Tusk (short fiction)

In the glow of the irradiated, red sky, Tusk had watched her pack die, one by one. Most had been born wrong to begin with and only lasted as long as they had through sheer stubborn resolve. Tusk had been lucky. She sported a pair of withered wings on her back. They were useless but didn’t get in the way. The large tooth sticking out of her jaw irritated her now and then, but she’d always had the pain. She lived with it.

The others hadn’t been so fortunate. Dragging around useless extra limbs or near blind or with fur too thin to keep them alive in the cold, they’d all perished in the endless winter that covered the world. Now she was all that was left, but food was scarce and the temperatures continued to drop. Yet she continued to fight for survival, scratching for one more day, compelled by ancient instincts and a need to survive.

Tusk prowled the sparse corpse of the forest. Alone, she could no longer bring down the big prey, but it’d been months since she’d seen anything of the sort. Now she chased down squirrels and rabbits and whatever small animals she could catch. They were slim pickings, boney and barely worth the effort. And now even they were gone.

If she’d been able to think of the future, she would’ve known she had none. If she’d understood how the human race had poisoned her earth, she might have cursed them in their hubris.

The dying wolf raised her head and howled at the shattered moon overhead. Her ears perked up for a reply, but there was none in this dying world. There was only the last of things, fighting for the last scraps, for one more day.

She caught a scent of blood and meat. It’d been so long since she’d smelled anything like it, free of the stink of rot and poison, she didn’t recognize it immediately. She found new strength to run toward it. She couldn’t afford to be cautious. Food wouldn’t lay unclaimed long. She bolted through the snow, and by the time she reached it, her legs were shaking, her breath ragged.

The meat sat in a clearing. She paused at the edge of the forest. She didn’t trust this. It was too easy. Nothing was easy anymore. She stalked the meal from several different angles. In the end, she had no choice. She had to risk it.

Tusk crept up on the food. She bit into it, and the tangy meat seized her. She swallowed mouthfuls as fast as she could. So fast she almost choked. She filled her belly, giving herself strength enough for another week or two. It was glorious, and in her frenzy, she stopped listening, stopped watching for dangers.

A shadow moved in the corner of her eye, and she regained her senses. A man, but not a man, moved toward her. The robot smelled of oil and grease. Its right leg clicked as it approached. Tusk bared her teeth and growled.

The robot raised its rifle, and Tusk ran. A blue bolt blasted over her shoulder. A second sizzled in the snow at her feet. She bolted for the cover of the forest and was almost there when something struck her in the leg. Whimpering, she fought the numbness as she continued her flight. The leg betrayed her, and she fell. She continued to drag herself, but her hunter caught up to her.

It took her in its arms. She bit into its metal skin, but it didn’t care. The numbness spread from her legs, and she passed out.

Tusk awoke in a place that smelled of unpolluted air. The burning red sky was hidden by a dome of steel, spreading over the horizon. She shook off her cloudy head, stood on unsteady legs. The robot clicked beside her. She didn’t have the strength to run yet.

She tucked her tail between her legs and folded her useless wings close to her body and whimpered. The robot knelt beside her and placed its cool metal hand on her head. It turned and limped away on its clicking leg, boarding a hovering machine, and flew away.

Wolves howled in the distance, and Tusk, forgetting her old struggles and aches, ran to join them, to survive another day.

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