T. Lucas Earle


T. Lucas Earle is a writer, filmmaker, and musician. His fiction has appeared in Electric Spec, Colored Lens, Razor Literary Magazine, and New Myths. His dark comedy, Abduction, premiered in LA Shorts fest in 2013. His most recent film, in which he also plays the lead, is Up Next. (You can view both films on his website and on YouTube.) T. Lucas Earle lives in Los Angeles. Visit him at http://www.tlucasearle.com/



Punched a Salty Boy in the mouth, got chompers buried in my knuckles. Don’t bother me none, now I chew my enemies with punches.

I take heads back to clan office where they tell me I’m shit. Dirt in the treads of a virus. They tell me I’m leftovers. Spit out by bear. But I know my notches. Nine heads. That’s enough to get traded. I know when the gray brothers whisper. They know my name. Tusu the Hydra. I got nine heads. Bag ‘em and count ‘em. They call me dirt because we all dirt. But I’m dirt that gets traded.

Little Jorma takes patrol with me. He’s a shadow yet, not a head to his name. But he’s fit enough to keep up. We check for viruses. Salty Boys who don’t got their clan mark. We watch for the mark. Back of the head. No mark. Lose the head. If they got the mark, we call for password. No password, lose the head. Goes in the bag. Back to clan office. Nother notch.

Simple work. Clarity.

Sometimes, we spot spice patrols on the other side of the gap, leaping between the relics. I tell little Jorma, “Spice got their land, we got ours. We do our jobs, they do theirs. If bosses say push, that’s another tale. Then my fists get to chewing.”

But no one says push. So little Jorma shadows me, the Hydra, from rocky relic to dusty cave. We scavenge for goods, leftovers from the great crumbling. But we mostly look out for intruders.

Messages come through on patrol. Nother brother shouts, “Hoo ha wah!” and I shout, “Hoo ha wah!” and continue the chain. Message goes down the line. I hear it go for two more shouts before it leaves us. Other side of White Bridge.

One day, little Jorma tells me he’s spot a beastie in the weeds. Little dog, hurt from a fight. Bleeding and whimpering.

I kill the little guy quick and mercylike. Clean chop.

Little Jorma stands by the broken dog for a while, looking like pain.

“Hurt dog,” I say. “No future.”

“No future, already dead,” he whispers. Good boy. Learns quick.

Brother Kusu tells me I’m up for trade. Got enough notches not to fight for it. Good, too. Wouldn’t want to chew on a brother.

“Good trade this season,” he says. “Three for one.”

“Happy brother,” I say.

“Happy sons.”

I meet Trader at White Bridge. He’s black as night. Wooden rings through his lips and ears. He tells me he’s got the boys for Gym. That’s what outsiders call clan office. I tell him I’ve got me for the trade. Tusu the Hydra. I show him my notches. All up my strap.

He looks at my hands. Tells me I’m gonna need to get ‘em fixed.

I see the brothers Trader brought home to clan office. One’s tall, looking round and soft. With his boys. Two little shadows, shaking like pups. We’ll ring ‘em out soon enough. Happy days.

I say, “Happy pa.”

He smiles while the whelps cling to him.

Then Trader takes me beyond the gap.

We walk through gray places. No man’s land. Sun still hot but somehow, earth is cold. Trader looks at my hands, my teeth. He puts his hand on my chest, tells me to breathe. He listens for the thug thug of my heart. I tell him about my kills. I tell him about patrols. I tell him I learn stories, tell them back without mucking the details.

He don’t react. He’s like dog on a mission. No time for nothing else. I start jittering little. Like I got a whine in the wind. But jitters don’t get me weeping or nothing. I keep in Trader’s shadow.

We travel for days. Trader has food. He sets fires at night. He says watch out for hunters, on the prowl for young blood.

When we find the green, I start to get that feel. Like you’ve been somewhere before. Like the world is falling over in the wrong direction. Trees and bushes. Vines and grime.

Trader crosses path, looks like a gap. New territory. I realize I don’t have a mark, not for new clan.

“Should I get marked?” I say. Standing at the gap.

