I thought I’d turn back. If my collar no longer had any power then there was no reason for me to stay human.”
Charlie nodded in understanding. “That must have been hard.”
“You have no idea. Everyday, I woke up sure it would all be over. I would keep my eyes closed, thinking I could keep feeling human for just a little longer. And then I’d open them, and I’d still be me. After a while, I even started thinking that maybe it would all be okay. Maybe my relic had just enough magic in it to keep me going.” He sighed, his eyes narrowing. “But now you’re here, and if you leave, which you very well may do, because you don’t owe any of us anything, I don’t know if the magic in my relic will survive being turned off a second time. And what’s worse, I don’t know if the people who live here will be able to survive losing their powers again. See, you don’t realize this, but when you opened that backpack yesterday, you gave them something incredibly dangerous. You gave them hope.”
Charlie let Milo’s words wash over him. “Look, I don’t want to disappoint any of you.”
“I just … a couple of days ago, I was ready to end my life.”
This was not what Milo had been expecting to hear. “What do you mean?” he asked, settling into one of the chairs. Charlie sat down opposite of him.
“I mean, I was standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, ready to jump, when I got the text about my grandpa. I thought he’d died that night. And for some reason, that was the thing that made me get off the bridge and live another day. And now I’m here. I don’t want to disappoint any of you, but I don’t even know how to not disappoint myself right now. I am a disappointing person. I’m a failure.” He wiped the wetness from his eyes that was beginning to form there. “I am someone who felt … feels … felt, I don’t know, that the world would be better without me in it. So, when I met everyone this morning and they all told me how my being here is such a good thing, such a miracle, I didn’t know how to process that.” Charlie fiddled his fingers anxiously on the table’s surface. “Nothing about me has ever been considered a miracle. Nothing about me has even been considered good, or enough. I guess, what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to fail all of you, but I’m not entirely sure I know how to not be a failure.”
They sat in silence for what could have been minutes or hours.
“You’re depressing,” said Milo bluntly. And for some reason this was all it took to break the tension in the air. Charlie let out a loud laugh, then quickly covered his mouth with one hand.
He smiled, sniffled, then wiped his eyes again. “Yeah, I guess I am.” He waved at the backpack. “I don’t understand any of this, okay? I’m just taking it one day at a time. This backpack wants me to build a farm and make things out of other things. It wants me to cut down trees, break rocks and build fences. And now it turns out, I can even make relics. I mean, I made one. I don’t know how I did that, but it happened. I’m so high strung, I freaked out when I saw Bear on the roof. Meanwhile, this backpack is telling me that if I want to level up, I have to fight monsters. I’m terrified of my own shadow. How the hell am I supposed to fight monsters?”
Milo’s cat ears perked up. “Monsters?”
“Yeah,” said Charlie. “Monsters.”
“The backpack told you to fight them?” Milo leaned forward on the table.
“Yeah. It said I could fight monsters to help me level up.” Charlie paused. “Wait, do you know something about monsters?”
“I…” Milo stopped to think, his eyes darting around the room. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“Which part doesn’t make sense?”
Milo leaned forward even more and then whispered to Charlie, as if worried someone might hear. “I know where the monsters are, but…”
“But Arthur told us never to go down there.”
“Down where?” asked Charlie, certain he didn’t want to know the answer.
Oh wow, so much is happening in this chapter and yet it feels fairly quiet compared to others. We have a new relic for Bear, Milo creeping at the window, and a new destination for our heroes! I love having Charlie and Milo talk to each other in this scene because I really think it brings out so much about the two of them. They are both, clearly, people with baggage which is why they both can’t stand, but also need each other. I am so excited for you to see what’s waiting below and also to see what Bear’s relic can do. Any guesses??