Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Last One to Leave

I think things are going fairly well on the blog right now. I have some new things planned starting in the third quarter of 2013, so keep your eyes out.

For June, I'm giving you my short story "The Last One to Leave". This story was written just a few months ago as my first entry to the writing prompt podcast Every Photo Tells. Find the site here The podcast can also be accessed through iTunes (that's how I get it) and other sources. Check out their site for more info, and while you're there, make sure to listen to episode 114, which is the podcast version of the story I'm about to give you. Here's the link to their entry for my story: Or you can just go to iTunes and get it. It is free, after all!

Keep an eye out in July for some new updates! More info later! For now, here's "The Last One to Leave."


When you get right down to looking at it, the world is a really big place. I never realized that until I left it for the first time. This is the story of how I left the world.

I was born to a family– as we all are– and my first bed was a little pile of rags. My mother had five other children besides me, so right from the beginning, I was easily overlooked and didn’t get much attention. It was all but impossible to get any time alone with Mom, and come to think of it, I don’t think I ever had so much as a minute of time with just me and her before she left. She took all four of my sisters with her when she went, leaving me and my brother alone. He left not long after they did. I suppose he followed after them, disappearing and leaving me with nothing but the food I already had in my belly and the nest of rags I’d been born in.

Fortunately, by the time I was all alone, I’d seen some of the world while following Mom out to look for food. There were always crumbs and bits of things to eat hidden in the corners of the world. Sometimes food was covered in dust, sometimes we had to fight the roaches and other rats for it, but there was always some lying around somewhere. After I was left alone, I grew adept at locating those little caches with my nose and whiskers. As time passed, I didn’t have to fight for my meals as frequently. The other rats were showing their noses less and less, and I guessed the roaches realized I was the king of the world and that I was to be left alone.

I didn’t realize that they were all leaving the world until it was too late.

I was the definite, undisputed lord and master of the world by the time I was a year old. I supposed if I’d had someone else watching my back, I would have realized the food was growing more scarce, but I had a full stomach most days, so why should I have cared about anything else? I had hiding places, I had my rag nest, I had the fear of any other creature I encountered. My coat was thick, my teeth sharp, and my tail was respectably long and wiggly.

And I had my hoard.

I started hoarding when I was about seven months old. The first treasure I found was a dark spike-toothed something hidden in a pile of dust and lint next to a bit of cracker. The spiked thing was as big as my head, obviously broken on one end. I sniffed at it for a good five minutes before I heard the world thud and shake. Stuffing the cracker in my mouth, I made to dash back to my nest, but the spike-toothed thing called me. I nearly choked swallowing the last of the cracker, but I managed to scamper back to the thing, gather it up in my mouth, and disappear before the thudding grew any worse.

I inspected the spiky teeth of the thing for hours and eventually discovered that I could use it to scratch places on my body that my own teeth or feet couldn’t reach. It was a gift from who knew where. I wanted more things like it. So I grew more bold.

My hoard swelled over the next few months. I found round things with grooves in them, wooden things that were long and thin and yellow with one end that was pink and chewy, little silver things that curled around each other in long loops. I built a nice pile to go along with my rag nest. There were even more rags I was able to pick up and add to my nest, rags that were streaked with greasy black stuff that made my fur sticky and smelled strange. At least I had more rags to keep me warm.

The best day ever was the day I found my first white stick. I was on the second level of the world, sniffing around for something to eat, when I found it. It was a tube, sitting in the middle of the floor. The tip of one end of it looked black and crumbly. I had no idea what this thing was, but I wanted it for my hoard– or at least to take it back to my nest to inspect it. I could always get rid of things later if I wanted. I sniffed at the tube, coughed, and picked it up with my mouth.

By the time I got the tube back to my nest, I had drooled enough to make the outside of the tube soggy and nearly clear. Some of it came away in my mouth, and something gritty came along with it. Inside the tube was some brown specks of stuff, little chips or really big dust flakes or something. I coughed again as some dust traveled into my nose, and a tiny flake of the brown stuff ended up on my tongue. I couldn’t get it out of my mouth and ended up swallowing it.

I threw up a minute later. I was dizzy, I was a little bit nauseous, and I was getting a terrible headache, but I felt wonderful. Some sort of coolness settled on me, and I felt like I had never really understood what it meant to be king of the world before. I had just figured it out, and I was the real king now.

Over the next few weeks and months, I carefully rationed my trove of brown flaky stuff, only eating a tiny flake at a time. I learned quickly that I got very sick if I ate too much at once. Besides, I didn’t want to run out forever, and though I searched the world high and low– both floors, all the windows, every rafter I could get to– I wasn’t lucky enough to find another white tube of brown flakes.

This is around the time I should have realized all the other rats had left the world.

I was hungry for a long time. I ran out of brown flakes midwinter, and I got very shaky. My forays out and around my domain grew longer as I grew more desperate, but I was always disappointed. I got thin without really realizing I wasn’t eating, so focused was I on finding my brown flakes.

