Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What About the Tigers?

My older brother, Jiri, knew everything there was to know about the waste. He was fifteen years old. Next year, he'd be driving cattle up the highway to Io Station in a flyer by himself. I was only eight. I didn't even have a cell phone, yet. Everything I knew about the wastes had been from the internet, and from the stories people heard. Jiri had been there, once.

“On the wastes,” he said. “you can't walk on the ground. The sand is all quicksand. It sucks you up and swallows you. You have to ride on the back of giant lizards. There's only twenty-five lizards. They have names.”

“Aren't there plants on the wastes?”

“Simsa, of course there's plants. There's plants everywhere. The lizards live on floating mold and large bushes that grow on top of the quicksand like soap scum. The people keep their huts on the back ridges because the constant up and down of the head drives you nuts when the lizard's feeding.”

“How do they survive there?”

“People live in huts, on the lizards. They grow blood wheat. They mine for lizard flesh, but they have to be careful not to cut a vein, or the beast will bleed like crazy.”

We were in a tent, just him and me. It was sixty below freezing outside, but we were inside. The tent skin radiated enough heat to keep us warm. The dead grass and snow blowing around outside wouldn't penetrate much past the magnets that held the flap shut until morning.

My brother had wrapped his bleeding hand in part of his shirt. He had gotten blood on the hot mugs of chocolate milk. I didn't say anything about it, though, because he had made it for me, and even rescued marshmallows from the crash.

I leaned back. I closed my eyes. “What about the Tigers?”

***

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