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Children's' Stories
6 Months AF (After Fall)

The Fall has come and gone. Civilization's great cities like crumbling citadels have begun leaning toward decay inevitable wherever such dense masses of people faced technology’s end. In the ruins of an emptier, but not yet abandoned city, some people will do anything to make a living.

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    “Just. Find. Them.” Charlie enunciated each word too loudly and separately for it to be considered a sentence. Most of his crew sauntered off into the skyscraper’s street level entrance after their prey.

    He turned to the van and slammed his black dirt-crusted knuckles into the vehicles’ rusted metal. The truck's flat black and orange paint job flaked off where he pounded three more times, leaving a small dent. Two matching chestnut horses, tied crudely to the front by ropes and cobbled together belt straps which had been twisted into the engineless chassis, turned their heads skittishly at the noise. The children locked inside fell silent.

    “God’s sake,” he muttered.

    “Look, Charlie, I know it’s good pay but they must have parents, right?” said Jerry. He wore a raincoat with the hood down, and a button-down shirt half opened over a Green Day t-shirt. He looked less like a marauder and more like a man who had forgotten to look in the mirror before he left home.

    “Boss,” said Charlie, shaking his head at his follower.


    “I told you slackers, call me boss, not Charlie. ‘Charlie,’ isn’t gonna get us food you dipshit. Nobody in midtown is going to say don’t cross Charlie. They are going to say don’t cross, The Boss.”

    Charlie studied his reflection in the nearby building’s glass window and straightened out his duster jacket. Underneath, a neat button-down shirt strained against his stomach’s girth. He needed to find time to go steal something better before winter came again but right now, food took precedence over an imposing look.

    The city buzzed with demand for kids, with prices whispered at every dive and dumpster fire climbing weekly. Malachi offered canned goods, pound for pound for anyone under the age of five. Guaranteed, no questions asked, and Charlie knew at least two guys who cashed in and walked away clean.

    Everywhere they went, parents fought back in desperation. They hunted for food in groups as well armed and violent as the gangs now and sometimes managed to give as good as they got. Parents carried bats, axes and tire irons. Parents needed to be dispensed with. Little kids just had to be tricked.

    This time, lady luck smiled on him. More than a dozen little brats had walked right up to them, like a school group that had lost its councilors, poking around the van like moths to a flame. Little legs carried them from around the corner right toward the adult voices. One had even asked if they had food, or knew where their parents were, as if every adult in New York City knew each other. Charlie had thrown on his best nonthreatening voice, and calmly explained that there was food in the van. After the kids walked in, he had told the truth. Worth their weight in food. He could barely imagine it.  The youngest, or at least the smallest had wandered off into the local office tower before they rounded him up. Charlie wondered if it was luck, childlike inattention or maybe he smelled the trap.

    He's sent the rest of his boys in to fetch him.

    “Boss,” Jerry said, correcting the title. “What do you think Malachi wants them for?”

    “Why care? Not our problem,” Charlie answered.

    He checked his teeth in the rearview mirror and picked at a piece of meat lodged in his molars since yesterday. Brushing hadn’t been priority, in light of starvation’s constant threat and technology on the fritz. He missed take out; the greatest boon of the modern age died with the world, but the canned beef hadn’t been half bad. It reminded him of a fast-food taco, or something you could have gotten get down in Bushwick across the river.

    That was gone too.

    A gunshot barked out somewhere in the distance, and reverberated off the giant buildings’ glass faces and down side streets. It echoed back three times before the sound was too soft to hear again. Charlie and Jerry looked around as a matter of habit. Millions had died in the last few months, but New York was far from empty.

    “Dumb fuck,” Charlie said.

    Fact followed belief now. Who the hell knew that and was still dumb enough to pull the trigger on a gun? Every spark in the barrel, every chemical reaction, and every moving part had to work perfectly, every time. No thanks. Sticks and stone broke enough bones, guns would never hurt him.

    “Guns still work for some people,” Jerry said.

    “Yeah, till they blow your damn hand off. Dumb.” He sighed and stared at the glass walls. “What the hell is keeping them? It’s a fucking kid.” Jerry shrugged in response. “Go find out what the hell happened.”


    “There’s nobody else standing here, is there?”

    “It’s just a kid,” said Jerry. “We already have a bunch, let’s just go.”

    “This isn’t fish,” said Charlie. “We don’t do catch and release. They don’t go make more for next season. Do you want to eat?”

