Blood splatters over the walls, blood-curdling screams fill my ears. The blade in my hand is long and heavy, making each slash hurt my wrist ever so slightly. Though definitely not nearly as much as it hurts the woman in front of me. But her pain will be far more temporary than mine. Unless of course you’re forced to eternally suffer through the last thing you felt for the rest of your afterlife, then I certainly feel bad for her. But hey, business is business, and I can’t risk getting my first ever bad grade.
Stepping towards her, I manage a serious expression and hold the blade intimidatingly in my hand. Her golden eyes show only fear, and her entire body is covered in tears, snot, and blood. Some of the blood is my own, but not like it matters, they’ll never find the body.
“No please, no!” The woman cries out, her voice high-pitched and almost motherly. Though I know she doesn’t have any kids, I would’ve refused to do this job if she did.
As I raise the long blade up into the sky for a final swipe, a loud, headache inducing banging erupts from outside of the door. The voices outside are frantic and rushed, like they’re going to be late for something.
“Timber!” An old, masculine voice shouts. “Wake up, we need to get going!”
“Oh,” I pout, dropping the blade to the ground and glaring at the woman in front of me. Her expression of terror is unrelenting. “I’m asleep.” Slowly, I raise my left arm up in front of me, time starts moving sluggishly as I reach with my other arm. My fingers plant into my skin like a venomous snake going in for the kill, the pinch into my meat is all but enjoyable.
I jolt awake in my bed, the old, rotted, and stained leather surrounding me raises a vomit-inducing stench into my nostrils. I would have them cleaned, but it’d take far too much work, and getting some new leather would cost way too much money. The banging on my door continues and I rush with putting my gear on. My head already hurts as I put my long, dark brown hair into a high ponytail.
“Timber!” The old voice continues to yell and I reach for my brown headband, tightening it around my forehead.
“Just a second!” I finally respond, reaching for my baggy, tactical jacket, and bullet-proof vest. They’re both brown, just like probably all of the clothes I have. Glancing frantically around my room, I catch sight of my baggy tactical pants, most of the pockets already filled with supplies.
The banging finally stops for a bit as I pull on my pants and grab my skull gas mask and combat gloves. Throwing them in my backpack and tossing it over my shoulder as I head out of the door. Though it’s barely much of a door, it’s only connected to one out of three of its hinges. It’s honestly amazing that no one saw me getting dressed through all of the cracks in this old, torn shack. The looks on everyone’s faces don’t look pleased with me at all, but more of ‘What took you so long?’ and ‘Hurry the fuck up.’
The old man is already in an old, brown carriage with the old nag that I know all too well already looking exhausted at the front of it. Running forward, I jump up and take a seat next to the old man. Two younger men taking seats in the back, both looking at me with a hint of fear, one being slightly flustered.
I guess they did see me getting dressed. Whatever, wouldn’t be the first time.
“Why did it take you so long to wake up?” The old man asks me, his voice raspy and tired.
“I was up late last night helping Mrs. Runsin with her children and helping around the house,” I respond, knowing that mentioning her will definitely make him calm down a bit.
He takes a breath, focusing on the old dirt road as the poor nag slowly pulls us, “Alright then, just try to be more responsible with your own schedule too, alright?”
“Got it,” I smile joyfully and glance back at the two men behind me, they both jump at my sudden movement, but relax upon seeing my grin. “How much do we have today?”
“Um,” The flustered man scratches the back of his head, keeping his eyes on the sky. “Six bags of wheat, two of carrots, one of potatoes, and one of beetroots.”
“Oh,” I frown, turning back to the front. “We’re not going to get much today, huh?”
“Don’t be so negative,” Snaps the old man. “And you two back there!” He shouts, still focusing on the road. “She’s seventeen! Keep your eyes to yourselves!”
“Huh?” Both of them shout and I giggle quietly. The old man glares at me slightly, only half looking my way.
The homes on the outer lands pass by us, each shack looking more intact the closer we get into town. My home is the worst out of every shack in this land due to me living on the edge of the country. It’s covered in holes, all of the windows I have are either cracked or stained with the blood of an animal whenever they try to break in, and everything inside of my home is either broken or moldy. My toilet is just a hole in my backyard, the only privacy being a large, thin blanket of leather being held up by hollow sticks. Unlike the homes inside of the towns, my place doesn’t have its own little farm or even a shed. Let alone a stable.
The familiar scent of manure makes my eyes water and my nose burn. Children’s laughter and parental chatter fills our ears as we roll into the capital of Sareanin, Brokeland. Which is often thought as the poorest town in Sareanin, which it is, but it is also the capital because it has the greatest number of citizens living here. An old lady, Mrs. Runsin’s older sister, hands a few bowls of food to some children and they take a seat on the soft dirt, some sitting on stumps and logs, as they down their stew.
She notices me and waves happily, walking over to us. “Good morning, Timber,” I hop off the carriage as it slows to a stop.
“Good morning, Ms. Guin, how are you doing this lovely morning?” I grin happily, kind of proud of myself for being so good at the old-fashioned old lady voice. I have been taught well.
“Oh I am quite well,” She smiles, catching sight of the young, muscular men climbing down out of the carriage. “Who are those men with you?”
“Those are today’s volunteers,” The old man answers, handing the nag a small, nearly rotten carrot. It’s the best he can do. He still hasn’t recovered from The Great Fall and Rise of Seeds and Crops; when the prices of seeds were more expensive than crops. It ended last year but lasted for a good five years. It’s sad, really, he used to be the wealthiest farmer in all of Sareanin, but now he can barely afford to feed his horse. His own family won’t visit him anymore due to how far he’s fallen.
