Jacob and Katy and the Building People

“We really shouldn’t go near that place,” Katy said as Jacob led her toward the dark building in the middle of the abandoned village. “You know who lives there.”

            Jacob nodded but Katy wasn’t sure he had actually heard. Ever since the music started, he hadn’t been able to focus on anything but what was going on in the buildings they passed. It was dangerous to get so close, even in the daytime. Her grandma had told her that the Building People couldn’t come out when the sun was up, but they could hear you and they could smell you, and worst of all, they could share that information with their brethren. Then, everywhere there was a building still standing, the Building People would know you were coming, know you were near.

            Katy shivered.

            Jacob, clutching her hand, felt her nervous shakes. He sighed and stopped, facing her. His big brown eyes looked agitated but not angry. She melted a little. “Katy,” he said, “the Building People are not what your grandma says they are. They aren’t. You’ve heard their music. They can’t be.”

            “I know . . . still . . . .” It was true, Katy had heard their music with Jacob two weeks earlier and every time their tribe passed one of the structural relics from Olden Times, Jacob had made an excuse to fall behind and hover around the entrances, peek into the crystal windows, and look around. And Katy had gone with him.

            But this time of day, with the sun barely hanging in the darkening sky, Katy couldn’t help but feel a little fear, or a lot. Old fairy tales die hard.

            “Wasn’t the sound beautiful?” Jacob asked.

            She nodded.

            “Can a sound that beautiful be made by monsters like your grandma describes?”

            “I don’t think so . . . but . . . .”

            He let go of her hand, disgusted. “There is no ‘but’ here Katy. One of these days I am going to hear that music again, and when I do, I am going to join the Building People. You can come with me but you don’t have to.” He turned from her and crossed his arms, looking into the towering structure before him. He wasn’t sure how tall it was, but its slick grey sides and rows upon rows of windows spoke of wonder and lured him closer. Jacob knew he had heard the music. He knew Katy had as well. But more importantly, he knew that music was created by something magical, something good. It was something that could make their lives better if only the elders would listen.

            “Don’t be like that,” Katy said. She reached out and placed her hand on his shoulder. She was studying the building too, not with the kind of hushed wonder Jacob had, but with fear. The music had been amazing, it had been unlike anything she had ever heard, but it had also come from one of these relics and the Building People lived here, through their twisting and turning corridors, up into the sky where she couldn’t go and down into the earth, where light wouldn’t catch them. Legend had it, they threw things down at the travelers like them, sometimes heavy things. They pounced from their magical windows, grabbing victims and leaving nothing but a trail of blood and body parts behind them.

            It had been a long time since anyone in the tribe had reported something like that though. It hadn’t happened in her life anyway. Her mom had said it happened when she had been a small girl, but Katy’s mom was old now, almost 40. That was four decades without incident. Maybe the Building People had changed. Maybe the stories had never been true at all.

            “They’re all fake,” Jacob said, as though reading her mind. He had one hand over his eyes, shading them from the sun. “Our parents and grandparents want to keep us out of these things because they aren’t structurally sound.”

            “Structurally sound?”

            “It means they could fall. I read it in a book.”

            “Oh,” Katy said, her hand still on his back. They weren’t allowed to read books, not just any books anyway. Sure, the ones their parents provided were okay, but the ones they found on their journeys, usually scraps here and there, had strange stories, frightening ones, of a time gone by when there weren’t Building People, a time when everyone lived in houses and buildings and drove in something they called ‘cars.’ Thinking of some of those stories forced frightened tears to well up in the corners of her eyes.

            “You’re scared again?” Jacob asked. This time the edge in his voice was gone. He hung his head.

            “Only a little, Jacob. This is scary.”

            He placed his hand on hers. “You know you don’t have anything to worry about though, don’t you?” he asked. “I mean, I’m with you and the Building People like me. They played that music for me. They won’t hurt me. Why would they hurt you?”

            Katy sighed. She wasn’t sure Jacob was right about the Building People but at the same time she wasn’t sure that her mother was sure either, and she definitely had her doubts about her grandmother. Old Lady Moot, as everyone called her, was crazy.

            Jacob faced her again and took both of her hands in his. He smiled. “I know it’s hard. It’s a paradigm shift.”

