Rat Shuffle

That in-between time struck the city at the clock’s stroke of 4am.

It was still quiet. There wasn’t much traffic except for the very early morning shift, and a few rats shuffling down the sidewalks. Occasionally you could hear the click of the changing of the traffic lights.

Eric had grabbed his morning coffee before work. He stood at the corner and stood watch. He still had 20 minutes before he had to make his way to the train station. If he was lucky, there wouldn’t be any track fires, boozed up denizens, or any other mishaps on the train. He didn’t want to be late.

A woman suddenly caught his eye. She had runs in her stockings, and was wearing only one shoe. In her left hand, a shiny red leather pump was dangling like a dead plaything. The heel was broken.

He wondered if he should offer her a cigarette, but then changed his mind. She might want something else. Thoughts crossed his mind. Eric imagined scenarios for the stranger. Was she getting off of work, or headed home after partying? How did her heel break? Why did some women wear such footwear, knowing the risk of being caught shoeless in the streets.

Yelling broke Eric’s train of thought. A man stormed out of the deli. He didn’t have enough change for whatever he wanted, and soothed his wounded pride by shouting epithets at the store clerks tucked safely inside. He finished off his tirade, triumphantly sailing the leftover coffee in his cup at the window. It hit the window with a smack, and left the milky brown liquid streaming down the glass.

Eventually, something gnawed at Eric to check his watch. He had been too absorbed in people watching. He had 4 minutes to make it to the platform. Looking up at the traffic light, it was still red. It didn’t matter, because there were no cops or heavy traffic around.

Eric dashed for the train. He ran across the street, nearly bumped into an old woman scavenging the garbage can for aluminum cans to recycle, and headed up the stairs.

His lungs were burning as he hustled up the stairs. Two minutes to make it to the platform. He pushed passed the doors, pulled his metro card out of his back pocket, and slipped through the turnstiles. One minute to go.

Eric looked down the tracks, and was greeted with the oncoming lights of the train. Passengers were scattered about the platform. Some were checking their phones, while others were sipping coffee or gnoshing on bagels or breakfast fixings from the deli.

The train pulled up and Eric filed into one of the cars. It was still early enough, so he was able to grab a seat. The train pulled out of the station, and Eric began staring out of the windows. Reaching for his front right pocket, he fumbled about for his headphones.

Another day. Another dollar. 35 minutes until he would arrive at his destination. After arriving two stops before his, that’s when it happened. The brakes were pulled, and the train screeched to an abrupt stop. Track fire.

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Hoodies Don’t Last Forever

Darcy looked down at her hoodie, dismayed that the zipper had suddenly broken.

She muttered a curse to the air in frustration. This hoodie was her absolute favorite one to wear. It was black, with sturdily constructed pockets, that had pyramid studs on the edges. She loved to dip her hands into the pockets, when the autumn chill nipped at her fingertips.

The oversized sleeves of the hoodie, made a repeating pattern of black and white stripes, with thumb holes. It was perfect. It was her favorite. Now, it was broken beyond repair. She didn’t want to replace it just yet. Perhaps a funeral would be in order.

She could see it now. She pictured her friends Gabby and Eva at her side, joining her in a solemn tearful farewell, as they laid the hoodie to rest. Dramatics were a necessary order for this hoodie. She had survived 2 years of school, while wearing her signature and most perfect hoodie as her fashionable armor. Darcy fingered the pins attached to her hoodie lovingly.

There was a sweet little cartoon rabbit pin, from her favorite toy designer Carrot Ties. Another pin, she collected from a book signing by a graphic novel writer she adored. Lastly, at a punk art swap event, she scooped up a funny little pin with an adorable monster face on it. This hoodie was part of her life story. It contained a rich collection of memories, from dodging scrapes, sipping bubble tea with her friends, and curling up with comics and magazines in secret corners and on fire escapes.

Darcy sighed, as she folded the hoodie and placed it on the corner of her bed. Looking over the hoodie sadly, she was lost in thought until a knock at the door broke the silence.

“Hey Darcy, your mom said it was cool if we came by.” Gabby said smiling as she entered the room.

“Who died?” Eva asked with an air of concern? She always seemed to notice when something was up with Darcy, almost immediately.

“My precious hoodie is no more. The zipper broke.” Darcy replied, pointing weakly at the hoodie.

“Well, maybe we can find a way to upcycle it?” Gabby suggested warmly.

“Upcycle?” Darcy asked, with a mix of hopefulness and curiosity in her face.

“Yeah, Darcy.” Gabby continued.“I signed up to this art and green life workshop. We’re learning about using old things that are still precious to us, or found objects. It’s about giving them new life.”

Darcy perked up. “Is there still room in the workshop?”

“Yeah. You should come too Eva.” Gabby answered smiling coolly. “Let me show you something I’m working on now.” Gabby began rummaging through her backpack. She pulled out a thick block of wood with some splatters and stains on it.

