Animal Tales of the
by Roy Peak
So last week was Peak Week and last week Music Editor Roy Peak took over the coop. And you might be sad because you think...dang! Peak Week is over.
But Time doesn't work that way around here! We have no respect for its strict boundaries and one-way time-flow nonsense. So here's an extension of Peak Week. We've bent time itself for your enjoyment.
Animal Tales of the Zombie Apocalypse
From his perch on the branch of the big oak tree that stood near the pond, the big black crow could see that the buzzards were circling again. They were doing that more frequently, ever since the humans had all gotten sick, and started dying in the streets. The weird part is some of the dead humans got back up and kept on going, eating other humans or whatever unfortunate creatures that got too close to them. Weird.
The crow knew better than to eat sick humans. That was a good way to get sick yourself, but the buzzards didn't care, and had been enjoying their feasts. Until they too started getting sick. Just yesterday he had seen four sick buzzards, no longer able to fly, attacking each other until there was nothing left but broken beaks and a lot of blood and feathers.
So the old crow stayed away from the sick humans, hunted the occasional frog or mouse, ate from the cornfields to the east, and scavenged nuts that fell from the trees in the park. He was an old crow, all his hatchling siblings were long gone, scattered like leaves in the wind, so he spent most of his days alone—eating, flying, watching. He used to enjoy watching the humans. They did the most interesting things: Walk their dog companions in the park. Race their metal boxes around the city streets. Spend hours in their nests, staring at their talking bright-light boxes. Coddle some of the plants in their yards, while chopping and killing others. Some of the things the humans did made no sense to the crow, maybe that’s what made them interesting.
He heard a noise to the west, towards the city of the humans. He cocked his head to locate it, then flew closer, because he thought for sure that his senses were tricking him, but no, this was really happening: Two buzzards were attacking a sick human as she walked haltingly down the concrete pathway. The buzzards would take turns sneaking up on her, tear off a piece of flesh, then retreat to eat it, and then return for another bite. To them, she was nothing more than a meal, while the sick woman walked on, oblivious. The crow wondered what would happen when the buzzards got to her legs. Would she keep on trying to walk without any muscles? Would she just lay down and stop?
The crow decided that he had seen enough, and circled back to the oak tree, ready to find some food for itself. The sun was disappearing and things were getting interesting indeed.
Mr. Priss was not looking good. Mr. Priss was a long-haired Maine Coon, striped and deep orange. Tapioca would spend hours watching as Mr. Priss would saunter back and forth behind the large window in the nest across from theirs, like a newly crowned prince on display before eventually laying down in the window and sunning himself.
Or at least that's what he used to do. A few weeks ago he began to only look out the window nervously, everyday thinner and thinner, until one day his usually perfectly groomed coat was spotted with blood, clumped and messy. And then two darks ago he wearily laid down in the window to take a sun nap. He was still there. Not moving.
"Poor Mr. Priss," said Tapioca's human—whom Tapioca usually called "Food Lady," sometimes "Mom," but mostly just "Human." She stared quietly out the window for a long time while Tappy, as Human sometimes called her, stood quietly at her feet, looking across the concrete canyon that separated their nest from Mr. Priss, watching for any sign of movement, but there was none. Something had obviously happened to Mr. Priss's human—but what?
Things had been different now these last few months in the city of the humans. Tapioca's human had hardly been out of their nest since it had started. First she sat in front of the talking glow box, or talking to other humans on the smaller glow box, and crying a lot. Then she started smoking those smelly fire sticks inside, not out on the balcony like she used to. One day the inside lights had gone dark and the big glow box stopped talking. Human cried for many darks when that happened. After that, Human would leave the nest less often and when she did, she was gone for longer periods, and more frantic each time she returned. The last time, she was gone for three whole darks. Tapioca had eaten all the food Human had left her in her bowl, and was lucky enough to capture and kill two lizards she found in the room where Human kept her smelly skin coverings. When Human returned she was panting, nervous, more distraught than she had been when she left. But she did have food. Two big bags of the dry crunchy for Tapioca, an assortment of boxes and cans of food for herself.
But that was weeks ago and now all that food was nearly gone. Tappy hadn't seen a lizard or barely even a bug in over a week. She knew that Human would be leaving again to go get some more food, but how long before she came back? What if there was no more food anywhere for Human to get?
