Tag Archives: dystopian

The Lark

It started out as a lark. God knows, we needed a laugh or two. Someone had found a bottle of liquor, gin or vodka or something. I don’t know; I don’t drink. Paulie climbed up on the fire escape and pulled the ladder after him.

“Chicken fight,” he said, grinning. “Take turns. First one up gets a drink. No one gets up, I drink it myself.” He took a swig to show us he was serious. There was a chorus of protests, but in seconds John was up on Andre’s shoulders, his brother Will on Junior’s, and they were off, shoving each other around the alley.

Martin and I stood in the middle of the crowd and watched. I wasn’t any good at chicken fights, not against the boys, no matter how much Martin wanted that drink. Besides, we had an agreement: he wasn’t about to leave me alone, not with these boys. We barely knew them. So we stood together in the middle: not so close to the front that we’d draw attention, but not so far back that they’d think we didn’t trust them. Josie crouched by the wall in the back, pulling petals off a plastic flower she’d picked up somewhere.

The whole match took place in near silence. No one wanted to bring the Rovers down on us. The only sounds were the scraping of rubber on gravel, the panting of the fighters, and occasional insults from Paulie. Even those were hushed.

The boys started laying bets. John was bigger than Will, but Andre was taller than Junior. Junior, though, he was smart. He didn’t just rush at Andre; he danced around, dodging broken boards and bits of rubble, trying to get Andre to trip. Finally Andre stumbled over a chunk of concrete, flailing one arm while holding onto John’s leg with the other. John leaned back, trying to keep his balance. They stayed upright, but in those few seconds Junior dashed for the fire escape.

Andre pelted after him. Will had one hand on the railing and Junior was trying to lift him up. John grabbed his brother’s arm and hung on. They stood there like that straining and pulling, while the boys egged them on in harsh, laughing whispers. It was all pretty funny.

“What the fuck’s wrong with you, anyway?” I heard a voice behind me. I turned to look, and froze. A couple of the boys had pinned Josie against the wall, and a hard-eyed boy had her chin in his hand. Her eyes were squeezed shut. Her mouth, too.

“She’s like a little bird,” he said to one of his friends. “All fear and hollow bones. Don’t gimme that deaf-mute act, birdie, I heard you talk before. All I asked was your name. Be polite and answer me, huh?”

A sudden, deafening wail split the air. The bottle shattered in Paulie’s hand. He stared at the blood and the spilled liquor for a long moment before dropping to his knees and covering his ears with his forearms. Junior and Andre were already down. John must have hit his head when he fell; there was blood, and he wasn’t moving. The boys were all shouting now.

I grabbed Martin’s hand. “We’ve got to get her out of here,” I hissed between gritted teeth. “Listen!”

Underneath Josie’s keening and the confused yelling of the boys, there was a muffled howling noise. The Rovers. The boys heard it a split second after I did, and the alley erupted into chaos. Paulie swung down from the fire escape and grabbed John, slinging him over one shoulder.

“Fucking freaks,” he spat, glaring at us. “If I’d’a known, I’d’a killed you. Fuck it. Let the Rovers do it.” He staggered off down the alley. Will stumbled after him. The rest of the boys bolted in opposite directions. Best bet is always to split up.

We never split up, though, me and Martin and Josie. I kicked the hard-eyed boy aside. He whimpered and covered his head. Let the Rovers have him, I thought without sympathy.

“C’mon, honey, it’s okay, we got you.” I tugged Josie’s arm gently, pulling her after me. “Hush now, we gotta run.” She blinked at me. The shrill noise stopped, which only made the Rovers’ howls that much more terrifying.

“She never even opened her mouth,” Martin said as we ran. “Did you see? She never did.”

I nodded. It’s not like I hadn’t been expecting it. Like calls to like, after all.

This story is mainly an experiment in trying out a new voice and is related to two other pieces:

Circle the wagons

They offered me shelter. The Rovers, I mean. Food. Safety in numbers.

I look at Martin and Josie. My responsibility. Martin’s shaking his head. Josie’s looking at the sky. What do I care about the Rovers’ revolution? I back the fuck away.


Martin swore the new place was safe enough, and I believed him. He was usually right. Besides, I didn’t trust my instincts anymore. Not after I’d led the others straight into a band of Rovers squatting in the basement of the arcade. I’d been sure it was abandoned, but the Rovers beat us there.

We ran, of course, dragging Josie between us. Found a spot between two brownstones. It was less of an alley than a crevice, the kind of place kids used to get stuck in back when there was a fire department to call. We squeezed in and huddled behind a rusted-out refrigerator that was wedged in the narrow space. I was sure they’d hear us hauling Josie over the top of that fridge, but they ran on by, howling like madmen. We were lucky.

The crevice opened out into a cramped courtyard, surrounded on all sides by the brick walls of the surrounding buildings. It felt like an architectural oversight, this strange little space. The only other way out was up a drainpipe. It was a good place to hole up for a while.

That night, Josie dragged a cracked planter into the corner, made herself a little nest with her blanket and the hollow shell of a couch cushion. Something had stolen most of the stuffing out of it.

