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"Can you hear her breathing? Listen; her breaths are numbered. It is too late, once she is out of air, she dies." My fingers reached out and made contact with the wall. I leaned against it for support. "And oh, it looks like you're going to die with her."
Antopia, my home; it is one island that holds in five thousand people by a protective bubble. In this land each person is allowed only five million breaths of air. The average lifespan of a person is about sixteen years. Seventeen, if they withhold air from themselves for a period of time. The longest, we can go without air is fifteen hours. They say that outsiders can go only minutes without air. But they also live longer, I don't know, I guess they are different.
I am twelve. I have lived in Antopia my whole life. There is no way out, even if I wanted to leave. I had a father. I also had a sister. They both died because they used up all their breaths. I also had a mother; she is the only one I remember. Or at least vaguely, I see her outline and some of her features in my mind. I have been told by the elders of Antopia that she is history. To be forgotten.
My family left me nothing. My mother was the last person to die. I wish, with all my heart I had something to remember them by. The elders tell me that it is foolish to wish for something like that. They tell me my days are numbered, and wasteful dreaming leads to a wasteful life. That is a punishable offense in Antopia, when someone is found wasting their day it results in loss of air. The elders take it away from them, which results in a shorter life.
The main building in Antopia is the Quira, a place that tracks how long you have to live. Everyone has a number. You wait for hours in line and then type in your number on a computer and your amount of breaths left comes up as well as approximately how many more days you have left to live.
I walked out of Quira one day, I wasn't extremely happy. I had only two million breaths left. The computer recommended I prepare for death. My friend Levi came running out of the building. He was young, agile, and very good at saving his breath. He and I had been friends since the day I could speak. At first he was like and older brother. Now, I felt funny around him. He slowed down when he caught up with me.
"Hey Cara, how much?" He asked beaming from ear to ear.
"Nothing worth mentioning," I grunted unhappily.
"Oh, so sad. The computer says I'll live to maybe break record. EIGHTEEN YEARS!" He let out a cheer and galloped away.
"Hooray," I waved my hands in mock celebration. I smiled a little and went on to work.
Antopia makes all its profit through mining; iron ore, diamonds, and coal. The elders offer it up to the gods and in return they bless us with everything we need. Once a week, everyone is called into Quira for the great sacrifice. Everyone holds a candle, in reverence. The elders offer up a diamond, it rises up to the gods and we receive the blessings of the gods.
I arrived at work ten minutes late, by my boss Evan's clock. He slapped me in the face a couple of times, and cursed. I put my mask on and grab a pick, avoiding eye contact with my other co-workers. I started banging away at the rock, not more than an hour passes, when my boss yelled for me over the intercom system. Everyone exchanges glances as I walk out. They were expecting me to get fired; I was expecting to get fired. But it was worse.
"Cara, it is Levi. He's dying. The elders have called for you."
"No! No! Not Levi! This can't be happening!" I threw my mask to the floor and rushed out. I tore down the streets and burst into the Quira. I rushed up the stairs, which are usually off limits to the public. Nia, one of the elders was waiting for me at the top. "He is this way," she led me down the hall and opened heavy brass doors. I walked through into another hallway each lined with cells.
"These are where they keep imposters. Why is Levi in here?" I glanced at the empty cells.
"He was caught wasting his life. So he was punished." Nia was quiet, she didn't want to say much.
"But, he had so much air left, how could he be dying?" I pried.
Nia was silent.
"Nia, answer me!" I demanded.
Still there was silence.
"At least tell me how much time he has left?" I asked quietly.
"Not long. Say five minutes," Nia was even quieter. "He is in here." She unlocked the last cell on the right.
I rushed in. Levi was lying on the floor. He was gasping for air. Puddles of blood surrounded him. There was a fresh gash in his side. "Levi, you are hurt!" I knelt beside him. In a panic I made a vain attempt to stop the blood flow by pressing my scarf against the wound.
He smiled. "Eighteen years. They sure went by fast." His voice was a whisper full of pain.
"No, no! Not over. Not yet! Levi," I wiped my fast flowing tears, "you were my only friend. My only..."
"Love?" He finished my sentence.
