Beep. Beep. Beep.
The sound of an alarm clock constantly sounded. A groggy young man, almost 18 years old with a lean muscular body tilted his head and blinked slowly at the alarm clock. It showed 3 am. He lightly tapped the top of the clock and the beeping stopped. The young man had green eyes surrounded by dark circles and long chocolate brown hair.
Ellis groaned quietly before sitting up, his muscles aching as he moved. His last shift had only just ended two hours ago and now it was time for his next job. Ellis got up from his makeshift bed on the floor. He glanced at his sister sleeping on her bed in the corner of the room. One of her arms dangled over the side of the bed and her long, strawberry blonde hair covered her pale luminous face.
Ellis quietly snuck into the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror. Bruises permeated his body in various locations on his pale skin. He splashed his face with icy water to wake himself up before getting dressed in a simple blue hoodie, dark pants, and worn black shoes. He pulled his backpack off a metal hook by the door filled with his other job's uniform, bike lock, and a metal water bottle.
Silently, he grabbed his bike leaning near the door and slipped out of his small apartment. Ellis took one last look to make sure he didn't forget anything and then locked the door. He headed down the stairs out of his apartment building and into a dimly lit alleyway.
Ellis tried to get onto his bike, but his sore muscles throbbed in pain. Ellis let out a small groan and mustered the strength to jump on, pushing past the pain, before pedaling off to work.
He lived in a small, shoddy apartment with his sister who was in high school. Ellis's sister, Solara, was an extremely intelligent and beautiful young woman with extraordinary potential. She was top of her class and well-liked by all her peers with an untainted naive outlook on life, unlike Ellis.
Their dad had abandoned them when Ellis was 2 before his sister was even born yet, leaving their mother to support them by herself. Ellis's mother spent most of her time working to support her kids. She worked 60+ hours a week as a nurse but still found the time to go to school events and cook amazing dinners for her family.
One morning when she was getting ready to leave for work, she collapsed. Ellis had woken up to a thud and soon found his mom lying unconscious on the floor. She was brought to the hospital where she fell into a coma. The doctors had no idea what could have caused her to go into a coma so her only hope was to go on life support in the hope that she would wake up eventually.
Ellis dropped out of high school that day so he could work full time. He sold the house they had lived in before as well as a lot of furniture to pay for a part of his mom's medical bills, and then he and his sister moved into their current apartment. Ellis knew he wouldn't be able to pay for everything if they stayed in their old house. He now had all the bills for the apartment and his mom's medical bills which were a huge burden, but he damn well wasn't going to let Solara get a job and risk her losing a scholarship.
Unfortunately, Ellis learned very quickly that working one job wasn't going to be enough. So, he asked some of his coworkers if they knew of any jobs that were hiring and a random guy that Ellis had barely spoken to said they had a family member looking for someone to do some work for them under the table at a warehouse.
After working at the warehouse for less than a week he wanted to quit and find another job because it was an intensely laborious job and he was harassed every day by his bosses, but the money was too good, so he had no choice. On the bright side, lunch was provided.
The bike ride from Ellis's house to his job was a little under an hour long.
The brisk morning air dulled the pain of his muscles as the wind pierced through his clothes.
When he arrived at the warehouse, he leaned his bike up against the back wall behind a dumpster and hung his backpack on his bike, only taking his water bottle before heading in through the back. He walked into the building and down a grey concrete hall and left into the office where his bosses were to tell them that he was there.
Ellis had four bosses and was the only one who worked at the warehouse despite its massive size. Occasionally, the higher-ups would come in, but Ellis wasn't allowed to work those days. Ellis always wondered why, but he knew what would happen if he asked, so he never questioned anything. As long as he was getting paid, he didn't care.
Ellis's main boss, Bludge, was around 30 something, tall, fat and covered in crude tattoos. His other bosses were Smirk, Rip, and Knox. Ellis wasn't stupid enough to believe those were their real names. Smirk looked a bit younger than Bludge, had a bulkier than average body type but always wore a disgruntling smile on his face. Rip was tall, lanky, covered in piercings, and the youngest of the bunch. Knox was a huge, burly, middle-aged man, with the stature of a half-giant like he was out of some fantasy story.
"Hey, I'm here what am I doing today?"
Ellis asked them as he peered into the office.
As soon as he opened the door the stench of alcohol engulfed him. It was clear they were still up after a night of drinking and were trashed.
"What do you do every day, you fucking retard?!"
Rip slurred at him as his other bosses chuckled.
"I do different stuff every day. That's why I'm asking you what you want me to do."
Ellis replied to them without thinking, mostly due to his lack of sleep, before immediately regretting it.
"No, you do the same shit every day! You do whatever we fucking tell you to do!"
Bludge said as he sprung up from his chair and aggressively walked to Ellis, jamming his finger into Ellis's chest with every word.
