Everyone who lives must eat.

She whispered these words to herself whenever horror crept into her thoughts.

The first night had been the worst.

She scurried off the highway and hid in a nearby culvert. Nowhere was its circumference large enough to stand up, but she didn’t mind. She was used to posturesof submission.

Old rainwater had seeped through the cracks and puddled on the floor of the drain. She added tears. Rats scrabbled in the damp dark just beyond where she huddled against the chill concrete. She could smell their garbage-digging paws.

At dinner that night, she’d had an idea of what was to come.

Of course, Father lamented the old days as they chewed what they’d gleaned from the garbage. He always did. He loved to quote the dox, pretending the ideas were his own.

“In the age of excess,” he said in a sad voice, “we had so much. Everyone dumped garbage, pets, and broken-down cars beside the highways.”

“My mother dumped her favorite cat at Crossroads,” Mother said. “He’d been with her for twenty years.”

“Now we dump people, too.”

“Once out of the womb, all life is garbage,” Mother chanted the Suit Gospel.

“Amen,” they chimed.

Father proposed a bus ride to Crossroads.

She avoided their side glances as she blurted, “Do we have anything to trade to the farmers?”

Mother said, “No.”

Father, “Yes.”

They’re going to try to trade me for produce.

She folded her misshapen foot under her butt.

Later, her parents turned away as she gathered her few Shakespeares and Darkside mangas and shoved them into her backpack.

She’d had these tattered items, rescued from a dumpster, since she’d learned to make out words. She never dared to read out loud during the day, but at night, she whispered lines from the manga to her ragged teddy bear.

“You got your MacGyver?” Father asked several times on the bus.

Each time, she just stared in answer and patted her pocket. No kid born in the last seventy years who could rub two pennies together ever went anywhere without one.

“Good. Good,” he repeated. His obsession with that primary tool was more frightening than anything she could imagine about her future.

Reality arrived too soon.

A thirty-mile bus ride had taken them beyond the boundaries of the city. They could still see the eighty-story Warrens in the hazy distance. But they looked like they existed on another planet. Row crop and slaughterhouses, huge chicken barracks, and feedlots now ran out to the horizon.

Farmers waited at Crossroads, their trucks laden with produce.

Her parents approached a headman.

He refused her. “She can’t work the fields.”

Father shook his head in disbelief. “Just like the chickhouse,” he said, “though how a clubfoot interferes with fucking, I couldn’t tell you.”

Mother shoved a few stale, misshapen scraps of t’efftilla and a chunk of yucca into her pocket. “That’s all I’ve got, child,” she said.

Father’s voice was gruff. “We can’t keep you anymore, girl. We’re not Paychecks any longer. You’re a luxury we can’t afford.”

Story of my life.

They didn’t look back.

The bus disappeared over the next rise.

After they dumped her, she consoled her tremors with chewy bits.

As twilight thickened, she followed the dirge of water dripping. Some other Discard had wedged a broken chunk of concrete pipe into the soil beneath a crack in the culvert. A shallow puddle collected. She crept over and lapped some up. It tasted of dirt and smelled of things she didn’t want to identify.

Back against the concrete for protection, she mourned all fry bread and ashcake and her handle-less cup. She mourned all hurried hugs, all dismissive pats.

She mourned the night into morning.

Rain fell from clear starry skies until the sun rose.

She marveled at the sight.

In response, the rain whispered to her chilled ears that the points of light wept for her.

She huddled in the culvert and shivered. Her threadbare hemp cloth jeans and work shirt provided little protection against weather.

The next day, she remained in hiding except to relieve her bladder and bowels.

That didn’t present much difficulty. Her innards clung to their meager

stocks. Old dreams gurgled in her empty belly, undigested.

‘Tilla and yucca gone and catch-water dried to muddy slurry, she surveyed options from her hiding hole.

None existed that she could see.

She did see a hawk stoop from above and plummet down from the sky, bank his wings, kite, and lift then settle on a nearby tree branch.

