Artwork by Pocket-egg
Clip clop down the block, the sound of shoes hitting stone, a palpable enthusiasm in the tone. A shock of heavy hair, golden blonde — not overlong but substantial, slightly tousled — crowning a face alight with a cheer not immediately distinguishable from his youth. The early noonday sun bringing out the colours of the city completely; innumerable shining windows looking down over the narrow congested street; cars bright in reds, greens and blues; smartly dressed urbanites on break, seeking something upon which to feed, in their suit jackets and pleated trousers in an out of synch parade. Movement, dynamism, speed, all beneath a completely cloudless sky. There, just ahead, the Four Towers building waits, nestled a little inward from the pavement. Excitement and trepidation all at once, this is it.
Watching from the, somewhat anachronistic in our age, heavy wooden doors: his smile and optimism appear from around the black brick wall. Now aimed right at you. Not particularly tall, not particularly short, a forest green turtleneck and light brown bottoms, boots a darker shade. From his perspective now: ahead a very narrow courtyard jaggedly paved, rectangular it stretches out on both sides until rounding the corner just before a hedge. The building, a deep grey block dotted uniformly with mirrors which reflect the afternoon back out. Halting, he cranes his neck up, following the steel rimmed windows upwards, until at the centre — slightly further than two thirds of the way up — a gap. From this angle a seeming bifurcation, but everyone in the city knows Four Towers splits into four towers, a little like an idealised castle of olde. He’s just never been this close, passed by the street before but never turned in to the courtyard itself.
A fluttering noise from behind, distinct amongst the faded din of traffic, commuters, and so on, half blocked out. Turning his head and right shoulder to look behind, the bird is clear to see. Perched atop the brick wall by the street side, on the corner right next to the entrance he just came through a moment earlier. “Oh..” a faint note of dejection can be identified, prominent in the presence of his otherwise still cheery tone. Parallel with the road, the unmistakeable stripe of blue along it’s wing on full display. It turns it’s head rightward as well, they lock eyes, an almost silent bargain being made. Understanding. More familiar flapping sounds, and then down she swoops. Down from one of the trees that line the inner wall. Down and into full view, majestic little bird. Mr Magpie already on his perch, Mrs Magpie lands a little lower along the main portion of the wall.
We’re all rewarded with the return of a full smile, he stands for a moment beaming up at his new avine friends, how it melts the heart. Such a sweet boy, only just 19 but going on 12 in many respects. First job interview, it’s something he won’t forget, he knows it. Mum’s pep talk at the door before leaving reminding him “Oh Felix, your big day at last, I’m so proud of you. All dressed up in your widdle suit” a tear appears at the outside corner of her right eye “however it goes, I’m just proud you made it this far, I want you to know that. It’s a big day, one you won’t forget”. Embrace, a mother’s love, warmth. After a while she pulls back, crying clearly now, the joy falling freely from her eyes. A few tawny stray hairs, the ones which missed being drawn into her messy ponytail, stick to her face. Both smile, the young man opens his mouth to respond with his gratitude.
And we’re back, sun on stone, Felix turns back to face forward again. The old doorway looms, only a few steps above the ground, great monastic gate to the future. A new life, if things go well, characteristically hopeful his bags back home are already packed and ready. It’s time. He reaches out as he hops up on to the last step, the great bronze ring at face height, lifting it back, hesitation buried in the eagerness. Knock, knock, he brings the ring down into the smoothed groove just behind it’s resting position. Heartbeat, already going faster than usual since late morning, begins to speed up. If you’ve ever held a mouse, in your hand, so fast. Waiting, an eternity passes in under a minute, and then… footsteps on marble. Louder now, louder still, and then a creak from the door on the right. It is pulled back inside the building. Hard to see at first, the sun reflecting from above creates the impression of some dark cave or mine entrance, it takes a few seconds.
Then, a face from behind the door, and beyond it a room at last coming into view. Hard to make out from here the dimensions exactly, it seems small given the size of the building but this is the back entrance. Not a lot of people have been here, it’s by a busy street yet something tends to keep eyes off of it. Of course every person in the city would recognise Four Tower’s grand main entrance on the opposite side, all glass and steel, escalators taking you up from street level, four revolving doors, the works. The iconic golden logo on the tip of the alcove above the glass, and then heavy stone forever upwards. Men (and some women) in suits stream in and out all day long, the building doesn’t sleep. Though it’s certainly most alert and active right now while the sun shines, the lights down in front are on all night long.