"I need all the cargo from Section B moved to Loading before you leave today, or you won't be getting a single fucking dollar."
Bludge was so close to Ellis's face that Ellis could practically taste the liquor exuding from Bludge's mouth as spit hit his face.
Ellis glared at Bludge for a few seconds, fists clenched, smoldering in anger.
"Are you fucking deaf?"
Bludge shouted as he shoved Ellis sending him tumbling backward out of the office onto his butt. Bludge leaned down and grabbed a fistful of Ellis's hoodie then muttered to him.
"You'd be wise to not try and act tough unless you want to be accidentally crushed by one of those crates."
Bludge tossed Ellis back to the ground before stumbling back into his office, slamming the door shut.
Ellis got up and wiped the dust off his pants. He could hear them laughing like drunk idiots at a bar. It was no use to get mad anymore. He didn't need any more bruises.
He began making his way over toward Section B to get started on his enormous task for the day.
Ellis estimated that moving everything from Section B to Loading would take around 14 hours normally.
If I go as fast as I can, I could probably be done around 4 pm without any setbacks, but I'm sure Bludge and the rest will interfere in some way.
Ellis rolled his eyes as he thought to himself.
If I finish at 4 pm I'll have enough time to stop by the hospital to visit mom and take a short nap until my 10 pm shift.
With his goal in mind, Ellis got to work moving large heavy wooden crates by hand to Loading. There were only 15 crates, but each crate took about an hour to move from Section B to Loading. Each one weighed more than 3 times Ellis's weight.
Ellis was making great time and had moved 10 crates by 1 pm when his bosses stumbled out of the office and into Section B to "checkup" on him. This was really just an excuse for them to come beat up on him to relieve some of their half-drunk stress and have some fun.
"How are you still not done yet?"
"What the fuck are we paying you for?"
Smirk hissed at Ellis with a wolfish look on his face while Knox buzzed in after with contempt all over his face.
Ellis tried to ignore them and keep working but Knox strong-armed Ellis to the ground.
"Hey, we're talking to you, dipshit!"
Knox roared as he stood looking down at Ellis laying on the ground.
Ellis didn't dare to say anything or get up because he knew it was a trap and it would give them more reason to keep tormenting him.
As his bosses surrounded him on the ground, they began spewing insults at him about how he was useless, and he was lucky that they even paid him for his shitty work.
"Your mother must be ashamed to have given birth to such a useless child."
"I bet I could cheer your mom up. Maybe she'd forget what a worthless son she has."
Rip and Smirk taunted Ellis to try to get a rise out of him.
Anger engulfed Ellis, he could feel his body tensing up. He couldn't stop himself.
"Don't you fucking dare talk about my mom you pieces of shit!"
Ellis spat out at them.
"What did you just say?!"
Bludge yelled as he kicked Ellis in the side.
"There you go again trying to be tough."
Bludge kicked Ellis again and beckoned his lackeys to join. As they began their brutal thrashing, Ellis clenched his teeth and curled into a ball to endure the beating. Only after Ellis began coughing up blood, did they finally back off.
A sandwich came flying out of Rip's hands and hit Ellis directly in the forehead.
"There's your lunch. I got hungry and had a few bites. I hope you don't mind."
Bludge joked as he and the other bosses walked away laughing, leaving Ellis laying on the ground alone.
Ellis grunted as he sat up sluggishly. He wiped the blood from his lips. The anger he felt had disappeared and in turn, was flooded with pain. But he didn't regret anything. He picked up what remained of his sandwich and ate it indifferently. It wasn't the worst sandwich ever. It was one slice of turkey and one slice of what looked like over-processed cheese; however, it left him feeling hungrier than he had been before he ate it. While eating the sandwich he thought about how he would soon be able to eat his sister's delicious cooking when he got home. His stomach growled for more, but he pushed the feeling away and got back to work.
Solara cooked dinner for herself and Ellis when she got home from school. She always left a large helping of whatever food she made in the fridge for Ellis to eat when he got home late at night.
Fantasizing about his sister's cooking, he pushed the pain from his thrashing to the back of his mind and got back to work.
Ellis finished just after 4:30 pm, even with the interruption and in addition to him moving quite a bit slower for the last 5 crates due to the beating.
He wiped the sweat from his brow and headed toward the office to have his work verified and claim his pay for the day. Bludge confirmed halfheartedly that Ellis had done everything he wanted, making sure to nitpick everything Ellis did that wasn't exactly to his standards. After checking his work, Bludge opened a safe under a large grey desk in the office and handed him a stack of money totaling $300.
Ellis had to go through torment and strenuous work, but this was the reason he didn't walk away and never come back. That and it was almost impossible to find another job in the city as overpopulated as it was which meant there weren't enough jobs to go around. He was lucky he even had two 2 jobs; a lot of people didn't even have one.
