Our world has changed; and not for the better as they would have us believe.
In the beginning we were all weary wanderers lost in a downward spiral. The sun reigned supreme all day and all night. There was no rest in a world full of light. As children we used to run to our parents’ room terrified of what lie beneath our beds or in our closets, afraid of the unknown in the darkness. Shadows were our darkest fears. Those were the simple days. What I would give to have the fear of darkness back. To feel it’s cold hands around my neck as I slept at night, shaking and rattling me within a dream until I woke up panting and sweating. Yes, those were the good days of old——a time when criminals lurked in the shadows. When people locked their doors and lawyers were a surplus commodity because of the corruption and the evil in each of our hearts. No more. There was no crime anymore. No more villains. No more detectives unraveling clues and DNA strands left on the lid of a rusted can in the alley trash dumpster, or the coffee shop with the coffee that tasted like chimney ash but was always hot. The world was a darker, more dangerous place these days. And we were only the beginning.
The Enoch returned in three days just as he had promised, except this time it just one Humvee. I was sitting on the porch of Roxx’s shop when his Humvee pulled up. I fully expected to see a wave of dust follow as the other Humvees and trucks rolled in, but they never came. Our Enoch jumped out and peered up at the sun. For the moment it was shielded behind a massive storm cloud. I found myself hoping it would rain.
He surveyed the Market and all the people congregating around waiting for the first solar flare peak to come our way. The other Pavers jumped out and made a tight perimeter around the Humvee. The Enoch motioned for them to stay put. It was another hot day despite the sun being dwarfed in cloud, but some of the well diggers thought they found a new water source and so the Market was full of excitement and chatter. Just a few more days they claimed and they’d hit it. We were all silently praying they were right.
The Enoch looked my way and our eyes met. I instantly dropped my gaze and pretended I was fiddling with something in my lap. Truth is, I was fiddling with my thumbs thinking how dumb I must look strapped to a metal rod along my ankle to keep me from twisting it any more in the sand. I could feel the Enoch only feet away from me. His shadow stretched out before him as he walked. It rested on my exposed shin moments later. I felt my skin tighten and goose bubbles peak their heads along the ridge of my neck.
“Miss,” I heard him speak.
I slowly raised my eyes. I could feel my heart beating quickly. I knew he wouldn’t find anything in the precinct. We had seen to that the other night.So what was it?Why talk to me? Out of the hundreds of people surrounding the Market, sitting or standing by the fountain, or strolling the streets, why approach a young woman sitting on a rocking chair with one leg propped up in a horrendous looking makeshift cast, and her left wrist bandaged up? I knew I had to look rough.But he looked even more handsome up close.Definitely dangerous. I squeezed my fingers tight to stop the shaking.Why was I so nervous?
“How can I help you?” I asked.
I tried to be as polite as I could without coming off too fake. After all, we are living in a world of hard people. That’s what we should call ourselves. Theclaypeople.From dirt we rose, in dirt we live, and in dirt we die. So poetic, Willow. Maybe you should take up writing one day. Oh, wait! That’s right, books are banned. Ah, shucks. You really could have had a good career going there for you.
By cause of logic, one could deduce that writing would then be illegal and considered a deliberate act to incite civil unrest and create blasphemous contraband.On that note, maybe I would write something.It’d have to be something good though. Poetic for sure. Like a grand speech before an army going into war. Or, a simple yet profound three words.I was here.
Whatever I chose, they’d have to mean something.You know, with them being my last words and all.
“Miss, you alright?”
“Yes, I heard you,” I lied. “Just thinking.” I was stalling.
Who thinks of breaking the law with the person who can lock you up standing right in front of you?This girl right here.Extra points for style.
“Anything interesting?” he asked. He leaned his boot onto the porch ledge, his arms folded onto his raised thigh. I found myself staring again. I just shook my head unable to speak.
“Too bad,” he said. “I was hoping you’d have a good story to share.”
“What happened here?” he asked.
My giddy man-crush syndrome vanished. I could feel my eyes narrow and my brow furrow when I looked at him next.Had he been listening to my thoughts? Could they do that? I knew people over the years claimed they had telepathy, but they were all phonies taking advantage of the hopeful and ignorant. I just stared at him. He didn’t seem to take notice and shifted his attention to the swinging door leading into the lounge. Two Sifters exited and stopped in their tracks the moment they saw the Paver at their doorstep.
He retrieved his leg and made to walk towards the two. He turned to me one last time before he went.
“I’ll leave you to your thoughts then,” he said. “Make sure you keep that foot elevated. We wouldn’t want to cause that pretty face of yours any more grief.”
