[i]Got it,[/i] Harlan thought, opening his right eye and looking skyward where a quail, suspended just for a moment at the top of its arc, began to plummet down. The black dog at his side bolted without bidding, and Harlan chuckled at the display of gusto. He slipped his slingshot into the back pocket of his ragged trousers, watching his companion tackling something in the distance. If the quail hadn't been dead when it hit the ground, it must be now. The dog lifted her head proudly and turned to trot back to Harlan, the downed fowl gripped in her maw. The sun was behind them, and as the retriever ran, Harlan watched with a fading smile the shape of the bird's head wobbling limply up and down.
It was afternoon out in the fields, and though they were not far from developed land, there was no one else in sight. The boy, no older than twelve years, crouched to greet his dog, warmly rubbing his hands about her triumphantly-poised head and then gently gripping the dead bird in her teeth. His flaxen mop of hair practically camouflaged him where he knelt in the surrounding grasses. "Not bringing this one back now, right Lazzy?" He paused for a second, hazel eyes meeting the deep trustful stare of his companion. "Well, you know what I mean." Harlan smirked and gave his dog a final affectionate pat before taking the game from her and rising.
The dog was small for her breed, just as Harlan was short for his age, and both of them were noticeably thin. The dog wore a red-and-green plaid bandana about her neck. The boy was dressed in earthy, fraying clothes. "We've each got one now," Harlan commented, turning to his rucksack, upon which a sinewy squirrel had already been strung. He tied up the fresh kill and slung the pack about his shoulders. "Still got plenty of daylight left. I say we cook 'em up before looking for a squat." He turned and began the walk out of the grassy wilds, dog heeling at his side with slowly-wagging tail.
Their little fire, once Harlan had found a suitable place to build one, didn't give off much light while competing with the ever-sinking sun. Having prepared the small game to cook, Harlan turned them – one at a time – on a small spit over the flames. Beads of sweat dripped from his forehead. "No," Harlan murmured, shooing his friend away as she poked her snout at the cooking meat. The dog turned around and busied herself with sniffing about the perimeter. Harlan could feel his eyelids growing heavy in the heat, reminding him he hadn't slept lately.
Harlan soon took the cooked game to sit under the shade of a nearby boulder, his retriever bounding eagerly over to join. "Tastes real good, huh girl," he said, tearing off a large chunk of flesh and dropping it in front of her. He didn't speak further as they devoured the rest of their meal, giving much of it to the dog. When the food was done, he rose wordlessly, his companion echoing his movement. Harlan buried their fire, and they set off back toward once-developed society.
They didn't approach from any main road, stumbling through evidence of residential property and eventually onto a degenerating sidewalk. Off in the distance, a tall and sloping house caught Harlan's eye. "Deserted place, don't you think?" Harlan asked his friend. The boy trusted he'd grown an eye for these things. The dog's tongue lolled idly as they walked toward it, her paws stepping over crumbling concrete with a soft click of claws.
They came finally to the crumbled walkway. The canine stopped to sniff at the arid lawn, and the boy strode cautiously to the door. It opened easily. "Hello?" he called out, his tinny voice echoing back to him off the cracking plaster of the walls. Leaving his dog outside, he walked into the threshold. He called out a few more times, walking more boldly into the heart of the dwelling. There was no response. He returned to the front door and called for his dog, who bounded over to him and through the house's entry. Harlan closed the house-door and immediately scanned the dusty interior for a place he could lie down. It appeared the old abode had been scavenged bare long before they'd arrived, which was only expected.
Harlan wandered deeper into the deserted house, to where the sunlight – still present – was not so bright through the windows. He wearily laid his pack on the floor for a pillow and curled up on the ground. The familiar breath of his dog sniffing his hair made him blink up and smile, and the dog soon lay down against him with a contented huff. "Love you," Harlan murmured, stroking her familiar black fur. He fell to sleep.
It wasn't long before he felt a low, quiet growl emanating from his companion, waking him. Harlan stirred and propped himself up on an arm. "Laz," he whispered, stroked the back of her head as she stared straight forward. Her fur prickled beneath his fingers. Then, Harlan heard it too. Someone else had come into the old building.
"Oh hell," the boy muttered, rising sloppily to his feet. The floorboards creaked beneath him and his shoes scuffed the floor, and his dog jumped up and began to growl more loudly. Harlan felt his whole body turn tense, jaw tightening, legs ready to spring. There was no telling who had found them, or how they'd react. His mind raced through scenarios and options of what he should do, but his body was fixed in place.
Edited April 3rd
I lay there, body decrepit, slouched over a slobbery couch matted in dusty corduroy fiber. My tiny wrist fell upon the disheveled slab of the first story living room, where untold stories were preached and left barren. The gasp left my lungs viciously, like a torrent escaping death, to beseech a long lost familiar. Like a legion of vicious fire ants, my grimy ghostly form shot up as the flame seared my eyes, denying death, daring to linger in a world forbidden me. But I could smell her. I could smell the stench of antiquity, of regret, of abandon, that disavowed my eternal rest. There may be little meat left on my bones, but the souls of the restless cannot denied. And just like that, the dried ashen scab of bonded blood creaked the abandoned ruin of ages past, for the very first time since its last departed.
Posted April 21st
I eat lasagne.
Posted April 27th