The wooden door slammed shut, the planks creaking as Elliot sealed the entrance to his house. As if closing the lips of a ancient chest about to unveil its secrets.
His breath came quietly, but each well thought and drawn carefully. He clasped a hand over his chest, feeling the rapid pattering of his heart. The sensation was far from new, but it always got him. The fear, the anxiety. He could still hear it, see it. Feel the tension and terror that swallowed his cries and screams. The soulless dark eyes of the guards as they pulled a bullet through his father’s head without hesitation.
What had he done wrong? A poor carpenter, who simply knew his way around wood, able to create and birth masterpieces from the pieces of trees. His tools like a doctor’s scapel, carefully carving out the beautiful child inside, welcoming it into the world of existence.
What had he done to deserve those cruel men to storm into his home? Accuse him blindly and sadistically take his life?
Elliot stood there a few moments, trying to remind his mind the blood at his feet was of the past, that years had passed since a single guard had intruded into this house. They were safe.
No one else was being taken away.
Settling his heart a fraction slower, he managed to stride into the main room with his breathing under greater control.
“Eliot!” The tuneless song of an angel drifted to his ears.
A smile cracked across his lips as he bent down, arms spread out at his side as the expected weight of a 10-year-old embraced him.
“Heyo Leina gal.” All signs of fear perished under his immediate mask of practise. “How’s my little angel doing?”
“How was Skill School?” Her voice flooded his ears like the sweetest gold honey. “Did Teacher Lenard like it?”
“No,” Eliot spoke with his smile retained. How could he not with such a beautiful sister before him, alive and well? Not even his father’s work could match to her pureness. “But alas, he doth misread my talents of word!”
As he swung an arm to perform the dramatic pose, he bounced Leina into the other. Her giggles rose like a string of bubbles, something beautiful, fragile, and precious.
“Oh! Eliot!” Leina gasped, suddenly reminded of what ray of hope he offered in such a world. “Do you know how to tie a bow?”
“Well, I know a few knot ties.” Eliot replied. “Where is this bow to be tied?”
She leapt out of his arms with the grace of a bird taking flight. A silent little sparrow.
She ran to the corner from which she scooped it up from the floor. A smooth flesh of wood, carved into the image of a precious child. One of their father’s creations.
She cradled it a moment, smiling as if the wooden eyes of the doll would be able to see its supposed mother smile and try to copy.
She ran back to her brother, somehow already obtaining a small pink ribbon in her hands.
“Can you help me tie a ribbon at the end of her hair?” She asked, holding onto the two pieces as if they were an offering to the gods.
“Anything for M’lady.” He replied with a bow before joining her cross legged on the floor, handling this careful artefact with gentle hands.
As he flipped the doll around to weave the pink ribbon through its string hair, he couldn’t help but marvel again at his father’s craftsmanship. How he could ever sandpaper a rough piece of wood so smooth was a mystery. One he would never hear from the man himself.
He laced it like a spider’s webbing through the black string, twirling it down the length of hair as he tied the ending bow.
“Voila!” He kissed his fingers and threw them out, a chef done with his meal. “Done o!”
“Thanks Eliot!” To hear such joy play from her lips like a violin only summoned his own.
He left her to tend to her doll’s sleeping cycle as he made his way into the kitchen.
“Ma, I’m back.” He announced as he joined her at the sink, swiftly picking up a plate and helped her rinse it off.
“Eliot! How was school?” She smiled, though a weary darkness held behind her aging eyes.
“Great, Ma. You doing alright?”
He noticed the tense movement of her arm and immediately turned to her, a serious look replacing his lopsided grin.
“Ma,” He spoke softly, as to not allow his words to float to Leina’s ears. “Where did they hit you?”
He noted her hesitation and the small spark of fear that spoke in her fingers clenching the sink.
“Eliot,” She began.
“Show me, Ma.” He demanded.
“It’s fine, sweetie.” She waved him off. “There’s nothing wrong.”
His throat tightened as she relented. He watched her pull out her tunic from the waistband of her long ever flowing skirt that swayed like ripples in the ocean.
