The Truth Behind the Flames. - *Movella of the Year 2016*

Before you judge me and tell me that it was all worth it in the end, ask yourself one question, one question only before you read on: what was it all for?

They say that we are judged by the choices we make. They are what define us and on June the 25th, 2414, I chose wrong.

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2. The Cycle.

The lights flickered on and off above us as I cast a glance at the ceiling with irritation casting a dark cloud over my features. The ground shook beneath our feet as the sound of metal tumbling to the ground shattered through the air of silence – ringing through the darkness. As the attack drew to an end, the lights stabilised but the damage had already been done.

Fragments of jagged glass littered the tiled floor as metal rods and wires lay in heaps on the table tops. Another shelf had broken off the wall, disposing of its contents across the length of the room. My father and I shared a look before we both moved to fix the damage. Following our usual routine, we worked side by side to clean up after the wave of destruction.

The attacks were becoming less and less frequent but the destruction only seemed to increase. The three miles of woodland that separated my home from the battlefield sometimes felt like a line of defence but at other times felt as if it were nothing at all. Our lives were fragile and could be taken away at moment; I had grown to accept that over the past few years and that frightened me. We had to value the time that we had because, at any moment, it could be cut short.

“That’s the third one this week.”

“I know,” he replied. “But what can we do?”

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

There was nothing that we could do apart from live our lives and wait for the war to end. We were not soldiers and we were not fighters – we were civilians and it was our job to keep going.

After sweeping up the mess, a deep sigh escaped from my lips as I refocused my attention back onto the project which lay on my Father’s desk.

“What are you making?”

“I’ll tell you when it works.” He responded dryly and in response, I couldn’t help but laugh. And it felt so good to just laugh freely.

 I focused back on my own work with a grin still tugging at the corners of my lips. The metal frame and tangle of wires would soon transcend their original state and become something more. I was building a simple device with what little equipment we had in an attempt to distract myself from the reality that I was living in. My intention was to listen to the radio signals that bled out from the battle field and to document the progression of the war from the comfort of my own home.

If I was being honest with myself, I just wanted to break the silence that seemed to follow me.

Picking up the soldering iron, I pulled away the rubber coating of the wire in my grasp and melted the pieces together until a dull light broke through the darkness.  My lips formed a soft smile as I fitted the dial into place and readied myself for the moment of truth.

“Dad.” He moved over to stand next to me, abandoning his work, as I readied myself to test out my machine. The true challenge wasn’t in the concept but in the design that I’d built with nothing more than scraps.

“Go for it, kid.”

With a final breath, I turned the dial and waited.

After a few moments of static, a harsh beeping began to cut through the hiss of electricity. I looked towards my father with question in my eyes but his lips curled into a smile as he returned my gaze.

“You did it.” At the confusion that passed across my face, he laughed softly before choosing to continue with a glint of pride in his eyes. “They communicate in Morse code. You’ll have to learn that before you start decoding.”

“Do have a book on it?”

“Have I ever failed you?”

And with that, he moved over to the book case and tilted his head as he searched for the guide beneath the cluster of folders and loose papers. After a few moments of comfortable silence, he pulled a book from his collection before placing it into my hand.

I had been brought up learning and had soaked it up like a sponge- preparing myself for the future that I knew was inevitable. I had read almost every book in my father’s possession several times and had studied each manuscript and blueprint until I could visualise them from memory. His arsenal was one of the best left and to be honest, there was little else to do. The outside world was too dangerous and the war was getting closer every passing day.

“A guide to Morse code.”

“Thank you.”

“Anytime.”

Examining the faded blue cover, I struggled to make out the title but didn’t let that stop me from opening the book and beginning to read. I tore through the pages – barely noticing as my mother entered the room with a tray of heated rations.

“You two spend too much time down here, you know that?”

I looked up guiltily as a smile crept onto my face. Her voice was firm but I didn’t miss the affection that filled her words as my father lifted his head to reply with innocence pouring into his eyes.

“Amelia. Is it seven already?” He glanced down at the watch on his wrist before paling and looking up at my mother and shrugging.

“I don’t buy that for one second, Arthur.”

“Time just got away from us. We were working.” I added in as my mother turned to face me with her eyebrows raised. Over her shoulder, I say my father mouth ‘thank you’ whilst pretending to wipe the sweat off his brow. We’d done this enough times to know the script off by heart; our words carried no anger but merely gave us all a well-needed dose of reality.

