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Of Fire and Hope

And the strength that exists underground

By charlotte meilaenderPublished 3 years ago 9 min read
Of Fire and Hope
Photo by Jiroe on Unsplash

It was a gray day. Mist hung low over the city. Cans, paper bags, and debris lay everywhere. Half-starved people sat at street corners, or dragged themselves along the road, their eyes staring straight ahead, as if death had overtaken them. In the graveyard of the city of Caershire, two children, a boy and a girl, stood. They were both thin and ragged like all the others. They stood next to two graves. Carved into the stone in a careless hand were two names: Miriam and Will Adelda.

“Come, Xani, let’s go home—if we can even call that home, now. Our parents will sleep well,” said the boy. He turned and took his sister’s hand. “Come,” he repeated.

Xani sighed and followed her brother. The two of them made their way through the desolate streets, no words passing over their lips. When they turned the corner where they lived, they stopped to stare at the skeleton of their once big and beautiful mansion. It had been one of the few bigger houses left in the entire city. Xani let out a heavy breath and walked towards it. As they entered what had once been the doorway, Xani suddenly stopped. She crouched down in the ashes and brushed them aside, revealing a glinting object which lay buried.

“Look, Ray, Mother’s necklace!” she cried. The necklace was of pure gold, a heart shaped locket. Her brother turned to look, and a small smile crossed his lips. He held out his hand and Xani placed the necklace in his palm. He rubbed at it until it was once again its shiny self.

Then he reached out. “You should have it,” he said. Xani let him place it around her neck and fasten it carefully. “If you always wear this, you’ll have a piece of Mother with you, forever.”

Xani smiled, choking back tears. She nodded, and the tears streamed down her face. Ray put his arms around her and hugged her close, trying not to cry himself.

Suddenly, there was a noise behind them. The two children looked up, Xani brushing the tears away quickly. In the doorway behind them stood a girl. Her black eyes flashed from under the black curls that touched her shoulders. She wore red overalls over a white shirt, with a makeshift sash of old, yellow cloth. Tucked into her sash she carried the knife that was always by her side. She scowled and sat down next to the children without being asked.

“Guards?” she hissed between her teeth.

“Yes, guards,” said Ray.

Xani tossed her red-brown curls. “I hate them,” she said.

“We all do,” Ray said grimly. He turned to the girl. “Why did you come, Jaguar?”

Jaguar shrugged. “I heard,” she said, looking around what had once been the entryway. “And I figured Galloway must be behind it. He always is.” The other two looked around quickly. Slandering the prime minister’s name in public was a good way to get oneself shot—or worse.

Ray spoke quietly, “I don’t understand it. To kill someone just because you don’t like them. That’s simple cruelty.” He shook his head.

Xani had been leaning against the wall, listening to them talk. Suddenly, she banged her fist against the wall. “This has been going on for too long. Galloway has killed thousands of people. For what reason? Grownups and children everywhere are trying to stop him from conquering the entire world. And countless of them are being killed each day. We have to stop this!” She paused to look pleadingly between Ray and Jaguar. “And when I say we,” she continued softly, “I mean we. We must form a resistance. All of us. We need to get anyone who is willing to join. All our friends and anyone else we can find.”

She stopped. Jaguar and Ray stared at her where she stood, her eyes blazing back at them.

“Xani is right,” Ray said breathlessly. “We need a resistance. We need to stop the Prime Minister and his council from doing what he is trying to do.” He turned to Jaguar. “Can you call a meeting? Get everyone you can, and make it clear what we stand for. We will meet in the underground.” Jaguar nodded, and disappeared through the ruined door.

Half an hour later, a throng of people, old and young alike, had gathered underground, in what had long ago had been the subway. Trains were hardly used now. They had been stopped even before Prime Minister Galloway had taken over the government. New inventions had been made. The State Transport Committee had invented the Air Land Mobiles, or Al mobiles for short. They could travel both by driving and by flying, making cars, trains, and airplanes largely obsolete. But since the national shutdown, the prime minister had forbidden both the manufacture and use of even the Al mobiles, causing everyone to be moored in place with no way in or out. Only a few municipal subways still ran, taking people to and from their jobs across the city, but most of the subway lines, like this one, lay unused.

Ray stood on a rotting, old bench placed on the platform, and the people stood on the tracks or gathered around the bench. He waited until Jaguar had taken her place, leaning against the wall near the entrance. Then he began.

“Friends and fellow citizens.” He cleared his throat. “Two days ago, our house was burned and our parents died in the flames. I’m sure Jaguar already told you as much when she asked you here today.” He paused, gathering force. “They should not have died. They should have escaped the house. But Galloway’s henchmen found a way to keep them trapped.”

The crowd shifted and murmured. These were dangerous words, but words that had already been spoken; whispered in kitchens or murmured on street corners. In their hearts, each of them knew it was true.

Ray had stopped speaking. He tried to go on, but the image of two, small gravestones came before his mind’s eye, and suddenly he was choked by tears. He put his head in his hands. In the silence, a small figure scrambled onto the bench. It was his sister. She took a deep breath and took her brother’s hand, giving it a tight squeeze. Then she began.