"Yes, my only love." I smiled and choked back a sob.
"Cara, you are in great danger. This," he pointed to his wound, "was no accident. Cara, I wasn't being wasteful. They, he, took my air, on purpose. I was in the street, he grabbed me. You’re in danger Cara, they all are."
"Levi, who did this?"
"THIRTY SECONDS!" A voice rang over the intercom.
"Cara, I love you. I want you safe."
Levi, no. Please. Don't." I wanted shake him. He couldn't leave. But instead I leaned over and kissed him. As my lips pressed against his I felt his last breath, slow and soft. Then he lay still.
I walked out of the cell in a stupor. Head elder Nile was waiting. "Miss Cara, I understand what a great loss you must have suffered. Please let extend my sympathy." He leaned in to kiss me on the cheeks, which was a custom in Antopia. I pulled away. "Of course." Nile took the hint and fell into step with me. "Cara, I must warn you that people are often delusional when they die from lack of oxygen. Everything he said was probably garbage."
I turned and made eye contact with him. He had a stupid grin on his face. "To you master elder, it was garbage to me it was not." I said quietly.
"Of course, of course dear. But nothing like hard work to ease pain. Please return to your job. And may I suggest that you forget everything that you heard him say" His voice went from soft and gentle to firm and slightly angry.
I bowed my head in reverence as was commanded and left.
I finished out my day’s work in silence. Instead of going home, like everyone else I wandered around. I made it look like I was doing something so I wouldn't be arrested for waist-fullness. Somehow I ended up at Quira. I sat in the chapel section, just thinking. This is not considered wasting your life, but something that pleased the gods.
"You," I said out-loud, because I was alone, I was speaking to the gods, "you are supposed to be kind, and merciful, how could you let him die?" I pleaded with them angrily. They didn't answer. My bench moved a little, I looked up and screamed with fright. Standing beside, dressed in all black was a woman.
"Shush child, I won't hurt you," the woman sat down next to me. Her face was hard to see because of lighting but for a moment I was sure I recognized her. "What is it child?" She asked studying my face.
"I am sorry, for a moment you reminded me of someone." I shook my head to clarify it wasn't possible.
The woman let out a long, heavy sigh. "I remind you of someone you lost long ago." She watched me again.
"Yes, yes you do," I said rather startled.
"I remind you of your mother," the woman looked at alter instead of making eye contact with me. I started to rise but she laid a hand on my knee. "Sit child, I just want to talk to you."
"Who are you?" I asked.
"If I told you, you wouldn't believe me."
"I don't know what to believe now, you are right," I sighed.
"Everything Levi told you is true. There is a great evil awake in Antopia."
I stare at her in silence.
"You hesitate to believe me? I don’t blame you. Nile, he is planning on leaving Antopia. The city is crumbling, and the elders know it. But they accept it, because it is fate."
I still remain silent but I nod to show I am listening.
"Nile has found a way out. All he needs is the air of everyone in Antopia. He will stop at nothing to get it. He killed Levi and took his air."
"How do I know you are telling the truth, and why would you tell this to me."
"If you don't believe me go into that room and move the corner stone," the woman pointed to enormous, decoratively carved, wooden doors.
I gasped. "That room is forbidden. Only the head elder can enter there. That is where the gods dwell when they enter our island."
"And only Nile can go in there. That's what makes it perfect."
"Why me?" I repeated the question.
"Because, I only trust this secrete with my daughter."
I jumped to my feet.
"Please," pleaded the woman, "Cara don't. I didn't leave you. I was taken from you."
"Mother? You are my mother?" I stared at her with disbelief.
"Cara there is so much more I want to tell you..."
"No! Just go!" My voice was quick and sharp. My mother drew back as if she had been slapped. In an instant she vanished. I sat down and placing my head in my hands rocked back and forth. Finally I made up my mind. It was a crime punishable by death, but I had to know. I stood up and quietly walked over to the wooden doors. My heart was pounding. I opened them and slipped through. I followed the winding stone staircase down. It opened up into a small room with a desk. The only thing I could think about was the cornerstone. I carefully gave it a tug. It was very loose and slide right out. There was an opening large enough for two people to get through at the same time. And it let out into the outside world. There was no sign of the barrier. I backed away and turned. My eyes fell on the desk. A knife covered in dried blood lay on it; a knife that could have made a gash just like Levi's. I ran up the stairs in horror. Nile was not only a lying, thieving, run away, he was a murder. I reached the top and stopped dead. The door was wide open and Nile was standing right in the middle.
