This is an orphaned experimental start to a tale I was working on recently. I’ve thought about going back to it. The tale itself was conceptualized to be about a boy who was raised in a post-pandemic cooperative. The pandemic wiped out people on the level of King’s The Stand, and Mal was born during the height of the illness. His parents didn’t survive, but a survivor, Jim, took Mal under his wing. A group of reivers going by the name of “Plague Dogs” destroyed everything and Mal only survived by dumb luck and with the help of his shadowcat, a large cat who can walk along shadows and through walls. Rayth can only vocalize something that sounds like “Now.” Mal has to avoid the Plague Dogs, as they seem to always be where he is. But he also has to survive something called night gaunts (name stolen from HPL, but not conceptualized to be the same), essentially feral and quite mad survivors of the pandemic. They are allergic to light as a consequence of the pandemic exposure, and roam the barren streets at night. Even Plague Dogs avoid them, as a swarm will overcome even heavy gunfire. Mal is captured, loses his shadowcat, falls in love, is enslaved and becomes useless, which means he becomes dinner for the Plague Dogs, who are not above partaking in the long pork. And then other things happen better left unsaid at this time. Lengthy introduction to a short orphan, sorry.
“Now,” intoned Rayth. “Now.”
“Shuddup,” was the harsh, stage-voiced response Mal gave in reply. “You wanna spook it? Jay-sus.” He tried to muster up his focus and train the bead of his .22 rifle on the rabbit. He sighted and was squeezing the trigger slowly like ol’ Jim back at the shelter had showed him and —
The bullet screamed against the concrete wall behind Mal’s quarry and missed the rabbit entirely and the ball of fur zig-zagged through the tall grass and into the underbrush along the office building’s side.
“Shit. Shit. SHIT!”
It might have been Rayth’s incessent encouragement, Mal’s chiding, or maybe Mal’s skill, which had never come close to Jim’s talent for bagging varmints. Mal was never one to accept responsibility if he could blame someone else, so it might have been one of those things, but he’d decided it was Rayth’s fault.
“You dumb shit! Now we gotta eat dog food again!”
“Now?” asked Rayth.
Mal hocked up a ball of snot and, intentionally, narrowly missed the shadowcat when he spit it out.
“You might be pleased as punch about that, but I don’t look forward to eating that vile mush again. We coulda had fresh meat.”
With a level of sympathy that would suprise most people who’d never met a shadowcat before, Rayth replied with honest remorse. “Now…”
Mal looked at the sun through the branches of the elm waving gently in the spring breeze. The yellow orb was too low in the sky to wait for things to calm down in the hopes that the rabbit had a short memory and would return to the scavange the bait. Night would arrive soon, and it wasn’t safe to be out and about at night.
For a moment Mal thought about grabbing his sorry bait for another attempt tomorrow, but the carrot was beginning to look more brown then orange and there was a good chance it’d turn to liquid in his bag overnight. He packed up his gear and started making his way back to the old office building he’d found a few days before that was mostly secure against the night gaunts and largely defendable against the Plague Dogs. Lucky for Mal, the latter hadn’t picked up his scent, or he’d be in a whole world of hurt, as Jim would have said. The night gaunts weren’t much of a threat with Rayth tagging along.
Which is why Mal didn’t grief the shadowcat too much. As unlikely as it might be, Rayth was his own cat and often went off on his own for sometimes days at a time. Mal always worried the cat would decide he’d had enough of Mal and not bother to return. Mal wouldn’t last a week without cat against the night gaunts or the Dogs, and he knew it.