Promise Me

August 14, 2011
By PromiseMe SILVER, Edgewood, New Mexico
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PromiseMe SILVER, Edgewood, New Mexico
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Favorite Quote:
"Life is about falling down. Living, however, is about getting back up."
"What lies behind us, and what lies before us, are small matters compared to what lies within us."
"It's not who you are that holds you back, it's who you think you're not."

Author's note: This novel is inspired a dream that my boyfriend (at the time) told me about. We're not together anymore, but I could have never written this without him inspiring me every step of the way, so it still goes out to him :)

The author's comments:
I'd appreciate tips on how to make the reasons for war more realistic. Other than that, tell me what you think!

Before we begin, I want to make two things perfectly clear.
First, I’ll probably be dead by the time anyone finds this. I want to be.
Second, I'm a fugitive.
I wish I could think of a better word than that, but I suppose I'm lucky enough that I still have the mental capacity to even think of the one. However, the word fugitive paints the wrong picture, makes my frantic actions seem selfish and unjustified. You might picture me as an escaped convict running from the police, fighting for my own selfish gain; the situation is far more severe than a petty fight for undeserved freedom, though it is correct that my freedom is at stake. Maybe you have a darker imagination, the potential to think of a situation much closer to reality. Maybe, you might think, I'm running from hit men of sorts, guns hired by someone with a deadly grudge against me. I wish that were the case, actually.
The reason I'm dragging on with this is because you couldn’t possibly imagine the nightmares I've faced. No one had foreseen this until the very last ash had settled onto the broken, scorched land. Just months ago, I was merely a teenage girl. I lived in my safe home with my loving family—both of which have been blown to hell by now. The thing is, they weren’t the only ones. That would have been horrifying enough, but the range of devastation has snaked it’s skeletal, deathly fingers farther than my hometown, than my state, than even my country’s borders.
The world as you know it now is far from the world I've been forced into, headfirst and completely against my will. My world is a dark place, and people like me—rebels, fighters, fugitives—are a dying breed.
So, how exactly did it all go up in smoke? Exactly how most things do—greed, hatred, and of course, good intentions gone horribly wrong. Rumors started flying in July of 2013, but it wasn’t until about October of that year that fighting over land and power broke out in several countries, including America and a few of its allies. The government had tried to negotiate in order to keep the peace, and when that failed, they tried to use the military’s force to control the situation. If they’d succeeded, the situation might have ended right there and I might be sitting at home with my family at this moment, and I might have been able to look forward to about forty more years of life. Needless to say, they didn’t succeed; that much is evident as I cower in the wreckage, alone in the world and with time rapidly running out. What had started as a few international clashes had snowballed into World War III, and this time we were foolish. We didn’t stop the fighting until we’d bombed each other to the point where civilization began to crumble beneath our feet. It immediately became evident that our race was too flawed to withstand anything on this scale, because our darkest sides began to emerge as the situation spiraled downward. Supplies were short and, being the greedy, selfish people that we were, riots broke out and looting was a common offense.
The riots hadn’t touched our town. Yet somehow, the unrest eventually grew in small spots in the country until it spread; so much so, in fact, that by December of 2013 America’s entire population—even people like my family who saw no reason to fight were caught up in it—was thrown into full-scale rebellion. That pretty much dragged down whatever bits of society that remained, and by December of 2013, the sun seemed to be setting for America’s future. And it did set, for people like me. For more than a month we wallowed in our own destruction, until help slowly reached us. They gave us food and rebuilt the damaged areas of our cities, gave us enough money to get us started once more. They called themselves Samaritan. Of course, people immediately clung to the absolution that they’d found, and even doubters like me had to admit that they showed promise for our broken land. For a while, their uniformed soldiers that stood on every block were a sign of comfort, a sign that we finally had control again.
But in just a few months, it became startlingly clear that we were under a dictatorship’s thumb. They began to slowly, almost to the point where it was unnoticeable, cross the line with the way they ruled. The new laws that they’d placed over our healing society were bindingly strict, almost a complete one-eighty from the freedoms that were once our right. They didn’t offer second chances. The death penalty was issued at least a dozen times a week in Albuquerque, the city to the west of my small town. I suppose that maybe that could have been excused; maybe we needed to be frightened into good behavior, because hadn’t careless rebellion been the cause of our downfall in the first place? But then our privacy was invaded, and the soldiers began to put invasive devices into our poorly repaired homes—that is, if you were lucky enough to have someone do the repairs for you or if you were enough of a craftsman to do it yourself. The second that Samaritan operatives got word that you were speaking against their supposedly infallible rule, you were hauled off and never heard from again. As word leaked about what usually became of Samaritan’s captives, people started to see Samaritan’s injustice and unrest once again boiled over and conditions worsened for even favored, loyal citizens. We were in trouble.
And now, as I let these pages narrate my personal account of this horror story, I want you to imagine the world as it is now, as it might still be to whoever cares to read this. Imagine, if you will, a small town in New Mexico, one that most outsiders have never even heard of. A town surrounded by distant mountains in almost every direction, with a few hills here and there, dotted with juniper trees and prickly-pear cacti. Other than stretches of ranches and houses, a few schools and a library, the only bustling part of town was a little square with a convenience store, gas station, et cetera. You’ve lived here ever since you can remember. It’s your home.
And in less than six months, all you can make sense of is that the rest of the country is in the process of being punished for rebellion.
They say that your town is next.
Now, as these horrors weigh like a thousand bricks on your shoulders, imagine lying in bed and wracking your brain, crying out as you try to think of how to go back. Imagine the torment of knowing that it’s only a matter of time before your town becomes like the cities that Samaritan has shown on the TV screen to serve as a warning to what’s coming. Imagine having no choice but to wait until the fire and the firing squads bear down on you like a shadow in the night. You’re watching an even more horrifying form of punishment spread through your town like a disease—starvation. Your family’s been lucky enough to preserve enough food to stay afloat, but what happens when they cut you off completely? When you’re forced to watch your family waste away to nothing?
Sometime in the middle of these horrors, a dim memory comes to you.
I’d just thrown myself against the bed and hurled myself into another fit of sobbing when it came to me—a voice that I hadn’t had the privilege to hear in almost a year, speaking softly over the telephone and asking me for a favor. I’d sort of laughed it off as his author side carrying him away, but now I knew that he’d known more than I’d given him credit for. He probably didn’t remember the promise we’d made each other, but I had. I could hear his voice whispering to me, silencing the sobs that rocked my body:
“Skylar, if something ever happens to where you can't trust the people around you, come find me. I don’t care how long it might be since we talked, I have a place to hide out and we’ll be safe, alright? Promise me”
I knew it was a long shot. That Daniel had probably fled to his hideaway the second he saw the danger, which would have been earlier than most did. I hadn’t talked to him since I was almost sixteen years old, more than a year ago. But he’d have the solution that would protect my family. Besides, I'd missed him. So I owed it to everyone involved to leave my family for the moment to search.
I didn’t know that it was already too late to save my family.

