Children of a Dark City

Years ago, I wanted to be an author. This was the first chapter in a book I started working on and got pretty far. Enjoy!

 

 

“Two roads diverged by a wood,

And I, I took the one less traveled by

And that has made all the difference.”

-Robert Frost.

I’m told that the most important part of a book is the opening line. Most of the time, a reader, like yourself, will base the entire book off of the first sentence. Most writer’s have a great opener: it was dark and stormy night, once upon a time, little did he know, etc. Me, I guess my opening line was me telling you that the most important part of the book was the opening line. If you’re still reading this, it must have been a good opener. Well, I’ll stop wasting your time and get to the story. It’s strange, almost unbelievable, but it’s my story. Sometimes I still wake up in cold sweats, calling out names of people I think I remember. I’m getting ahead of myself. Whether anything changed at all will be up for you to decide. Maybe it’s a pointless story, but it’s my story. People die. I die. Life finds a way, somehow. Don’t bother searching for allegory or metaphor. You won’t find it here. All of this happened. Actually happened. My…wife has encouraged me to write out all that happened so here it is. My story.

+

The trees lean bare, their dark forms, cracks against the full moon which hangs, cratered and scared, sadly, solemnly in the ominous night. A falling star steals our captivity for a moment, then dies out, leaving us wanting to find where it landed, following the scorch marks of what we would never find – stains of hopeful dreams that only scattered with the morning light, leaving us wanting to sleep, and to sleep perchance to dream, again. Laughter is the echoed shadow against the still blanket that covers the empty and opinionated world of fear and sorrow. We learned to live with the Unknown.

The Unknown was accepted but never allowed to thrive or to even govern us. Our fathers and mothers all fought for the Unknown, trying to grasp It’s concepts, it’s reasons- a ceaseless struggle – trying to comprehend and decipher It’s meaning; holding and trying to understand and find logic in its orderly chaos. But the Unknown hid its true nature until the last, plausible moment, then, in one clean sweep, obliterated the existence of us. For like children, they were infuriated by the prospect of not knowing, and it was in that mentality of uncertainty that drove the mothers and fathers to reach what was beyond their grasp.

They created the Unknown; they fought the Unknown; they died from the Unknown.

They said that we wouldn’t understand- that we couldn’t and they insulted themselves by calling us “too young” forgetting that they, too, were once “too young.” Like many, they had forgotten that children are much more grown up then they seem to be. They said It’s logic was too hard or too great a depth for us to grab a hold to and wrap our minds around. They had forgotten that children held a spectacular awe of mysteries that maturity seemed to kill the minute the cradle is abandoned. Funny, we were the ones who had accepted the Unknown for what it was, what it had always been and will always be- a mystery.

We lived our lives realizing that the mystery would never be solved. Their ignorance caused this abomination, and they died for it.

We were all that was left.

We were all that survived.

We will pick up the pieces they threw aside so carelessly and learn to live with the difference.

They- our fathers and mothers- said we were impenetrable, the impregnable force of the world. We had the best of everything, we were unstoppable, and yet we were the weakest of nations, the lowest of ideals. However, if ever there had been a blessing and a curse in humanity it would have been our curiosity. Curiosity. Curiosity destroyed our homes, our world, us. It killed the world we loved. They couldn’t accept the fact that maybe, just maybe, some stones should be left unturned- that some things should be left in the dark, never exposed to the light. Their lust for knowledge and their greed for revelations is what caused the war and the fear. Curiosity killed a lot of cats.

Other nations and peoples, once our allies and friends, feared what we had become- what we could be, what we could do. In that fear, they attacked and sought to destroy us as well as our prideful hunger and self preservation, and they would have, too, if we hadn’t destroyed ourselves before they reached our shores. If our ignorance to the natural way of things hadn’t been lost, we would have survived this onslaught and thrived. But we failed in that. Our fathers and mothers failed.

Activists and rioters had publicly, and quite violently, disapproved of the tampering with The Unknown. They boldly walked in circles, holding up signs with words of opposition splashed upon their surfaces. Some even went as far as to lay down on the roads and sidewalks. Some prayed in religious tabernacles and sanctuaries for their lords and saviors to stop the horrendous experimentation and prodding because for some unexplainable reason, they knew nothing good would come of their…curiosity. And in return, the gods seemed to have turned a deaf ear towards their prayers.

With every new discovery, man hungers for more.

Fire.

The Wheel.

Electricity.

Space Travel.

This.

It was what it was- the Unknown. It had the aurora to trigger the desire of humanity’s inescapable need to apprehend It’s essence based on our own lack of self-confidence, if there was ever such a true thing as self-confidence.

