The Glenn family lived in a mansion located at the end of a long private road and atop a hill called Down. They shared the residence with one servant and a menagerie of animal friends; specifically, a family of peafowl, three lamas, two German shepherds, several Burmese felines, and one blue and yellow macaw. Their lush green courtyards featured topiary of holly and myrtle trimmed into the delightful figures of zoo animals. Roses- the color of blood- grew in fantastic clusters along the south face of a cast iron fence. A well-kept pond allowed white and gold coy to grow unrestrained. Gargantuan weeping willows cast their dismal shadows like sun dials over the expansive lawns.
The Glenn mansion was of Victorian design, taller than it was wide, and painted primarily in bluish greens as well as with grayish blue accents; a perfectly maintained relic of a long bygone era. Once upon a time Great Great Grandpa Glenn had employed over one hundred men for the two years it took to construct. He’d imported the finest woods for its creation; redwood from the Lost Coast, white mahogany from the Ivory Coast, as well as other exotic specimens from the South Asiatic Sea and from Mexica. The pitches of roof were quite steep and featured many irregular plains. The second floor had a vast curving balcony above an identical front porch and the entire structure of the mansion enclosed a 5-story high tower, with yet another balcony encircling it at the fourth floor, which overlooked densely wooded terrain rolling out in every direction and also the nearby mansions of others. To the east a vast river, the Quinetucket, cut through the land and that river carved a winding path to Vacant City- located far off on the horizon.
Within the Glenn mansion each room was a visual extravaganza of elegance unto itself. The wallpaper varied in color and design from one room to the next - be it diagonal patterns of deep purple, flowers stenciled in crimson red, Celtic crosses laid into bright indigo, or one of many other such combinations. Curtains were made of crushed velvet and while they invariably matched the wallpaper, their depth and shimmering composition added extra lavishness to each room; lavishness intensified by prized antique furnishings- the curvature of which imitated the curvature of the home’s moldings and trim-work. Animal skin rugs from every corner of the earth blanketed hard wood floors; there were giraffes, tigers, cheetahs, polar bears, zebras, panda, grey wolves, rabbits, chinchillas, foxes, alpacas, goats, and even a sloth. Bronze light fixtures jutted out of the walls and golden chandeliers dangled illuminated crystals overhead. The home’s main foyer was tiled in onyx, painted black, and accented in gold, offering a foreboding welcome upon entering.
Rain had been pouring from dark skies for several days and so although the night had gently begun to descend the bright electric bulbs of the dining room had been glowing through their blue, green, and red stained-glass lamp shades all day long. The upper portions of the dining room’s three inward walls were made of stained-glass images of adventures; on high seas, in deep jungles, over frozen wastelands, and across desert safaris. The window panes of the French doors- open onto the rear balcony- were also colorful and formed geometric designs. The plaster of the room was painted with an amorphous blending of cardinal red and amethyst purple. In the center of the room, upon star speckled black carpeting, there was a ten meter oak table stained in ebony, and around the table there were ten intricately crafted ebony chairs on either side; plus one at each of the table’s heads.
At one end of the table there were five places set upon linen cloth; fine China, sterling silverware, and crystal champagne glasses. Three of these plates had food on them; roast duck, fresh sautéed vegetables, sweet potatoes, French bread, and even foie gras. Two of the crystal glasses had sparkling wine inside, and one had fizzy cider instead. Two of the plates had no food on them and beside those empty plates were two glasses with no liquid inside. In front of the empty plates there were two empty chairs. Three people eating from a table set for five.
One empty plate was set out to honor the absence of the younger son, Finn, and the second was there for the same reason, placed for an older boy named Quinn. These boys were not dead, but they had not been home in two years. Like most men the Glenn boys were called away for the recolonization efforts in distant lands. The family’s wealth couldn’t keep them home, for the family had no wealth, for there was no such thing as wealth; they had but what they’d always had and they received the same rations as everyone else. It just so happened that on Commemoration Day the rations were extra fine.
And so, while the food they ate was exceptionally delightful that day, the three homebound Glenns sat somberly; eating quietly and without discussion: A pudgy father, a dignified mother, and their innocent daughter. The father, whose name was Flynn, would have been called away, too, but two men from each family was the maximum the effort was allowed to claim for itself and so, with both sons over the age of 18 Flynn remained home to look after his wife and daughter. Many wives and daughters were not so lucky and were either forced to band together with other women, or with strange men, or were even sometimes abandoned to fend for themselves- as the effort had little concern for the women. All manner of misfortune had befallen the people on behalf of the recolonizing; still, it was a noble burden. Supposedly…
Flynn Glenn had a scraggly head of red hair with threads of gold running through it and also through his bushy red beard which covered the permanently blushing cheeks of his pale face. His beady green eyes were seemingly trapped within his face, not because they were small, but because his head was large. He wore a grey wool sweater; since although it was still summer the rains had pushed in a cold front and the air in their cavernous home had acquired a chill to it. His sleeves were bunched up and his appetite was hearty; the feast decadent. Enjoying the meal was his natural response in regards to the empty chairs; he just devoured food and stared off into space.
Glenda Glenn was a typical middle aged woman. Not fat, but not slim, either. Her dark brown hair fell straight to about shoulder length where the ends turned up and out. Underneath her hair she was wearing diamond earrings. Around her neck hung a string of Tahitian pearls. Her fingers sparkled with emeralds, rubies, and platinum. She wore a fabulous full length gown with a wide flattering neckline and sleeves that sat just atop the shoulders; constructed from pure silk taffeta in the color of her rose bushes; with a black dandelion flock overlaid onto it, black corset style lacing up the front, and the neck and sleeves also accentuated with overlaid black lace. Her teeth were white as snow. She had chipmunk cheeks and lovely- numbed- brown eyes. She ate small bites without looking up from her plate.
Sean Glenn, the only daughter of Glenda and Flynn, was bemused by the foie gras. She didn’t enjoy it, but she didn’t hate it either. She had simply never had anything like it before. The duck tasted like chicken, but it tasted like amazing chicken; moist, flavorful, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth chicken. That night she wasn’t as depressed as her parents. Since her brothers had gone away she had been constantly upset. She was even upset right up until she came to dinner and found such special cuisine. It was even better than the year before when they’d had prime rib. In contrast to her it seemed like her parents were mainly upset on Commemoration Days, or on her brother’s birthdays. Days like those, when her parents seemed to notice more, those were the days she could finally take her mind off their absence; for the cake, for the foie gras, for the distraction.
Not that she could be distracted by anything without correlating that distraction with her brothers. They would have liked to eat foie gras. They would have enjoyed the quality of that duck. The love she felt for her older brothers was like her love for the sky or the earth. They were- or once were- permanent fixtures in her life and she adored them immensely. Up until they were gone it would have been unimaginable to be without them, as unimaginable as being without the sky or the ground. And yet, they were gone. Not dead. Just gone. And she was left in some sort of limbo where she wasn’t herself- couldn’t be herself- without them, and yet she wasn’t yet who she’d be becoming; regardless of how aware she may have been that, day by day, her temperament and her disposition was becoming more and more altered. Without the warmth of their spirits she felt her own heart growing cold; cold like a chill in July. She had no intention of pitying herself. It’s just that she didn’t understand how the fine food was there for their sake and how they weren’t there and how if they were there the food wouldn’t be and it wouldn’t matter because at least her family would be whole again. Her parents made impractical friends- so old and out of touch with a young girl’s mind- and she didn’t like the way their servant had been looking at her ever since she began developing into a woman. She knew instinctively what his glare meant- having seen it enough to follow the intentions of those frightening eyes rolling over her curves- but regardless of what her body was doing she still felt like a girl. Their servant- Lance, was his name- was an old man with a severe limp; so severe he practically seemed to be dragging his right foot around. Including him, there were only three people total in her life. When ill she saw the doctor, and once a month a cardinal of the church visited, but those women did not count.
