Bored in the doctor's waiting room. This was the last thread I was reading before I made the drive to get here, so a flash fic thing popped in my head on the way over.
Big Mike and Tara trotted on either side of the footprints that led along the Ash Plateau. They'd set out at dawn as soon as they realized Mickey was missing. Beads of sweat mingled with the ash and ran down their zebraed skin like black tears. It blackened their necklines and cuffs, clinging in black Rorschach splotches on their chests. Flasks, knives, flint boxes, bows and quivers clattered with their gait.
Big Mike's sickle worked it's way lose. Mike twisted and secured it onto his backpack as he ran, losing ground to Tara. He spit and picked up his pace to catch up to her, his face just as worry-twisted as hers. The ash tasted nearly as bitter as his soul.
I shouldn't have chastised him for snapping the bow," he said, swerving to avoid one of the thousands of charred tree stumps that dotted the plateau like stubble on a giant cheek.
Tara didn't reply.
In the distance stood some trees that hadn't been quite as decimated in the wars.
"No!" Tara opened up into a full sprint.
Here eyes were better than Mike's, but soon he saw what she did. A figure, sprawled on the ground beside a black trunk of a tree that stood ten feet tall and had a wire swinging from the stub of a thick branch.
Even before he got to the body, Big Mike knew it was his boy. The size was right. The clothes in the bundle under the tree bore the beads Mikey liked to decorate his shirts with.
Tara fell to her knees, hair clasped in her hands, wailing.
No doubt it was the work of the creeper. The body had been perfectly, skinned. Beneath the dangling wire, the imprint of a tub that had collected the blood announced it clearly. Mikey had fallen to the same creature that had taken the Miller girls, Old man Dewey, Squirrel Chop George, and Helico Joe.
Flies swarmed around the body, it's meat already sticky and shiny, curing in the blazing sun.
Big Mike tried to hug his mate, but she shoved him away.
"This is all your fault!" She pointed in his face. "Your fault! Why did you yell at him?" She punched and kicked Big Mike until she could no longer stand, then dropped on her exhausted haunches.
Mike untied the shovel from his backpack and buried the body.
Before they left, he fingered the wire noose. Rubber padding protected the noose. The killer didn't want the wire cutting the skin, no doubt. And whoever it was, he was expert at hiding his tracks, because there was no trail leading out.
They returned to the river and broke the news to their clan.
"It's the Cannibal Clans!" Freaky Pete hollered, wild-eyed. "We need to form a posse and hunt them down."
"If it was the Cannibal Clans, why didn't they take the muscle?" Big Mike replied.
Wild River looked up toward Ash Plateau, tapping his finger on his lips. "What would someone want with the skin and blood?"
Weeks later, Tara's mood hadn't lifted. Post war life had hurled on too many heartaches her way. She wouldn't talk. Wouldn't eat. Big Mike was starting to worry she'd hurt herself.
"Come on, Tara," he said. "Let's go to White Rock Mound. Fat Freddie the Bard is reading a tale today."
She glanced at him with dead eyes. "You go."
"You can't stay like this. We have to move on."
Mike didn't really feel like it either, but he had to get the other children out of the funk. So, he gathered them up and they joined the other clans at White Rock, leaving Tara behind.
By the time they got there, Fat Freddie was already seated atop the Runway rock. He must've been doing quite well for himself, because his chin was always greasy, and his belly hung on the wrong side of his belt like a seed sack.
The mood of the other clans reflected Mike's. Many had lost kin to the creeper, but the parents seemed hopeful the Bard's tale would cheer the children.
Fat Freddie sat cross-legged like Buddha and opened the book, theatrically. "Today's tale is called the Battle of the Blue Rains."
That brought smiles to some of the faces. Mike was happy to see Wild River looking on so intently.
"The Blue Rains came after the wars," a voice said.
Big Mike spun. It was Tara, striding slowly toward Fat Freddie. Then it dawned on Mike what she was saying.
He stood up and strode toward the Bard. "Where did you get the paper and ink, fatso?"
"I..." Fat Freddie dry-swallowed. "I had some."
Confusion marked the faces of the other clans, but nobody was about to interrupt Big Mike or Tara.
"Let me see it," Tara said, holding out her hand.
Mike swung around the back of the rock, and sure enough, Fat Freddie jumped down that way, looking a lot like a man who wanted to run for it. Mike grabbed his shoulder and wrenched the book out of his hands. The page was tough but supple. The clans surrounded Fat Freddie, glaring.
They tied his arms to a rod and marched him back to his cave. From all appearances, it was a fine hole in the hill. Treasures all around. An oak barrel for catching rain. Bars of soap. Even a bottle of whiskey. But as soon as Big Mike stepped inside, he knew something was wrong. The stench nearly dropped him to his knees. A living are with a couple steel chairs and even an orange rug didn't appear to have anything that would stink. No, it was coming from a side nook. There, stretched tight on a wire rack, was a skin. And it didn't look like an animal skin. A paper cutter sat on a splintery picnic table next to jars and piles of ash. Some of the jars had black liquid inside, but others had red liquid. He was adding ash to the blood to make ink.
Big Mike grabbed Fat Freddie by the jowls and slammed him against a wall.
"How else was I supposed to write down my stories?" Freddie said, his eyes pleading, as if he actually expected a response. "There are no more computers! And a writer has to write!"
Big Mike plunged his knife deep into Fat Freddie's heart and stood over him until the body stopped twitching.
The other clans came in and split up the furniture then went their separate ways. But Wild River stopped on the way back. "I'm going to go back and bury the skins and blood."
"Good idea," Tara said.
Wild River ran back and picked up the skins. No, he couldn't bury them. He had stories of his own to tell. Better stories than Fat Freddie ever could, stories with boos and sex. He'd find subjects to make his paper from outside the near clans, and he too would get rich telling stories, just like Freddie.
Oop, my turn to go see the doctor. (That went a lot longer than I thought it would.)