“We want—and must—form a resistance. We must be rid of Galloway. We want revenge for what he has done, done to all of us.” She raised her young voice. “We must stop him!” she shouted. “Who will help us?”

Silence reigned for a moment. Then there was a chorus of voices. “We will help you! We will defend our country and our homes! We will destroy the people who have done this!”

Ray stepped forward to join his sister. “We should not stay here any longer,” he warned the crowd. “We will meet again tomorrow morning at ten. Until then, goodbye, and keep safe.”

An old woman named Cecilia stepped forward, holding in her hand a long, curved knife. “Maybe this will be of use to you, children. This good knife, given to me by my mother for my 10th birthday, has never missed its mark. Take it to show we are friends.” The two children smiled at Cecilia, and Xani bent down and gave the old woman a hug.

“Thank you, good Cecilia,” she said. “You were always so kind to us.” The woman smiled and disappeared in the now departing crowd. The three children made their ways home, the knife in Xani’s clothes.

Ray and Xani awoke early the next morning to find Jaguar waiting for them, carrying a basket of hard-boiled eggs. She was the only person for miles around who had chickens. All the others had had their chickens taken away. But when guards had come to Jaguar, she had chased them out with a ladle, and when they had come back, she and her chickens were gone. Gone to Xani, Ray, and their parents.

The children devoured the food, and all three headed for the underground together. Punctually at ten, everyone from the day before had gathered.

Just as Ray raised his hand for silence, a loud commotion sounded at the entrance. A troupe of guards stormed in, and the crowd gasped as they saw the Prime Minister himself, flanked by his bodyguard. There was utter silence. Then, with a shout, Galloway urged the guards forward. They used the short swords every guard carried at his waist, and attacked the crowd, slashing and hacking at random. Ray found himself thrust up onto the bench, fighting a guard with the only weapon he had, a kitchen knife which had survived the fire. Against the guard’s longer blade, it was hardly a fair fight, but Ray hoped the advantage of higher ground, afforded by the bench, would give him a chance.

Without taking his eyes off the guard, he yelled to his sister, “Xani! Run, get out of here, quick! I’ll be there soon. Go, before it’s too late! I don’t want you to die too. GO!”

“I’m not leaving you alone!” Xani screamed, swinging her fist wildly at an approaching guard, who let out a howl of pain and fell onto the tracks. From all sides, an angry mob closed in upon him, jumping to the tracks and beating him to the ground.

“Xani, please go!” Ray shouted. Meeting his eyes, Xani realized that no matter how much she wanted to stay, it would do no good to play the martyr. She had to make it out alive. She slipped through the entrance and ran. A hundred feet away was a small alley, where she and Ray had hidden before. She crept into it, covering her ears to block out the screams that trailed her. She stayed waiting till the last sound had died out. When she peered out onto the street, she saw the guards come from the entrance, a small number of captives in their midst, and the Prime Minister behind them. Not all the guards came out, and Xani realized with a grim satisfaction, that some of those who did were sporting injuries themselves. When they were gone, Xani slipped into the underground to find her brother. As soon as she entered the meeting room, she stopped short in horror. Her brother was lying motionless on the floor, his gray shirt red.

Ray!” she screamed, and rushed to his side. Ray slowly turned his head and stared at her. His eyes were glazed over and seemed far away.

“Xani…Galloway,” he whispered. “He did this.” Xani grabbed his hand and held it, forcing back her tears. “Xani, you must take charge and…be a good leader. And when Galloway is gone—” He squeezed her hand the tiniest bit. “—think of me.”

“I will. Always,” Xani whispered. Ray smiled, and then suddenly his eyes closed, and he lay motionless.

November. Three months had passed. Xani crept through the dark passageways. She put her hand up to feel her mother’s necklace. Suddenly, she came up against a blank wall. She felt along it. When she pressed it, it slid aside, and Xani found herself in the Council Room. Prime Minister Galloway rose in anger from his seat not ten feet away, and stepped towards her.

“Little girl, what do you think you are doing here?” he demanded, hand on his sword. His guards where nowhere in sight, the Council Room was empty.

“You know what I’m doing here.” Xani let him come nearer. “And this, Galloway, is your last day of cruelty. Your last day playing this game.”

Xani lifted the knife that old Cecilia had given her, perfectly weighted in her hand, and threw it.

Xani, Jaguar, and old Cecilia stood on the balcony of Palace Hall, looking at their city, growing and becoming itself once more.

“You’ll be a good ruler, Xani,” Jaguar said.

“I hope I will. With you as my advisers. Both of you. For better friends I could never have.” Xani smiled at the two of them.

“My knife does not miss its mark, as I told you,” Cecilia said quietly. They all smiled, a smile full of sadness for all they had lost, but also full of hope for what could come. Then Xani reached out and held the knife out to Cecelia.

“Thank you. It saved us all.”

They turned back to look out over the landscape. And each of them in their hearts had the hope that the country would be ruled well for many years to come.

Young Adult

About the Creator

charlotte meilaender

Performing artist with an itch for writing. Fueled by coffee and the age-old wish to create something worthwhile. Welcome to my world <3

Follow the journey on my instagram @cmmwriting for updates on my stories and behind the scenes looks.

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