“No need, boy.” he says. He stands across the gap. Hands out.

“I never been traded before,” I say. “I don’t know what goes on over the gap.”

He says, “There you wrong, boy. You was traded. How you think you got to Gym to start? It was Sisters that traded you. Now you come back.”

I fiddle with the mark on my head.

“This is where you got marked,” he says.

So I cross the gap. Gray brothers don’t talk about life before you get your name. Not alive yet. So I was traded, before I got my name. Before I got my life.

Then we’re in this court. Brick floor, little green lines. Brick arches under this crisscross of shadows from the dancing branches above. I ask Trader if I can dance here.

He says good place to dance.

So I do my moves. Stomp, twist, hand up, stomp, dash, elbows out. The place feels good. Nice and full with the dance. Then I spot peekers in the shadows. I draw my knife, flush with dance.

“Woah, little boy,” says Trader. “Blade away, little boy.”

I sheathe the blade, keep sight on those eyes in the dark. Then something emerges. Strange little brother, with lots of curving shapes. Tree bark eyes, big and round. Naked chin, like a whelp. This little brother has tingly waves coming off, making me feel weak.

“This is little Sister,” says Trader.

I never met a Sister.

“What’s a Sister?”

“She is what your clan traded for.”

Little Sister looks at me like a cat sussing a mouse.

“What do I do with it?”

“She’ll let you know,” says Trader. Then he laughs. Big world-chomping laugh. Eating up the air. Then he leaves.

Little Sister leans on an arch. It keeps its hands behind its back. I keep my hands out, but my blade’s ready to jump.

“What’s your name,” I say to the Sister.

“Lim,” little Sister says.

Never heard a name like Lim.

“I’m Tusu,” I say. “The Hydra. On account of all the heads.”

“I only see one,” little Sister says.

For some reason I don’t wanna explain more about the chewing and the sawing.

“You got a blade?” I ask.

It pulls one from behind its back.

“You got a blade?” little Sister asks.

I pull out mine.

“You wanna fight?” it says.

“I ain’t a whelp,” I say. “I fight to kill.”

“You don’t wanna kill me?”

“Uh… No?”

“Brighten then. Let’s drop the knives,” little Sister says.

So we drop the knives. Except the one in my boot.

Little Sister steps forward and looks at my hands.

“You got teeth in your hands,” it says.

“I punched a Salty Boy in the mouth.”

“Those hurt?”

“Yeah. Boy’s still tryna eat me.”

“I’m going to take them out,” it says. And, I don’t mind.

Lim takes me to a creek first. There, little Sister guides me into the water and I clean off. It looks at me funny, and I laugh. It fills up a basin and I carry it back up.

Lim takes me up to this little room. Lots of soft light. Lots of fur. It dips my hands in the water and lets ‘em soak. Then it takes out these little metal prongs and starts yanking out the teeth. A lot of blood comes out, but I can only see the movements of the little Sister’s shoulders. Never seen shoulders move like that. Like a leaf floating down a stream.

Lim puts bandages on my hand, then it sits me down.

I don’t know what to do. But I’m not sure if I’m supposed to ask.

Little Sister sits across from me and says, “I was told the ways of the Gym boys. Mother Ga says I am to tell you how trading works. Does that make sense to you?”

I nod.

“Many clans trade with the Sisters. Some give us food, others give us tools. Gym boys give us protection.”

I say, “I get traded to protect you?”

“Gym clan protects us every day. You watch the southern border. Keep out invaders. When we say push, Gym boys push. When we say kill, Gym boys kill. We don’t trade for Gym boys.”

“So why am I here? Can’t patrol the gap from little nest.”

“Because you must be paid for your work, little Brother.”

“What do I get?”

Suddenly I’m scared. More than when I cross the gap. More than when I was little whelp in the shadow of Pig’s Head. I’m glad I kept my boot knife.

“You get a future,” Lim says. “That’s what Sisters give. We give future.”

Lim doesn’t explain much else. Other Sister in robes gives us food and we eat in silence. Then little Sister makes me sleep.