If it weren’t for the animals she’d be quite miserable, indeed. She loved the animals. They’d become her raison d’etre. She cared for them and that kept her from despair. With animals she could forget the cruel implications of the permeating quietude and fend off the course caresses of loneliness that crept up her spine from time to time. For she wasn’t alone with the animals.
Even at that moment she was staring through the French doors opened up to the back porch, out into the field where at the edge of their yard, where the woods began, she could see the two white lamas standing side by side underneath the overhang to escape the rain. She searched for the peacocks but couldn’t find them. They were probably up in the trees. After a moment of lackadaisically searching with her eyes she remembered her food was getting cold and redirected her attention.
She brushed a lock of her long brown hair from her cherubic cheek and took another bite of duck. She’d ironed her curly locks until they were straight and flat; she even had on a hemp head band, but was still getting hair in her face from having her eyes cast so far down. Her eyes were the same sweet discerning orbs of her mother. Her nose was the button nose of her father. Sean’s petite pouty lips had never known the kiss of a boy; and so it went almost without saying that her slender neck had never known any human nuzzling. No suitor had ever charmed her and she knew nothing about romance nor about romantic love; save for what she read in books or what she’d observed in her parents. As a young girl, growing up in a mansion filled with artifacts from a time she had never known, she developed a natural inclination towards the arts; fashion, writing, drawing, music, jewelry making, and any other preoccupation which would utilize the endless spring of inspiration flowing from her very essence and help her to pass the time. She was intelligent and well educated by her mother; a daughter any parent could be proud of and whose affection, like a rose blossom, could only be attained by someone with enough verve to seek it out and reach for it. Alas, she’d never know such a person. That night she wore a shawl of linen lace colored aqua marine, and it was frilly around the wrists so she had to flick the fabric back to keep it from falling into her plate. A long skirt she’d quilted herself matched the top in patchwork and the other half of the squares were the color of granite. A leather strap held a gold medallion around her neck; the medallion formed a tree of life and the idea of the tree of life was very dear to her heart- indeed as dear as nature itself.
Her father took another helping of poultry and she had barely dug into her own plate. Like her mother. Her and her mother didn’t seem to have much of an appetite that day. However, both her mother and father were enjoying the wine immensely. It wasn’t long until Flynn had poured the remainder of the first bottle into his wife’s glass and then- without any discussion or pomp- popped the second cork through the air, into the ceiling, and it fell to the floor; bouncing around thereafter. He filled his glass. Sean watched without envy. She didn’t know what alcohol felt like. She just knew it was forbidden for young people. She didn’t understand the appeal, but didn’t really care either. She had delicious fizzy cider and so she poured herself more of that.
Flynn finished eating first and the two ladies eventually caught up. When the meal was over it was time for their prayer. It was a prayer Flynn said every day after every dinner. Glenda was the last to finish eating so she put her fork down, wiped her mouth with a napkin, and reached out for the hands of her daughter and husband. One of Sean’s hands seemed extra delicate gripped in her father’s powerful calloused grip and her other was comforted, cradled softly by her mother’s dainty fingers.
Flynn began the prayer, “The one truth cannot be known and devious lies beg the gullible to play the fool. With this in mind we reject the notion of right or wrong and instead we seek to know ourselves, to know our lives, and to understand our personal situations. Second by second, minute by minute, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, from birth to death; let us be kind, let us be fair, let us be honest, loving, and true to the best of our ability. Praise love.”
“Praise love,” parroted Glenda and Sean. They released each other from their grasps and she fell back into her chair and took another sip of her fizzy; enjoying it immensely. So much so her father noticed and made a remark. “You’re really enjoying that stuff, aren’t you?” he asked, smiling.
“It’s so delicious. Sometimes I forget drinks like this exist.”
Glenda said, “When I was your age we had little treats like that whenever we wanted them. Like I’ve told you, we never even imagined that our luxuries would go away some day.”
Flynn shrugged in agreement with a resigned expression. Sean thought for an instant and then said, “But, if I always had fizzy cider then it wouldn’t be as special. I’d have one less thing to look forward to.”
Flynn said, “Back then we enjoyed things differently. We were slaves to our own indulgence. In retrospect it clearly wasn’t sustainable- but we didn’t care at the time. We were raised to consume for the sake of consumption and accustomed to it, too. No one realized the flaw in such a mentality. They raised us to be dumb like that. I don’t really think we understood how to enjoy things like you do. It was a major shock to us, you know, when the trucks stopped running.”
“That’s the wheel of fortune, father. It goes up and it goes down. But fortune offers no real treasure. Real treasures come from within.”
Glenda said, “Yeah. We didn’t understand that. We thought it would last forever.”
Sean loved hearing about the old times. She couldn’t get enough of it. Hearing about the way the world used to be was sort of like hearing about life on another planet. She asked, “Can I hear a story?” It wasn’t an unusual request. No matter how many stories her mother or father told her, there were always more. Events that would have seemed mundane at the time were bewildering allegories from her perspective.
“Sure. I’ve got a good one, too. Good for today, at least.” Flynn said.
Glenda put up her finger as a signal to wait, tilted up her chin, and called out, “Lance. We’re ready for you.”
Lance came scraping along the floor and into the room; dragging himself behind himself. He was an old man, practically. Most of his hair had receded from his skull except for a crescent patch which had not; that remaining hair grew white and bushy. He wore circular wire-framed glasses and possessed a white handle bar mustache, as well. He wore a mauve, grey, and black plaid shirt which hung over tight fitting black jeans that were stuffed into a pair of navy blue wool-knit booties. In his hands he carried a rubber tote for bussing tables. As he approached the table, he asked- in a raspy high-pitched voice, “Did you enjoy your Commemoration Day dinner?”
“Very much so. Please. Help yourself to the leftovers.” Glenda said.
“Thank you Ma’am. I’ll enjoy that. Let me get these plates cleared, then I’ll bring out your desert and finish clearing this table.”
As Lance cleaned up the table Flynn began his story, “Ok. Since we’re about to go up to the balcony and watch the fireworks I will tell you a story that is actually about fireworks. We used to celebrate something called Independence Day. Independence Day was a remembrance of a revolution when one nation-” he interrupted himself to explain, “Nations, I think you know, were essentially- to put it simply- how governments organized themselves and jostled for position. It was a completely self-serving system and it didn’t benefit anybody except for the wealthy. ‘Elites,’ they were called. Then the helpless little people had next to no identity outside of the flag of the country they’d been born into and broke their backs for, even though they had no choice in the matter. They were even prideful for it. Or insecure. I think they just wanted to feel safe. But, it was a really stupid mentality because that same government they worshiped was equally liable to get them killed, or to kill them, same as it was to protect them from harm. People just wanted to be part of the club. And somehow they didn’t realize it was the same situation they were running from; the big guy picking on the little guy. Such contrived logic. So, to distract people from how absurd the situation was- kind of like they are doing tonight- they would blow off fireworks on Independence Day. Independence Day was supposedly the day when the people of this land split apart from their government across the ocean to form their own government. Nothing improved. They just became more delusional and self-righteous; completely blindsided by ideals they forced on others and wouldn’t adhere to themselves. They were slaves, in a subtle way. That was Independence Day, in a nutshell. Hypocrisy…
“Anyhow. As I know you know, because we’ve talked about it before, air travel was more common back then.” Flynn stopped speaking briefly while Lance placed three-layer chocolate cake with white frosting down in front of them; each portion proportioned according to the size of the eater. “Thank you, Lance,” Flynn said. Then he took a bite without hesitation, smirked with approval, and continued, “So, here is the story; one time I was flying from the west coast to the east coast, but we had to make a stop down south to refuel. They called that a layover. The city was called Dallas. I don’t know what they call it now. It was Independence Day that day and the sun went down right before the plane took off. I saw just about every fireworks display for 300 miles out that airplane window that night. Right up until it became too late and people quit setting the things off. But I kept watching for the whole trip, and every once in a while I would see one go off here or there... That’s it. That’s the story.”