            She loved it when he said words she didn’t understand.

            “Their music changed our world view. It’ll take some time to get used to. I’m sorry I got mad a second ago. It’s hard for me too.” He pulled her in close and wrapped his arms around her. “Let’s catch up with the tribe,” he said. “It’ll be our time to sleep soon.”

            A few hours later as Katy lay, huddled next to her little brothers and sisters in the family wagon, she keenly felt every bump in the road, every slight stall of the wheels. And she wondered what it would be like to stop, to really and actually stop for once. That was the main appeal of the buildings as far as she was concerned. Why her people hadn’t found one that was relatively empty, cleared out the Building People, and made that building their own was beyond her. Whenever she had asked, the grownups only had said things like, “That’s impossible,” or mocked her question. They had to keep moving. It was how things were done. The tribes who stayed in one place too long were killed by the beasts that lumbered across the land, the giant monsters who weren’t evil the way the Building People were, but had to survive the only way they knew how, and that was by digging holes and sucking down the wanderers who stopped.

            “I hate being a traveler,” she mumbled to the her sleeping siblings.

            A few carts over Jacob couldn’t sleep either. His mind danced with excitement. He wondered what it was like in those buildings, what the Building People were really like, and what his new life would be like once he heard the music again. Eventually, he drifted off into a fanciful sleep of magical dreams.

***

            The next morning, when Katy climbed up to their wagon’s roof, she found Jacob hopping on the top of his own wagon, jigging and giggling. She waved across to him and couldn’t hold back the smile stretching across her face. He was ridiculous in a way she loved.

Her hand stopped moving then. Her eyes widened. Her heart stopped. She felt a sinking sensation in her stomach and a the tips of her fingers tingling. Oh my God, she thought. I love him. She sat and cried and laughed for she knew at that moment, no matter what Jacob did, she would go with him, her fear be damned. Jacob leapt down from his wagon and ran through the parade of wagons, dodging horses and people with ease, until he climbed aboard Katy’s.

“Are you okay?” he asked, the concern in his voice the most soothing sound Katy had ever heard.

“I’m fine,” she said, not looking at him. “But I need a hug.”

Without question, he reached over and wrapped his arms around her. The warmth embraced her and she felt herself going soft.

“Thank you,” she sighed.

“Okay . . . .” Jacob replied as his arms slacked some around her.

“What are we going to do today?” she asked, backing away.

“I heard the music again, Katy. We’re going to find the Building People.”

Fear smacked her in the stomach, but her muscles were made of the love she had for Jacob so she embraced the hurt and nodded. “Good,” she said. “I’m ready now.”

***

            That night it was easy to sneak away. The wagons were moving slowly over the plains and there was a silence in the air that told of few monsters nearby. The people were comfortable, lazy even. Two teens slipping away in the night was not unheard of. After all, privacy was a commodity and the adults understood how much they might have needed it. What was strange was the music Katy and Jacob heard when they approached one of the buildings. It was louder than it had been before and felt as though it was absorbing them. Katy did not feel scared though, she felt warm and welcome. Jacob laughed beside her as the music took on a physical quality and wrapped its lilting arms around them. It was warm and pleasant and reminded Katy of something she knew she’d never remember. Then, with a quick pull, both her and Jacob were sucked through a window and into the building.

            Moments later, covered in the blackness of night, two creatures who looked like Jacob and Katy but were not Jacob and Katy, stepped out of the building. They held hands and walked toward the caravan of travelers full of stories of wonder and beauty with the Building People.

About the Author

AE Stueve is a writer living in Omaha, NE. He holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska, where he was the recipient of the Wendy Fort Foundation Prize for exemplary work in fiction. His work has appeared in such journals and collections as The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Dark Moon Presents: Zombies!, HVZA, Dark Fairy Tales Revisited, Picaroon Poetry, MidAmerican Fiction and Photography, and Chasing Magic. His graphic novel hybrids, The ABCs of Dinkology: Life, The ABCs of Dinkology: Time In-Between, and The ABCs of Dinkology: Death, as well as his horror/sci-fi novel Former are available wherever good books are sold. Former was a 2016 Forward INDIES Finalist.Want to learn more? Visit his website: aestueve.com.

A E Stueve