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Under the Cherry Blossom Sky

Dystopian fiction

By Julia MarsiglioPublished 3 years ago 7 min read
Image created by author on Canva Pro

There were no fires that night. They couldn’t risk it. Aurelia ran her fingers along the gold chain around her neck. The motion was comforting, and the feeling of the chain links sliding between her thumb and index finger anchored her. Her mother had given her the locket when she went away to college. That was a long time ago now.

Aurelia huddled with her brother and his son under a canopy of old-growth oak. Martin was sleeping against her shoulder, and her brother was disturbing an anthill with a stick while staring blankly into the darkness.

“Gus,” she whispered. He didn’t answer.

“Gus!” A little louder this time.

“What?” He snapped back, annoyed.

“Can’t you sleep either?”

He vocalized his answer—a snort. Augustus and Aurelia were twins who had never really gotten along well. Everyone expected them to be best friends by mere virtue of having shared womb-space, but they weren’t. Still, Aurelia knew how much he loved her. He had proven that. But she knew he was angry too. How could Gus get over this? It was her who had put them in danger. It was a crime to harbor God’s Enemies.

Aurelia had been proud to proclaim her identity before The Reckoning. She remembered her Instagram bio: Atheist. Feminist. Unapologetic Believer in Humanity. She’d thought it smart, cute and concise. People loved the Instagram version of her. She was an introvert turned extrovert in front of the camera, and her bold all-caps nuggets of “rage and wisdom” as she’d called them garnered a devoted following. Raised Catholic, Aurelia had rejected religion because she felt that the God of the Bible simply mirrored humanity, including humanity’s baser instincts.

She’d been given a chance to renounce all that, convert and atone for her sins. And of course, she’d taken it. The alternative was Martyrdom—a slow and torturous death, without the final blow coming until the Enemy accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. She’d rather start there and have a chance to live, even in the Atonement Cloisters—the brutal hard labor camps they sent non-believers to. Her Muslim and Jewish friends had disappeared first, without trial. She’d deleted her Instagram account when things started looking hairy, but a former follower had brought her name forward to the Inquisition.

“Aurelia,” Gus hissed. Aurelia sat up, giving him her attention.

“I saw a flicker of light through the trees over there.” Gus pointed.

“We have to go,” he said.

“Now!”

Gus shook Martin awake and covered his mouth so he couldn’t scream. They had been at this for days and were getting good at silent transitions. They were so close to the new Mexican border that they could almost taste freedom. The passage wouldn’t be easy, but they’d arranged to meet a smuggler with a way under the wall through an old collapsed mine. Aurelia remembered when the first sections of the wall were built to keep people out—the children in cages, the chanting and xenophobia. She wondered what happened to all those kids and families that had lost contact all those years ago. Those kids would all be grown now if they were still alive. At the border now, anyone trying to cross unauthorized from either side was shot on sight by the Angels of Peter’s Gates. Mexican delegates to The Kingdom were few and far between, and the border was deceptively quiet.

It had been Gus’s idea to run. “Nobody comes back from the Cloisters,” he’d argued. They’d taken his wife. She’d converted to Catholicism when she’d married Gus so they could have a Catholic wedding. Catholics were tolerated by the Kingdom if they renounced their faith and were baptized into the Rapture. But Chen was a Chinese immigrant, and they’d labeled her a communist and unbeliever. It didn’t matter to them that she’d had to renounce her Chinese citizenship to become American. Most immigrants didn’t stand a chance. It had been in the chaos of the early days that they’d come for her.

Gus, Aurelia and Martin weaved their way through the undergrowth in the dead of night. The smell of pine and sulfur wafted through the dense air of the mountain forest. Before the war, this had been part of Mexico. After—the wall had been extended down and people displaced. For years there’d been resistance, but the brutal force of The Kingdom had quashed it with no true contest. There was only silence now and the intermittent shrill cry of cicadas. Aurelia couldn’t help but think that the insects were announcing their presence to their pursuers. Her heart raced every time they took up their mating call.

Aurelia saw the entrance to the mine—or at least something that matched the hasty sketch they’d been given. She missed the ease of smartphones and GPS navigation. She was taken aback. They hadn’t thought they were this close, or they would never have stopped earlier. But the key-shaped entrance surrounded by rubble was unmistakable. There was a clearing to cross, and then they would meet their guide and traverse the long tunnel to safety. Mexico. The name tasted sweet on Aurelia’s tongue—like honey after vinegar.

