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Caged Birds can’t Sing
Eric noticed the bird after they had stopped for a rest. A bright yellow goldfinch, at least he thought that was what kind it was, had landed on a rock at the outer edge of the wall. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen a bird, any kind of bird. They had all but disappeared from the city.
He sat on his rock, eyes locked on the small yellow bird as it pecked at the rock, then moved, then pecked again. It never quite got close to them but it didn’t stray too far. But he and Autumn had been running for too long to move. Tired sore muscles screamed at the slightest movement.
He nudged Autumn and she grumbled, nudged her again.
“What?” She had turned to face him. His finger first over his lips to shush her and then he pointed at the little bird. It hopped around some more as it continued to ignore them. She picked up a decent sized rock and chucked it at the bird.
The bird never saw it coming.
The rock smashed into the bird and crushed it against the larger rock underneath. The thing died in a short high pitched squeal.
“Thought so,” she said.
“What the hell,” Eric said. He grabbed the rock and uncovered the little bird. Instead of a smear of blood and broken bones and feathers. A thick black sludge oozed from the mangled corpse. The thing gave him a dying shock when he tried to pick it up.
“We need to get out of here,” she said. “They trace those things and probably know where we are now.”
He looked down at the bird and then back at Autumn. “How did you… I mean, it was a bird, a hopping goldfinch bird.”
“The restaurant,” she said. “I heard a few of the inspectors talking about something like this not too long ago.” Some things never really changed. Conversation in front of the help always tended to happen as if they were never there. Autumn’s job at the restaurant had worked in their favor a couple other times before. Not that it mattered much now. They had been running from building to building for the past few days. They couldn’t get past the wall and the inspectors had increased the guards at the city gates. They were trapped inside the city.
Unfinished lots like the one they had stopped in had been disappearing throughout the city as the Health and Comfort office had continued to build upon and utilize as much space as had been available. Old buildings were torn down and the space repurposed for new structures in short order.
Eric caught a glimpse of the flashing lights from the patrol car out of the corner of his eye. He grabbed Autumn by the arm and they ran. But they weren’t able to run far. The patrol car had been a distraction. They had flushed them out of hiding and into the waiting trap set on the other side of the lot. Three inspectors had stopped them before they could charge down the alley and away from the oncoming patrol car.
A taller inspector had snatched Autumn by the hair and knocked her to the ground. Eric charged into the second one. His knee connected with the inspector’s abdomen and knocked the wind from his lungs. It was enough to slow him down. The third inspector smashed a billie club into the back of Eric’s knee. A second blow hit him in the temple from behind.
He fell to his knees before a third strike hit him in the side of the neck. The blow knocked his wind pipe closed long enough that he fell to his hands gasping for breath.
The first guard had his knee in Autumn’s back as he pulled her hands back into slip cuffs. She struggled to break free but couldn’t throw him off. The patrol car pulled up alongside them and the driver stepped out of the car, engine still running.
“I’ve been looking for you,” the words slithered from his throat. “You ran longer than others I think. But never long enough.”
Eric had been cuffed and then he and Autumn were forced to their feet. Each of them were frog marched to the patrol car and pushed into the back seat, the doors shut behind them.
The back of the patrol car was cut off from the outside. They could look out through the windows but there were no door handles and the windows had been sealed shut to block out the distractions of the world outside. They could hear nothing that the inspectors said outside of the car. Eric didn’t need to hear their words to make some realizations though.
The officer that had spoken, the one with the vile voice, was the officer that he had seen that day before they ran. He was the officer that had stood outside the door and looked at Eric through the peephole into their apartment.
“We need to get out of here,” Autumn said. She struggled against the cuffs at her wrists, fought to break her hands free. They didn’t budge, didn’t give her an inch of slack. The bonds grew tighter as she fought against them, only to release the pressure when she relaxed. And still she fought, struggled and then relaxed.
“Stop,” Eric said. “You’re not going to break free. We need to ride this out and figure out what we are going to do.”
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