The Gauntlet. Short Story.

Donnie walked quickly, head held high and staring straight ahead. He didn’t want to see them, or look at them. If one of them saw him looking he’d be hassled for the rest of the trip. Not just by whomever saw him, but by everyone else as well. They were like animals, all swarming at once and when they crowded around there was a good chance one of them would try to pick his pocket. He would never be able to find out who, not with a swirling mass of bodies, but that didn’t matter. He didn’t carry much, a few coins and a phone, he only had enough for what he needed, everything that was unnecessary was left at home. It was safer that way. The people lining the street were all pale, despite spending their days in the sun. Their bodies were thin, emaciated, cheekbones jutting from faces, ribs and hips trying to tear their way free of the skin. They were dressed in strange collections of rags what ever they could piece together, more than a few were completely naked. Donnie was never quite sure if they chose to be that way, if they were just too lazy to try and find clothes, or if it was because others had stolen their scraps from them. Obviously they didn’t care, no doubt they were too far gone to even notice.
As he walked, Donnie breathed through his mouth, it was easier that way. The stink of unwashed bodies, urine and faeces was strong, there was also a steady, thick stench of decay. The stench obviously coming from the bodies that had yet to be picked up by the authorities. It wasn’t that much further, maybe five minutes at the pace he was going. He could go faster, but he was worried what might happen if he broke into a jog. They were not the most aware group of people, they could think there was a raid, or the cops were coming and they could easily stampede. He just had to remain calm and keep up the same, steady pace.
Behind him someone was getting harassed, he didn’t stop or look back, if he did he’d get caught up in it too. Just keep walking, that was all. If the person knew what was good for them they’d just hand over what ever they had. It was easier that way. He wondered when the city would crack down on them all, it had been months since the last proper clear out. They’d come back, they always did, but at least it made the street a bit better to walk down for a week or two. Or, if they couldn’t clear it out, the very least they could do was provide an alternate route. The other streets had been closed off for ages, barricaded and locked up tight. Donnie had heard the reasons for why they were doing it, but he could never quite remember, he only knew that it seemed ridiculous at the time. The noise of a scuffle followed him as he continued walking, he still didn’t look back. There was a yell, angry and high, then a coughing groan of pain. Donnie winced. Whoever was getting mobbed shouldn’t have done that. They cared for each other in their own twisted way. There was a loud shriek, followed by angry yelling and shouting. It was already far too late to help whoever it was. If they were lucky the crowd would only leave them beaten and maybe crippled. If they were unlucky their body would be stripped down and join the others, they wouldn’t succeed in hiding what they did though. Donnie hoped who ever was being attacked would be badly beaten, if they were it might give the cops a bit of a push for clearing it out again. The last time it happened was when some guy had been stabbed, but his parents had been influential.

 

The end was in sight. Donnie forced himself to keep the same steady pace rather than racing ahead. He reached the turn and then crossed the road. He approached the building and stepped inside, letting himself relax once the doors behind him were closed. The receptionist and security guard had looked at him when he came in, then they dismissed him once they saw he was normal like them. He stepped from the door in case someone else was coming in behind him and made his way to the lifts. In a few hours, when he was done with work, he would walk the same road. He couldn’t afford the cost of a taxi, petrol was far to expensive and bikes were pointless. Either they were stolen or they were stripped down for parts where they were chained.
The elevator doors closed and it started to shakily move upwards, juddering and rattling as it went. He stepped out into the office and went to his cubicle. He had been by the window for a while before, but he requested to move into the centre. It was too depressing by the window. The weak grey light that filtered through, the masses of people he could see outside. Donnie suspected that people who got the windows were being punished. Who would want that depressing vista weighing on them as they tried to work?

 

Donnie started to work, he wanted to get everything done as quickly as possible, once dark fell it wouldn’t be safe to walk home, he didn’t want to have to spend another night at the office. It wouldn’t be the first time, but he was always worried someone would break into his place, steal his stuff. It was always a risk when you went out, but he had no choice. He hadn’t been able to snag a job that allowed him to work from home. Not yet anyway. Someday soon he’d manage it, but until then he’d have to keep coming in, day after day, passing by emaciated crowds. Sighing, he pushed the thought from his head, he needed to focus. The quicker he was done, the quicker he could go home.

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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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