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The Christmas Kitten

For my sister: here’s the story you didn’t get last week. For everyone else…sorry. It was pretty fun to write, and only made me want to throw up a little.  😉

The Christmas Kitten

There wasn’t a note because it wasn’t a baby. There was a basket though, the covered kind Belinda used to take on picnics when she was a little girl.  It had a fist-sized rock from the garden border on top of the wicker flap. Belinda frowned over at her flower bed. The missing rock was a pink one flecked with black mica and bits of white quartz, one of her hand-picked favourites. It had clearly been out on the step for a while; the rock had a fluffy cap of snow.

The rock bounced a bit, disturbing the snow. Something was trying to get out.

Belinda put down her snow shovel. She had been about to shovel the steps for the post man. She had only recently learned that his name was Pat; Postman Pat. Wasn’t that a lark? He wouldn’t be around for a few days, it was Christmas Eve, but she liked to get the snow done before it got too deep.

The basket lid was still moving. Belinda took off the rock and set it aside. The little black kitten inside immediately tried to scramble over the lip of the basket. Belinda scooped it up and looked around.

“Who in the world…?”

She held the kitten at face level.

“Who leaves a kitten on a doorstep at Christmas? Hmmm, kitty? In a wicker basket, too. You’re the biggest cliché ever. Yes you are.”

Belinda looked around again. Two of the little girls next door had come outside, bundled in snowsuits and trailing a toboggan behind them.

Belinda had lived in the little house for several years and hadn’t really gotten to know any of her neighbours. The couple next door had a gaggle of girls of various ages, and an overindulged son who had broken her window playing baseball last year. The couple had been suitably mortified, and immediately insisted on paying for the window. The son showed up a few hours later to bashfully apologize, but Belinda hadn’t given the ball back, and instead she had stowed it in her junk drawer to gather dust.

“Hey. Girls,” she called. “Do you girls know anything about this kitten?”

“Kitten?!” they squealed together and rushed over. The toboggan was forgotten on the driveway.

“Can I hold your kitten?” the youngest one asked. She had blue eyes and that kind of fly-away blond hair that turned brown eventually.

“It’s not mine,” Belinda said as she handed it over. “I just found it.”

“Awwww…cuuuute.” The older one said. “What’s it’s name?”

They clearly weren’t listening, because they were too busy fawning over the kitten.

“It doesn’t, have a name. And it’s not mine.”

“You should name it Whitey,” the younger girl said authoritatively.

“Noooo Lissy,” the older one frowned, “she should name it Holly. Because it’s Christmas.”

It seemed like a good name.

“Holly. It’s a good name for a Christmas kitten,” Belinda agreed. “Do you think your parents would let you have a kitten?”

The girls gasped in delight. The younger one jumped up and down.

“Our dad has to work late, but we can ask our mom!” Lissy said, and they ran back home across the lawn.

Belinda knew it was pretty shameless going through the girls like that, but they already had one cat. They’d have the supplies they needed to get them through until the pet store (and the animal shelter) opened again. Belinda took the kitten inside and closed the door.

Inside the house, Belinda put the kitten on the floor to explore. She looked at the little tree that she had set up on the side table. Holly batted at the ornaments and jumped back when one fell, but soon lost interest in the tree and wandered around, nosing in the corners and under the chairs.

“Poor little muffin. All alone at Christmas.” Belinda sighed. “Me too.”

Belinda thought about her family, who all lived down east. She’d seen them in the summer, and they had exchanged colourful cards and cheques through the mail, but it wasn’t the same. There was a tentative knock on the door and Holly skittered under the chesterfield. Belinda opened the door.

It was the woman next door and all six of her children, even the window-breaking little boy. She held a box in front of her.

“Uh, hi,” she said, “I don’t think I’ve ever introduced myself? I’m Karyn, from next door?”

Karyn had limp brown hair and everything she said ended on a high note, like a question. The kids jostled and elbowed each other, trying to get a look inside at the kitten.

“Lissy and Greta said you found a kitten? Well, we can’t keep it but I brought you some cat food and cat litter until you can get some of your own?”

