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Smoke

 

Smoke

A Short Story

 

E.J. More

 

First published in the eBook Storms in Jars in 2012.

 

Copyright © 2012 E.J. More

 

The right of E.J.More to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

All rights reserved.

 

All characters in this publication are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

Shakespir Edition.

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only and may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Contact: [email protected]

 

 

Smoke

It was two days since the creature had woken hungry. Friday evenings were the worst of times to rise. With the workers gone for the weekend food was scarce. It had resisted the urge to go in search of a domestic. They buffed and polished through the early hours, bringing the building’s vast network of hallways and open-plan offices to a high shine. That kept them healthy and it had no desire to chase one down, let alone eat one. Too much effort, too risky, too bland.

Soon the sun would be up and the workers would return, bringing with them the delicious odour of cancer and rot. Then it would be glad it had waited. That first taste would be all the sweeter. It sank back in the dark and began to drool.

But its edge was gone, the need to feed now motivated only by hunger, not appetite. How many times had it woken? It felt like thousands. The world was a different place now. Driven from its habitat time and again, forced to find new hunting grounds, new food sources, it grew weary of the fight to exist.

Many years ago it had stumbled upon this place, one of the last remaining safe havens. A clandestine meeting place made possible only by a dinosaur company boss, as pig-headed as he was old-school. This was a man who loved a good cigar and wasn’t about to let some hoky-coky government tell him how he could and couldn’t run his business, smoke room included.

So here the creature stayed, blessed and cursed, unable to help but feel trapped by the fact that it had nowhere else to go. How it longed for another with which to share its prey, to rest with, to wake with. Instead it lived, as it had for the better part of a lifetime, with only the persistent ache of loneliness as its companion.

It hadn’t seen one of its own kind since the global tobacco ban, a black day indeed. In the years that followed those that hadn’t starved to death crawled back down below, beaten and desperate. It often wondered if it was the last to remain on the surface, but still it had no desire to return to the cavernous netherworld of its homeland. It would die here first.

Its nostrils twitched as it sniffed the air, sensing a variation. It inched forward a little for a better view of the hatch. In the room below a door creaked open, a moment later the sound of a switch; streams of light shooting upwards through the grid, projecting a geometric pattern on the roof above. Then footsteps and the shuffle of a chair as someone sat down.

The creature crouched silently in the ceiling space, unseen as it leaned over the hatch, its face a distorted collage of shadows. Before it even laid eyes on him it knew the human by smell, it knew all of them by smell. And this particular one was Fat Barry from payroll.

The man lit up a cigarette, sucking in hard and savouring the first lungful. It was still early so Fat Barry hadn’t yet begun to sweat, but by lunchtime he would have to change his shirt. He did this every day. Stinky Fat Barry from payroll, Barry Two-Shirts.

Life was not good for Barry. His spiteful co-workers talked about him when he wasn’t there, mimicked his facial expressions, or left the smoke room en masse as he arrived. This only served to confirm what the creature had known forever, that humans were a cruel race, a selfish breed, one that deserved nothing other than to be feasted upon.

But not Barry, who, by some quirk of genetics, had managed to escape the onset of disease. Despite his size, his illicit nicotine addiction, there was nothing about his smell that indicated he would be suitable prey. And the creature was glad, it liked Barry, it knew his pain. But more to the point it knew what hard work a body like that would be, logistically speaking.

It had often needed to break bones, shoulders, hips, ribs, to get the humans up through the hatch. But Barry, well Barry was enormous, and the creature didn’t relish the idea of trying to drag that amount of flesh up into the ceiling space. At its age it wasn’t sure it could. So for lots of reasons Barry was off the menu. And as he stubbed out his cigarette and headed for the door the creature found itself a little sad to see him go.

It glanced around, a haze of smoke now creeping up through the grid. The light from the hatch didn’t reach far so, for the most part, the huge expanse the creature considered its home was in darkness. The breeze block walls and supporting steel structures chilled the air, and it wished it hadn’t discarded the skin of its last kill so quickly.

