Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Savory to the Taste (07/26/12)
TITLE: Death Shall Wait
By Amy Michelle Wiley
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I coughed. It sent a sharp stab of pain through my chest and I grabbed at my ribs. The bones pressed tight against my thin skin. Groaning, I pulled my knees up, wrapping myself around my aching stomach.
My movement made Sissy stir. Her eyelids fluttered and she squinted at me through the dust. Her blue-tinged lips turned up into a smile and through chattering teeth, she spoke. Over the wail of the air-raid sirens, I could just make out her words.
“Tell me a story.”
I almost smiled too. It didn’t matter where we were—she was still the little girl, the little sister she’d always been. I scooted closer and wrapped an arm around her, willing my body heat to infuse her, give her more of that life we so tenaciously clung to. “Way up in the mountains, there is a dragon who spits fire, and screams. All night he stalks the cliffs, daring anyone to meet their death.”
“I’ve seen him.”
It was true. He zoomed above us every night, thundering through the air, opening his belly to drop firebombs that triggered the incessant alarms.
“But one knight determined to end the dragon’s reign of terror. He would defeat him. But not alone. No, he would gather the bravest men, the strongest, smartest, and most skilled. They would train until they were invincible. Then, and only then, would they face the monster.”
“Soon?” Sissy grasped my hand. “Will he be dead soon?”
“Very soon.” I wrapped my other hand around hers, enclosing it in a cocoon. “But first the kingdom threw a grand feast to send them off in honor.” All my stories came around to food eventually.
Sissy sat up. “Did they have roast beef?”
“Roast beef simmered in a savory sauce of garlic, onions, and capers. Bowls were heaped with fresh fruit: oranges, grapes, pomegranates…”
“Peaches so ripe they dripped sweet syrup down your chin when you bit into them.” I licked my lips. My mouth filled with grit. Ugh.
Sissy fell asleep as I talked, and after a bit I eased her to the floor, slipping my jacket under her head.
I crept up to the world above us, if it could still be called that. For a long while, I crouched in the tunnel entrance, watching. Smoke and flame shifted the darkness. My eyes darted, catching each movement, analyzing its origin.
Finally I deemed it safe and eased into the street. Mingling with the shadows, I slipped through the town until I spotted a former restaurant laid open by a bomb. Only a corner of it smoldered, so I clambered through a collapsed wall and darted into the kitchen, flinging open a cupboard.
I yanked open the next and the next. Shelves, drawers, even the pantry held only gaping rows of nothing. I sank against the floor, my legs suddenly too weak to hold me another second.
Please. Please! I knew not to whom I petitioned.
I drew myself up and stumbled toward the door. As I passed the garbage bin, I spotted it—a gleam of white in the bottom.
I snatched it up. The heel was crusty and stale, bits of green mold sprouted here and there, and it was caked with congealed grease drippings.
I clutched it to my chest and raced back with hardly a glance to check for danger.
“Sissy!” I burst into our shelter, forcing myself to slow as I eased her upright.
“What is it?” She steadied herself with a toothpick arm, trembling from the exertion.
“You remember that feast the knights were eating?”
There was that smile again, gleaming even in the darkness. “The way you described it, I could almost taste it!”
“Well, picture it now. Close your eyes and open your mouth.”
I held the moldy mess, hesitating. Then I yanked a piece off and popped it into her mouth. “Swallow it quick!”
Her mouth closed. For a minute I thought she would gag and spew it out. But then she chewed. Once, twice, three times. She swallowed.
I grimaced. “How bad was it?”
She cocked her head, considering. Then she thrust out her palms. “More, please?”
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