Sean asked, “Do you think there will be many fireworks tonight? It’s still raining out.”
“That won’t stop anyone. It may not be as spectacular as last year, but they’ll still be going on, for sure.”
Sean took a bite of her desert. It was so sweet and the chocolate was delectable. The frosting had developed the thinnest layer of crust where it met the air, but she enjoyed that aspect. Her father’s story had succeeded in capturing her imagination. She found herself curious about something, and so asked, “If we don’t need governments, borders, or flags now, why then did people need them back then?”
“They didn’t. It was a scam. A highly popular scam designed to conquer the human spirit. From a local level, to cities and states, or provinces, up to national. There were no governments, no official governments, beyond the national level because once a country would get to a certain point it would encounter other countries running the same scam. Although, in that context, the only power on Earth that mattered was the central bank, and it was the same no matter where you were. And the countries fought like vicious dogs, but eventually they’d establish dominance and co-exist; in some cases they’d coordinate their repressive activity to create a mutually beneficial situation among the rulers. For a long time they were trying to establish a one world government but once the age of information happened people wised up. That was about the time of the uprising and the global liberation. We kind of wound up with a one world government, and the irony is that global domination was always the goal of the people in charge; the people running dangerous organizations that operated in secret. They wanted total control. The plan was called the New World Order. And we used to hear that it was inevitable. Either way, it’s important to remember that this is a world of appearances, and people act false. Things are seldom how we expect them to be. They wanted a one world government and that’s what we have in Anarchadia. Regardless of the pretenses on which we attained it; there is no way to know who is really pulling the strings. As much as the geo-political landscape has changed, the real question is ‘has human nature truly evolved, or is this more of the same?’”
Glenda added, “Their tools were taken away. That entire mess- for thousands and thousands of years- was caused by the money. Now that the money is removed from the equation there isn’t any failsafe way to unbalance the situation well enough to exploit it. We still have our figureheads, our leaders, and our prophets. Except they have no authority over anyone but themselves. We listen to them because we want to, not because we are forced to by some existing power structure we don’t understand. In Anarchadia everyone is equalized. Our one law is love and in a loving world each person is sovereign. We come together or go our separate ways depending on what is happening; it’s called living in the moment. A threat to any one person is a threat to all people. It’s not in anyone’s interest to exploit anyone else, since it will ultimately lead to their own downfall. No matter how much they might be made to fear each other, people are naturally interconnected. That’s what unity and solidarity are about. Simple concepts, but people aren’t simple animals. We had a lot of baggage.”
“Yeah. Foolish religions. Specifically; Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. All of which are still out there. But sensible people- critically thinking people- got together and ran them out to the fringe where they belong; with the other fundamentalists and fanatics. Now they can’t perpetuate their foolishness; their fairy tales. Haven’t you read about the Christians?”
“Yeah. I read a book called Paradise Lost. I just didn’t realize people actually still believed that stuff.”
Flynn chuckled and said, “You wouldn’t believe what people will believe.”
They finished their desert and left the table. Some time passed. The Glenn family reconvened up on the fourth story balcony; with its fancy iron railings and slippery wooden deck. The rain had calmed down substantially. Hardly a drizzle fell from the sky and the clouds were thinning to the point that as darkness fell they could see dim beams of the full moon’s light sifting through.
“Do you feel bad not inviting Lance up here?” Sean asked her father.
“He didn’t send any children away to the effort. These fireworks aren’t for him. They’re for us, and for Quinn and Finn. I doubt he cares. He’s an old man.”
She didn’t quite agree that old men don’t appreciate nice things, but her father had more experience as an old man than she did, so she took his word for it. She had a red wool trench coat on her; the clashing colors of her turquoise outfit and the coat amused her. She saw the lights of the other mansions speckling through the hills around her; there were dozens, but few could compare to the grandeur of the Glenn mansion- glowing calmly below her feet; and the few that compared weren’t Victorian style, so she felt that distinction made theirs the best of all. She didn’t really care much about that kind of thing. It was just something she thought about occasionally. She could never shake the unfulfilled urge to explore the other homes. It was just another thing she thought about occasionally. One of them sort of looked like a European castle; although less extreme; just stony and covered in spines and ridges in that way; she’d visit that castle if she could. A few towns glowed in orange clusters along the river bank. Further to the north there was just darkness.
Vacant City’s wonderful skyline to the south was far off but shining brightly for the occasion. Several of its buildings were larger than life- and many other giant structures looked miniscule beside them. The tallest building glowed bright silver- almost white. Another was blacked out except for columns of deep blue light rising up- one on each side- toward the pointed upper floors and lightning rod. There were buildings of pink and purple lights; even some neon green. Others were bluish. Some of the buildings blasted beams of light in diagonals that stretched great distances through the sky. Some of those beams were even neon green.
The city- which she’d never visited- was as beautiful as it ever was. Her fantasies of extravagant living under the city lights knew no bounds- even though they originated within the finite pages of books. Every Friday and Saturday night the buildings glowed in a similar, less magnificent, way. On warm nights when the wind wasn’t blowing she’d sit out there and watch the city. For hours, even, sometimes.
The fireworks had been going off to the left of the city, but to the right they were just beginning. There was also a third firework show between them and the buildings. Presumably there was a fourth display on the backside of the skyline, too. She couldn’t hear the explosions. The night was as silent as any other. Around Vacant City electric lights stretched across the ground like a bioluminescent fungus- out into the suburbs before dispersing into trees.
Her dad was right. The show had been better the year before. The year before the colorful bursts of flames were broader, denser, more intricate, and more extravagant. That night they were at a bare minimum. She sort of felt patronized. It was like they were lighting them off just for the sake of saying they had done so. The previous year the grand finale had enthralled and invigorated her. That year it was over before she’d begun to enjoy it. It was alright. Really, she didn’t care about things like that.
Soon enough the show was over. Her father lit up a cigar and puffed on it. She didn’t like the smell of the smoke and so she said goodnight to her parents and retired to her bedroom; a sparkling magenta cavern filled with extravagant mirrors, antique furniture, musical instruments in various states of disrepair, books, art supplies, and her favorite paintings hanging from the wall. As she opened the door, and hallway light flooded in, her wide-eyed silver-hued kitty, Luna, picked her head up from a nap on the bedspread- which matched the wallpaper almost perfectly- and looked at her. The kittie blinked several times. Sean wiggled her fingers at her to say hello. Luna yawned, laid her head back down, and closed her eyes.
“Peekaboo,” said Coral- her macaw- in a whistling bird voice.
“Peekaboo,” she said back.
