we sang as we loaded the catapults and launched new days. the payload was potent and we aimed for the horizon.
~ Graffiti at the Municipal Government Center ruins
Franklin Ritter slept beneath a blanket of bees. He curved his back until it fit within a toenail moon. Tonight all the water in the world drummed on his shed’s sheet metal and played a lullaby. Miniature waterfalls framed the interior; surface tension produced upside-down rivers along the ceiling until they obeyed gravity. Franklin wondered what he could barter in exchange for additional roof panels.
He’d queued for five hours, waited to receive his restructured-protein rations. Government issue suits me fine said the ancient man one place behind have you seen the black-market prices? Next, a serpentine procession for six ounces of sorghum flour and a pint of diesel fuel. Some words, spray-painted on a wall:
america is a superpower
x‑ray vision is a superpower
hyperactivity is better than
Rolling brownouts knocked the fight out of refrigeration. Fifteen minutes of generator run-time couldn’t even cool a hardboiled egg. Spoilage is an abstract to anyone in a chronic state of want.
A younger Franklin had found and brought home a rabbit savaged by feral cats. In a grass-lined box crouched the rabbit, its ears tilted backward and eyes alert. The animal’s sides heaved. Franklin’s touch and the fur were as soft as cottonwood fuzz. Father carried the box outside without speaking.
Seeds, greens, legumes, and roots. The plebian diet. Meat was a side product of good fortune and more precious than currency.
Rabbit stew; the caramelized flesh rendered to steam. Franklin’s mouth watered and tears dripped into his bowl while he ate. His father packed a rucksack and said he was going out to look for Franklin’s mother, adding kindness is no crime as long as you don’t get caught. If the search was successful, Franklin never knew.
Another day in the queue. Again in front of the chatty old-timer. Heat rippled from crushed limestone and Franklin barely noticed the announcement: one last allocation was available. It’s mine cried the elderly man this one jumped the line! Compliance Associates wearing black caps threw Franklin face down. He was too sun-faded to deny their shouted accusations. They stood on his outstretched arms and the crowd jeered.
Right or left the CAs demanded which is it? A feckless question — you didn’t know if they’d spare the favored one, or target it. I choose neither said Franklin. They wrapped a rag around his right hand. A hammer rose and fell, and again, and once more. Blood filled the cloth the way Franklin’s screams penetrated the air.
Waves of pain broke against him. The CAs pushed back onlookers. Franklin’s withered accuser, clutching three yams, was the last to leave.
Franklin didn’t open the bloody rag; he wanted only to rest for a few minutes. His shed promised scant comfort. He shut his eyes and imagined bees. Licked their honey from his lips. He’d be lucky not to lose his right hand altogether but didn’t doubt he could still spray paint with his left.
Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T‑shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in elimae, The Airgonaut, The Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Bending Genres, MoonPark Review, Okay Donkey, trampset, Tiny Molecules, and elsewhere. Michael resides in Ohio and is neither aerodynamic nor buoyant. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. Find more at www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.