A giant in a crowd of other, mostly smaller, giants; a lot of people are unsure what function Four Towers actually serves the city. A reasonable thing to wonder. In fact over a decade prior, towards the very end of it’s construction, it even inspired a large protest movement. Big symbol of corporate power that it was growing into, no one could’ve told you why it had to go exactly, it just inspired a kind of primal angst in people. Felix has hazy memories of being brought along, sitting on someone’s shoulders looking down at the rag tag army around him with their banners and warlike chanting. He wasn’t allowed to bring his Gameboy. In time, people grew to appreciate the building, it’s unusual to meet someone who hasn’t been up to the roof levels. But yes, it’s presence was initially quite a contentious one for the locals.
Open to tourists, visitors, and of course those who actually live and/ or work in the building, the four tower roofs at the very top allow for some of the most breathtaking views of the city. Connected by rickety wood and rope bridges — don’t ask me how they got those past council safety regulations — the roof levels are now an iconic tourist attraction for visitors to the city. You can also host a party up there, though it won’t be cheap! Regardless, partying or just spending an afternoon with the family, while up there you will have the service of each tower’s “Guardian”. These young men have a whole host of responsibilities, primarily working their own tower’s small outlet (two very small coffee kiosks, a bamboo cocktail bar, and of course the gift shop/ tourist information place) but also responsible for cleaning at night and some other small requirements. It’s a live-in position, naturally, tough but not unrewarding.
The face from behind the door speaks, in a most soothing timbre, “Ah, hello there young man! You made it this far did you?”. The face rises taller and the body upon which it is set appears. Long, gaunt, head narrow at the top with sparse lank grey hairs that come down to his droopy ears, and a kindly expression; atop a skeleton in robes, a few inches past six foot. Heart still racing “H-hi, my name is Felix. Felix H-Hel”, the man hushes him not unkindly. “Yes, for the interview, I know young Master Felix. The position wasn’t an open one as you well know, and beyond that very few made it to this final stage” he smiles. “Come, come boy, inside now”, he draws him in by the arm, points him towards a small mahogany chair with a round red seat, placed facing the misted glass desk in the centre of the room. The door closes, the background sound of the high street disappears. Our new friend puts the lock back in place, and proceeds to make his way back over and behind the desk. “Let us begin”.
“I’m sure you’re already well acquainted with the specifics of the Guardian role you’ve been scouted for Master Felix, you are the type to be that’s why you were selected” a pause, he reaches under the desk and pulls up a stack of papers. Smack, down on the table right dead centre. “We know all about you Master Felix, psychological profile, education history, family history, we take this position very seriously. It’s not an easy job, you know why we’re looking for a new member of the team I presume?”. Ah, a chance to show he’s been doing his research for the job, “Yes, I heard about the uh… “accident”, it’s so sad I almost.. I almost feel bad were I to benefit from it” oh no, don’t want to jeopardise things by seeming unenthusiastic “t-though of course it’s a dream job! It’s something I think I could really be good at”. Oh no, flailing, is this going poorly?
A sigh from the old man “Yes, very sad indeed, the other boys haven’t taken it well” he stands back up, over at the corner of the desk “an intensification of type in all three cases, fascinating but.. hard to watch all the same”. “I don’t quite” very brief pause “understand what you mean Mister”. The gentleman seems alerted by this statement, the tiniest flicker of concern — you probably missed it — appears on his face, while he tries to muster a fresh smile. Teeth hidden, more a smile of the eyes than the mouth. “Not to worry Master Felix, just thinking out loud. You should know one thing, the four boys formed a rather close group, it might be difficult for all of them to accept you right away”. The implication isn’t lost on Felix, he tries to stifle a smile to no avail, all noted by the old man with a secretive satisfaction.
Returning to his seat “Now, Master Felix, apologies for failing to properly introduce myself, you must forgive me. Though perhaps you recognise me from our initial e-mail correspondence, it is I who first offered you the option of applying for the position..” his zeal taking hold Felix rudely interrupts the man “Oh, Mister Uran?! I didn’t, I had no idea, it’s great to finally meet you”. Mister Uran is not offended by Felix’s eagerness, no not at all, in fact he’s rather pleased. The interview is off to a fantastic start actually, you might be surprised to find out, and yes the interview has been in progress this whole time unbeknownst to Felix or yourself. Since he first knocked on that old door. The very way in which he did it a part of the examination taking place still. With the usual pleasantries now exchanged, the formal interview can at last take place.