Darn! Belinda thought. It was a good try.

“Thanks,” she said out loud, taking the box Karyn offered. She looked at the children at the door. “They can come in and see the kitten, if they want.”

Belinda looked up at Karyn as the children rushed in around her. She looked harried, and tired.

“Do you want a drink?” Belinda asked, raising an eyebrow. “You look like you need a drink.”

Karyn smiled, and followed Belinda inside. Outside, the lights twinkled across the quiet snow.

hollyking

Flash Friday: Holiday Weirdness for Yule

Holiday Weirdness won out by one whole vote, and I didn’t even have to cheat. So here is some Yule-type oddness for the holidays. Enjoy them (whichever holiday you might be celebrating)! And look at me, it’s even still Friday by about ten minutes. It’s a Saturnalia miracle!

Tom Holly was feeling the cold in his bones and his beard had already turned completely white. Fat lazy snowflakes fell on the grass but didn’t stick. He stared out the window, watching the little brown birds come and go, took a thoughtful sip out of his Coca Cola, and rested the bottle on one knee. It was in one of those little glass bottles, the way he liked it.

Tonight was the longest night of the year: the night of the sacrifice. The days would get longer with or without it, but that’s just how things worked when you’re the king of the forest. Tom looked at the massive quiet trees outside his window. His little helpers were out there somewhere tending the trees. They were so diligent – always working. He’d miss them when he was gone.

Tom wasn’t meant to survive this night, he never had before, but this time he had a plan.

It was time to go; Mother Spring would be waiting. Tom pulled on his long red coat, and went out to his car. As he pulled out of the garage, he looked wistfully at his sleigh. It just didn’t snow enough anymore to run the darn thing. Maybe, if his plan worked out, he’d move somewhere colder. Maybe Finland.

Mother Spring smiled when she opened the door and saw Tom. She had a riot of curly hair, and sparkling eyes, whose colour he couldn’t quite pin down. Not green, nor brown, nor blue either. She grabbed him by the shirt front and pulled him inside, slamming the door behind them.

* * * * *

Mother Spring towered over him, gloriously naked, with her ceremonial knife raised high over her head. Tom was crouched on the floor beside the bed, with a sheet wrapped around his waist, and his arm thrown over his head protectively.

“Wait! Listen!”

Mother Spring curled her lip, and lowered the knife down to shoulder level.

“We don’t need to do this,” Tom said, breathing heavily. “Not anymore.”

“Your blood brings the return of the sun, Tom. Crops grow, animals multiply, my humans prosper for another season. This act is fixed. You die, the world gets reborn. That’s the deal.” She spoke the last three words slowly. Distinctly.

Tom lowered his arm, and looked out over his hand. He swallowed.

“The seasons take care of themselves. We know that; they always have. The crops and the rain are out of our hands. This doesn’t help anyone.”

“What do you propose?” she asked, sounding overly formal. She had retreated to her official capacity as Mother Spring.

Tom sighed. This always happened.

“I propose to do something tangible for your little people: I can bring them gifts. Presents to everyone in the entire world. I am the king of the woods, after all, and back in my forest I have all the help I need. I mean, I need some time: three or four days maybe, but I can do it. For them and you.”

He paused.

‘You know I can do this.”

Mother Spring narrowed her eyes.

“How do I know you will do this? That you won’t leave and hide out in your forest?”

“You know I will. I always come here, every year, knowing what’s going to happen. Knowing what it feels like to have my throat cut a thousand times. I’m here now.”

She pursed her lips, then took a deep breath and tossed the knife onto the floor.

“Deal,” she said. Then:

“Put your pants back on.”

 

Flash Friday: Tell Me What to Write. I Am Your B!tch!

Update: I closed the poll at 9:40 Thursday morning (December 20th). Otherwise I won’t have time to write anything. Holiday weirdness won out 6-5 over Traditional Christmas story. So we’ll see what I can pull out of my…er, hat by tomorrow!

I know it’s Saturday. But here it is anyway! It’s something odd in honor of school being almost done for the holidays…BTW I think next week should be holiday themed. But I’m  trying something new: a poll. Let me know what you want me to write. Unlike that snooty George R. R. Martin, I am your bitch!