"Don't bother coming tomorrow. We have important people coming and can't have you here. You're gonna come back the day after tomorrow and don't be late unless you want to work for free."
Bludge informed Ellis before shooing him off and closing the office door. Ellis shoved the money into his pocket and headed out of the warehouse to his bike.
The bike ride from the warehouse to the hospital will take an hour, so I'll have two hours at the hospital. I can spend one hour with my mom and one hour taking a nap before I have to leave to get to my other job on time.
When he got to the hospital, he locked his bike up and hurried through the sliding doors. Inside the hospital, Ellis walked up the receptionist to receive a stamped paper that was both a record of him visiting and proof that he was there for somebody.
He took the elevator up the 7th floor and walked down the fluorescently lit hallway before he turned right.
Ellis rested his head on the door and took a deep breath before heading in. His mom was still just lying there, unchanged from yesterday. He grabbed a chair from the corner of the room and slid it up next to the bed. Ellis sat down, grabbed her hand, and held it between his. Ellis sat motionless, staring at his mom for a minute before he opened his mouth to speak.
"Solara made pot roast last night. I think she might have yours beat."
Ellis smiled slightly for a moment and then the smile faded away.
"She's been getting really good grades in all of her classes, I think she might be valedictorian for graduation. I'm really proud of her. You would be too, mom."
A frown developed on Ellis's face as tears rolled down his cheeks. Ellis breathed out heavily, wiped the tears from his face, and his expressionless face returned.
Ellis sat holding his mom's hand talking to her about everything that had been going on in his life, his sister's life, and random stuff happening in the news. He made sure it was never quiet for too long.
Ellis looked up at the clock. It was 8:26 pm. Ellis sighed.
I don't have enough time to take a nap now.
It would take an hour and a half to get to his other job, so he had to leave to make it on time.
Ellis got up and pushed the chair back to the corner of the room. He walked up to his mom and pushed her hair out of her face.
He felt so helpless but all he could do was continue working to pay for her medical bills and support his sister.
Leaning down, Ellis gently kissed his mom on the forehead and whispered to her.
"I love you, mom."
Ellis turned around and left the building. When he got to his bike, he unlocked it and started heading south toward the convenience store he worked at. Ellis tried to pedal as fast as he could, but his muscles and bones ached with every push. The frigid wind stung his face as he crossed the bridge over the highway and continued through the streets until he made it to work.
Super Surplus-mart. The neon sign in front of him glowed an annoying blue color. Ellis had always thought that was a stupid name.
He parked his bike outside, locked it up and then jogged inside the building. After Ellis got inside, he headed to the bathrooms and looked at a clock on the wall above. 9:53 pm. Ellis sighed with relief and went into the bathroom to change. He pulled his uniform out of his backpack and quickly changed into it in one of the stalls. Ellis then put his backpack in a locker provided by the store for employees and punched in to start his long night shift.
The night felt slow and never-ending as he stocked the soup aisle, one of his least favorite isles to stock.
As the night dragged on, a manager walked past, and Ellis remembered that he couldn't work at the warehouse tomorrow.
"Oh, hey Miss. Tess, would it be alright if I came in tomorrow morning? I need some extra hours."
His manager compassionately looked down at him kneeling on the floor diligently stocking.
"Yeah, I suppose. We could use an extra hand and look at that, you've got two!"
She giggled uncontrollably for a minute and Ellis awkwardly laughed with her. An uncomfortable silence enveloped them before his manager opened her mouth to speak again.
"Did you want to come in at 10 am?"
"Could I come in earlier? Like at 6 am?"
Tess gave Ellis a concerned look.
"The earliest I can do is 10 am… Doesn't it take you a while to get home from here?"
"Yea, but it's alright, it's actually really relaxing for me to ride my bike."
Tess nodded and frowned tilting her head delicately to the side.
"You can come in at 10 am if you really want to, just make sure you get enough sleep ok?"
She patted Ellis's shoulder sympathetically and walked away.
Ellis looked down at the cans on the shelf below.
She's right. I am exhausted, but I have to do something to help my mom and sister, and if being a little tired all the time is what it takes, then so be it.
Ellis resumed stocking, making sure every can was neatly placed on the shelf with the label facing forward.
The rest of the night went by smoothly and finally, it was 3 am, the end of his shift. Time for him to head home.
Ellis got his backpack from the locker and changed into his normal clothes before going outside and unlocking his bike. Ellis rode home, looking at the streets and sidewalks he'd seen countless times.
It gave him a kind of peace that some things always stayed the same. Like the big hole in the sidewalk right before 21st street, or how the lights always flicker on the bridge. It felt like everything in Ellis's life constantly changed, but he can always count on some things to stay the same.
