The Thoroughfare of Nullity

By , University Park, MD
Before the bloodbath, I wasn’t the only person left alive. My village had about one hundred souls occupying it, and they were all elderly and stank of mothballs save for the last of the children. The treacherous old seniors forced us—Ally, Jethrie, and myself—to do all their work for them. We were the only citizens eligible to work, save for the baker (he was the only one with enough concern to offer us shelter in the cellar beneath his shop). The humans are a dying race; each year the planet sees less and less of them, until finally there are about thirty villages left. Which is a frightening aspect.

I remember the day that the raiders came very clearly: Ally and I were out in the fields plucking seedler berries from their stalks. This is hard work, for the stems attached to the berries are tough and malleable. You need a knife to cut them off properly, but I left my pocketknife back in the cellar. We resort to our hands instead; soon our knuckles are so cut and raw that they bleed.

Ally’s half the size as me though she’s older by a day-and-a-half, and so is Jethrie; all three of our mothers gave birth to us around the same time in the same building (what a coincidence that they all died in labor, too). Her ragged skirt is too tiny to fit her growing frame, and I watch as gooseflesh crawls up her bare legs in the wind. She’ll be fifteen in less than a month. I take off my jacket and drape it over her shoulders. It may not help much, for my coat is as threadbare as her skirt, but it’s a sign of love that she recognizes at once.

“Thank you, Xander,” she whispers before hunching up her shoulders. She has brunette hair that falls behind her ears in long curls, and its hue matches her eyes. Her eyes. They fill me with joy every evening, after a hard day’s labor for the benefit of the lethargic townspeople, because when she sings, they flash with a light of their own. Her voice is high. Clear as a bird’s. After she finishes singing, you know you’ve just heard someone really sing. She knows I love the sound of her voice, and perhaps she feels like she owes me something for lending her my coat, so she opens her mouth and begins to sing. My heart hammers, and tingly spasms begin to ripple up and down my spine. It’s not from the cold, though. Her voice is mesmerizing.

Far beyond the trodden path

There is a place where we’ll be safe, safe at last.

To You we pray, hear our prayer

that all that remains good will prevail.

Oh—oh—oh-a-ohhhh

Where we’ll be safe, safe at last.

The song is a lullaby-prayer, one that was supposedly sung long ago on the Winter Solace. But that was before the seniors forbade it. I’m not really surprised that she actually remembers the lyrics after all this time; Ally has a photographic memory.

Suddenly, Jethrie tears through the crops, crushing them as he runs. He trips once, but quickly springs to his feet. His shaking hands grasp me tightly by the shoulders, as if I’m his life raft in a stormy sea. His face is a mess, all cut and dirty from dashing through the field’s sharp crops, and his jet-black hair is mussed. He looks out of breath.

“Take Ally to the cellar, now!” he shouts. “Get the stuff and put it in my rucksack. Then get out of here. Go, do you understand? Don’t wait for me! GO! I’m going to stay and try to help.”

“Jethrie, what’s happening?”

“Raiders,” he announces gravely. I see Ally’s face go taut with fear.

Oh no, I breathe. This can’t be good. Without another word, I drop my seedler fruits and seize Ally by the wrist. Jethrie cuts through the field a different way as Ally and I dash towards the village.

As long as I can remember, the hushed talk of raiders has always intrigued and frightened me; they’re like a bad omen, something unseen but always looming on the horizon. I know that the odds will not be positive if they’ve decided to pay our village a visit. No doubt it will turn sadistic.

When we get to the village, it’s chaos. The seniors are running to and fro as fast as they’re able, trying to save themselves, not caring about anyone else. The cowards. Overhead, I hear the wailing of approaching planes and the fire of guns. The raiders are getting closer.

Ally and I burst through the slightly ajar bakery door. It’s abandoned, just as I expected. We tumble down the narrow flight of steps behind the counter and enter our tiny cellar, where we immediately begin stuffing everything into Jethrie’s leather rucksack. I just have stashed my pocket knife in when there’s a loud crash and a flurry of screams from outside. There’s no more time to waste. Ally’s eyes are wet and I know she’s just as scared as I am. Upstairs in the bakery, I grab as many loaves as I am able and squeeze them into the rucksack. Then, we sprint into the street.

I see smoke billowing out from one of the buildings; at first, I think that in the confusion it caught fire, but when I look closer I see that one of the planes has dropped a bomb. And more are pelting down like rain.