The bird had been in his cage- a very large floor to ceiling deal in the corner; filled with toys and assorted food- but when Sean came into the room she tugged off the blanket covering it and Coral clawed his way out of the cage onto an external perch where he stretched his wings and bobbed his head.
“Peekaboo. Whatyadoing?” The bird asked her.
“Nuts n’ honey. Whatyadoing?”
“Nuts n’ honey. Nuts n’ honey,” the bird said, releasing chirping whistles between the words.
Sean walked across her room and flicked on a switch that illuminated the room in deep ultraviolet and bright red light, turned on a strobe bulb facing into a rear corner, and set a disco ball into motion.
“That’s better,” she said.
“Better. Better,” Coral parroted.
She still did not know whether her birdy was a boy or a girl. That is why her parents named it Coral. Because the name was androgynous; androgynous enough, at least. It was bright like Coral polyps. She sat down on her bed beside Luna. Luna was her kitty. Of the three Burmese cats in the home each corresponded to one of the Glenn family members. Luna, of course, was hers. Her father’s was the boy and her mother’s was the older girl. She found it funny that it happened that way. They acquired the cats before her brothers had left, and when they were a family the cats stuck together more, but when the boys went away the cats sort of drifted apart and became attached to the people. Perhaps it was something the Glenn’s did unconsciously, but Sean really thought the cats thought the boys were dead and that they were trying to console them by taking on more serious companionship roles. Very nice of them, she thought.
Sean cleaned the bird’s cage and put out fresh food and water for him. Anarchadia was a strange place. They were sustaining on rations- healthy and substantial rations, but rations nonetheless- and so the animals were sustained on rations, too. It was Lance’s job to receive the food from the delivery and fill the various rubber containers distributed around the property, but it was her chore to feed the indoor animals. Lance fed the outdoor ones. He would have fed the indoor animals, too, but Sean wanted them to identify her with their food so they’d appreciate her more. It was a good system. The animals adored her in the same way she adored them.
She got out of her dinner clothes and into red flannel pajamas. She changed the disk in her CD player to something she hadn’t listened to in a while. Her collection of music wasn’t as vast as she would have preferred, but it contained enough enjoyable music to get her by. It wasn’t often that she could get new disks, or new records, or new cassette tapes, so instead she began listening to less and less music. As much as she loved her music she didn’t want it to get played out. So she savored the stuff like a precious commodity. There wasn’t much music she owned that she didn’t enjoy. A few country western albums were particularly obnoxious and a few rap albums weren’t technically music but aside from that her tastes were broad and easily pleased.
From her vanity table she took down a sketchbook and began drawing silly little illustrations. She drew a picture of herself underwater swimming with a boy, by a sea horse and an octopus. The boy had no face. She drew another picture of herself standing in her yard beside a boy of a different size and shape; he also had no face. She dressed her figures in fancy Victorian era clothes. She filled in the lines of that image with colored pencils. She drew a third image of herself with a boy; the view was from behind. In the picture she wore a skirt and no top; she drew an imaginary tattoo on her lower back and gave the boy a different physique than the one before. They were looking at a moonrise over the mountains, even though she had never seen mountains in real life. She added some five point stars to the sky and a comet for good measure. She wrote the words, ‘Forever I will love thee.’ On another page she drew an image of the tree of life in grey with a bright yellow sun shining over it. Over the tree she wrote, in bright multi-colored letters, ‘FREEDOM IS OURS.’ On the next blank page she wrote a poem in calligraphy; ‘The days go by. How they fly. They leave our hearts wondering why, why must we die? But, in the meantime, I will flow with what I must, and hope that all of my love is pure. I am living yesterday’s tomorrow, a day once uncertain, but now it is all I know. All I have, is this faith. All I need, is this love.’
On another page in pencil she wrote, ‘I have an urge, a passion, a great force within me… I must follow its way. I must make these days worth living. I seek after what is pure and true. I crave love, and hope is my sister. Patience is my will and resort. And honor, I must love. I do love. And I must stretch, and be deep rooted. And my soul cries for hope, faith, and love. My mission is to love.’
She closed up her book and placed it down beside her on the zebra hair rug which she was sitting cross legged upon. Luna noticed her attention was free, let out a ‘meow’ and came over to sit on her lap. Coral had been whistling, chirping, and repeating some of his more favorite words; “Pretty bird, pretty bird. I love you, I love you. Good morning, good morning. Goodnight moon, goodnight moon.” The bird was always very vocal when there was music playing. The more silent the home was the more silent Coral would be. Except in the middle of the day and first thing in the morning. Sean petted the lovely feline- lovely with immaculate features and harlequin eyes- for a while, before she put him back up on the bed and picked up her sketch book again. She drew a self-portrait of herself standing in front of their gate. In it she wore a pink and yellow skirt, ruby red shoes, a blue sarong, and a yellow tank top over a blue and red long sleeve shirt. She drew her hair straight and falling over her face like it was that very night (she’d previously removed her head band and tossed it into a drawer). In her hands she held a single red rose. She wrote below her portrait, ‘Stars and roses. Life is not just supposes. Some things are fact and they keep hope intact. Love is the cure for fear and hatred, and then some. Love is patient and ever forgiving. Love is nature. So take off the burdens that tie you down, to the things that make you feel like a clown. For love casts out fear and fear is nowhere near the apples of my eyes. Should I reprise? Love casts out fear. Love casts out fear.’
That was enough. She’d succeeded in making herself tired. So she stood to her feet and cracked her door in case one of the doggies wanted to sleep on her floor as they sometimes would do. She went into her personal bathroom, relieved herself, poured herself a glass of water, set it down on her nightstand, switched off her simulated discothèque, and crawled under the covers of her bed. After a moment she felt Luna snuggling against her body and Sean’s father’s princess fell fast asleep.
Frigid water splashed over his face and Dylan Magee immediately jolted from his slumber. “Quit your sleeping! Useless worm!” His mother shouted at him. Strong words from a slave driver. She had no grounds to call him useless; she should check her reflection. That woman hadn’t done nothing for him since the day he quit suckling. With his pointer finger he removed the sticking wet strands of dirty blonde hair from his face and with squinting eyes he glared up at the matriarch- whom may as well have been horned, goat legged, winged, and behooved.
“The rains are coming back. I expect you to dig out the trenches what got filled in last time. After that I want you tending the fire ‘til the skies clear up. We’re nearly out of our store and these woods is gettin’ bare. Since you waited for the last minute you’ll be havin’ to take forays out and haulin’ timber back in the wet, but so help me, it’s been extra hot these past days and that rains coming back down fierce. I want that fire going strong or I’m coming down on you hard, bai. You understanding me?”
“I hear you. I hear you. I’m waking up now. For love’s sake.”
“Don’t talk to me about love. I don’t want to hear it from you. There ain’t a smidgen of love in all that blood coursing in your body. You were conceived by a demon and’ve been nothing but a curse upon my head since that day. I’ll be damned to let you forget it.”
“You’re damned already, Elvira.”
His mother- with her pock marked face, long rigid nose, cold grey eyes, and frazzled grey hair- lifted her drab gown and stepped into the cramped mud hut he shared with his two cousins whom had both awoken and were staring. “We’re starting early today then? Damn it, bai. You keep your mout shut.” Dylan just looked at her. He had nothing to say. The woman was vile. He should have known better than to talk back to her. What came next was his fault. She lifted her glossy walking cane of oak and swung a vicious blow into his face.
