crows light

On crutches, the cripple hobbled along cobblestones. It was rough going for a ten-year-old with cerebral palsy. Crooked legs and uneven surfaces meant ‘plodding’ headway, or stumbling. Either might occasion the orphan’s doom.

Peers posed no threat; jibes and jests and gratuitous cruelty, common in bygone days, had echoed out of memory, bullies having slated themselves for certain extinction. Nor were adults to be feared—whether one-time kidnappers, pederasts, or child pornographers. Those who preyed on the innocent still slithered around, but their menace to society, for all intents and purposes, had been de-fanged. The boy had learned this through instinct, more than experience. It was instinct, now, that alerted him to a clear and present danger.

What an awful racket his leg braces made, creaking and scraping along as he lurched ever onward…

down an empty urban alleyway…

its pavement out of context like some archeological dig…

unearthed by erosion…

by time…

layers of civilization crumbling away…

as would the tenement walls that loomed on either side…

block after block of abandoned homes turned into cells throughout the utility-barren subdivision…

commandeered, as habitat, by a burgeoning pride of cats…

house-cats, for the most part…

predatory…

hence the lad’s fear, sensing their crafty prevalence as he clenched the sweaty handgrips to support his withered weight, then sniffed the hostile ambiance for hints of the felines’ likely ambush—cunning little creatures. Discontent with rodents, evidently, cats had set their sights on larger, less customary quarry. Just yesterday the boy had seen them give chase to a cocker spaniel, tripping the bitch with a deftly flicked paw as it tried to escape, converging, once it toppled, to seize its throat with classic choke-hold proficiency, dormant skills revived like retroactive chromosomes. They ate it. Twenty-five to one, they overwhelmed the hapless animal and stripped its canine flesh to the chalky bone. It took only minutes… half an hour, maybe, before the killer cats dispersed and left the pickings for lesser teeth… beaks… assorted mandibles… gruesome to a lad who once had owned a tabby himself, fed it, stroked it, took it to bed with him, fell asleep to the nightly reassurance of its pacifying purr…

way back when…

weeks that seemed like months…

months like years…

parents both alive, then…

untouched by the ghastly epidemic…

late to catch whatever it was that made everyone look and act so uncharacteristically…

so kindly, at the outset…

though that phase proved abridged…

as if kindliness were a trait too tame for I-got-mine mentalities…

hoarders and raiders soon duking it out over dwindling provisions…

each group racing like lemmings into their own avaricious sea…

the young lad’s mother and father succumbing to the selfsame nihilism.

 

"Just eat what we need today," had been their sickly son’s suggestion.

Ignored.

The grocery store free-for-all frenzies, alas, had commenced…

nationwide…

and many a shopping cart clash claimed grisly fatalities…

caused by fights, initially…

superseded by bouts of toxic shock…

as families gulped, en route to intended stockpiles, every last morsel of their covetous caches

—cleaning products and all—

in binges bursting their bellies before departing the premises purloined.

A few dragged themselves home, guts distended like shopping bags ready to rupture, only to undergo fits (retroactively) of non-stop regurgitation…

the vomitus re-consumed lest surplus be yielded to disadvantaged neighbors.

It was thus that the cripple’s own parents had expired—poisoned by sixteen jars of peanut butter washed down with Liquid Plumber…

or so it appeared from containers strewn about where their only-child found them…

after staggering the seven-mile distance all by himself…

through streets of moldering canned goods and gluttonous human remains…

his arms and shoulders strained past the point of utter exhaustion…

his malnourished frame collapsing, in a pitiful pile, adjacent Mom and Dad…

bloated alike…

burst at the seams.

He had spent the night there, too stunned and tired to take refuge…

and was wakened next morning by scavengers nibbling and gnawing at features no longer recognizable…

which the little boy left behind…

without glancing back.

 

Ever since, survival of the fittest had been his number one enemy, its practical application defeating him at every turn. Not fleet enough, strong enough, fierce enough to compete (nor able, it seemed, to do anything the least bit injurious), his options for staying alive were decidedly few. While mammals more adept, more aggressive (Dis-ease free) and perniciously primal, were in pursuit…

or lurking…

poised to pounce from the gauntlet of shadows ahead…

which the lad tried to run…

haltingly…

afraid of being captured by kitty-cat claws (remembering how they hurt)…

afraid of being eaten in piece-by-piece portions…

creaking and scraping ahead, the braces like leg irons impeding his progress…

to nowhere in particular…

to someplace…

anyplace…

if only he could get there…

un-devoured.

 

In another suburb...

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