SHADE (for writelongandprosper)

Yellow for mild swearing and some scenes of a sensitive nature.

To the north, there lies the old lake. South, the mountains. The west of the city is bordered by desert. To the east, there stands a wall.

Myles Lakeman is 18. He is a man, and it is time for him to receive his mission. His mission? Survive the night.
Myles must capture the rebels, conquer the landscape and most importantly, escape the elusive Shades... but along this journey he meets a girl, a girl with a mission of her own: she must find her brother.
Together, they discover that their world is hiding so much more than they once thought: what are the Shades and where do they come from? What are the rebels doing? What is on the other side of the wall?

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2. Chapter 1: Lydia

The sun peaks above the distant mountains, pink and purple streaks stretching across lightening sky and touching at the edges of thin white clouds above. Lydia kneels at the window, her dirty blonde hair framing the sides of her face as she peers up through the hole in the crumbling wall at a vast expanse of empty blue sky.

A band of soldiers march together down the length of the road below, and she crouches beneath the window ledge to watch them go. Each man has a long gun slung over his shoulder, their white uniforms catching the golden rays of light and making them shine like a team of angels patrolling the dusty streets. They march in formation, a multitude of skin colours forming a river of white and brown and beige and olive undulating with each footstep. Their heads are shaved bald, their backs straight and their faces stern.

Lydia knows that these men are far from angels. Their white uniforms are a clean façade to hide what she suspects must happen behind closed doors. Too many people vanish and never come back, stolen away in the dead of night.

Her brother was one of them.

It’s a generally accepted fact that if you’re caught outside during curfew, you’re never going to come home. Every morning, Owen would wait until the sun rose up above the horizon just enough to light the darkened streets, and slip out into the morning for the race to the fields. Only the first hundred people would be given work for the day, and almost every morning Owen was one of the first to arrive. He would return home just before sunset, his arms laden with the assortment of vegetables that formed his pay for a hard day’s work.

Then came the drought, and Owen had to find a new way to feed his sister. The fields no longer bore produce, the lake quickly ran dry and the city began to grow restless.  Where the land had once been green and lush, there now lay a desert that stretched as far as the horizon. The ground was dry and cracked, the fences surrounding it now a pointless addition to the landscape.

Riots roared through the streets, smashing the few windows that remained and using the glass to build weapons. Civilians tore the wood from buildings, using window frames and floorboards lit with fire to march upon City Hall at night. They developed distraction techniques, sending one team with torches and several without to bombard the building, to attempt to infiltrate the halls and force the government into action. But no action came, the curfew was enforced, and the people continued to starve.

One morning, Owen woke earlier than usual, his blurry eyes sore and stinging with the dust that blew in from the old fields. He felt faint, his head spinning and his stomach painful from lack of food and water. He uncurled himself from beside his sister, tucked the thin blanket over her starved body and stood up, looking down over the edge of what used to be the upper floor of somebody’s house.

The floor itself had given way, falling into the room below and leaving crumbling bricks and dust over the remnants of some family’s old life. What was left of the building itself formed their home: half of a rickety staircase leading up to the second floor, which consisted of a landing and a single room at the front of the house. Owen had made the space theirs; digging an old mattress out from under the rubble and dragging it up the stairs, trading what salvageable belongings he could find to obtain a blanket to cover them while they slept.

On this particular morning, Owen crept around the edge of the mattress towards the stairs, keeping away from the ledge and using the moonlight to guide him down to the ground floor and past the mound of rubble to the door. He waited, listening out for the familiar march of the soldiers returning to base, but the sound never came. As sunlight began to poke its way through cracks in the wall and illuminate the room behind him, Owen pushed aside the sheet of corrugated metal they used as a door and stepped into the street. But as he turned around to replace the rusting sheet, he felt the stab of something small and cold in the small of his back.

Lydia heard a scream, then a gunshot and a loud grunt, and woke with a start. She clambered off the mattress and knelt at the window, watching helplessly through the golden light of the rising sun as her brother fell to the ground, his head colliding with the edge of the pavement. The soldier took hold of his wrists, fastening handcuffs around them and using the chain to drag the unconscious boy up the street. She screamed out in despair, but the soldier didn’t even blink in recognition of the sound as he moved down the street, joining the rest of the squad with Owen’s limp form trailing along behind them.

Now Lydia moves to sit at the top of the stairs, squeezing her eyes shut to try and erase imagined images of Owen’s battered, broken body from her mind. He has to be alive. She has convinced herself of this every morning since he was taken, and she will not let this morning be the time she fails.

The stairs creak beneath her weight as she slides herself down them, moving her body with her arms and using one leg to keep herself from slipping. The other leg ends just below her knee. She doesn’t remember exactly how she lost it, but she remembers the pain: the searing agony that consumed her whole body, stealing her from consciousness and plunging her into the dark hole of venomous torment. She remembers waking up, cradled in the arms of her father after losing her mother to the same monster who stole her leg. She remembers a different kind of pain that consumed her soul, more a lack of feeling than something that she could actually describe: a hollow weight somewhere in her chest. This same pain followed the death of her father and still dwells in her chest a year after the loss of her brother. Once upon a time, an older woman who lived across the road told Owen that it was called grief. She’s gone now too.

When she reaches the bottom of the stairs, Lydia fumbles in a hole in the wall for the prosthetic that her father made for her all those years ago. It’s too small and rubs her leg in all the wrong places, causing blisters if she leaves it on for too long, but she pulls it against the end of her leg and fastens the worn straps around her knee anyway. The leg itself is made from dark wood pulled from the banister of the stairs of some building somewhere in the city. It’s worn down at the end and the glossy varnish has faded to a dull shine.  The straps are made from an old canvas jacket, and her father had managed to sew them together in such a way that they grew with her.

She places one hand on the wall beside her and pulls herself to her feet, testing the straps to make sure they’re tight enough. Then, confident that her leg will see her through the day, she walks to the door.

By the time she sets foot outside, her neighbours have also risen from their beds and begun to mill about the streets. A seed of doubt plants itself in her chest, but she has to try. She walks with a limp along the length of the street, following the path of the soldiers towards City Hall. The queue already stretches halfway down the street, and she swings her heavy wooden leg to meet the other one as she reluctantly joins the end of the line.

She stands in the shadow of the building, the edges of the morning sun just poking around the sides of the neat brickwork. More people stand behind her in the queue, each person seeming to issue a resigned sigh as they wait for the doors to open, the guards to pour out and the allotment to begin. This had become her routine, waking up at the crack of dawn to join the winding, endless queue for water and, if she is lucky, a morsel of food.

After what feels like forever, the doors swing open and a collection of guards step into the street. However instead of bringing with them barrels of water and one meagre crate of food, they carry guns. The crowd shifts with unease, the thoughts of people debating whether to run or not filling the air. One man makes that decision and steps out of the line, darting down one of the narrow alleyways between buildings with his hands above his head. A soldier, his face blank and his arm steady, lifts his gun, aims it at the man and fires. Lydia hears the soft thump of his target hitting the ground.

“Anybody else?”

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