Thankfully it was extra hot today. It hid the redness my face was sure to be displaying at that moment. I think my heart actually stopped beating for a second or two. He smiled, and left, heading for the two gentlemen who had just come out of Roxx’s shop. I heard him asking them if they had seen anything suspicious the last week or so. They both shook their heads.
“If you see or hear anything, you’ll be sure to let me know?” he asked.
They both nodded like bobble heads.
They both shuffled off quickly and merged with the crowd. He stood there examining the porch, then raised his head, turned and smiled at me once more, and headed towards the mass of people by the fountain.
My heart immediately felt elated.
“What did he want?”
I jumped in the chair jerking my ankle in the process inciting a whole new wave of feelings.Not good ones. I clenched my teeth.
“Don’t do that!” I yelled. “You’re going to give me a heart attack if you keep sneaking up on me like that.”
Roxx walked around and stood in front of me looking at the fun unraveling before us.
“Looks like your heart’s already fluttering.” He didn’t need to turn his face for me to see the huge grin spread from cheek to cheek. I felt my face blush again.
“Shut up!” I teased. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,old man.”
“Old man?” He cocked his head and scrunched his chin in contemplation. “I’ve been called many things over the years, never been called that before. Not sure how I feel about it.”
“I’ll have you know, I have my heart under complete control.” I crossed my arms.
He turned to me; that grin still etched on his face. Had I been able to, I would have gotten up right then and there and swiped it right off his face.
“If you say solove bird.”
I ignored him and we both turned our attention to the Enoch as he raised his voice over the commotion.
“I’m sure all of you know why I am here,” he began. “Someone was seen coming this way with illegal contraband. SIND has sent me here to collect.”
He stood like a grey tower of authority in the midst of turmoil. No one spoke.
“Looks like your boyfriend isn’t really a people person.”
“He reminds me a little of you,” I retaliated.
“Hmmph,” Roxx grunted. “I’m nothing like him.”
I could feel the tension in the air rising. The Enoch was telling the culprit to come forward or be given up. We had three minutes to comply.
“What happens after three minutes and no one’s come forward?” I asked.
“I imagine nothing good,” Roxx said.
And as if to confirm both our fears, the Enoch voiced, “After three minutes, if no one has come forward or the stolen items not returned, you will leave SIND no choice but to assume you are unwilling to cooperate and harboring terrorists.”
“He can’t be serious,” I said. “They think we’re terrorists?”
“Looks that way.”
My mouth hung open and I was shaking my head in disbelief.
“But, it’s just food,” I said. “It’s not like someone stole equipment or ammunition.”
“It’s hot out here,” the Enoch was saying, “and I know the living is tough. But the people of Precinct 11 have proven to be a resilient group, willing and able to do whatever it takes to survive.” He was holding up his hands in mock surrender.
“Trust me, I know how you must feel.”
“How could he possibly know how we feel,” I heard Roxx grumble under his breath.
“I do not want to cause you any more discomfort or distress. But if you do not comply within the next three minutes, you leave me with no choice.”
The Enoch pointed to the West.
“The next shipment of food, water, medicine, and HydroBeta tablets are en route as we speak. The trucks are sitting idle three kilometers away, awaiting my instruction.”
His permeated every standing eye as he allowed the weight of his statement to settle. He walked towards the humvee, tapped his suit on the wrist, and said, “You have two more minutes to comply and then I’m calling off the shipment.”
I was standing next to Roxx wondering what was going to happen next. Even if someone did come forward, there was no contraband to return. We had disposed of it all two nights ago.
“What do you think’s going to happen?” I asked. “There’s nothing to give back. Even if we were to turn someone in.”
“They’d never be satisfied,” he said. “There’s something more amiss.” He turned to me, a sternness I have never seen engraved in his eyes.
“A plan is already in motion,” he said.
“What plan?” I asked.
I didn’t have to wait long before an explosion rocked the whole precinct. I nearly toppled off the porch from the shock wave. The Pavers immediately were on their coms confirming where the explosion came from. Their weapons were drawn and raised to the crowd.
The Enoch yelled over the commotion.
“We take that as a no.” He grabbed ahold of the handle, jumped into the humvee and they sped off in the direction of the small mushroom cloud to the north.
“What did you do?” I asked, “You might have just doomed us all.”
“We were already doomed,” Roxx said and turned and entered into the shop.
I stood there watching the panicked faces of the people. Everyone was running around in a frantic manner, or standing around gawking at the orange fire ball floating in the sky about twenty kilometers away from us. The only thing I knew that was in that area besides old farmlands and a dried up lake was an abandoned shipyard.Why would someone blow that up? The place was a skeleton of old boats. There was nothing out there.
I grabbed my wobbling stick and wobbled my way in after Roxx. Something was going on and I knew he was the cause of it.