Human closed the curtains and paced the floor. Tapioca walked with her, twisting between Human's feet as she strode, nervous about her leaving, and wanted her head reassuringly scratched, but Human was ignoring her. Tapioca stopped purposely in Human's way, trying to get her attention, which caused Human to trip on her.
"Damn it, Tapioca!" Human yelled, "I wish you wouldn't do that! You're gonna make me break my neck one day if you're not careful!” Tapioca ran and hid under the end table. She wanted attention but hated when Human raised her voice at her like that.
The next morning Human poured every bit of Tapioca's remaining food onto the floor by the window, a pile only about half as large as Tapioca herself. Human then put on her heavy boots and a big black jacket over her pale skin. Human lifted Tapioca into her arms and hugged her close. Both Human and Tapioca were skinnier, scrawnier than they were months before this had all started, but Human still smelled good to the fluffy cat. She smelled like reassurance, like hope.
"You be good, Tappy Cat." she told her. "I'll be back, soon as I can."
Rex—short black hair, long of tail, small, almost dainty feet, skinny legs, big brown eyes, part Whippet, part Labrador, part who knows what—was the runt of the litter and the last one that wouldn't sell. Nobody wanted Rex, not even his owner. His owner was a short, round human with an upturned nose who would tie Rex to the tree outside, where Rex would have no choice but to lie in the dirt and mud all day, rain or shine. The tree was too small to provide any shade and the covered porch was too far away for Rex to reach on the short rope. Some days Rex's owner would forget to feed him. He would get in his car, drive to the corner store and return with a six-pack or two of beer, then walk back into the house without even saying a word to the skinny, hungry dog.
One day a car stopped at the corner. A blonde-haired human girl looked at Rex through the window. She drove off, but then Rex saw her again, nearly every day. Each time the girl would stop at the corner and look at Rex with concern for many minutes before finally driving off. Rex began to look forward to this near daily occurrence. At least it was some sort of interaction with a fellow living being.
And then one day, after it had been raining all night and most of the day, the girl pulled up to the corner, saw Rex lying in the mud next to the tree, got out of car, untied the sad, wet dog, and took Rex home to a clean bath, a house with a comfortable couch, and a fellow canine named Daytona to hang out with. Rex had never known such joy and the comfort of safety.
The raccoon searched through the big metal box again but found nothing to eat. What was going on? The humans used to fill this particular box every single day with more yummy food than she or her kits could eat. They would have a moonlit buffet nearly every night—cake, chicken parts, barbecue, french fries, chips, bread, cookies, fish—the menu was endless. Sometimes they'd eat so much that they wouldn't even worry about going back the next day.
But now, since well before the last moonless night, the humans had stopped filling the box with the plentiful yummies. They had also stopped driving in their metal boxes with wheels. Ginger used to see them all the time, hurtling down the concrete paths, chasing after each other the way asshole cats chased squirrels. The noise from all those hurtling boxes made her ears hurt and the smells made her nose twitch. The last humans she'd seen had been walking down one of the paths that were used by the big iron monsters that rolled along noisily. The humans were huddled up close, Ginger could smell their fear from where she watched. They followed the tracks south until they were out of sight. Were they following the big iron monsters or running from them? Come to think of it, she hadn't seen those in quite a while too.
Ginger climbed out of the metal box, stood on her hind legs, and sniffed the air. What was that smell coming from the west? Like two-day old hamburgers—no, more like the meat she'd find in the metal box behind the big building the humans used to store their food: uncooked, starting to rot, but not yet infested by insects. She followed the scent. If the meat was too rotten to eat, maybe there would be enough insects around for a quick snack. She couldn't tarry too long though, her kits were waiting for her. If she wasn't back soon they would get impatient and start to look for food themselves and get lost. She sniffed the air again and headed west.
There was a lizard under the bed, Tapioca just knew it. She could smell it, and it was driving her crazy. Human had been gone now for over six darks. Tapioca had lost the exact count since before she had eaten the last of her food. Seven darks? Nine? She wasn't sure. All she knew for sure was that all those long hours sitting by the door, waiting for her human to return, had been in vain, and had turned into every house cat's nightmare: Abandoned, with no food, and no one to clean her box. She had begun to go outside the box and on the carpet, even knowing full well that Human would scold her when she got back, but what choice did she have? She found a spider (not much meat there) and a couple of beetles to eat (meatier, but very dry,) but that had been three darks ago at least. Tapioca couldn't recall a time before when she had been this hungry. She spent the better part of one sun up hunting for that lizard but to no avail.
