City News: The Kindness of Strangers

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction piece was written for Three Word Wednesday and is cross-posted at Alice Audrey's Serialists. 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 been updated to reflect this. Be sure to drop by Three Word Wednesday and The Serialists for more fun.

Petra wrote a few words, scratched them out, and tried again. The arts reviewer was down with food poisoning, leaving her the unwelcome task of doing a write-up of the Thespians' latest performance. She hadn't seen the show, so she was working off Al's notes which suggested more than just a few things had gone awry. The Thespians were too important to the power dynamics of the post-pandemic city for her to pan them, though, so she considered her words carefully.

"Despite a lighting mishap, Miller pulls off a sympathetic Blanche DuBois."

According to Al's notes, Miranda Miller nearly became a human torch after her costume caught fire when she made a dramatic gesture near a candle, but Petra could leave out that particular detail. It was remarkable that the Thespians could light the theater at all without electricity, so it wouldn't be fair to take cheap shots.

"The subdued lighting and spartan scenery add to the sense of impending catastrophe."

Petra suspected that the scenery debacle had been the result of a drunken misunderstanding by Thespian crew members, but why go there? She was trying to think of a way to end the review on a positive but truthful note when a sound in the doorway grabbed her attention.

"This where we place ads in the paper?"

Petra's eyes widened at the sight of the tattooed boy in animal skins standing in the doorway. She jettisoned all notions of writing a theater review as he ran a filthy hand up and down the length of his club. There were a lot of rumors about the mob of kids who had taken over the zoo, and none of them were good.

Assuming by her silence that he was in the right place, the boy strode into the room, trailing a reek of unwashed herbivores. "I'm with the Zoo Tribe."

As if she hadn't guessed.

He handed her a crumpled scrap of paper. "How much to run this for a week?"

Petra smoothed the paper with trembling hands. "Duck Eggs. Goat Milk. Trade at the Zoo." She sucked in her breath while visions of omelets and ice cream filled her mind. How long had it been since city services shut down and deliveries stopped arriving in the stores? How long had it been since she had fresh food of any kind? "We can run this right away," she said, with a quick glance at her typewriter. She had re-inked her ribbon just that morning and could have a late ad edition ready for limited distribution by evening. "Would you like to run it as is, or should I help you with the wording?"

With a grunt, the Zoo boy sat down and they spent the next twenty minutes in careful deliberation. When he finally left, Petra fondled her payment with a satisfied sigh. Two whole eggs, just for her! She could boil them, fry them, scramble them...she had some pepper and still had a bit of salt, but even raw and unseasoned, the eggs were an amazing windfall that justified her rationale for establishing a news service in the first place. Soon she would have milk and eggs as often as she liked, as well as meat and vegetables. Just how she would come by all this bounty wasn't clear, but things would get better. If she worked hard and behaved sensibly, she could make it happen.

Her gaze returned to the draft of her theater review. "Kindness of strangers be damned," she said as she headed toward the door. She had eggs of her own earning to fry.

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.


MaryA said...

Love the twist from theater review to advertising.

Jae Rose said...

You are such a wonderful story take me to these places..into your characters heads..and always leave me with a wry smile..Jae

Sheilagh Lee said...

wonderful they don't even realize it but they are setting up society all over again. these are wonderful stories

Alice Audrey said...

I love the humor in her restraint in writing the review. It's kind of hard, though, to see how hopeful she is when I know her future is so bleak.

Old Egg said...

If only all of us could adopt a "carpe diem" approach to life. Petra has chosen a great path to walk in the face of adversity attempting to make the life livable for her while it is possible. Great writing.

Belva Rae Staples said...

Great writing. I like the idea of the barter system.