Omnipresent

When nine children are plucked from the street and forced to dictate the lives of the ones they love and those who they don't even know, what will happen?

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3. Life Before: Benjamin

 

The moon light lit the tall, crowded buildings creating sinister shadows in the thin alleyways. Leaves haunted the door step of each building reminding the residents that the summer days were over. The sky was clear. No planes tonight. No bombs. The street breathed as one. Not a shutter would open, not one door left ajar until the following morning at 08:17. Not a creature was insight except one red fox that tip-toed his was around the corner of 261 Devons street orphanage.

Inside a young boy, perhaps the age of eight, sat running his fingers through his rustic brown hair. He looked at the clock. 00:06. Bilious was six minutes late. And Bilious knew the rules. The boy sat impatiently for the next two minutes before the door to his dorm creaked open and on old sheep dog sauntered in. “Bilious!” the boy cried in a hushed whisper, in a fear of waking his fellow orphans. “I thought you were never going to come! I thought you might have been caught by the bomber men! Come here boy!” the dog made his way to the bed and allowed his friend, Benjamin, to run his filthy fingers through his shiny fur. Benjamin's initial anger at the dog sub-sided as his best-friend was there and that was all that mattered. “Oh, you won't believe the day I have tomorrow Bill. First we have to go to church at 10 o’clock then afterwards Mrs. Hatchette promised to take us out the market for fruit. Not only that but I also wrote to Delilah telling her that I'll be at the market and she wrote back saying... oh! I know, I'll just show you the letter!” Benjamin reached into the bedside cabinet’s top draw and searched for the letter from his sister, Delilah. After a minute or so he brows creased together in confusion and he sat up straight with no letter in his hand. “I coulda sworn I put it there. Yeah, right after dinner I saw the letter on the floor, near the door and I picked it up, read it and brought it up here... oh well, I musta dropped it. But anyway, Delilah said she would meet me at the vegetable stand... you know the one run by Mr. Crocker? At lunch time. So, first I've got church, second I've got fruit stand and third I've got to see Delilah!” Benjamin said each thing while counting them using his fingers. “That's three things Bill! Isn't it going to be great?!” the boy and the dog sat in silence for a few minutes before the boy let out a yawn. “I think it's time we got to sleep Bilious, how 'bout you?” the boy curled up under his blanket and felt the cool body of the animal by his feet. “G'night Bill.” in response the dog gave a small whimper.

 

 

Benjamin woke at 08:30, ready for the day ahead of him. The first thing he did was check the foot of his bed for his best friend. Bilious wasn't there, as usual. He got dressed as went to the door before noticing something weird. The door was closed. All the other boys were in bed and the carers don't normally wake you until 09:00 on a Sunday, yet he could have sworn Bill nudged the door open on his way in. Benjamin thought about it for a moment before deciding that Mrs. Hatchette or someone probably came to check and closed the door behind them.

 

After church the thirteen boys of 261 Devons street orphanage took the short walk to the town centre looking forward to market day. The boys huddled in groups, the oldest at the front, leaving one boy lagging behind on his own. The wind messed up his hair which was dearly in need of a cut and the temperature chilled his ears but not enough to block out the taunts from the other boys. “Hewo wittle Benjamin,” the oldest boy, Edward, said in a mock child's voice. The small boy continued to plod forward trying his best to ignore the others. He would be with Delilah soon and she would tell them. “Oh, not talking. Cat got your tongue?” he continued. “You know what I heard Ben? I heard you father was a coward. You see, my father died heroically. He when out to war and died like a man and what did your father do? Hid in his house, but what good did that do in the end. None. That's how much, he's just as dead as my father.”

“Yeah, that's right,” another one of them, Lewis, started. “Hid in his house like a big baby.”

“Must run in the family then,” a third, Matthew, joined in.

“Just, shut-up,” the small boy muttered just loud enough for the others to hear.

“Oh, did you hear that boys? Wittle Benjamin told us to shut up! I think, as helpful citizens to the country, we oughta teach Benjamin here a bit about manners. Don't you?” the other boys nodded in agreement. Edward continued, this time talking to Mrs. Hatchette. “Excuse-me ma'am, but little Benjamin over there asked us it we could take him on an adventure in the forest. We told him “no” but he was terribly persistent. You wouldn't mind would you?”

“Oh, of course not dear, you're very helpful when it comes to looking after the younger ones. Thank-you. Oh, and don't be too long” she replied, buying every word of Edwards nonsense story.

