LR Cafe's Best of 2018 Nominee: Best LGBTQ Book
Dodger has known nothing in his life besides the tough, hand-to-mouth existence in the lowest levels of Dreg City, where society is measured only in degrees of poverty. It's been a hard, lonely life, until Dodger finds Twist, a kid with a smile that lights up the heart and an attitude that defies the worst Dreg City can through at them. Ten years later, little has happened to dull Twist's smile or Dodger's love for him -- not even Twist's recurring dream of the City in the Clouds, a place where food is plentiful, and dreams come true for everyone, even though Twist couldn't possibly have ever seen the place. When Dodger's painting of Twist catches the eye of Dreg City government, it sets Dodger and Twist on a heart pounding journey to find out the truth behind Twist's dreams.
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Art of Dodger (Tales from Dreg City 2)
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2018 Kiernan Kelly
You grew up fast and hard in Dreg City, or you didn't grow up at all. That was the first truth every child born into the twisted labyrinth of concrete and metal called Dreg City learned, and Dodger was no different from any other kid. Like them, he'd had the truth of his life tattooed on his forearm before he could walk. Capital letter D, capital letter C, the mark that would always identify him as a resident of Dreg City. He didn't even warrant a number -- he was simply one of the horde waiting to die in the Dreg.
The Dreg was where the undesirable element -- the imperfects, thieves, rapists, the criminally unemployable, and all other so-called bottom feeders of society were forced to live. If you had the poor luck to be born to one of the people condemned to life here, you were equally cursed from the moment you first drew breath.
The simple truth was, although the words tasted as sour and rancid on the tongue as a two-bit bowl of Kim Chi's rat soup, there was no way out, no recourse, no way to prove yourself worthy and move up to the shining city in the clouds. If you were born in Dreg City, you would die in Dreg City, and most sooner than later.
Twist didn't believe it. He was an optimist, the only one Dodger had ever met. Dodger was half convinced Twist's head was as empty as his pockets. Who smiled and was happy all the fucking time? Lunatics, that's who. Lunatics, and Twist.
"Dodger! Look what I found!" Twist grinned that bright, sunshiny smile at him, and held out a hand. A small metal disc, dull and tarnished, sat on his palm. "A whole credit!"
"Where'd you swipe it?" Dodger eyed the credit, trying not to look as hungry as he felt. "I told you and told you, didn't I? You're not a pickpocket. You don't have the touch for it. You'll get yourself nicked by a DC Security drone and thrown into the Pit."
The Pit was a swirling cesspool of slop and sewage leached from the twisted hulk of Dreg City. It collected and pooled at the far end of the bottommost level and was reserved as punishment for those deemed incorrigible by the Dreg City Security Forces. A horrible death was all anyone condemned to the Pit could expect.
"I didn't steal it! I swear. I found it in the gutter up on the twenty-ninth level bridge. Somebody must've dropped it. Maybe from the clouds. You think?"
Dodger snorted. These were the types of fairy tales Twist believed. That a credit would fall from some rich dude's hand through the clouds and land in a Dreg City gutter, just waiting for Twist to pick it up. "More likely dropped by a druggie or whore."
Twist's smile lost a bit of its brilliance, and Dodger immediately felt like a shit for providing the tarnish. "You don't know that. It could've come from Cloud City."
Cloud City was what everyone here called everywhere else that wasn't Dreg City. Personally, Dodger had never seen it, and half believed it didn't exist. Another fairy tale, probably. Another lie.
"Maybe. I guess it could've happened." The little lie was worth telling to see the sun return to Twist's smile. "What are you gonna do with it, rich man?"
Twist laughed. "Rich? Right. It's a whole credit, though. It'll buy us a couple of real meat sandwiches at Rosie's, and maybe a bottle of recycled water to share."
"You don't have to buy me dinner."
"Oh, shut up. You'd do it for me. You have done it for me, lots of times. Come on, we gotta hurry before all the real meat is gone and all they have left is rat and tofu."
In truth, Dodger was salivating thinking about the taste of real meat. Chicken, pork... maybe even beef! It'd been so long since he'd had anything other than rat or synthetic tofu, he could barely remember what any of them tasted like.
Still, it wouldn't do to appear too anxious to take advantage of Twist's generosity. It might make Dodger seem weak, and his reputation as a badass was all he had. He couldn't allow it to become tarnished, drool-worthy real meat sandwiches or not. He sighed, and pretended he was doing it just to make Twist happy. "Fine. If you insist. I can see how being in my debt all the time must grind on you. Let's go."
Twist pushed the credit deep into his front pocket, the good one, the one without the hole. He tied a faded blue bandana around his throat -- he called it an "ascot," which always made Dodger snort -- and led the way through the narrow, crowded street toward Rosie's Diner.