Prose, Grades 10 – 12: First Place

Prey— Natalie El-Hai

In the depths of Detroit on a crisp October morning, Sorrell crawled out from his nest of ragged blankets and brushed the gravel off his face. Quickly he gathered up his belongings. He whispered to something under a lavender blanket and left. The bright autumn sun glared into his eyes where the shade of the highway overpass had protected them only a moment ago.

He crossed the highway and stumbled through the adjacent field until he found the path that was beginning to show signs of wear from his sneakers. He walked lightly — testing the ground with each step and pausing to blink in the light every so often. A field mouse jumped over his shoe, and he wished he had food to spare for it. Every now and then a bur or a bramble would stick to his jeans, but he continued on and flicked them off with the acceptance of their nature. They clung to him just as he clung to the city.
Sorrell shaded his eyes as he approached the dip in the path. A breeze whipped at his mousy brown hair and made him shiver, but the warmth of the October sun quickly replaced the feeling of cold with comfort. A hawk screeched overhead, and he ducked. He didn’t like that it could see him. As he watched the bird disappear over a tree, his jeans caught on a branch, and he tumbled to the ground. He slowly sat up — dazed and blinking in the sunlight. A fly bumped into his nose and flew off. Sorrell looked down at his ripped jeans.
He inhaled the smell of the earth as he wet his finger and wiped blood off his knee. He could wash up in the fountain with an excuse now. A pain gripped his stomach, and he quickened his pace.
His eyes were hard and focused. The pain in his stomach was stabbing at him like a chick trying to peck its way out of its egg. His eyes continually scanned the ground, lit up at the movement of something, but grew dull again upon realizing it was a plastic bag gliding through the tall grass.
“Focus on getting there,” he murmured to himself, not for encouragement but for comfort.
He crossed from the end of the hill to the street more slowly. Leaves crunched under his feet like eggshells. Their rhythmic sound was broken by a voice. Sorrell whipped around.
“Sorrell.” He couldn’t quite remember the name that went with the voice but recognized her dirty face and puff of curly black hair. “Where are you going?”
“Food for—“
“Yes, food for that. Please stop asking about it.”
“I think you know that out here you have to look out for yourself.”  She paused, and her eyes flicked over him. “Yourself only.”
Sorrell didn’t answer.
“Whatever. Bye, Sorrell.”
“Oh. Bye, Cat.”
“Mmm-hmm.”  She turned quickly and left. The eggshells crunched under her feet. Sorrell exhaled.
Leaves fell to the sidewalk on the corner of Welty Street and mixed with the cigarette butts and pieces of plastic. A faint scurrying sounded from a gutter. Sorrell cleared his throat and watched his breath cloud and float up. He took a deep breath and turned towards the shop. A bell jingled as he opened the door and the fluorescent lights buzzed. No one was at the counter.
Sorrell tried not to look too guilty. He took a roundabout way to aisle four and stopped in front of the muffins. Glancing quickly behind him, he stuffed a banana muffin into his worn pocket. He winced at the crinkling sound the plastic made.
“Only take what you need,” he murmured to himself. A blue and white box caught his eye. Saltine crackers. A burst of energy shot through him as he ripped the top off with his teeth and grabbed a handful. The bell on the door sounded like a siren as he pushed it open, and he ran back to the field.
Sorrell closed his eyes. He let the chilled air brush his face. He picked at the muffin on the way back to the bridge and hoped she would like the crackers. The light under the bridge was a welcome break from the glare of the sun. He made his way around people’s things and glared at a pigeon roosting on a slab of concrete. His breathing quickened as he reached his pile of blankets. He fished the crackers out of his pockets frantically — crumbling them everywhere.  Sorrell held his breath as he lifted up the lavender blanket.
Curled in a nest of fabric in the back was a small brown mouse. Sorrell gently sprinkled some crackers by her nose and waited for her to raise her head to sniff them. She didn’t move. Sorrell’s eyes dulled. Her dusty brown chest was still. He dropped the rest of the crackers, and they tapped the ground like light rain. Sorrell gently covered the mouse with the blanket and went to sit in the grass outside of the bridge. The hawk flew over again, and warm tears found their familiar paths down his cheeks.