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Reunited in the Sky
Author's note: I wrote this story while thinking about life and family. Everyone has secrets; sometimes these secrets end up harming someone emotionally and mentally. However, they can also hurt physically.
An elderly woman strolls through the ruins of what used to be the town center of the once glorious town. Charred structures dot the landscape, burying the deceased citizens. The old woman stops near a broken fountain. She finds a part of the base that managed to stand and sits down. Her body creaks with age and the lingering ash seeps into her lungs. Wispy, jarring coughs rumble through the silence of the rubble, seeming to rouse the sleeping victims.
Her eyes flutter against the stagnant air filled with death and she suddenly stops scanning her surroundings. She spots the body of a teenage boy sprawled on a heap of bricks across the blackened street. Slowly, the elderly woman rises and waits as the torturous aches surge through her feeble body. After the pain subsides, she gradually steps over to the destruction.
The boy looks to be nearly eighteen. His face seems rather calm, despite the crimson stains on his cheeks. The old woman notices his left arm is twisted backwards and the bone is sticking out.
“Poor boy,” she sighs. “You foolishly ignored me and look where you are now.” The elderly woman laughed. The revelry of her success halted when she noticed a leather book in the boy's hand. With hesitation, she bent over and retrieved the book. Her joints wailed in pain but her joy overcame the aches.
“What is this?” she pondered. The old woman lifted the weathered cover and found a page that claimed the book was the journal of Matthew Amuletta. However, someone marked through the words. In small letters, someone had written in the corner, “The Story of How I Came to Be Alone.”
“So, you're Matthew Amuletta?” she asked the corpse. “I never would have guessed this would happen.” Her aged laughter became lost in the crisp winter breeze. The cold chapped her lips, but she refused to seek shelter yet.
“I told you,” she murmured. “I told all of you!” Dementia eerily crept inside her brain, calling eccentric thoughts to conquer her mind.
“No!” she screamed at the voices. “I will not eat his ear!” The old woman flicked her tongue to wet her lips. “I'm not crazy. I am merely an intelligent human being,” she spat. “I am magical!” Laughter thundered through the rubble, mixing with the howling wind to create a morbid lullaby for the dead. The elder slipped her finger under the frayed page and flipped it to discover immaculate paragraphs filling the next page. She ruffled through her pockets, found her cracked eyeglasses, and settled them on her nose. Leaning forward, she began to decipher Matthew Amuletta's story.
I hear the voices of my family members calling my name.
“Matthew! Matthew!” they call, begging for help.
I used to seek shelter in the warm, loving arms of my family. Loneliness and fear are my only visitors. My life used to be simple and carefree. Now, I am alone, afraid, and trapped in a never ending nightmare.
Life was serene in the ancient town of Safe Haven. The birds swarmed the trees, uplifting the town with melodious songs. The docks belched mechanical sounds and filled everyone with an adventurous spirit. People were content; the quality of life was one of the best in the country. Families from around the country flocked to Safe Haven in search of safety. Records validated the town’s name, as the cheery settlement was untouched by any impurities. The coast land was sheltered by the cliffs and high peaks enveloped the entire area. War and plagues were insignificant; Safe Haven seemed impregnable. However, this sense of safety shrouded the citizens' minds with ignorance. No one could have predicted what would happen.
My family moved to the town seven years ago from Fargus, a settlement of the extremities of the country. We arrived in late October. My parents, John and Stephanie Amuletta, decided the move was required, but they would not tell me why. My brother Trevor and I were carried along, leaving friends behind. I was ten years old and Trevor was only seven years old. Our life in Fargus vanished and we were forced to rebuild in Safe Haven.
My mother’s stomach was swollen with pregnancy. Everyone could tell my father was tense; he wanted to have Mother settled for the arrival of their daughter. He drove through the lively streets, stopped at the town hall in the center of Safe Haven, and stepped inside.
“I need to speak with the mayor; it is urgent!” he screamed. “My wife is nearly ready to give birth to my child and I need a house.”
A small, crippled man crept out a dark office and timidly shook my father’s hand. “Hello, sir. My name is Christopher Denser. I am the mayor of Safe Haven,” the man said. “What can I do for you?”
