Random Exercises – Wretched Hive

Monday, 09Jan23

Category: Setting

Prompt: Wretched Hive


The air was heavy with the smells of fried food and garbage. Just past the alley, ramshackle food carts sold dubious morsels which they had crisped beyond recognition, and their customers packed the street with sweaty, irritable traffic.

The crowd held an unusual appeal at the moment, because Kaya found the alley very lonely, but also uncomfortably intimate. It wasn’t the filthy puddles, piles of garbage or vulgar graffiti that gave it that last quality. Hell, the alley didn’t even have a name.

Instead, that unwanted closeness came from the mugger, who held her against the damp bricks of a burnt-out tenement with what felt like a dull blade pressed against her stomach.

Ironically, it had been her own financial difficulties that had kept her too distracted to notice him creeping up on her, but now she had the unpleasant task of explaining her frozen accounts to a man even more desperate than she.

“Look at the way you’re dressed!” he growled. “You trying to tell me you’ve got nothing?

She was wearing what was once a quite nice faux-leather jacket and silk blouse over trim dark slacks. Thirty-six hours ago, she would have finished the look with some nice dangly earrings and a pendant necklace but that was pretty deep in the field of things that had recently changed.

“I could give you my clothes,” she said, “but believe me, the resale value isn’t worth the time it would take to get them off of me without ruining them.”

A startled gasp from the street drew her attention, as well as the desperation of her mugger. The knife’s edge pressed harder against her belly as the attacker turned to look at the disheveled and filthy young man stumbling into the alley.

He gaped at the two of them with the slow realization of the long-term glint-user. When the picture finally crystallized in the chemical soup of his brain, he stopped stumbling forward, muttered “Whoa, my bad”, and began stumbling back into the street.

”Listen,” she whispered, after the young man had gone. “If you let me off of this wall, I’ll prove what I’m saying and turn out every pocket for you. But then I want to talk you. I could use someone like you.”

“What do you mean?” Asked the mugger. His voice betrayed little, but the blade relaxed a bit against her stomach. She didn’t think she had been cut, but suspected she would find a new hole in the only top she had left.

“Look,” she said, “I don’t know your story, but I know how things are. I don’t get the impression you’re doing this for fun. So how would you like the chance to make some real money?”

Eyes narrowed, the mugger backed off a bit, still brandishing the knife, but no longer pinning her against the wall. “Get started on those pockets and then you can tell me what you’re talking about.”

She complied. Easy enough when she’d been telling the truth about having nothing. Meanwhile, he edged backward another step or two, blade at ready in case she pulled a weapon of her own.

“Satisfied?” she asked. “Then take a look up there.” She nodded across the alley, gesturing up at the skyscrapers on the horizon. “You see the big one with all the pretty lights? That’s where I lived just earlier this week and I know how to get inside the vault.”

When he turned to look, she ran.

His reply was unintelligible, but had the vibe of a good swear, and he started after her. She could tell he was only a few steps behind her and he had better shoes.

The end of the alley was obstructed by a narrow passage of moving foot-traffic and the substantial ass of a food cart vendor who faced the street.

At his feet was a plastic cooler which might have once been filled with ice, but now likely held his spare ingredients in a lukewarm soup. At a sprint, she placed one foot on top of the cooler and the next on top of the cart, heading up and over. The toes of her expensive flats dipped ever so briefly into bubbling oil before she pushed off hard, leaping into the crowd.

The cart was not as sturdy as she would have liked. It wobbled and flipped beneath her, sending her tumbling face-first into a pool of unwashed humanity, slamming first into a biker jacket and then sliding off of an old tweed coat that had been last washed at the original factory. Finally, the people gave way and she scraped her palms and elbows against the pavement.

Behind her, the overturned deep-fryer sent up dueling cries of pain and alarm from the erstwhile chef and mugger. The angry shouts of the people she had jumped on joined a chorus singing just one song.

“Time to go,” she muttered. Scrambling to her feet, she shoved her way through the crowd with vigor.

Good thing these people don’t know who I am, she thought. Then I’d really be in trouble.

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