AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction piece was written for Three Word Wednesday and will be cross-posted later this week at Weekend Writer's Retreat. It is not part of the novel and it contains no spoilers. Be sure to drop by Three Word Wednesday or Weekend Writer's Retreat for more fun!
Seth ran as fast as his ten year-old legs could carry him, dodging trash and leaping over potholes. The teenagers were faster, though, and he could hear them gaining. He swerved around a dirty girl’s cook fire and scanned the way ahead for friendly faces, but there were no allies here. The kids saw the boys chasing him and knew better than to interfere. No one in their right mind would challenge a group of Kevorks, the most violent tribe in the post-pandemic city.
In a last desperate bid to evade his pursuers, Seth ducked into a building. He dodged a few chairs, then felt his feet slide out from under him as he slipped on glossy information sheets about checking accounts and mortgage loans. He skidded into a rope that had once defined the queue to speak to a teller and went down with a crash. The stolen goods he had been clutching to his chest went flying, and in an instant, he was surrounded.
“You stupid little shit.”
“Think you’re such a bad-ass, don’t you?”
One of the boys bent over him, his eyes crackling with malevolence. “Ready to find out what we do to thieves?”
Seth didn’t dare point out that the Kevorks were themselves thieves and that in a lawless world without adults, theft was a matter of survival, not a crime.
The boy kicked Seth hard in the ribs, called him a “goddamned ignorant punk,” then let loose with a string of vulgarities that was impressive even by the standards of Kevorks.
“Come on, David, that’s not necessary.”
The boy had been about to kick him again, but now he turned around. “What do you think I should do instead, Gallows? Praise this little fucker’s breaking and entering skills?”
“He’s just a kid, and we caught him. He’s not worth wasting our time on.”
Seth held his breath as a taller boy emerged out of the shadows. He half-expected another kick, but instead Gallows motioned him to his feet. “Pick up our stuff that you dropped and give it back.”
He hurried to obey, fumbling in the shadows for the scattered candy bars. When he had found them all and handed them over, Gallows patted down his pockets just to be sure. “Try something like this again, and you won’t get off so easy. Got it?”
The words were stern, but Seth caught a glimpse of something gentle in Gallows’ eyes. There was also a bulge in one of his pockets that hadn’t been there before, but he asked no questions, and lowered his gaze respectfully. “I won’t do it again. Promise.”
“You believe this brat?” David said.
“The kid is sorry, we got our stuff back, and we’ve got better things to do than harass children.”
“Like find some more bourbon,” one of the boys agreed.
“Screw that,” said one of the others. “Oxycontin. We passed a pharmacy that looks like it hasn't been raided yet…”
The Kevorks walked away, bickering over their next move, leaving Seth alone in the ruined bank. It had been a lucky escape. He would have to be more careful who he stole from, and he wondered if he should seek out the protection of a group. A lot of kids were forming tribes these days, since there was safety in numbers.
He reached in his pocket and pulled out the Snickers bar Gallows had slipped in there while pretending to pat him down for stolen goods. There would be time enough tomorrow to look for a group to join. For the moment, he had what he needed.
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