    Jerry opened his mouth to speak and closed it. He started over again and then a growling stomach closed his mouth a third time. He’d eaten a single can of beef all of yesterday, like the rest, but Charlie knew he’d snitched a stolen pouch of Indian food, the kind you used to microwave. No need to rat him out until the opportunity for blackmail came up. Hunger never abated, not for anyone. None of the crew had eaten their fill in weeks, and hunger motivated.

    “Yeah,” he answered.

    Jerry checked the axe strapped onto his back by a pair of belts. He glanced at the seat in the van where candles waited in a pile and shrugged again. The sun burned in the sky just past mid-day casting ample light even inside the buildings. He gave Charlie one more look, pleading to leave, which Charlie ignored. Jerry muttered something under his breath and walked off to the building.

    Charlie stood outside with the horses.

    They needed a quick trade with Malachi, then they needed to get the hell out of the city. Pickings were getting slimmer than a cracked whip, and they would have better luck out in Jersey or upstate. Upstate had more preppers, and preppers meant food if you found them. Jersey had more people though. Big boys in the city had started to get bigger, and he didn’t want any part of Darius’s gang. One of his crew had approached Charlie last week. Hardcore pagans one and all, in a matter of weeks after the Fall they tattooed old world symbols all over their bodies with homemade needles and pen ink. Some said they were hurling basic spells already. Soon, they’d own everything north of seventy ninth street. Hell of a step-up for Darius from being a crazy homeless guy. The Fall turned everything on its head. CEOs were powerless to make technology work, and died with the socialites, while beggars who had fought every day for scraps clawed to the top of the heap.

Caspian, once a mid-level drug pusher, who had controlled a few street corners, peddled blue grass, a drug so powerful they said it could make you an Abnormal after a few uses. No guarantees what kind of beast or wizard you’d become though. As many died as not from the transformation. That’s always the problem with beliefs. You don’t know what you believe till your back’s against the wall.

    Charlie’s money was on Caspian. He would have midtown sealed and done.

    Charlie wanted food. Plain and simple. Those two wanted war.

    “Who the hell names a kid Caspian?” he asked the pair of horses as he looked down at his shoes.

    He should have listened to his wife about getting new sneakers a few months ago.

    “Only thing she was ever right about.”

    Indecipherable muttering emanated from the vehicle, and he slammed on the van’s wall again but stopped after the second impact. “The hell was that?”

It sounded again. Yelling came from inside of the building, growing louder as he walked around the gutted vehicle toward the open front doors. It stopped. Behind him the horses kicked up slightly and he backed away. He didn’t like handling them, and usually left it to Larry who had recommended stealing the pair from the cops in the first place.

    “The fuck is taking you so long to find…”

    A scream carried clearly out to the street and echoed back like a refrain. He launched himself back to the van, grabbed the hood and instinctually hunched. He stared at the doors while hidden between the flaking metal chrome bumper and the horses’ backsides.

    “Jerry?” His breath came in fast gasps. He moved away from the beast’s dangerous ends. “You almost gave me a heart attack. Jerry?”

He checked the two knives strapped on his belt. An old fish-boning knife from his boat sat familiarly on one hip, and on the other a machete’s heavy new weight waited, unused, in its case.

    “Can’t find some kids?”

    He looked at himself in the reflection again, pulled his coat tight to his neck line, unsnapped his weapons, and looked around the street.

    “You animals stay here.”

    One horse nickered in response and he backed further away from it. He took the long way around the van, away from the untrustworthy animals.

    He walked toward the doors, stepping between shattered glass and rubble. With held breath, he heard nothing but his own beating heart and the horses shuffling behind him. He stopped just inside the doors, letting his eyes adjust. The yellow sunlight bouncing off lower Manhattan glass gave way to dull blues filtered through the UV blocking windows. Escalators led up out of the lobby to the second floor, trapped forever without power as a static, metal staircase. A fallen directory had cracked the marble floor where it had landed. The remnants of a man lay beneath it, surrounded by brown stains and tattered cloth. Bits of torn muscle and sinew stretched across dried exposed bone, where marks from rat teeth had picked away at the remains.

    Charlie forced his gaze away and walked up the stairs. Each footstep echoed as he searched for signs of motion or his crew. His gait stopped when he stepped off the frozen escalator. Jerry lay on the floor staring at the ceiling. Charlie didn’t move. Somewhere wind whistled through broken windows. Somewhere else the low and indistinct sound of a child’s voice carried.

