Broken City

The screaming will haunt you for years.

Slightly creepy, mentions of violence and language.

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1. Broken City

The screaming will haunt you for years. The blood is something you see every day, whether it is leaking out of someone's cold body or stored in pints in the clinically white hospital. The fire is hot and it scalds your hands and it scares you for a moment, as you stare at the flickering orange and yellow flames, but it will not haunt you.

The screams of the children, the oldest among them barely seven, will show up in your nightmares and your daydreams, pulling you from a fitful sleep to a harsher reality than you could ever have imagined. I try to console you, but you know that the pity in my voice is fake. I do not feel anything anymore. The screams will be no more than a memory in my life of horrors. I used to be like you. I used to care about the children, about the terror on their faces as their lives turned to ash and misery, but my caring has long since dissipated.

Your sobs are ragged and you cannot stop coughing—a reaction from the smoke you inhaled as I tossed a pack of lit matches onto the gasoline. When you speak, your voice is hoarse and grating and I wince at the sound of it.

Why?

I cannot answer. I don't even know the answer. Why? Why have we turned into monsters? Why has the world turned to rubble and ruin? Why have the innocent children of a guilty man been murdered?

Because they were there. Because we are all just playing pieces in this infinite game of cat-and-mouse. Because we don't fucking matter.

I whisper these things to you, and your sobs escalate.

You ask me to leave. You tell me that you need some time to yourself. I refuse; if I leave you will shoot yourself like you shot the youngest child, a four-year-old named Esperanza. The gun is still loaded. The safety is off. I pull it out of your sweaty, trembling fingers and turn the safety on.

Please.

The word catches me off-balance. I squint at you; your shaking form is slightly hazy in the dim light. The tears have washed clean little streaks of your face; the rest of it is coated with the layer of grime that will cling to you as soon as you enter this broken city.

Please.

I don't remember the last time I heard it. I feel slightly dizzy. You sniffle and wipe your nose like a child. Like the children.

They're dead.

I say this and you stand up, still crying. You are so tall—taller than I am. You're the tallest in the program. You tower over my slight figure, but you look so out of place.

You look unsteady and I tell you to sit down. My voice is sharp, and it is higher than normal. You ignore me. Your eyes have hardened and your jaw is set.

Why?

I back up and you advance, slowly, as if you're sleepwalking. Why?

We're the fucking drones, I say. We're the pets. We're children. We are infinitely stupid and they are infinitely wise. We do what we're told because to disobey is to be erased from existence.

My voice catches. I am scared. I search desperately for my poker face, but you destroyed any wall I had to block my emotions when you said please.

Mel.

I can't breathe.

Don't say my name, I whisper. That's not who I am anymore.

You have a strange look on your face. That's who you were.

The past is the past, I say.

Why?

Stop fucking saying that.

Why?

I shove you backwards; I am stronger than you. I've been in the program longer than you have. You didn't expect it, and you stumble.

I swallow hard. What you need to understand is that there is nothing I can say to stop you doubting them, doubting me, I say. You smile. You know how I get.

The world...it crumbled. I don't know how and I don't know why, so don't ask. We're in the program to kill. That is our job description. We don't ask questions, we don't undermine the authority, we keep our noses clean and do what we're told. I don't know the head honcho. I know me and I know you. That's it. Your first kill is what gets you noticed, I say, a sour smirk twisting my face. Mine was an old lady. Used to be a drug dealer, but she reformed when she was about fifty. I killed her because of something she was. That's what it's all about. The past. I used to be Mel, but that's my past. You used to be Danny, but that's your past. Those little kids, their dad was in a gang. He dropped out when the first one was born. That was his past. They're dead because they had the potential to be him.

You're crying again. Why? It's not a question. Just a dull utterance, just a passing remark on the cruelty of the world.

Some people get all the luck, I say. Not us. Those children? They're so fucking lucky. I wish I could be them.

They're dead.

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