From the sharp pain he knew that his skin had split. An instant later the blood began to trickle down his face. Elvira said, “Look what you done to yourself. D’ya see what happens? Now get your lily white rear out in them ditches before you make me angry.” With that she turned and lumbered out of the hut.
Clutching his face, gritting his teeth, and inhaling rapidly through the throbbing pain, he threw his filthy canvas off himself and struggled to crawl up off of his mite infested pile of hay. He had no shoes and was wearing every article of clothing he possessed, save for a gnarled yellow raincoat; any clothes he did get were taken from him by the women to line their beds.
He tripped over his feet and- at the last instant, as he fell- he jumped toward the door to avoid landing on one of the little girls. He spun in the air, flew through the open entrance of the hut, and landed on his right shoulder; skidding through the dark damp dirt. He lay there on his back with his vision swimming and swirling; looking up at the sky through the tree line. He saw two skies, one sky bright blue and clear, and the other sky thickly storm clouded and moving toward them. He tilted his head to see how far the storm stretched out. It stretched out to infinity. His face and throat were covered in blood. It was getting on his ragged black long sleeve shirt. So he rose to his feet, removed that article of clothing, and tossed it on his hay mat.
Blood kept running down his face. His beautiful face. Dylan didn’t have anything in the world except for his body. He hated it when she scarred him, but to bear witness to him at that moment would be to see the markings of a slave. His neck, chest, back, arms, rump, and legs could attest to the constant beatings he’d been subjected to over the last two years. Somehow, until that day, he’d managed to protect his face. His beautiful face. It was all he had left. Not that he needed it. One day the women were going to kill him. They weren’t drunks. They weren’t even insane. They just hated Dylan and wanted him dead. His mother had always hated him. But when his uncles left there was nobody to protect him. And while he’d always been unpopular with the family he wasn’t a slave until the effort came and took his guardians away. The Magee men were the voices of reason. Without them there was no reason. Instead, there was madness, hate, venom, spite, and abuse. He never understood why she beat him so bitterly. He never refused to do what he was told. He had a bad habit of talking back a little bit, but that was it. Elvira looked for excuses. No matter how innocent his mistake she’d beat him for it. If he stumbled and broke something or spilled something, if he let the fire die down at the wrong time, if he prepared a meal inadequately, if the little girls talked to him and he didn’t ignore them- anything. The two little doll faced girls were as vicious as the old hags and he took at least several beatings as a response to trespasses they’d imagined or outright made-up.
He stumbled over to a hollowed out, head-height oak stump where the tools were kept and he retrieved the pickaxe. Their ‘village’ had a total of four mud huts; three small ones for sleeping and one large one serving as communal space. He should have dug out the trenches last time the rain stopped. In that regard it made sense that Elvira was so angry with him. No use crying over spilt blood. He couldn’t uninjure himself.
Dylan began his task out behind the communal hut. It wasn’t a particularly grueling task. The dirt out on that land was extremely rocky, but the trenches had already been dug. They were about two feet deep. He was just clearing out the dirt which collected after last rain. Making the huts was another story. Each hut nearly killed him. They’d give him a day or two to recuperate, but then they’d have him back at the end of the cane until the next hut was done. Of course nobody helped him work.
Back before the recolonization effort the Magee clan had a real home in a real town on the Quinetucket river. They were forced out of it, though. Every moment since Dylan has wished he’d ran and hid when he had the chance; it was his most major regret. Because the Magee women were ruthlessly lazy and tremendously despotic and so when the men left, and they found themselves under their own devices, it took no more than a month before they were wanted for murder.
Elvira used to teach at Love’s Congregation, but those days were gone. For her entire life she was something of a leader to her younger sisters; her sisters were weak willed slaves themselves- to their men, until their men went away. This event established a new pecking order- one based on past transgressions. The men had ruled the blood line orderly, however maliciously; it just came natural to his uncles to keep his mother and his aunts subjugated. Without the men… the women were unhinged. Maddened by their grudges. Dylan didn’t know much about anything really. Still, he knew enough to know there was something wrong with his family and that most people didn’t behave like them. The sisters sometimes talked about the old times to each other; things he couldn’t understand, but it was clear that they treated him so badly because his uncles treated them badly and logic determined that that chain likely extended far back through history. It was the Magee way; a repulsive male way adopted by dastardly women.
The reason they lived like animals actually involved an animal. A pet. A dog. A mastiff. It went missing. The owner came searching and when she found his family feasting on its meat in their yard nearby a pile of bones and a mess of tan fur splayed about she made a fuss and so his mother had to shoot her to silence her fuss. Elvira and her sisters shared thought, agenda, emotion, intent, and will. Those warped aunts of his couldn’t imagine being without their demented sister; so together, as one big happy family, they went out into the woods and began living off the land.
The Magee rations got left at a secure location and Dylan was twice weekly tasked with retrieving them. They had an arrangement with the public service in their old town. The single reason no one came looking for his fugitive mother was because him and his cousins were hostages. It was a simple matter of leaving a note with the dead body. After that they had their food secured and they basically got whatever else they needed by communique and request. No one could ask questions. No one could go searching. There was no hope of rescue.
Dylan often dwelled upon the envy he felt for his two uncles when they were called away to serve. He’d have given anything to join them. He was too young, unfortunately. When his uncles left was when the beatings began. When disorder began. Before they left things weren’t so horrendous for him- maybe just because he was a boy. The women were treated previously like they treated him presently. He could remember having an ominous feeling and since then never forgave himself for not trusting his gut, for not running when he had the chance. The opportunity escaped him. Naively, to his remorse, he had wanted to be a good son and do the right thing. The aunts never told the cousins, but they told him- often- that if he abandoned the family then his cousins would be shot. The three women didn’t care for life. Or for love. And he didn’t completely understand how they became that way- so far gone- but he witnessed the end result daily. The three sisters were heartless and wicked in the truest sense of the word; tamed only by the fury of two men who were no longer relevant.
By the time the rain began to fall he had dug out three of the four ditches. He left the hut he shared with his cousins for last in case he didn’t have enough time, and that decision was sort of unfair but each woman had her own mud hut and the kids always went last in their tribe. He needed to fetch a hefty load of wood, stoke the fire high, and then he could finish the last ditch. And then he could collect more wood. As the rain drops thudded gently against his exposed skin, the crusty dried blood began to rehydrate and wash away.
He walked into the main hut where his two aunts and his mother were sitting around a fire-roughly one meter in diameter- burnt nearly down to embers. Rain had begun falling through the smoke escape. There was still a small store of branches and bark; it would be enough to last until he could get back. He could feel the women glaring at him. They weren’t saying anything. But they didn’t have to. Their presence felt like pure hatred.
Elvira was the oldest of them. The next oldest was named Matilda. She was the mother of Sabrina, his youngest cousin. All three of the old women were thin and frail from living in the woods. They each moved rigidly- as skeletons might move- since they got no exercise ever. They sat on their duffs and ordered Dylan around. Matilda generally wore denim overalls over a grey shirt. She had another outfit, too. Unlike him the aunts had two outfits each. The youngest aunt was Gabriella; she still had youth in her, but was no less demented than her older sisters. Gabriella was the mother of the oldest daughter, Tabitha. Elvira sprayed saliva when she talked and so whenever she scolded him she also spat on him. He didn’t mind the beatings, but being doused in bodily fluids enraged him. It infuriated him and made him want to kill them. Murder. He’d seldom thought of it until recently. Never seriously. He used an axe every day. He could do the deed silently. He could be an axe murderer. Perhaps. Elvira ate, slept, and shat with her pistol in her hand. He would have to get it away from her.
