He wasn’t sure how long he’d been on foot, but he knew it wasn’t long enough to be safe. Each day and night, he moved and hid like the roaches he was terrified of. Who knew what was safe anymore? What seemed like months was only days. In the span of a week, his life had become more of a priority than it ever was.
Day one was surreal. Six of the world’s biggest leaders were assassinated. Their lives taken execution style on live feed. A group called “Romyn Reich” began a seize on the free world and they were large. Within hours, their manifesto had been given and the seize continued. World banks were taken over, people were tagged with barcode identifiers linking their race, sexuality and whole life to a database.
Day five made day three look like child’s play. Those who had specific groupings were terminated. If previous hospital records had indication of specific ailments like cancer, diabetes, chronic pain. Anything they thought was a smear on the Grand Manifest, had to be terminated.
Day seven was the introduction of the herders. The Reich had individuals that were released from maximum security prisons around the globe. These decorated, proper thugs were to find members of the lost flock. You were returned to the commune for judgement. As for choices, repent and serve them or become an experiment in death. If you were lucky, you could get away, but for how long and at what consequence were they underlying concerns. As he was trying to hide, he saw something that would be burned forever in his retina.
Soren was hiding in a crawlspace behind a bookshelf. The books and documents on the lower shelves were stacked strategically. It allowed for sight in the room from the hideaway, but the angle caused it to be obscured. The only way others knew it was there was by word of mouth and sheer, dumb luck. That was Soren. After running and traveling tirelessly, he found what some would call haven.
This home had been abandoned but most likely, only hours before. There was no settled dust and he made use of it. Finding a few bottles of water and some graham crackers, he tried to hide in a spare closet to rest. Yet, something caught his eye. It was a small crack in the wall just past the bookshelf and he became curious. Gently moving the shelving out uncovered what appeared to once have been a door. It looked as if the owners closed the door up at one time and moved it further down the wall. The plaster was gone but it was odd. It created a small but wide crawl space in the wall. He shuffled along when he realized the same wall led to a linen closet in the bathroom. Noticing that he had found a treasure in dystopian times, he prayed.
As night fell, he used some of the towels to cushion the floor in the space. Deciding to rest, he laid over to close his eyes. Soon thoughts of only the previous month passed through. He was deciding on a tuxedo for his senior prom. His date was a plain but pretty girl from the junior class with large hazel eyes and soft looking wavy hair. She normally had it up in a high bun out her face, but stray strands escaped and floated around her head. Last time he’d seen her, she was calling him on SideCht. It was a free messaging app that made it hard for others to hack. They used it on occasion for things like crushes and things in their thoughts family would overreact to like trying cigarettes and exploring sexuality, even failed tests.
He startled at the yells and the heavy foot falls on creaking wood floors. Pressing his hand over his mouth, Soren eased down to look from the disguised peek out. He saw three pairs of dirty, leather boots crowding two bodies that were heaps on the floor. They writhed and wiggled looking more like maggots than humans and Soren was upset with his mental disgust.
“Interesting gents. We found two lost sheep from the flock. Care to make a wager on where should they go? Flock or Slaughter?”
The voice was like oil slicked velour, almost pleasant but the longer it lasted, the more it made you sick. There were soft chuckles as if life were a funny game to play. Funny to determine while the pawns were still… alive. Soren bit down on his tongue behind his lips as he heard one bet his rations that The Orca would say slaughter as they were weak and barely any fun. The other laughed louder because he thought otherwise. He thought The Orca would want them if for nothing more to make further examples of. Just the thought of staying a live to provide them with the delayed satisfaction of ending them made him hard thinking about it.
One of the bodies rolled and he knew the face. He knew the face under the dirt, abrasions and bruises. It was a former classmate’s aunt. She owned two little sweet shops; one was in town where his buddy worked to make spending cash and the other, two hours away by car. He’d heard his friend say that he was going to help in the shop closer to her because it was doing really well, and she was understaffed.
Soren laid there staring out feeling his weak, sixteen year old frame shake like leaves on a wind blown tree. His own heart hammered like the god, Vulcan hammering in the hallowed forged. With the volume of his pulse thrumming in his ears, he was sure the others would find him too.
Now, he watched as she laid there with mud and debris tangled in her dark brown locks. Chestnut eyes held a defiant light as she tensed up and sat still. If she had been standing, he could envision her jaw thrusted up in belligerence, the epitome of stubborn pride. Vibrant violet and blush colored bruises bloomed on her throat. The other body was obscured by her but he saw the hardening in her expression. But what came next stopped his frantic heart in terror.
