Friday Fiction: Urban Blight

Writing 150(This is a short story that I’m writing for the Clarion Write-a-Thon, inspired by the short story “Removal Order” by Tananarive Due. I had never seen someone tackle the idea of an apocalyptic scenario from the perspective of an inner-city character, and the prospect is really exciting to me. You see apocalyptic stories from the point of view of “prestige fiction” protagonists an awful lot, but it would be really cool to see the unique challenges such a scenario would bring to someone without resources or connections. Where would they go? What could they do? This is a VERY rough draft, and my first attempt at tackling the idea. I’m thinking the short story in its final form will be way different. But for now…enjoy!)

Marcus sat on the front steps of his home and listened to the silence that had fallen on his neighborhood. He could hear the crows calling to each other from the dogwood and mulberry trees that lined his block. He could hear the leaves rustling in the breeze. He could hear the sound of his own heart beating.

He couldn’t hear cars humming up and down Gwynn Falls Parkway, or the sound of children shouting to each other from porches, parking lots, the front of the corner store. He couldn’t hear the sound of ambulances rushing down side streets, or the occasional sound of raised voices or fights or gunshots. There weren’t people out on other porches. There wasn’t the drone of radios or televisions, or the hum of fans. There were just the birds, the leaves, his heart.

It was disconcerting. Marcus spent his entire life wishing that the city was quieter, and now he realized just how much the buildings around him were meant to be noisy. The houses all around him were quiet and dark, and he knew it wasn’t just because the power had gone out three days ago. It was for the same reason he’d rather be out here instead of inside his own house.

He woke up this morning hoping for the best but expecting the worst. The worst had happened. He walked out immediately, sat on his front steps, and hadn’t moved all day. The sun had come up behind the house across the street, illuminated the emptiness of the road in front of his house, and sunken down behind his back yard before he came out of his own head for long enough to realize the time. It was getting dark; he could see the reflections of the sunset off of Mr. Frank’s bedroom windows. Unless he wanted to spend the night here, he would have to get moving soon.

He had done a lot of grieving over the last twelve hours or so. His brain was a thicket of memories that he had to fight his way through to get here. He reached back for the earliest one he could recall and sat there, letting a jungle of them form around him. He took his time cutting his way through them until he got here, watching golden sunlight crawl up the side of Mr. Frank’s house, listening to nothing. It was time to go, something inside of him said. He knew this. But he couldn’t make himself stand up. He couldn’t go back into that house.

Something moved down the block, just to the right of his vision. It was too big to be a bird or a dog, too upright. He looked down the street to see Tyrone stumble into the middle of it. He stopped, he pulled up his jeans, and he looked around. Before Marcus could do anything, Tyrone spotted him. Then he started walking towards him. He called out. His voice was strong and clear. It startled him; it made him remember how long it had been since he heard someone’s voice.

“Hey yo.” Tyrone hustled up the street, stopped in front of his gate. “What you doing here?”

Marcus felt the rush of adrenaline remind him of his own body. He was suddenly cold, and his ass had fallen asleep, and he was terribly hungry. His heart beat inside a chest that felt too weak for it. His tongue was swollen and dry. It peeled from the roof of his mouth and scraped against his teeth when he tried to come up with an answer.

“Hey man,” Tyrone said. “Come here.” He wore clothes that were so oversized they looked like a mass of fabric, a pile of blues and blacks and whites with him and who knew what else underneath them.

Marcus hesitated. He had been popped by Tyrone so many times before; for the old iPod he had gotten one summer, for the eighty dollars he had right after he cashed his check, for a pair of sneakers that were as white as a new road sign, for nothing at all, just so he could be shoved around a bit when his friends were bored. Whatever Tyrone wanted now, it was not good. He really didn’t want to deal with it.

So he stared at him. Tyrone stared back for a minute, then sucked in his teeth. “Come here, man. I ain’t tryin’ to fuck with you or nothin’. I just need to talk with you for a second.”
Marcus rose. He leaned against the bannister as he made his way down the steps. Both of his legs erupted into that feeling, like he was being bitten by ants. He could feel his feet slide inside his shoes, hundreds of pinches just under his skin. When he got to the bottom, he walked stiffly, slowly down the sidewalk. He must have looked like Mr. Frank. It felt like an hour had gone by when he got to the gate.

“What you want?” The question squeaked out of his throat and garbled between his tongue and his cheeks. It sounded like he had been crying, but he hadn’t. He didn’t know why he hadn’t.

Tyrone looked at him for a second in that way that made it seem like he was, indeed, trying to fuck with him. Then he nodded his head. “You got family in there or somethin’?”
Marcus shook his head. He tried to will the image that came up out of his head. He would not remember her that way. “Naw. Not no more.”

(If you think this story has potential, or you’d like to donate to a good cause, please consider donating to the Clarion Write-a-Thon through my author page. I’m 20% towards my goal of $500 raised; all I need is eight more people making a donation of $50, or a pledge of 1/1000th of a cent ($.001) per word!)

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