Angel, Karen, and the Saucers

The couple was sitting together on a blanket spread over a grassy hill, watching the sun set pink and yellow against crudely drawn black trees. A girl in a skirt was running stiff-legged over the grass. Past the hill in the distance were several skyscrapers bent at odd angles. In the sky, three lenticular black clouds hovered in a triangular formation. Underneath, in uneven primary printing, was the name Angel.

Ms. Hill unfolded her stapler and put Angel’s painting next to Andrew’s picture of three ambiguously gendered children playing on a swing set over Kelly green grass. The children’s pictures all hung in neat rows along the art wall.

Ms. Hill went back to her desk and picked up a file folder of the class’s artwork. She shuffled the pages, frowned, and then pulled out a sheet of thin construction paper. On it was a drawing of a tall figure outlined in hard black crayon. The figure had stringy hair and angry red eyes. Floating over the figure’s head was the label, “Karen.” Underneath it read, “This is my friend, who looks in my window at night.” It was calm and matter of fact, as if it were describing something mundane, normal. Again, at the top of the page was the name Angel.

On the wall around the room were similar pictures. One was captioned, “This is my bicycle.” A leggy brown blob was labelled, “This is my dog, Chester.” On the opposite side of the room, taped on one of the row of windows was another of Angel’s drawings. It showed a small figure, presumably Angel, in front of a huge TV with a video game controller in hand. On the TV were geometric figures that represented who-knows-what. Underneath, in a jumble of capital and lowercase letters, was this story:

“I dreamed that I woke up in the middle of the night. There was a new game on the TV. I didn’t know what it was called, but Karen told me to play it anyway. I told Karen I didn’t know how to play, but I beat the game after fifty tries.”

The bell rang. The students started to file back inside from recess, shedding their coats and chattering loudly. Ms. Hill closed up her file folder and sat it back on her desk to finish later. Her students wandered into the classroom in groups of two and three.

A stocky boy with a shaved head tugged at her hand. He looked up at her hopefully.

“Ms. Hill? Is it computer time now? I want to play computers.”

“It’s free play for the next few minutes, so you can use the computer if you want,” she answered, putting a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

The boy skipped off toward the computer centre. Ms. Hill looked around the room for Angel. She had already come into the classroom without her noticing. Ms. Hill crossed her arms and leaned back against the desk to watch. Angel was thin and had wispy blond hair that tended to stick up. She was crouched beside the classroom’s oversized dollhouse with another girl and a boy, sending a helicopter full of soldiers to invade the upper bedrooms.

Song-HeatMiser

Flash Friday: Heat Miser

There was an old television VCR combo on the west side of the classroom. A rotund little goblin with fiery hair was dancing on the screen singing, “I’m Mister Green Christmas. I’m Mister Sun. I’m Mister Heat Blister. I’m Mister Hundred-and-one…” A mixed group of girls and boys was gathered on the worn blue carpet, watching the ancient stop motion program. A few of them watched, rapt. Some of the older ones shuffled restlessly, looking around the room or out the window at the softly falling snow.

Most of the children were of mixed race, but that was too common to be of any interest to the Educational Observer. Most of what were formerly thought of as races had been leveled out by the advent of global travel. A few of the children had blond hair and one of the group had hair that was remarkably brown, but most of them had hair in varying shades of red, from strawberry through to a flaming auburn. Some were freckled, lightly or heavily, while others had pale, even skin.

Older children and young teenagers wearing oversized headphones worked at computer stations arrayed around the other three sides of the room. Educational Observer Latham walked back and forth between them pausing to turn back and check on the younger children. One of the younger girls, Cora, had gone from fidgeting with her shirt buttons, to rolling around on the floor in boredom. Latham waited to see if it would progress any further.

Cora turned her head back and forth, shaking her tightly curled hair, and looking anywhere but the television. In the corner of the room was a wooden box of toys. Cora’s gaze settled on a little tiger carved out of wood. It had carved gashes for stripes and peeling orange paint. Cora scrunched up her nose; there was a look of intense concentration in her blue eyes. She reached toward the tiger with her chubby hand, even though it was on the other side of the room. Latham picked up her clipboard and made a few checkmarks.

