Hello Friends. I almost didn’t post a short story this week. My mind has been in a dark place and it seems hard enough to get out of bed. But, as a writer, I know that these moods are some of the best times to write. Also, writing is my stress relief, my passion, and something I have to do or the world just sucks me in, chews me up, and spits me out. Writing is how I keep a handle things and keep myself together. So, I wrote and this may be one of the longest short stories I have done in a while. I hope you enjoy it!
As a child I was told stories of a world that was far better than the world that is now. It was a world of beautiful chaos. The biggest worry most people had was falling in love with the right person or getting a better paying job.
This world is not the same. Now, a better paying job does not exist. Either you hunt your fellow man, or you go to the camps where these people are taken. Sure, I could hide. I could go to one of the towns underground. I could make a home for myself there and forget the harsh world above. I could forget about Nolan and the bodies that I owe him. I could abandon the comfortable life I have made for myself, my safe home with running water. I could leave it all behind, but for what? To hide from the sun? To eat food covered in dirt? To always be on the run always in fear that Nolan will find me and take what he wants? No, I won’t do that. I won’t give up what I have worked so hard to do. Even if it means turning in the men that I track down.
I only bring in men. I don’t waste my time with the women, unless they are with the man and poses a threat. Nolan loves when I bring in a pair. I can see the evil in his eyes when his men bring them into his trading station. I sometimes see that look in my sleep and it will keep me awake for days. I don’t know what Nolan does with any of the people I bring to him, all I know is that it’s not good and I am better off ignoring the screams that sound out from behind the fence. I am not heartless, but I am not stupid either.
I used to think like that anyways. I used to hide from the truth, ignore my lonely heart and do what Nolan expected from me. That was before I met a man. A man my age, who I caught rummaging through my scraped food I save for the buzzards while I am out in the hot dry bad lands. You have to be a light sleeper to make it in the wild. The man had kicked the side of my cabin and I jolted out of bed, my weapon ready to strike whoever dared to attack my home.
I caught him by surprise and was able to wrestle him into my home. I had a cage meant for this, any hunter had a cage ready in their home for their prey. I threw him into the cage and huffed at him. “What were you doing?” I asked him. I stared at him, his eyes were a deep blue, almost black like the night sky. But they sparkled, as if he still had hope in this wasteland. A smile crept across his face and his yellow teeth flashed from between his lips. I looked him over, taking in his ragged long black hair, tan dirty skin, and torn and worn out clothes. He looked no different than the other men I had taken in, except for the light in his eyes.
“Looking for food, of course.” He answered me. I had almost forgotten my question and decided I didn’t care. I wanted to go back to sleep. I made my way across the room to my bed. I had once worried about leaving men caged across the room. I couldn’t sleep before, but I had grown hardened to the world, and I knew my cage was strong. I curled up in bed and covered myself, closing my eyes and hoped I could drift off to sleep.
I couldn’t sleep. Not even a wink. I lay there, staring at the side wall of the room. I could hear the man walking back and forth. It wasn’t long before he started signing. It was a song of my child hood. A song my mother once sang to me.
“Where did you learn that?” I asked him, not sitting up or looking at him. He didn’t answer. I sat up in my bed and stared across the dark room at him. I could see his shadow, and I knew those deep blue eyes were staring right at me.
“I heard it from a girl. When I was younger.” He said.
“Well, be quiet, I’m trying to sleep.” I lay back down and closed my eyes, ignoring the images that flashed behind my eyelids. My parents had been taken by hunters a long time ago. I was 15 when they were stripped from me. I had hidden, like my mother told me. I was young and weak. I cried for days in the same hiding spot, until a boy came by and heard me. I didn’t remember his name or what he looked like. I hadn’t even thought about him until that moment. He had brought me to safety, a place among the hunters. Not the same ones that took my parents, but they were hunters. They were not like the other hunters. They would only take in the men that refused to cooperate. The ones who had raped and pillaged those they crossed. Those hunters were getting rid of the bad people in the dark world. I was like them once. Before I met Nolan and he decided I owed him for being alive.
“Tess.” The man said, causing my heart to drop. I sat up again and lit the lamp at my bedside. I walked up to the cage and stared up at the man. “I knew that was you.”
