"Mom!" He cried and rubbed his eye sockets. He woke from his slumber alert. The air was dry, his throat parched from lack of water. His eyes darted to the left and then to the right, desperately searching the vast darkness, seeking the woman he knew as a mother. He saw her nowhere. He stood up and dragged his blanket. Once a pale shade of blue, it was now grey and lifeless, worn thin in places that he rubbed on his cheek.
Hunger rumbled and pulled at his abdomen, begging for acknowledgment. A feeling he had come to know well. He suppressed it. Nausea crept in and beckoned his attention as he reached into the pocket of his shorts. His tiny fingers found lint and sand, a few worthless pennies, and a fine metal string. He pulled on it gently at first, then more firmly, attempting to release from the clutch of his only finances the lump hanging on the end of the chain. The pennies let go, and the heart-shaped locket was then resting in the palm of his hand.
He rubbed his tiny thumb over the shiny heart, the embossed swirls and etching catching on his skin. He flipped it open, exposing the photo of his mother; tears welled up in his eyes, the photo of her releasing a flood of memories. The memories flashed quickly, laughter on his birthday, the war, a Christmas filled with joy, the pandemic, the vaccines that eradicated the population. Life had been very different then, before the modifications happened.
He put the locket back in his pocket and continued to walk, searching for water, looking for food, perhaps shelter. An animal scurried in the darkness, the scratch of its claws on the ground alerting him to its presence. He reached up to touch his face, his mask in place; it covered his nose and mouth. He wore it as a reminder of the loss and as protection from the contagions that remained airborne.
Movements after dark were customary among those that had survived and now inhabited the Lowers, an area below the residential suburbia that housed the privileged and wealthy. Widespread concern for the safety of the lower inhabitants frequented chatrooms in the early days of the new world order while they were still provided cell phone service. Eventually, tower signals were blocked to any area code not registered to the elite and utilization of those patronizing the group chats came to an abrupt halt.
The working and middle classes funded the modifications with their tax and tithing dollars. Those whom the media brainwashed yet still believed that their vocations were essential and trusted their government and church leaders for guidance. They worked diligently and provided for family and the country as they hoped for retirement that would never arrive. Instead, the procurement of their assets was used to fund the economic war and elevate the disparity between classes.
Humanity lined up for untested vaccines with promises of good health and financial reward. Lotteries erupted as an incentive to be first in line. Protect the population, create herd immunity, do your part for society! It was all a lot of malarky in the end, but it had been too late for most. The race began to die off slowly, then those that were immune to the injections grew stronger. Those were the ones that were wanted, desired for scientific study. They were the ones that were hunted now. He was not one of them. He was merely a lower inhabitant, struggling to survive with nothing.
What humanity needed for survival was a unified front. It was not found; division rose like a phoenix. Movements gained momentum in the beginning, creating discernible rifts amongst the people. Fighting for the audience was at the forefront of every campaign, each one of them a savoury distraction from the economic war and the ensuing pandemic. Suddenly the rights of each new movement became more important than the movement from the week before, leaving nothing to pick from the bones of the weary and the lost but sadness and regret. The voices became mute, the sound of their cries heard but not recognized.
He lifted the lid from a trash can, sifting through the ingredients, searching for a meal. He found nothing edible and continued walking. The dose he received of the vaccine had stunted his growth, and he was small in stature. He used it now to his advantage. He looked like a child of no more than ten. He clung to his blanket, the only personal item that remained, other than the locket she had given to him.
Only a few hours remained until the sun would once again rise, obliterating the darkness. His awareness of time was now dependent on a connection to positioning in the sky of the moon that he knew so well. Its face was known only to the walkers of from the Lowers.
Two things remained constant, unchanged even among the new world order, the rising of the moon and the sun. Both still in orbit, relative to the earth, they kept time well. His urgency to find food intensified. He rubbed the locket again. "Please help me, Mother. You have not failed yet. Eating is a necessity tonight." Looking around, he saw no one. He was the only walker out.