The tiger lifted off the top of the pile and then swooped down like a seagull caught in a downdraft. It flew back up and landed in Cora’s hand. She turned back to the TV and quietly hopped the tiger back and forth on the carpet. On the screen Mrs. Claus was having tea with Mother Nature in a summer glade.

Cora was quickly bored by the tiger, and started picking at its peeling paint. She looked around the room, and toward the Educational Observer, who quickly looked down and pretended to be writing on the clipboard.  Cora turned back to the tiger, narrowing her eyes. After a few moments, a little wisp of smoke started to rise from the little tiger. The Educational Observer leaned forward for a better view. Some of the other children were also watching Cora with interest. Little flames started to rise up from the tiger’s wooden back. Educational Observer Latham made some more notes on her clipboard, and then went over to extinguish the little fire. She took the tiger from Cora’s hands and smiled at her.

“We should put this out before it sets off the alarm,” Latham said. She pushed her own dark red hair back behind her ear.

Flash Friday at Neil’s

Andra wiped crumbs from one of the humanoid tables with a wadded up cloth. Nothing ever quite came clean here. She would have liked to run a power washer over the whole place, but getting clearance to use that much water here on the moon would be ruinously expensive and require any number of sexual favours to minor bureaucrats. Behind her Andra could hear the antique neon sign that hung buzzily over the entrance to Neil’s. The Neil A. Armstrong Lunar Outpost sat like a small group of grimy bubbles in the regolith of Shackleton Crater, the domed public areas on top and the living spaces and supplies warehoused deep underground. Once the jewel in the crown of human achievement, it was now a grimy third-rate truck stop and supply depot.

Through the meteor-etched hemisphere of the dome, Andra could vaguely see a dozen or so battered planet-hoppers, an official Earth supply freighter, and several swanky transports belonging to the private mining concerns with bases on the dark side of the moon. The earth was doing its rising majestically over the horizon thing, but Andra had seen it a thousand times.

One thousand four hundred and twenty-two times, she thought and then sighed. She had a good memory for things like that

Mr. Hosk, the proprietor, squelched too loudly for Andra’s liking. She frowned again and ran a hand over her bald head. Hosk was mixing drinks behind the bar. He stretched a tentacle to pluck a bottle from the top shelf, and Andra narrowed her eyes at him. Hosk claimed that the appendage was analogous to an arm, but Andra had been in his office at the back of the restaurant and seen the lewd holoposters he had tacked to his wall. The activities depicted in the posters made her suspect that it was an entirely different sort of appendage. One that broke any number of health regulations.

A couple of lurid pink Skrlj hissed and grunted at one of the non-humanoid tables. The Skrlj were lizard-like and sported a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth. An image of a Skrlj paying its bill popped into Andra’s head. She scooped up the bill pad and headed over to their table.  She nodded at both Skrlj and made to walk away again. An image of an assortment of alien species came into her head. Then the image of a small birdlike creature, which indicated a question.

“Do we get a many aliens around here?” Andra repeated (just to make sure). “Not really, we don’t get many non-humans this close in, mostly miner forty-niners and the odd alien who dreams of retiring to the exotic paradise he’s seen in all the Earth tourism ads.”

It was always odd to have the Skrlj project images into her head, but at least this way she didn’t have to worry about mangling their language and starting an interstellar war. The Earth Federalists had put a diplomatic mission in a nearby dome, just in case. Andra wasn’t really worried though; a seasoned smuggled had said that the most volatile and easily offended species rarely made it into space at all. They generally put themselves out of the galaxy’s misery in predictable planet wide blood baths.

A stylised image of a blue-sanded beach covered with Skrlj basking in the sun popped into Andra’s head. She smiled widely.

“A nice day to you too,” She answered.

