We Are Dead Already

August 16, 2011
I stood in the town square, forcing myself to witness this act of empiric brutality. Two children sentenced to death in front their people was absolutely barbaric. All they wanted was food, why couldn’t the soldiers see that? Why couldn’t they see that these children and their people were starving and their only chance of unspoiled food was stolen? They had been beaten down and humiliated in front of the entire empire in every way possible ever since the empire defeated their armies nearly five years ago, and still they were resilient. Even now, the two children waiting to be executed stood tall, with their heads held high. Both girl and boy kept their expressions defiant, not begging or crying to be shown mercy, though neither of them could be more than ten or eleven.
I pushed my way to the front of the gathered crowd, the hood of my long, brown cloak keeping my face in shadow. I stopped just behind a tall man with a weeping woman clasped strongly in his arms. By the way she was attempting to rush to the children I guessed she was their mother. The man seemed to be having a hard time restraining her, the pained look on his face giving away how very much he wished he could let her go and run to the children himself. He looked too old to be her husband, so I was pretty sure he was the grandfather. The father had probably died of an illness, or had been killed by the soldiers.

I turned away from the struggling mother and heartbroken grandfather toward the raised platform of the executioner’s block. A man in a black facial hood was stepping forward, a battle ax held firmly in both hands. A guard sporting light, black leather armor with the gold seal of the empire motioned for the imprisoned children to move toward the block. Their hands and feet were clad in iron chains, the heavy metal making it hard for them to walk forward. When they didn’t shuffle fast enough, the guard put a hand on the boy’s back and shoved him roughly forward. The poor child lost his balance and toppled into his sister, knocking them both to the hard wooden floor of the platform. A cry of outrage swept through the audience. The crowd attempted to move forward before realizing that they had no weapons or anything in which to stop the soldier’s cruelty. They could do nothing but attempt to convey their anger and disgust at the soldiers through their facial expressions.

On the platform, the boy had righted himself and was helping his sister to stand. The weight of the chains was plain on their strained features. Their eyes met for a second, a silent exchange of encouragement and comfort passing between them. As they resumed their slow progress to the block, I searched the crowd, looking for anyone who would step forward to stop this malicious act. I saw tired, dirty, battle-worn faces all around me, all of them with clear rage radiating from every poor of their skin, but no one stepped forward.

My gaze returned to the execution. I bit my tongue to keep from screaming out at the soldier forcing the boy to kneel at the chopping block. Frantically I searched the crowd, surely someone would help. Someone would stop it.

