Ebony Wings | Teen Ink

Ebony Wings

June 15, 2021
By Anonymous

Time was a funny thing, Andrew thought. Two years ago, days had rushed by in a flurry of panicked shouts and hurried packing, people trying desperately to figure out what was happening, one blink-and-you’d-miss-it minute the difference between survival and a hastily dug grave. Now, as he trudged along the long, winding dirt road, it seemed to be stuck at a snail’s pace. Dust puffed up under the feet of those in front of him, blowing back to him on the wind to cling to the creases of his faded jeans. Broken wooden fencing lined the sunken road, the clumps of grass torn and thrown by hooves the only sign of the beasts that once lived there. The paddock was long empty- animals had been quick to go in the aftermath of the initial panic. Household pets had been left behind, no room in arms laden with overstuffed bags for the unnecessary added weight. When the stores and houses had been looted of supplies, people had turned their sights towards fresher food. Cows, sheep, pigs, any animal who could provide food for the hungry, were drained of their milk and slaughtered for meat. The only animals to be seen now were the vultures soaring in looping circles high above, waiting for one of the humans below them to drop of exhaustion or sickness, and the rare canine whose foolish owners couldn’t bear to be parted with. The thought of the dogs brought back memories of his own sleek-furred pitbull, and his body found splayed in a field, coat ripped and torn, matted with blood around the chunks bitten off by the creatures and-

He fisted his fingers tightly in the rough denim of his jeans, and forced the images from his mind. He had seen enough death since the creatures first arrived that the memory no longer made him sick, but his stomach still ached with guilt at the thought of his loyal companion left to rot in the cornfield as the still living ran for safety. His stomach ached again when he squinted at the scratched glass of his beaten watch, a final gift from his father and the last sign that he had ever existed, and realized that it had been over fifteen hours since his last measly meal of dried meat, leftover from the first rush on food stores at the beginning of the chaos. The others must have felt the same, for soon enough he heard the shout of Break! from the front of the pack and the grumbles of relief from the others. Andrew stumbled to a halt, flexing his sore feet and cracking his back. His shoes were the ones he had first grabbed from an abandoned L.L Bean six months ago. The too-tight fabric chafed and the ground burnt the soles of his feet where the rubber had worn away, but it was either the small shoes or the scorching ground, and the rusty bits of metal scattered randomly on the farm road made the choice easy. He looked skyward as he stretched, watching a lone vulture winging lazily above, beady eyes fixed on the people wandering below.

Andrew! Come on, quick stop then we’re carrying on. You want food, now’s the time!”Andrew was broken from his thought by the booming voice of Randy. Andrew readjusted his duffle bag, unraveling at the seams, on his shoulder, and jogged to collect his ration of what was no doubt stale crackers and water once again. He surveyed the pack as he ate. Randy, a tall, broad man with a mop of black hair, was the unofficial leader. He had been the one to find Andrew, protruding ribs showing just how little food he had after his parents had disappeared, and offer him a place with the man’s family. Andrew, fifteen at the time, had quickly accepted the offer. That was nearly half a year after the creatures had come. His wife, Jinna, had once been part of their circle, but sickness had taken her soon after Andrew had joined. 

“D’you know where we’re headed?” Andrew questioned the girl sitting next to him. Nikki, the year she had on him making her the second-eldest of the group, swallowed down her mouthful of crackers before responding. 

“Some abandoned warehouse. Dad’s heard ‘bout it before, it was supposed to demolished but then, well…” She trailed off, before shaking her head. “Anyways, maybe there’s goods there. Food, or somethin’.”

Andrew thought it unlikely but didn’t say anything, instead stuffing his remaining food into his mouth and jumping to his feet. He slung his bag over his shoulder, tossed Nikki her own, and headed for where Randy was gathering his own pack. Andrew shuffled his feet impatiently as he waited for Asher and Lee, the red-headed twins at least half his age, and their sister, Harper, to finish readying themselves.

* * * 

They reached the warehouse just as the sun had started to sink below the hazy treeline. The sky was awash with brilliant pinks and oranges, and Andrew narrowed his eyes at the lone vulture sitting hunched on a nearby branch, backlit by the setting sun. The building was the definition of neglect. It seemed the process of pulling it down had been started before the workers either ran or died. The scaffolding could be seen through the giant holes and gaps where sheet metal had been pulled away, peeking through like the rusted metal ribs of an unmoving giant. Vines snaked around the poles, thick swaths of them cascading over the edges of the roof to obscure the ugly rips in the hide of the metal beast. Glass lay shattered on the ground crunching underfoot as the group progressed towards the building. They all paused for a minute to take in the sight. 

“Well,” Asher started, breaking the silence. “You did say it was abandoned.”

Randy huffed out a laugh, before dropping his bag to the ground to rummage inside. “That I did. Come on, get your things.” He pulled out the object behind his search: a traditional baseball bat, nails hammered into tan wood. 

The rest of them hurried to grab their own makeshift weapons. When Andrew had joined up with them, he had yet to see the worst of their new world. He had laughed the first time he had seen the bat. You’re acting like this is an apocalypse, or somethin’, the end of the world, he had joked. Randy had stared back, brown eyes sad, as he replied, What else could it be? Two nights later, they came across a car that had clearly been found by the creatures, the occupants still in their seats. Andrew hadn’t joked about it since. 

Armed with their “weapons”, they made their way to the side entrance. The door was a faded green, with the words ‘Authorized Personnel Only, Keep Out’ splashed across its surface in a sickly yellow. A clang echoed through the still air as Randy’s booted foot kicked it open, bat raised and ready to ward off any potential attackers. Finding none, he ushed the rest inside. 

They made quick work of their search of the warehouse. Few supplies were procured, fewer kept. The empty canteen was saved for if they ever found an unpolluted water source to fill it with, as was the oversized fluorescent rain jacket and box of packaged nuts. There was a bag each of chips and pretzels, discovered with excitement and cast aside with disgust upon finding the bags crawling with ants. They settled down for the night after that, pulling out worn sleeping bags and blankets to spread out on the concrete floor. The day’s journey caught up with them at last, and Andrew dropped off to the sound of the other’s breaths evening out.

* * * 

Andrew woke to the sound of scratching above him. He shot up, hand already reaching out the shake Randy awake, but stopped when his darting eyes found the source of the sound. He dropped back down onto his blanket, staring back up at the vulture watching him from the rafters, and puffed out a sigh of relief. Inspecting it, he noticed a wide strip of white along the underside of a wing as the bird shook them out before settling back into his perch. Strange, he thought. He could’ve sworn the other two vultures from earlier had that exact stripe. A sense of unease prickled the back of his neck, and he recalled a conversation he had had with Harper not three weeks ago. 

You see those birds up there? She had asked, pointing at the distant horizon where large, swooping shadows blocked out the midday sun. Vultures. Nasty things, live off of our death. And where there’s vultures, you can be sure there's creatures. I think they’re the only ones the creatures actually do good for. Waiting in the trees until the creatures bring us down, then swooping in for the leftovers. You see one, stay far away from that place. There’s nothing good for you there. 

Andrew had nodded along to what she was saying but didn’t pay much attention. His eyes were fixed on the black droplets of ink that stained the sky, occasionally diving low to snatch something from the ground. Now, as the words of warning came rushing back to him, he scrambled to his feet. “Randy!” His voice was crackling with panic, kicking his legs frantically to free them from his tangled blankets.  He searched the shadows as he shook the others awake. And where there’s vultures... “Nikki, Asher, get up we have to-!”

Andrew never finished his shouts of warning, as a creature leaped from where it had been slinking through the shadows, and snapped its great maw shut around its catch.

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