“Master Felix, as explained, we do know quite a bit about you, but there are some questions. It wouldn’t be an interview without them after all.” he smiles a little at his own remark. “Oh, of course, I’m ready” the boy’s bright blue eyes widen “what do you need to know?”. “First off, I’m going to ask you why you decided to pursue the role? It’s not going to be easy work boy, I hope you’re fully aware of that” boy takes a second, not immediately sure how to respond, then “Well, to be totally truthful with you sir it’s actually the exact kind of job I’ve always dreamed of”. A short speech follows, fully fleshing out Felix’s romantic vision, he waxes poetic about a number of stylistic life influences that led him to this seat in front of this desk in this room at this moment; depictions of boarding schools in old English novels, sci-fi crews on small ships journeying through the stars, close knit groups of friends young and old.
“I’m very impressed young man”, the boy does seem prone to becoming very suddenly enthused, Mr Uran notes to himself. “Very interesting response Master Felix. Someone with your attitude is exactly what we’re looking for in our new Guardian”. Though the reasoning behind such seeking isn’t what Felix thinks, the statement is an accurate one. Frankly, the interview is a charade, the job was his the moment he made it beyond the courtyard. You’d be surprised how few make it that far, of the already small number invited, very specific people are needed. This is meant not in the sense you might think, it isn’t a particular skill or ability that is sought by those who make the big decisions round here, no something other than that. “Now if you could, make the effort to answer the next series of questions as straightforwardly as possible”. What follows is a series of questions, which Felix proceeds to answer as straightforwardly as possible.
A good half hour goes by, Felix while already in the clear has his character tested some more, the most up to date and well tested personality screening techniques are enacted upon him under the guise of various rather mundane interview questions. The more information they can get the better, this is a very important position he’s filling after all, and after what happened with the last guy.. Well, let’s just say his untimely end threw a real spanner in the works, and not just because the second café had to stay closed for over a month. A sad thing really, the way the old boy went, tossed himself off one of those swinging bridges that make the place look like a treehouse one night. Easy clean up at least, was kept hidden from the public with little trouble, but everyone was sad to see the guy go. He was the best of them, that was the point, yet he couldn’t truly live up to that. A false hope.
The testing is much more stringent this time around, no such oversights will be allowed again. A lot of work had to be thrown out after what the suicide revealed, the whole project was really at risk, that can’t be allowed to happen a second time. The Guardianship project is of course only one of many such, it is however one of the more ambitious. Failure would itself reveal many things, but recent events are really more of a setback rather than an example of total failure. The proper measures were simply not taken in the initial stages. The lesson has been learned, with the boy now things should be smooth sailing. He was quite the find, it’s a lucky thing indeed he was spotted and scooped up so soon. The other three are finished with the new psychological evaluations — performed under the smokescreen of bereavement therapy — that the higher ups demanded as well. Phase two is well and truly ready to begin, isn’t it something to see?
“Master Felix, I believe that concludes the list of questions I had for you, your concision was appreciated. I realise it took some restraint.” Mr Uran stands “You will receive a call this evening, informing you of our decision. To be true, my decision Master Felix”. The usual farewell niceties are exchanged, they share a water together by a rather ornate drinking fountain out of place in these shabby back rooms, then Felix is escorted to the door. “See you Mister!” Felix waves back from the bottom step, that boy just can’t control his sanguinity. A good thing for him in these unusual circumstances he’s been drawn into. A little out of his depth this good lad is, but he’ll be in good hands. The sun is still out, not quite sunset just beginning to dip ever so slightly. An afternoon to himself, he’d expected the interview to go on a little longer than it did, Felix is burdened with a fair few free hours now before he’s expected home.
What is there for a good boy like him to occupy his time with in the big city, you may be wondering. He’s thinking along similar lines, but there’s more. The job might mean he won’t see the ground again for a good while, many months perhaps — leave is granted of course, just not with great frequency — he could be there above the city for the rest of the year, we’re already living through the last days of summer. He glides out and onto the main street, less busy now though still far from quiet, what to do. As if on cue, the stomach rumblies, yes, food! There’s a burger place not far from here, up the road and round the corner. Not cheap, it is the city centre after all, but money should be about to stop being a concern. Memories of lunch with mother there one time hit him as he goes, the two of them are close, naturally. He picks up speed, wanting now to get home to her and make the most of the last evening under her roof he’ll spend for a good long while.