They, the forefathers and creators of this monstrosity, gave what they were doing a good name. The television made it seem acceptable. Whenever it was addressed in conversations and interviews, a majority would praise the work as if they knew all the secrets behind the velvet curtain, while the minority was shut out of the circuits. Showers of compliments and approval fell from the populations mouth like a soft, warm rain. Most fell for their propaganda. Some saw through the charade. Not all, but a few. We were a handful of those few who kept their heads. Literally.

We had known each other for years. We all went to the same small town school where everybody knew everybody, but we had only been together for a few months. Friends that were closer than a family- a family that trusted better than friends. We came together with our belief that the Unknown would be left alone. In total, there were five of us.

Keira always shook her blonde hair furiously whenever she was happy. Or when she was trying to stiff a laugh. She was a fan of purple and I had always seen her as the responsibility in my life. Her smile would light up the room and break the hearts of all the second grade boys across the classroom. She was seven. She was my sister.

Mark, the oldest at twenty-one, was built and you could call him a preppy jock, but we liked him anyways. Athletic, smart, handsome, a poster child for what the college heartthrob should be. He had brown hair and foggy eyes matched with a sense of self-sacrificial loyalty and devotion to his family.

If Mark Peter was the father, then Brit was the mother. She was two years younger than Mark and the two held a silent affection for the each other. Maybe it was because she was almost as tall as Mark that made us look up to her, and maybe it was because she had appointed herself as my little sister and I’s “other” mother, but we had all turned to Brit in times of emotional frustration or confusion. Her full name was Brittany Lassette Hearing and we would often call her “Legs.” But never to her face.

Fitch was our little brother from Ireland and he always let us know how much Dublin was better than anywhere else, especially here. At twelve, he had already decided that he wanted to be a race-car driver, just like dad number two – his favorite dad. He had a lisp and it was adorable.

And last, there was me – Sam. I was freshman fresh meet and my family had just moved to this new town a few months ago. I loved music and movies and had a strange attraction to sushi. You know, the average hormonal confused American college student. I was single but was holding out for her. I thought I had found her, my first love, my first true love. I was in heaven on earth.

The five of us watched as one by one, droplets were added to the ocean of masses that were convinced that they had found security in their homes and office buildings. They found comfort in a lie, but they found comfort, nonetheless. Maybe it was because they wanted to hear what they wanted to hear. Maybe it was because Freud was right- they just wanted to suppress the truth because they couldn’t handle it.

The End was imminent and inevitable and when it came, they were astonished and lost. The safety they were promised was as false as the conned interviews they viewed on the television- as false as their own comfort they imagined for themselves with their perverted lies. It was as false as the hope they had come to love and cherish as the absolute truth

Truth.

It’s been so long since I’ve said that word without feeling sick to my stomach. It’s been so long since we’ve had unquestionable truth- a truth so definitive that not the slightest qualm of conscience could doubt it. A truth so concrete that it couldn’t be tested for flaws. I hadn’t heard truth in so long I assumed the idea had died out. Fear, became the new truth, and all sought rest within the shadow of that flippant wing.

Fear was never the actual problem- pride was. It was fear that said “I have seen the end and there is no hope,” but it was pride that said “No one can help us except ourselves. We are alone and we want it that way.”

The day humanity failed was over in less than a minute.

It seemed the Unknown had exhausted its patience and finally unleashed It’s fury upon us, ending any other hopes of or thoughts of tempting this mystery. In a brilliant and glorious flash of radiant, blinding light, mountains enflamed, forests fell, buildings crumbled, monuments shattered, and the heavens laughed at our ignorance. Ideas and theories that had yet to be conceived would never surface. Loves and passions that could have flamed a lifetime would never be kindled from the festering ashes left behind by the Calamity. Dreams that might have defied a world would never leave the bodies that now lay strewn across the streets of a place once called home.

+

A throbbing pain in my shoulder made me open my eyes. The sun was blazing brightly, but there were no clouds above my head. I was on my back looking up where there was supposed to be a ceiling, but there wasn’t. Pushing the remains of the school off my sore body, I saw what had haunted my dreams for as long as our curiosity of the Unknown‘s had been present- a flat landscape. No hills. No trees. No cars that polluted the air. No mounds of dirt made by ants. Nothing.

That horizon was just one of the nightmares that came true that day. While the dead, dusted faces looked up at me as I passed by, I could remember every one of them- their names, their laughs, full of life and expectation. Some I knew well, and others…

They didn’t matter. They were gone, lost somewhere between a pictured heaven and a glimpsed hell. They meant nothing to me- I wasn’t close to them. I simply remembered them as they were, as they used to be. They weren’t family and family was all that mattered- was all that ever mattered. That’s why I was able to run past their grounded bodies without hesitation, because I was worried about family. I had prayed before, but not like this. I prayed hard. I prayed for Keira.

