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vol vii, issue 5 < ToC
The Doctor's Boy
by
Elizabeth Broadbent
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Against theAftermath
Tide
The Doctor's Boy
by
Elizabeth Broadbent
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Against the
Tide




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Aftermath
The Doctor's Boy
by
Elizabeth Broadbent
(previous)
Against the
Tide


(next)
Aftermath
previous next

Against the Aftermath
Tide
previous

Against the
Tide




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Aftermath
(previous)
Against the
Tide


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Aftermath
The Doctor's Boy
 by Elizabeth Broadbent
The Doctor's Boy
 by Elizabeth Broadbent
Ember picked past garbage bags, cardboard beds, and makeshift shelters. Men warmed themselves at a burn barrel. One muttered something about upworlders and shiny clothes. Another hawked, then spit. “That’s the Doctor’s boy,” he said.

The Doctor’s boy: Ember straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin despite the dirt and danger of venturing below. When he reached a low hutch of gummed-together bottles, a voice rasped, “Come in.”

Ember ducked under a tattered cloth. The old man’s face had lines like crumpled paper. He didn’t look up from his fire, but asked, “What did you see when you flew here?”

Ember dropped to the sooty ground. “Every traffic light was green.”

The Doctor pulled his rough-woven blanket tighter. Ember’s friends would’ve called it a Mexi-blanket. They bought them cheap at charging stations. “You saw more than that.”

“I saw a skyboard with a tree on it.”

“What kind of tree?” he asked, poking at his fire.

“The skyboard was for Firefly Vodka.”

“Fireflies. What’s it mean?”

Ember sifted through memories of bio class. “They signal to find mates at certain times of day—living with natural rhythms. Near the Earth. And they’re unique and sort of—magical. Being close to magic, then.”

The old man nodded. “Your spirits are teaching divination. Do you dance your watching animal?”

Ember reddened.

The Doctor’s fist slammed the ground. “Crow will leave if you don’t!”

“There’s nowhere to do it.” Ember hugged himself. “People are always around, they’ll hear my drumming—”

“Use headphones.”

“There’s hardly any space—”

“Better than no space. Do you sing your songs?”

That was easier. “Yes.”

“Good.” Ember waited, used to the Doctor’s silences. “They want you to get modded,” he said finally.

Ember’s long hair fell in his face. “They say I could concentrate longer and noise wouldn’t bother me. I wouldn’t get distracted. My mom said I’d stop wandering around. They’d take my hovercar if they knew I was down here.”

The old man gestured. “Then go.”

“But—”

“You’ll come back when you’re needed. Go.”

There would be nothing else. Ember slipped out. As he threaded through the alley’s refuse, his stomach knotted. The old man had asked about modding. Ember had been told to live with the natural and stay close to magic—no modding, ever.

“It would be an improvement,” Mom said at late-night snack. “You wouldn’t have ADHD anymore.”

Ember shifted, tilting his seat’s float mechanism. “I wouldn’t be me.”

Dad shook his head. “I had it done. I’m still me.”

“How do you know?” Ember asked.

“Don’t talk back,” his father snapped.

At midnight, Ember slid on his headphones and flipped to a drum track. His room seemed too cramped. Crow would feel caged. But he came anyway, and Ember let him dance.

*     *     *
“You went below,” Dad said flatly when Ember dragged into the kitchen for breakfast. “You don’t get dirt marks on your fenders upworld.”

Ember didn’t speak. The old man had said: Never lie.

“When did you start that nonsense?”

Dad would ask questions, and he wouldn’t like the answers. Ember tensed. “A few months ago.”

“Why do you do it?”

Ember winced. “I had a dream.”

Dad’s expression didn’t change. “What kind of dream?”

“A dream about below,” he replied, which was not a lie, which was not: I dreamt where to go, which alley to walk down and what I would see. A rat asked, “What took you so long?” So I went where the dream told me, and I found the old man. His watcher is Rat and he called me from upworld.

“That’s impulsive, reckless behavior.” Dad waited for Ember to answer: two beats, three. “Those are symptoms of ADHD.”

Ember kept silent.

His father walked out.

*     *     *
“Ember, collect your work if you’re leaving early,” his Calculus IV teacher said as class bustled to a start.

Ember’s chest tightened. “I’m not leaving early.”

“It’s on the attendance sheet.”

Students were only excused for medical reasons. Ember had no checkups scheduled. Unless—

“I need to leave now.” He stood. “I’ll email about my assignments.” With no pause for argument, he walked out. His hands trembled as he flew his hovercar. Maybe the old man wouldn’t take him. He sang his songs and begged Crow for help.

Every traffic light was green.

A skyboard showed a globe, a world, an Earth entire.

*     *     *
Ember rushed into the alley. Daylight hardly penetrated, and deep shadows swaddled the same slumped forms, some sleeping, some warming themselves. “Doctor!” he shouted at the hutch’s makeshift door. “Doctor!”

Someone huffed. “The Doctor isn’t here.”

“I’ll wait.” Ember leaned against the dirty wall.

“The Doctor isn’t coming back.” A woman’s voice rose. “He said he would pass in the night and he did.”

Ember clung to that skyboard like a prayer. It rose into belief. You will come back when you’re needed. “Would you sell my hovercar?” He handed his keys to the woman. “We’ll use the money to feed everyone, like the Doctor did.”

“You’re the Doctor’s boy,” repeated the man from the night before.

Ember nodded, then slipped inside the hutch. They would never find him below. In this squalid alley, far from his pristine apartment, Crow would have room to dance.

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Against the
Tide
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Aftermath