I get these dreams, just curves in the dark. Soft like water, smooth like rocks in a stream. Something hot, pulling me inside out. And when I wake up, I see little Sister scurry back to its bed. I don’t say nothing because maybe that’s what’s supposed to happen.

The next morning, Sister wakes me and says we gotta patrol.

And again, I’m a shadow, like when I was a whelp, but now to Lim. Little Sister takes me around the border, to the north gap, more spice lands. I keep up, making my leaps and my crawls, but I don’t know the surface like home, so I slip.

Lim stops sometimes and looks at me. This I recognize. A good sussing. I get these at home. I stand straight, strong, eyes level with little Sister.

“Tusu is strong,” Lim says.

“Killed nine Salty Boys already,” I say.

“That’s a lot. How many years ago were you named?”

“Twelve,” I say.

“You remember much before that?”

“Not a lot. I guess. I remember faces looking down on me. Looking like the moon.”


We keep the patrol going. Long day. Lots of pointing and peeking and leaping. Then we eat with a few other Sisters. They keep their heads covered and they don’t look at me. Or talk.

Then we return to the little room and Lim looks at my hand.

After a little while Lim puts its hand between my legs. I pull out my boot knife, and hold it against little Sister’s neck.

We hold that position, locked together, eye to eye.

“You ever use this?” little Sister says. “I don’t mean the knife.”

“Yeah all the time,” I say.

“I don’t mean for draining. I mean for fun.”

I answer, “A little.” But I keep the blade at its throat.

“How do you use this?”

“We play games, when I’m a whelp. Snake in the mitt. Older brothers don’t like us to play.”

“So you know how to use it?”

Little Sister doesn’t shiver under the knife, so I answer.

“Yeah. A little, I guess. I mostly keep to patrolling, you know. Can’t get traded if you spend all day playing with yourself.”

Little Sister says, “You didn’t get traded, Tusu the Hydra. You got paid. I’m going to show you how. You can keep the blade out if you want.” Lim starts pulling down my pants.


In that little room, with the golden light and the green vines, I got remade. When the other Sisters came, they called me Tusulim and spread flower petals on the threshold.

Time passed. Lim and I explored each other at night, and patrolled in the day. I met other Sisters over time; they never looked right at me. And one day, Lim put my hand on her belly and introduced me to my future.

The first child was a girl. The second child stopped breathing after two nights. I remember holding the little creature. I never felt anything so still in my life. I remember howling into Lim’s skin.

Soon after, Spice Clan boys from across the gap tried to snatch some Sisters. Lim and me caught them on our patrol. We jumped them like rabid dogs. That night, Lim pulled pieces of skull from my hand. She bathed me in the creek. She told me secret moments from her days as a whelp.

We had another child. A boy this time. Eager and bossy. He pushed his way out early and quickly. I sat by his little body at night watching his chest rise and fall.

Seasons spun by. But as the boy began to walk and the girl began to sing, we knew time was gonna take his payment. The Gym did not trade Tusu the Hydra to the Sisters. The Sisters traded us a future. And here he was. He could walk. He was as old as I was when I was traded. I would have to go back. Lim would have to stay. At least I got to stay for the naming of our daughter. Che. I kissed her forehead and promised her I would come back. I held my Lim and said I would kill so many more, I would become Tusu the Twenty-Headed, and they would have to let me trade. Lim bit my lip and told me to never forget the taste of blood.

Then I took little Boy by the hand and followed Trader through the southern gap.


“You’re not the same Trader as before,” I say.

“There are many Traders. Whole clan,” he says. “You probably had Makai when you traveled here from Gym.”

We travel into the cold lands, until dark. We make camp at night. Boy stares at the fire until he drifts off.

I wake at the sound of cracking sticks under sneaky feet.

“Hunters,” whispers Trader, black skin making him a shadow in the dark. “Gotta run.”

I wake up Boy, squeeze his ear. Let him know there’s danger. He trembles.

Then we start running. We sprint between rocky relics, debris. I don’t know the landscape, and I hold Boy on my back, so my feet are heavy, uneven. Then I hear an arrow sing. And chomp. And Trader drops.

