Woo! Here we go, Chapter one :D First of all, I'd like to give a shout out to glwsampson for being my first reviewer and follower! You are awesome! Please, review. If you read this can you please tell me what you think? It really matters to me. Well, without further ado: Chapter One
Soft light poured through the room's single window. Cillian opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling for a while. He didn't have to wait long to hear the end shift bell from the factory. Suddenly, the room was in a blur of motion as five other young men struggled to get up and dressed for work.
The home they lived in was wall to wall with every other house there. All the houses were exactly alike, two levels and very narrow. The first floor consisted of the kitchen and a small living room. The second floor held two bedrooms. However, each room, except for the kitchen, was occupied by at least three or more people. The living room was housing a new couple and their newborn child. The room to the right of the stairs housed a man, his wife, and their three children. And, finally, the room to the left housed six young men, four on two beds and two on the floor. They rotated every couple of days on who slept on the floor.
"Cillian, where're my trousers?" one of the young men asked.
"Did you check you check under the bed?" After a moment, Cillian heard the soft "Ah" that proved he was right. As always, Cillian was the last one to get up. He went downstairs and caught up with the other five men. All of them were about the same age, ranging from nine-teen to twenty-three, Cillian being twenty-one. He thoughtlessly chewed through a piece of bread.
"Oi, Cillian, what's the matter with you?" George, the one who asked for his trousers, asked.
"What do you mean?" Cillian asked not even fully aware of the conversation.
"Your head's in the clouds, is what he means," Charlie answered. The two brothers waited for answer, other three had already left for the factory down the road. Cillian shrugged.
"It's the ninth anniversary of my parents' death," he said quietly. The air in the room promptly became a little heavier. Charlie looked to his younger brother, George. They had lost their mother sometime ago. So, Cillian, trying to be his usual self, chuckled and put on a brave smile. "Come on then, lads, lets not be late for work!" The trio quickly put on their boots and rushed out the door. The town they lived in was a factory town. They were paid in factory money that you could only spend at the factory store. Essentially, they were stuck there.
At the factory, Cillian and his friends checked in before going to their posts. Building trains was terribly hard work. But, the world had a need for it and therefore, it put food on their table. Cillian was grateful that he worked with the actual assembly of the steel frames. It wasn't nearly the worst one there. Charlie worked in the steel mill; he was in charge of melting and pouring it. George built engines. The woman would work on the sewing the seats and the children would help.
It was a few hours after Cillian's lunch break when the fire bell sounded. At first he thought nothing of it (the fire bell went off several times whenever there was too much steam). It wasn't until some one ran in yelling, "The engine room's on fire! Get the hell out of here!" did he drop everything and run. He got away just far enough to be out of danger before he looked back at the factory. Most workers just went back to their families. Cillian saw the ones assigned to fire duty this week pumping water from the near by river into the fire.
Suddenly, there was an explosion. We're going to lose the factory, he thought. He began to run towards the river to help put out the fire. Apparently, he wasn't the only one who knew what would happen if they lost the factory because a lot of other people began to help.
"Where's my wife?!" "Daddy!?" "Get the damn fire out!" The noise was almost deafening. Another explosion shook the ground. For a moment everyone stood still as they watched part of the building collapse. Hope of saving the factory now was non-existent. A third explosion caused half of the building fall.
"What do we do now?" someone asked. Someone else respond saying that they just waited for the fire to die on its own. Cillian thought in terms of leaving. With the factory gone, where were they supposed to go? Most of their paycheck was factory money, maybe a few shillings were given. But most people couldn't afford to go anywhere else.
Cillian helped until the fire was completely burnt out. By that time the moon was more than half way done. He sat on the bank of the river washing the dirt and sweat off his face. He didn't know how long it had been raining ash except for the fact that he couldn't get it out of his hair. The moonlight was so faint that he doubted that it was even there. I should go home, he thought. I wouldn't want to fall asleep and wake up under ash. Yet, however hard he fought it, the fatigue was setting in. He found it hard to keep his eyes open. He didn't even realize that he had laid down.
"Don't worry," a soft voice whispered. "I'll watch over you..." Cillian simply nodded with no doubt in his mind that he was already dreaming about that voice.
