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The Last Hope
I’ve been called ignorant, vile, repulsive, a hinder to society, and what will inevitably cause the world to end, again. I’ve been chased with a broom, shot by both a gun and a Taser, forced to hide in rotted garbage, and had to fake my own death. Life hasn’t been good to me.
The people who did this to me didn’t think much of it. We knew they were lying to us all those years ago. They thought through every word, every punctuation mark down to the last period hoping we wouldn’t grasp the real concept. We all did, far too well. Our hearts leapt, our stomachs lurched and while we were dazed they began to tangle us in a web of lies. It was only an infant then but it would soon grow much larger.
They told us they were doing this to keep us safe. They told us this would make us a stronger and a more prosperous people. They told us many things, trying to make it seem like they were doing good instead of what everyone else saw it for. They were spreading poison and the fear of going against them made us listen.
They told us when they began to die it was their own fault. They said they caught a foreign disease and that was the end of them. No investigations, no formal papers written up, and no conclusions besides their own. They refused anything but their word.
Once we got over the fear, we revolted but didn’t do much good. Half the population was killed by them, an idiotic move because there aren’t much of us left. They did it anyway, trying to prove a powerful point. They were more powerful than us.
That was ten years ago and you couldn’t imagine the state we are in now. If you even mention the subject people all around you will hush you in silent whispers. Dread stabs its icy cold fingers into their hearts from the fear of the Stachia Police. I pity them.
I don’t much of when we revolted but I do know some. Everything else has come from stories my Nana has told me. That is until they forbade any talk of it. We have the power to defeat them yet they have more control of us than we do of ourselves.
I for one have never lived comfortably. I’ve had to live without my parents since I was five and lived on the streets since I was six. The orphanage kicked me out because they couldn’t keep me hidden any longer and were afraid they’d be caught with me and get killed. They didn’t tell me that but I knew it. The only reason they had kept me was because they felt sorry for me.
I’ve learned to live in the bellies of shadows, hide behind corners and duck under blows. The time when everyone is basking in the summer rays I’m lost in the mindless world of dreaming. When the moon comes to catch the sun I go with, and both of us are wretched to find the sun has left without us.
I repeat the process, staring at the rungs of the ladder debating in my mind whether it is dark enough to leave. I run my hand along the rung, the cold chill of the metal making me shiver. The seconds begin to feel longer as my undying quench for thrill runs desiccated. I sigh and step onto a rung, not able to wait any longer.
I live in the basement of a house that caught on fire years ago. It was during the revolt, right before they killed everyone. There was a day the people were so infuriated they ran the streets torching everything in their path. Sadly, it included my family’s house. I still remember that day, my mother had rushed to my bedroom, scooping me in her arms and running through the flames to save me. She ended up with burns all over her body, the skin peeled from her body like wax paper.
I was sobbing, curled up on the ground like a roly-poly. The vision of my mother battered and torn apart, hurting so bad when she was the most moralistic person in Stachia, was too much for my tiny child emotions to bear. Even in the pain that stole her body she comforted me.
The sound of my feet hitting the metal rungs of the ladder is miserably hollow as I climb back into reality. My hands hit the top rung and I press them to the metal door capping me off from the world. I step a few rungs higher and slam my shoulder into the unforgiving metal. Pain erupts in my shoulder, ramming into me as I see a flash of bright white light blind me from under my eyelids.
I shake it off as I open the doors and lightly lay them down. I climb out, close the doors and place the garbage that conceals them on top. I look at my masterpiece with an amused smile. I gaze up into the sky and my smile flies downwards as I see the sun shimmering in the summer heat while it dwindles lazily above the horizon.
I sigh as I slump against the wall. I have to wait until the horizon covers the sun completely and simultaneously hide from the Stachia Police, which is proving difficult with my lack of patience. I watch as the pinks in the sky grow vibrant, blending in hues of orange and purple as the clouds stretch across the sky like cotton balls. The colors shine in short vibrancy and are soon consumed by the falling night.
The sky is consumed by black darkness, seemingly beautiful as I see all the stars whispering the secrets of the heavens, beckoned closer by my scornful eyes. The moon appears in its full glory, radiant and shining its pearly glow on me as I gawk up at it like a lost lover.
