A screenshot of the guard tower at the chokepoint into Edenham.

Twenty-Two Short Films About Wellington Wells: Completely in Command

Beryl Markham usually kept a sentry post at the entrance to Edenham during the day, as long as David Livingston was around to hold their claim on All Souls Church. Indeed, she had helped build the fortifications blocking off all but this one path into the small hamlet when Barrow Holm was designated the dumping ground for those who developed Joy intolerance. Most of the people she had built the barriers with had since succumbed to the various hazards of Wastrel life, but she remained. She was lucky, in her way. She’d seen the mistakes others had made and so she made it her duty to catch new Wastrels before they made the same errors and school them in the etiquette of the Garden District. She had posted the signs on the way in to help prevent mob murders, but a friendly face was a better teacher than passive aggressive notes.

She did this not just as an act of camaraderie with her fellow Wastrels, nor only to extort whatever goods they might have come here with – that was an important lesson for life in the Garden District itself: everything came at a price. She did this out of spite towards Mr. Kite and his safehouse.

A place like Edenham, shabby and sad as it was, was a haven in the Garden District. Though they had no resources, they had a modicum of safety and that was more than one could ask for out here anymore.

The Headboys were a problem from the start. Former hooligans from the Village, they organized themselves into a proper street gang, built a base of operations in the old German bunker, and set to work hassling the residents of Edenham for whatever goods they could steal. That was why the Wastrels built the bottleneck into the square. It made Edenham easier to defend. Once the perimeter was put in place, any Headboy trying his luck in Edenham would be faced with every Wastrel in the fort brandishing a pointy stick.

It made Edenham an ideal place for Mr. Kite to set up his safehouse. After the work had already been done to protect the area and a built-in standing army was prepared to set aside their troubles to defend it at a moment’s notice, Mr. Kite came along. Or rather, his Wastrel double agent did. Agnes Henderson wandered into town one day and blended right in with the populous. Beryl found it rather suspicious actually. How had she known how to behave if she’d only just turned Downer?

Agnes took it upon herself to claim a bed in the only serviceable house in town and – in a Wastrel-like fashion that Beryl resented but couldn’t help but admire – slowly evicted every other Wastrel living in it. Beryl, for her part, had done the same with the church, but given that it was a church, she was willing to let the rest of Edenham in on chilly nights. Wouldn’t be Christian to deny them, would it? And as long as David, a veteran of the war that everyone respected, was serving as a sergeant-at-arms, the rest of Edenham’s citizens minded their manners while inside.

Agnes did not share Beryl’s sense of community and did not permit trespassers into Kite’s safehouse. And after a while, a couple more of Mr. Kite’s agents moved in with her, cementing her ownership of it.

Every morning, Beryl would watch through a crack in the boarded up window of the church tower as Agnes left the safehouse. She’d take the only path out of Edenham and walk it until the crumbling buildings thinned out. Then she’d trail to the right between the bombed out houses and out of sight.

Beryl knew what she did beyond that. She’d see her sometimes, over the barricade blocking Edenham from the old Underground station. Agnes would wait by the phone booth and, when it rung, she would answer. Half the time, she would only say one word. Zanthus. Who could guess what that meant? The rest of the time, Agnes spoke of rabbits and the Garden and tea parties. Painfully banal Alice in Wonderland codes that one hardly needed the head of cryptology to decipher. Beryl had no interest in sabotaging this operation or intercepting the messages: that was none of her concern. She did, however, wonder at why Agnes would take such a risk to participate in it. Leaving the confines of Edenham was a chancy thing to do. One was safe in the company of their fellow Wastrels. Outside the fence and all alone, one was fair game to Headboys. No one had anything worth stealing anymore, but that didn’t mean the Headboys wouldn’t have their fun with you otherwise. Yet Agnes risked life and limb every day to answer that damn phone.

Beryl took up the guard platform and waited for Agnes to return from the phone. It had become part of the routine, their daily spar. Agnes appeared on the path in the distance. As she got closer, Beryl could see her vexed face and knew it was because she could see her own peeking over the fence. When Beryl thought she was close enough, she started in on her.

“If you get caught up out there, won’t none of us be coming to save you,” she told Agnes.

“So you’ve said,” Agnes said without stopping. “I wouldn’t expect you to.”

“Wouldn’t expect Mr. Kite to either at that,” Beryl said. Her tone was offhand and she gazed off into the distance like she was hardly even thinking about what she’d said, but she was baiting Agnes.

And it worked. Agnes stopped and scowled.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing,” Beryl said. “Just that you might want to think about that.”

Again, what is that supposed to mean?” Agnes bit.

“Well, he’s not ever going help you get out of here, is he?” Beryl elaborated. She leaned against the wall behind her and crossed her arms. “He only helps people who can take Joy still. And once he’s got all his well-to-do Downer friends out of town, what’s he gonna need you for? You might want to think about what you’re going to do then, that’s all.”

“I don’t know how you made an assumption like that,” Agnes dismissed, making to move past the fence and head home.

“I can see it. Maybe the rest of them can’t see your little Rabbits for what they are,” Beryl said, pointing at the rest of the Wastrels milling about beyond the fence. “They’re too busy wallowing. But me? I see it. Those Downers you bring here, they can still take Joy. You can tell they can because they’re always thinking about it. They could just take their Joy and go back to their lives and forget about all of this. Instead of starving and freezing and tearing up their nice clothes and getting dirty. And remembering. They always got that look on their face, like they’re asking themselves if all of this is worth it.

“But you don’t. Because you’re not a Downer. You’re a Wastrel, just like the rest of us. You don’t ask yourself if this is worth it because for us, this is all there is.”

Agnes sneered. Beryl found it very satisfying.

“Oh, but don’t trouble yourself with that now,” Beryl said, straightening up and going back to her watch. “The way people are showing up lately, I’m sure it’ll be a while yet before you have to worry about being abandoned out here. Plenty of little Rabbits to come, I expect.”

Agnes’ jaw clenched tight and she stomped a few steps before easing up on her bare feet.

“But,” Beryl said, unable to resist getting one last parting shot in, “I’d be askin’ myself if all this work I was doing for these poshies is worth it. You’re never going to get anything out of it.”

Agnes stopped once again. She stood there for a moment, than she turned halfway back around.

“What do you get out of it then?” she asked.

Beryl stared. Then she let out a derisive snort.

“I’m serious,” Agnes said. “You don’t have to catch these new Wastrels and show them the ropes. So what is it you get out of it then?”

“I got a slice of pie off the last one,” Beryl said. She knew what Agnes was getting at. They had danced around this understanding several times before, that the two of them did these seemingly selfless acts of guidance to make life the smallest bit easier for others than it was for themselves. That they were both in unique positions that permitted them to be a force of good in an otherwise cruel world. That the reward for both of them was knowing that.

She was hardly going to let Agnes have that though.

“That all then?” Agnes asked. “You just hoping to rob these people before the Headboys do?”

“I figure it’s a fair trade. Least if I get to them first, they get to live another day. In the safe zone I helped build no less.”

“I built a safe zone here too,” Agnes argued.

“No, you showed up after the work was done and cut a piece out for yourselves. But you can have that little house for now. I’d start thinking about where you’re going to go when Mr. Kite saves himself though.” Beryl looked down on Agnes. “Because he’s not going to take you with him and you won’t be welcome here.”

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