He sauntered down an abandoned street. The empty shop fronts and restaurants appeared haunted. He stopped along the way to peek into trash cans and recycling bins. The quiet at this hour struck him as odd, every night. None of the elite who had been spared suffering wandered after dark. They kept themselves safely in their homes. They were most likely tucked into king-sized beds adorned with six hundred thread-count sheets. He wondered of what they dreamt? Did they consider those that had paid the price for the freedom they now enjoyed? He thought about what the new world leaders ate for dinner and if they ever knew the pain of hunger.
He turned the corner and headed up the avenue towards Douglas Street, where the residents always threw scraps in their bins. He would find something there. Something decent, well prepared and likely there would be enough to take for the destitute and tomorrow as well.
The elm trees hung loosely over the street, thier leaves heavy with dust. Climate change left the planet void of wind; the air hung burdensome. Heat radiated from the asphalt in the midday sun, roasting the toes of mutts and cats seeking shelter. Dust accumulated, in corners, on the roofs of houses and buildings. In the residential area, there was an aroma that was different from the lowers where he hid. It smelled of cut grass, fir trees and flowers. It stirred memories; he had lived somewhere like this once.
He had been alone for so long now; he did not know what day it was, what month or what year. He no longer had a grasp on how old he had grown or how long it had been since his mother had died. He still dreamt of her often, waking from sleep suddenly parched and alone, the narrative never changing. Then, finally, he saw a trash bin and quickened his pace.
He lifted the lid to find remnants of a five-course meal. He used his blanket to hold the food. Carefully, he placed as much of the superior portions as he could onto the unfolded baby blanket. He would share with those who could not hunt for rations themselves and salvage what he could for a few days. He had uncovered a treasure here. He tied the top of the blanket in a knot, careful to close all four sides. He would remember Douglas Street to return to as one that had provided.
He allowed the lid of the trash can to drop, startling a Doberman that was on watch that evening. The dog growled and barked as he ran towards the intruder. His yard perimeter broached! Prowler! Prowler! Prowler!
Lights immediately illuminated the yard. A strobe light flashed on the driveway and into the street, alerting neighbours to his presence. He wanted to run but was immobilized with fear. He stood still, watching the guard dog as it lunged toward him, tackling him and crushing him to the ground. His slight frame was no challenge for the trained attack animal. He fell to the driveway effortlessly with no fight.
It no longer mattered the hue of his skin, his height, or his religious beliefs. His sexual preference was not of concern to this dog, nor was his political opinion or vaccination status. Instead, the animal cared only for the man's character—a character left to starve, one that would steal from trash cans of the elite few for his survival. One that steals not only for himself but also for those who cannot provide for themselves. It was this character that was attacked ferociously. His invasion of the things intended for the landfill was unacceptable in the eyes of the privileged few who lived on Douglas Street.
The Doberman clenched its jaws around his neck. With the hot saliva dripping onto his skin, he could feel the dog's teeth pressing through his flesh. His eyes drifted towards the house, now brightly lit; a result of his intrusion, homeowners, stood clad in bathrobes watching as the dog destroyed him. Their faces void of expression; this was nothing of a surprise. A suited security officer moved closer to where he lay, slowly, not intending to interrupt the dogs' assault. The strobe light continued to flash, beckoning onlookers to watch the reduction of human life to that of debris. To be removed quickly and without stain to the property or its inhabitants. The life of a lower reduced to be nothing more significant than repugnant, not valued, not utilized or despised, simply dismissed.
He struggled to find the strength to reach his tiny hand into his pocket. Then, taking the heart-shaped locket that housed a photo of his mother, he took his last breath.
About the Creator
Taught by some of the greatest literary minds of this century, Sandra's delivery method is reminiscent of her mentors and yet uniquely her own page-turning style. Her novels are suspenseful, unpredictable, & thought-provokingly colorful.