"Where are you?!" Flames licked the walls. He was turning around, frantically trying to see anything through the smoke. "Mother! Father!" No one responded. He heard the windows shatter and fell to his knees, hands over his head. Breathing was becoming more difficult. Tears and mucus was running down his face. The coughs felt more like convulsions. 'This is it,' he thought, 'I'm going to die.' He turned onto his side and watched as the flames began to close in on him. The only thing he could think about was how seamlessly the colors blended from reds and oranges. He closed eyes and waited to die.
A cold hand touched his forehead. His eyes fluttered open to see her smiling ruefully.
"Come on," she said softly. He'd never gotten used to the sound of her voice. A year she spent with him and his family and her delicate, gentle voice never ceased to amaze him. It was like a perfect summer breeze with the calm of ocean waves. But there was more. There was a sadness and an understanding in her voice. He silently took her hand and let her help him up. Although he couldn't see a thing, she lead them to the door with perfect confidence...
Cillian woke up from a shake of his shoulder; a thin layer of ash covered his body. The sun was barely above the horizon and the ash cloud that still hung in the air was turning the usually bright yellows and oranges into much more sinister hues. Of course, he thought to himself, there was a fire yesterday...On my parents anniversary...That's probably why I dreamt of it.... He sat up and carefully wiped the ash from his face. When he could finally open his eyes he looked up to see a middle-aged woman smiling at him. Her name was Sarah Connerly, the older wife and mother in their household.
"Mrs. Connerly?" Cillian asked sleepily, "What are you doing here?" She sighed in relief.
"We were looking for you," she spoke with the strictness of an aged mother. "Lots of people have gone missing. A few were like you, so tired that they just fell asleep where they stood. However, I don't think some people made it out of that fire." Her eyes suddenly glazed over with tears. And upon closer inspection, Cillian could see how swollen and red her eyes were. Dried tear tracks carved canyons in the dirt on her face. She was wearing a pair of her husband's trousers and more fitting sweater. Something was wrong and Cillian felt horrible for taking so long to notice. He stood quickly and placed his hands on her shoulders. He was much taller than Mrs. Connerly and was forced to bend at the knee in order to be at eye level.
"Who's missing?" He asked as calmly as he could. Mrs. Connerly swallowed her tears before answering.
"My husband and George," she managed to whisper. Cillian took a deep breath and began to think things through.
"What about everyone else at home?"
"Everyone else is still alive. Charlie, along with quite a few other wives and children, are searching the rubble." Cillian nodded and took her hands instead.
"How long have you been out?"
"All night and especially when the sun started to come up-" her voice cracked on the last word.
"Hey," Cillian said softly, "Why don't you go get some rest? I'll go join the search for you husband." Mrs. Connerly nodded but couldn't meet his eyes. Cillian lifted her head to look at him. "Go home to your children. They need right now more than ever." Her response was simply the release of her tears. Cillian hugged her for a moment, at least until her eyes cleared up enough to see where she was walking.
He made sure that she was going in the right direction before he went back to the factory. It was a sight that he could barely stomach. Men were pulling bodies out of the charred mess, women were digging, searching. A pile of bodies was beginning to form. And then there was the smell, the smell of cooked flesh. Cillian wondered how he hadn't noticed it before. It made him want to gag. And he almost did. He doubled over, bracing his hands against his knees and tried not to smell. Cillian silently joined the search party. He soon caught up with Charlie who was searching with tears continuously running down his face.
"Have you found him yet?" Cillian asked as softly as he could. Charlie nodded but said nothing. Cillian felt it best to leave him be. An hour or so later, Cillian found a body. Seeing the charred body up close was almost too much for him. Anxiety gripped his heart and his breath became hitched. The imagery of his parents' bodies permeated every thought. He fell to his knees in front of the body and allowed a few tears to slip before calling out to the other men. One man came up behind him and placed a steady hand on his shoulder. Cillian held on to it, grateful for the support.
There was a total of thirty-four bodies found. Cillian himself found three of them. After the bodies were all accounted for, Charlie and Cillian worked side-by-side in digging the mass grave. The bodies were carefully wrapped and gently place into the grave. It was past midnight by the time the last person left the grave. The next morning the owner of the factory stood on a wooden crate in front of the ruble.