 

Edward walked ahead, leaving Lewis and Matthew to drag the petrified boy deep into the forest. The wind whispered words of fear making the leaves crunch wordlessly beneath their feet. Not one word was said but not one word was needed. The feel of the air said it all. It was like a fire in the pit of Edwards’s stomach. The longer they walked the more anxiety the boy would feel. The more anxiety the more fierce the fire would burn. A fire only he could feel. A fire that filled the place that was empty since the day his parents left him, good as dead, on the doorstep of 261 Devons Street Orphanage, before he could even walk.

Edward stopped, obviously pleased with the spot they'd found. “There!” Edward said, voice full of authority, pointing towards a tree. “Put him there and tie him up with his jacket.” The other boys dragged and a now twitching Benjamin to the tree, forced his jacked off (making sure to cause as much discomfort as they could) and tied him to a tree branch. “Now what to do.” Benjamin held his breath. He didn't know what was going to happen, but whatever it was it was going to be bad. “Well, we could always do the usual, a bit of fists never hurt anyone, did it boys? But it's a bit... Cliché. So, how about something a little less traditional, eh?” Edward pulled out a pack of matches from his back pocket, a grin spread across his face. Benjamin started to panic, that's how his parents died, a fire. A fire which fell from the sky. Benjamin needed Delilah, he needed her more than ever. In the distance he spotted a red scarf blow in the wind. It was her.

“Help!” he screamed, causing only laughter from the boys. “Help, please, Help!” Why wasn't she moving? Why was she just standing there? “Help!” Lewis had his hand over the boy’s mouth while Matthew clasped his wrist, holding out his hand. Edward approached, match lit, allowing it to tickle the boys finger tips. He brought the flame closer. The screams of a young boy, loud and clear as the church bells, was demolished into nothing more than a mumble by the darkened gloved hand of his enemy's friend. And still Delilah waited, hovering blindly in the background. Why won't she help? Does she hate me now? The burning went on for what felt like forever. A small, extinguished infinity, in the space of a few minutes. They didn't stop at the hands. They moved onto his arms, his legs, his feet and anywhere else they could, until finally the flame was gone and the trio left the way they came, leaving the boy behind them.

 

 

It was relatively easy to untie himself from the tree. His hands hurt but the knot was loose. He looked around the clearing. The trees were quite thin and five or six matches lay on the ground in the leaves. He couldn't see that well. It was getting dark. It took a few minutes for the thought to sink in. It was getting dark. The bomber men could get him.  He looked up, ready to search for shelter only to see Delilah in front of him. “Benjamin...” she began, tears in her eyes, but he wasn't listening. He was already running as fast as he could away from the only person he had left to betray him. “Benjamin!” she called, but he kept on running. She didn't help. Why should he listen. She wore the same black coat, red gloves and red scarf as she did the day of the fire, her face as pale as a ghosts. I thought she cared about me. I thought she LOVED me! Then why did she just stand there? He would have helped if she were in that situation.

 

 

Benjamin ran and ran until finally he arrived at the edge of a small town. Cold water froze his feet, numbing the pain of the burning. The town was relatively modern. The setting sun created a warm, homely feeling, one which the boy hadn't felt in a long time. The buildings, although modern, were adapted to the surroundings. They seemed to have grown from the Earth itself, creating something that contemplated the natural environment. Young lovers walked hand in hand, the terrors of the war lurking in the shadows, waiting for the sun to fully set before proclaiming the power all wars naturally had. And there Benjamin stood, unnoticed by anyone but one man with shocking red hair. “Hello there, son,” the man said in a voice that sounded almost fatherly but didn't quite meet his eyes. “You look tired, how 'bout I take you for some hot chocolate?” Benjamin looked at the man, confused about why he was being nice to him. “Come on now, son. Don't be afraid. Doesn't even look like you've got a place to stay tonight. How old are you anyway?”

“Umm, nine, sir,” Benjamin managed to squeak.

“Now, don't you be calling me “Sir”, my names Matthew, but you can call me Uncle Matt.” The boy and the man walked down to the local café, not far in a town as small as that, and sat for a few moments in silence as Benjamin sipped his hot chocolate. “You look exhausted!” Uncle Matt exclaimed to the young boy. “Looks like you could do with a nice long sleep.” Exhausted, yeah, that's how I feel, Benjamin thought as his eye lids grew heavier. A long sleep would be nice. The man watched as the boy rested his head on the table and quickly fell asleep. One down, eight to go, he thought as the boy slowly faded in his seat.

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