Flash Friday: Until Niagara Falls (Take 2)

I had several ideas for what to do with this story. Last week was one iteration, which I’d already like to change, and today is a second iteration. I hope it makes sense because I’m hopped up on cold meds. 😉

 

Something dark moved through Rover’s peripheral vision. He put his hand up to his face and squinted through his fingers at the empty gorge below. The sun was just coming out from behind a grey wall of cloud, and it shone blood red through Rover’s fingers and his spiky orange hair. Rover’s face was heavily mottled with freckles that matched his hair. Nearly everyone at the Falls looked like that, so it was not out of the ordinary. If Rover had ever seen a Giraffe he would have said that his face was giraffe-spotted, but he hadn’t seen one, and so he didn’t.

Nothing.

The sun shone whitely on the rocky tumble-fall of the Niagara Gorge. It had once been full of pounding water, Rover knew, before the weather patterns changed and the rain stopped. Rover had one clear memory looking up through mist and rainbows at a high thin waterfall, but he had never seen a proper waterfall, except in browning photographs in every rotten building around the Falls, and in the old tourist guidebooks that were so plentiful that Rover could have built a small house out of them. If he had dared stay out in the open for that long.

The limestone escarpment where Rover was perched was unstable and littered along the bottom with loose rock in chunky angular piles. Rover never felt safe at the bottom; he’d flinch as little pieces of limestone came skittering down the cliff face. But up here in the Lookout, Rover was as safe as he was likely to get. At the moment things were all quiet.

Behind him, under the jumbled limestone was the village of Under Falls where Rover had lived his entire life. When things had gotten serious and fallen apart, the people who were left had dug in and repurposed the tunnels and industrial spaces under the Falls: it seemed like a good place to hide from the roaming bands of looters who took over the countryside. With the thin veneer of civilisation gone an urban house became a liability: over-large, hard to keep warm, and fragile as an eggshell.

At the moment things were all quiet. Rover reached over and patted his dog, Angus.

“Who’s a good puppy boy?” he asked quietly.

Angus cocked his head to one side. He had long black fur and serious brown eyes. Angus could be a little squirrelly sometimes, but he understood that keeping watch was a serious business. When it was Rover’s watch Angus would climb and slink with him through the rubble to the lookout. It was good to have company.

Angus turned and stared intently down into the Gorge. Rover leaned out to look. There was something moving in the Gorge. No, two somethings, darting from rock to rock. Angus sprang up, barking and dancing around excitedly. Rover sounded the alarm.

Flash Friday (Now With 100% More Saturday): Until Niagara Falls

There’s something here, but I just can’t make it make fooking sense without a lot more research. I’m thinking also diagrams and maps. There are all kinds of tunnels and industrial spaces underneath Niagara Falls. People could live there, if they had to. Not well I think, but that would attest to the desperateness (is that a word?) of the situation. I have a scenario in mind but I need to hash it out fully, there are just too many parts that don’t make sense to me yet. Also, has every combination of sounds been used up for naming ‘alien’ invaders? Because the naming gave me trouble, and I don’t usually have problems naming things. :/ Maybe I’m just a bit writer’s-blocky? I’m not sure, but here it is…

Something dark moved through Rover’s peripheral vision. He put his hand up to his face and squinted through his fingers at the sky. The sun was just coming out from behind a grey wall of cloud, and it shone red through his fingers and his spiky orange hair.

Nothing.

Rover’s face was heavily mottled with freckles that matched his hair. If he had ever seen a Giraffe he would have said that his face was giraffe spotted, but he hadn’t seen one, and so he didn’t. Nearly everyone at the Falls looked like that, so his appearance.

The limestone cliff under the Falls was unstable and littered with loose rock in chunky angular piles. Rover never felt safe at the bottom; he would flinch when a little piece of limestone came skittering down the cliff face. He knew that one false step on the slick rocks would land him in the swirling water. Rover would be carried away, down the river and out into the wasteland beyond. If the river didn’t kill him, the Skreel were waiting out there somewhere and Rover did not want to meet them in person: he had seen what their ships could do, seen the burned out ruins of the nearby city, seen the empty pitted streets and that was enough.

