A dime or a dollar. The cost of safety.
The rain hammered on the streets, running from rivulets to rivers and sinking into bone as it roared from the sky. Carral hurried through the ruins, looking for shelter. With the stinging silver rains came the fog. And with the fogs came the... things.
She needed to be hidden safely away, if she wanted to catch a glimpse of them.
Spotting a crack in a wall, Carral squeezed her skeletal frame through the narrow gap, jagged edges of broken brick and metal scraping at her ribs. She popped out into a dimly lit room where strange machines sat, row upon row leering at her with gaping mouth-holes. Or maybe they were eyes; a prickling along her spine hinted that she was not alone. She was being watched.
Rain sluiced down the remnants of glass still hanging in rotting window frames, pooling on the worn and tattered tiles of the floor. Stepping daintily between the growing pools, Carral turned her head this way and that, searching for any sign that she was not alone.
Her foot caught something shiny that clattered and clanged across the dusty tiles and she winced, hunkering down and listening intently. The only noises were the patter of rain and the soft sound of the coin rattling to a halt on the far side of the room.
Mist curled through the shattered windows.
Carral hissed, fear slipping out between her teeth like steam escaping a pipe. Spine tingling, she scanned the room for possible hiding places. Gloomy shadows reached beckoning fingers from the corners, from where they skulked under tables and beneath the rotting debris of chairs, but she knew she needed someplace enclosed. Sheltered.
Something moved, out in the mist.
A dull thunk, possibly close by. The fog made it hard to tell.
Carral tensed, before leaping into one of the corroded mouths lining the room. The round opening swallowed her whole, the inside rocking and twisting as she landed and for a terrible moment she thought the beast was alive, that it had been waiting for her. For a long moment, for what felt like many moons, Carral stood panting, breath sharp with the metallic taste of fear. Her heart thundered louder than the rain now pounding on the roof.
Teeth failed to gnash, a throat failed to swallow her.
Shuddering, feeling the cold metal of the curved ‘floor’ sway with every movement, Carral sank down until she was curled up, smelling the mouldering scent of long rotted-away cloth that clung to the steel.
Outside, glass cracked and tinkled against tiles.
A shffing sound.
Something soft but heavy, dragged over tiles.
Quivering, Carral tried to convince herself to close her eyes. She could just make out the mist through the hole she had jumped through, pearly grey and almost seeming to glow with its own faint light. Thin fingers of fog crept towards her. Pressing herself down against the cold steel, which seemed to leech all her body heat away leaving her trembling with cold, Carral tried to think of her family. The warmth of their home, the excited chatter of her siblings - it all seemed so far away from the chill grey fog that was seeping into her very bones.
She remembered one of her brothers, Rymen, chirruping excitedly at the mention of venturing outside. He had gushed about the ruins, about the leaves on the trees and the luminescent flowers, about the rolling mists and the shadowy figures that lurched in their depths.
I’m going to find out what they look like, he had said.
Head full of clouds and stories, soft and fluffy. Eyes bright and eager. He’d slipped away before they had, and Carral hoped he’d found what he was looking for. She wondered if maybe she should look, so she could tell him about it. In case he hadn.’t found them.
She couldn’t bring herself to look.
Tmp. Tmp. Footsteps. Tmp.
Carral shivered, fluffing herself up in a vain attempt to warm herself. Even her bones felt cold, brittle and icy, about to shatter at the slightest movement. Her ribs could surely not hold her hammering heart as she hunkered lower.
Tendrils of fog licked at the opening to her hiding place.
Carral squeezed her eyes tight shut, as if not being able to see the monster would save her. All she could smell was the stink of her own fear overlaid with old metal, cold metal. There was no sound of breathing.
Glass crunched softly.
The sudden silence was deafening.
Carral drew in a deep breath, trying to calm her shaking, to soothe her racing panicked heart. Finally drawing up her courage from somewhere deep inside, like a fire kindling from tiny embers, she peeked cautiously out of the opening of her hiding place.
Outside, through the window, the moon watched her with a baleful gaze, heavy-lidded and dusted with stars.
On trembling legs, Carral clambered out of the metal container and shivered in the cool night air. Tatters of mist and the remnants of the downpour floated in the air, making everything chill and icy-clean in the silvery light. With a flick of her red and white brush tail, Carral leaped out the window and headed back to the forests, leaving only paw prints behind her.