I took little Larch in my arms and carried him out of our apartment. I
walked past neighbors. Everyone’s doors were locked. Many had shoved
towels under the doors. Larch knew by now not to speak. He was breathing
shallow in my ear. His breath smelled sweet. Why do children’s breath
smell so sweet?
We took the stairs. I had been training for the last three months. I did
pushups and sit ups and burpees every day, careful not to make too much
of a racket for the people who lived directly below me. But, really,
what were they going to do about it? Walk up and knock on my door? No,
they don’t have it in them. Even if they did I would glare and prove my
superior strength. I also trained every day by holding milk jugs while
stepping up onto the kitchen table. Those were big steps. After a month
my thighs were as hard as the butt end of a larch tree. We used to burn
larch where I’m from. But the city has never allowed indoor fires. And
the city has no room for larch or red fir. The city doesn’t like flames
from any kind of wood.
After two months I was up to five hundred burpees, three hundred
pushups, and one thousand sit ups. I got up to one hundred and fifteen
step ups. We ordered pizza and other good food from Whole Foods. Every
Tuesday morning I would hear a knock on the door. I’d wait three minutes
and then I’d open the door and quickly grab the groceries. Sometimes a
neighbor would pull the trigger too soon and nab theirs when I was
supposed to be nabbing mine. Herman lives across the hall. We made eye
contact last week.
I carry Herman’s pretty eyes down the stairs with me, in my mind.
“Larch,” I whisper, “Are you happy?”
Larch smiled and nodded his head.
We walked down a silent street. We walked for fifty miles, down the
highway, over three bridges… the ocean to the east was quiet. There
were no cars. The helicopters above didn’t dare land. We weren’t
breaking the law. Anyone who wanted to leave the city could, but they
would die, eventually. The beasts would get them. The beasts were
lurking. There were footage of the beasts on the nightly news. The
beasts were up in the trees; racing past vehicles on the highway –
showing off their speed. No one could outrun these beasts. Other videos
revealed them attacking smaller animals, even humans with guns. The
beasts had armor. Armor that can stop bullets dead. Armor like dragon
scales. These beasts were often recorded underwater, rising up with a
dolphin in their sharp teeth.
After the third bridge I set Larch down. He was happy. And he said so.
“Thank you!” he cried and breathed in the fresh air through his
nostrils. “I like it!”
“I can’t believe I carried you for that long. But you are pretty puny.”
“Hey!” said Larch. “I’m not puny.” And then he flexed his bicep.
“We’re free,” I said.
“Free,” said Larch.
We kept on north. There were side roads, but none of them seemed right.
I was looking for the right road to travel on. I was waiting for
something to urge me off the main freeway. Along the way I taught Larch
how to skip and how to gallop and how to sprint fast. There were no
beasts. The sun was setting. But none of that mattered. We were free
from the city. Free from Whole Foods. Free from fears eating the city
down to nothing.
The first beast we saw was on the corner of Adams Rd. It was sitting,
its head on its paws, eyes closed.
“Shhhh,” I told Larch.
“It’s so big,” he whispered.
It was a lot bigger than I thought anything could be. Three times the
size of a dairy cow. Easily. Its ribcage expanded as it inhaled deep
gulps of oxygen.
“Will it eat us?” asked Larch.
“I don’t know,” I said.
We tiptoed past the beast onto Adams Rd. Larch ran his fingers on the
creature’s scales. Later on he told me that he felt something zap
through him. Zap? I asked. What do you mean? He said there was something
he couldn’t see zipping up his arm and into his heart. A bad zap, or a
good zap? Very good, he said, and laid his head on my shoulder.
Adams Rd was a dirt road with trees lining either side. It was a quiet
road with large paw prints pointed both ways. Larch stopped and lay down
in the paw print. He could not fill the space even when he stretched his
arms over his head.
Eventually, we started to see driveways. Most had been overgrown with
grass and weeds and bushes. None of them looked quite right, and anyway,
I wanted to walk on this road longer. I wasn’t done walking. It was so
nice to be out of the city. It was nice thinking about not hearing the
knocks of the delivery bots with the groceries.
“Will we meet country people?” asked Larch, pulling a maple leaf off a
“I don’t know,” I said. There was the chance I was willing to die like
this. Getting mauled didn’t sound too good or anything, but at least I
would feel something.
“I’m hungry,” said Larch.
“Here,” I said, and pulled out some vegan jerky from my pocket.
He dug in. I couldn’t help but wonder what it’d be like to eat a beast.
To eat meat, like people used to eat meat. Real meat. Meat from a living
thing. We were going to be like the beasts. We were going to outfit
ourselves with armor and weaponry. Our thirst for blood and bone and
muscle had been the real determining factor.
I licked my lips and said, “Larch, how hungry do you think we’ll be?”
He rubbed his belly and said, “Mommy, I could eat a bear.”
Janae Windsor was touring the planet as a professional ping pong player until a career ending injury, which occurred during a match against her Canadian nemesis. During her six months of rehab she took up writing and recently completed a thrillingly tender and subtly complex YA novel. She is available for speaking engagements, readings, and film adaptations of her stories. Janae thanks you.