March Madness Flash Fiction: SCAVENGERS by Christi Frey
TODAY’S BREW: Macadamia nut something
This is it! The last day of March and the last story of our flash fiction challenge! And this one is a whopper. I grinned like an idiot when I read it. It’s by the mastermind Christi Frey, who never ceases to amaze me with how much and what she can do. Check Christi out on Twitter http://t.co/778R9jx0LX and http://t.co/778R9jx0LX.
by Christi Frey
Scavengers, I thought scathingly.
“Go away,” I told them. “I don’t have anything what you’re looking for.”
Bits of string. A couple of metal rings about an inch in diameter. Some ocular glass for an old telescope whose casing had long since rotted away. A dozen odd sized screws from the heaps. And the one thing I hid from everyone. Those were the things I carried.
The first of the scavengers showed up yesterday. Then another. Then a few more over night, until I figured there were a few dozen all told. Flitting through the heaps. Watching. Waiting.
I thought I was safe enough, at the time. Didn’t think scavengers would jump unless they saw you were crippled. I was wrong. And I’d never been that deep in the heaps before. It was too late to get out.
They gathered round, eyes unblinking, persistent as a herd of pigeons. As a flock of rats. One from behind jumped and pecked at my old leather satchel. I whirled and kicked at it, missed. The next one bit my ankle – I caught it with a boot and it flew out of the circle, scrabbled to its feet and came again with all the others.
I hit at them with the bag, battered three at a swing but they were leaping, pecking, little claws gouging, the bony weight of all of them pulling me down.
I panicked. I mean, some part of me panicked. The other part just watched. It knew what was coming next. That other part – the part where all the feelings died – it takes care of you, in times like these. It steps in. It says, Go home. Don’t watch. I’ll take over now.
I saw it happen as though from a great height. The skittering herd. The blasted wasteland. The slag heaps. The small, lonely figure lashing out as it disappeared beneath a furry grey boil. The mad search for something.
* * *
When I came to I was flat on my back, with that puke-it-up feeling you get when it seems the earth might actually be up, the sky down, and somehow you’re pressed against the ceiling. White light searing on cement-baked ground. The world’s worst hangover. You press your palms into the gravel and wait for it to stop spinning. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. You roll over and slowly put your head up anyway.
Little roast carcasses littered the ground. There was a blast circle of scorched earth, and I was at the center of it. Scattered bits of fur and feathers. A bloody beak here, an unblinking eye there. My bag was gone.
I groped at my neck. The string – still there. The little pouch I’d dropped beneath my shirt, a single bit of rolled paper inside. I pulled it out.
Not a map. Not even a picture. But the only thing I’d ever found in this godforsaken heap that contained a real, living memory. The only thing that ever pulled me back from the madness. The thing that no one else could have: a childish scrawl of red crayon on a piece of faded paper.
All it said was “HOME”.