I ease down the alley way with fleeting confidence, every shadow seeming like the shadow of a Stachian Policeman. The jitters get to me and I feel my heart racing as I press my chest on the cool stone, peering around the corner and into the empty streets.
My heart thumps loudly in my ears as the corner digs into my chest. The street lights are so dim I can barely make out a window from an advertisement, but low enough so they glare at the street with dim hope.
By now my eyes have gotten used to the claustrophobic darkness, almost as well as the Stachian Policemen do when they have their Night Vision goggles on. I breathe in a sigh of relief as I see no black jackets hiding in the shadows, searching and waiting for me.
A part of me panics, knowing there has never been a case where there hasn’t been at least one Stachian Policeman. I ignore it with a shrug of my shoulders, knowing moments like these are short lived and I better be grateful and start living.
I step away from the corner with growing confidence. There hasn’t been a moment in my life where I haven’t had to stay hidden. For the first time, I don’t have to. Suspicion lays heavily on my heart for I know there are always Stachia Policemen out terrorizing the civilians. Not a moment has passed where I haven’t seen one beating a citizen for no reason other than cruelty.
I cross the road without looking both ways, knowing there’s no need to. No one drives cars in Stachia anymore; after the revolt that “privilege” was taken from us. I hear the hollow sound of my feet sliding across the pavement carelessly. I try to resist the urge to sprint to the other side and hide in the crevices of the brick walls. After all, my reflexes have taught me to do so ever since I was on my own.
My feet hit the sidewalk and I begin walking, soon taking a left at a corner onto another empty street. My head fogs with questions as I begin to wonder what the cause of the mass disappearance is, for Stachia streets are never vacant.
I hold my breath as I stop in front of the inviting little restaurant nestled between two abandoned chain stores. After we became the only sustainable city left, all the major corporations crumbled. We were worried there would be no income and profitable jobs for the citizens but many self-owned businesses sprouted from the roots of the ones that had dissolved by the far too modernized world.
One of those self-owned businesses included the one of my grandmother. She opened a restaurant long before the world collapsed around us and returned to it when we were free. I remember her when I was little, baking me triscle and serving me warm hugs which never failed to please. Unfortunately, ever since the revolt she has learned that in Stachia you have to be hard as a rock and not soft as warm bread coming from the oven.
I step inside, a small bell on the door jingling in welcome as I do. I look around and take my second home in with a warm embrace. It is a very small restaurant, only five tables with three chairs to each, none of them matching in any shape or form, but that is how everyone, including myself, likes it. The walls are a deep maroon with a picture frame adorning every inch of them. I search for the grandest of all the photos and manage to keep my face free of tears, which isn’t hard anymore after looking at it tear free for years.
It is of my parents and me when I was three years old, before they started putting people in Braeden and two years before the revolt. The smiles on our faces tell me we weren’t expecting a thing in the perfect little world Stachia was, could go wrong. We were so naïve; we didn’t expect them to begin committing the horrible crimes that began soon after.
We were standing before this very restaurant. I stood in front of my parents, hugging my mother’s leg with the toddler charm I never ceased to deceive people with. My father had his arm around my mother, his beautiful deep brown hair tousled from the wind. I push my fingers through my own hair, the same woody brown as he had. A deep aching feeling grows in my heart, a resonating emptiness that no love can ever cure. Only their presence can bring it back.
I close my eyes to prevent the pain from piercing me further and breathe in the warm smell of triscle in the oven. It never fails to comfort me, my mother made the recipe. It has been the most popular item on the restaurant’s menu ever since.
“Boone!” I hear my wonderful cranky old lady scream from inside the kitchen, obviously tired from a long day of working, “Be of some value other than sucking all my air and get in here!”
A big smile spreads across my face as I amble into the kitchen with a sarcastically leisure pace. I love my Nana and she loves me, even though for the past ten years she hasn’t shown me much love. She used to be warm and full of love, and she still is but has learned to conceal it from the Stachia Police. They prey on the warm and loveable.
I stop in the doorway of the kitchen and lean on the frame with an elbow, giving her a humorously quizzical look. She calls me something in Stachian that shouldn’t be repeated. Thankfully though, only the older generation still speaks Stachian, when it was required. After the law fell apart everyone switched back to the far easier and more universal English, though we all know Stachian either way.