I land at his side. Check for breath. Find not a lot. He’ll be gone in no time. He puts strange tool in my hand.

“When the sun rises,” he wheezes. “Point the hole to the sky, pull trigger.”

I take the tool and run. I can hear when the Hunters find Trader. I hear him die.

Boy keeps quiet, but he almost slips in my grip from shivers. I sprint down a slope, rocks sliding underneath. Arrows singing in the black sky.

I see the drop coming, but it’s too late to stop. So I pull Boy off my back and wrap him in my arms. We fall in the night. I tuck in as tight as I can. I land so hard. It hurts like the world just landed on me. And I live in a deeper kind of darkness for a little while.

Then the sun kisses my face and I open my eyes. I sit up and hold my leg. It hurts like nothing I’ve ever felt. I can see bone.

I look up at the hole we fell through. Little hole, deep pit. Bad luck.

I look around at our surroundings. An underground chamber. Relic of the old age. Debris scattered about. No obvious way out.

Where’s Boy?


I twist around and a pain shoots through my body like a skewer.

“Pa,” he says. Little voice in the shadows.

“Here,” I say.

He stands at my side. He doesn’t look damaged.

“Are you hurt?”

He nods. Points to blood on his elbow. Nothing he can’t shake off.

“Tell me, what’s out there in the shadows?” I say.


“Check every wall. Eyes open.”

He nods and walks into the dark.

I take out my pack and start counting my tools. Blades, bandage, herbs, a little food, and this strange thing Trader gave me.

Boy returns while I inspect Trader’s tool.

“I found water,” he says.


I hold up Trader’s tool. I aim the hole at the little slice of sky and move my finger around until I activate the tool. It makes a thunder clap and smoke shoots out. High above, I see a red glowing shape, like a shooting star exploding in the blue sky.

Boy’s knees start shaking.

“Good,” I say. “That will let others know we’re here. Trader Clan, maybe even Gym boys.”

“What about the monsters?”

“Hunters,” I say. “They must think we dead. Otherwise we would be. Won’t be back. Hunters always keep moving. No clan lands.”

Boy sits down next to me and his arms float up. Not sure if he should be doing something.

“Boy, is the water clear?”

Boy nods.

“Good. Need you to help me now.”

Boy looks scared.

“I need you pull my leg. Real hard, get bone back in body.”

He keeps his eyes high and makes little fists.

“No. Look at leg.”

He looks down. He shakes all over, little quaking Boy. But he gets up. He squats at my foot and grabs hold. Little stinging demons splash all up and down my leg.

“Pull real hard,” I say. And he does. And the world gets real small, like the hole to the surface, surrounded by black, and then I’m out.

When I wake, leg’s still busted. Bone stickin out.

Boy’s crying like the sky’s fallin.

“Don’t worry,” I say. But I’m worried. Boy not big enough to set the leg. Gonna keep draining. Not worth it.

I take out some flint from my bag, and I ask Boy to search for anything wood in this chamber. He finds some sticks and twigs. Boy starts making fire. Just like I taught him.

Once it gets burning, I start sharpening blade. I tell him gather everything he finds in the chamber.

I strip up my shirt and tie up my leg, real tight. Until I start to go numb below the knee. Then I put my boot blade in the fire, just a little.

“Boy,” I say. And he rushes up. Still shivering. Poor little creature.

“I’m gonna take the first swing. And the second. But soon, I’m gonna go under.”

“No . . .”

I slap Boy, right across the face.

“No complaints. I’m going under and that’s what the skies promise. Now you can bleat like a goatling or you can fix your pa!”

He squints through the tears, puffing up his chest.

“Good, Boy. Now, once I go under, you gotta keep hacking, till the leg’s off me. Then you gotta take that blade out of the fire and you gotta put it flat against the stump. Keep it on until the bleeding stops.”

Boy nods. Not sure if he gets it, but I got crawlies spinning through my sight and I’m under no matter what, so with the strength I can still grab, I pick up the blade and I take a breath and I chomp, and I chomp. And blood sprays all over me, hot spurts. And the blade slips from my hand and everything goes black.


