Short Stories – The Stories We Tell Podcast
A metallic scrape echoes in the not far distance, louder as I increase my pace. The trick has always been controlling the noise. Otherwise heartbeats rule the silence, like clanging dinner bells.
The strap around my ankle pulls taut as the jangling chains hit the edge of the prior corner. I swing my leg out, trying to dislodge them. Instead, the rope jerks me backwards and I lose my balance. My pulse quickens as I take the fall on my face, scraping my chin. It’s worth it to protect the precious cargo strapped on my back.
A hiccuping sigh and soft gurgle is the only protest. I reach up, patting Scout’s soft head to reward her for not crying. I had lucked out with the best baby sister in the world.
A tug on my leg has my hands scrabbling. I swallow a curse as I loosen the clasp, watching it disappear in the fog. Another one gone.
The moaning is closer. I gain my feet, my sister’s weight settling. I dig into my pocket, pulling free the bag of marbles.
A tiny hand reaches over my shoulder and her I-want-that grunt sounds in my ear.
“Not this time, Scout,” I whisper, tossing the loose balls behind us. The pings of them landing echo as I jog forward.
Moans increase in volume as the dead slide and fall. I push for speed, rounding the end of the alley and gripping the ladder there. My feet scrape as I clamber up. At the top of the fire escape is the roof and the moon burning through the fog.
My neck tenses as Scout tugs at my hair. The pain makes me smile with the reminder I’m not alone. I watch the zombies pass below with her happy, wordless chatter in my ear.
One zombie, larger than the rest and somehow darker, stops. I squint through the mist, swearing I can see chunks of fur and an elongated snout, rising to sniff the air. The werewolf’s head raises and I duck out of sight before the dead eyes can find me.
“Well, that was different, Scout,” I whisper, crab-walking to the nearby tarp and reaching underneath. “Apparently there are more monsters than I knew.” I withdraw the matches and the other hidden items. Lining the canisters along the wall, I light them one after another.
The first squeal covers the baby’s as it shoots off in the fog, leaving a trail of smoke before exploding into loud dazzling lights. I run for the opposite side, letting Scout enjoy the fireworks show from my back.
My heart lurches at the thought of one more stash gone. But I will make it to the center of the city tonight. I have to. We need to reach the food drop. Scout is out of formula.
Freida didn’t bother raising her head as trash rained down around her. She’d been an adult for long enough that the actions of those barely older than a child were easily ignored.
The young fairies giggled above, enjoying their game. After all the snide comments over the years, she was almost immune to it. Almost.
“Come on, leave her alone,” a girl pleaded.
Freida lifted her gaze, but the pitying eyes that met hers pierced her worse than the jeers.
Focusing back on the candy wrappers littering her feet, Freida stabbed her wooden spear into the nearest one.
Instead of the gossamer wings of other fairies, she had been born with bones jutting out of her back. No membrane or powdery scales linked them together, so the white spokes resembled a skeleton hand, reaching out behind her.
The fairies above her flittered off to find their next entertainment. The trash they left behind wrapped around the legs of her work overalls. Picking up the garbage strewn along the thoroughfare was a job fitting to her capability.
Freida wiped the sweat from her brow before bending to pull the wrapper free. It crinkled in her hands, one of the words printed on the plastic an emotion she hadn’t felt. Jolly. Her fingers stuck to the lingering candy residue. She held the trash high, liking the sparkle of the sun through the lavender. The color would make gorgeous wings.
Stabbing her stick through a green wrapper, she left it there before chasing after another lavender one. With a pair of plastic sheets in hand, she slipped into the sheltering canopy nearby.
It didn’t take long to fold the candy wrappers over her skeleton wings. The effect was mesmerizing, and she arched the bones out, liking the way the light shifting through the leaves reflected off of her makeshift wings.
A soft sound drifted to her from the undergrowth, a cross between a trill and a cry. Freida eased forward, lifting a leaf from her path, drawn by another hiccupping sob. A small woven basket rested on its side, tiny hands flailing from within. Freida peered into the shiniest blue eyes she’d ever seen. Royal blue.
“What are you doing here, princess?”
The baby gurgled, hands held out expectantly.
Freida lifted the little one, not sure if she was doing it at all right. She’d never been allowed near babies.
The baby’s tears dried up as she gazed at Freida’s lavender wings. Her hands reached toward them, and a small laugh emitted in response to the crinkly sound.
There was no one else in sight. There wouldn’t be. This close to solstice, fairies liked to fly high in the sky, enjoying the festivities. All but one with misshapen skeleton wings.
“You’re lucky I came along,” Freida murmured, hugging the warm body to her. For once, she didn’t mind so much that she was grounded.