Tapioca stood by the door to the nest and waited hours for her human to open it and come in, with a smile on her face, ready to scratch the top of Tapioca's head, but it didn't happen. She remembered a time when she had snuck out the door while Human was putting up food that she had gathered. There was a long hallway outside their nest, with many doors, and a staircase. Tapioca imagined that there used to be more humans behind each door—she used to hear them through the walls all the time, but that was long before the inside lights turned off. Now everything was quiet. The railing was missing on a section near the stairs and when Tapioca looked down she could hardly see the bottom of the tower.
"Tapioca! There you are!" whispered Human as she scooped Tapioca up from the precipice and carried her back inside, scratching her head. "Don't do that again! You scared me!"
Tapioca sat for a while, thinking about her human, how she missed the head scratches and sleeping next to her when it was dark. After a while she gave up and went to the big window that looked out onto the city of the humans with their concrete canyons and tower nests. There was one lone crow circling nearby, some larger birds further out, but what good would that do her? Mr. Priss was still in the window across from theirs, laying in the sun. Now his fur had sunk in and turned black, there were holes in his skin. Poor Mr. Priss indeed.
Tapioca laid down and watched the birds while the sky got darker, dreaming of lizards running to and fro while she licked her lips in anticipation.
The big old crow flew high over the park, then turned against the wind towards the houses of the humans. He could see a few humans—sick ones he guessed from the manner in which they were moving: slow, haltingly, a kind of jerkiness to their walk—scattered around the streets. They weren't marching in straight lines, or using their metal boxes to move around in, or gathering with their noisy children and dogs in the park, which was sure to make the squirrels much more relaxed. There was a big open field of concrete a little ways off where the humans would corral their metal boxes, so he flew that way, but there were very few metal boxes today and no humans at all. A few pigeons and some seagulls were scavenging there, and even though he'd always found pigeons dull and slow-witted, and seagulls haughty, perhaps they would have news of what was happening to all of the humans.
He landed a few feet away from several pigeons fighting over the scraps from an overturned garbage can. A few gulls were nearby, trying to decide on whether to wait for the pigeons to finish fighting or to just jump in and take the scraps from them. One of the younger gulls began to immediately scream at the crow "Mine! Mine!" but he ignored her and walked right over to where one of the older gulls stood patiently.
"Where are the humans?" he said in the shared language of birds, which was older by far than any human language.
"Don't know. Don't care," said the gull, eyeing him suspiciously. The crow was obviously there to steal food and was trying to divert his attention from the pigeons. "I saw some this morning."
"They've been acting strange. Something has happened to them. Many are sick, the rest are in hiding or on the run."
"They always act strange. Make noise, make noisy machines, make war with other humans. It has always been this way."
"Still, something is not right. Yesterday I saw buzzards attacking each other, they could no longer take to the sky and their eyes were as dead as the sick humans."
"Buzzards eat the dead. It is their way."
Right then a couple of grackles landed nearby and the noisy gull screamed at them: "Mine!" The grackles looked at one another before flying off, not willing to take on the bigger bird. The seagulls decided they had waited long enough and dove at the garbage can, scattering the pigeons. The pigeons cooed nervously but knew better than to argue with seagulls.
The old crow watched them for a few seconds before taking off. It was getting hot now under the noon sun and he longed for some shade and a cool drink.
The pug, Daytona, was whimpering and hiding in the closet while Rex's human family was barricading the doors and windows with any and all of the furniture they could stack up. There were humans outside, more of them than Rex could count, banging on the windows, on the doors, wailing with a strange cadence Rex had never heard before, trying to find an entry. Rex could smell them through the walls of the house, like meat that's sat out for too many warm days—what was wrong with them that they smelled like death, yet were obviously still alive? And why were they trying to hurt Rex's family?
Rex sat by the closet, watching, unsure of how to act, when the window across from him shattered inward, the dresser against it falling over in a crash. Two of the sick smelling humans were trying to squeeze through the opening, fighting against each other as they did so. Rex barked aggressively at them but they kept coming. The smaller of the two, a woman with dirty clothes and dark hair gaining entry first, before she fell on the floor and tripped on the dresser. Rex barked his fool head off—Daytona joining him—and finally the older human male of their family came running. Dad—that's what everyone called him—had a shovel in his hands, and beat the woman while she struggled to stand, keeping her on the ground. He used the flat end of the shovel to chop off her head. It took several attempts as she kept moving, and he was trying to stay away from the other bad human who was coming in through the window. When the woman stopped moving—leaving a foul, black mess on the floor, pouring from her open neck—Dad turned his full attention to the other one, beating its head in with the metal end of the shovel until he stopped moving.