The clearing between them and the cover of the mine weighed heavily on Aurelia’s mind. There was no other way than to traverse the valley and climb up the steep rocky slope towards the entrance. It was dark, but the moon was high and the night clear. They would be visible. Gus scouted the area. No signs of their pursuers were evident.

“We run,” Gus said. He seemed sure of himself.

“If they show up or start shooting, run in zig zags. Don’t stop. Just run.” Aurelia nodded, choking down her saliva and feeling it grate against the dryness of her throat.

Martin went first with Aurelia close behind. Gus wanted to be behind his son. Aurelia ran as fast as she could, her lungs rasping against the night air and her heart rate setting a frantic pace. She was almost halfway there when she heard the rumble of chopper blades overhead and a searchlight illuminated her against the clearing. There were suddenly shouts and lights everywhere. The rapid firing of machine guns broke through the silence and reverberated off the mountains.

She ran in zigzags like a wild thing. But then for a split second, she stopped. Martin! He was steps ahead of her, frozen with fear. She grabbed him just as the light from the chopper trained on him and pulled him by the hand behind him. He moved. Seconds later Aurelia almost collapsed. A sharp pain forced its way through her leg. She’d been hit—grazed by a bullet to the calf. Adrenaline bathed her with a fearlessness foreign to her, and she kept running somehow, Martin in tow, crying and shaking. And then, they’d made it. They’d reached the mouth of the mine.

Their guide wasn’t there. They’d undoubtedly seen the pursuers and retreated through the mine. Aurelia remembered the pattern though. Left, right, center, left, left, left and on towards freedom on the other side. Gus wasn’t there. Aurelia turned her head around just long enough to see him fall, a bullet through the chest. She didn’t let Martin turn around to see his father’s death and the pursuers bridge the gap between them with their cold blue searchlights and automatic weapons.

They ran into the mine—blind to what lay in front, terrified of what followed behind. They could hear the shouts of the Angels through the tunnels. It was impossible to know how close or far they were because the echoes bounced along the walls of the abandoned mine and surrounded Aurelia and Martin in their escape. Aurelia had dropped her flashlight in the chase, and they descended in utter darkness, holding each other’s hands and feeling either side of the mine shaft to know when the path diverged.

When they arrived at the third fork the center tunnel was covered in rubble. Aurelia felt fear surge through her as she desperately felt around for an opening, but she couldn’t find it. Martin, in the meantime, had climbed the pile of rubble and found a very small opening he could crawl through. Aurelia was afraid she wouldn’t fit. As she squeezed her body through the tiny opening she felt her hips resist the rock. Panic rose from her stomach to the lump in her throat. Every instinct told her to scream, but she suppressed it.

“Left, left, left. Keep left,” she whispered to Martin.

“And carefully. Go slowly. Feel the wall on the left so you don’t miss a turn.” She could feel his presence. He wasn’t moving.

“Go!” She hissed. He moved then and stifled a sob. Aurelia wanted to shout after him into the darkness. She wanted to shout a thousand life lessons, the stories of his ancestors and songs of hope. Most of all she wanted to tell him how much she loved him. But she didn’t dare.

She heard his footsteps retreating into darkness as she cried silent tears. Aurelia relaxed her body, surrendering it to the night and the inevitable fate that awaited her at the hands of the Angels. She knew that to surrender in that moment was her only hope. And, then, it worked. By relaxing her body, she was able to inch it through the opening and make it to the other side.

When Aurelia emerged from the mineshaft in Mexico, daylight was creeping over the horizon and filtering through the clouds above, which glowed a soft incandescent pink. She stood transfixed, thumbing the golden fillagree of the heart-shaped locket at her neck. Martin ran to meet her from the bush he had been hiding under, and together they took their first steps under the cherry blossom sky.

Short Story

About the Creator

Julia Marsiglio

Loss parent. Canadian poet. Fiction and nonfiction writer. Intersectional feminist. Writing on trauma, grief, mental health, marginalization, neurodivergence and more.

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    Julia MarsiglioWritten by Julia Marsiglio

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