Something I started at random. Debating its continuation.
I was old enough when it happened. Most people were. The Fall wasn't something so easily left in the past, though I can't remember much of it. I base it on rumors. It was late autumn when it happened, just as the last of the leaves were falling. People were expecting winter, which adults now call 'the winter that never came'. The power went out and never came back on by itself. When it rained, it killed thousands with poisonous acid that dribbled from the sky. The world fell to pieces as nature turned against us. People left the city. Country sides opened up. Man went into hiding, hoping to appease nature's kindness, to repeal what had occurred.
My town was like all those around us, small, wooden and surrounded by old rots, that adults still try to call trees. Frames of buildings, some two stories, some one story, some fat and some small, made up our village. Ms. Foster could tell what each building used to be. Her favorite to look at was the old church. She said she had gotten married there, long before The Fall. The houses once had brick around the wooden bones, but they were taken down to sell to the merchants, at least that's what my friend Ranae told me. She loved to tell me things, whether they were true or not. It was her gift.
"Someday, my daddy is gonna come and get me," she would always tell. It was her dream for her father to return from the militia and rejoin her. She missed him more than ice cream, she would say sometimes. I never understood it. Eventually, however, her someday would come, just not the way she was planning it.
The clouds were a chalky grey, and Ms. Foster was getting antsy because of it. She said she was afraid of rain. All the same, she let Ranae and me out into the town. The girls' home was near the center of town, reflecting what used to be the town council but mostly just the old fountain now. The school house was to the left of the girls' home, while the green house was too the right. Everything else was housing. Ranae and I would first visit the school house, spying on the little ones who were oblivious to how things used to be, then we'd race past Mr. Coalsin, who would scream at us since we were small, and finally finished at the base of the fountain, where we'd sit and talk.
"Today is the day," Ranae began, taking in a breath. "Today my daddy's comin'."
"You say that every day," I mumbled.
"Speak up, girl! You know I can't hear you when you mumble!" she laughed, nudging me slightly. "You know I'm only playing."
Ranae was older than me by almost two years, but she was the only one in town close to my age. Other than her, the closest to my age was ten or twenty-one. She took advantage of my loneliness. She still was a good friend, though my only one, unless Ms. Foster counted. Ranae jumped off the fountain base, standing in front of me. I envied her beauty. Her hair was a perfect black but glistened in the sun like ember among ash. Her eyes burned bright with the same fire.
"Look at you," she hummed, taking my hands and standing me up, "You're almost fully grown!"
"I'm only sixteen."
"Still! You are going to be one fine woman someday…and so will I."
"If that day ever comes."
"Every someday eventually comes," Ranae nodded, offering a smile.
We embraced in a hug, something we didn't do often. It was because Ranae was going to leave soon. She was going to run off with one of the neighboring boys. She said they were in love, but I didn't understand the meaning of it. She said it's a feeling of pure joy when your around someone and pure heartache when you're without them. She was leaving tonight, outside Ms. Foster's watch. Tonight, she'd leave me all alone.
We exited our hug at the sound of something coming. It was like a heavy footstep, galloping over the dirt. Shouting soon followed. The adults began to jump and call. Ms. Foster came out and ordered us to hurry inside. We followed several other girls in, but I stopped on the doorstep. All the shutters were closing. Doors were locking. The town looked empty, except old man Coalsin, still rocking in his chair and smoking his pipe. I shut the door behind me.
The girls' home was not very big compared to the number of girls it had to house. Ms. Foster wouldn't let anyone go upstairs, so we all sat on the floor. Ms. Foster held post at the door, not particularly worried about the younger of us peering out the windows. Ranae and I broke through the clot of small figures to get a peek ourselves. Men on horseback rode into town. The first thing they did was knock the fountain over with a horse's mighty kick. The tip broke, shattering into the base. Ms. Foster whispered a prayer.
"Who is in charge!?" called a man. He wore a red sash across his chest and blue upon the tip of his hat.
"Nobody," answered Mr. Coalsin, not opening an eye. "Nobody's been in charge of this town since you fellas took Gary a few years back."
"Then who is the closest thing to authority in this rat trap?" the man snapped.
No one spoke. We were too busy holding our breath. Eventually one of the doors opened and out came a young man. His shirt was tucked in but the skin that showed told of the labor he had gone through. I heard Ranae curse. It was her fiancé. He carefully marched out into town, hands at his side.
