Entertainingly Evil

The Dirty Nest By Sarah Hendrix

I’ve seen that grate more than once. None of those experiences have been pleasant. My brother, Alex, showed me the first time.

“Where’d you get the coin for the bread?” he growled at me. His shadow loomed as he jerked the crust of stale bread out of my hand.

Even at eight I was smart enough not to say I’d stolen a copper from the rag lady who set up her stall near the market. She was careless and left her purse on the counter. I could have taken it all, but instead I filched enough for a stale crust of bread to fill my hungry belly.

Alex glared at me with anger and just a hint of fear in his eyes. He jerked me to my feet and hauled me into the maze of alleys that led deeper into the slum. We ended up behind the remains of an old church. Its skeletal remains still showed fire scars. He shoved me forward and we scrambled through the rubble to the back, where the shadows loomed darker and even the sunlight seemed weak. Alex spun me around before I got more than a look and then shoved me to my knees. In front of me was the grate.

It’s old and rusted, put here sometime when my grandmother was a child. It was a part of the city-wide effort to clean up the city and avoid the inevitable decline into decay. But that had been a long time ago. The city had since turned its head away from stopping the darkness that slowly crawled into the area.

“You don’t dirty your nest, boy,” he snarled as he shook the bread crust under my nose.  “You don’t steal from those around you.”

I expected a beating. It’s what he usually did when I’d done something wrong. I cringed as I waited for his fists to connect with my flesh. Instead he tossed the crust down and pulled at a corner of the grate. It shifted, and he nudged the crust over the edge into the dark hole.

“Watch,” Alex demanded as he grabbed a hand full of greasy hair at the back of my head.

The bread sat down at the bottom of the hole for only a few moments before shapes began to disengage from the shadows. In seconds a swirling mass swarmed as rats devoured the bread down to the last scrap.

“You know what happens to thieves that are caught around here right?” Alex whispered.

His palm came into my line of sight. It was missing a finger. He had told me it was an accident.

“At first it’s a finger,” he told me dispassionately. “Then it’s a hand. Then, it’s something else.”

From his tone, I knew I didn’t want to know what that something else was. “I won’t do it again,” I managed to stammer.

“You’re too smart for this,” Alex said as he let go of my hair. I heard him turn away and climb over the rubble.

I spent the next few days looking over my shoulder wondering when one of the slum bosses would send a goon to take me back to that shadowy corner and drop a finger down the grate. I shook at night with the memories of the rats swarming in that dark hole. It was months before one of them showed up, but he had a very different proposition.

It wasn’t long before I got apprenticed to an apothecary. I spent most of my days grinding, mixing and sorting components for medicines and magics. A few nights a week running errands for the bosses.  It was hard work but I did well. I had a small room all to myself above the shop, hot food, and a few coins in my pocket. For me, it was heaven.

Alex didn’t fare as well. He spent his days working for the bosses in the slums. He was the muscle on the streets, and everyone feared him. On occasion he showed up on my doorstep, broken, bloody, and exhausted. I spent my coin on medicines and bandages to patch him up. He’d disappear for weeks only to show up again. But then, one night he arrived missing his left hand. I didn’t ask. Even though I didn’t live in the slums anymore, I heard the rumors of his temper and drinking. I bandaged him up, let him rest and shared my meals until he was able to take care of himself again.

Alex declined quickly after that. The bosses didn’t trust him anymore. He ended up begging on the streets. It wasn’t long before he started pressuring me about stealing things from the apothecary. It was easy to tell him no at first, I didn’t handle any of the expensive components. But, as the months passed, I was given more responsibilities. My employer wasn’t fond of guests in my little room above the shop. Nor were my other employers happy with my brother’s actions. I was given a choice.

“You don’t steal from where you live,” I reminded my brother as he slumped next to the stone wall. The flask of wine I had given him rolled away from his limp fingers. His snort echoed in the tiny space.

I reached down and pulled at the grate. It was heavier than I thought and I barely managed to slide it a hand width. Pulling as hard as I could, I managed to slide it further, nearly enough for my needs.

The limp weight of his body was awkward, but I managed to slide Alex next to the gaping hole in the ground. Then I nudged him over the edge. I had no fear of him waking; the powders I mixed into his drink would keep him oblivious for several hours. As I began to shove the heavy grate back into place, I heard the eager squeals of the rats below.

Sarah is a queen of Chaos. During the day she holds down a day job where it feels like she is herding cats most of the time, works as a personal assistant for Jennifer Brozek and handles promotions for Apocalypse Ink Productions and Evil Girlfriend Media. Spare time finds her writing, beading, editing and knitting.  To complete her love of all things unorganized, she has 2 cats, 2 teenage boys and a fiancé. You can find her work in  Dagan Books, Lakeside Circus and  Abyss and Apex. You can follow her blog, Twitter or Facebook.

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