“HEY GORGEOUS! HOW ABOUT you an’ I go to Scott’s an’ we have us-selves a lil’ fun?” a man called out.
Hope cocked her head toward the foul-mouthed, greasy-haired man who gawked at her from across the remains of the street. Littered with filth, the cracked and broken cement that separated them was beyond repair from centuries of abuse. After he grabbed his junk, he threw his hands up in the air. He figured it a gesture one couldn’t resist. A signal of high importance.
He placed his hands on his hips, waiting for her reply.
How does he know I’m female?
Unshaven, leathery, and grimy. Dirt covered every inch of him she could see. It was a good thing he stood across the street. No doubt he smelled grubby and rank, disgusting from spending so long on the street. He seemed older than thirty. That wasn’t odd for a Freebird, but it made him appear worse, and older than he was.
Freebirds didn’t adapt and change like the rest of the human race. They were nothing like Amaranthines. Freebirds remained similar to humans from time lost, and they aged more like humans did, once upon a time. Individuals who sometimes looked well into their eighties, despite their youth, before age and death claimed them. If they made it that long without Hunters slaughtering them.
The Freebirds didn’t bother to take care of themselves. They wouldn’t survive long, so they didn’t waste their time on such trivial things. Drugs, disease, famine. Those things killed with no exception.
If they were caught by Hunters or Amaranthine Soldiers, the Freebirds were exterminated, or converted into a SlaPet. That was the one thing the Freebirds cared about: escaping the life of a SlaPet. Yet a SlaPet’s life was far better than one on The Streets.
For some of the Freebirds, the ruthless envy claimed. The Freebirds’ mortality haunted their every waking hour. It was rare to find a Freebird who lived their life any other way than to pass the time. Who didn’t sit by to wait for death to claim them at last, to free them. Who was more than a street animal, covered in filth just like this horrid man. Many of these imbeciles had tried her, and many had failed.
Hope narrowed her eyes. “Forget it,” she said. “I wouldn’t go with you if you chained me and dragged me there. Go find someone else.”
Her hand drifted behind her back. Her long slender fingers slipped around the handle of the blade she kept tucked under her waistband. She tightened her grip. If he made a move for her, he’d be dead before he could cross the street.
Centuries of little use left the building behind the man in shambles. Plants crawled over the entire exterior, claiming it further with each day that passed. Birds burst forth off the bare eaves and into the sky, spooked by their own shadows. They would rather that, than the alternative. In this day and age, shadows lived and breathed.
Years of filth thrown into the atmosphere had settled and decorated every crevice. No electricity and no life left the old office building dark behind the man. Nobody was filing any paperwork. There weren’t any phones ringing. People weren’t gathering around the ice cooler to chat about their weekend.
Where the windows once belonged, glass was now gone. The few edges that survived in spots, acted as blades, ready to pierce a hole in the skin of any who dared enter and tried to be brave. Everything inside was as dark as the exterior and held just as many perils for any would-be scavengers. Anyone who entered one of those buildings deserved the death they received.
From up the street came soft whispers, putt putt putt putt. Nobody else would have heard the noise. Hope flicked a quick check toward the sound. Her sight honed in on the entity as though she looked through a telescope.
A tired old cat crossed the dilapidated lane. Mangy and unkempt, the feline slunk from one side of the street to the other. Its attention shot back and forth, up and down, as it took in every last inch of space it inhabited, wary of possible predators. The innocent creature was missing hair in spots and seemed crazed, yet it remained alert enough to remain near the ground, trying to keep its body as invisible as possible.
Hope shook her head. Five more minutes and someone would have it for their dinner if it didn’t cling to the safety of the shadows. It may not look like many people or things roamed these parts, but for that rare piece of food wandering through, a starved being was afoot. Food and water wasn’t easily come by, and this poor animal was putting itself on a silver platter.
The man took a step toward her, thought better of it and stopped. He waved his arms downward and stumbled with the motion. “Fuck you, slut!” He gave her the finger, which shook. “I was your last chance. See if I care you sleep out here in The Streets.” He lurched away.
“More like I was yours,” Hope grumbled under her breath.
Watching the man retreat, her hand drifted away from her blade. She kept an eye on him until he disappeared around the corner. He had a point. The Streets were nowhere you wanted to find yourself at night.
You may as well sign your life over.
Another sound came from up the street. Louder. Deeper. A chill crawled along Hope’s spine like a kitten who hasn’t had their claws cut.
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