From there, he observed her, voicing his concern in a thin peep. His white breast feathers shone in the sun.

She recognized a red-tail. Dozens of them had built nests on the ledges of the Warren. The Suits who lived in the penthouses ran the birds off. Paychecks and Groundlings in the lower and street levels didn’t, even if they were rivals for rat meat. Hawks provided a rare glimpse of beauty.

She watched the red-tail watch her.

Until manna fell onto the pavement. Non-vegetarian.

They both watched a snake slither across the road.

She recognized him, too. King snakes were also rivals for rat meat. Sometimes Groundlings retaliated by eating them instead.

An omnibus roared past and sliced the snake into pieces under its tires. As soon as the bus careened off the scene, Red-tail swooped down and began picking tidbits from the squashed carcass.

A murder of crows ganged him.

He didn’t surrender. He churled in their faces, a low, hawky grumble. A battle ensued. The crows were too many and too bold. Everywhere and everywhere successful, they finished off the snake in minutes and flew off amidst raucous congratulation.

A few greasy bloodstains remained.

She moved not a single muscle, fluttered not a breath during this encounter.

Excess moisture overflowed her mouth. She thought at first it was vomit.

It was saliva. The snake must have tasted delicious.

She and Red-tail returned to contemplating the road.

Twilight approached. Traffic increased. Paychecks well enough off to live closer to food were returning home from cities where money flourished.

Shadows deepened and so did the cavity in her belly. She was now crimped over her midsection.

An animal about twice the size of a rat scampered across the road. His eyes widened and stared at an oncoming tractor pulling two pony trailers. A passing fender knocked him into the air and the path of an armored diligence carrying half a dozen warren-bound commuters, low-renters. The passengers’ eyes widened as his long naked rodent tail swept under the wheels. By the time the avalanche of carriages had subsided, the creature was a mass of raw flesh.

She slipped out of her hole and scrambled over. She unfolded one of the small knives of the MacGyver, scraped off a few smashed chunks, and ate. The metallic smell of blood mingled with the smell of asphalt like a sauce over the meat.

The squashed mass offered more food than her pinched stomach could hold.

Rather than waste it, she turned to Red. “I’ll share this with you,” she called. She sliced slivers from the bones and placed the meat at a short distance.

He eyed her with big golden eyes, churred and chuckled deep in his throat. But he clung to his perch and made no move other than to drop a line of hawk chalk. Eventually, he purled at her like water burbling out of a tap and ventured down to snatch the bits.

The two maintained a respectful separation, but she knew he was smart enough to see that her presence kept the crows away.

She returned to her culvert to sleep under stars that no longer wept.

But that first night of partially-sated hunger brought with it a nightmare.

A huge rodent with a long naked tail crawled over the surface of my culvert trying to get in and snatch chunks.

Red perched on his branch and observed.

She woke up in a sweat, but it passed. From the nightmare, she slid into other dreams and half dreams: hunger, shadowed by fear.

Constant hunger: father, mother, older sister, and me, the younger sister, youngest, latest, last to eat. My family, Paychecks at the bottom rungs as long as the jobs lasted—walking to industry, to factories, to work cleaning the leavings of Suits—scrounged what we couldn’t buy. Everybody in my family’s Warren, except the Suits on the penthouse floors, scrounged.

Distant thunder in her dream; her stomach growling in sleep.

“I’m twelve years old and never eaten all I wanted. I’ve never not been hungry.”

She spat two words up into the branches of the tree where Red perched. “Never.


He blinked.

Smells of roast meat, just picked vegetables and fresh baked bread from the floors above. Always scrounging, never getting much, just getting by. Garbage pickers, one step away from being Groundlings.

She called up to Red. “I’m on the ground now, not the 16th floor, and near the farms. We could eat like Suits if we can forage well enough. ”

He purled.

Once out of the womb, all life is garbage.

