Authors: Daniel Halayko
The Prospects: Nothing Poorer Than Gods
By Daniel Halayko
Copyright © 2015 by Daniel Halayko and N.D. Hall
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America.
“Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody.” Marco threw a garage bag into the dumpster. “I got a doobie so I will get high.”
He pulled a joint and a lighter from his Arby’s uniform pants pocket. “How I wish I wasn’t stuck here working under New Jersey’s sky.”
He didn’t hear rustling over the crackle of burning paper when he took a drag. He also didn’t hear plastic ripping or something chewing on cold curly fries.
The shift manager opened the back door. “What’s taking so long?”
Marco flicked the lit joint into the dumpster. “Bag broke.”
“You better not be smoking weed again.”
Marco stepped in front of the stream of smoke coming from the dumpster. “Of course not.”
The garbage bags moved.
The shift manager said, “What’s going on back there?”
The bags parted. In the darkness they saw was a mop of dirty hair pop out from the smoke in the dumpster. Marco was close enough to see her porcine snout.
“It’s Pig-Girl!” Marco reached into his pocket for his cellphone.
The shift manager screamed. Pig-Girl squealed and leapt out of the dumpster in an eruption of garbage and ran into the darkness.
Marco got his phone out. “Where did she go?”
“Get back here!” said the shift manager.
Marco ran around the dumpster. “I missed it. The newspaper will pay for pictures of Pig-Girl.”
“What are you talking about?”
“People all around town saw a girl with a pig face sneaking around.” Marco kicked through the discarded cups and sandwich liners. “What the hell?” He picked up a grubby naked Barbie doll.
Marco heard the squeal before he saw Pig-Girl come towards him. He snapped a picture with his cellphone as she snatched the Barbie from his hands and ran away again.
Marco flipped through his phone. “I got her. Look at this.”
The shift manager flinched at the picture of a filthy girl’s face with a pig’s snout.
“What is that thing?”
“Whatever it is, the local paper will pay for a picture of it,” said Marco.
Pig-Girl ran through the trees and backyards until she was far from the Arby’s. She snorted as puffs of air shot from her snout in the cold night.
She stopped to catch her breath. Leaves crunched behind her. She caught the scent of soap and shampoo. With another squeal Pig-Girl clutched her Barbie and ran. She pushed herself as hard as she could, but the noise of someone running behind her got louder. In terror she kept running through the woods and onto a road. A blaring horn hurt her ears. The headlights of a tractor trailer stung her sensitive eyes.
Something hit her back and wrapped around her shoulders. She didn’t hit the ground until she was halfway down the ditch.
Pig-Girl tumbled free from whatever had her. “No touch!”
A boy’s voice said, “I won’t hurt you.”
Pig-Girl froze. The shape in front of her wasn’t much taller than her.
He flashed a keychain LED light on himself. She saw a dirty boy’s face and roughly cut hair.
The boy shone the light at her. She hid her face.
“My name is Joey. I won’t hurt you.”
Pig-Girl snorted and twisted her Barbie’s head.
Joey said, “I know a safe place we can go.”
“No safe. Bad men want hurt.”
“There are others like us. They’re hiding from the bad men too.”
Pig-Girl stopped twisting the Barbie. “Like us?”
Joey stood. A distant car’s headlights showed his scaly arched lizard-like legs. They were as long as a boy’s legs should be, but shaped like something that belonged on a small dinosaur.
“Yes, like us. Come with me.”
Pig-Girl looked at her Barbie.
“We have food.”
Pig-Girl rubbed her stomach. “Hungry.”
“There’s also fire and blankets. If you don’t like it, you can leave.”
Pig-Girl shivered in the wind. “We go.”
Pig-Girl followed Joey through the forest for miles. Every time they came near a road or a house Joey hid until they were sure there was no one around. He used his keychain light to illuminate the spots where the trail got perilous so Pig-Girl could find her footing.
When they were far from the town Joey sniffed the air. “We’re close.” He handed Pig-Girl a small cloth bag. “Put this under your nose.”
Pig-Girl sniffed. The bag smelled like dried flowers.
Joey pulled another bag from his pocket and put it under his nose.
Two steps later a pungent odor of sweat and rotting meat made Pig-Girl stop. She snorted loudly pressed the bag against her snout.
“It’s Frankie. He’s a friend.”
Someone behind a tree bellowed, “Joey, you’re back.”
“I found Pig-Girl.” He shone his LED light straight ahead.
A hairy man with a long beard stepped out from behind a tree. “Really? Noah will love to hear that. Everyone’s looking for her. Well, everyone but me.”
The smell got worse as he came closer. Pig-Girl covered her snout.
“Sorry about the stench,” said Frankie. “Some mutants get superpowers and they can read minds or lift cars or fly. Me? I reek. I wish I could turn it off, but I can only make it worse. Everyone uses the flower bags when they get near me.”
Pig-Girl breathed deeply through the flower bag.
“It was nice to meet you,” said Frankie. “Come visit if you ever get a cold. We’ll play checkers.”
Joey took her hand and pulled her forward. “It’s not much further.”
The forest became thinner. Against a horizon of stars Pig-Girl saw an old farm-house. A wind-mill’s blades cut through the stars and the glow from a fire showed the timbers of a ramshackle barn.
Joey led her past a pond and through rows of corn, a pond, and small garden plots to the fire. He pointed to a broad-shouldered man in a tattered hooded sweatshirt who sat on a log and stared into the flames. To his right was a skinny boy with huge segmented eyes and three pairs of iridescent dragonfly wings protruding from his back. To the left was a woman with crablike claws and no legs, only feet attached to the bottom of her torso.
“That’s Noah in the middle,” said Joey.