Gabriella, she wore a pastel shirt and black sweat pants and looked hideous by virtue of her perpetual grimace; exactly like her two sisters, except her hair hadn’t grayed yet like them. She caught him daydreaming. “Are ya dilly dallen there, bai? I hear that rain picking up. You best get out and fetch some dry timber fore we stop asking nicely.”
She was right. He’d brought the fire back to life enough to withstand the water coming in through the vent and so he leapt up quickly, ducked under the exit, ran out into the pouring rain to the double edged axe and the measure of rope, grabbed them, and he took off to where the dead wood would be. Being the one person who ever fetched wood meant that he knew exactly where to find it. However, of course, the women treated him like a reject and so he didn’t mind the rain out in the woods on a warm summer day. Dylan went to where the stumps and fallen logs were and hacked away dry slivers until he had several hauls worth. He’d gone far out. His jeans were soaked and sticking to his body. The water streamed through his slicked back hair.
As he leaned over to place the axe on the ground and wrap some wood into the rope he heard three sounds; the sound of driving rain, the sound of something rushing through the forest, and the snarling of what was evidently a monster. He stood back up with the axe in his grip, he cocked back to the right to swing, and he saw a grey wolf dripping foaming tendrils of saliva from its mandibles. The axe cut gracefully through the air and into the right side of the creature’s face as it jumped at him, splashing blood as it fell with the blade’s arc and rolled away to the side. Then the beast hopped back onto its fours as Dylan was bringing the axe down on the back of its neck. It died immediately. It was motherloving wolf! There could be more. He looked about him with the axe held ready. He listened and heard nothing. For the sake of love, it seemed to be what it looked like; the damn thing was mental.
Immediately he knew what he had to. He had to run. He grabbed a bundle of wood in his arms with the axe and he ran back to the village to get the fire burning again. Working the fire was second nature for him. Dylan lived by the graces of flames of fire. It was second nature. And grilling him was second nature to the witches, so when he arrived, with less than a back breaking quantity of timber, and set about placing the logs down, Gabriella said to him, “What’s with the child’s portion of effort?”
He said, calmly, “I was attacked by a wolf. It was alone. I killed it. It was rabid, you could tell, it looked like the living dead; it was mangy.”
His two aunts were silent and his mother crooned in a bewildered voice, “A mangy wolf, you say? That’s quite disturbing news. You get back out in that rain, bai!” She nudged him out the door with her cane. You’ll be bringing us wood, but you won’t be near us. You won’t be near your cousins neither. Did you get bit?”
“No. I didn’t get bit. I didn’t even get any blood on me.”
Elvira went on, “This is a blessed event. I know what our hearts are telling us. Do you know what that is?”
“No,” said Gabriella.
“No,” said Matilda.
“It means revenge, sisters. For exiling us and forcing us to live these rotten lives out in the nowhere. Dylan is going to take the animal out to the city limits, and let the coons and feral cats get into it. ”
He couldn’t believe what he just heard. Of course his aunts- ever agreeable with his mother’s psychosis- offered no objection. She saw the horrified look on his face, “You can wrap it up in your raincoat and drag it, now get to it, bai. And don’t get this wrong. You can come back when you’re finished and we’ll work out what we’re going to do with you.”
“There’s wolves out there!” he protested.
“Well then take your axe with you. There ain’t no wolves out there. It was a lone wolf. If there were other wolves they’d have gotten you. Now get.”
He couldn’t argue. She was usually right about those kinds of things. So he scurried out of the big hut, took his axe into his grip, and went to where he saw the blonde hair of his cousins who were still sound asleep under their mud speckled scratchy red blankets in the hut he shared with them. From his mat of hay he fetched his yellow raincoat and carried it with him, uninterested in wearing it. He looked around to reorient him to his destination. He’d killed the wolf up on a ridge to the southwest. And so, as he headed off in that direction Elvira’s voice followed after him, “You bring back two good loads of wood before you take that carcass to Terence.” Terence was the town she’d committed her murder in.
“Yes, Elvira,” he called back, making eye contact with her through the doorway of the hut. And he turned to head back out into the woods when in the distance he saw the branches of the underbrush shifting oddly. Not in one place, but in several. Without a second thought he found the nearest birch tree to climb up. He dropped his axe and raincoat at the base and made a mad scurry up its slick height until he found a foothold about 5 meters over the ground.
At that point, through the thick came one wolf creeping quietly and low into the clearing of his village, and another appeared beside it. They stopped and sniffed around. One looked up directly at Dylan but the rain pounded into its face and it didn’t seem to notice him. They just sniffed at the ground and crept forward. Dylan saw the underbrush shifting around more. From several places. He couldn’t guess how many there were. And then he didn’t have to. One by one they began to appear from the woods, slunk down, but fearless. He knew they couldn’t hear these animals. He counted six of them, and they were full sized; then two younger wolves came up from behind and stood at the edge of their clearing with a pup watching from their ankles.
Dylan opened his mouth to call and not a sound came from his quivering pink lips. His eyes were pried wide open and he swayed gently in the rainstorm’s winds. He almost choked on his tongue when he saw that the wolves figured out- presumably- where the heaviest stink of flesh was coming from. They didn’t hesitate and at once they were running up onto them. He thought he could hear his mother call out something and he didn’t know what it was. Four wolves had crossed fearlessly into the big hut, and the screams could be heard quite distinctly before Elvira got one round off from her gun, and the wolves were roaring, snarling, and shrieking; so much so that, by the time a second round fired, he couldn’t really hear their cries- of despair, fright, and gore- over the sound of the wolves yelping. It had taken five wolves total to silence the three wicked witches. The sixth wolf didn’t go into the hut. The sixth wolf remained in what would be their modest courtyard, looking about. He was the darkest of the pack. And that fierce wolf saw the cousins before he smelled them; but those eyes locked and it growled furiously; the girls’ shrill screams pierced through the air, afraid in a way he wouldn’t have previously imagined possible; like, electrifying his soul. Cringing, his spine contracted viciously as the wolf pounced into the hut; he heard Tabitha release a pathetic scream of agony, right as his other cousin went spinning out the doorway and into the mud: Sabrina; disregarded; wearing her bright blue sunflower patterned nightgown. The younger wolves caught sight of the teeny girl; her eyes bright through the rain- glowing with fear and tears; they yipped and barked, wouldn’t move closer, and nothing happened. Dylan held his breath, wanting desperately to save her. He couldn’t go down there. It was certain death. And that was in no uncertain terms as a single wolf came out of the big hut, yawning bloody jaws, and instantly, subsequently, as a blur, the assailant and the victim merged into a single form. And it was over without a sound. The wolf stood perched over Sabrina’s limp carcass.
Dimly, he could hear ravenous snarling through the driving downpour. The falling water instantly washed the tears from his face. The wolves had begun tearing into their kills and wharfing mouthfuls of flesh. The younger wolves, a sprite and wily set of short haired twins and the fluff-ball cub at the rear, walked away from the edge of the woods and approached Sabrina. The older wolf which had killed her nudged her corpse toward the younger three and then he walked away into the hut where the others were feeding upon Dylan’s longtime captors. A third wolf was dragging Tabitha’s remains out of her hut, out into the rain, where he laid down and began to devour her thigh. Dylan could see the whites of her eyes staring out over the muddy ground. It was shocking, and over so suddenly. He could hardly believe his eyes. If he could have helped he would have, but he didn’t even have a chance. The poor little girls deserved better. Just the night before- the night before- they’d been running and playing and enjoying their youth. Less than a day later they were dead. Not only were they dead, their flesh was being torn from their bones and devoured by wretched creatures.
