The mattresses are burning. The streets are lined with car husk, the wind whips through them carrying the smell of fried catnip. Wild Dingoes roam the alleyways searching for food, and some where a baby is crying. Glass crunches under my sneakers as I walk. This is my home, these are my streets, and this is my city; the city of Warren.
It wasn’t always like this. Long ago before the burning mattresses and broken glass men like my father kept these streets safe. He fought and died to protect us from this hell. I am a Pumpkin Head, though we don’t call ourselves that anymore since we’ve been placed in this ghetto, where no one cares about us. Back before the Pigs and the Man took over Warren we were more than just poor wrecks huddled in the darkness. We were a proud, successful people, with our own businesses and shops. We practically built Warren with our bare hands, brick by brick. In ’87 after the “Great War” Thousands of us migrated into the city and made it our home. Now we call ourselves Punk’n’s and lower or heads in shame. We lost our pride and our city to thieves and murderers who call their selves elected officials. Most of our young can’t even finish school; putting food on the table is more of a priority now. Most my age run in gangs, fighting over their corners of the ghetto. Drugs and poverty have all but ruined my people. My father tried to stop this from happening but he was gunned down less than a block from our home when the Man came in with his Bears and Block Heads. The day my dad died they lit the first mattresses on fire and they’ve been burning every since. They say when the Man is brought down and all the bears are beat back to the Old Mountain, that the mattresses will stop burning. For now the thick black smoke ain’t going anywhere and neither are we.
I’m on my way to work. I flip rat burgers down at Warts. I work the swing shift because of the curfew. If any Punk’n’s gets caught outside the ghetto after midnight then it’s off to the poky. The Blocks’ll rough a kid up to for doing nothing but walking home. I was caught once the squares almost bashed my brains out. I had to lie out of school for a week. But I’d rather fight a gang of Block’s than one Bear. People around here always talk about how my dad once fought two Bears all by himself.
I wave to Miss Johnston hanging out the window of her apartment. She spits black tar at my feet and grins. You see some people in the ghetto (especially the kind with fur instead of green skin) like to say my father is the one who caused all this. Had he not fought back against the man and quietly accepted the fact that the poor people in this city were being marginalized and made even poorer than they already were that we wouldn’t be trapped behind these burning mattresses. They would rather just be looked down upon than stepped on they say. What they don’t realize is that if my father hadn’t fought back then none of us may even still be here. Their afraid that if we were pushed outside the city we’d team with the monkeys in the forest and tear down that ridiculous wall they’ve put up.
The Old-Heads know this and they’ve looked out for my family every since dad was killed. Like Mr. Wart who I work for, he always hates it when I call him that. “Call me Sarge!” he says. The old Boar and my Pops fought side by side on the Ab. It’s just me and Mom and my little sis Bree now. Sometimes I worry about her falling in with one of the gangs in the neighborhood, like the Vines or the Raptors. Ma says not to worry, but Bree didn’t have the favor of knowing Pa like me. He wouldn’t have wanted her growing up this way either. Pumpk’n’s killing Pumpk’n’s for nothing. I try to keep my pop’s memory alive for her. It’s hard sometimes trying to carry my family and finish school. I feel like I’m doing too much for a kid my age but not enough for the times.
At least I have my friends to hang out with and take my mind away. My best bud Mikey and his gal Maggie, of course there’s Velveeta. Next to Bree and Ma she’s the most important thing in my life. We have a pretty god time here and there. Mikey has been my best friend since we were little sprouts. Our dad’s fought together on the Abb only Mikes Dad got caught and instead of killing him they just locked him out of the City up on the old mountain. He used to work at Warts till he got canned for sleeping on the job. Mikey keeps me laughing, and I couldn’t get along without him. Maggie’s pretty outrageous too; she’s a dog but hangs out in the slums with all us Punk’n heads (even though her parents own a brownstone in the new district). You don’t find a lot of her kind down here, but if you ask anybody -especially her. She’s the only one who can keep up with Vel. Vel is my girl, her real names Violet Cinclare Rassiberri but we just call her Velveeta, cause she’s the cheesiest! The names stuck she’s one of us. And it’s more than just the spikes and ‘hince we were sprouts. Vel’s the best thing that ever happened to me. She was my rock when Pop’s was killed. Crazy as loon no one can hope to put a hold on her but if I have my way one day she’ll be my wife and we can raise little seedlings of our own, hopefully not in this stinking ghetto.
If I had one wish it’d be to end this segregation and restore Warren to one city with no wall around it. Kids my sis’s age don’t even know what it was like before and most my age are starting to forget. And those that do remember don’t talk about it much. They mostly hang their heads in shame if they live on this side of the mattresses and if they don’t…Well I don’t talk to them much. Mom says I worry too much about the past. “That was then-this is now” she says. I think she’s worried Bree’ll turn out as hard-headed as me. Old Sarge though tells it like it is that’s why I like him. He remembers the good old days and don’t mind talking about’em like they were good and not something to regret. I don’t even mind that he spits when he talks or that’s always chomping down on some tattered cigar butt. His big tusk jutting out and food all stuck to his fur. Mom ask after him a lot but for some reason Ole’ Sarge never can make it by. I think the ghettos bring up too many of the bad memories.
“You’re late.” Sarge barks.
“No I’m not man, be easy.” I reply
“Yeah! You are! The Clock reads 4:04”, He said pointed at the grease covered time piece hanging on the wall. “The Man done went and moved up time again.”
“Shit biscuits! How was I supposed to know?” The man has a tendency of pushing the clocks forward to suit his needs. Never bothers to tell us little people.
“Don’t matter. You’re late is all I know. Don’t let it happen again kid.”
“Yes sir.” I grumble as I tie on my apron and get to work.
There’s no way I could have known about the time skip, I won’t watch the bloody tube unless there’s news pertaining to the ghetto. Which, there never is. Most of warren likes to pretend we don’t exist. Just sweep us under the rug and quietly live on our backs. I don’t dare try to argue with Sarge the last Punk’n that tried ended up tossed out the back door on his head. Mikey’s still smarting from that one. It’s about to be the evening rush as it is.
They file in noisily from their jobs around the diner. Construction workers, businessmen, hustlers and pimps, all sorts come through the doors and I bust my hump flipping rats and shoveling catnip burgers out the window. My hand gets numb from popping the bell. After nine hours I finally slow down enough to get started washing the dishes. Then it’s a quick mop and out the door to the train. Gotta run sometimes to catch beat the curfew, but tonight I’m just too tired. I can’t even put my jacket on I just draped it over my shoulder and drag myself down Market past Moleswerth. I stop and stare in the window at all he gadgets I could never afford. I stare extra long and hard at a pair of pink slippers. The kind ballerinas wear all slick and shiny. Not for me of course, but for Vel. Her birthday’s coming soon and I hope to have enough saved up to buy’em for her. Before I realize it I hear the train coming and I turn to run into the tunnels.