Friday, September 13, 2013

Expiration Date

Expiration Date

Adena’s fingers slipped through the blinds widening the view she had of the boy.

Still there, with his arm out, staring down at the chains linking him to the fence.

She squinted her eyes. With the sunlight fading it was getting harder to tell how he looked today. But he certainly wasn’t going anywhere.

Celeste had been the one to spy him coming up the road. Carrying a satchel and nothing else but a sorrowful mug. In truth, Celeste hadn’t actually seen him. Her vision was of this boy and Adena knew it would only be a matter of time.

Two days passed and the skittering of pebbles on ground brought Celeste’s vision to fruition.

The boy was skinny, too skinny. It was one of the first tell-tale signs for some, and for others it was evidence of not knowing how to stay fed. He was easy prey for anyone coming around but Celeste and Adena couldn’t be too careful.

“How long are you going to look at him?” Celeste asked from the couch. A quilt covered her up to her neck and her face looked paler than usual. Where Adena had the colors of her ancestors Celeste had been all but washed out. Fighting for survival took every ounce out of her and even at the age of eighteen it’d caught up with her. Adena, just a few years younger, still had the tenacity to get things done around their space. To keep it tidy but not quite clean. Clean would be noticeable. Clean would attract attention. Anything gleaming or shiny or smelling of life would bring interested parties the girls had no interest in meeting.

“Just making sure,” Adena replied.

“Yeah, well, don’t make too sure.” The taunt and warning were an undercurrent in Celeste’s voice. Adena knew what she meant. Those before this boy. The one that had been unchained and was almost their undoing had Celeste not had an ax and a great arm. But that was then. That was when Celeste still had energy and vibrancy to wipe sweat from her brow instead of Adena bending over her frail and patchy body to wipe her head for her.

“We can’t afford for him to get loose,” Adena said and she heard a huff behind her in agreement.

The sun set. The moon no longer hidden. The darkness surrounding the boy shrouding him and the only inkling that he was still there was the clumping of grass under his feet as he paced and his occasional tugs at the chain forming a melody Celeste hummed to.

“How long do you think?” Adena asked but got silence as an answer. When she turned back Celeste was fast asleep. Her jaw opened, her snores low but consistent. Sighing Adena slid the blinds shut. She peeked outside one more time. The boy knew better than to scream or draw attention to himself.

Feeling the pockets of her sweater for goods Adena closed the door as quietly as she could and stepped out to see him.

She smelled him, felt his presence as she got nearer. He smelled ripe. Filthy. She’d watched him go to the bathroom in the field and turned to give him some semblance of privacy.

“What do you want?” he said. It was one of the few things he did say whenever she got close enough. He didn’t lunge at her like the girl before him and he didn’t try to spit at her like the boy before that. His voice was guttural when he repeated his question.

What do I want? For Celeste not to be sick. For things to be the way they were. For us not to have to be who we’re not just to stay alive. For you to be a boy who wants to be with me instead of being forced to.

She held out the bread she’d made that morning. He scraped it off her palm and chewed. Mumbling a thanks is what hit Adena. Him having manners wouldn’t make things any easier.

“What’s your plan?”

“Take it day by day,” she said.

“That’s all?”

“You got a better plan?”

“No." He got silent for a bit before adding, "I guess not.”

She wanted to touch him. To trace her fingers along his lips and see if they were as cracked as they seemed when she last got a good look at him before knocking him out or if they were as smooth as the last boy who had kissed her.

“Do you even know what’s going on?”

Unable to answer or unwilling she nodded.

“Was that a yes?”

“It was,” she said.

“You know I don’t want to hurt anyone. I’m just trying to get by now. With the way things are.”

She nodded again and after not hearing anything he got huffed up a bit more. “You just going to stand there and not say anything?”

“Sorry. I know you don’t want to hurt me or anything. But we can’t take any chances.”

“It’s been a few weeks.” He started coughing. She couldn’t see what came out of his mouth but a dark stain mussed his front teeth. “I’m not a threat. You keep feeding me. Giving me stuff to keep me warm. By now you should know I’m fine. Just let me go. I’ll leave and won’t turn back.”

“Wish that I could.”

The chain rattled again. “Why can’t you!”

“Because…” she took a step back.

More rattling. “Well? You don’t know do you!”

“Please calm down.”

“I won’t! You expect me to die without a fight and that’s not going to happen. Let me go!” Ching. Ching.

Celeste’s visions were accurate. He’d change. They all changed. She just had to wait it out rather than be a victim when they did. She walked away knowing the symptoms and the rate at which expiry would start. 
Story By: Jenn Baker
Photo By: George Hodan 


  1. Jenn!!! LOVE IT. I think it's totally one of my favorites of yours. Drat, but you set the bar high for me next week0.0

    1. Aw shucks! Thanks, Ms. Parker. You always set the bar high. Looking forward to reading yours next week.

  2. Ooh, you know what I loved? The fact that Celeste hummed to the chains. Creepy.