“How do you know me?” I asked him, not that I needed too. I knew who he was. He was the boy that had saved me. Now I understood the smile that had crossed his face and the hope in his eyes.
“Stop crying, girl.” He said. The first words he had ever spoken to me. When he had found me crying and hiding. Had he not come for me, I would have wasted away in the pit my mother had hidden me in. Once he had dropped me off with the hunters, he disappeared.
“Heath.” I said, remembering his name. “You…” I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. I owed my life to this man, not Nolan. Nolan had claimed my life when he saved me from a few raiders a few years ago. I could have fought my way out of that, but Nolan had beat me to it. But Heath, I really did owe him my life.
“Me.” He said, reaching his hand out to brush my cheek. I stepped back from him, feeling the tingle left on my cheek from his touch. “I knew I would find you again one day.”
“You just disappeared.” I whispered. I felt a tear race down my cheek. I had missed him. Even though we were only children, I had missed having someone to talk to.
“I had to leave.” He said. I shook my head.
“You were a kid. You could have stayed with the hunters like I did.”
“Do you remember the hunters I took you to?” He asked me. “They were all women. What place did a boy have in that?” I shook my head again. “I had to find my own safety. Those hunters would have waited until I was old enough and turned me over just like every other man.”
“No.” I said. I stepped back until my legs touched the bed and I let myself fall into it. I sat there and stared at him. The many nights I had dreamed of the boy who had saved me. The boy I had fallen in love with so long ago. My heart sang at the memory of his arms around me, his soothing voice calming my broken heart. “It would have been different.”
“What do you plan on doing with me now, Tess?” He asked, as if he had made his point. “You will turn me in, collect your reward and move on to your next victim.” Was he right? Was I going to turn over the man that had saved me? Was I really going to turn my back on someone I had once considered a friend? He was a man I had once considered more than a friend.
I stood from the bed and crossed the room, finding myself back in front of the cage, in front of the man. I could see his face better now. I could see the kindness in his eyes.
“I never forgot about you.” He said, reaching out of the cage again. This time I took his hand in mine remembering how short of a time I had spent with him and how strongly I had felt about him. I couldn’t turn him over.
I pulled my hand back and unlocked the door of his cage stepping back as the door swung open with a creak. “I tried to forget you.” Telling the truth, finding the lie I had been telling myself crumble before my eyes. “It’s not safe to have friends.”
“We were more than friends.” He said, stepping out of the cage and closer to me. I held out my hand to stop him.
“You should just go.” I said. My throat was tight as I fought back the tears. This was not a world of friends or lovers. This was a world of survival.
“How could you let me go like that?” He asked, not coming closer but not moving away. I dropped my hand to my side and looked at the floor so he couldn’t see the tears in my eyes.
“Because I can’t turn you in.” I whispered. “Call us even.” I swallowed my tears and straightened my shoulders. “You saved my life. Now I have saved yours. Now leave.”
“No.” His voice was soft, deep, and undeniable. He could have told me to put myself in the cage and I would have done it. Even after all the years, my heart still craved him. I wanted him to wrap his arms around me, to kiss my forehead like he did when we were just teenagers. But I could not let him overpower me. I had a job to do.
“Heath…I ca-“ His arms wrapped around me before I could finish. His arms were warm and safe and I could feel myself breaking. I slumped into him and let my tears escape. My throat was relieved, not having to hold back my sobs. We folded into the floor and I cried into Heath’s chest. I was done with it all. I was done turning people into slaves, putting them into prisons where they were tortured. How could I go back to being the hunter I had been, when it only took one person to break my walls?
You can’t be a hunter once you have found love. And my heart was completely taken by the boy who had saved me all those years ago. He was no different, the same caring and giving soul he had always been. But how could I sit back and let things continue as they were? How could I find love, yet let so many people suffer in what ever hell I had put them in.
Heath kissed my forehead and stood, pulling me with him. “It’s time to bring back the real Tess. The Tess the hunters trained you to be.” He said, pulling my gaze to his eyes. In one single moment I had been lost and found so quick my head was still spinning. I nodded, knowing exactly what he had meant. We were going to turn the world around. We were going to take back our freedom. Return the prisons to what they were meant to be, and Nolan was going to be the first inmate.
I hope you enjoyed. Feel free to leave any comments. Have a beautiful day, Friends.