Rex watched nervously as Dad righted the dresser and then shoved part of the bed frame against it, trying in vain to cover the broken window. Daytona was still barking, practically hoarse now, but showing no signs of shutting up. Dad was scared. Rex could tell. Mom came in the room with a black metal pan in her hands, tears staining her makeup down her face. Rex had no idea what to do except stay out of the way.
Bubba's stomach was killing him. Figures that the first human meal he'd ever had in his life would give him a stomach ache. Sure, he'd seen plenty of humans in his decade and a half of living in the preserve, but there was never any need to eat any of them as there was always plenty of food around. The stupid humans would wave and holler, sometimes laugh, they'd point shiny, flashing contraptions at Bubba and his fellow bears, and they'd talk non-stop to the point where it drove Bubba absolutely crazy. Sure, he'd think about eating one or two of them all of the time, maybe that would shut them up and force them to leave him alone. But then he'd eat out of the bucket by the metal vines until he was full and forget about the humans altogether.
A few weeks ago the humans stopped coming to fill up his bucket, much less wave and talk. He found strawberries and a few big mushrooms, two barrels of pine seeds, dug up a gopher hole and ate all their food as well as two of the gophers that were too slow to get away, three squirrels, a dead possum, and then dug into a trashcan and ate all of the discarded human food in it. None of that gave him a stomach ache, but that human he came across yesterday—dead, laying near one of the human buildings—had given him the mother of all stomach aches, so bad he didn't even want to eat the blueberries he found in the field.
It wasn't anywhere near hibernation season, yet Bubba was tired. So tired, he laid down right where he was and closed his eyes. His dreams were dark and full of an unending and painful hunger.
Tapioca woke hungry, again. She looked out at the city, the sun was still low, barely above the edge of the world. One lone bird flew between the tower nests, free. But, in the window across from her, Mr. Priss was nowhere to be seen! Tapioca blinked in disbelief and stood up, staring across the way. Where was he? Did his human come back? Did they take him to the place where they fixed the animals? Maybe if they would look out the window they would see Tapioca and come feed her. She knocked her head on the glass, knowing they wouldn't hear it, but she had to do something. Her stomach was hurting, she was so hungry. Wait, something was moving the curtains in the window. Tapioca stretched as tall as she could hoping that Mr. Priss's human would see her.
And there it was. Not Mr. Priss, and not his human, either. This was something new. She could see it moving slowly in the dim light, moving closer to the window, a human figure—but not moving like a human. It moved haltingly, mechanically, shuffling slowly. It came into the light by the window and Tapioca got a much better look. Pale green-grey skin, skin so tight it was beginning to slough off, peeling away at the shoulders and on its face, hair matted and falling out, its mouth a red gash with missing, stained teeth. Those dark eyes, seeing perhaps, but lacking true consciousness. There was no soul behind those eyes. And worst of all there was also Mr. Priss—or what was left of him. This human was eating Mr. Priss, tearing his fur back, pulling his insides out and tearing into him with its stained teeth. Tapioca was in shock. Humans didn't eat cats, this made no sense. Was Mr. Priss's human so hungry that it no longer cared? What was wrong with this human? Is this what had happened to all of the humans? Is this why her human had not returned? Being a cat, she didn't get sad often, but the thought of her human—whom she had known since she was a kitten, rescued from a building full of cages—being like this pathetic, scary creature she saw in Mr. Priss's nest, made her the saddest she had ever felt.
The thing that did not act like a human looked out the window, and seeing nothing that caught its attention, turned back inside, still gnawing on what little was left of the once proud cat, and was lost from Tapioca's view. She turned her gaze to the city and scanned the bottom of the concrete canyon and after a while she saw them in the distance: more humans, walking not like humans at all, shuffling around the street rather aimlessly. She couldn't see their eyes from this distance, but she could tell by their gait, their manner, that they too were lacking a soul. One of them carried the leg of what may have been a small dog in it's fist, gnawing at it lazily as it walked. Another of the strange humans was eating on what was unmistakably another human's arm, starting with the fingers and then working its way down to the elbow where it had been rent from its owner. The pack of humans shuffled slowly up the street and turned at the corner, out of her sight. Tapioca sincerely hoped that wasn't her human's arm that the one had been eating.