The author's comments:
Keep in mind that I'm rewriting this soon, so let me know any feedback you have.

The sun had turned pink; time was almost up for me.

I stared up at the hazy orb that loomed over me in the sky, mocking my failure as it raced unstoppably Westward. I leaned against the weak stone wall, remembering when a sun that color was only possible when a terrible fire burned the air, and how it used to hurt your eyes to stare into its white-hot light; the ashes and smoke of my old home took away even that familiarity away. I wondered when they would stop burning their own territory in an attempt to force into the open the only brethren that I had left--that was, of course, if any but me remained.

I resisted the urge to heave a sigh—even the smallest sound, when fallen on another ear, could be the end of me—and reached into the dark green outdoorsman’s backpack that was slung over one of my slight, pathetically bony shoulders. I felt around the nearly empty side pocket until my pockets grasped the cold, metallic circle. I held the cool silver in the palm of my hand and toyed with the latch of the pocket watch, its quiet ticking the only sound among the wreckage. Before the Wars, the incessant ticking would have driven me up the wall, but now it was just about the only thing that broke the stifling silence. It was a strange trinket to carry around through the wreckage of a rebellion, but it was the only piece of my old life that I’d salvaged from the rubble of my home.
My stomach twisted unhappily and I fought the wave of emotion that descended upon me at the memory of that day, but at least I was beyond shutting down at the thought. Or maybe I was becoming the hardened, unattached person who was really the only version of myself that could last in a world like this. I didn’t want to be that person, to lose myself to a monster in order to adapt to a dying world.

I pushed back the wave of nausea and begrudgingly forced myself from the wall that separated the houses’ backyards, and willed myself back into the doorway of my own personal hell. The house was merely an empty shell of the home that my sister had created for her family, but the kicked-in doors and the overturned furniture left plenty for my poisoned imagination to fill in the blanks with. I already knew coming into this place that there would be signs of a struggle—there was in every house that I’d forced myself to enter, because who would willingly be carried away by people who had invaded their country?--but this house held entirely new levels of terror. I knew which faces to imagine twisted in fear and I knew whose cold, empty presence was tangible in the air. I’d known it the second that I’d taken a step into the city limits, but some stupid hope had coaxed my desperate, lonely heart in this direction in what had started as a mission to sustain my frighteningly low food supply.

