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When The World is Rocked
The air was poison. Gaseous mixtures intertwined with the air and formed noxious combinations that numbed the brain. The sky was perpetually browned, stained deeply by pollution and threatened, every day, to release a shower of acid and sludge. Jody sat hunched under the lid of a large refrigerator box. The ground was padded with a thick wool blanket that reeked of stale cigarettes and spoiled milk. The walls of the box were damp and sagging. It would only last for a few more weeks, she figured, maybe only one if it rained again.
The wind picked up, carrying twenty degrees of smog into her lungs. She coughed and wrapped her arms around her legs, squeezing tightly to get warmer. Every strain of air came out as a thin mist. She heard her stomach growl and clenched tighter. She hadn’t eaten in days, and she had lost almost all of their energy. A thick gray coat was draped over her shoulders. It was dirty, it was torn, and the cold viewed it as nothing more than a petty obstacle. Hair fell freely across a pale and smudged face, matted meticulously by Mother Nature, and tinged brown. It accentuated a thin pair of chapped and thin lips.
Something knocked the side of the box making it shudder. She glanced up, her eyes peering over the wool and watering as they met the air. A young boy was sitting in front of her, legs crossed and hands resting firmly on the dirt. He was probably a few years younger than herself, she figured, brown hair laced with mud and grass, skin paler than her own, and a stomach that looked as if it had caved in on itself. He was wearing shorts for some reason, and only shorts. They were bright blue and hardly filthy at all as if they had been meticulously washed every day, or they had just managed to not attract a single speck of dirt. His chest moved in and out in an unnatural rhythm as it were a chore merely to continue breathing. He didn’t speak at all, he just watched, intense green eyes staring in to hers.
Jody dug her face back in to her knees and tried to ignore him, but somehow his gaze found her when she wasn’t looking. She heard his hands graze the earth as he collected small pebbles in his hand and began to chuck them at the large stone pillars that surrounded her sanctuary. She looked up again, he was still watching her. His eyes didn’t seem to have left her once.
“What do you want?” she asked. It came out raspy and dehydrated. She hadn’t spoken in weeks and her lips had almost forgotten how to. The little boy shook his head, as if this was an answer, and continued to throw his rocks. Jody shrugged and tried to hide herself once more. The rocks stopped clacking against the stone and there was a short silence. A foghorn sounded in the distance and she moved her hands up to cover her ears. Her box shook violently this time, accompanied by a thump and a thin, strained breathing. She didn’t have to look up to know that the boy was seated next to her. The cold seemed to radiate off of his body and she shivered. He still didn’t speak, he just sat still and, she assumed, staring at her.
Looking out of the corner of her eye, she saw she was correct. She thought of asking him again, but knew that it would yield no result. Instead she lifted up a corner of her jacket and watched him nudge himself closer to her until it enveloped him too. His skin pressed against hers and she winced. He was freezing and his skin felt like bone as if it were already dead. Jody lifted her arm and wrapped it around his frail shoulders. Despite the cold and his lack of clothing, she realized that he wasn’t shivering. She sat oddly for a moment. It had been a long time since she had touched another person. It had been a long time since she had seen another person at all. It was strange, somehow foreign an unnatural. But as he nudged himself further into her chest seeking warmth she felt curiously at ease.
Without thinking her hand lifted to stroke his hair and she pulled it back. She couldn’t do this to herself. She felt his breathing on her collar bone. One thick pained gasp after another as he fought with his lungs to continue doing their jobs. She snuck another glance at him and saw he was staring at nothing now, he was simply sitting there. He was rigid, if you did not count his sporadically expanding chest.
“Do you talk?” Jody whispered. She had no idea why whispering was necessary, but the boy seemed so frail that she was afraid loud noises might send him into a shock. He didn’t respond again, as she had expected, but he did raise a hand and place it on her cheek. It was electricity, jolting her brain like a car battery and threatening to over energize it. Jody grabbed his hand and removed it hastily. It was an unexpected response. She had no idea why her body reacted that way. No one had touched her face for a long time.
Another fog horn sounded, and she covered her ears again. She needed to find a new place to camp; this one was far too noisy. It seemed like a ripe time to move, especially since her shelter was decaying anyway. She had no idea when the kid had raised his head, or when he had started looking at her with eyes that would have made her cry if she had any tears left to shed. All she knew was he was staring into hers once again and she didn’t like it.
“Stop it,” She muttered. She put a hand on top of his skull and pointed it towards the ground. He gave no resistance as if his body was simply a lifeless puppet. Only to be moved by the people surrounding it. He began to make small whimpered noises and Jody felt bad for a moment, only for a moment. There was no room to feel bad. Not here at least. Feeling bad meant that you gave things up. Feeling bad meant that people took advantage. Of course there was no one to take advantage now, or not many. But that also meant there was no one to feel bad about; no one except for the starving little boy with ribs as defined as the outline of a graffiti drawing.
“Can you at least tell me your name?” Jody whispered into his ear. She had no idea where this sense of affection was coming from, but it frightened her. Affection should have been the first thing to have been ejected from the long list of emotions she held no use for anymore. But one by one she was noticing them inching their way back in. It was not good, and she knew that the sensible thing to do would be to kick the boy out of her cardboard fortress and send him on his way. He had survived long enough on his own hadn’t he? He would do just fine, she figured. But she knew that wasn’t true. The boy had not been fine. He had been dying. Slowly. Painfully. Cold and miserable, even if he didn’t show it. Kicking him out would be murder, even if she was not the one sucking the sustenance from his belly herself.
The boy placed his index finger in the dirt, and she marveled at how skeletal it looked. He twisted it about a few times before bringing it back up to his mouth and sucking on it. Jody stared at the ground where he had been messing with and smiled.
“That’s a nice name.”