I give her an amused smile and saunter over to her, careful not to push her. She may look as hard as stone but she often has the patience of a crying toddler. Even so, she is the most important person to me. She is the only family member I have left and has taken care of me by hiding me the best she can. After all, she set up my basement for me, which has allowed for me to sneak out without being noticed.
“Lighten up Nana, the Stachia Police aren’t out today.” I elbow her playfully.
She returns to making little dishes of triscle, muttering more insulting things in Stachian. I watch as her hands craft the dough around the pan and pour the delicious filling of oatmeal, chocolate, strawberries, apples, and coconut in the pan. It may sound revolting but it is enough to make my mouth water just by looking at her make it. She places the open-faced pie in the oven and turns to me with a wave of her hand.
She walks to where she was making the triscle and begins picking the scraps up, “It’s not a good thing Boone. I heard they’re thinking of letting the Braedens go.”
I feel my body freeze with horror, my face falling ashen as I stare at her in utter shock. Words fail to reach my lips as the terror seizes my heart. No one talks about the Braedens anymore. After they were banished we saw how much power the government truly has over us. They took our loved ones while we stood and watched it all.
The subject is so sensitive no one dares to talk about it. It brings all native Stachians to tears. Anyone that was here before the revolt knows how it feels. I still get teary eyed at the subject but have long learned to never shed tears. Tears are nothing but a weakness and the people who see them can only hold it against you in the future.
“I suggest you stay hidden Boone, the Stachia Police will be out more frequently and I can’t hide you here again, not after what happened last time.” Nana looks at me with complete worry, her cold façade slipping momentarily.
Obviously, the Stachia Police and the Stachian government know everything about everyone that lives in Stachia. Therefore they know Nana is my grandmother and know I have been spotted countlessly in her shop. No civilian would ever turn in a report of sighting me; everyone knows my story and wouldn’t do that to me. Only the undercover Stachia Policemen do, who have learned to hide themselves far better than I can spot them.
After the revolt and after they killed so many people, there was only a handful of us left. Stachia makes up a mere three hundred that sluggishly grows by the depleting years. Many know I hide out where I do but they also know what happened to my parents. My parents knew everyone and they loved my parents too much to turn their back on their last remaining hope.
Last time the Stachia Police got close to catching me in Nana’s restaurant. I hid in the ovens which were thankfully turned off. They came so close to finding me I could smell the cologne reeking from them like skunks. After that, Nana and I knew I couldn’t hide at the restaurant anymore. They have been checking the store daily over the past year.
“And the fact that they aren’t out today makes me even more suspicious. You know the Stachia Police as well as I do and they don’t leave the streets unguarded. I think they are planning some sort of grand unveiling, making them releasing the Braedens -if they are at all- seem heroic.” Nana builds her walls back up and takes the triscle from the oven.
I stare at it hungrily, my eyes visually eating it. I can almost feel the hot, savory sauce running down my throat and down my chin. As soon as she turns her back after she sets it down, my hand whips out to sneak a bite, but her spatula is faster than my fingers and smacks down on my skin. It glows bright red as I bring it back and cradle it sorrowfully in my other hand.
She points her spatula at me angrily as I rub my tender hand, a waterfall of pain riveting down my arm, “You watch yourself.”
She picks it up and sets it on the service bar. She rings the bell with her spatula and I watch as an elderly man comes to retrieve it.
He smiles at me, “Great to see you Boone.”
I search my memory for a name to go with his wrinkled face and deep wise eyes but I come up blank, “Hi,” I respond austerely.
He slips some coins on the counter and picks up his triscle. I scowl at him with growing jealousy beaming in my eyes. I haven’t had anything to eat since last night and the thought of a warm triscle to calm my electrified nerves sounds more appealing than a glass of warm milk.
“I needed to get some grub in me before the big ceremony.” He smiles but it vanishes when he looks at his watch, “Oh, it looks like I’m going to be late.”
He picks up the triscle and hurries out the door, a panicked look on his face stronger than the wrinkles embedded into his once youthful skin. Nana and I look at each other, wonderment mirrored in each other’s eyes.
“You don’t think he means…” I ask her, my face outlined with horror.
She looks at me with a wide-eyed expression, “What else could it be?”