My gaze flitted back to the boy. He had lowered his head of dark brown hair onto the block. His sister was being restrained by the guards, her green eyes staring intently at a knot in the wood of the platform so as not to watch her brother die. The executioner hefted the ax onto his shoulder and extended it into the air. The crowd grew deathly silent, the boy stiffened on the block, the mother cried out into the empty air, the ax swung down. I turned away, but the squishing sound still found my ears. The crowd wailed in outrage, the mother screamed and nearly crumpled to the ground, but was caught by the old man. Her sobs were coming faster now. She was choking on the hiccups and tears of her grief.
Careful to avert my gaze from the now bloody chopping block I looked back at the sister. She was still staring at the knot, but her whole frame was shaking. At first I thought it was with fear, but I quickly realized it was anger rushing through her. Her brother had just been executed and there was nothing she or anyone else could have done to stop it. Her soft mouth was barred in a snarl of hatred, and frustrated tears streamed down her cheeks. As I watched, I realized that I was crying too. Her frustration mirrored on my own face.
Why hadn’t I stopped it? Why didn’t I do something? What could I have done? I shook my head, the hot tears treading tracks down my face. I was crying for shear wickedness that the death of this boy represented. The empire had brought these people so low that they couldn’t even protect their children.
I heard them dragging the body away, but didn’t dare to turn and watch for fear of becoming sick. Once the platform was clear, the guard who had forced her brother to his death now pushed the girl toward the same fate. She stumbled a little but caught herself and stepped forward bravely. She kept her back straight, and walked tall, determination keeping her on course.
I couldn’t watch this. It was just too terrible, but I also couldn’t tear my gaze away. I felt that I owed this girl my attention; she was working so hard to keep her people’s pride that I couldn’t dishonor her by not watching. As she began to kneel without being forced the guard turned away from her and started back to his post. In the blink of an eye, she had snatched the dagger from his belt and shoved it into his back, right between the shoulder blades. The crowd gasped, and everybody in the square stilled. The guard made a gargling noise, then his legs buckled, knees hitting the platform with a loud crack. The girl leaned in and whispered something in his ear before dislodging the blade from his back. It came away with a disgusting sucking sound, and he toppled forward.
The girl then whirled on the executioner, and lunged for his throat. “Murderer!” she screamed, as she pulled the dagger back for a strike. Before she could swing down, the other guards had broken loose from their shock and come up behind her, the middle one thrusting his sword through her tiny ribcage. She stood frozen with the dagger poised to kill the executioner. After what felt like a lifetime, the dagger finally slipped from her hand and fell to the wood of the platform with a resonating thump. She buckled and fell, landing hard. Her clouded green gaze landed on her weeping mother. She tried to say something, but it was lost in a mouthful of blood. The red liquid fell from her mouth like a fountain spewing water. She coughed, her tiny body reverberating with her struggle for air. Then she was still.
Everyone in the crowd stood frozen, still too shocked to move. Slowly, the soldiers began to clean up after the executions and their now dead comrade. The children’s mother had been silent until they came for her daughter’s body. When the soldiers attempted to drag it away, she tore herself from the old man’s arms and flung her body over her dead daughter.
“Get off,” one of the soldiers ordered. “This criminal is to be burned with the other one.”
The mother mumbled something, and gripped the body even harder.
“What did you say?” growled another soldier. He began to shake the girl’s dead body to dislodge the mother.
“I said NO!” she screeched at him. “She is my daughter, and I will give her a proper burial!”
The soldiers grunted and moved to kick her off, but the crowd surged forward. The old man came up behind the woman on the ground and squared his broad shoulders, looking the soldier straight in the eye. “She will give this girl a burial, and the boy too.”
Murmured agreements filtered out from the crowd, the men all stepping to the front and crossing their arms. The women stood behind the men, but all stood with determined expressions, each ready to fight for the mother and her children.
The soldiers looked uneasy; all of them searching each other’s faces for an answer to the villagers’ spoken and unspoken statements. Finally, one shrugged and dropped his end of the stretcher on which the girl was being dragged. The others all soon followed. The soldiers lifted their dead man, and began to march back to their camp.
Once they were gone, the villagers began to prepare for the children’s burial. No one had attempted to remove the grieving mother, and no one had approached her. I stood for a good while staring at her, waiting for someone to go to her. When no one did, I walked to her side. I kneeled down over the dead girl’s face. Her green eyes were still open, staring into nothing. They were glass; beautiful but empty of depth and warmth. Not an hour ago I had seen those eyes stare down death with determination and pride. I had seen them offering comfort to her soon-to-be-dead brother when the reality of their execution set in. I saw them a light with hatred and frustration, ringed with tears, and cloudy with death’s grip. I had never met this girl, had never seen on her before in my life, yet I could still taste the salt on my lips from the tears I had shed for her.
Hesitantly, I reached over and gripped the mother’s hand. She didn’t protest, but lifted her head and gazed at me. I gazed back into the eyes of the dead girl before me. I squeezed her hand comfortingly, then gently raised my other hand and closed the eyelids on the girl’s lifeless body. I cast one more regretful look at the mother then disentangled myself and began my walk home.
I opened my front door and found the leaders of the Resistance standing around a table in the center of the room. They all lifted their heads, a question in their eyes. I slowly met every single pair of eyes in the room. All filled with life. All ready to fight. All ready to die. I lowered my head, my hands curling into fists. We are dead already. “I’ll do it.”

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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

Archangel1410 said...
Aug. 21, 2011 at 6:01 pm
Really good. 
Imaginedangerous This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 20, 2011 at 1:12 pm
The ending was great. :)
Vexing_Reality replied...
Aug. 26, 2011 at 9:51 pm
Thanks, it took me a few days to think of a good ending that would keep people interested while effectively stopping the story.
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