Once upon a time is like an ending at the beginning. It almost indefinitely satisfies the reader with the divine knowledge that when they turn the final page, they will find their anticipated happily ever after. Unfortunately for us, this isnÆt a story book. The pictures donÆt pop up from the parchment, dancing before us until coalescing into their rightful patterns. No, they much prefer to slip through the gaps. Claire learnt that the hard way. She hadnÆt realized that her brother was gone until sheÆd turned to ask him a question. She had looked up to where he had been standing, only to find his warm, smiley face gone. Instead, the dirty cobblestone where he had been standing was unoccupied, and the air that he had been breathing wafting freely in his place, thick with the smog delivered by the clockwork factories. At first Claire looked about with a puzzled frown on her dirty face without really seeing, as though gazing through a cracked viewing glass. When she finally came to accept that he was not there, she went looking for him. First she checked the main street, pushing through the assorted immigrant crowd, bartering at shanty stores for any odd pieces of food that wasnÆt the processed synthetic kind. Claire didnÆt notice the ragged men, coughing ludicrously as they gambled for the sparse crumbs on offer. Innocent eyes could not perceive such travesties. Next she checked the alleyways. The air was thick with the backlash of factory smog, but she could see. She was used to it. Claire scavenged the alleys for her brother; her bare and battered feet avoided the scraps of rubbish and broken syringes, dancing about the debris without a second thought, automatically. It was getting dark, the sun slowly lowered from the sky by colossal chains that pulled it across its metal frame. Claire had heard tales of a real sun. Not a dese mass of wood incased flames, but a magnificent, glorious star, brighter than their current one. Claire was starting to worry. It was nearly time to go home, but she couldnÆt find her brother. She hurried towards the piston powered cogs of a nearby factory, skidding through a gap in the machinery to enter the warehouse. It was hot and smoky, but it would offer her protection for the night. She laid her head to rest on a seemingly deactivated conveyer belt, and listened to the faded adult voices. The conveyer belt jolted to a start as a fiery light sparked up behind Claire. An intense heat blasted her from behind, as her bloodshot eyes slowly widened in realisation. Rumination appeared before her, unfolding like a crystal rose. Her brother wasnÆt going to come back. Ever. She sat up on the conveyer belt as the heat light from behind intensified, accompanied by a mashing sound. Her eyes welled with stinging tears as the conveyer belt dropped her into the belly of the beast, and her salty wet lips mouthed, ôBrother.ö


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