Authors: Cesar Torres
13 SECRET CITIES
This book is a work of fiction. References to actual people, events, establishments, organizations, or locales are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
Copyright © 2014 Cesar Torres All rights reserved.
Cover Design by Matt Davis
To Lino and Elsa.
This digital serial
and its companion paperback would not have been possible without the help of many people. My first readers, Robert Haining Tolar, Jacqui Cheng, Matt Saba, and especially Max Carmona III, provided valuable insights on the manuscript as each installment went into production. The talented Richard Shealy copy edited the book, and the visualization of the digital and physical book emerged from Matt Davis’ mind. I would also like to thank Dr. Lisa Barker and her undergraduate students at Towson University, who did an analysis and reading of the text in October. Lastly, I would like to thank all my family members for knitting their love into a tapestry of support for
13 Secret Cities
and the books that are going to follow.
BURN: RITES MY FATHER TAUGHT ME
"There are thirteen secret cities, but no one knows where they are." –Arkangel, "Plainsong",
The Violet Album,
2008, Reckless Records.
"The city of Chicago is experiencing a renaissance that outpaces all other North American cities. There has never been a better place to live." –Acceptance speech by Mayor Ron Amadeo, inauguration night, 2010.
"The elders of the Illini and Chippewa tribes explained that their people drew their strength from the immense lake they call Michi Gami. This body of water was the source of much fear and superstitious rumor. In their native tongue, they told me how death hovered above the waters, like a cloud. The lake itself was a place of death, and its scent was that of carrion. Where men tread, death stalked in shadows, made of no discernible form." –Louis Jolliet, letter to Terese Chirac, 1674, Chicago History Museum archives.
A glance into the past revealed to me the simplicity of time: The moments of my life were stars, suspended in the vastness of space, and each one shone bright. But between each one, there also existed a vast darkness, a vacuum that threatened to swallow their light forever. My story began with a single point, a single star: The events that happened on October 4, 2013 in Millennium Park.
I followed the crosshatched dome of the pavilion, moving toward the silver wings that cradled the stage. I shoved my way forward, scared to be knocked over by someone bigger than me.
A hiss and a whistle overhead tore through the din of the shouts. I looked up to follow the noise, above me. I turned my head toward the sky. Small objects streamed through the air, headed north, in the same direction I was moving.
The missiles left white trails as they soared. When they reached the stage, I heard the metal clink like empty beer cans. A white cloud bloomed immediately in three spots.
When those of us who could see the stage saw the tear gas swell before us, our screams grew into shrieks.
The protesters who had already gathered by the stage ran immediately away from the cloud. But they weren't quick enough. The white smoke swallowed them up.
The hiss continued and the cloud grew. The breeze blew toward the north, but Chicago wind was fickle, and it could turn right around, toward the south, at any moment.
I thought about my parents, and my brother, and it occurred to me that right now, my father was probably still at work, at the Botanical Gardens. My mother was also at her office, and perhaps she was texting my brother as he arrived home from school, just to make sure he made himself a snack while he waited for her and my father to come home. This thought shifted and moved beyond my grasp as I ran, until it was gone.
On my shoulders I wore the shawl my mother had given me the day I moved away to college, and I wrapped it around my mouth and nose to keep the gas out. I fished in my pocket for my petrified moss, a good luck charm from my father that I carried on my keychain.
I pivoted and ran toward the south, away from the stage.
As I ran, I witnessed moments from my short nineteen-year-old life flash before me like water rushing down the side of a mountain. I re-lived the awkward pomp of my first communion, the climbs we made on the hills surrounding my grandmother's lop-sided house in San Miguel, Mexico, and the road trips through San Diego when I was a toddler. I lived through these moments fast. In was the girl with the long face and the auburn eyes, a face I could see with precision, as if I were a camera-man shooting these memories. These visions of the past slid downward, vanishing as soon as it had arrived, gone in microseconds.
And I ran. My legs pumped with fury and speed, but they were untrained and clumsy. I was not an athlete and I had never been fit. And now, the pounds of weight in the backpack on my back forced me to run without grace or agility. Now that tear gas was encroaching on the pavilion, slipping out of the straps could cost me precious seconds.
About two hundred feet in the distance, uniformed police were closing this perimeter, shouting and pummeling, and bellowing through megaphones. I would never make it past them without being beaten down by their weapons and their strength. I let my running stride slow down a bit, enough to shake off my backpack, and to give me some time to think of where else I could run to. If I broke out toward the lake, to the east, I might be able to squeeze onto Columbus Drive and perhaps avoid the dozens of officers around us.
My father had always warned us to avoid the lake, and instead I ran straight toward it.