A few of the other hatches now glowed brightly in the distance, offices springing back to life, workers returning to their seemingly pointless jobs. But it didn’t venture towards those. The only hatch it was interested in was here. So here it sat, patiently waiting, its eyes fixed on the grid that was its gateway to the room below.

An endless trail of humans came and went, breathing in their toxic fumes, poisoning their bodies. They were all dying, every last one, but they were too busy to even notice. Some were closer to death than they realised while others still had a ways to go, but all were on the spectrum.

It watched and listened as they chattered about everything and nothing; a series of meaningless ten minute interludes breaking up an equally meaningless day. How small they seemed to the creature now, their lives so disconnected. Forced to work like ants in a farm just to validate their existence. It might have pitied them, if it weren’t their own doing.

It was waiting for a ripe one and knew just which one would do. The traffic slowed and the creature closed its eyes, but it sat up as it heard the clip-clop of heels from the corridor. The door creaked open once more and it instantly identified the scent, its mouth juicing up at the promise of food. Maybe this time it would be enough to fill the emptiness, to satisfy the ache. It lived in hope.

Lorna, PA to the boss, held a menthol cigarette between perfectly manicured fingers. She had spent her twenties sleeping her way up the career ladder and the creature could smell the old man on her now. She would often start his day that way.

‘Gotta look after The Chief,’ she’d say, ever so slightly repulsed by herself.

She was pale and on the unhealthy side of slim, her hair pulled up into a bun. She wanted so badly to feel professional, to feel clean. But lately her complexion had taken on a more pallid hue, the bony prominences of her face no longer striking in an attractive way. The youth she relied on so heavily now resided elsewhere, leaving not a lot else besides.

She spoke quietly into her mobile while the creature waited, biding its time, choosing its moment. It could smell the tumour the woman had yet to find, and the aroma of it made its heart race.

The creature leaned in towards the hatch, curling its claws beneath the edges of the grate, quietly and carefully levering it out of position. Its mouth formed a snarl, its jagged teeth instinctively bared. It was so hungry now, and the moment was close.

The growth sat in her left breast, deep in the tissue, where it was slowly turning the flesh inside black. Within her lungs the disease had metastasised. Tiny cancerous spots, mere pinpricks, speckled the lining of the alveoli, growing fractionally bigger each day.

The creature studied the prey, its body coiled in anticipation. She was ripe for the taking, so very ripe. It had shown great patience and in a moment it would claim its reward, devour her piece by piece. Thankfully there would be no fight with this one, no struggle. It took a few slow, shallow breaths and it was ready. But then, as it braced itself to drop down through the hatch a noise close by made it stop and turn.

It took a moment for its eyes to adjust but then it saw it. A few metres away, only just visible in the shadows: a creature much like itself. They briefly sized each other up before the second creature tentatively moved forwards, out of the gloom.

The first creature’s eyes filled with tears. A companion. At last, a companion. To share my prey with, to rest with, to wake with. Yes, yes

But as the second creature approached it became clear it was no companion. It was younger and stronger, and it wasn’t in the market to share. Drool dripped from its mouth as it bared its teeth in a predatory display. It was hungry and could smell disease. Not just from below but from the weak and aged body of the one in front of it. The new creature wanted the hunting ground for its own and would take it with ease. But first it wanted to feed.

The woman in the smoke room extinguished her cigarette and trotted back to work, unaware of the danger above, or within. While the old creature slumped slowly to the floor, a blanket of calm replacing the emptiness it had known so long. It had been here before, so it saw how all this would end.

Many years ago it too had arrived at this place, young and insatiable, eager to steal from its predecessor. Now it was the turn of another, and that was how it had to be. Only when it felt the burn of razor teeth sinking deep into its neck did the old creature speak the first words it had uttered in decades.

‘Thank-you,’ it said, closing its eyes, its ragged voice a mere whisper in the darkness. It slowly bowed its head, knowing it could do no more.

 

This story was originally published in the short story collection Storms in Jars, available here.

 


Smoke

  • ISBN: 9781311859969
  • Author: E.J. More
  • Published: 2016-02-11 11:50:08
  • Words: 1873
Smoke Smoke