"I'm in charge, sir," he called.
"Really, now?" whispered the horse riding man. "My name is Thomas, and you?"
"What do you want, sir?"
Thomas frowned, eyes narrowed in deep. Apparently he was hoping for an answer to his question before straying off topic. He dismounted, carefully but quickly. I saw Ranae's fiancé cringe, cautiously examining Thomas. After dismounting, he took off his hat, revealing white hair.
"Listen my boy. I know it's hard, especially in a town like this. Beautiful little place you've got here. Shame if something were to become of it," Thomas sighed, marching up to the young man. "You see my job is very hard too. I have to collect workers for the Capital or else what's left of this country falls to scrap. You understand how hard it is to tell someone to work their hardest when there isn't much hope in the work. I'm sure you'll understand my position."
"What do you want, sir?"
Thomas nodded, placing his hat back on his head. He turned, hands behind his back, and returned to his horse. He rested one hand at the side of its neck as he spoke again.
"I want workers, son, just like I said. That's all I want. No trouble, no fuss. Any health man and woman eighteen to thirty, please."
"We need our workers here, for the elderly and young."
"I don't care."
I'd never seen a gun. They were banned some time ago after someone tried to overthrow the militia and what remained of the government. These men pulled out guns though. They glistened in the sun like starlight and cracked as the trigger was pulled back. Sparks left the chamber, glittered along its back, and launched the pellet forward. Ranae nearly screamed. The young man cringed, falling to his knees and hastened a prayer. All the bullets missed him. Thomas stepped back up to him, hands behind his back once more.
"Why don't you get everyone eligible that I asked for, son? Now get going!"
The young man ran back inside, trying desperately to hold his manliness by hiding the tears. He didn't want to die just yet. I watched the doors open slowly. Mothers and fathers held onto their children, handing them off to their eldest child or to the elders. Some children didn't understand, simply watched as their parents walked away. Not a tear left their eyes. They didn't understand.
"I have to go," whispered Ranae.
"No!" I cried. "You can't! They won't know."
"And if they check?" Ranae gasped. "They could kill every little girl in here. I can't let that happen."
She looked out the window. I watched her put her hand up on the glass. He was out there again, her fiancé. He had taken a deep breath, standing in front of the group of men and women this town would probably never see again. I couldn't understand the feeling she was having, but part of me wished I knew.
"I can't live without him," she whispered, leaving the window side. "Bye, Alana."
I didn't watch her leave. I moved like a ghost to the back of the room. The little ones swamped around the window again, watching the men prepare their run back to base with their so called workers. I sat in the back of the room, listening to shouts and groans. Ms. Foster was still whispering her prayer. To me it looked like they were gone. The kids were still pressed against the window though, whispering among each other. Before I got up to see what the commotion was, a paper was handed to me. It said Hello.
I turned to my left where the paper had come from and was rather surprised. It was a young man, closer to my age than anyone I've seen in town. In fact, he didn't look like he was from around our town. His clothes were bright and lacked some mementos that the rest of the town possessed. He wore a bright greenish jacket over a slightly stained white shirt and a ragged pair of pants. He offered a small, tiny wave. I gave him a confused look.
He took the paper back, writing something new on it in the hurry. He handed it back. I looked it over, reading the newest message. It asked what my name was. I looked at him again. He handed me the pencil. I scribbled down 'why should I tell' which made him frown. He gave an almost pathetic look as he took the paper and pencil back. He wrote something else, glancing around the room. I retook the paper. My name is Martyn. I'm trying to help you before the militia burn the town. Burn the town, I whispered. Impossible, but something about it was haunting. I couldn't shake it or deny it.
I glanced at the children still by the windows. I could just make out a horseman, still within the town square. His gun was out, as he focused on something happening outside my gaze. I didn't know what to do. I glanced at the boy. Another one stood crouched behind him. While Martyn offered a smile, the other looked unhappy. Martyn placed the paper on my lap, following the other boy's lead through a crack in the wall to the outside. I used to crawl through that crack when I was little in order to get into the forest of rots out back. Martyn stayed within sight, reaching out for me.
I glanced at the paper. I've heard it once before: Take my hand if you want to live. I smiled. Something about it sounded so theatrically, like a something you'd hear in a book. All the same, I raised my eyes upon his hand with so much curiosity and doubt. The look of his face just made me feel safe. Protected. For the first time in a long while, I took a chance and took his hand.