Ellis skidded to a stop in front of his apartment and carried his bike up the stairs to the entrance. The door creaked slightly as he slowly made his way inside. He could hear his sister snoring softly. Ellis gently set his bike down by the door quietly and snuck into the kitchen. He opened the fridge and a dim light flickered on revealing a big plate of fluffy rice pilaf with curry sauce. On top the plate of food was a handwritten note from his sister that read:
-I tried out a new recipe! I hope you like it! Take a day off some time so we can spend time together! I love you!-
Ellis smiled as he read the note. This is what makes everything worth it.
Ellis sat down at the small table in their kitchen and ate his meal slowly, thoroughly enjoying every single bite. When he finished eating, Ellis rinsed and cleaned his plate off as quietly as he could before putting it on the drying rack. Ellis took the note she wrote for him and wrote a reply on the bottom.
-Thank you for the meal! It was amazing! I'll take a day off one of these days and we can spend some time together, I promise.-
Ellis stuck the note on top of the clean plate for her to find in the morning. Quietly, he snuck past his sleeping sister into the bathroom and changed into his nightclothes.
After getting ready for bed he laid down on top of all the blankets on the floor that made up the bed. As his back hit the padding, he released a groan so satisfying you would have thought he was laying down on clouds.
Ellis leaned over and set his alarm for 8:00 am. A solid three hours of sleep, not bad. Ellis breathed out a long breath and drifted off to sleep quickly.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
Ellis's eyes creaked open as he moved over to turn off the alarm. He rubbed his eyes trying to force them to stay open. Ellis went through his usual routine of going to the bathroom and getting ready for work. He walked by his sister's empty bed on his way to the door.
She must have already left for school. It's pretty rare for her to leave before me.
Ellis grabbed his bike and slugged out the door.
Crisp air hit Ellis's face, making it a little easier for him to keep his eyes open. Ellis hopped on his bike and started on his long trek to work. On his way to work, Ellis decided to stop at, "The Bean". A coffee shop he frequently went to on days like this, when he could barely stay awake. He parked his bike outside the coffee shop and walked inside. The delicious smell of coffee hit his nose and caused him to instantly perk up. When Ellis got to the counter a familiar face greeted him. The barista was an eye-catching girl, about Ellis's age, wearing a slightly stained black apron with "The Bean" logo, over top of a striped white and light blue blouse. Her strawberry blonde hair was in a pair of long, curling twin ponytails. Her nametag read Marin followed by a small hand-drawn smile.
"Wow! It's almost 10 am! You're having a late start this morning!"
The barista giggled as she teased Ellis.
"Yeah. I was a little lazy this morning and treated myself to full 3 hours of sleep."
Ellis joked back continuing the light banter.
"You really need to go easier on yourself, Ellis. You're pushing your body past its limit. It can't be healthy for you."
Marin caringly shook her head at Ellis.
"I can't. My mom and sister depend on me and I can't let them down."
Marin paused and looked at Ellis like she wanted to say more but decided to not press further on the matter.
"Well, we could at least try and get those raccoon eyes to go away. What would you like?"
"I'll just have a small black coffee, please."
Ellis dug through his wallet and pulled out a $5 bill to hand to her as he spoke.
Marin looked at the money in Ellis's hand for a couple of seconds before giving him a cute wink and grinning cunningly.
"Don't worry about it, it'll be on me today, but I get to decide what you're gonna drink. I promise you'll love it!"
She turned around to make his coffee before turning back around with another cute wink, holding a huge enticing cup of coffee in her hands. She set the coffee on the counter in front of Ellis and smiled sincerely at him.
Ellis looked at the massive cup of coffee and then at Marin giving her a puzzled look.
"What? A small wasn't going to do anything for you! This is a Caramel Frappe with four shots of espresso. It's super tasty and if it doesn't wake you up, I don't know what will."
Marin grinned playfully at Ellis as he blinked blankly at her for a few seconds before a barely noticeable smile arched across his face.
Ellis turned and walked toward the exit with his coffee stopping before he stepped out the door to turn around and give Marin a wave goodbye. Ellis sipped his coffee and as the bitter-sweet taste hit his tongue it coated it in a blissful burst of flavor.
He exhaled in delight as he hopped back on his bike and set out for Super Surplus-mart. Ellis pedaled forward holding his coffee carefully in one hand and the handlebars of his bike in the other. The scenery to the convenience store was peaceful, consisting of random buildings on the edge of town to his right and flowing grass fields on his left.
Ellis biked swiftly around the edge of town toward his job.
The earth rattled and Ellis skidded to a stop frantically swinging his head around looking for what was causing the disruption. He was astonished to find his peripheral vision had suddenly become black. Vision that had once been entirely clear and spacious was now consumed by a lofty, looming tower located in what was once, just seconds ago, a vast, open grass field. Mystified by what he was seeing, Ellis decided to make a change in plans and made his way toward the mysterious tower.