Salvage. Short Story.

Tommy stood at the door, preparing himself. He took a deep breath, enjoying the cool air while he could.

“Be careful out there.”

“I will, don’t worry.”

He smiled at his mother, “I’ll get us something nice.”

She smiled back, but he knew s he didn’t believe him. It had been a while since he had found anything useful.

“Worst comes to worst I’ll catch us some dinner.”

She paled slightly, “I’m kidding, jeez.”

“I know. I just don’t want you saying things like that.”

He looked at the ground, “Sorry, I didn’t think.”

She nodded firmly, then he turned from her and pulled down the door handle. There was a gentle hiss as the door unsealed itself, he stepped into the small front porch, the door behind him closed and sealed. The one in front clicked gently. He stepped outside. It was hot, and sticky, the air was thickly humid. He walked from the house, already sweating. He missed the air conditioning, but it wasn’t just the cold air that he missed, most of all he missed the lack of humidity. He gripped the machete tightly, he had supplies in the bag slung over his shoulder. He looked around at the paths that were already carved out. He wanted to strike off in a different direction today. There were buildings over by the lakes, but they were probably already picked clean. Deciding something might be there, he started to walk through the jungle. He didn’t bother with the machete yet, these paths were well travelled and they were mostly clear of plant life. When he reached the turn off to the lake, or where it was supposed to be, he turned and faced the plants, getting ready. He hacked his way through the plants, not too worried about it. He was careful and that was how you survived out here.

It was just Tommy and his mother now, his father had died a few years back, they never found the body but they knew that no one could bleed that much and survive. Tommy knew his father wasn’t careful, that he must have let his guard down. The same thing wouldn’t happen to Tommy. He looked after himself. His father made powerful friends before he died and they protected Tommy and his mother, but he couldn’t leave her alone. His mother wasn’t strong like he was. He gasped in surprise as milky sap landed on the back of his hand. Shit. He bent down and started to furiously wipe it against the  ground. It should get the worst of it off, he hadn’t seen the deep purple Death Milk, it had been hidden by the large leaves of a bush. Damn. That was a basic mistake. He would wash his hand at the lake. In two hours his hand would be swollen and shiny, but there was ointment back at the house. He continued on, moving faster but much more aware of his surroundings.

He reached the lake quickly, buildings drunkenly rose from the water, people were afraid of the lakes, and they had good reason to be. They could be deadly. He walked to the shore and carefully washed his hand. He cursed himself for not bringing the ointment,  but he had been confident he wouldn’t see any of the plants. That was careless, that was stupid. He shook his head. Today’s trip would just have to be a short one. He stood at the edge of the water and looked around, Tommy always forgot how large the trees were, how tall they grew. He looked up and watched some large birds circle overhead. He couldn’t tell what kind they were from here, but they were probably a group of Kings, They weren’t hunting yet, that was good news for him. It was still early, they were evening birds when it came to hunting. He started to walk, not wanting to be out in the open longer than necessary.

the first building he came to jutted out of the water, but the soil had buried it somewhat, there was only a thin pool of water surrounding it. It would be his easiest access point, and it would save him swimming across the lake. He looked at the still surface, nothing would be worth that risk. He climbed through one of the empty windows, keeping a careful eye for any animal signs. Sometimes they liked to make dens inside these places. The building stunk of rot and decay. Mould raced up and down the walls, the carpet was sodden and rotting. There were jumbled of grey boxes and wires. It was an office building. He father had told him about these places, not much salvage would be found here. He crossed through the gloomy floor and looked out the window on the far side. A building had tipped over at some point, but wasn’t fully submerged. He could use it as a bridge to the next building. The window here was already smashed, which suggested that someone else had had his idea. He climbed out and carefully put his weight on the building. Nothing happened. He let out a slow breath. He didn’t want it to decide to tip over mid-crossing. He moved slowly, carefully. This wasn’t one of the ones that appeared to be made of glass, there was no way he’d walk across one of those. He heard a faint splash and froze, heart breathing wildly. He looked around and saw it, parting the surface. A swatch of deep grey skin. It rested on the surface for a moment before it slowly submerged. He let out a shaky breath, it hadn’t noticed him, or if it had, it wasn’t interested. He moved forward again, trying to calm himself. It was the closest he’d ever been to one of those things. He was lucky.

There was a gap between the buildings, but someone had already bridged it with some rope. He was glad he wouldn’t have to get into the water, especially after such a close encounter, but he still felt a stab of disappointment. He climbed across, certain there would be nothing of value inside.

