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 new characters. The "Extras" section of the sidebar has updated to reflect this. If you enjoyed this story, drop by Sunday Scribblings for more fun!
It was only a rumor. If Tim listened to everything that got said in this post-pandemic city full of hungry and traumatized children, he'd have no time for the performances that kept his little gang alive. Still, this most recent story wasn't the sort of tale that would get told for no reason. What purpose did it serve for the strange teenage boy with the painted face and wild hair to tell him of a music shop that had been mostly spared by looters?
Tim raised himself on one elbow and looked across the room. In the moonlight he could see the outline of their band leader Mario, sleeping soundly next to his saxophone case. The sax was of professional quality and probably better than anything Tim could steal. Cee's flute, on the other hand...he turned his gaze to the skinny girl sleeping fully clothed by his side. Her instrument was a student-grade flute with old pads and a headjoint that often went out of tune. An upgrade would be nice, both for her and for the future of their jazz trio. Perhaps the music shop would also have drumsticks. He had everything he needed, but it was always fun to see what other options were available.
Quietly, Tim got to his feet, fumbled in the dark for his shoes, coat and flashlight, felt his way down the stairs and out onto the filthy streets. He kept to the shadows, trying not to trip over trash and dead electrical lines as he splashed through puddles of fetid water from the backed-up sewers and crunched over glass from broken windows. Somewhere a cat howled, but he no longer shivered at the sound of skittering rats or the other strange noises made by feral animals in the night. Teenage survivors like himself were far more dangerous.
After an agonizing half hour that felt much longer, he found Jim's Music World. Although the door was off its hinges and the plate glass windows broken, very little had been taken. The rumors were correct.
Tim switched on his flashlight and found the woodwind section. Now he had a new dilemma: which flute was best? As a percussionist, he had no idea what to look for, so he selected the three most expensive models and was examining them for clues when he was startled by the sound of footsteps at the back of the shop. With no time to even take it apart and put it back in its case, Tim grabbed a flute at random and sprinted for the door.
He ran until he felt certain he wasn't being followed, then stopped to catch his breath. It had been a close call, and he hadn't even had a chance to look at drumsticks. Oh well. At least he had gotten the most important thing.
When he got back to the apartment, he noticed a faint light at one of the windows. Cee and Mario greeted him at the door.
"Where the hell were you?" Mario demanded.
Before Tim could answer, Cee noticed what he held in his hand and her expression of concern turned to one of delight. She nudged past Mario and took the flute reverently.
Mario understood but shook his head anyway. "Dumb thing to do. We should've all gone together, in daylight."
"I wanted it to be a surprise." He turned to Cee. "Did I surprise you?"
She nodded and threw her arms around him.
"Surprised you didn't get killed is more like it," Mario muttered. He picked up his solar lantern, which was rapidly losing its charge, and headed toward the bedroom. "Lock the door and let's go back to bed."
Tim threw the deadbolt, then turned back to Cee. "I'm sorry I couldn't get the case that goes with it. Think your old one will work?"
She nodded and blew a few hesitant notes. Under her skilled breath and talented hands, the new Pearl Elegante sounded like liquid water or the cooing of a dove.
"I'm sorry if I worried you."
Cee put the flute down and gave a little shrug. She was a mute, unable to speak, but that didn't mean she couldn't communicate. She brought the flute back to her lips and played a little blues riff before segueing into a soft, sentimental tune that Tim couldn't place. He sat down in a nearby chair to listen. There was plenty of night in their world and sleep could wait.
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