The Victims

This is a short story I wrote several years back, it’s quite shaky in places, but was inspired from thoughts about the suppression of minorities. Clearly, this is still a very real issue.

It was getting closer. There had once been days when people could leave their homes without constantly glancing over their shoulders, or throwing every stranger terrified looks. They had had nothing to fear then, but that had been in a different world. Now people had no choice but to accept their own fears as they came to reality. The city wasn’t safe; no city was safe. They were on the losing side of an eternal war.

The once colourful, well cared for houses that boarded the streets were now crumbling and falling into disrepair, dirt and grime snaking up their walls. The labyrinthine roads and passageways that separated the city were now almost completely inaccessible. Even the atmosphere in the city seemed somehow empty, its desolate quiet ringing louder than any sound ever could.

Despite everything, though, the city was far from empty. People sat crouched together in their rather dilapidated houses, holding hands and singing songs. They would not lose faith, for they had already accepted what was to come. They told stories to each other of how their great city had begun; of how the workers of the world had once breathed life into the empty bareness of the Earth. They would laugh and they would cry, for every single person, adult or child, rich or poor, knew:

It was the end.

Nala sighed quite suddenly. Yawning, she turned away from the open window and blinked her way out of her reverie. People die, she thought bitterly. That’s just the harsh reality of life. They die, and whoever’s left just have to deal with it.

Languid, she allowed her heavy eyelids to drop down shut over her wide eyes. Then, as she breathed out a long sigh, she pressed down her fingertips onto her closed eyes, until finally she saw colours that she no longer recognised. They didn’t belong in her broken world, but they were hope of another, far better one. Electric blues zigzagged through the air, punctuating a cascading rainfall of golden light; turquoises darted and flashed as they merged into the vivid scarlet; and even yellow was thrown into the mass: meteors of fire that burned across the sky.

Nala opened her eyes again. There was a noise coming through the open window, disturbing her fantasy. For a moment, she stood in silence, listening. Then, without warning, she leapt out of the window and dropped down into the street below. She knew that sound well, for it was the only sound that had the power to chill blood and petrify children: a scream.

Nala raced along dirt track after dirt track, her heart humming an incoherent beat in her chest. She was getting closer to the noise now, and it was breaking up, until there were two screams, and then three. A moment later, Nala could hear it for what it really was: a screeching cacophony of pained shouts that ripped into her heart even as she raced onwards. A shivering panic was creeping down Nala’s spine now. What if something had happened? What if someone had been hurt? She whirled around the corner in a haze of colour…and stopped.

The world stopped, too. Everything was over now. It was too late for prayers; too late for promises. They were doomed. For there, in the distance, but coming ever nearer, like a writhing serpent reading itself for the pounce, was the flood.

A great tower of merciless, bubbling water reared over the city, casting a gigantic shadow of dread and despair over them all. Nala opened her mouth to allow her own scream to join those hundreds around her, but, almost instantly, she was wrapped in a tight circle of her mother’s arms.

“Calm down, Nala. It’s just like I always told you. Every place has it’s time, and every kingdom, no matter how great, must one day fall.” Nala swallowed hard, gazing up into the penetrating eyes that she knew so well. “I love you,” her mother whispered, hugging her tighter, and, as she did so, Nala felt her mother’s bracelet dig into her side. She could remember gazing at its blue pearls as a child, jealous. It had been a parting gift from Nala’s father, and her mother had sworn that she would never take it off, for that would mean that she would be separated from him, and that was simply more than she could bear.

The screams all around them suddenly stopped, a quiet more eerie than anything yet. Before she could even comprehend it, ice cold water swept over Nala’s head, knocking her mother away. There was a great swelling sensation, and then she was moving, her head still underwater, but moving, faster than ever before. The suffocating onslaught of furious water dragged her through the cold, pushing her still further beneath its surface.

She wanted to scream; she wanted to yell, but she couldn’t even breathe. Wrapped in the embrace of the furious waters, she was going to die; right now. She just knew it. Churning currents battered her in every direction, as if they had some kind of jurisdiction over her very being. Nala opened her mouth and choked almost instantly. She was going to die…any moment now, she was going to drown!

Just as suddenly as it had started, the great swelling stopped, and Nala was ejected from the hungry waters, left shivering and coughing on dry land. Barely conscious, her raw skin stinging in the harsh hair, Nala rolled over.

She kept her eyes firmly shut, sure that she was dead, and sent up a prayer to whatever God there may be. She opened her eyes.

Light pierced through her irises like a veil had just been removed from her face. A kind of brightness like she had never known before was suddenly surrounding her on every side.

She was above ground.

For her entire life, she had lived in the city: a city that was beneath the Earth’s surface. Those many years ago, when the workers had set about making the foundations of their home, they had decided to make it far beneath the sun’s reach, so that its inhabitants would always be safe, secure and…hidden, from all those who sought to destroy them. Now though, as Nala sat up and gazed skyward, she smiled. She had no right doing so given her current situation, but she couldn’t help it! How she wished that her people held the position in this terrible war to always stand in the sun, but she knew that it was impossible; the outside world was teeming with their enemies.

Nala turned slowly and began to walk towards a small hill built into the earthy ground, intending to search for a way back to the city – or what would be left of it after its people and buildings had been so mutilated.  She heaved herself over the hill, and then looked down.

A devastating scene met here newly opened eyes. Water seeped from holes in the ground, holes in which she recognised as roads that had once led into the city. It was completely flooded; her home was lost. A cold swept over Nala, cooling her just as effectively as the icy water itself. There were bodies in the water. Their faces were twisted and barely recognisable, but Nala still knew them. She’d known everyone in the city, even these faded carcasses which had once been so full of life. There lay the greengrocer, with his old tunic and clown-like shoes, his face void of emotion as he floated eerily across the water; and there lay the washerwoman, her neat curls flat and empty, dull eyes staring at nothing. Most horrifying of all, though, was the thing that floated just a little to the left of the washerwoman. It was a dazzling bracelet of gleaming sapphire pearls, tied together with a small bow. Nala began to scream.

The boy smiled to himself. It had been a long day. David Wood had trapped him in the toilets again. He sighed, tugging his hose from the ants’ nest at his feet and throwing it behind him carelessly. He then bent down into a kneeling position, squinting down at the floor. There was a small puddle of water where ants floated pathetically, their legs sticking out in odd directions. Laughing bitterly, he stood up again and turned to leave. He didn’t care about ants. They didn’t matter; it wasn’t like they had feelings, or even thoughts for that matter.

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