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 orphans 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 fearedwhether 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
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
hence the lads 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 ambushcunning 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 lads mother and father succumbing to the selfsame nihilism.
"Just eat what we need today," had been their sickly sons suggestion.
The grocery store free-for-all frenzies, alas, had commenced
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 cripples own parents had expiredpoisoned 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
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
poised to pounce from the gauntlet of shadows ahead
which the lad tried to run
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
if only he could get there