It was an apartment building. The doors of the rooms were open on this floor, as far as he could see. He turned on his torch and found the stairwell, He went down two floors before he met water. People didn’t like going deeper into the buildings, and for good reason, but it could be worth the risk. He waded into the waist deep water. He was ten steps on when something slithered against his leg. He slowly angled the light into the water, then he caught a glimpse of what brushed against him. It was a deep red. Trying to still his hammering heart, he let out a breath. It wasn’t poisonous, but where there was one there would be others. He made his way back slowly, trying not to disturb the water too much. They generally didn’t set up homes in the upper floors, usually they were safe enough, but he didn’t want to risk it, especially after such an encounter. He climbed the stairs again, going to the next floor, all the rooms had been picked clean bar one. It’s door was closed and locked. The wood was soft and spongy, he had no problems breaking in.

He shined the light around the room, it briefly rested on a pile of bones, surrounded by a puddle of goo, ignoring it, he searched through the apartment, looking for anything of value.

He didn’t get much, but he got a few things. They alone wouldn’t make the trip worth it, but it was a start. He climbed out of the building.

He went through two more before he hit a dead end, there was a gap of twenty feet of deep water. He decided against swimming it, but the thought was there. This building hadn’t been touched yet, he knew it. He’d have to come back with some supplies to get across. As it was he had enough to satisfy himself.

The journey back was uneventful, he didn’t see any more creatures surface on the lake and for that he was glad. At the shore he took a short break, wary of any creatures that might sneak up on him. He never really relaxed outside. He wasn’t like the village kids. They could play outside, there was adults, protection. Not for him. He and his mother lived a five minute walk from the village. He asked why before and his father explained that it was the only unclaimed home. So his father claimed it, worked and worked until it was habitable, then added all the convinces. Most places had something similar but theirs was top of the line. He sometimes wondered if their father chose to move them there to keep them safe. It would make sense, to some degree. Hide what they had. Sometimes he and his mother had to do that if people arrived. He didn’t question it too much though, it was just how it had always been. After his break he stood, his hand was starting to throb steadily, it was a dark, angry red. He’d have to get ointment on it and soon. He started to walk through the path that he had carved. It would only remain for another week or two, then the jungle would swallow it up again.

He was halfway home when he stopped and breathed deeply. He released the breath slowly, almost sighing. It was so lovely. A faint alarm went off in his head, but he ignored it. It smelled so, so good. He looked around, trying to find the source of the scent. He took a step towards it, another alarm went off. There was something he was supposed to do. He took another breath, what ever it was, it could wait. He stepped off the path and into the jungle, machete dangling in his fingers.

He walked slowly, dreamily. His mouth was watering and his stomach rumbled. It smelled of food and cakes and delicious things. He tried to remember why he was out here, was there a party? For one of the kids? He must be near the village. He had a faint, dazed smile on his face. Everything seemed brighter, better, happier. He giggled. He was almost there, he could taste the food, the drink, the laughter. He stepped from the trees into a small clearing, disappointed that there was no food. He looked around when he spotted it, a small gap in one of the trees. Of course, it must be through there. An alarm rang again, but it was faint this time, so very, very faint. His father had told him about the elves, how they tried to lure people in with good things to eat. His father had said something else about them too, something about danger, but how could they be dangerous? He could just about hear the sound of laughter and music. His  father had told him to be wary of them, something about luring people. He paused, trying to clear his mind, trying to think. His hand reached into his bag, he didn’t know what it was going for. There was something important, something he always had to do. It was something…impolite…he shook his head. His hand grasped a canister. Then he remembered. He had to hide his human smell, so they’d accept him. Grinning wildly, he sprayed himself liberally, then placed the canister back into his bag. His eyes widened, his mind cleared and he fell back, gasping. A large, colourful, pulsating plant stood inches from him, the tree was gone, the doorway had transformed into that things mouth. He was gasping, Fairy Plant. He stood and shakily made his way back to the path. His head felt thick, muddled. He couldn’t believe he had found one, they lured people away, something in their scent confused them, drew them in. He’d have to report it to the village. Shaking, he found the path again and stumbled forward, hoping he’d get out of the vapour cloud quickly. He didn’t want to tell his mother, but he’d have to. She could let the village know. He felt sick, weak. He stopped walking, turned and threw up. Part of him cried out, wanting him to return to the plant, but the spray held that part at bay. He reached the door of his house and stopped. Jocelyn. She had disappeared a month ago. She must have been lured by the plant. No trace of her had been found. He shuddered, once the plant was destroyed he knew they’d find her empty husk nearby. He entered the code and stepped into the small airlock. Best way for keeping in the cool. It dinged and he stepped inside, throwing his bag from his shoulder. He stripped his clothes and put them into the decontamination chamber. His mother looked at him worryingly, “I’m fine. Don’t worry. I need to shower though.” She opened her mouth to speak, then sniffed the air, “is that?” he nodded, she paled. He went into the bathroom and closed the door.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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