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‘Any spare change?’ An almost toothless man addressed the many

pairs of shoes passing his make-shift home on the dank, artificially lit

train platform.

The man suddenly looked up, feeling the weight of his Styrofoam

cup increase by several gold coins. His eyes met the open, slightly

bulky face of a reasonably young man, who smiled down at him

warmly, even understandingly, before he limped his separate way.

Heph Clemence heard a muffled ‘Bless you!’ as his uneven strides

carried him away from the scene. He smiled to himself; he too knew

what it was like to be an outsider, to be considered unworthy by his

own community. Even though he originated from one of the

wealthiest families in all of Volantis, the great-layered metropolis,

his handicap had dragged him down its levels nonetheless. Heph was

slightly comforted by the fact that others were tangled in situations

worse than his own, a thought that he swiftly expelled from his mind,

the feeling of shame rising in his chest.

Heph had never travelled so far beneath the surface before. He

was two levels deep into the depths of ‘the sewers’, a name which the

citizens of the upper levels colloquially graced the underground

cities. The cities above the surface had been experiencing an

onslaught of torrential rainstorms for the past week, the kind of

storms that flooded the streets almost a foot deep and kept young

children awake in their beds. It wasn’t irregular for unfortunate

citizens of the surface to be caught by falling gallons of dirty water

that had been accumulating in the streets of the upper cities. The

busy train station was frenzied and hazy, as the drains from the

surface leaked into the underground, filling the lungs of its

inhabitants with the sickly sweet odour of rain and the grime and

perversion of the big cities above. Heph could imagine the children

who would inhale the stench, knowing that water fell from the sky

miles above their heads, dreaming they could one day taste it for


Heph broke from his reverie, realising he had no clue where his

good foot was taking him. He craned his neck above the crowd, he

knew he could find the right exit if he just found a directory—

‘Hephy? Oh thank goodness, it’s you!’ A large, smooth hand

clamped itself on Heph’s shoulder like a vice, making escape all but


‘Hello Vincent,’ he mumbled, his eyes reluctantly meeting his


Isabella Poulier

Isobelle Carmody Award

for Creative Writing