The shock subsided suddenly as he realized the danger he was in. He didn’t know how to get out of the tree. If he waited until the animals were full they may not attack him. But if he waited they might sense him, trap him, and wait for him to come down. They could keep him stuck in the tree until he starved and fell out. Perhaps they would go away once they had eaten their fill, but perhaps not. They were passive possibilities he imagined. He looked down to the earth below and saw the axe lying there at the base of the tree. His blood surged faster and faster. His heart dropped into his stomach and a lump grew in his throat. It was suicide. Maybe not. He’d swung that axe precisely every day for years on end. His aim was true and his mastery of the weapon was unparalleled by any other skill he may have possessed. In his mind he saw branches snapping away from their trunks under the either edge of that two-way blade. He imagined the motions of his back and the flow of momentum moving through him.
And although he was hyperventilating- taking shallow breaths in rapid succession; and even though he was petrified with fear he watched the wolves consume their prey, without a prayer in the world; for he knew his life wasn’t worth living- he cared not for survival. No. Vindication was what he wanted. For those two little girls who deserved so much better from their lives- no matter how dreadfully malicious they’d been toward him. If killing wolves was his grand purpose then so be it. He’d been hardened by those woods the same as any animal. Though he may be outnumbered immensely, it didn’t matter. They’d be as fast as lightning and so would he. They’d have jaws and he’d have a blade. They’d have a reaching leap. He’d have a six foot swing. It wouldn’t be enough. However, he was good on his feet with dynamic pivoting and with the correct application of torque he could gain the advantage he needed. He closed his eyes for a moment and let the darkness drag on in the hopes that when he opened them maybe he’d be dead or maybe he’d be somebody else, but it was no use, it didn’t work. He opened his eyes to the midday light and he was still himself. Knowing that meant he’d have to do what he knew to be the right thing; he wrapped his limbs around the tree and slid down- so quick he may as well have dropped- dodging notches and branches- down to the ground below.
He picked up the slick wet axe in his hands and felt fear just once before surrendering to his death by making peace with it in that instant. The young ones noticed him immediately and so too did the prominent one which, no sooner than looking up, charged forward at him. Dylan lifted the axe over his head and swung, whipping his wrists to penetrate deeper, right into the wolf’s forehead. It fell still instantly and the young ones began barking and whining in high pitched yelps. He thrust the handle forward and yanked the blade out of the animal’s skull, bending back the neck of it. As another wolf charged him- and he could spot yet another directly behind that one- he swung laterally into the first creature’s eye, sending it falling into spasms and shrieks; blood spurting through the air. Simultaneously he switched the positioning of his hands so his right was at the low point and he struck down into snout as he jumped back and raised the axe. The animal attempted to correct itself and he brought the edge down into its brainstem. To his left, the first one he’d hit was spinning in circles like it were chasing its tail but it was rubbing its face into the ground and yelping desperately. That one couldn’t hurt him, but he had another two charging. If only they’d go away. He stepped back and cocked the axe, but they didn’t attack him head on like the first two. They encircled him. One even backed itself against the hut nearby. Dylan wasn’t going to wait to be attacked. He ran forward with a wild onslaught so that the wolf could not escape- for when it tried to it found itself up against a wall; the blow landing up between its front legs; he heard the ribs snap.
In that moment he was tackled into the mud and only his iron grip on his weapon kept the snapping slobbering jaws away from his throat. The blade was to the right so he jerked his arms to the left and caught the dog in the face well enough to send it rolling away. As he rolled up to his feet the one with cracked ribs came snarling at him. He thrust the heavy axe head into its face and it backed off growling; limping and stumbling to keep from falling. He readied himself because there was still one powerful wolf that wasn’t going to forfeit. There it was, ready to pounce, with chin against the ground, eyes fixated, back arched, back legs poised, tail curved to the sky. It growled a low rumble. And the other stood gasping beside it, looking demented with his gaze and posture both contorted in suffering; although it too roared quiet breaths. With the alpha dog about to pounce and the ax in an awkward position he was forced into making a less than lethal attack in the form of a wild left back handed- single handed- swing that hit the animal on its broadest flank, hurting it, but not a lot. Dylan’s body had spun around and by grace alone he was in a solid attack position as the gimping wolf rushed him and he brought it to the ground with his first swing and then began hacking into its weak spots; split flesh, pulsating blood fountains, broken bones, mangled ligaments, until finally he connected with the animal’s brainstem. Then it quit trashing and went limp. Meanwhile, turning his head, Dylan saw that the animal with the damaged eye and brain had lost much of its vigor; it remained there, off flailing pitifully. The young wolves kept flipping out and leaping about; they were crazed. In the corner of his vision was the darkest dog- in its attack position, panting, silent. That wolf leapt up into the air as Dylan twisted his torso with as much power as he could produce and with a flick of the wrist he hit his mark; directly into the animal’s ear; sending it tossing and turning through the puddles. He ran after it and viciously attacked its skull; shattering it- smashing brain and face alike while blood splashed out over him, as though it were water and he were chopping into the waterlogged earth. Then he heard the sound of eight legs rushing. They were the adolescent dogs. For the sake of love. He knew he had to, and so his ax work was methodical, and fair, as they plucked and bolted at him without understanding how to overcome him. Nor even knowing to try to do so. So- after the grizzly effort of ending their snarling, lunging, thrashing, splashing lives- he found himself administering coup de grâce to the brain damaged wolf and also to the first wolf which hadn’t completely died, but could not move either.
He’d been covered in blood head to toe since the first one ran up on him. He’d never seen so much blood. Not even in a nightmare. But it washed off him almost immediately since he hadn’t seen such heavy rain or such intense winds in years. The blood of the creatures flowed by the gallons and gathered in pools in the mud puddles. He’d done it. He’d survived. His shoulder had been torn open good, too. He hadn’t even felt it or realized until right then. There was no sound except that of driving rain. Blood drained casually from his puncture wounds. Harmless flesh wounds. There was still a cub about but that didn’t matter to him whatsoever. He suspected that it ran off into the woods. There was nothing the cub could do. However, he held the axe ready in case there were any others lurking around that he didn’t know about. His feet led him over to the corpses of Tabitha and Sabrina.
Tabitha had crumpled against the wall of the hut. She was her mother’s child. A monstrous little girl. Vindictive in a way that had- day in and out- kept Dylan on edge with bated breath. Psychological abuses tormented him. Like walking the edge of a blade he’d always been sure to never cross her carelessly and was quick to acquiesce every demand she’d make of him. He was her slave the same as he’d been a slave to the old witches. He didn’t hate her for it. That was just her way. She suffered in the same way he suffered. But she found her relief in the simple joy of not being at the very bottom of the pecking order. He was a proverbial punching bag that she could vent her frustrations on. He didn’t like it, but he understood she was just struggling with her own demons. It didn’t make sense to blame her for her shortcomings when, if he were in the same situation, he would behave in an identical manner. As luck would have it Dylan had no person to take out his frustration on except for himself. When he learned to show himself compassion he learned to show it to her, too. And even to the wicked old women who had poisoned the young child’s mind so thoroughly. So, Tabitha- the loud-mouthed, quick-witted, slave-driving child she was- retained her innocence. And in that sense perhaps even his captors retained their innocence. If evil could move through them and into an unfortunate little girl then he couldn’t imagine what that evil’s true origins actually were. It seemed unlikely that that strain of terror began with his mother. Still, Tabitha hardly mattered because Dylan never loved her nor did he ever even care for her.
