AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction piece was written for Sunday Scribblings. Although it is set in the same world as Steal Tomorrow it is part of a new series of stories centered around some new characters. The "Extras" section of the sidebar has been updated to reflect this.
For a week Mario played his newly acquired saxophone in secret, hiding in vacant apartments and empty office towers. He had a few places where he stashed his instrument when he went foraging in the looted stores and warehouses, but fear of theft was a habit from the old days. No one was likely to steal a saxophone in this crazy, post-pandemic world. Finding food, clean water and a safe place to sleep was enough to keep most survivors occupied.
It was hard to find meaning in being alive when you were infected with a retrovirus that would kill you before you reached your early twenties, but the saxophone gave Mario a sense of purpose. Many young people had given up all pretense of wanting to live and spent their days in drug and alcohol-induced oblivion. Mario had been tempted to take that route himself before he found the saxophone in a dead jazz musician's apartment and rekindled the love of music that had sustained him from childhood to high school band.
Although Mario was reasonably content with practicing in empty buildings, he was growing weary of solitude. It was well enough to play for himself, but a real musician needed an audience.
It was with this thought that he set up on a street corner one afternoon outside a looted bank. He got a few odd looks from roving gangs and foragers, but he had nothing they wanted. A saxophone was just a useless luxury.
He affixed a reed to the mouthpiece and blew a tentative note, followed by a few warmup scales. Then he launched into a rendition of "Sunny," followed by "Ain't Misbehaving." Finding his rhythm, Mario played his own version of "Perdido," adding a few favorite licks from his high school soloist days. He was so caught up in his music that he didn't notice anyone approach him until he glimpsed a movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned too late to see anything but the startling item left on the sidewalk beside his saxophone case.
He approached the can warily and picked it up. Although there were other young people in the area, they seemed intent on their own business except for the couple sitting on the curb across the street sharing a bottle of whiskey. They had been watching his performance with bleary-eyed attention, but were too intoxicated to have slipped across the street then run away so quickly.
Mario examined the can more closely. Creamed corn. He hadn't intended to play for tips, let alone something as disgusting and prosaic as creamed corn. Still, beggars couldn't be choosers, and maybe if he continued to play, he would get something better. With any luck, he wouldn't have to forage today and could concentrate on making music.
The thought that he could earn his survival for the price of a few jazz standards made him smile. He might achieve his dream of being a professional musician after all. In spite of everything, life was good.
If you enjoyed this story, check the sidebar, where you'll find the serialized novel, more flash fiction (including prequels), and other fun Steal Tomorrow stuff.