I catch my breath when I see the spangled curtain of the night sky. When did I last see stars? With the vicious smog I’d almost forgotten they exist. I want to stand still, stare up, but it’s not safe. I must get back.
The roads are treacherous, more so in the dark. Dwellings loom on each side, hulks of black, for who can afford light, nowadays? The wind blows its warm breath in my face; I taste acid. I clutch my bag closer, with the meagre haul – coarse bread, roots – that will have to last till next week.
Behind, there’s a quiet snarl. I look back. My heart starts thumping beneath my ribs. There are three of them. I can just make out their elongated faces and bristling tails. Points of blackness where their eyes are. I quicken my pace, muscles taut and ready to run. The back of my neck pricks with cold.
When the dust started falling we were told to stay inside. We survived on stored food till we were thin and pale as wraiths. Then the sickness came. I threw open the doors after that, buried my children under the holly tree beneath a blood-red sky.
They spread out and lope behind me, keeping their distance for now. Foxes, we called them. The dust caused mutations and they no longer fear us. While humans cower inside, they roam the streets, unhindered. My grandfather told me how once we hunted them. Perhaps they now seek revenge.
Behind the doors I know people are huddled in the dark. If I shout for help, will they come?
My soles thwack the ground in a rhythm of panic. I glance up. Glinting and unimaginably distant, the stars spin a tale of other worlds. Other chances.
Angelita Bradney’s short stories have been published online and in print, most recently in the Stories for Homes 2 anthology. She was the winner of the 2017 National Memory Day short story prize and has been shortlisted in several other competitions. She lives in London and tweets at @AngelBradn.