But up here in the lookout by the Surge Tank, Rover was as safe as he was likely to get. He wasn’t small for his age but he wasn’t big either. He was still small enough to be able to worm his way down through the rubble of the collapsed tunnels down to the old Toronto Power Station building beside the river, and fast enough to get from there up to the Surge Tank on the Old Niagara Parkway without being seen.

At the moment things were all quiet. He reached over and patted the dog, Angus.

“Who’s a good puppy boy?” he asked quietly.

Angus cocked his head to one side. He had long black fur and serious brown eyes. Angus could be a little squirrelly sometimes, but he understood that keeping watch was a serious business. When it was Rover’s watch Angus would climb and slink through the rubble to the lookout. It was good to have company, and Angus could always hear the Skreel ships long before Rover could. Named for the high pitched shriek they made as they flew, Skreel ships could always be heard before seen.

But today Angus was calm. Rover and Angus shared a sandwich and quietly waited out their turn at the Tank.

Flash Friday Green Revolution

Picture by Matthewthecoolguy via http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewthecoolguy/6967985462/

My Grandmother saved the world. She always seemed more like the super villain type to me. She was tall and wiry and had that stereotypical shock of fluffy white hair that cartoon evil geniuses always have. I guess she wasn’t evil though, she simply saw a problem, and found a solution.

Gran didn’t realise how much the teetering stability of events depended on a huge mas of starving, desperate people. That while they were underfed the violence stayed small and in its place, but well fed, they weren’t so easy to control. The violence could move and grow. Maybe she did realise, she was a smart old bird.

Old Gran was their hero of course; there’s a statue of her in more than one square. She even has a parade (three of them actually) where the kids get the day off school, and thousands of bare-backed men women and children dance in the street – a carnival and a feast at the same time. People talked about the green revolution for decades, but only my Gran made it happen. Not quite the way the thinkers intended.  But Gran was a doer, always in motion. I inherited that kinetic energy, but not the drive to change things.

Never will another mother have to boil newspaper into porridge to fill the stomach of her starving child. Militia thugs will never again be able to hold entire populations in thrall by hoardin food aid (clever opportunists now have their money in water). That’s because she invented a technique, relatively simple and less painful than starving. It looked like a massive green tattoo. She called them solar panels, and they made her smile, but they didn’t have the angular geometry of a proper solar panel. The chlorophyll ‘tattoos’ were amorphous and organic, and terribly ugly.

But because of my grandmother, we can eat the sun.

Dear old Gran got herself half a dozen bullets to the head, by her own bodyguard, for her trouble. That’s why I’m here in the Buddhist monastery on Mount Hiei quietly letting the afternoon sun fall on my back and thinking about the way things turn out.

Flash Friday Squeaks in Under the Line

I don’t know what this is. I really don’t. Maybe it will be something someday. I like Nieman, and his friend with the recurring dream, so I may take the effort to figure out who they are.

There’s an orange dusty sky and orange earth packed like cement. The grass is dry and ratty and makes a rustling crunch under my feet. The hot wind tries to sandpaper me away, but I’m not a mountain and I won’t standstill long enough to be eroded. The inverted pyramid stands in the middle of the dead field defying everything I know about the way monumental buildings are constructed. I put my hand on the huge stone slab that angles up seamless into the sky and suddenly I am inside. I am in a bare chamber and one of the little men (or women? I don’t know) shows me a baby wrapped in what appears to be a cloth sugar bag. There’s an inscription and a baby and a dog barks and I am awake again.

I stand and look out the window.

“It is the dream you always have. Isn’t it?”

Nieman laughs shrilly, and then rubs his finger and thumb into his eyes. He sighs heavily before continuing.

“I don’t exist,” he says. “I mean, I guess I do, but I don’t. I shouldn’t, anyway. I’m not real.”

I turn back from the window, and look at Nieman, sprawled on the bed, or as much of him as I can see in the moonlight anyway.

“The philosophers told me I couldn’t change history. But I’ve changed it so many times that I must be the only constant left.  No universe could exist that contradicts itself – whatever happens has always happened. Well, fuck you, Mr. Novikov.”