“That was your excuse last time.” She paused for a moment, rolling her eyes, before continuing.

“Anyway, I brought dinner.”

As she placed the silver sachets before us, the smell made me want to be sick. The ration packets were filled with whatever food the True Military had to spare and usually contained a thick stew of whatever muck they had left. They tasted just as bad as they looked but that was the cost of war; we had to sacrifice luxuries in order to survive and in order to continue.

I folded the corner of my book before placing it down on the table and moving over to collect my wrapper filled with food. Taking a seat on top of the wooden bench, I ripped open the seal and began to delve into what I guessed was vegetable stew – it was hard to tell. I listened to the soft hum of machinery whilst enjoying my parent’s company and thinking of how lucky I was to still have my family. They were my anchor and were my lifeline as the battle raged on around us. The war tried to break us but together, we stood strong.

“Why don’t we just leave this place?” I found myself asking. “Why don’t we just pack our bags and get out of here?” Whilst we still can.

Reaching the bottom of the foil wrapping, I placed the empty container before turning back to face my parents.

“Why are we still here?”

They shared a long glance before my father finally spoke.

“Where else would we go? The whole country is at war. We have a house here, we have food and we have each other. What else do we need?”

‘To be safe,’ I wanted to say. ‘To be free and to be happy.’

But I said nothing. There was no point in dreaming what could or couldn’t be; we simply had to make do with the reality we had and the future that we were owed.

“I’m sorry.”

My mother shuffled over, dropping a hand on my shoulder and meeting my eyes.

“We don’t expect this to be easy for you. Trust me, we understand. We feel exactly the same way but there is nothing that we can do.”

“So, we just sit here and live in fear?”

“It’s better to live in fear than to die in fear.” And she was right. Someday this would be nothing but a distant memory and until then, we just had to hold on and wait.

I let out a breath.

“I know.”

Our lives were not easy but others had it a lot worse – on the front lines and in the line of fire.  It was hard but we managed and more importantly – we survived. Time seemed to slide past as the conversation droned on to the latest news and the events of our days. As we moved onto my day, I got to my feet and gestured towards my device before flipping the switch and listening to a series of blips.

“It intercepts the radio signal and lets me hear it.”

Her face suddenly became serious as she turned to face my father.

“Arthur, you let her make that?”

“Yes?”

“Why? You know that it will only cause trouble.” She turned to face me as a sigh escaped from her lips. “Just be careful. I don’t want you to get into any trouble. Things are bad enough as they are; don’t make them any worse.”

“I won’t. I promise.”

“Good.” With a curt nod, I realised that I was being dismissed and so stood, picked up my device as well as my book and fled through the small building that I had come to call home.

Dumping myself onto the mattress, I gazed up at the window frame that was boarded up with steel and wondered how the world had come to this – not for the first time. All those books that detailed the days of progress and prosperity seemed almost sarcastic to me as I, a child of the future, envied the children of the past. They had it easy.

We were meant to be a developed society but it was a joke to think that we were anything more than broken. The skies rained down with fire as the crops were drowned in the sea of never ending red – and to us, that was normal.

Who was I kidding? That was never normal.

Lying back onto the pillow, I continued to read through the book until the light began to fade away, beneath the horizon. Narrowing my eyes, I switched on my machine and listened to the pattern of beeps whilst jotting down their progression. As the transmission drew to an end, I switched off the device and turned to the table of dots and dashes at the front of my book.

After five minutes of analysis and with the light creeping away, I put down my pen and lifted up the message.

- .- -.- . / - .... . -- /--- ..- -

T a k e / t h e m / o u t

“It worked. It actually worked.” I whispered to myself as a grin broke onto my lips. Finally, I’d managed to do something that I could be proud of and cherish. The mess of wires that lay before me was my biggest achievement and served as a reminder to the lengths that I could rise – even from the darkness.

As a yawn escaped from my lip, I felt sleep creeping up behind me – ready to take me away from this world of nightmares.  Letting my notes clatter to the floor, I placed the radio on my bedside table and lay back down in the warmth. As if on cue, the first explosion rang out across the forest as my clock turned to 10:23. Bathed in the grasp of darkness, I closed my eyes and let sleep snatch me away.

I’d show my parents tomorrow.

That night, I fell asleep with a smile on my lips.

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