Authors: Eloise Dyson
Text copyright Eloise Dyson 2014
First published in 2014 by Eloise Dyson.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and instances are products of the author’s imagination. All statements, activities, stunts, descriptions, information and material of any other kind contained herein are included for entertainment purposes only and should not be relied on for accuracy or replicated as they may result in injury.
This book has been typeset Palatino Linotype.
For Callum, my future brother in law.
He asked to be here first.
Old World Love
I can’t hear her. Where have they taken her? I scream her name, feeling, knowing, that somehow she’s still alive. My mother picks me up. She’s scared; I can see it in her eyes. I feel panic all around me as I’m carried from my room. All I can sense is fear and danger. My mother leaves the door to my room open as we rush through the living room and out of the front door. Wind hits my face as I’m rushed down the path, and I start to cry.
She says words that I don’t understand as she hands me, along with a handful of papers to a tall man in a black suit. He looks quite serious, with dark hair and tiredness is distinctly shown on his face. He now carries me to his spotless black car, pausing only to check the time on his watch. I begin to try to escape from him, kicking out and wailing for my mother. Just as I’m almost in the car, I see my sister through a window in the arms of an old man with a familiar face. She’s in a different house to our home.
’ I cry out to her, fear taking over every part of me.
Kayra, I’m scared!
’ she instantly responds. My father said emotions disrupt our bond, and anything else she might have said never reaches me. I try to relax as I call out, pushing with my mind as far as I can to try and reach her.
I will find you, I promise,
’ I hear her say. This communication takes the last of my energy and I fall into darkness, hearing the car door shut somewhere far off in the distance.
I wake up from my nightmare calling out my sister’s name. Fifteen years have passed, and the nightmares have never stopped.
I can hear the soft sounds of my father’s heart beating. I rest against his chest, feeling his slow, continual breaths rising up and down as I fall in and out of consciousness. The steady rise and fall comforting me until I wake up screaming, wanting to be fed. This is all I remember of my father. My mother is lost in my memory; I doubt I will ever remember her. I still remember the day the world changed forever: People were screaming, running for shelter, the ground crumbling beneath their feet. Buildings being ripped apart, starting from the ground, going up. And fire, so much fire, spreading fast. The earth was shaking uncontrollably, as if it’s being thrown about carelessly. It will never be just a memory, because it's still here, the world is still the same. You would think that fifteen years would be enough to get everything back to normal, but normal doesn't exist here. Everything's stayed the same. Although nature has now taken over the world, and greenery has grown into the split buildings, the world is still the same; the people have never stopped running. The very few who survived the earthquake tried to move on and forget it happened. They attempted new lives in the buildings that remained standing through the chaos. That’s until the Hunters came along. Nobody knows where they came from, or why they hunt us, but many of the survivors were slaughtered, forcing the remaining few of us to survive in forests, fields, and ruined towns, nobody staying anywhere for more than a couple of months in fear of Hunters finding us there. What were once great cities are now destroyed, inhabited solely by Hunters. Everyone eventually split into tribes, all going separate ways. Our tribe is built up of people talented in wood carving and construction; everyone is taught how to make almost anything using wood, most of it being vital for survival and comfort. I make small things like pendants but I haven’t made anything big. I don’t know how many tribes, or survivors are out there, but our group slowly grew to sixty people.
‘I was only fourteen months old,’ I say, coming back to reality and realising I haven't said anything for a while.
Blanking out is normal here; everyone's minds always find a way to wander back to the earthquake. We can never forget.
‘Two and a half,’ he replies. We know this already, of course. But we take comfort in knowing that someone also went through the horror at the same time, and who can understand the trauma.
We sit at the edge of a small clearing, deep into the forest. We made note to keep travelling in the same direction, so getting back shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s late now and we, as usual, wasted the majority of the time that we were supposed to spend hunting and foraging. I continue to watch him in the low firelight until he takes his eyes from the now dying fire, and looks up at me. Our eyes meet and don’t shift. We do this often; look into each other’s eyes. Everyone has, we want to remember everything. I’ve learnt that eyes don't change. No matter how old or beat up you get, your eyes stay the same. I also like having any excuse to look at him, because it's not only his eyes that catch my attention, it's everything about him. I’ve memorised the way his brown hair falls into his dark eyes, his lightly tanned skin, and the way he sits, relaxed, like he's not ready to attack at the first sign of a Hunter.
‘You're doing it again,’ he says, his voice deep but soft.
‘Doing what?’ I ask innocently. I know what, I always look at him too long, and I know he doesn't like it.
‘Don't act dumb, Arys, you know what you’re doing.’
I know it's a stupid thing to do, but I make up an excuse anyway.
‘The Hunters could come any minute and take us,’ I protest. ‘They could be waiting around the corner right now, so that's why I'm taking this one moment to remember everything about you!’
I quickly turn away. In our tribe, we all live in tents now. There are sixty of us altogether; we have to stay in small groups to survive. We have limited supplies, so we move location monthly. We are all currently searching for a new location. We have to pack up everything, remembering to not leave a trail for the Hunters to find. The Hunters take your whole tribe and shut you into cells on your own. They deprive you of food, water, and anything vital for survival. Then, when you are weak enough not to put up a fight, they take you out and beat you to death. Few Hunters seem to know how to make weapons, so they rarely carry any. They mostly just use their hands, but their strength is almost matchless against our weakened condition. Nobody knows why they do what they do, as they never take any of our supplies. They only want us gone, and not once has anyone I’ve met heard them communicating.
‘Arys?’ Kai asks, snapping me out of my daydream.
It's starting to get dark; I must have been staring into the fire longer than I thought.
