The Strays - Episode 3

The Strays

Original Episodic Fiction Series

If you haven't read the previous episodes, the adventure begins with Prelude!

Episode 3

Her legs gave out at the same time as her hope.

She collapsed against the damp wall as a jagged, monstrous panic overwhelmed her. She gasped for air but there wasn’t enough. Flashes of Mama’s face tore at her insides. She realized sharp spikes of rain were pattering upon her, but she didn’t move. There were Others like Them rushing by, but they gave no notice to Digit.

She cried and cried. Dejected whimpers she hoped would be carried by the breeze, but instead were suffocated by the rain stomping them down to the pavement.

She didn’t know what to do.

She trudged back to where They had abandoned her. Moving automatically, she slowly made her way to the pillowcase and tried to get inside. The rain had made it heavy, impossible to tunnel into. She backed against the cold wall and allowed her body to drop to a pile of papers the wind had abandoned. Her tears ran freely as Digit tried not to think about Mama and how easily she could drive the cold and pain away.

Digit cried, huddled against the wall. After some time she realized she would need help if she was going to survive. She did a quick grooming, trying to remember how Mama had done it, paying special attention to her rain and tear-streaked face.

I have to look cute, she thought, remembering what her Mama had taught her about Humans. She couldn’t spend too much time on her appearance, she thought, watching the shadows creep closer and closer, like a pack of wolves closing in on the prey.

With the darkening came more rain and Digit knew she had to find help fast. She put on her cutest face and stepped into the middle of the sidewalk with her eyes wide.

It wasn’t an act. Her wide eyes and pitiful cries were genuine. People walked by without a second glance, sidestepping her tiny form. Before long the crowd grew thicker and Digit was the one who had to move fast to avoid stomps from the hurrying feet. Digits tummy protested the lack of balance from energy expended vs. sustenance- it had been a long time since Digit's last meal.

The shadows expanded their reach, hungrily closing in on her, as she watched face after face, searching for a glimmer of compassion. Most faces remained pointed forward, their gazes never reaching to her small form on the frozen sidewalk. Many faces contorted in revulsion as they danced to avoid her. A few faces lifted in surprise. But nobody stopped. Not one person helped.

Hugging the wall, Digit followed the building and turned the corner. Large garbage bins lined the alley. Digit found one with newspaper and cardboard under it and curled into a ball, using the debris as a windbreak. She made herself as small as she could and fell into a troubled sleep.

Days merged and melted into each other, not that she cared. She couldn’t tell one from another as everything was hazed in varying but constant shades of grey. The rain had stolen the colors. Washed them away leaving everything a dull, damp grey.

Once, she had awoken from the pains in her stomach. She didn’t know when she had last eaten.

Digit listened and watched. When she couldn’t hold it any longer she crept out of her hiding place. The breeze brought whispers of food to her. She knew she could find some, if only she could find some. She crept, slowly, staying against the wall. Down one alley, across another, down yet one more.

The smells of food getting stronger, Digit knew she was heading in the right direction. As she turned a corner she noticed a frenzy of activity at a doorway.

In and out, people were hurrying. Digit hid behind a dumpster and watched. They went in empty-handed and came out with parcels and bags. Some even came out eating. Digit’s heart beat faster. This was it, she would find food here. One of these hurrying folk was bound to drop a morsel. She crept closer and slid into a shadow, waiting for her chance.

“You’re hungry too, huh?” Digit jumped. She followed the sound to find a young Human girl in her own shadows.

“It’s ok,” the girl said after noticing she’d made Digit startle, “I’m not going to hurt you. I just want some of the same things that led you here.”

Digit couldn’t believe it- she understood this human? No, impossible. Her fright, coupled with extreme starvation, was causing her to hear things. She backed up and made herself as large as possible.

It made the girl chuckle. “You really are a tiny thing, aren’t you? Are you all alone? Where’s your mother?”

The question wrenched in Digit’s heart. A small mew escaped her.

“Awe, I’m sorry sweetheart. Here, I think I have something you might like.”

Digit remained rigid, ready for escape, as she watched the girl rummage in her bag. She brought out a log of salami and tore off a piece, waving it from an outstretched arm. It smelled rich and meaty and made Digit’s mouth water. She had to fight everything inside her not to run right over and devour the offering.

“I know, I know, never take anything from strangers. Your mom must’ve taught you that, too, I imagine. My name is Wander. I live on the street, just like you. That practically makes us family. And,” Wander smiled, “now I’m not a stranger anymore.”

She tossed the meat so it landed a few inches in front of Digit. Digit stretched to sniff it, keeping her gaze solidly on Wander. Wander remained still, giving Digit the confidence to gobble the salami.

“Good,” Wander murmured. “Here, have another, you must be starving.”

Wander wore a lopsided smile which Digit found endearing. This time, when she tossed a chunk to her, Digit took less time deciding it was safe.

“This place is a gold mine for eats,” Wander said, motioning towards the meat shop. “What they can’t sell by the end of business they toss in their dumpster. But they don’t tell anyone that, otherwise nobody would buy anything and just come by at closing time and help themselves to it from the trash free of charge. And it’s not like it's dirty or anything, they wrap it before throwing it away. I always come here when I’m in the area. It’s definitely worth it.” Wander explained, thoughtfully chewing a bite.

Digit hungrily accepted the tossed chunks, each one bringing her closer and closer to the young girl.

“Tell you what,” the girl whispered conspiratorially, “you and I will be partners and share everything we get, right down the middle. 50/50. What do you say?”

Before Digit could answer, the door opened and a man spilled out. His shirt rode up revealing ample rolls of flesh, causing Digit to wish for the first time that she was one of Them so she could eat as much as she wanted. But Digit didn’t have long to fall into that daydream before the man noticed her and Wander. He waddled toward them, dangerously close to toppling over, his arm-wings flapping in rhythm to his steps. She may not have understood the man, but she knew exactly what his body language was saying and immediately took off. Glancing over her shoulder, she was glad to see Wander sprinting in the opposite direction. She was across the street with the man chasing her, but he was old and fat and no match for the lithe young girl. Good, Digit thought, she got away.

Digit was far enough away where she could let her guard down so she slowed to catch her breath. Her tummy gurgled with appreciation at having something to digest. With food taken care of for the day, Digit decided she should look for a drier place to sleep, one hopefully further from the elements. She had very little time before the sky would blacken, and even though the city lights offered plenty of illumination for most activities, the night brought out the worst of the crazies and predators. That little Digit knew, and would do all she could to not risk being caught out at night.
Her heart beat louder as the shadows crept closer.

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I am glad to hear Digit is slowly figuring things out and found a friend! I hope they meet again :-) before the sewer rats come out to play. Maybe Digit will get lucky and meet one like Templeton in Charlotte's Web.. some much needed comic relief. hehe