Almost automatically we begin racing around the kitchen, turning off the ovens and lights. She throws a large overcoat to me with an adorning hat to conceal my face and body. If we are going to leave I have to make sure I am unrecognizable to any Stachian Policeman. If they catch sight of me, which is a rarity at such a big event like this, they will not hesitate to either kill me or throw me in Braeden.
It takes minutes for us to get out of the shop, locking it up and rushing down the street towards Town Square. At first we are sprinting but from the pain on Nana’s face I slow down and allow her to wrap her arm around me.
Worry increases in my brow as I see her face screaming of pain, limping on her sore knees and clutching her weak back with her free hand. I slow down even more as her breath becomes ragged and short, her face crying of agony.
“No! Leave me Boone, go to Town Square. Don’t get caught Boone, please,” She struggles to get more words out as she collapses on the curb beside the street, “I can’t go any further, my old weary bones won’t allow me. But you are young, you have the strength. Run, and don’t stop running. If they see you Boone, do the same.”
“But Nana-” I try to object, my efforts fruitless to her stubborn ways.
“No! You must-”
“We have to get you to the hospital,” I am the one to interrupt this time, stepping closer to her with pleading eyes, “I’m not leaving you on the streets unprotected.”
“You treat me like a child!” She scowls as she looks away, still clutching her sore bones, “I am an old lady Boone and its time you start treating me like it.”
“Go!” Her eyes glare into me, fiery rage frightening me.
I step back, afraid to leave her but more terrified of staying and facing her. I turn my back and start sprinting again, keeping my eyes dry but still glassy eyed. I resist the urge to turn around and sprint back to her, knowing if I do neither Nana or I will know what happened at the festival.
I hear it before I see it. The voice booms over the loudspeakers, ones that are rarely used except for the daily recital of the laws, which they will never get me to listen to, much less follow. I push my legs harder as the voice calls to me from overhead:
“People of Stachia, loyal, outstanding people who have outlived and outlasted every other form of life on this graceful planet we call Earth.”
I grit my teeth in protest as I see the herd of mindless sheep spilling from the Town Square. I slow down to a fast walking speed, joining the empty shells of people.
“Many of you remember the dark times from Stachian history. The people, the strong people that had outlived all the rest who foolishly rose against the Stachian government and dared to criticize the carefully guided decisions of the Stachian government.”
I push my way through the crowd, such a stern look on my face the people move out of my way without further motivation. My teeth are so firmly pressed together I feel my gums screaming at me to stop. This man speaks nothing but lies and it takes all of me not to scream every insulting word in Stachian back at him.
“They were refuting our decision to separate the terrorizing civilians of Stachia that continuously pressed crimes upon our glorious people.”
My knuckles grow white as my fists clench, my fingernails painfully digging into the palms of my hands. I stop in the middle of the crowd, close enough to get a good look at the “president” of Stachia. I use the word loosely.
He stands in a crisp pinstriped blue suit, his white undershirt pristine and his black tie blaring death to us all. He stands upon a large platform which I have seen many times before when the president has made speeches like these. A sheet of clear, bulletproof glass blocks the civilians away from the delicate stocky man. It confused me before because we have no weapons but I have long since understood the reasoning behind it. It is a symbol that tells us exactly what the Stachian government has been saying for the past fifteen years.
They are in power, we aren’t. They will continue to have the power and we won’t. They will abuse that power and there’s nothing we can do to stop them. No matter how many there is of us, there will always be more of them.
“Braeden, we called it. The filthy people could fester in their satanic ways while we, the prosperous and righteous ones, could live in peace. Of course influenza, poverty, and things similar broke out in Braeden while we stayed healthy and rich.”
I pinch my nerve to keep from saying something that would get me killed. It barely keeps the words pressing against my lips, begging and forcing me to spit them out from doing so. I watch as the curtain hanging somberly in black behind him shakes. What the-
“And now, there are some Braedens who have proven to us they are worth more than what they have been given.”
I watch as people begin to emerge from behind the curtain.
“We have decided to give them a second chance.”
These aren’t normal people.
“And we know that you all will graciously accept them back in with open arms.”
They’re Braedens. Clad in all black, soot covering their faces and soaked into their hair. A large black bandana covers each of their eyes, not like you can see it. Their hands cover the space where their bandanas are. There are three men and one woman.