At a wide open crossroads now, waiting to cross, one of those places where the city opens up and reminds you of it’s breadth. Reminds you of the man hours spent in the placing of each and every stone and steel beam and the laying down of the many roads which snake out web-like across and every which way. It’s an old city, and not one you’re likely to have heard of before, one with a storied history and a bright future. Literally, shining bright, from up on one of Four Tower’s four towers you’ll see it. The way the sun catches on this new skyline is something alright, the boys up there say you never get bored of that view. People have accepted Four Towers now, yes there is an unease that some of the city’s older denizens have about it, but the thing is an accepted icon despite it’s mystery for the most part. That initial distress it inspired in the population now long diminished.
Felix at the door to the joint, it’s sort of “make believe“, the place is playing dress up you could say, it’s like an American diner from the 50s. Straight out of a movie set, or a small town with the population number recorded on a sign like they do over there. In he goes, the trendy haircut on the server behind the counter immediately breaking the illusion of the place. He doesn’t look too happy either, scowling towards the newly opened door with a face like a slapped arse. Felix’s energy is truly contagious however, his mumbling alone, while he scans the menu, is enough to amuse the man in the apron. Double cheeseburger, and a good shake of black pepper on the cheese, vanilla milkshake alongside. Truly now, the two begin to get along, Felix stays at the counter to eat, on one of the stalls. Felix’s aura now no longer on the move, swells again, and the man behind the counter (bored out of his mind a moment before) is drawn in totally.
The place stays quiet for a time, just the two of them chatting. “So, young man, are you studying?” “Oh, no I’ve finished with school, I was taking a year off but I found myself a job. Or at least, I think I did”. The conversation takes it’s twists and turns as tends to take place in encounters of this type, though the man behind the counter leads most of it. It’s always been this way for Felix, there’s something about him which draws you in, not so much an allure (as regards romance, he’s been rather unsuccessful thus far, not that it bothers him greatly) as a kind of pull. You just want to help the kid, he’s… good. And that’s a rare thing it often feels like, especially when you’re around him. Like bumblebees to a flower full with nectar, even the most grizzled and gnarly old gits find themselves in good spirits when in his company. It takes a special kind of resolve for someone to maintain their gloom around him for long.
At some stage a young couple enter as well, they stay at the counter a while. Felix, while being the least involved participant in the discussion, nevertheless remains the lynchpin for it. Afraid we totally lost track of the conversation itself, it went something like this: Felix’s new job, the Four Towers building and the business that has sprung up around it (such as this here restaurant), man behind counter’s own pie in the sky dreams of starting a business of his own some day, Felix’s age, counter man’s time in school, his regrets, the story of how the couple got together during their last year of school, and now their concerns about being forced apart when the summer ends and the girl leaves to study in a different town. Felix tires, the sun still shines down but the temperature has dropped, time to get on off home. He pays, drops a tip in the box, and heads out as the place begins to gradually fill up now with customers. The burger man and couple yell their goodbyes and good lucks to him as he goes.
On a bus ride through early evening now, late summer as already stated so the sun is yet to set, well on it’s way there though. That early glow before the orange haze comes to totally coat the city in it’s marmalade glaze. The buildings begin to get smaller as we go, from high above heads to a floor number you can count on just two hands. Beyond that public houses and cocktail bars, nightclubs not yet opened up, supermarkets that get cheaper and shabbier. Then we’re in narrow streets, residential middle class cafés with open glass left overnight, no concern for burglars or break ins here. Red brick, white lines between, neatly tiled roofs, cars parked in front in designated spots. Trees dot the streets, Birch trees to be specific. Through and beyond the bus ride continues on, there ahead a single standing pole and a man stood still, the bus stop. Up our new hero hops.
Alighting from the vehicle the house Felix has known his whole life, grown up in, is there to see. As it always has been, this is the same bus he took to get home from school. It’s a very familiar sight, his house from this angle; an admittedly rather run down little bungalow, to him and his mother it’s home. Or, it will have been. Not to get too down in the dumps now, grand opportunity awaits. Four Towers is a bus ride away, he just proved that, Felix reminds himself, and we see that little smile return. Unlocking the low gate, down the old path he’s walked many thousand times before, a faint ringing sound ahead. As he nears the door however, it stops. Out comes the key, gonna have to hold on to this somehow, into the hole it goes. A scream! Concern, he pulls the door open now flustered, there in the hallway hair still the same mess it was in this morning, brown and pink dress lank, his mother stands. Phone in hand, grinning like the Cheshire Cat, “It’s for you”.