    He crept up on Jerry. Normally pale, his skin had taken on the color of burnt paper, and taut dry membrane replaced the middle age wrinkles around his sockets. From his blue eyes blood trickled in two sticky lines down his face like tears. He lay with his arms and legs wide, as if he would make a snow angel in his own ashy remains.

    “Jerry,” Charlie said. His voice cracked as he nudged Jerry with the top of his shoe. Jerry didn’t breathe. Jerry didn’t blink.

    “Fuck,” Charlie muttered.

    “It went honk really loud…”

    The little boy’s voice carried to him again. He turned his head every which way looking for the echo’s source. Open doors on his left and his right led to offices, and stairwells.

    “I don’t know why they never move though,” the child said. 

    This time the little voice definitely emanated from the stairwell.

    “Don’t move, huh you little shit?” Charlie got out the machete, checked it once, and then white-knuckled the hilt with both hands. “You Abnormal little shit, you killed my friend. You’re gonna fetch me fifty pounds of food.”

    He’d have to deal with the kid fast. Muffle him and bind him. Most abnormals needed gestures or words. If the brat could throw fire around like what he did to Jerry, he was a fast learning abnormal. Maybe that’s what Caspian and Darius wanted with them. Kids believe anything you tell them. An army out the gate, ready to bend the world to childlike beliefs. Fact following suit.

    He crept toward the stairwell, listening and scanning. Nothing moved. Pigeons’ coos somewhere in the building mounted to a whistle. He slipped past the door held propped open by a little rubber stopper and started to climb. Two flights of stairs passed behind him and he listened at each floor as he tried to catch a sign of his quarry.

    “Mom and Dad said to wait a second, so I waited, but then…”

    The voice continued, up a level, but faded to muttering, no doubt as the boy faced a new direction.

    Charlie rushed up the flight, stopping at the top, breath hissing through his teeth, as he listened at the partially open doorway and heard more childlike nattering. He slid sideways through the frame. Passing from the dimly lit stairwell to the sunshine flooded hallway before him, he raised one hand to block most of the light. A narrow public space stretched the building’s length which let in shafts of sun from a public sitting area against the glass at the end. Elevator banks stood unused. One door pried open, led down a four-story fall, with no sign of the cab.

    He looked down as he passed it, and the smell which wafted up knocked him back on his heels.

    “Not so fresh,” he said.

    He covered his nose with his sleeve, which smelled like stale sweat and used napkins, but at least it was his own stink.

    “So, like, we were in traffic and I dropped my goldfish cracker and I was out of juice and the guy in the car next to us made a weird face and then he went all like this…”

    The boy’s voice came clearly from an open door.

    Through the crack in the door Larry’s blackened and charred skull lay face down, the back of his head burned clean of hair, and his axe dropped several feet away. Larry, his horse-master’s dead eyes stared at the bland taupe painted sheetrock beside him, his neck cranked twenty degrees too far around his head to look natural. 

    “I’ll fucking stuff my god-damn sock down your throat,” Charlie muttered.

    He needed a plan to silence the abnormal. Malachi would pay double for this kid if it was an army he was after.

    The sign on the door besides Larry’s body read “Eddy’s Experimental Edibles Emporium,” and Charlie snorted quietly to himself. The kid found candy, and was probably inside. He looked at the bowl on the desk near the entrance, laid out just as it had been before the end, with little wrapped confections in a glass dish, free for the taking. His stomach rumbled loudly, and he reminded himself to grab them on the way out.

    “And then they, um, went into this guy’s head but more like his body, and the electricity went all woom! The lady screamed, and Spiderman wasn’t even there but that would have been cool. Can we go to McDonalds...”

    Close. So close. Where was the little brat?

    The voice was clearer now and came from inside the Emporium funneling out of a side office. Charlie crept forward and listened at the mostly closed door where he heard the boy. The room’s inky black greeted him as he nudged it open with his foot. Heavy wood slowly swung open on silent hinges. The light from the hall faintly illuminated a workaday office. The ceiling had collapsed and exposed an HVAC duct laying at a forty-five-degree angle down to the floor. The child’s voice spilled out of the broken ductwork’s silver lining that lay scattered across the floor like a broken egg.