‘Yes Kai?’ I ask, turning to look at him.
‘Don't worry,’ he smiles softly at me. ‘If the Hunters come, I won't let them take any one of us, I promise.’
He takes his hoodie off, revealing his dark gray T-shirt with words in a different language printed across the chest. He wraps his hoodie around me and I lean into him, feeling his body heat slowly begin to warm me. He still treats me as his little sister and I hate the way he looks at me, like I’m just family that he has to protect. I close my eyes and imagine I'm in another world, the Old World, where we’re not being hunted. I pretend we’re in an un-destroyed world, sat on a bench in the woods, instead of on a broken down tree in a world filled with ruin. Everything is perfect until Kai says the three words I have learnt to hate: ‘I love you.’ These words no longer have the same meaning they once did in the Old World. They now mean “I will protect you, no matter what, even if it means dying for you,” which it usually does end up being, and then after that comes the “goodbye” which is death.
‘I love you, too,’ I say back to him.
I close my eyes and try to imagine he meant the other kind of love, Old World love: the kind of love that only means giving your heart, not your life.
‘Arys, I don't want your love,’ he says, ‘I only want to love you and you know that I never want anything in return.’
I open my eyes and look sadly at him. By
, he means sacrifice, which means death.
‘I will die for you if it means you live. I love you Kai,’ I say, closing my eyes again.
He sighs; he’s learnt that arguing with me is useless. I will not change my mind.
‘I should get the firewood,’ he says, shrugging me off gently and standing up. ‘We need to head back soon, they’ll be getting worried.’
I watch him as he slowly walks away; even walking he looks relaxed, like he hasn't seen death, or even killed anyone. I lie down on the fallen tree we've been sat on. It's now summertime, so it's meant to be warm, but I'm so cold; even more now that Kai has left me. With a start, I suddenly realise that I'm alone about a mile from the rest of the Tribe, and it's getting dark; the Hunters will be out soon. I hear rustling in the trees and slowly sit up, grabbing my knife from my boot and aiming in the direction I heard. I have a good aim, I learnt to throw knives from a very young age, and even learnt how to make them from bone. My heart beats rapidly in my chest. If it's a Hunter, and I kill him, I will officially be a murderer. I see movement in the tree and throw my knife after quickly checking and adjusting my aim. Something cries out in pain. It isn’t human, I know that for definite. I’ve hit an animal. I climb the tree quickly, the cool leaves brushing against my face. As I climb, I see the animal: a bear cub. I reach him and investigate the wound. Holding the screaming bear in my arms, and fighting against his thrashing protests, I manage to see where I hit him. The dagger is missing, but I hit him as one of his front legs is covered with blood. After a short moment to examine him closely, I notice that the cut isn’t too deep. I lay him down on the branch again and he attempts to crawl away, but the pain is too intense for him. Feeling immensely guilty for causing something innocent this sort of pain, I take off Kai's hoodie and wrap it tightly around his bloodied leg. I don’t bother looking for the knife; it’s surely lost in the forest by now. Slowly, I carry the bear down the tree, feeling for each branch with my feet, thankful it’s holding both my weight and the bear’s. I reach the fire and try to secure the hoodie around the bear, so it’s not hanging from him. The bear is still screaming in protest as Kai comes back with wood for the fire and sees me tending to the bear’s wounded leg. I glance up at him as he approaches.
‘I thought he was a Hunter,’ I explain in response to his startled expression. ‘So I threw my knife and it hit him in his leg. We have to help him!’
Kai looks at me sadly. ‘Arys, you know it won’t last long, we can’t possibly take it with us during our search for a camp and it doesn’t have enough meat on it for food, either. You have to silence it too, before we’re in a worse state than it is in!’
He takes out his knife and approaches the cub. I cling to the young bear, still wrapped in Kai’s hoodie.
‘You can’t kill him,’ I protest, but I’m interrupted by rustling in the trees.
‘Hunters!’ Kai says, forcing a calm tone.
I can tell he’s as scared as I am as he swiftly takes his long, curved knife from its sheath on his belt and tilts his head towards the tree. We’re experienced and move as one, after years of training together, using our eyes to communicate silently. He gestures me towards the tree and I feel again like his young sister he needs to protect when he signals for me to climb it and stay safe. Usually, I would have refused, but after losing my knife to the bear cub, I would just be slowing Kai down and I’ll be another life to save as well as himself.
I run as fast and quietly as I can to the tree in which I found the bear, hoping to find my knife there. Once I’m safely in the tree, I begin searching the branches for my knife, deep down knowing that it will definitely be lost in the forest somewhere. As I climb higher, I investigate the branch that the bear was clinging to, and I’m amazed to find my knife lodged in the branch behind it. I lean forward slowly, feeling the tree bend slightly in unison, and manage to grasp the handle of the blade. I tug it out and climb higher.
When I’m assured that I’m hidden amongst the leaves, I glance down through the gaps in the branches. In the dusk light, with the help of the light from the dying embers, I see Kai fighting two Hunters below me. Hunters never come alone unless they’re armed. Luckily, these two aren’t, giving Kai a great advantage. One of the Hunters cries out in pain as Kai’s silhouette lunges at his stomach. I watch without blinking as the battle unfolds below me, wanting desperately to help Kai, but knowing he’d never forgive himself if I get killed, or even injured. The second Hunter moves around the crumpled figure of the first Hunter and dives at Kai. This Hunter is clearly much stronger than Kai and they both fall to the floor, the Hunter’s hands around Kai’s neck. Kai’s shocked, slightly startled screams alert me to attention, and I close my eyes and breathe steadily.
‘I love you,’ I whisper, and then release my grip from the tree, falling quickly to the ground below me.