Savannah watched the sparrow, envied the bird’s freedom to dart from branch to stem. In the last month the tight buds on the tips of every bare twig unfurled into wide leaves, the greenery clustered in thick swatches. She’d enjoyed the change, checked each morning, delighted to be alive, to welcome spring.
Her interest in music and poetry had puzzled her parents. As geneticists interested only in unraveling the mystery of noncoding DNA in the human genome, they studied eukaryotic microbiology, intent on making the junk encoding initiate active protein sequences.
“Imagine the possibilities, Savannah.” Her father had crowed, shaken a sheaf of papers toward the general direction of the outside world, and excitedly jabbered. “Medical conditions like your mother’s terminal cancer might be reversed, cured, even eliminated.”
Two years later he died of an aneurism.
Savannah missed her nerdy parents. Their unfinished projects became the domain of Dr. Vanderskin, the third member of the team and the graduate research assistant.
Robertson Miles, despite his brawny appearance, always demonstrated refined manners and conscientious attention to propriety in her presence. She’d liked him. He’d even paid a visit after the funeral, held her trembling hands and offered soft condolences in his slow southern drawl.
Now Savannah’s world had grown small. She missed access to the wide university lawns, the fountain spray of sparkling water in a shimmer of repetitive arcs before the campus center. The topmost tier of the science tower was just visible from her window if she craned her neck hard enough.
In a recent NPR broadcast, the announcer suggested the situation was governmentally created, a genetically engineered factor for population control. An argumentative caller disagreed and claimed the beast was a product of modern engineering; a mutant born of the greedy private sector.
Both were wrong.
Savannah hated the sense of imprisonment most of all. Once it became apparent officials were unable to restrain the threat, she’d found herself restricted to the courtyard, a personal paradise complete with koi pond, concrete bench, and sundial. She felt positively medieval.
If that idea weren’t insult enough, the bars promised little to keep the desperate outside when they were finally forced to seek out those burrowed inside houses and businesses. Hunger would force them to try. At least she needn’t worry for now, though her lack of self-reliance was a reckless way to survive.
Today she prayed for more fruit.
There was no need to look at the clock. The sun burned hot and high overhead, told her it was noon. She descended the stairs to the ground floor, unlocked and pushed through the narrow plank door, to cross the garden toward the gate. The echo of a scream reverberated off the stone walls of the enclosure but the sound didn’t make her pause. Not anymore.
A skeletal hand wrapped around one of the sturdy cast iron stanchions. “Let me in, Savannah.”
She sighed. “You know I won’t do that, Dr. Vanderskin.” Savannah stopped a foot short of his reach, avoided his long fingers when they darted between the bars and swiped at the front of her blouse.
“He’s coming, girl. Can’t you hear?”
Shrill cries increased in tempo, an indication of the beast’s approach. Another group of reactionaries caught in an escape attempt.
A pale ascetic face appeared in her line of vision. The doctor’s lank grey hair, no longer neatly combed across his bald nape, fluttered in greasy strands along both temples. His eyes glittered in the reflected light. “You’re the one the beast wants.”
Savannah studied her father’s former colleague. “I know the truth.”
His malevolent expression lasted only a second before he darted a nervous look over one shoulder. The intensity of his gaze, the flush of fever stained on his cheeks, and the dull cadaverous tone of his skin indicated ill health.
“You should return to the lab, Dr. Vanderskin, and figure out how to stop this, reverse or switch off the active transcription process.”
His gaze veered back to her and a sneer lifted one edge of his twisted mouth but faltered at her calm cadence. A bony finger pointed at her, he grunted out a curse and opened his lips to speak. The snort of a heavy exhalation and the scrabble of clawed appendages against a hard surface brought him to a frightened stop.
She recognized the sounds of approach.
Dr. Vanderskin fled, the soft patter of his footsteps faded almost immediately as he rounded the corner of the tight alley.
The pops of sound as talons punctured brick, created a sharp staccato as the creature skittered into view. He dropped gently down from the wall of the neighboring structure with a graceful leap and paused on the other side of her flimsy gate. Tight sinew corded along limbs. Smooth muscle rippled as he assumed a relaxed pose, half-standing and half-sitting in a crouch impossible for human musculature. But then, Roberston was no longer hominin by definition.
Raising her gaze, Savannah met eyes that held recognition. Saliva sheened the single row of sharp canid teeth, the black lips shivered back in a feral display. Unwelcome disquiet flowered into awareness, followed by a kernel of heat deep inside. She coughed and the familiar moment of connection passed. A gobbet of meat, wrapped loosely in a scrap of fabric, was delicately maneuvered through the bars. Savannah swallowed back the rush of fluid in her mouth, tasted bile as recognition registered.
His regular gift of food.
In a near-complete absence of sound, the beast departed. Savannah eyed the remnant of cloth, once a red jacket, before she gathered the ragged edges together and folded the pathetic remains into a parcel. The sensation of firm tissue and hard gristle branded her palms. The smooth grass of the courtyard was marked with the burial sites of other offerings.
Soon she would run out of time and space.
Flash Fiction Challenge: I’ve Chosen Your Words @ www.terribleminds.com