The man looked up. Pig-Girl flinched when she saw two additional eyes in the wrinkled forehead beneath his scraggly white hair.
The winged boy’s red compound eyes got wider. “Is that Pig-Girl? I think it is.”
“Joey, you done good,” said Noah. “Go get some candy.”
Joey ran to the barn as Noah smiled beneath his gray beard. “We saw your picture, Pig-Girl. There’s no phone or internet out here, but every time we raid the junkyard we take some old newspapers.”
The crab-clawed woman said, “From what we’ve read, you’re one of our kind.”
Noah reached behind the log he sat on and picked up an apple.
Pig-Girl gingerly took the apple and sniffed it.
“We grow our own food here,” the winged-boy said. “Everything else, we scavenge and steal.”
Pig-Girl devoured the apple in two bites.
“You’re a hungry one.” Noah reached behind the log again and picked up a pear. “Take this. In the morning we'll have eggs and bacon.”
“Oh, sorry. For you, no bacon.”
“I don’t eat bacon either,” said the winged boy. “I’m Jewish. We’ll have extra hash browns.”
Pig-Girl took the pear and ate messily.
The crab-clawed midget handed Pig-Girl a blanket. “You must be cold. Summer went by too fast.”
“Your mother didn’t name you Pig-Girl,” said the winged boy. “What did she name you?”
Pig-Girl looked confused. “Mother?”
“Where is your home?”
“A lab,” said Noah. “Do you know what company?”
Pig-Girl shook her head.
“Did you see a symbol or a picture?” asked the winged boy.
“It could have been Alerion Incorporated or Griffin Industries,” said Noah. “Both are known to do human experiments. How did you escape?”
“Put in room with pig-girls. Bad smell. Wake in hole. Hole of dead pig-girls. Men in yellow clothes drop dirt on me.”
All four of Noah’s eyes widened. “How horrible.” The winged boy put his fist to his mouth and the crab-clawed dwarf leaned forward.
“Me run. Dogs run too. Me dig. Fence cut me.”
“I see. Do your cuts still hurt?”
Pig-Girl shook her head.
“Joey was almost
exterminated too,” said the winged boy. “Whatever mad scientist made him said he was a failure. He jumped through the razor-wire fence and kept running. It was pure luck we found him before he bled to death.”
“Marcia can look at you,” said Noah. “She a nurse who got too close to a radioactive mutant. Society shunned for because of what she became while helping people.”
“The companies that make people like you call surviving escapees ‘live ones,’” said the crab-clawed dwarf. “Whatever they’re up to, they kill to keep it a secret. But don’t worry, they haven’t found this place.”
“Joey has mark?”
“Yes. On the back of his neck is a birthmark indicating he is property of Griffin Industries.”
“Griff … what?”
“You probably haven’t heard of that company. Publically it funds the New York Guardians, the so-called defenders of the nation, but privately it is responsible for atrocities.”
“Bad things. Very bad things.”
Pig-Girl pointed to the winged boy. “Live one?”
He shook his head. “I was a normal kid with zits and glasses until I started growing wings. My parents took me to every doctor they could afford, but none could stop it. Long story short, I flew away.”
“Gary is a late-onset mutant,” said the crab-clawed woman. “Me? I was born short and crabby. I come from a long line of sideshow freaks, but there are no circuses anymore. Can’t use a computer with hands like this, and I barely get around without legs.”
“I found Gary being chased by a mob,” said Noah. “Ruby was one of my first guests. I found her begging on the streets.”
“This place is awesome,” said Gary. “We don’t feel weird.”
Ruby snapped her claws. “No friends like fellow freaks.”
Pig-Girl asked, “Noah live one?”
“No, my dear. If you grew up outside of a laboratory, you would fear me. And you would be right do to so.”
“Do you know what a supervillain is?”
“A bad man?”
“Yes, a very bad man. People like me are locked away in cold, dark places. I grew up believing the world hated me, so I came to hate the world. And I wanted to let the world know how much I hated it. I stole, I kidnapped, I destroyed for no gain, all while wearing a green-and-black skinsuit. I fought superheroes, and sometimes I won, but they always found a way to send me back to prison.
“I escaped with another group of misunderstood mutants. They wanted revenge on the so-called heroes who defeated them. But I knew even if they won, other masked idiots would defeat them. So instead of going back to the city, I collected what was left of my stolen money and wandered the country.
“I bought a fake identity and this place. I planned to live as a hermit. But when a man is alone, he has too much time to think, and when all he knows is hate that is a very painful thing. I decided to make this a safe place for those rejected by the world.”
Pig-Girl snorted. “Ree … jek … tid?”
“It means not accepted, not liked, not judged as good enough. There are many more like us here.”
“With you, twenty,” said Ruby.
“I’m sad to say, not many kids,” said Gary.
“Other live ones?” asked Pig-Girl.
“Only you, Joey, and Lou,” said Ruby. “Lou came here a couple of years ago. He was as small as you and didn’t talk as well.”
“Now he’s full-grown,” said Noah, “but he seems to have stopped aging so quickly.”
“More like a dog-man,” said Gary. “He’s real friendly.”
“I want see,” said Pig Girl.
“Later,” said Noah. “He’s sleeping, and you should be too. Let’s go inside.”
Pig-Girl followed Noah and Gary into the farmhouse. He laid blankets and pillows near a fireplace.
“This will do for tonight,” said Noah. “Tomorrow, we’ll make a bed so your stay here will be more comfortable.”
“I would like you to, at least through the winter. I would worry if you were alone in the cold.”
“But you may leave any time you like,” said Gary. “All we ask is that you don’t tell anyone where we are unless they belong here.”