Tapioca heard a noise and when she turned her head she saw the lizard—skinny, emaciated—running across the floor. She let it go. As hungry as she was, she suddenly had no appetite.
Everything was happening so fast. The sick humans broke in again, so many of them that Rex's family couldn't stop them. Dad was grabbed fast by two of them and as he was fighting them off, Mom hit one over and over with her metal pan until it stopped moving. Dad twisted the other one's neck all the way until it made a sickening crunching noise, and the creature fell limp to the ground. Mom helped Dad up, they grabbed the two dogs and ran to the kitchen but there were more sick humans there, shuffling towards them. Mom was crying, Dad was yelling, Dakota was still barking, and now snapping angrily at the other humans. They all turned around to retreat but suddenly there were more humans. They were surrounded. Mom and Dad, back to back, unsure of what to do. Rex could tell they were scared. He knew that Dad couldn't fight off these humans while holding him in his arms. These people had rescued him when no one else would. He had to do something.
Rex leapt from Dad's grip and snarled at the closest sick human, hitting it in the throat with his open jaws, knocking it back against the other humans. As they fell down like bowling pins, Rex bit another one and then another. He heard Mom and Dad screaming but he wasn't about to stop. He paused for only a second, in time to see Dad dragging Mom out the front door, Dakota in her arms, then he turned back to putting a stop to the humans who were trying to hurt his family.
Ginger followed the smell further to the west than she had ever been. She scampered down a long sidewalk on a street full of human houses with small fenced in yards. There was a small pond out front of one of the houses so she stopped to see if there were any frogs or fish to eat but finding none continued down the sidewalk.
She stopped in her tracks when she saw movement ahead of her. Something was shambling towards her. Something that smelled just like rotting meat. It had the silhouette of a human, yet didn't move like one, it's mouth hung open as if it was screaming, yet it made no sound. It obviously had seen her, though and standing still was not going to work so Ginger turned sideways, jumped over the pond, and ran behind one of the houses as fast she could, scurrying under a hole in the fence. The human was slow and clumsy, tripping and falling face first into the pond. It laid there for a full minute, unmoving, before slowly standing back up and—losing all track of the quick raccoon—shuffled aimlessly in a circle around the pond while the mama raccoon watched from the safety of the other side of the fence. The human didn't seem to be chasing her anymore, but Ginger stayed on the other side of the fence to be sure, searching the backyard for food.
Bubba was still dreaming. Or at least he thought it was a dream. There was a fire in his stomach. Unquenchable, unending. In his dream he had walked for many miles, night and day. He dreamt that he was no longer in the preserve, but in a city of the humans—only where were the humans? There was no shouting or talking or shining lights anywhere at all. The caves the humans lived in were quiet and dark and it unsettled the big bear. He did not like this dream and wished it would end. He walked for a long time and eventually he came across a human, just standing all by itself, it didn't even run from him. He knocked it down, scooped out all of the insides, and shoved them down his throat while the human did nothing but watch. He swallowed them up as fast as he could, but they weren't warm and delicious like they should have been, but cold, dry, on the verge of rotting. This only made his hunger greater.
Was this really a dream? If so, what did it mean? This was not like his hibernation dreams at all. The dreams of the long sleep were always peaceful, he'd dream that he was a cub again, nuzzled up with his mother and siblings, safe and warm, and when he'd wake he would be hungry, but not painfully ravenous like this.
He saw two humans in the distance, running together. He tried to give chase but couldn't run. Something was keeping his legs from moving, each step was a torture in slow motion. He'd take twenty steps but only move a few feet. The humans were long gone. Was this a dream? If so, why could he not awaken? The fire in his stomach spread to his head. He let out a roar, a primal scream of pain, he wanted nothing more than to stop and lie down, but the fire in his gut compelled him, and he kept on walking, searching for something, anything, to quench it.
There was a noise outside the door of the nest. Something was climbing the steps slowly. It shuffled up the hall and then stopped by the door, Tapioca could hear it sniffing the air like a bloodhound, scratching at the door softly. Even through the door Tapioca could smell its rotten flesh. This must be one of the soulless humans, looking for food. If it smelled Tapioca would it break the door in? Would it eat her just like the one had eaten Mr. Priss? If so she had three good hiding places, places she would hide when Human was in a bad mood or yelling at her: Under her human's bed, between the boxes; behind the noisy thing that made her human's skin coverings clean and fresh smelling again; and behind the big white box that kept the food cold. Or at least it did before the inside lights stopped shining. Now it smelled sour and Human didn't open it anymore.