I was down to skin and bones when the world thundered and shuddered again. I dared poke my nose out into the open and saw the strangest creatures I’d ever seen. They were huge and obviously stupid and clumsy. They moved big gaping holes that I could only assume were supposed to be mouths, making strange guttural sounds that were some strange imitation at speech.

One of them had a white tube in its mouth!

I kept my eyes locked on the creature, watching and waiting for it to make a stupid mistake and drop it. The other creatures with it kept making one string of sounds over and over. It made me wonder if they actually could communicate with their strange too-big mouths and those fat tongues.


I didn’t have a clue what they were saying, but I did see a fortune’s worth of crumbs falling from the mouth and strange flabby coat of one of the creatures, and my stomach rumbled. I was wary to go near them; surely creatures this big and dumb would be violent. Besides, what I really wanted was the stick in the other creature’s mouth. The fool creature actually plucked the tube from its mouth with a long-toed foot and flicked it away. My eyes followed it to where it landed on the floor. I didn’t take my eyes from the spot.

They finally left, and I was off. I couldn’t move fast enough. I nearly ran right over the tube as I sped to get to it. I didn’t even wait until I got back to my nest to take in a sweet, bitter, smooth flake. I nearly passed out right then and there out of sheer joy and pleasure. I don’t know how long I sat there, but I did finally drag the tube back to my nest.

The creatures came back again a few days later, and a few days after that. I began building up a whole pile of tubes as they stayed for longer and longer, pointing and grunting at each other. More of the creatures came, and more of them kept the tubes dangling out of their mouths. I saw one commit the atrocity of dropping it under one strangely-hooved foot and stamp on it, twisting its hoof on it until the tube and the flecks had been crushed into the floor. Savage!

My constant, ever-growing supply of flecks made me even more bold, and one day I dared linger out of sight on the bottom level of the world, just waiting for one of the tubes to be flicked away by one of those foolish barbarians.

My waiting was rewarded. And luck was with me. The remains of the tube came right to me, landing on the floor within easy scampering distance. One end of it was glowing just a little, and a pleasant smoky scent filled my nose as I gathered up my prize and secreted it away in my nest.

I had no idea what fire was before then. I’m a quick learner.

One of my nasty black-streaked rags touched the glowing end of my newest tube, and there were little sparks, then big sparks, then wavy orange light, then heat, then more, and the whole rag nest was smoking. The rest of my tube trove started to burn, and I panicked. The baseboards that walled in my nest began to smolder, and smoke filled my whole nest until I couldn’t take it anymore. I scampered out, only to see that the flickering orange waves were spreading.

The world was burning, and burning quickly. It was all so dry.

The tall boorish creatures were panicking, which helped calm me down. I was better than them, more educated. I could talk and be understood. But the creatures, they were all hurrying toward a big open cave in the world I had never seen before. It looked clear out there, big and blue and green and terrifying, and the creatures were all pouring out into the gaping strangeness.

Except one of them. It was tall, and the air had gotten thick and black, and the creature had been up on the second floor of the world. It stumbled down the mountain to the ground level, and I couldn’t help but notice it had a whole forest of tubes sticking out of a pouch in the top of its oddly-striped coat. It was coughing loud enough to shake the very foundations of the world. The air grew thicker, and I couldn’t see the creature anymore, even from the corner where I was huddled.

But I felt it when it hit the ground.

Terrified or not, I couldn’t help but think of the hoard I’d just lost, and I knew that after a trauma like this, I would need my brown flakes to keep calm. I dashed to the creature, leapt up onto its coat– it was surprisingly soft on my feet– and poked my head into its coat pouch to dig out a tube, my tail swishing back and forth.

I suppose I didn’t realize my tail was whumping the creature’s face. It stirred beneath me, and I felt its huge ugly eyes on my back. It coughed, made some guttural sounds, and I was in its claw.

I’d never been so high. The creature carried me, and I waited for it to eat me– or smush me under a foot or who knew what else these things could do– as its steps thundered across the floor of the world toward the horrific cave of openness.

And I left the world in the claws of the creature. The creature turned, and I was able to look back at the world. It had more floors than I’d thought– at least three, maybe four. I’d only ever explored two. All the floors were spouting huge orange waves of light and heat, and the walls that had apparently been white were turning black. Snaps and crashes and other breaking noises filled the air, and I couldn’t resist the instinct to cower from it. I backed up against the coat of the creature that still held me and nearly slipped off of its claw. I had to get hold, and my own feet weren’t doing me any good. I sank my teeth in.

I was falling all of a sudden to the sound of a shrill cry from the creature, and I hit the ground with a thud. Beneath my feet were strange gritty textures like I’d never encountered before, and green stalks of something that blew in the wind. I scurried as fast as I could, away from the creatures and away from the bright orangeness of the world. I ran for hours, for miles.

And there was another world in front of me. It was smaller, squarer, and I could see there was a perfect place for me to crawl inside and get away from flames, big stupid creatures, and...

TUBES! There was a trove of old tubes just lying in a corner! I could live forever on the brown flakes in these!

I burrowed into the pile and curled up. So maybe my old world was gone. I could deal with this new one.

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