So I’ve been thrown away. I could die like one of the weak ones. Or I could go wild. I could join the castaways in the restricted corridors and rewilded areas where Suits vacation and hunt.

Not a chance with this foot. The Suits probably hunt people, too.


She and Red ate the random gifts of the road.

Minor wildlife and abandoned pets provided the most frequent offerings. Vehicles were the only large predator whose victims they scavenged.

She and Red never hunted.

They did steal from rats, raccoons, and vultures. They would have eaten the rats and raccoons too if she could have figured out how to trap them. In the city, her parents had bought them from a vendor, dead paws always smelling of trash.

Such bounty was too good to remain theirs alone. Not more than a month passed

before a pair of coywolves stole up on their Crossroads territory. The ubiquitous

coyote-wolf hybrid was definitely not new to her. Pairs roamed freely in the cavernous

alleyways that surrounded the Warrens. They too sought rats.

“You gonna challenge me, you scrounging back alley punks,” she whispered. “I know you got coyote smarts and wolf commando tactics, but I got a human brain and a MacGyver.”

With Red screeching encouragement, she confronted their assault. As soon as lips skinned back and revealed canines, as soon as the couple deployed into stiff-legged attack formation, she wavered. Tongues lolling into smiles, they pressed forward and she surrendered the scraps on the pavement.

When she retreated to the culvert, she found herself tooth to fang with a sole, adolescent coywolf.

“You a reject too?” she growled, noting a stiff rear leg. “Can’t keep up, huh.”

Short hairs on the back of her neck straightened. His ruff rose in unison. Overhead Red chuffed acknowledgement and the coywolf woofed back.

Red churled as she and the cub faced each other. He snarled. She snarled. His fangs were larger and sharper. He displayed them more prominently.

Determined not to lose, she muttered, “I can take thee on, thou scruffy, crip-legged mongrel. Thou art as much of a suckling as I am.” She drew her MacGyver and opened its largest knife.

She stared into his eyes until he lowered his gaze and cringed. From a recess in

her belly she hadn’t known existed she pressed her advantage. She mouthed his muzzle.

He whined and dropped his belly to the ground.

She crouched over him, mimicking his snarl as best she could. He was scrawny and light. Grabbing him by the ruff she flipped him over. In that indefensible position, he whined. She sank her teeth into the fur at his throat, shook him and sat back on her heels.

Righting his body, he abased himself. Then jaws agape, one puppy ear perked a greeting.


She stood straight, flourished her knife in the air, even dared to declaim, “Hold, thou fawning, flea-bitten foot-licker,” and laugh. The words sounded weird out loud.

In several such skirmishes, they set up a scrounging order. She ate first, left a portion for Coyo, and he left bits for Red. Structure established, no one remained skittish in the other’s presence.

She and her companions flensed the flesh from any roadkill, she with a blade and a long right thumbnail that she had not chewed down to match her other nine nails, Coyo with fangs and nails and Red with beak and claws.

The trio based their contract on need. Her hands undid tangled metal, her knife cut cloth and leather. Coyo’s teeth undid bones and silenced cries. Red scouted from the air. Armed with the stability of this arrangement, they prospered.

In a moment of reflection, she realized she had purposely left that thumbnail long. Sure, it was handy for scraping flesh off bones. According to the manga, many a werewolf thought so.

She stared at the thumbnail and tried to imagine herself as a werewolf.

“Nah,” she said to Coyo. “You’d do better at that then me. You’re furry.”

Tongue lolling out at the approval in her voice, he laid his belly across her feet. “I don’t need my teddy bear anymore,” she whispered to him as they bedded down. “Now I’ve got one with fangs.” Coyo flicked his ears as she recited lines from her manga at him.

She looked up at the night sky and welcomed the stars. For the first time in her life, not seeing their expanse broken by the Warrens and factories, she realized that their depths widened her universe. Stars lit up her night sky and her mood.

