By Tamara Linden
There’s food. They throw a few crusts of stale bread into the cage and laugh as we fight over them. A dirty, stubbled knee smashes into my face as I reach into the melee with one hand and shove aside a frail old woman with the other. My hand closes spasmodically around a small piece but, as I bring the prize to my lips, another girl tries to snatch it from me. I jerk away and bite her grasping fingers, lips pulled back from my teeth. She glares at me and rubs her hand, like I’ve done something rude, like she has every right to my food. I glare back and chew as slowly as possible, both to make it last and to rub it in the thief’s face. I hope they sell her soon. She’s been a steadily growing pain in my ass for weeks now.
I’m not sure what it is that annoys me so much. There’s just something about her. Every time I see her stupid, pouting face, I want to slap it. I try to remind myself that I don’t know her, she’s probably a nice person—and anyway, why shouldn’t she pout? If ever there was a situation to warrant a good pout, this is it. But it’s no use. I hate her. I hate every inch of her, from her stupid blond head to her once, no doubt, perfectly pedicured toes.
She used to be pretty. But her long golden hair is no longer gold so much as a dull sand color, almost brown, and it hangs in greasy tangles around her face. Not that I can point fingers. My hair looks—and smells—like something you might find smeared on the bottom of your shoe. Several months’ worth of grime has crusted on my body and raised angry, putrid rashes in the creases of my elbows, my armpits, everywhere skin touches skin.
But at least I’m alive. A few days ago, there was rain, and the next morning one of the girls began to cough and shiver. Last night the guards pulled her corpse from the cage and left it by the roadside. Our only response was to take advantage of the extra leg room.
The giddy surge of relief lasted no more than a day. New aches and pains arrived to take the place of old cramps, and now we shove and twist against each other just as violently as before. Another inch or two and I could unbend my knees. Another foot and I could lean against the bars. We need more space.
I consider the pouter, eyeing her emaciated form, and smile as thunder rumbles in the distance.
Tamara’s work has appeared in Timeless Tales Magazine and Seven Deadly Sins: A YA Anthology (Envy). She currently resides in Pennsylvania, where she spends her time tutoring high school students, performing as a folk musician, and writing her first novel, Under the Willow Root. More of her work can be found at tamaralinden.com.