She tugged ever so slightly to only allow him a glimpse of the angry purple bruise that glared back at him like some monster.
“Tell me what happened, Ma.”
Sensing her son’s straining demand, she sighed.
“They still recognise me for being a criminal’s mate.” She murmured softly, as if the very confession of what she was to them burned worse than the physical wound in her side.
Eliot opened his mouth to speak. Boiled words by rage and fire burned his throat to be spoken. But he clamped it shut, perishing them, only knowing it would hurt his mother far more than good.
He reached over the cupboard to the kit, where he fished the ointment from its ever to be replenished stocks.
He hid his anger with a stone face as he treated her wounds. He worked in silence his mother was grateful for.
Worse enough they had slain an innocent man before his offspring, now they continue to torment his family!
His hatred towards the Council was only fueled and ate away at him inside.
But he had slipped his mask on. As he did almost every moment of his life. An actor pretending to be someone he had to be, refusing to show who might perhaps really be hiding beneath this skin he wore like a costume.
The door rattled as a fist pounded against the door in three quick knocks.
The house fell silent, not at all expecting visitors at this time of night, or even at all.
“Stay here.” He whispered as he left the kitchen.
He threw a gesture at his sister ordering her to stay put as he cautiously approached the door.
Guards pouring in, guns pointed at anything that moved. His father frozen, horrified as they threw him down.
He tentatively reached for the knob.
His sister crying, a terrified 5-year-old, quietened by his mother at gun point.
His fingers slipped around the neck of the round structure.
His father objecting, pleading innocent before locking eyes with Eliot.
He could feel each individual lock within the mechanisms.
Silent words mouthed with tears streaming down his father’s face. “Protect them.”
He shakily twisted the knob, the door pulling open.
Moonlight shot in like an eager cat pouncing into a swarm of mice.
Before him stood the silhouetted shapes of the blasted guards. They looked shorter though, possible student guards on their third patrol.
Before he could speak a single word they seized him. Shadowy arms grasping his and tugging him outside.
The door slammed behind him as they shoved him at the center of the group.
He counted four in total before their fists struck at him.
He could hardly fight back as blow after blow fell upon him at all sides.
In no time at all, he was on the floor, feeling the metal banded boots drive into his abdomen.
They gave no explanation, no reason for this treatment.
Just like monsters, simply breaking their victim to mush, with no intention other than to hurt.
They fell back into the night before he even registered a single face.
He gasped as the chilly air cut at his lungs, scraping his bruised sides.
His face a stone in uneven bends and crevasses. Purple and blue singing across it like a star pattern.
He shakily rose to his feet with a grunt, wiping the blood from his mouth as he glared against the darkness.
Red were the floorboards beneath his father’s head. Red were the guards eyes, or at least they seemed, glistening with malicious cruelty.
Red was his shirt, his face, in his father’s blood. Red was his vision as fear gripped him like a vice.
Red was the strip of truth revealed.
Red was his sparked hatred and thirst for revenge.
“Leto! Here girl..”
The milky labrador padded over, pressing its furry face into Meina’s hands, earning a smile in response.
She lay the scraps of meat she stole from her own plate before the hungry dog, watching her lap it up in wolfish bites.
Meina rubbed its ears as it ate.
“Good girl.” She murmured.
Leto finished her meat, stepping back to wipe a long pink tongue over her snout before letting it loll.
Meina picked up the plate, rushing into the house from the back door to quickly clean it before her parents noticed.
After scrubbing the dog slobber and meat bits from the plate, she snuck Leto in, skipping up the stairs like a shadow.
She managed them both into her room where she fell against her bed, a drop from the adrenaline that had seized her in her efforts to steer clear of her parents judgemental eyes.
And like a switch being thrown, the feeling fell over her like a shroud, slipping through her defenses and slowly choking her.
She hated it.
She had felt so wonderful a few moments earlier. Fantasies spinning illegally in her head, the warmth and pure joy of cuddling Leto.
And now she had suddenly sunken, as if the ground beneath her perfect sunny world had broken on a simple mis step.
Leto’s ears leapt up like wind sails, sensing the dark void digging into Meina’s mind and soul.