    “I want chicken nuggets and I don’t want the mustard, only the ketchup, and I don’t want a girl toy like last time. I hate when they give you the wrong toy. My friend, Bob, likes Burger King better but he is dumb because their nuggets aren’t as good.”

    Shit, he was on the wrong floor. How the hell did the kid get up there? Did he climb into the vent? Who was he talking to?

    Charlie peered up the ductwork to a hint of light one or two stories up where the metal angled toward the outer wall of windows. He leaned against it for just a moment to listen, and the metal popped like a tin can under pressure, sending a cacophony up the tubing and all through the building.

    “What was that?”

    “Come with me, Rhys,” said a woman’s voice in response.

    Fucking parents after all.

    Where did a parent come from? He hadn’t seen any go into the building. Maybe that’s why the kids had been looking for them in the first place?

    He craned his neck to see what could be done about pinpointing his quarry but the ductwork’s cross section measured a few inches narrower than his shoulders’ width. Metal grinding on metal would announce his presence long before he made it to the top. Parents, or at least adults, created complications. They could have weapons too, or be the abnormals. A dozen marks waited downstairs already.

    Jerry was probably right. He should just leave.

    His stomach growled again and he contemplated the promise of another kid’s weight in canned goods and the even more interesting prospect he might not have to share it with anyone if his entire crew had been done in. He could wait the whole damn thing out until everything got back to normal.

    He went quickly back the way he came, forgot to grab the handful of candies, and moved up two more stories huffing, puffing, and pulling his loose-fitting jeans up. He had lost weight so why weren’t the stairs any goddamn easier? Why did his belly still press on his clothing?

    “And there was this robot dog, that came out, and, hey, can I watch some YouTube…”

    The voice clearly came from the open door to the next level. The kid moved fast. Charlie followed the sound for a half minute before he froze again. Wrappers crinkled and lips smacked. Light shone from around the corner of a hallway opposite the windows down the hall. Lantern? Definitely adults. The kid didn’t have a light when he came in.

    Quick and deliberate strikes always worked. The adult, abnormal or whatever guarded the kid, stayed his first priority to dispatch on the first swing. Sweat worked up from tension and the jog up the stairwell lathered his fists. They deserved whatever they had coming. They killed Jerry. If the kid bolted, he could always catch him later.

    “Can we get a dog? That robot dog saved that guy that time the other day…”

    Charlie burst out, machete held high to strike, and froze.

    Two wings of raven black feathers flapped, connected to the back of a being which stood with charcoal-colored feet on its second pair of wings folded beneath its toes, as though touching the earth was an affront. A third pair of wings wrapped forward around the body’s front enfolding it like a lover’s embrace from behind.

    “What the fuck?”

    “Wait for me, Rhys” a female voice said from the six-winged beast, to the unseen child.

    The body covered from chin to midriff by one wing and from waist to ankle by the other glowed with the intensity of a setting sun. Where it peeked out from the Corvus feathers, the dark skin suffused the hallway with an impossible radiance. Feathers moved individually, like prehensile fingers unlike the flapping of bird wings. The slow breeze they generated couldn’t possibly keep the large creature aloft but still it hovered there effortlessly towering over Charlie.

    “To hunt a child,” the creature said. “What crime can be more terrible than this?’’

Charlie’s plan faded to a memory. He wanted to swing, to run, to move, but instead he heard a metal blade clatter to the ground. The wings unfurled and six white eyes blinked out of unison, all looking at him. He felt his skin grow hot, and he lifted an arm to defend himself, to block out radiance hotter than fire, but he couldn’t pull his eyes away from her.

    “Please,” escaped his lips.

    Ammonia curled in his nostrils as he pissed himself. He baked. Skin pulled away from his teeth, and his lips curled. He tried to speak, but his throat blistered over, and he had no spit to wet his tongue. The winged figure transfigured from charcoal to alabaster and swirled in his vision between the two. The six eyes moved across a blurred facial landscape becoming two eyes, and a perfect nose rose up between them. Raven wings turned to white swan feathers. A gentle glow formed over its head, as red and yellow robes sprouted from its back and draped its shoulders.

    Charlie wouldn’t live to see the transformation complete. Rivulets of blood ran down his cheeks and he became vaguely aware of the stone floor’s cold touch on his fingertips as his hands began to flail. He choked on his tongue, and on the edge of his fading consciousness he heard a child’s voice, ask for more sweets. 


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See you soon, in the Fallen Earth.

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