The school was leveled so I franticly searched my mind to remember where her class was. When I found it, I saw the chalkboard shattered- bits had landed on the students who would never learn. The teacher would never lead or instruct as their lifeless bodies lay facedown in the rubble. ‘No one could have survived this,’ I told myself. No one.

I heard movement in the corner of the room.

Jumping over the ruins of the building and bodies, I reached the sound and started pulling, digging, throwing away pieces of wall and desk from my hope that lay buried beneath. My hands became bloodied from the cuts from the metal and stone. Her hand feebly, loosely clung to mine as I lifted her from the debris. Her jeans and shirt were torn and dyed with a warm crimson liquid. Both of her legs fell awkwardly and bent unnaturally. Her bright and cheerful face was cut and blacked and dirtied and her hair was matted against her head and had lost its luster. Her body was limp as I held her in my shaking arms.

“Sam?”

I met her emerald, tearful eyes with my own and for a moment we looked deep into each other. All the memories that we’d shared, all the times we had experienced together, all the love we had, passed through me like a movie that ended too soon. ‘Don’t you let her out of your sight,’ father and mother had told me. ‘She’s your responsibility. She’s your treasure.” As the film rolled, the memories formed tears and they fell like rain from the sky.

“What’s wrong?”

I forced a weak smile. “Nothing. Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s…everything’s just fine,” I said, fighting back the salty tears that lined my eyelids.

“Do you see them?”

I looked around, not seeing anything and yet, seeing everything as it was.

“No I don’t, Freckles. I don’t see anyone.”

“They’re so pretty. Their wings are so pretty. And they’re singing,” she coughed.

“What are they singing?”

She looked at me with her full eyes and said, “Our song.”

My lips began to twitch as I fought the quiver. I still don’t know why, but I started to sing the song she heard- the song that was ours’.

Hush little baby, don’t you cry.

Brother’s going to sing you a lullaby.

As I sang our special song, I could feel her

body growing cool to my touch and heavier to my hold. Kneeling to the dust and crumble, I carried on.

And if that mockingbird don’t sing,

Brother’s going to buy you a diamond ring.

She let one final breath escape her lips before her eyes clouded over. We looked into each others’ eyes until as her skin tightened and she slowly fell away and then was gone.

My capillaries screamed. My cry echoed in my ringing ears. “Look after your little sister,” they said. “She’s your responsibility,” they said, and I let them down- I let her down. “She’s your treasure,” they said, and I lost her. I let her die in my arms. I was too weak to save the only person I loved- the only person I ever needed in the world. I let her slip through my trembling, bleeding, rotting fingers.

I knelt there for the longest time, cradling my sister, rocking back and forth, forth and back, singing to no one and anyone who was willing to listen. Anger, fear, hatred, and apathy all swelled at once within me, unable to find an outlet. Broken, I was permanently broken.

Mark, Brit and Fitch found me later, whether that was a day later or a week, I didn’t care. I was still there, holding her- a testament to my frailty. I didn’t realize they were there till Brit, motherly put her hand on my shoulder.

“You ready to go?” she asked, trying to be strong for someone who was not.

For the first time, I pulled myself back to the nightmares of reality- the world’s destruction, the end of an absolute power that in it’s corruption, destroyed absolutely.

I stood, still carrying her. “Could you give me a sec?”

She smiled. “Ok, Sam. We’ll be right over there when you’re ready. We love you, ok,” and they all turned and walked away, leaving me to face the wake of my ruin, alone and isolated, just as it should have been.

Maybe this is what I deserved. All of my mistakes and sins had all of a sudden surfaced so quickly that I became numb to their existence because I had become so used to their presence. Maybe this was God telling me that I couldn’t do it anymore, that I had fought as long as I could on my own and now it was His turn to fight for me because I couldn’t defend myself anymore.

I looked around, saw the scared life for what it had become, saw what was left of home and was sad, not only for my lost, but for those like me who had lost as well.

I laid her back into the corner and made her grave out of what was around me. I found a piece of chalk and a shard of board and wrote:

Keira Folds

2004- 2011

The favorite of my family.

I set the reminder on top the mound of rubble, leaving it to stand the test of time – knowing it wouldn’t – accepted the fact that she was gone and said, “Goodbye Freckles.”

Then I turned and walked away, never once looking back. The past is dead, and with it a part of me lies dormant, never to be revisited, never to be forgotten, never to be relived. The wonderful paradox of loss.

We lived our lives realizing that the mystery would never be solved. Their ignorance caused this abomination and they died for it.

We were all that was left.

We were all that survived.

We will pick up the pieces they threw aside so carelessly and learn to live with the difference.

“Two roads diverged by a wood,

And I, I took the one less traveled by

And that has made all the difference.”

-Robert Frost.

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