Martin and I shared the other blanket, tucked ourselves in another corner. I let him feel me up, his hands sucking the warmth from my skin. What was I going to say? It was my fault we were out here, and besides, I owed him. He fumbled with my shirt, with the waistband of my jeans. I wouldn’t let him kiss me, though. We’d none of us seen a toothbrush in weeks.


A bird flew into the courtyard the next morning and couldn’t find its way out. I don’t know what it was looking for. There was nothing to eat. I mean, even the roaches were gone.  That bird was the first thing resembling food that we’d seen in two days. We had to go out.

“What should we do with her?” I glanced at Josie. She wasn’t catatonic anymore, that was a good thing. She wasn’t exactly talkative, but she could respond to questions. The problem was the outbursts. Any little thing could set her off. Loud noises were the worst, ever since the bowling alley, but sometimes we had no idea what triggered her.

“We’ll have to leave her here.”

I was already shaking my head. “No, she could never get back out over the fridge on her own. You know, if.” If somebody found her, I meant.

“We don’t have a choice,” Martin said. “It’ll be safe enough.” There it was again.

Josie licked her lips, watching the bird flutter around the courtyard. She was turning more and more, I don’t know, feral every day.

“Who lives here?” she asked suddenly, startling both of us.

“Us, I guess,” I said just as Martin answered, “We do.”

Josie slid her too-intense gaze over to me then back to the struggling bird. “It’s not much of a birdhouse.”

“It’s what we got right now, baby doll,” said Martin, more gently than I would have expected. He turned to me.

“There’s a place down on 4th, near the old Square. John says that Will says it hasn’t been looted yet. Just gotta get past the Rovers. You game?”

What else could I say? We had to eat. I shrugged. “Count me in.”

Centennial’s Cusp

The alarums were howling. I ignored them. When the smallest one pawed my robe, I gave him a pat and walked through the gate.

Down below the bacchanal continued. It would be impossible to hear the alarums, and I preferred a more private revelry. I trod familiar halls, unlocked your door.

Did they know what they did, down below? How they opened this gate every hundred years or so, held it fast with the beating of drums and the scent of musk? Tangled in your arms, wrapped in the rhythm of your voice, I like to think they do.

This post was made in response to the Trifecta Writing Challenge prompt:

This week we are giving you a page from the Oxford English Dictionary.  The ninety-ninth page, to be exact.  From this page, you can choose any word, any definition, to use in your post. And instead of our typical 33-333 word limit, we are asking for 99 words exactly. (Visit www.trifectawritingchallenge.com to see the word choices.)

This week’s challenge is community judged!

  • For the 14 hours following the close of the challenge, voting will be enabled on links.
  • In order to vote, return to this post where stars will appear next to each link. To vote, simply click the star that corresponds with your favorite post.
  • You can vote for your top three favorite posts.
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  • You have 14 hours to vote. It’s not much time, so be diligent!

Shadow Ball

The building shook. Bits of rotting ceiling tiles rained down around us. Josie was still curled in the corner booth, rocking slightly. The red vinyl of the seat cushion creaked as she moved.

I fluffed my hair with both hands, trying to shake out the debris. It was futile, a gesture from before. It had been months since any of us had been clean.

“That’s a double!” Martin called out. His shadow stretched before him as he walked back down the lane, ball tucked in the crook of his elbow. With his back to the lamp it was impossible to see his face. “Nice job.” He set his feet at the edge of the foul line.

The wooden planks were slippery with dust. I scrambled to reset the pins and waited for Martin to throw the ball. It rumbled down the lane, veered into the gutter. Martin swore. I ducked down behind the frozen pinsetter, grabbed the ball and skidded back to Martin.

“I don’t think we’re doing her any favors, hiding out in here.” I waved him forward. “Set me up. Why’d you pick
this place, anyway?”

His disembodied voice echoed across the alley. “It’s big, it’s empty, and there’s nothing here the rovers want. The food got cleaned out right after.”

I held my breath and threw. The clatter of pins made Josie cower into the corner. The room went quiet while Martin counted. “That’s three strikes for you!” he shouted. “That’s a turkey!”

Josie moaned. “So hungry, so hungry,” she whispered. It was the first intelligible thing she’d said in three days.

“Not that kind of turkey, honey,” I said. “It’s a bowling thing.”

The building shook again. An old fluorescent light swung away from the ceiling, hung loose for a few seconds, and fell with a crash. Josie rocked harder.

“We’d better ditch,” I said, “empty or not. This place will crumble if they come any closer. Game’s over, Martin; leave the ball. I may know a quieter place.”

This post was made in response to the Trifecta Writing Challenge prompt:

1: a large North American gallinaceous bird (Meleagris gallopavo) that is domesticated in most parts of the world
2: failure, flop; especially : a theatrical production that has failed
3: three successive strikes in bowling
4: a stupid, foolish, or inept person

Apparently the only sports that interest me are post-apocalyptic ones. (Check out Winter Games to see what I mean.)