Tapioca laid quietly on the floor listening. After a few moments the thing moved down the hall, away from the door. Tapioca was too scared to move, and after a very long while, fell asleep right there.
Rex was running fast as he could. His family was up ahead, a thousand paces perhaps. Rex had never been in this part of their neighborhood before so he slowed down to get his bearings. He could smell Mom somewhere up ahead, but which street? It divided and he wasn't sure. It was dark, but the sun would be up soon, perhaps then he could get his bearings.
After saving his family from the bad humans, Rex was able to run out the front door, following his family's scent. It began to rain and he lost their scent, then picked it back up hours later. He stopped for a drink of puddle water then jumped when he heard a noise. There was a large creature lumbering down the street towards him. It smelled like the sick humans, but this was no human: much bigger, covered in dark brown fur, walking on all fours slowly, looking as if it was about to fall over, dragging one useless leg behind itself. If this was a dog, it was the biggest that Rex had ever seen, but it didn't smell like a dog. It hadn't yet seen Rex, who jumped behind a parked car. He let the big brown creature pass by, then took the other street, hoping it would take him to his family.
Tapioca was dreaming that she was laying in her human's lap, her human scratching her head between the ears just the way she liked. She heard a noise, a thumping nearby, but refused to waken, the dream was so good, she didn't want it to end. Human rubbed her belly, the thumping got louder, more chaotic. She opened her eyes.
A feral and smelly human had shattered the front door into pieces, it's eyes glazed over as it stepped through the remains of the door and into the nest. Tapioca froze for one full second and then ran to the room where her human slept, dove under the bed, and laid down between the boxes. The human must have had a good sense of smell because he found her right away, upending the bed as if it was nothing. Tapioca ran past him as fast as she could to the laundry room, hiding behind the stackable washer-dryer. There was a lot of dust there, causing her to sneeze. The human found her again within minutes, but he couldn't wrest the appliance out of the way enough to reach back and grab the cat. He was, though, able to move it to the side just enough to squeeze his upper body through, his arms outstretched towards Tapioca who hissed at him, baring her teeth. This deterred the creature not a bit, so Tapioca leapt over him as he scrambled for her, and made a run to the kitchen. One last good place to hide. She squeezed behind the refrigerator, made herself as small as possible and held her breath.
Silence. For a moment. She could hear the human grunting as he excavated himself from next to the washer-dryer. She heard a loud crash as the floor shook, he must have knocked it over trying to get out. Tapioca was as still as possible behind the sour smelling fridge. Maybe that smell would mask hers, making it impossible for him to find her. She could hear him shuffling relentlessly throughout the nest, looking for her, moving the couch, breaking the glow box, knocking over the chairs in the dining room, as he frantically searched for her. Tapioca knew that he would not stop until he found her. Hiding was only delaying the inevitable. She remembered one of the last things her human had said to her and then sprung into action.
First she had to get the monster’s attention. He was bigger, but she was faster. She walked down the hallway that led to the dining room and stood in the middle of the floor. The thing was tearing apart the couch piece by piece and hadn't yet noticed her so she meowed loudly. That got his attention! He turned and began shuffling towards her, she held her ground, against all instinct, and waited until he was right upon her, then bolted towards what was left of the front door. Jumping through the hole the human had made in the door, she made her way down the hallway, the human right behind her. She could have out run him, but she was thinking of her human, how much she missed her, how she didn't want this creature to hurt her human when—if—she ever returned.
Tapioca turned around and waited until the foul-smelling human was nearly upon her and passing by the broken railing. Then she sprung into action. She dove right at the creature’s feet, twisting around its legs like lightning. The human tried to spin around to keep up with her, bent over with its hands outstretched, tripped on the cat, lost its balance, and fell over the edge where the railing was missing.
He didn't even let out a scream. Tapioca watched as he fell, struck the railing multiple times on the way down, and smashed its head open when it hit the bottom. Black blood slowly flowed out onto the floor. He didn't move anymore.
Finally, it was dead, and no longer a threat to Tapioca or anyone else.