"Due to all the money we've lost, I can only afford to pay each house five shillings!" The surrounding crowd burst into an uproar. Five shillings per house wasn't enough for anyone to do anything! There were up to fifteen people in one house and that might turn out to be anywhere from three to five individual families! Cillian walked back to the house he lived in. Upon returning he was informed that two of his room-mates had already left. The other two, Charlie and Oliver, were packing the little belongings they had. The newlywed couple was arguing in the living room. But, the saddest sound, the most heartbreaking sound, was the sound that was being heard throughout the town; it was the sound of weeping hearts. It was the kind of weeping that came with the knowledge that their loved one didn't go in peace, that they suffered, that they were scared and lonely in their final moments.
Cillian couldn't bear to hear the Connerly family's weeping. He entered his room and went straight for a small chest that he hid in his clothes. Before he could look up, he heard the door open and close. He turned to see that Oliver had left. No goodbyes, I guess, he thought. It wasn't like we were friends anyways. Cillian looked at the large amount of money in the small chest.
"What are you going to do now?" He asked Charlie. Charlie's response was so quiet, Cillian had to strain to hear it.
"I'm going to America. There's nothing for me here anymore." Cillian nodded before taking out thirty pounds. He walked over to where Charlie was sitting. He silently took Charlie's palm and placed the money in his hand. Charlie's eyes grew wide and he let out a gasp.
"What is this?" Charlie asked.
"This will help you get to America." Charlie looked up at Cillian.
"He didn't deserve this, Cillian," Charlie croaked. "He was only nineteen." Cillian nodded and held onto Charlie as his heart wept. Minutes later, Charlie thanked Cillian and left. Cillian would never see Charlie again. His heart grew heavy when he realized he would never see any of these people again. Although he couldn't help everyone in the town he could at least help those who had befriended him.
Cillian was in the kitchen, mindlessly picking at piece of bread, when Mrs. Connerly's eldest walked in. Her face, hair, and clothes were a mess. She picked up the water pitcher and was about to go back up the steps when she turned to Cillian. He noticed her staring and looked up from his bread.
"What's wrong Elizabeth?" he asked her calmly. She opened her mouth only to close it without making a sound. The water pitcher shook lightly in her hands. Cillian waited patiently. She opened and closed her mouth again before walking over to the table and sitting down directly across from Cillian. The young couple was still arguing in the next room. Elizabeth was seventeen and had dreams of going to school one day. However, considering the turn of events, even Cillian knew that she wouldn't ever be able to follow that dream. She bit her lip before taking a deep breath.
"Would you stay for a little while longer?" she pleaded. "My mother is in no condition to move at the moment. The burden of the family falls to me now and I need help. Oscar and Victoria are mourning with my mother. They're so young! Our father was our binding! My mother and I have never gotten along and now that my father's gone I fear there will be nothing that keeps us together! What am I supposed to do?! The house is only going to get five shillings! The other family has a baby! Shouldn't they take it?! But we need it as well! At least that child still has her father!" Half way through her rant she had begun to cry. At the end of it she was holding her head in her hands. Cillian reached across the table and placed his hand on top of hers.
"I'll stay," he said as she looked at him. "I'll do what I can to help." He tried to smile but he knew it looked flat. Her smile however, shone with relief. She gave his hand a small squeeze of thanks before she took the water back up to her family. Cillian noticed that the young couple in the next room had gone quiet. He figured now was as good a time as any to go up to them. He knocked on the threshold since they didn't have a door. The new wife, Anna Clement, was the first one to speak.
"Oh, Cillian, what's wrong?" Her husband, Jonathan, looked up from the bag he was packing. Their baby daughter was playing on the floor next to him. Cillian cleared his throat and reached in his pocket for the thirty pounds he had there. He looked right at Jonathan as he spoke.
"I mean no disrespect in any way. I'm sure you are perfectly capable of providing for your own family." He took out the money. "This is something that was left to me when my parents passed away. I would like you to have it. Please accept it as a token of my appreciation and gratitude." Jonathan stood and walked over to Cillian. Cillian, standing at six feet, two inches, was perfectly eye to eye with him. Jonathan looked into Cillian's eyes and then to the money in his hands. Abruptly, and shocking both Cillian and Anna, Jonathan threw his arms around Cillian's shoulders.
"Thank you," he whispered. Cillian nodded and the two men shook hands for the last time. A few minutes later, from his room, Cillian heard the Clement family leave. A few hours later, when the sun had gone down, Cillian knocked on the Connerly family's door. Elizabeth opened the door and she looked worse than she had early in the day.