“See look, I rescued this wood from an alleyway, and I’m using it to make a block print. Pretty wicked, huh?” Gabby held up the block so that Darcy and Eva could get a closer look.

Passing the block around, an idea struck Darcy. “When do they meet, people for the workshop?”

“It’s two times a week, on Thursday and Saturdays. Sometimes on Fridays, there’s open studio space too. That’s when there’s a community free-for-all for creating all sorts of stuff.” Gabby answered. “You want to show up around 3pm. You two will like it, I’m sure.”

“I’m in.” Eva replied. She had dreams of making some more bracelets to stack on her arms.

“Me too.” Darcy said with a smile. She was looking at the hoodie, now confident that she had a solution to her problems.

Thursday came around, and the girls all met up at the workshop. Darcy was excited. There were people of different ages around, but mostly students like themselves. Everyone had a very laid back vibe, and were very friendly. Only a few seriously older people looked a bit stern and possibly grouchy, but that was because they were deep in focus, carving or painting very large found items.

Darcy took a seat next to Eva, Gabby, and three other people at their table.

“Hi, I’m Julie.” A friendly girl with freckles, braces, and vibrant magenta bangs with a skull hair clip held out her hand for a shake.

“I’m Darcy, and these are my friends Eva and Gabby.” Darcy said as she gave Julie a handshake.

“Yeah, Gabby told us about you and Eva. These two are Donald and Sand.”

Donald was a quiet type, but smiled and gave a short wave. Sand looked like he was the brooding leader of the bunch. He just gave a head nod, without taking out his headphones.

Soon, the workshop began. Wynn, an amiable artist-in residence and instructor came to each table. As she introduced herself, Darcy explained to her what she wanted to accomplish.

Darcy pulled out her block of thick styrofoam padding. This had been rescued from the alley of the old electronics store, which she would pass on her way to school. She quickly got the hang of learning to carve out a design. When she was finished, she ended up with the image of a swallow tail bird. Encircling the bird, Darcy carved some flowers and lightening bolts, to give it more edge.

Everyone oohed over her emerging skill with carving. “I’m not done yet. Just wait.” Darcy picked out her inks, and rolled up the block carefully. Next, she pulled out a black piece of cloth. She placed the cloth lovingly on the table, and imprinted her print onto the fabric.

“What are you going to do with the patch?” Gabby asked excitedly.

“Yeah, it looks really cool.” Julie commented. Eva and Donald nodded in agreement. Even Sand seemed to look up from his work, to investigate.

“Well, this patch I made from my old favorite hoodie. I didn’t know what to do when the zipper broke. So, I decided to give it a new life as a patch.” Darcy answered proudly. She later stitched the patch to her backpack. The spirit of her hoodie lived on, never to be lost again.

 

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Our Town

The thought of an impending flood terrified Erin.

She imagined a tsunami like wave, created from the non-stop torrential downpour, rushing in and covering the town. Then again, maybe like a clogged bathtub, the water would just rise and rise, until everything was deluged.

She didn’t know what to expect. All able-bodied young people, women and men, gathered together to place sandbags at strategic places. On the news, their eyes bore a sense of fierce determination, trepidation, and hope. This was our home. This was our town.

Erin was too young to help, and she had to watch over her younger siblings. Sarah and Taylor played together happily, unaware of the danger that was coming. Erin thought of her earliest memory of water. She was stomping around in puddles, while wearing her green and white polka dot rain boots.

Water was something that filled pools and bathtubs. Water was for water balloon fights and water parks. Water was the ingredient that made running through sprinklers, or drinking from garden hoses into a magic summer.

With each passing minute, as the raindrops congealed into violent rivers, water was now a threat. It had only been raining two whole days, but that was enough to push the town to its limit. The dam was under strain, and the outlets and basins had reached their breaking point.

The people were not giving up. No one wanted to evacuate just yet. Something could be done. Sandbags, faith, and tenacity would pull the town through. “Bring it on flood,” seemed to be the underlying spirit of the people, as they tirelessly worked together. They would hold fast.

Erin continued to watch the news anxiously, until she fell asleep on the couch. She awakened to her siblings sleeping next to her, cuddled under the burnt orange comforter. She heard the key in the door, and smiled with relief, as her parents walked through the door.

Everyone was home now. They would pull through. No matter the weather, no matter how bad the storm. This was home. This was her family.

 

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The Brick

Dusty picked up the brick, lifted up his arm, and hurled it at the window of the Field’s home. The brick made it’s target, shattering the glass of the living room window. As a light turned on, Dusty turned and ran away from the scene of his crime.

He wondered if anyone had saw him, and what he had just done. Fear and anxiety began to creep slightly into his heart, as he continued to run on breathlessly, curious if the cops would be called. Dusty decided that he had an alibi, as he was dressed in his sweats and sneakers. He was simply out for an early morning jog, as it was a little after 4:30 am. Nothing strange about that.