I’d failed both missions. I’d risked life and limb sneaking back into Albuquerque, and all I had to show for it was an empty stomach and a new arsenal of nightmares to leave me screaming in the rare moments that I actually allowed myself to rest. It wasn’t as though I didn’t have terrorizing nightmares to begin with, but starvation wasn’t something that I could just grit my teeth and push through for months on end. It had always loomed just beyond the horizon, but I’d always managed to scrape by; now, however, I had no time to do anything but to go back to my pathetic hideaway far outside of the city limits. Samaritan had somehow picked up on my presence and had sent out troops--dozens of them because they wouldn’t take any chances and the city was crawling with them to begin with—to dispose of the rebel who was encroaching on their supposedly flawless rule. If they caught me here, one of two things would happen, and the order would be given before I’d think to struggle; either they would put a bullet between my eyes and leave me for whatever scavenger that dared to look for food among the ruins, or I would be bound and hauled away to the unknown horrors that awaited captured rebels. Although it made me sick to know this, the latter option was almost guaranteed. They would probably torture me for information on the rebellion--which was laughable because not only was any organized rebellion crushed before the fires could be extinguished, but because even if there was one I had heard nothing about it. Besides, if I had managed to uncover the answers to their questions, I wouldn’t have been living this life, scavenging crumbs from painful memories of my past; I’d have used the information to find a way to track down the only person for whom I’d fought so hard to survive. We’d run off together and forget the world and all its horrors, and we’d spend the remainder of our lives carefree and safe and, most importantly, together.

But, I reminded myself sternly before I got carried away by daydreams, that wasn’t reality. I was as in the dark as Samaritan and I’d have no answers for neither me nor them. However, being the monsters they were, they wouldn’t accept that. Instead of spending the rest of my life in a fairytale, I’d spend the remainder of my existence in chains. They’d get as much from me as possible before they would stop torturing me and begin toying with me. At that point, they’d cause as much possible damage before they’d leave me to die, beaten and bloody and broken…

More of a reason not to be caught. Driven by the thought of what was at stake, I walked back into the kitchen with a resolve to find something of value, even if that something was just a trinket to toy with in the moments that starvation took me. I’d checked the kitchen in the places where I knew that food could be, but I hadn’t checked everywhere. Penny was often frazzled in her attempt to take care of a four year old while her husband was at work, and Maddie was in that stage where she carried things off. Food could have been misplaced, and I would find if it that happened. I immediately went to work on the cabinets that I hadn’t checked, throwing open each little door without stopping to allow myself to be afraid of what I might find. I only had until the sun was just touching the horizon, with just enough light tracing across the sky to guide me but enough shadow in the crevices to conceal me as I snuck out of the city once more. I’d planned to have left before now; I’d have to walk through the night and id need food to keep me pushing through the darkness.

I hurried through the first two cabinets without missing a beat, but those held nothing but broken bowls or fine china. I swung open the first cabinet and couldn’t help but cry out in ecstasy as my eyes stumbled upon three cans of soup and beans in the darkest corner, untouched by scavengers that had been quicker to this place then I. I pried open one of the cans and immediately drained half of it. I sputtered a little when I choked at the noodles that raced down my throat, but it was heavenly none the less. Not only did the soup fill a mouth that had not been completely full in weeks, but the way it settled into my begging stomach ignited a new fire in me and yanked my head above the uncertain waters that had threatened to drown me. The two remaining cans wouldn’t last me long no matter how conservative I was, but all I needed was a few days for Samaritan to search the area and move on.

Easy there, I reminded myself, you’re not home yet.

I smiled grimly. I’ll never be home again.

Slightly upset by the fact that I’d just argued against my own point and worried that one of the cans was already halfway empty, I shoved the two remaining cans into my pack and finished the third before closing the cabinet and turning away from the kitchen. I knew that my sister would have had water bottle in the house to support her active lifestyle, I just had to find out where. There was a linens closet by the door, which was probably my best bet. I started toward the door, making a mental checklist of where I could check if they were not here. I didn’t think that I could bear to venture upstairs, to the most personal spaces of my family members that would be think with their presence. I hope it didn’t come to that, but I wouldn’t have a choice if I needed to survive the New Mexican heat.

Looking back, it’s no surprise. I had let my little discovery go to my head and make me feel untouchable. I was careless, letting my mind wander to my journey home and my priorities slip, because I thought I’d already accomplished this priority. I wasn’t listening for the roll of tired on the hot pavement or trying to sense the presence of another person. Even though I was walking toward my death, I had no idea till I heard that deadly sound.


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