“Since it’s a tie, let’s play a game, sweetheart.”
The oily words sounded nice but all present knew it was false. Dwindling hope that he would remain undetected rose into his throat like spoiled milk, he remained still. The woman was flipped to her stomach, and she looked at the bookshelf. Her brown orbs didn’t see him in the darkness, but he saw her. In the semi quiet of the room a zipper could be heard, and he saw it. The fear in her eyes could almost have a taste, potent and vile. Large crystalline tears fell from her eyes as she struggled to move and get away. He saw dirty, red pants cover knees land in front of her. Thick grubby fingers whipped out and buried themselves into her tresses forcing his utter dominance. Soren heard the rustle of fabric but a hollow scream broke free of the makeshift gag.
It was the sound akin to a parent losing a child, destruction of an innocent being. Few things could compare to the sound of an angel dying while it questioned God in its last moments. The teen closed his eyes as more screams erupted in the other voice. The gruff but high tone yells were undercut with wet squelching and sickening thuds. The cacophony of disjointed sounds became the steady sound of rustling fabric again.
The woman’s eyes were glossy and removed as if her conscience had retreated deep within, safely tucked in the center of a labyrinth. The main voice of the male was thick with a pleasure as the rhythm became more disjointed until her eyes widened and rolled back before she went completely limp. What defiance that was present left like viewers at the end of a bad film.
“Don’t worry sweetheart. Hope it was as good for you as it was for me. Maybe you can give a repeat performance? Make us happy? What’ll it be, poppet?”
He seen the man for the first time. He had a bald head with faint stubble around the perimeter. He wasn’t particularly large, but his presence filled the space entirely from roof to the foundation. A hand forced the woman’s head to face him. He never got his answer. The bruises around her throat made it impossible.
Face contorting in rage, he slapped her. Her face ricocheted into the floor from the force of his hit and a steady stream of blood mingled with the snot, tears and filth.
“What vertebrae can be severed and the person never walk again?” The slime coated larynx asked to the two companions.
The third male spoke up with a cheery quality that did not fit the victims. “That’s the lumbar ones; mid lower back area.” The voice was flippant and concise. Soren saw the aunt’s faculties come back to her enough to shake her head almost as if begging for reprieve. The same thick, fingers caressed her cheek in a caricature of care and passion. Quick as lightning’s flash, he felt the wet thumps more than he saw it. He had stabbed her… multiple times.
The men laughed as they kicked the male hostage. The second guy cut loose her hands, flipped the bleeding woman onto her back and stroked her hair before standing to give a salute before walking out after the other herders. Soren could hear them outside the house, their voices fading into the distance like the visage of a nightmare. He waited a short time trying to get his legs to move and go check on the woman. Climbing out from the linen closet, he grabbed a towel and went into the living area where it all took place.
Kneeling, he suppressed the urge to vomit and dabbed at the cuts on her face with the cloth. Her shaking hand reached into her shirt. He helped steady her hand as it made a sharp jerk, and he heard a faint snapping of something breaking. The hand opened to reveal a locket. It was a burnished gold, heart-shaped metalwork with filigree swirls surrounding a depiction of a star. A garbled keen came from within her throat as she thrust the locket into his chest. Soren stared at the jewelry in his possession, but he froze as the weight in his arms grew heavier and his body sagged under the change. She was gone. Her eyes looked over his shoulder not seeing anything on the earthly plane. He eased her down to the floor once more and went to find sheets to cover her. Returning to the crawl space as a safety blanket, he desperately tried to return to that morning it was untouched and still haven.
The teen managed to look at the inherited locket again and this time opened it. Out tumbled a small piece of paper and a folded-up picture well creased from repeated use. The picture was a man in his late forties, maybe fifties with thick dark hair. There was thinning at his temples and creases near his mouth. Soren chose to look at the other paper. This piece was folded many times but only revealed two sets of numbers. ‘42.900475-109.838102’. Taking a picture and locking it into his memory, he settled into a state of hibernation.
As morning came, he took the findings and began his trek. To where? He wasn’t sure but he knew that where he was, was not a safe zone anymore. Were brighter days coming? Was he to lock up his heart like the secrets the locket held? Soren had no ideas to the path he was to take. All he knew was that he had to live to see the man in the filigree heart and apologize for his teenage cowardice.