As Dusty jogged past the homes with their neat little yards, tucked behind metal gates, and manicured hedges, he considered his little hovel. He lived on the edge of town, with his mom’s tacky garden gnomes and pink flamingos peppering their non-existent yard. They lived in a trailer, which resembled the tin cans that contained Dusty’s usual dinner of sardines or tuna.

Sometimes, Dusty felt like his life was more like that of the fish he and his mom so often ate, to stay alive. Things just were never fair or easy, and it always seemed like everything always got so much harder, all the damn time. He was always under the gun, under the pressure cooker, with never a chance for an escape, except into the mouth of the predators that lived so well, while he struggled.

That brick was a symbol of his disdain, his resistance, his sign that he was still here, with heart beating, and blood boiling. He wanted change, and he wanted it now.

Bird Song

“Let him go!” Caroline yelled. Two boys were kneeling over a bird, as a third one held the poor creature roughly by its wings. “You’ll hurt it.” Caroline looked fearful for the bird.

“That’s the point.” The boys retorted with a chuckle.

Caroline reached down to pick up the largest rock she could find, and pitched it in the boys’ direction. Her projectile weapon, unfortunately fell 3 feet from its mark, and landed a few inches away from her feet.

The boys laughed loudly, “You throw like a girl!”

The tallest of the boys stood up and glared at Caroline. “Here, catch this!” He said as he sailed the now broken-winged bird at Caroline. The poor creature cried in pain, as its wings had been mangled. The boys ran off, laughing at their handy work.

Caroline bent down to gingerly scoop up the bird. The poor feathered soul was wriggling about, with a fearful look in its eyes. “Don’t worry,” Caroline whispered softly. She took a handkerchief from her pocket, made a sling, and carefully placed the bird inside the fabric transport.

Caroline walked as quickly as she could back to her house, careful not to jostle the bird around too much. She grabbed a shoe box, and filled it with soft cotton balls from the jar on the bathroom counter. She gently laid the bird down in its new resting place.

“Let me get you some water and food. That’s the least I can do.” She took a tiny sauce dish from the kitchen cabinet, filled it with water, and placed it in a corner of the box. She managed to find some sunflower seeds, as that was the only bird-friendly snack she could think of. Caroline was worried. She didn’t want the bird to die.

Caroline rushed over to the phone in the living room, and dialed the local veterinarian, but the line was busy. Panicked, she ran back over to the box. The poor bird was fast asleep, no doubt exhausted from its earlier ordeal. “I’ll be back. Please don’t die.” Caroline whispered tearfully.

If there was anyone who might have any advice on who to call or what to do, she figured it best to call Mr. Roberts. Mr. Roberts was a docent at the nature museum. He had bird feeders throughout his yard, and occasionally would drop in her science class at school. Caroline never knew there was so much information about birds, until hearing him speak. She figured he would know what to do,  and she wanted to do to help this bird.

After pouring over the phone book frantically, she eventually found the number for the nature museum. Caroline was able to reach Mr. Roberts,  just as he was  about to leave the museum for the day. She hurriedly spattered out her tale.

She told him about the boys, the bird, and the makeshift shoe box home. Mr. Roberts was moved by Caroline’s efforts, and admonished the needless cruelty of the boys. “That bird is fortunate that you came to its rescue. Don’t worry, I will make a call to the bird rescue. They can make a pick-up for your feathered friend in the morning.” Mr. Roberts assured Caroline.

She was relieved. Caroline ran over to peek over at the bird, who was still peacefully sleeping in the box. She said a little prayer, hoping that it would survive the night.

In the morning, the telephone rang. The Blackwell Bird Rescue Society called to make sure that a 10 am pick-up would be okay. Caroline checked on the bird, who now had its eyes open, and had made use of its water for a bath. “Yes,” Caroline said to the woman on the phone, “10 am will be just fine.” She smiled with relief, that her prayers had been answered.

10 am came, and an emerald van pulled up to her house. The driver announced their presence additionally, with the beep of the horn. The vehicle had a decal reading “Blackwell Bird Rescue Society” emblazoned on its side.

“I guess this is goodbye.” Caroline said wistfully. “I’m sorry, I never got to know your name. Hopefully, these good people can help you get better, so you can fly away. My name was Caroline. I hope you don’t forget me.” She looked at the bird in the shoe box. Curiously, it seemed as if it understood what she was saying, and replied with a short chirp and a wink.

Caroline walked the box with the bird to the driver in the van. She was a friendly bookish-looking lady, with lavender glasses and a red cardigan. “I’ll take it from here dear.” she said as she packed the box gently into the van. “You did beautifully. I’m sure we will get this little one back up and flying again, real soon. Don’t worry.”

Caroline stood watch as the driver got back into the car, and slowly drove away.