"I've brought you and your family some food," he said quietly noticing the five and three year old sitting next to their mother. Oscar was playing with her hair while Victoria simply hugged her mother's hand. "Your mother might not be able to eat right now, but make sure you and your siblings do, okay?" He waited for a response and it took a while for Elizabeth to come back to reality.
"Right," she whispered. "Supper. I had forgotten about supper," she mumbled. Cillian took one look at her and knew that she was in no position to do anything. He gently guided her to the bed and sat her down. He placed the food on the floor and called to Oscar and Victoria.
"Hey, you guys must be hungry." He said with a smile. The two little ones nodded and Cillian had them sit on the floor and eat their food. He then prepared a plate for Elizabeth. The warmth of the bowl in her hands seemed to bring her back to life for a moment. She looked up to see Cillian smiling at her. She looked back down at her food and slowly began to eat. Cillian noticed the mostly packed luggage and cleanliness of the room.
As the three children ate, he finished their packing. He knew Elizabeth was watching him. He also knew that the girl was in love with him. He felt sorry that he couldn't return her feelings. He would've liked to. She was incredibly smart with a solid head on her shoulders and yet, he didn't see her as any more than a sister. He hoped that helping them out wouldn't add to her crush. But, seeing as she had just lost her father, he doubted that he was even in her thoughts to begin with...
Three days passed until Elizabeth was finally able to bring her mother to walk. Cillian helped carry their luggage to the train station. At the station, they weren't the only ones there. The last few families were there waiting as well. Mrs. Connerly sat staring at her two little ones playing with sticks. Elizabeth sat close to Cillian. A few minutes before the train was supposed to arrive Cillian handed Elizabeth a small money purse.
"What's this?" she asked?
"Fifty pounds," he said nonchalantly. Elizabeth was so shocked she almost dropped the purse. "Put it in you pocket and keep it safe."
"But, how did you come across money like this?" Cillian simply shrugged.
"It's some of what I got when my parents passed away."
"Oh," she said softly, putting the purse away. "Cillian?" she asked a few moments, "You didn't buy a ticket." Cillian looked down the tracks.
"No, I guess not." A heavy silence fell between them.
"Are you not leaving on the train?" she asked softly, looking towards her siblings.
"Then why do you have your bag? Where are you going?" Cillian looked at her and smiled.
"Where are you going?" he asked back.
"I was planning to go to our aunt's house in London but now I think we can afford our own small flat until I can find work." Cillian nodded. "Well, what about you?"
"I've got a few pounds left; I was thinking of walking..." He could almost here her mouth drop.
"Walk?" she half-laughed. Cillian gave a small chuckle himself.
"Yes, walk. People used to do that before trains." She smiled and they talked some more before they heard the whistle of the train. Suddenly, Elizabeth's smile disappeared and she looked hopelessly to Cillian. He smiled and placed a kiss on her forehead just as the train came to a stop.
"You'll be fine. You're strong. Your mother needs you the most right now. And you have the ability to give your siblings an education. Don't waste it." A few soft tears rolled down her cheeks and Cillian placed a small kiss on her lips. "Go on now." She smiled and in a second made up her resolve. She bent and got her mother up. Elizabeth made sure her mother and her sibling's tickets were all accounted for. She made sure that they had all their luggage. And finally, she looked out the window. As the train began to move she looked one more time to Cillian. Yes, she was still horribly burdened with her father's death but, right now, she had three people depending on her. She took that kiss and locked it away. It would have to do for now. His small wave reached her and she sat down with the smallest seed of will to move forward.
Cillian watched until the train completely left his sight. That was the last train that was supposed to come here. Cillian was the last one left in a newly formed ghost town. He gave it six months before a company moved in and rebuilt. Directly across the train tracks was the beginning of a forest. He stared at it for a while. However, the more he looked, the more he felt as though some one was looking back.
"What are you waiting for?" A voice, clear as a bell rang through his head. But it wasn't just a voice telling him to go explore the unknown now that his responsibilities are gone. No. It her voice. It was the voice he thought he had dreamt of the day of the fire. He shifted his bag on his back. His body tensed as it prepared to run. "Well?"
Cillian's heart raced as he prepared to do something he hadn't planned on. It had been years since he swore he'd never use it again. He wasn't even sure that he could use it anymore! He closed his eyes and focused his energy to them. When he opened them he looked into the forest. Not just what any normal person could see, his eyesight was able to keep moving forward. He was three miles in when he saw them: a pair of eyes, as green as summer grass.