I found the short concrete wall that lined the perimeter of the pavilion, just about forty feet ahead. I zigzagged my way over to it.
My long legs, which I had always been proud of, catapulted me over the short wall of the perimeter. But my legs were too long, in fact. My shoe caught the edge of the concrete wall. I flipped forward and landed hard on my hands and knees. These awful long legs, I thought. But I looked around me. I could see the southern end of the pavilion, and behind it, the glint of the BP bridge. I wrapped the shawl around my head one more time, though the gas was starting to creep into my eyes and sear them with pain. Other protesters were escaping through this very same route, where the police and SWAT forces were a little thinner.
I realized I was free; I was escaping the pavilion.
Just as I came to standing, I heard the crack of gunshots behind me. One. Then another and another.
I heard new voices, full of anger, surging from the crowd. New gunfire exploded, and this time it sounded very different from the first three pops I heard. Their rhythm was calculated, and precise. Perhaps it was an automatic weapon.
The bursts grew louder and moved closer to where I stood. Whoever was firing was cutting through the middle of the pavilion.
I kept on running, away from Pritzker, and I spotted an opening of about thirty feet with fewer officers, where I could run through.
I turned around one more time to look behind me through the open patches of clear air inside the white cloud.
The SWAT officers had now joined the police. They wore gas masks lowered over their face and their Kevlar gear protected them like scarab shells. They formed a dark ring around this cloudy oval, and they moved in tight, choking it out. They fired over and over. Their dark figures and hard helmets rendered them genderless, ageless, raceless.
Soon, the thick gas engulfed the black shapes of the SWAT men, too. The whole Pavilion disappeared under the chemical mist.
The screams were beginning to fade a bit, and I realized that the gas might be taking its effect now, silencing the crowd as it burned itself into their eyes and throats.
More gunfire exploded from the white cloud.
In front of me, I could see the street and the snaking structure of the BP Bridge. Hundreds of people ran in every direction, pleading for help that wasn’t going to come.
Though police officers flanked the entrance to the bridge to seal off the area, I spotted an opening I could take. I darted through.
I ran up the curving path of the bridge. By now I had stopped paying attention to the discomfort in my legs and the ache in my throat. I had become a runner. I didn't dare look behind me, though I could hear the cacophony still.
The run over the bridge became a kaleidoscope of fear, my ragged breath, the pointed spikes of sailboats in the marina, and the silvery reflections on the waters of Lake Michigan, where I was headed.
Then I moved toward the exit, relieved. I dashed toward Lake Shore Drive, and I clutched the fossilized moss in my hand.
I felt like a coward. I didn't know how to stay back there in the pavilion and fight, but how could I? Someone was shooting guns in there, and all I wanted was to run far away from this place. And Edgar. I had no idea what had happened to him. I had a cell phone in my pocket, but my mind could not conceive of picking it up and using it. Instead, my legs did the thinking for me, telling me to go far away from this place.
Before me lay Lake Shore Drive. If I reached its underpass, perhaps I could catch my breath for a few moments and then continue toward the lake. If hiding meant I had to jump into its icy waters, I was ready to do it.
I felt a sigh of relief when I ran down the grassy slope that led to the overpass. I was almost there.
The flapping beats of helicopters overhead smothered my hearing. I saw three of them circling overhead, vultures against an orange sky.
Just about a hundred feet until I reached the underpass.
At the bottom of the slope, I tripped again, clumsy and unathletic. My knees stung, but I didn't care. I heard more shouts, more gunfire and a strange whistling sound in the air. I ran again.
Just twenty feet left.
My legs pumped harder, and I could see the cool darkness underneath the hard concrete structure.
Just five more feet.
I turned the corner into the safety of the underpass. I was not about to stop running until I was deep inside its cavern, safe.
I made it.
I ran into the opening and turned the corner.
My body slammed into a hard mass and bounced back, losing balance and falling backward. I looked up. Six SWAT team officers, masked and faceless, stared down at me. The one whom I slammed into didn't hesitate. He brought down the baton with a muscled arm.
The black club swept across my face and connected with my cheekbone. A deep crack sent a sliver of pain down from my right eye and down my back. Then another one. And another one.
This was how my cheekbone shattered in two, and the reason why I eventually went blind in my right eye. The nerve damage in my spine because of the blows I endured was also a direct result of what happened to me in that underpass. When the officer's metal wand made contact with my body, I bit down on my tongue, and blood gushed into my mouth. The baton also flayed open my cheek; I knew the liquid that ran down my cheekbones was not sweat, and it was not tears. I rendered my dignity as I curled up into a ball at the feet of the officers.