Welcome to my small corner of the world. Pull up a seat, we have boundless room. Here at Catylist Inn, there is room for all.
There was a time when it wasn’t like this. When a person could walk beneath the bright sun, the warmth of daylight; when the weight of fear wasn’t ever-present. Those days had passed, they had crumbled and fell around them without notice until it was too late. Then, everyone noticed.
Scram peered from his hiding place, it wasn’t much of one, some scraggled branches with the barest of leaves, a large upheaved bit of concrete sheltered the rest of him. He breathed slow and steady. Sometimes you had to just sit there and slow down. Besides, it was hot out. That kind of heat that let the sweat slip down the middle of your back. He enjoyed the heat, relished in it. It felt like he forced it sometimes.
But those… things… didn’t like the heat much. Dusters, they started to call them. No one really knew what they were. Some sort of creature. So, he’d volunteer every hot day he could -the hotter the better. Today was close to the hottest yet. Some said he was crazy and would laugh as he walked out into the sweltering days. He didn’t care. As long as he could avoid those things. They still came out, even in the blazing afternoons, just not as many. They’d pant loudly too, so he could avoid them easier. Some folks knew better and called him a coward. He was.
The wind picked up, puffs of sand and dust trailed behind its breath. Up ahead, only a quick sprint away was what he had been looking for. It was right there, clear as day, in clean sight. It was funny the things women want. Well, here he was. It was a small town -deserted now- not far from their own little underground township. It had been weeks since Scram had been here. His stomach had lurched when he heard her talk about it, he knew how important it was, even more so now… The pack had been a gift, the kind you held on to. In that last rush to leave, it had gotten lost. She hadn’t asked him, but, well.
What were the odds that it was lying right there for him in plain sight? It looked pretty much the same too. Not ripped apart, blown up, none of that. Just. Clean. It felt too clean. Like it wasn’t real. Of course, it was. It was all too real. ‘Breathe. Slow down,’ he reminded himself. He wiped his sweaty palms across his thigh. Dust was everywhere, it streaked across his hand, even as he tried to wipe them clean. He conceded to it. Besides, he could feel a ball of anticipation grow. It was the kind barbed with fear, he could feel the sharpness. He tried to picture himself running out-quick as fire- and back, but that only fueled his dread.
Running right out into the open? No, thanks.
He pulled his head back and sat against his concrete shelter. ‘I didn’t come all this way for nothing,’ Scram muttered to himself.
The wind picked up, then cut out. And again. This time, his heart wrenched. It wasn’t the wind, not the ‘normal’ kind, not the kind that spreads dirt and dust and a cool breeze. Scram stopped moving and breathing. His back was pressed against the wall. He strained to listen. For a moment there was silence. He stayed still, wanting to be sick, trying to stomach that sharp ball of fear.
He heard it breathe again, which was almost relieving, almost. It filled in that horrid silence between breaths. Scram felt dizzy. No one knew he was out here. Not that that mattered now, but for some reason, it felt important – that someone should know. He should have at least told Mance, though he probably would have tried to stop him too. Not that he could have, but he would have tried. Maybe it would have been better off if someone had stopped him. Like himself.
He heard a scruff, a scaping of dirt and gravel followed by a huff. He waited, he could picture it, huge duster reaching over his pitiful hiding place, and snatching him up. He cringed, and the slight movement sent his heart to his throat. Long moments passed as Scram scarcely moved. His muscles started to cramp, a ball of fury sprouted in his hamstring. He tried to wait it out, his muscle slowly seizing, it proved to be too much. Carefully, he stretched it out, his leg. It did that sometimes, seized up. Every move shivered pinpricks. Where was the duster? Could it see him? Or hear him… Or smell him… He didn’t know much about them, not that anyone did. But the clarity of that realization was stark. Its breathing felt loud like the damned thing was right on the other side, maybe it was. He reached carefully to his side. He had a knife, it wasn’t large, not small either, it wouldn’t have done much against a duster, but, it gave him a feeling of at least having something to defend his life with.
He needed that pack though. There was something in it he needed. He hadn’t told her that either. He was kicking himself for being so closed-mouthed, sometimes a surprise has a way of being turned around. Right now, he was avoiding turning around. There was a gentle puff of wind, a gust that barely qualified, then another huff. Scram nudged his head, it resisted. Why in the seven hells did he want to look? He didn’t know. Breathing out as he did -he’d heard it steadied your movements- he thought so too. He peered out, fully ready to lose his head in the process.
The backpack was still right where it had been. That was a relief, even if it lasted only a moment. He could still -you know- see what he was here for. The duster let out another heave of breath, he still didn’t see it. Which meant it was either right next to him, or not. He wondered if they were slower in the heat, or maybe they just didn’t like it, most people complained about the heat too. Not Scram, not anymore. Even now the heat didn’t bother him, he barely paid it any mind, for all he cared it was raining -and sunny out. It wasn’t, it was hot as shit.
What was he going to do? He could just sit and wait and hope the damn thing didn’t come around the corner or look over the pitiful shelter he’d found. There were a lot of things leading up to this he could have done differently. He sighed -silently- and stopped thinking. Gods, sometimes you just had to banish that chatter in your thoughts. He heard a growl, low, a rumble that echoed in his chest. It was hot out, definitely the hottest yet. Maybe he was dead already. Maybe the damn thing was right there, looking at him, peering at his turned back. Did it matter?
He could see it happening, that moment, the one right before the actual event of death. The one where you knew it was happening, it felt the way a branch does right before it snaps. He wasn’t sure if it was a wrenching of his heart, or if it was a call to action, or just a complete system shutdown to avoid it. Either way, he could feel that, and it felt like a glob of fear in his throat. The kind that was hard to swallow. Scram gulped. He was getting ready. He could be quicker, especially in the heat like this, as long as he lost it on the run back to the village there wouldn’t be any problems. He’d done it before.
They were brutal, ruthless. Scram shivered. It had been out of a nightmare, that night when they had first come. ‘Storming shit.’ He thought to himself. He worked the nerve up, readying himself. The duster gave another heave of a breath. Nearly scaring him to place. He wondered if this one was just out here keeping an eye on their home. Not that it had been theirs, to begin with, but it was now. Things had changed. They always do, he’d known that gods he used to teach it! Now. Though. He could taste the change. It was bitter, it tasted like spikes of adrenaline before a harrowing flight. He couldn’t stay where he was, not for long, eventually, the thing would find him. Besides, the backpack was right there.
He slipped to his feet. Quiet, quick. He moved through that glob of dread. It was still there, but he told it to go fuck itself. The dirt felt good beneath his feet. He felt less vulnerable, there was something about that switch of hiding to doing. He’d die one day, maybe that was today, maybe not. The firmness of the ground seemed ready to binding with him. It was the middle of the day, about as hot as it was going to get, sweat dripped from his nose, his hairline ran slick with it, some of it stinging his eye now and then. The wind, blessed thing, drifted by, it was a cool whisper through the haze. He stopped thinking and ran.