“Oh what handsome young men they are!” Her voice rises as she watches them unload the crops and lay the bags next to the carriage. The flustered one is already dripping in sweat, he wipes his forehead as the other one, somehow taller than even myself, is completely dry. “What are their names?”
“I’m Jackson,” The flustered, sweaty one answers, reaching out a hand for the old lady to shake, which she does hesitantly.
“Daniel,” The tall one nods, not going in for a handshake.
“Oh well you two should definitely come over for dinner sometime!” She smiles, turning back to the old man and speaking in an even louder voice, “Jeffrey, why didn’t you tell me you had two absolute hunks as volunteers?”
He shrugs, heading over to pick up the bag of beetroots, “I didn’t see it as that big of a deal, besides-” He stops himself, glances at the men and then to the woman, “I don’t see it.”
Ms. Guin laughs loudly, waving her hand in front of her, “Oh, Jeffrey, always so hilarious.”
The volunteers and I glance at each other with odd expressions, then we rush straight to work. Not bothering to say another thing as Jeffrey and Ms. Guin continue to talk in the background. Jeffrey showing no interest and Ms. Guin showing far too much interest. I toss a bag of carrots and a bag of potatoes over my shoulders and follow the men towards the stores. Children and adults stare at us as we deliver the goods. Though we’re not going to be getting that much out of today’s delivery. After all, everyone in town has their own farm, so delivering crops isn’t that much of a high-yielding job around here, and there aren’t very many orders from other nations asking for crops. Not like they’d ask for crops from us anyway.
“So,” Jackson starts talking awkwardly as we place the crops onto the counter and wait for the shopkeeper to arrive. “How long have you been seventeen?”
Both Daniel and I stare blankly at him and I spin on my heels, heading back out of the door, “I’ll go get some more sacks.” There’s an extremely noticeable whimper as I step out of the shop, definitely coming from Jackson. Daniel probably smacked him.
The town of Brokeland is a happy town, though it doesn’t have that much money compared to towns such as Singing Pig or Punam, it still has a strong community due to its population. Though I liked Ruspic the most, it has a decent amount of money, all of the homes are intact, and there aren’t too many people but just enough to not feel isolated. Wontin is the worst though, there’s barely anyone there and the people who are there are pretty much as broke as dirt. Not good dirt either, like dirt filled with nutrients for crops. It’s more like dirt that’s been overwhelmed by crops and been improperly rotated and cared for due to ignorant farmers. Nothing grows there, and I’ve even heard rumours that any living things such as crops or livestock that go there instantly die.
Some girls and boys chase each other around the houses and stands, playing a game of tag and enjoying their summers. If I remember right, their school year ended last week. I wish I had friends like that growing up, sadly I wasn’t allowed due to the rules of my night school.
There’s a tug on my undershirt as I finish tossing two bags of wheat over my shoulders, and a small boy comes into view, “Excuse me?”
“What’s up?” I ask, managing to maintain the balance of the sacks on my shoulders.
“Are you Timber?” He asks, his tone timid and body language shy.
Setting down the bags onto the carriage, I kneel down in front of him, smiling unbeatably, “Yes I am, what’s up?”
“It’s my mom,” He mentions, picking at his fingernails. His brown clothes remind me of myself, torn and raggedy. Brown is the colour of Sareanin, everything we own and wear is brown, it helps to know where everyone is from and show support of our nation.
“Is she okay?” I ask, maintaining a soft expression and kind tone.
“She’s really sick and well-” He gazes up at me and his body relaxes. “I heard that you know some things about medicine. We can’t afford to go to Saleansian or ask for help from them, and well-” He cuts himself off again, grabbing hold of my tactical jacket with both hands. “Can you please help her? We don’t have much, but I promise we can find a way to pay you back.”
My eyes start to burn and I force my tears to stay hidden as I rise back up to my feet, “How bad is it?”
“I- I don’t know, she can barely breathe a majority of the time,” He responds and my heart starts to race. I bolt over to the front of the carriage and grab my backpack. “I heard that you were in town and came running.”
“Lead the way,” I order with a tone so serious that I’m amazed he didn’t break into tears or even scream from fear.
The child leads me past farms and through crowds, people clear the way upon seeing me. From overhearing the chatter as we pass by, I promptly find out that it’s because everyone is aware of his mother’s state and knows of my medical skills. It was a requirement at my night school, though the purpose of learning medicine is not to help others, but I can’t bear to see such a young boy continue to watch his mother suffer and eventually die. He’s like seven, he should be out with his friends and enjoying his life, not staying inside all day looking after his mother, trying, and hoping to find a way to heal her. I don’t even want to think about some of the things he probably went through in search of medicine.
We reach the outer area of Brokeland, his land still has a house, farm, stable, and shed, but they’re all terribly maintained, and all of the crops are dead. He leads me into his home, one of the hinges missing on the door. It’s dark inside, one of the lanterns have run out of fuel and it seems that all of their torches are either soaked or burned to mere wood scraps. There are clothes, dishes, and dirt everywhere. A little girl with a tear-stained face is sitting on a bed next to a woman with a cloth on her head.
I rush over to the other side of the woman and take in the sight of it all. She’s covered in sweat, and something tells me that the cloth isn’t wet due to water. Her entire body is red, a huge blue bulge in the middle of her throat, and her fingernails are completely black.
“Get back!” I shout at the girl and the boy pulls her away and towards a corner of the small house. “This illness is contagious to anyone related to the sick.”
“Can you help her?” The boy asks with a terrified tone as I take my bag off and start going through all of the pockets on my clothes.
Taking out a needle and a small tin with a barely noticeable label, I breathe, “I got this.”