“First, we must see how they react to our environment.”
Four guards arrive from behind the curtain. They are dressed in the same suits as the president, except theirs has a wrinkle or two on that pair of trousers, a stain spotted on one jacket or on that tie. My body clenches as I watch them walk towards the Braedens.
The men rip the Braedens hands from their eyes and bind them behind their backs. They take it in silence, though winces of pain flash across each of their faces. I stand there in shock, not knowing what to think.
I nearly fall over when each man pulls from their jacket a pistol.
“But of course, we must take primary precautions.”
He isn’t going to let them live in Stachia and I am disgusted of myself for thinking they would in the first place. The Stachian government doesn’t do this, they would never do this. Why now would I begin to wrap myself in the spider web of lies the Stachian government has created?
All at once, the men strip the Braedens from their bandanas. Shrieks of heart wrenching pain tear through the stiff air. All Stachians had stopped breathing from shock as their faces twist in horror. The Braedens twist and turn against the bindings, trying to shield their eyes in any way possible from the light blaring down on them from the lamps similar to ones used in football stadiums.
Three of them crumple to their knees, shrieking in pain as they conceal their faces into their knees. Only one stays standing and it is the woman. I stare at her in admiration and I fall to my own knees myself when I see her face, ignoring the agonizing pain shooting up my legs.
She keeps her eyes closed, her lower lip quivering in pain as the light falls on her unprotected eyes. Her hair falls in trampled knots of pin straight black strands, matted to her face from sweat and tears. Even with her face smothered with soot I see it as clear as day. Tears pour from my eyes uncontrollably as I feel joy for the first time in over ten years.
Gun shots ring in the air, covering the continuing shrieks of pain better than the shrieks covered our silence. They make the silence triple, making it harder to breath with each passing second as I suffocate on my own broken sobs.
I stare in astonished revulsion as I see the three men that had fallen to the pain each with a gunshot wound spreading red horror across their darkened bodies. A man holds a gun pointed at the lone woman’s head as the pain causes a tear to fall from her eye.
“If they can’t stand the light, then they will never be able to live in Stachia.”
The president shakes his head distastefully as he turns to the man pointing the gun at the woman and nods his head in approval. A devilish look of evil delight crosses the man’s face as he turns to the woman.
“Don’t you dare.” I growl, my voice expanding across the expanse of the audience faster than the gunshots had. The people around me shrink away as I stand to my feet and march forwards.
“Boone-” The woman begins to scream in refusal but she is quickly quieted when the man stuns her with the butt of his gun.
The crowd watches in a mixture of trepidation and amazement as I cross the distance to the front of the crowd quicker than my sprint here had. I stare at the president’s face, anger filling my bones and making me want to take a pistol of my own and shoot him in the face.
“Mr. Silverstone, I was afraid you wouldn’t be joining me tonight.”
I jump the fence that further blocks the crowd from the bulletproof glass and scale the length of it to find myself at stairs. Men begin rushing to stop me but the president gives them the sign to let me pass.
“I see the presence of your mother has made your decade of silence come to a perishable end.”
His eyes glint with darkness beyond my capable understanding. My eyes bloom with antagonism as I stop yards away from him. I feel the eyes of hundreds watching my every move.
“If you lay a finger on her-”
“You’ll what?” He laughs, amused with himself, “We got what we wanted. You took our bait and came out from hiding. We have her and now we have you. You did exactly as we planned. We were never going to kill her but we knew you would speak out if we tried. All we had to depend on is your memory of her was still strong enough to remember.”
I glare at him with growing hatred, not knowing there was enough in me to hate someone as much as I do to him.
He continues to smile at me while I scowl, “Now we have you right where we want you. I hope you had a nice life.”
The last thing I see before my world collapses before me is my mother. Her eyes have finally opened, exposing her beautiful mossy green eyes. They look at me in a mixture of bewilderment, dismay, ire, and love.
A sharp pain on my cheekbones makes me begin to drift from my unconsciousness. I sluggishly resist, wanting to succumb to the darkness once more so I don’t have to face the consequences my mistake has brought me. A harder, more vigorous pain on my cheeks yet again pulls me directly from my slumber and forces my eyes to flash open.