Nieman paused and waved away an imaginary Novikov.

“Because now, I’m not real.” He went on. “I wasn’t born and I won’t die. I just am. Over and over. Forever, I guess.”

Neiman wanted to be real very badly; he talked about it all the time. I frowned at him.

“All you do is sit around here and watch TV,” I pointed out. “You don’t seem very anxious to do anything at all.”

“This wasn’t the plan, you know. I had other ideas. Stupid ideas.”

I raised my eyebrows, and waited silently.

“I thought I could see all the pieces laid out in front of me. In my infinite wisdom I thought just a little nudge, a little jiggle, and the pieces would come back together in a different way.”

“I think I’ve heard this speech a thousand times now, Nieman.”

“Oh you’ve heard it more than that,” Nieman replied. I could hear him smiling in the dark. He patted the bed, and I draped myself over the blankets.

“You know what I think? I think the universe has sealed you off, so you can’t do any more damage. I think you’re stuck here.”

The universe. Or something else.” Nieman laughs, his face striped black and white in the moonlight.

I reach over and he feels very real, despite his protestations.

Flash Friday in My Happy Place: Post-Apocalyptic Wal-Mart

This week I decided to write about my happy place: post-apocalyptic Wal-Mart. This bit of narrative circles around the edges of the Angry Re story, but isn’t directly connected.

I stand in the entrance inspecting the empty metal framing of the doors, wrenched and crooked in the overcast evening light. The two sets of twisted metal door frames once made a gleaming crystal vestibule. The glass is long since shattered or taken away and repurposed by the Survivalists. I’m relatively safe from them here, as they travel in well-armed groups and are never silent. There’s no distant cackling laugh, no rough camaraderie to send me crouching into a corner, hoping I’m dirty enough to match the dust-striped shadows. Everything of value has been stripped, in waves, in the years since the Accident so there’s no reason for Survivalists to hang around.

First the televisions, computers, tablets were looted when everyone still thought the lights would come back on. Including me. A few well prepared people were hunkered down with their emergency generators and seventy-two-hour emergency bags, waiting for the proper authorities to sort things out. The Survivalists snickered in their bunkers.

Then the food. When new found dark and quiet stretched on into weeks I started raiding the shelves. Lots of people did – no one had the skills to find their own food. The bread was already a mass of blue spores, but there were still cans and can openers. I drank down the canned vegetables salty brine and all and chewed the coffee grounds straight.

Then people started to pick over the fixtures. They used the wood, metal, and glass for patching up buildings, fortifying fences. Things got serious very quickly.

My steps echo too loud in the silence, and my feet scuff through layered dust and mouse droppings, glass crumbs and rock-fall from the decaying roof. Rays of grey light spear through the crumbling ceiling highlighting the dust I’ve stirred up. The few remaining shelves are bare except for the remains of cardboard boxes, shredded and scattered by what I wish were mice, but which are probably rats.

The steel arms that hold up the shelves have mostly been scavenged. I have a neat pile of them at home, and one looped into my belt. They look strangely like the scattered bones of a long-dead cyborg, even though I know they are no such thing. But they are light and strong, and can make an awful dent in a Survivalist’s forehead. It makes me cringe just remembering it: the twitching and blood, and after too long the sudden stillness.

But here, in the relative safety and quiet, I can stand erect and run my hands along the few shelves that still defy gravity, resolutely perpendicular. The grime makes little gray ovals on my fingertips, and I tap the counters once twice three times for luck. Toward the back of the store, I climb unsteadily past an overturned counter, twisted and broken, a heaving metal avalanche. Fat sparrows sweep in and out of the hole where the roof gapes open to the sky. I can hear the faint coo of rock doves nesting in the rafters as I pass under it.

Back under another overturned counter I can just hear what I have come for. An unearthly chittering gets louder as I pick my way closer. A glossy raccoon pops out from under the counter. Somewhere underneath is a den, with fat wrestling babies. The old lady has mostly ignored me as she went about her business. I’ve spent nights following her, watching as she stood silent by the little murky pond and caught frogs by hand.

I tried it too, and one night I was successful.