I’ve expanded this writing group snippet. Posting it in its entirety, because it’s still short. (Skip to the asterisks if you only want to read the second part.) This got post-apocalyptic and a bit grim, fair warning!

Image in the public domain. From WikiMedia, by Sarang.

*  *  *

The children attacked at dawn. The town expected—dreaded—an early assault, as the children were often awake before the sun rose completely, shrieking and sharpening their spears for blood. So two lookouts protected the populace.

The east tower faced the caves where the children lived, surrounded by piles of broken toys and the gnawed-clean bones of their victims. Often the children could be spotted prowling around, wrapped in rags to protect their skin, hair filthy and hacked short. The west tower faced the forest, blighted from some attack from the Before People. The trees grew gnarled and twisted, half dead, branches clawing toward the sunlight. Coyotes lurked in the meager shade, and denned in the tangled branches.

The lookout in the east tower spotted the mob first, pouring out of their caves, screaming and brandishing spears and bludgeons. Quickly, the lookout blew the warning horn, two long, deep blasts, to warn of the coming danger.

Shutters and doors slammed as the non-combatants barricaded themselves inside their homes, hastily abandoning morning chores. The sound of fear, hollow thuds, was punctuated with the lighter drum of running feet as every able body rushed to the defenses. Each person had their part. No gaps could be left, without dire consequences.

And then the lookout to the west blew their horn—a brighter tenor, in two long notes. The children had learned misdirection.

Everyone defended the far side, facing down invaders—looking death in its small, chubby cheeked face, with snarls of hair haloing angry eyes and sharp teeth. So the lone child met no resistance when they tossed a knotted rope over the barricade, a hook of rusted metal biting deep into the wood. They swarmed over the barricade with ease, and landed on the other side.

***     ***     ***

The child, scrawny and dirty, around eight years old, straightened from their crouch, and raced down one road, turning right, right again, and then left. They bore the faint scars of the illness that had attacked most people under the age of twelve. The ill had raved and thrashed and bit in their fever, desperate to escape the fire consuming their bodies. Some had gone still forever, and others the lesser still of sleep. Those with surviving offspring felt a toxic mix of triumph and relief–which, some whispered, had earned the punishment that followed.

Because some children had woken weak, and taken months to recover. Others had seemed to slip back into that violent fever, but their bodies recovered quickly, the purple tinged rash evaporating as their tempers worsened. Many fled–and a few, it must be said, were let go. The changed children hovered around the town, stealing toys and food. Then, three of them, confronted in a theft by an elderly man, attacked him and dragged his body into a cave a short distance from town.

By the time anyone realized he was missing, they’d already consumed his tenderest parts.

What the children recalled served as a contentious, oft-repeated source of argument among the adults, which flared up like a peat fire, always smoldering beneath the surface. If the diminutive cannibals remembered little, however, it would be impossible that this eight-year-old invader walked a few houses after that final left turn,  peeled back a piece of board half-concealed by a small vegetable garden, and slid through the opening in the wall, into the backyard of the house the barrier should have protected.

About Caitlin Stern

I have a MA in English, and have so many fantasy/urban fantasy WIPs it's not even funny. I'm an avid reader of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, biography, fiction, and anything else that catches my interest. I collect books, and bookmarks I find that are visually appealing and useful.

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