Whining softly, she thrust her face into her hands. Leto’s wet nose pressing into her palms like a cold rough stone.
“Thanks, Leto.” A smile tugged at Meina’s lips. But the darkness remained.
Words, endless, seamless words poured, tumbling within her mouth and mind. Every description taunted her, knowing she could never speak them outlaid, lest they claim her a criminal.
But it ate away at her, growing like a monster in her. Demanding to let these overflowing words spill before they exploded within.
The dullness now dropped into panic. Energy pulsated through her as the endless words screamed out to be released.
For all her life had Meina struggled with this curse. This blasted curse that spilled words and ideas endlessly within her, driving her near to insanity, not being able to let them free.
She knew first hand if the wrong words were spoken, if most her words were spoken, she’d have to die. But yet canning it all inside her sent her to the edge. Made her jump about, foot to foot as if the floor were hot coals.
Even if she kept the illegal words inside her, the actions her body yearned to vent through would have her instantly taken away.
But how long? How long could she restrain herself?
Before she even realised it, the pen had bled over her palm, the evidence as guilty as fresh blood in form of those cursed words on paper.
She gasped, stifling it with her inky hands, seeing the smeared piece of paper she had just commit sin upon.
Despair wailed in her chest, alongside the remaining low tide of words, probing at her to carry on.
“I can’t do this..” Meina whispered to no one in particular, though Leto sensed her horror and started to bump at her, in effort to comfort her.
Meina was too terrified, but yet she leaned over the page, trying to pick out the angry scrawl of words that had spewed from her fingers to the pen.
Most of it smeared too much to be salvaged from the blast, but picking out what survived the beast inside, she realised it was a letter to Eliot.
Woven in were..
Her face burned as she faced the tracks of this.. thing. The intents of the creature that loomed over her like her personal tormentor.
Everything frowned upon in Liberdeiuris, everything that you could be erased for, was in that paper.
Fear coursed through Meina’s veins as the weight of her action crushed down upon her.
What could she do? How could she..
Leto, sensing her panic started to bark, desperately licking at her to calm her racing heartbeat. But the canine did little to calm her as her very death sentence lay innocently on her desk.
Without a clear idea or plan, Meina hastily started to fold, reducing the sizes by half in her small fingers.
Fold after fold, crushing every word from vision, as if hiding it from sight would remove this violation from ever existing.
She pressed it down until it fit in her clenched fist, she could feel the worn corners against her sweaty palms. Every word inside it a bee of the angry hive she was attempting to contain.
What could she do with this? She couldn’t just toss it. Someone could find it.. read it...
Leto tugged at her shirt, whining as her anxiety levels skyrocketed. But Meina couldn’t help it. This was literally life and death screaming at her to make a choice.
The whole world suddenly felt like a time bomb, ticking, mocking her, trying to squeeze a choice of action out of her.
Leto’s whining, the creaking of floor boards, the rumouring whispers of the wind, perhaps already on their way to spread the disastrous news.
“Make a choice!” The walls seemed to shake, as if heavy fists pounded on them, trying to beat a confession from her.
Meina found her cheeks already streaked with tears that burned like acid against her quavering skin.
Every silence and sound rose in an orchestra of accusations, the tide moving in to swallow her whole.
Faced with no other option, Meina’s fingers move on their own. She felt the rough texture of paper on her tongue, beginning to disintegrate upon coming in contact with her saliva.
She wetted it with her drool, using her tongue to press it as small as she could before swallowing.
Her head spun as the voices slowly deserted her, leaving her to collapse to her bed, her heart still barely starting to descend from such extreme peaks of terror.
At last, all panic melted, draining out of her as with all her energy.
She could feel Leto’s paws kneading against her back, her soft wet tongue offering a few licks of encouragement.
Meina rolled over, hugging the Labrador’s neck. The two settled into the bed that seemed to mould itself around them.
Leto nuzzled against her, whining softly as if singing her own little lullaby.
Meina gratefully clung on, embracing her loyal loving friend.
“Thank you,” She murmured, leaving her words as that. Unable to express how much she was in debt to the dog for everything.