Closer to happy than she had ever been, she mimicked the cub’s huge-pawed gait and swung her clubfoot. They galumphed around each other.

Night after night, she danced, the awkward angle of her foot forgotten. She learned to swing its weight in balance with a cocked hip. She cavorted under the lamps that nature provided.

Invincible by starlight, she still bowed automatically whenever the occupants of passing vehicles saw her by daylight.


Inevitably, some of the commuters fell victim to the same traffic accidents as other local fauna. The old broken-down freeways feeding human bodies to the city’s employment maw left casualties by the wayside.

Most were either dead or so nearly that it didn’t matter. Few families could afford to rehabilitate or bury these mishaps. On a human scale, once injured, they were Discards just like her.

On an opportunistic diet, they were also a generous helping. Red and Coyo treated them no differently than the smaller portions. At first, she tried to stop them, but they could not understand her restrictions.

She stopped trying to hold them back. But she could not join in.

She could not even watch as Coyo and Red ate.

Waste of meat, she chided herself. But still, she did not eat.

Small carcasses grew scarce. The feral population was avoiding Crossroads. Hunger invaded her mid-section again.

In the course of a particularly bloody rush hour joust, she looked down at the assortment of roadkill littering the pavement.

The mess included two human corpses.

Coyo crept closer until he rested his jaws on her feet.

Red, perched on a nearby branch, shifted from one foot to the other, shaking his head.

The haphazard violence of the scene left her floundering on the edge of an abyss.

Am I part of the chaos? Or do I stand above it?

The sky grayed and darkened. Twilight engulfed the scene and still she hesitated.

No moon rose. Only stars glistened above her.

Hunger beckoned.

“Why not?” she shouted to the other two. “I’m as innocent as any other predator,” she whispered to the lingering guilt in her heart. “I’m as much a child of the stars as they are.”

Me, Garbage Picker. Reject.

Not comprehending the hesitation, bird and coywolf blinked.

She stared at the dead bodies.

Poor things, to die in so meaningless a fashion.

Immediately, compassion shattered into angry shards. She had glimpsed the comparative luxury in which the two commuters had ridden into mayhem.

No poorer than me. In fact, much richer.

“Why not eat them?” she shouted.

Bird and coywolf remained silent.

They’re no different than the other stuff I’ve been scraping off the roads. Their bodies lie just one step farther.

Bile rose into her throat.

Where can I find the strength to eat whatever life places on the table before me?

In my own need.

She gazed up at the cold stars where the abyss yawned and saw her need as part of a broader pattern.

She allowed hunger to overwhelm nausea and plunged.

She stabbed at nearly-severed necks. Coyo’s fangs completed the separation and he made off with the heads one by one.

She severed the hands.

Red picked one up and returned to his perch.

Any clues to age and sex had been obliterated. Vehicular force had rendered most

questions of humanity irrelevant. Her knife and Coyo’s teeth had done the rest.

Pretending she ripped the flesh off some Suit’s dead dog, she scraped a chunk off a thighbone and ate.

She worried that the flesh would burn her mouth or, at the very least, taste poisonous. But it was just meat, curiously flat and without savor.

I am truly monstrous. I am without respect for those who bore and raised me.

Anger made her gorge rise.

I am without respect for those who disrespected me.

She swallowed deliberately. And took another bite.

As she chewed, she straightened up and thrust her right hand into the air, four fingers clenched into a fist, long right thumbnail skyward. “Mark of the werewolf,” she reminded her companions.

Red marched back and forth on his branch.

Coyo’s lips drew back against his fangs.

In all the manga stories.”

She had never had a name to say to anyone. A jabbed finger had always worked and “Hey you.” Same as Baptism. “Why bother until we know you’re a keeper,” Father said.

“Me.” She jabbed the right thumb at her chest. “Makayla. I like the sound of that name.”

Red chuffed and Coyo whined.

“Monster,” she added. “I like the sound of that too.”

I may be a monster, she thought up at the stars, but I will live as best I can.