Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chapter Fifty-Four

Elsewhere in the city.

The attic window of a posh, ruined house, left purposefully unlatched. Outside on the wide ledge, a little elephant catches its breath.

“Yoo-hoo!” chirrups a snow-white mouse. She jumps from a tiny saddle atop the elephant, pushes open the window and glances around. “Darlings!”

“Honestly, Miss,” says another mouse, a common gray. “Be careful!” The elephant’s trunk rummages through one of its many saddlebags and removes a tin of cat food. He hands it to the gray mouse, who accepts the mountainous load with a grunt.

“Oh, pooh,” replies the first mouse. “It’s been ages since we’ve seen them. Surely they’ve missed us!”

“And surely they’ve grown,” mumbles her companion. “Kittens grow up fast, and you know what they eat, don’t you?” His voice drops to a whisper. “Mice.”

“Not these children,” she says in her usual confident tone. “They love us!”

“You, maybe,” says the gray. The tin proves too much for his tiny paws, and it clatters to the attic floor.

Hands on hips, she turns with an annoyed glare. “Really, can’t you be any more quiet? We don’t want any of them hearing us.” She gestures with a paw to the streets below, where the many dead humans wander aimlessly.

The gray nods meekly and holds the next tin all the tighter.

Something isn’t quite right. The kittens would’ve heard the can falling, surely, and if there’s one sound they recognize - other than the Miss’s voice - it’s food.

But the attic remains still.

“Don’t you think...” he begins, but she silences him with a paw. She looks around thoughtfully, at the floor, the windows, the ceiling, everywhere.

There’s a reason why she is such a well-regarded member of the Society, and it isn’t because of her beauty. Since the attacks, she’s been responsible for rescuing dozens of refugees, and has initiated even more members into their organization.

Birds, squirrels, all creatures meek and small had the advantage in this new world. They could slip beneath doors or hide in crawlspaces and cracks. The aerial squadron was instrumental in discovering safe places like this attic, and the flying elephant solved all issues with transport of food and people.

There are shelters like these all over the city, all over the world, but now...

“They aren’t here,” says the snow-white mouse. “This place has been breached.”

“By who?” The gray looks over to the closed trapdoor in the attic’s floor - the dead wouldn’t be so polite as to close it after them.

And the kittens were a handful, but they’d know better than to wander off into the dangerous world, wouldn’t they?

“They still had food,” she says, and she points to a large, mostly empty sack of cat food. It slumps in the corner, fat and dejected.

“And water, too.” Along the other window is the contraption they’d set up to catch rainwater.

“Disappeared,” he thinks. “Just like the Dalmatian couple.” He carefully puts down the tin and sniffs the air. Some unfamiliar scent makes his whiskers tremble.

“We should go...” he says, and unconsciously steps backward to the waiting elephant.

“You smell it, too, don’t you?” she says, and he nods.

“It’s, it’s like a dog,” he says at last. “But not quite.”

“No,” she agrees. “Not quite. Something wilder.”

“A dog might’ve scared them away,” he says.

“Yes, but a not-quite dog would’ve done something worse.”

She continues to look around, always returning her gaze to that open window.

It’s hard to stomach that look on her face, so he takes off his cap and studies it instead. “We should go, Miss,” he says again, and she finally tears herself away from her thoughts.

“Yes, we should.” With one last unsatisfied look at the window, she slowly returns to the ledge. The little elephant smiles at her, eager to fly some more.

“Maybe we can leave one tin for them,” says the gray, hoping for some hope. “You know, in case they come back. I could even open it up, since they can’t use a can opener.”

“No,” she says flatly. She climbs atop the tiny elephant, scratches absently at his enormous ears - he squirms in delight - and looks out over the city. “That won’t be necessary.”

The gray starts to climb up after her, but she stops him. “Oh, and be a dear and hitch along that sack of food, will you? Someone else will need it.”

On her orders, they never return.