I instantly try to jump to my feet, to claw the president’s eyes from his skull when I see his face hovering over mine. Rope digs grotesquely into my wrists and ankles, my back cold against a metal table as I come to the sorrowful conclusion that I am tied up and to his mercy.
“Tell me the story Mr. Silverstone. Tell me what you remember of the darkened days.”
I bite on my cheeks to keep myself from calling him every insulting word I can remember in Stachian. I only glare at him, not giving him the satisfaction of giving into his demands.
He sighs, seeming thoroughly fatigued by the situation, “Fine Mr. Silverstone, if you must I will tell it to you as I remember.”
He stands in front of where my ankles lay tied and folds his hands in front of him in a businesslike manner, “It was the year 2031. The world, namely the United States had dried the world up of its petroleum. The world was thrown into havoc as the lack of an energy source drove the United States off the edge. Famine eradicated the people, millions died in the country. So many of them had never lived a life without petroleum.
“With the United States in turmoil, the European, Asian, and African countries came together to find a solution. They came to a consensus to bring together a group of people, the strongest and the most able to live in a world without petroleum. They secluded them, drugged them into a slumber that lasted thirty years. By that time, the entire population of Earth had deceased. They were taken into the middle of Europe, established a city and a government called Stachia and began a new life.
“New ways of creating energy were discovered using the Earth’s mantle. The man who led these glorious people into a new life was who, Mr. Silverstone?” He asks me, malevolent humor glowing in his eyes.
“You.” I meet his eyes with a hatred so deep in my bones it courses through my veins.
“And what did you do to repay me?” He looks at me, but when I give him no answer he continues, “You demanded a new government, a democracy you said and crime began erupting throughout the city. Knowing it was not acceptable, I separated the criminals from the righteous.”
“You threw them underground, without light and made them your slaves to produce energy for you!” I scream at him, pulling at the ropes as my face turns red with vehemence.
“So I did,” he rushes towards me, sticking his pompous nose in my face, “no one dared to stop me. When we spread disease through there no one did a thing. We lied to you many times and you believed every single one.”
“We revolted!” I bring my voice down, knowing screaming will get me nowhere, “We torched the streets, screamed our protests and you know what you did?” Getting silence from him, I continue, “You killed hundreds of people, half of Stachia to prove your point. You killed my parents when I was five years old but I guess that was also a lie. Then, you made it go as far as putting every child of anyone that revolted in Braeden.” I smile at his ostentatious face that remains silent as I give him what he wanted, a story, “But you didn’t catch me and you haven’t for the past ten years. I’ve escaped you when no one else has.”
“But guess who won in the end?” He scowls, “I did. I caught you and I kept your mother from you during your childhood while you thought she was dead. I let you get away all those years so I could bring you to this point and watch you realize you have lost, and you always have.”
I look at him with no fear now. I look at him and I refute him, “Yet I have won. I got to live while you haven’t. You don’t have an ounce of humanlike emotions left in your body. You haven’t lived in fifty years.”
Anger boils into his face as he knows what I speak is the truth. His wrinkles that I just notice now, for I have never been so close to him, fill with a deep abhorrence for me that will never run dry.
He pulls his now clenched fist in the air behind him as I continue to smile at him spitefully, knowing in every way I have won and he has lost. The people of Stachia will revolt again and this time they won’t lose. I know it will linger in every decision he makes.
I close my eyes as I see his fist flying towards my vulnerable face. A black haze washes over my vision further as steady unconsciousness overwhelms me, the pain short and sustainable. I burn with growing victory as my smile burns into his memories as the second when he lost.
I awake to pure darkness and stifling heat. It is so dark I am almost unable to stop a scream from escaping my lips. I barely keep it concealed when I hear surprising quiet breathing next to me. The blackness closes around me, suffocating me and makes my hands search the air for something stable and I surprisingly make contact with flesh, distorting the feeling of claustrophobia.
My mother’s arms wrap around me as she sobs. She holds me like she did when she rescued me from our burning house all those years ago. She did that right before she was taken away and supposedly killed, but I don’t care about my mother now. In between the sobs she tries to speak to me but it falls flat against my ears.
I left Nana all alone in Stachia, thinking both her daughter and me are dead. I left her with no one. I left her with the president and I left her to his mercy.