"So, you caught me. Red handed." He laughed heartily and began walking down the stair towards me.
I backed down the stairs. My heart was racing, I could hear it.
Nile didn't expect an answer so I gave him none. I continued to back down the stairs. All I wanted was distance between Nile and me.
"Was it Ethan? No, too dumb."
I was nearing the bottom of the stairs. If he was going to kill me, that would be a perfect spot.
"Was it...your mother?"
I stopped and looked up at him.
"Yes, she is still alive, for now." He smiled a cold, merciless, smile.
"What do you want with her, with me?"
"Why you have found out my little secrete so now all I want is your death," he said it like it was common sense. "But I have something you will like much better. You keep my little secrete and I will make you wealthy." He snapped his fingers and my work clothes were replaced with a satin gown. "What do you say?"
"You killed Levi. You will kill me and my mother, and many more. It isn't worth being rich," I sassed at him.
"So be it. Can you hear her breathing, your mother? Listen; her breaths are numbered. It is too late, once she is out of air, she dies."
My fingers reached out and made contact with the wall. I leaned against it for support.
"And oh, it looks like you are going to die with her. Thanks for your air supply." He turned to walk back up the stairs.
"No please!" I tried to run after him, but my foot caught on the hem of my dress and it tore.
"What a shame, you looked nice in it." Nile smirked. "Oh and here is your mother."
My mother appeared gasping on the floor with a gash like Levi's. I knelt beside. "What is going on? Please explain!"
"I am so sorry Cara. I should have told you so long ago." She paused and gasped for air. "Cara, Nile is the great evil. He is making Antopia crumble. It will kill everyone. And once he is the only person alive from Antopia, he will sell the island rich in minerals to whoever bids the highest. You think the gods take the sacrifices. He sends them through that hole and the outsiders give him money in return." She spat like Nile was so much dirt.
"You have figured the whole thing out. Clever, Anima." Nile leaned against the wall.
I rose to my feet. "You dirty, two face, lying creep." I swung to hit him in the face but my arm froze half way and dropped to my side.
"Don't even try Cara." He sneered. "You are powerless."
I turned; my mother was using her last breaths. "No! No! No! Please mother. I just found you, and now I am loosing you. "
"Cara, destroy evil," her voice broke. She slid a ring off of her finger and handed it to me. "My wedding ring. Take it. My precious Cara. My precious daughter," She sighed and winced in pain. She took one last deep breath, and exhaled her life.
I screamed; loud enough to shake the building.
"Relax; it happens to the best of us." Nile's chill is what killed me. I rose to my feet and grabbed the knife off of the desk.
Nile laughed. "Child, put it down you could never kill me. You aren't that kind of person."
"And who are you to decide what kind of person I am?" I snapped.
"Fine, do it. Do it Cara. Ram it through me." He taunted.
I raised the knife. Nile's smirked again. I took a deep breath, and rammed the knife; into my heart. I pulled it out and sank to my knees in pain. Nile's knelt in front of me.
"You were weak, right up to the end. Too bad you ruined the dress." His hands cupped my face. "Shame mummy dearest isn't alive to see you disappoint her."
I closed my eyes. My fingers tightened around the handle of the knife. With all the strength I had left I raised the knife and rammed it into him. Over and over again. Blood spattered everywhere. He fell to the ground dead. The pain was too much and I collapsed to the ground next to my mother. I reached out next to me and grasped her hand. My breathing became hard.
As I lay staring up at the ceiling I wondered how I went, from an average life, to losing everything, including my life in one day. I found my mother and lost her, in a moment. But when I join her in death we shall be together and nothing can tear us apart. I am not a hero, like the ones we read about in books when we were in school, who died with honor. I am just me. And I killed, because I loved, and now I will die for love. I smiled and laid my hand over my heart.