And for being able, for another night, to escape into that cloudy soft fur, that last speck of hope and love that survived in this cruel reality.
Karen tasted the earth as she was thrown into the street. Her sides ached with a broken ribcage. Her face swollen and bloody. Marks of their beating scarred her back, arms and legs. And apart from breaking her body, they had broken her soul.
They had broken into her sculpting passion, to the point where she had willingly denounced her interest of pursuing the art form.
“Cleaner,” She had said, eyed by the guards and the Council officer. “Cleaner is much better.”
Satisfied by her answer, they had thrown her out of the Library, already making preparations to abolish her permit to learn the art she had oh so loved from day one.
Now utterly shattered inside out, Karen pulled herself to her feet, beginning to drag herself down the dark street.
She clutched her right arm, where the words ‘PUNISH’ had been cut, the message hi lighted by the bright blood bleeding through.
But even so, she failed to ease the pain or even cover the words that gleamed bright against the dark night in the glow of the moon.
She shuffled home in slow painful steps, trying to fade into the darkness from the eyes of this society. A society she had only a few moments ago seen its true nature.
Her breathing hurt her body as its battered pieces shifted to draw oxygen from the cruel ice cold night air.
Her eyes were blearily fixated on the endless stretch of land in the distance, hoping every moment her vision re focused that her house would be there.
She finally stumbled into her street before a patrol noticed her. More importantly, they noticed the red words written in blood.
That one word cut by blade into her skin like a mark was all the excuse they needed.
They struck out at her, breaking what little left that was simply bruised. Created a whole second level of pain as they continued their superiors’ work hours ago.
But Karen could hardly feel a thing after the 6th boot to her ribs. She could scarcely feel a thing.
How could she? After dragging herself through the empty deserted dark paved street? Watching the bright happy society she thought she grew up in, now seemed to grow angry orange eyes Furious golden eagle eyes that bore down at her, reminding her harshly, who was prey.
She finally saw the colours drain from this mini city she viewed it as since young. For once in her life, seeing the grey metal bars and locks that built the very foundation of her world.
As the guards left her at the block to bleed, she noticed a familiar structure silhouetted against the moon lit sky, only a few blocks further.
But all strength had drained out of her like the blood running scarlet from under her.
She was so close to home... But here, driven into the dirt, her life sapping into the ground, could she finally see it for what it truly was.
A desolate prison, standing firm amongst the others like it, children trapped, brain washed from the beginning to love their wardens, to trust the ones who locked them there in the first place.
Karen felt heaviness crush down upon her eyelids. Mentally exhausted, this darkness she never knew hid in her thoughts.. This, was what the society of Liberdeiuris wanted under lock and key. This monster that slipped past all defences, ready to feast upon everyone here.
But at what cost? If perishing the very beast is to become it?
Her eyes finally fell shut. She did not wish to think of it. Of any of this.
She did not have the capacity to imagine what could or would happen next.
She wanted to sleep, to let the earth swallow her up, make her disappear.
And at last, merciful slumber washed over her, the only trace of kindness left.
Toby stepped from the corners of his house, having watched the guards beat down that poor girl. The 12-year-old had seen such things before, though mostly hidden by the teachers of the Skill Search School. Soon he’d be in Skill School, in access to see such scenes not too often in perfect clarity.
But even so, he approached the fallen girl, curious, sort of concerned despite the Council’s constant reminders to leave such people alone.
But his lingering child innocence probed him to see if she was alright.
He spoke no words but bent over, gently shaking her in effort to awaken her.
She looked so peaceful, like she were simply asleep. Though Toby couldn’t help but wonder of the cold floor was a good place to sleep.
Her skin was growing cold, the last tinges of warmth fading, replaced by the faintest scent of death.
Toby frowned. Why had the guards left her here to freeze? It was a cold night. Even if she was a monster, the enemy, as the Council taught them through the teachers at school, why should they do something as cruel as that?
Toby decided they must have had their reasons.
Stepping away, he gazed at this empty husk of a girl, watching her potential, hopes and dreams, fade away like her life.
Just another corpse in the streets.