Roost

Author: DJ Lunan

I work nights. Protecting the humans roosting in my cave. Well, those that can pay in protein, dry wood, and nurture.

Here they roost. Sleep, love, cry, shit. This winter, our protein and vegetable larder is stocked but we are perpetually at risk. During the day I send them ever wider, ever further, on ever shorter days. My regulars are emaciated, but provide me with enough to sustain muscle for my work.

My fourteen residents will soon be fifteen. We hope for our first boy since The Change.

Word has spread. Ever since The Last Man did his begetting rounds in the Spring. We afforded three inseminations, but only one conceived.

The mother-to-be is kept safe, secreted in our midst.

All roosts attract predators. As our birth nears, raiders are sniffing about. I am ready. I know protection. I am nocturnal. Child of the night. Night-crawler. Protector.

All night I guard our cave entrance. The alpine forest harbours deadly traps, trip-wires, and alarms.

We shelter under a bluff, where any footfall greater than a nimble ibex dislodges moss and gravel.

My residents file back at dusk, carrying their bounty. We cook. They screw and tell tall tales about the ones that got away – men and beast. We honour our lost. Why did the aliens take all the men?

We speak about how perfect they were. Never their multiple faults. The bruises they gave, the liberties they took, shaken casually out of our hearts over time. We lock away the apocalypses, invasions, and revolting deaths of our men and boys. Did we wish the world ours? Did we simply wish for dominion? Our fists pummelling their faces, our hands ripping their shirts.

They came in the afternoon, triggering an alarm of corpol wire stretched across a narrow path. I was ready for them. One large, one small, one young. Uncallused hands. Unweathered faces. Cuckoos. House-sitters. Advance party? Invaders.

“We are on our ways to Sisterhood out East, can we roost with you tonight?”, asks the large one.

Affluence congeals on people, awarding a sheen, an extra skin, that keeps nails sharp and hands clean.

“You know we full, and locked-down”, I reply sternly.

“We will stay near?”, she states with unconcealed menace.

“I can consider your fledge”, I proffer, nodding to the girl, maybe thirteen. She’d been reared well; hunter’s hands and braided hair. Her mother would have done that. They’d stolen her from another roost. Too young to have fled or been nudged out.

“Our girl ain’t for splitting”, spits the short one, anger rising in her veins at my proposition. She won’t sleep soundly in the forest.

The girl’s face betrays the opposite. They’d killed her mother.

I knew their game plan.

All night, I listen for the cuckoos. They come near dawn.

The short one is disabled by a leg-splitter fashioned from wooden spikes and angular limestone. Her pains, her screams stir my residents. But only those closest to the cave entrance wake, their warm hands tighten on cold weapons.

“The aliens wanted to free us, and you won’t even give shelter”, screams the large one.

“Is that why you murdered her mother?”, my bellow echoes.

I hear the bow release an arrow and follow its air-splitting arc, striking the frozen earth with a sub-sonic thunk.

“Lie down fledge, I’m coming for her”, I thunder, shouldering my spear, and listening to the echoes of the large one fleeing downhill.

I am evaluating the new metrics: one extra mouth, one fresh 50,000 calorie corpse, sixteen mouths, three cold months.

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