Behind the house with the pond, Ginger found a trashcan that hadn't been touched in weeks and Ginger could smell all sorts of yummy goodness inside. It took her a full five minutes to get the lid off but when she did it was a raccoon's smorgasbord of bananas, candy bars, corn on the cob, peanuts, and assorted pot pies. There were two more trashcans with this one and they all smelled just as good to the mama raccoon. This would feed her family for two weeks at least, and only a quarter days travel from their nest!
First she would have to round up the kits, all four of them, then make the journey back across town. A little easier nowadays since the humans weren't everywhere with their rolling metal boxes, which always made even the simple act of crossing a road extremely dangerous. She went back to the fence to scout for the human that had chased after her earlier, but it was gone.
It was beginning to rain. Ginger walked out to the front of the house, looked both ways before crossing the street, and headed back to where her kits waited for her.
The sun was rising slow. The rain had stopped, but it was still cloudy, only bits and pieces of sun were poking out from the mass of grey. Rex was coming up on an intersection. In the middle of it were several of the metal boxes the humans used to move around in, just sitting there. One was laying on its side, another upside down, a third nearby. Glass and pieces of the metal boxes were strewn all over the street. Just past the intersection and the pile of metal boxes was a park that Rex recognized as the one in which his family would take him to every few days so he could run. Dakota would try to keep up, but could never run as fast, nor as long, as Rex could. Maybe his family was in the park, waiting for him?
Rex went to go around the broken metal boxes gingerly, trying to avoid the broken glass, when a huge evil smelling bird thrust out its beak at him as he rounded the metal box that was laying on its side. The bird croaked, not sounding like a bird at all, and Rex jumped back. The bird's eyes were blank and empty, just like the sick humans who broke into his family's house, and they smelled of sickening death. There was a second bird coming around the other side of the metal box, and a third one behind that. Rex turned to run and ran right into the big brown hulking creature he had seen earlier. It too smelled of death and its eyes were seemingly elsewhere. It grabbed Rex tight in its huge paws—this thing was much bigger than Rex had originally thought, and extremely strong—Rex struggled fast but couldn't get loose. Rex barked twice, three times, then howled in pain as the creature squeezed him tighter and lifted him up to a mouth full of razor sharp and bloody teeth. The creature was distracted by the buzzards who were striking at it from all sides, using their sharp beaks to pull off chunks of its flesh and muscle. Two of the birds grabbed ahold of the big creature's bad leg, backing away and nearly ripping the entire leg off. The creature fell backwards, loosening its grip on Rex who took the opportunity to leap away as fast as he could and run down the street towards the park. He was so scared he didn't even dare look back.
The park was much quieter than Rex remembered. No humans shouting at their family, no dogs barking. Rex spied a couple of squirrels and birds but that was it. There was a fenced in section with a few benches on the other side of the park, near the pond. There was a familiar scent in the air and Rex ran towards it as fast as he could.
Tapioca was dreaming again. In her dream, she was sleeping quietly by the window and her human was calling her name. She stood up, stretched, yawned, then shook herself awake. Her human was standing in front of her, holding a large bag of food. Tapioca jumped. This was no dream. Her human was really here! She meowed as loud as she could and ran to her human's arms. Human dropped the bag of food and held the cat tight.
"Oh my god! What happened to you! When I saw the door broke in I thought you were...” Human couldn't talk anymore and started crying.
Tapioca wanted to tell her all about her adventures, how she took care of the mean, smelly human all by herself, but was content, for now, to cuddle and have her head scratched.
The big old crow flew high over the city as the sun broke through the clouds. He saw a few sick humans walking around, but not too many. A bear was lying still in the middle of an intersection being feasted upon by a dozen sick buzzards. A family of raccoons were sneaking through a fence on the west side of town. A woman with a large backpack and carrying a cat in a cage, was walking warily down the street. A dog raced through the park towards some humans who were shouting enthusiastically at it.
Things were different in the city of the humans, thought the crow, but no less interesting.
May and June 2020
Copyright 2020 Roy Peak
Roy Peak is Sacred Chickens' Music Editor. He has played electric bass in more bands than he cares to remember for more years than he can remember. He wrote the theme song for the Utica, New York radio show "Hey You Kids, Get Off My Lawn" on WPNR-FM. His solo debut album, All Is Well, has been called "Loud, cacophonous, and beautiful by a truly unique artist." His short fiction has been published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and he writes music reviews for the King Tut Vintage Album Museum of Jacksonville. Roy writes music reviews for the Rocking Magpie among others. Check out his brand new album A Wolf at the Door.