I wake in dark. Firelight licking my skin. I sit up, just enough to see a leg that used to be mine. Good Boy. He sits on the other side of the fire, crying.


He pops up, runs a little shadow around the fire.

“Pa,” he says. He hugs me. I hold little Boy close.

I grab what sleep I can, and next morn, we do inventory. Leg’s gone, so it can’t bleed none. Not gonna die yet. Water’s nice, but food’s a problem. No way out.

Boy chases bugs for a time, but it costs more than he catches so I tell him be still.

We wait. Another night. New problem gonna start when the leg starts stinking. Thought comes to me. Two problems, one solution. Take up the blade, find my leg in the dark. Hack it down. Strip it like a boar, down to the bone. Get the meat ready. Show Boy what I’m doing. Teach him best I can.

Cook the meat. Not gonna keep long. But it’ll hold for a few days, and it won’t stink up the place.

Boy asks me, “Does it hurt?”

“Not mine no more, Boy. Don’t hurt none.”

So he eats until he’s full.

I look at the meat. Let it be.

We wait. Days, nights. Boy keeps looking round the cavern. I start getting sick. Hot, wet grip, pulling me to the floor. Pulling me to the other side.

Days, nights.

Boy’s looking skinny. But his eyes are looking strong. Looking smart. Bossy Boy. Came out early. Ready to live. I tell him about his ma, Lim. I tell him every day, so Boy remembers. When he’s old, when he’s traded back. When he’s got heads like his pa, I want him to remember.

Soon enough, I fight to keep the shadows from my eyes. So I call Boy over and I give him a blade.

“We got wood for one more fire,” I say.

“We make fire tonight?” he asks.

“You will,” I say.

He gets a little jitter in his eyes. He sees the words coming.

“Fog’s settling in quick on the eyes, Boy,” I say.

He sits in my lap. Sinks into my chest.

“Not a lot left in me, for doing,” I say. “But there’s more left for eating.”

I push him from my chest, even though it hurts, like cutting off the leg. I keep him standing, looking me in the eyes. I gotta see it in him.

“You gotta do it when I’m gone. You gotta take the blade to me. Cut me up, like I showed. Cook me in the fire. Eat me till the meat smells.”

“I’m scared.”

“No!” I say. “You not scared. You son of Tusulim. You got water, you got food. You got shelter. You got enough for life. Gym boys gonna find you. Maybe Sisters. Maybe Traders. Somebody gonna find you. Keep hollering at the sky. Keep letting them know you alive.”

“Why you gotta go?” he says.

“I don’t go nowhere,” I say. “I might get real still. But when you hack me up, when you cook me black, when you chomp me down, I go there.” I point at his belly. “I stay with Boy. I keep Boy alive, growing.”

World’s getting all twisty now. Not much left to hang on to, but the blade.

“I ever tell you the time I punched a Salty Boy in the mouth?” I say.

Boy shakes his head.

“Got his chompers in my mitts.”

Run the blade across my neck. The world goes dark but, for a little while, I can still hear.

I hear birds in the trees. I hear little drops of water echoing in the chamber. I hear Boy’s little breathing. Steady in, steady out. He doesn’t scream. He doesn’t cry.

Good Boy. Got a future.

‘Trade’ is the first in a series of stories I am writing that take place after the complete collapse of human civilization. A lot of post-apocalypse fiction is focused on the lawless period right after the collapse, but I'm more interested in the stage when humanity starts to build new rules and become a functioning society again. Instead of the standard phoenix metaphor for how we arise from chaos, I used cannibalism. Much of the future involves eating the past.

The story came to me suddenly. I was washing the dishes when the image of a man with teeth in his fists came to me. From there, the story wrote itself, winding its way through some ideas I'd had kicking around in my head about sex segregation and regressed masculinity and childhood violence. About halfway through the story, I thought it would be neat if the story ended with the protagonist being eaten by his son. Cannibalism is a powerful literary device. It's shocking and visceral, and it forces you out of your comfort zone. It's also rich in metaphor.