If only he could say the same for Sabrina. He turned away from Tabitha’s mangled dismembered remains to find precious Sabrina with hardly a mark on her. Her body was on its side and her limbs were contorted. Her neck was spun in an unnatural way; its fragile bones had been broken.
She was such a good little girl. Remorse and sorrow seized his nerves. Damn he loved her so. When Sabrina was mean to him he never really minded. She’d just copy Tabitha. Sabrina was too young to develop maliciousness of her own. She could imitate the older women and her cousin as much as she wanted, but he knew she didn’t understand how to hate. Sabrina was needy and demanding because she was young and helpless. Unlike her cousin, Tabitha, Sabrina had redeeming qualities. She was cute and cuddly and occasionally sweet. When Dylan was alone with her he truly felt happy. He cared about her. She deserved so much better. If she could have survived she could have lived a better life. He would miss her. She was so tiny. Hardly taller than his knees. Her voice was high-pitched and squeaky; it could bring a smile to his face on even the worst days; no matter how cold the snowy wind blew, no matter how hungry- she was his joy, she was the only joy he knew, and she was gone. Everyone he knew was dead and gone. He even felt guilty about the dead animals strewn about.
Then he felt relieved when he suddenly realized he had no enemies. No captors. The world was open to him. He’d won his freedom. By the graces of luck, perhaps, but he was free nonetheless. Unless… He turned away from his cousins and headed to the hut where his mother and aunts were and he stepped in. The firelight had grown low and so he couldn’t see much except the three bodies splayed out as indistinct shadows. Except- with the rain off of him- he could hear a wheezing groan coming from one of them. He thought; oh, love, don’t let it be her. But right then he knew his prayer was wasted. His mother was the single other survivor of the attack. He knelt beside her and shifted his position to let the light pass him and fall upon her. He could see from her eyes that she was in shock. Her freckled flesh was stained with blood from her hair line down to her toes and blood had soaked through the clam colored fabric of her dress. She couldn’t move. Her eyes were fixated, like she was staring into the fire.
Her blood was running out of her face. The single thing for him to do was to pin her nose with his left hand and grab her windpipe in his right hand. She was fleshy and warmer than he’d ever known her to be. He clenched tight and felt her weak contracting objections fading through her, failing her. He saw that her arms had been stripped of their flesh and meat exposing bone through the shards that remained intact. Soon her eyes suddenly stopped staring and rolled backward somewhat. Her hideous face- she’d caused him such pain and misery- it was pitiful.
Her gun lay beside her. He picked it up. It read Czech 9x18 Makarov. That was all he needed from her. A lot of good it did with the wolves. She didn’t even hit one. If she did hit one it didn’t make a measure of difference. For all intent and purpose he would be better off with an axe. He needed a bag and found a cloth grocery sack. He had to get supplies and get away from there. The gun had to go in the bag. In his mother’s hut there was food. He had neither want nor need to examine his aunt’s bodies. He simply left them still and silent where they were.
And in his aunt’s huts, also, he found certain items remaining from ration deliveries both recent and less recent. He knew they horded while he went without. Dylan devoured insects and stayed healthier than any of them, for their excesses… He didn’t need much. His mother had a plush wool and polyester jacket that was much warmer than anything he had ever had before. Seeds. He began devouring roasted pumpkin seeds. He’d even labored over those pumpkins to make them grow, but as sure as Hades burns his mother took the fruits of his effort. His portions were dreadfully meager; it humiliated him as it tortured him. But it was over. He didn’t believe it. Freedom wasn’t imaginable. Without the witches the only life he could lead would be disastrous. He didn’t know anything except eking by in those woods and about subjection to malice. The world was a mystery. He didn’t remember civilization well.
It was clear that he had to go there, though. He intended to leave right at that moment but his emotions urged him to bury little Sabrina. His better judgment decided not to. If the townspeople wanted to collect the bodies then she would be more desecrated being dug up. He just accepted the situation and left. It didn’t take long until his new jacket was completely waterlogged and weighing heavily upon his frame. It didn’t matter. He had been soaked to the bone for hours and hours. Barefoot he sloshed through the chilly mucky forest carrying the axe and the bag containing the food and gun. He was the single remaining living person that new about the trail leading from the supply drop-zone to their camp. If he didn’t tell anybody what happened out there they wouldn’t know until someone noticed the deliveries weren’t received. Eventually the rains began to let up, but they would not stop. Night was falling by the time he got to the drop-zone. He threw down his axe by the rubber trash cans they used to receive goods. Then he shirked off the soaking jacket. He’d have been substantially better off if only he had taken his yellow raincoat. That night was going to be unpleasant. He didn’t bring anything to start a fire with. The trash can made some sort of shelter. He laid in one the long way horizontal on the wet grimy jacket with his jeans out in the muck and falling water, and the pistol firmly in his hand. He cocked the hammer and gently uncocked it a few times.
Then, exhausted, his eyelids closed and after a moment he felt the earth slipping and sliding underneath his body. The plastic of the trash can shifted underneath him and the whole thing rolled several times; tossing him around even, but since he was so tired he hardly noticed what was happening. Eventually his trash can had expanded- by some mundane miracle, surely- and he found himself looking out into the forest as torrential rains beat down and lightning flashes illuminated the night. Thunder cracked and shook him to his bones. He felt mildly perturbed. Only just because his sleep was disturbed. His eyes struggled to open and there he saw the shadows of his dead family standing before him as if nothing had happened. Lightning flashed again and he glimpsed their terrible wounds. Sabrina’s head was hanging far from her shoulders and her neck had twisted so that her upside-down eyes were staring right into him. His mother was coughing uncontrollably and he could feel her blood landing on his face. She was trying to say his name but she just kept coughing up blood. The lightning flashed again and he saw that Sabrina was crawling in next to him where she curled up; her skull resting on her own shoulder blade.
Then his aunt Matilda said, her accent heavier than ever, “Tear coming for you, bai. Why chould tey let you live? I hope tey tear your troat out, matter-of-factly.”
He didn’t understand. He went to open his mouth to protest her claims and the sky lit up again, but this time his plastic trash cave was surrounded by more wolves than he could count. Their eyes were aglow and their teeth were exposed. He could hear their raspy vocalizations under the sound of the rain slapping his shelter. Cavernous in its smooth girth. As though it were made of glass. He had a pistol in his hand. The wolves descended upon him and he fired the difficult trigger off into the ceiling overhead, whereby it rained down machine gun fire. Wolves found themselves in a hail of glassy bullets. He too took a bullet in his chest and found that death was imminent. He lay dying among the marauding wolves. The blood washed over him like it were blown by a gusty wind. The moisture was getting to him. He felt underwater. The suffering demon creatures never relented and they thrashed and snapped at him from the shadows. By some unknown angelica he remembered that there was a way to survive. He could wake up. There was another fold he could go to where he might be better off.
Waking up. He knew he was wet right away. He didn’t, however, understand what was with the weight against his legs. Dylan wasn’t alone in his trash can. His left hand was at a wolf’s throat and his right hand had his gun to its head. By good love Dylan realized he had the cub and it wasn’t fighting back at all. He was quick to crawl out into the rain. He was shirtless. The sky was completely black. The cub ran about his ankles; horrified, presumably.