“Run!” I scream to Ally. We try to evade Main Street by ducking down an alley, but suddenly a bomb lands on the bakery, showering us with debris. Which is when I smell the gas.

It’s a cloying smell, bittersweet and strange and very intoxicating. I am beginning to feel its effects almost instantaneously, yet I manage to press my shirt over my mouth so I will not be drugged. I turn my head to motion for Ally to do the same. But I can see that it’s too late.

I drop to her side and try to rouse her, but her eyes are rolling up in their sockets and her skin’s cold and sweaty to the touch. I know that I can’t, I won’t, leave her. Slowly, I begin to drag her along the cobblestones of Main Street, while the elders run about, shrieking, not caring about us.

“Help!” I yell at them, but of course they don’t pay attention. I notice that all the buildings are going up in flames, and more people are collapsing in the bombs’ gases…I can’t get away in time, not if I’m carrying Ally.

“No!” I say, but I have to, even though it’s tearing my heart in two. I leave her body lying on the cobblestones, spread-eagled, and push my way through the screaming crowd, into the field of seedler berries. I don’t stop running.

I lope through the fields like a plow, never resting. Soon the crops dwindle and I’m on a rocky plain with soil as red as the sun hanging high in the sky. Night falls. I still run. I’m thankful for my long legs that propel me forward, but not for my gangly feet that occasionally cause me to lose purchase on the uneven footing.

The moon is full and I am still sprinting, until finally my foot snags on a stone and I fall flat on my face. I cry then, but not from pain. I think of Ally and Jethrie and my village and the elders, though I couldn’t care less about those seniors. Why did the raiders target our village? Why did they gas us? Wasn’t there supposed to be a truce between them and the blue collars? Why are all these horrible things happening? Why? Why?

I wipe my face with the back of my hand and take a sip of water to calm my nerves. I’m still a little shaken up, but I feel like I have to keep moving; I’m terrified that the raiders will fly overhead, spot me, and drop a bomb on me. I sling the rucksack over my shoulder and half-jog, half-run through the craggy desert.

As the spindly trees and boulders whip by, thoughts pound in my head, and I don’t make any attempts to stop them:

—Ally dead—

—Jethrie is too, probably—

—All your fault—

—You could have saved them—you could have fought off the raiders—

I fall to my knees and succumb to horror. I think of Ally lying there, twitching. I vomit again and again, even though my stomach’s empty. I can’t breathe. I can’t see…I’m tearing my hair out in frustration and rage and guilt…everything is dark…I’m falling…

I press my face against the cold earth, giving myself up. I don’t even care if the raiders find me—let them. At least then maybe I’ll see Ma and Pa and Ally and Jethrie in heaven. But then, I realize that it’s not the gritty sand my face is pressing against. It’s a road, a synthetic line cutting straight through the wilderness.

I scrabble to my feet. It’s an old road, covered in dust and pebbles, but the dark concrete reflects the light of the rising sun. That’s hope enough for me. Roads mean villages, and villages mean people. I have to warn them, I think. Warn them about the raiders.

I look up and down the road. It stretches the length of the desert, going on and on in both directions. I look to my right. It’s still dark there, and the land is flat and barren. It has a slightly abandoned look; I can’t quite pinpoint it, but there’s something foreboding about that side of the road. I switch my eyes’ gaze and peer to my left. Rocky peaks rise up against the sky, which I take as a good sign: establishments surely must be stationed there, so they can have a good view of the surrounding area. I decide that going left is my best bet. As I scour the area, I notice that the sunrise in that direction is bright-orange: Jethrie’s favorite color.

These thoughts seem to fill me up with a boldness that I have never possessed before, and then I step onto the road. I feel the hard concrete under the balls of my feet. I grip Jethrie’s rucksack that now belongs to me a little tighter, and then, looking at the world in a way I never have before, I take the first steps of my journey down the road with no particular destination. To nowhere. A thoroughfare of nullity. The sun creeps up over the mountains and it bathes me in its full light. In the soft morning breeze, I can hear Ally singing her lullaby…

Far beyond the trodden path


There is a place where we’ll be safe, safe at last.

To You we pray, hear our prayer


that all that remains good will prevail.

Oh—oh—oh-a-ohhhh




Where we’ll be safe,

safe at last.





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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

Anonomous said...
Oct. 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm
I cried at the end!!!!!
 
Mikie said...
Oct. 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm
WOW!!! plz write more!!!
 
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