Father smiled with hope. “Thank you, sir! I apologize for my rashness. I need a house and the price does not matter. I have the appropriate funds and we plan on staying in Safe Haven.”
“Oh well, you are in luck!” the mayor said as he pointed down the hall. “The Carson family just left and their home is for sale. Come with me and you can sign the paperwork.”
My father followed Mayor Denser down an airy hallway into his private office. The mayor stepped around his desk and sat down in a plush, leather armchair. A sigh of fatigue escaped his lips as he bent over, shuffling through a drawer. He pulled himself upwards and cringed as the pain of arthritis rippled through his body. Stacks of papers landed on the desk top and the mayor handed my father a golden pen.
“Now, John, sign these papers and hand me the money. I will have my assistants escort you to your new residence,” the mayor said. My fathers grasped the pen and pushed it across the paper. He moved his fingers nimbly, writing his name in large, thick letters. Mayor Denser retrieved the pen as Father stood up.
“I will return shortly,” my father said. He smoothed his suit against his body and walked out of the office.
He came back to the car and opened the trunk. From the trunk, he pulled out a black, shiny suitcase. He opened the suitcase which contained seven different types of money. Trevor and I nosily peeked out the windows of the car. After seeing the contents of the case, I turned back to face the front window. Trevor continued to stare, thirsty for knowledge. I had already learned about the bundles of money at home.
Before traveling to Safe Haven, my father and mother wanted to teach me the new culture in the town. I learned about the people, the food, and the currency. The economy in Safe Haven revolves around seven different bills. In order of highest value to lowest, I learned that the seven types of money were: superbia, invidia, ira, socors, avaritia, abdomia, and clarus. I remember learning what each word meant, but I forgot due to the stress of the move. However, I do know only the wealthy citizens of Safe Haven would possess superbias; peasants were lucky to receive a few measly abdomia and clarus.
After counting one bundle of superbia, several bundles of invidia, three of ira, and nine of socors, Fathers slammed the trunk shut. My mother smiled at him warmly, excited about the new house. Trevor and I remained very still. We were strangers in this new, alien city. Father grinned at us and strolled back into the town hall. I scanned the town square, observing the people and buildings. One structure instantly caught my attention: the fountain.
Sparkling in the morning sun, the streams of water seemed to dance to the birds' songs. I was instantly entranced by the watery ballet. I promised myself I would return to the fountain often to enjoy the peace. My curious gaze attracted the attention of the citizens; the peasants passing by began to cast strange looks at us.
Mother turned around to look at us. “Trevor! Matthew! Stop aggravating the townspeople!” she scolded. “We have just arrived here and we don't need any trouble.”
She faced the front of the automobile again. I groaned in disgust, loathing how long the transaction was taking. Mother glared at me with a wild look in her eyes. I got the message and decided to close my mouth before she smacked me.
Finally, my father walked out of the town hall with a few well-dressed men. The men walked around the building and climbed into their vehicle. Father entered our car and started the engine. We followed the mayor’s assistants down the main street of town and passed through the marketplace. Several carts of local foods released an intoxicating smell, luring me into hunger. My stomach grumbled. In fear of punishment, I did not complain I knew Mother would be furious with me.
After a few minutes of driving, the car came to a halt in front of an honorable two-story abode near the periphery of the town square. A lofty staircase circumscribed the base of the home and led to the patio area facing the setting sun. Two stout, wooden doors opened into the house. After a quick tour, I discovered the upstairs consisted of three bedrooms and a bathroom. The house even had an attic with windows that opened to the roof. The kitchen area and dining room were downstairs, as well as a sitting room and a study. A second bathroom was nestled behind the staircase leading to the second floor.
“Oh, John! I love the house! We can settle here and raise our family,” Mother said, tears twinkling on her cheeks. She clung to Father, almost refusing to release her joyous grip. Mother walked over and embraced Trevor and me in a loving embrace. “Oh, kids! We are going to have a wonderful life here. Do not forget you have a baby sister on the way,” she grinned, softly rubbing her abdomen.
Father thanked the mayor's assistants and sent them back to the town hall. I desired to travel back to the fountain and observe the water.
“Father?” I asked. “May I walk to the fountain in the town square? I want to watch the fountain.”
Father rubbed his chin in thought. “Do you remember how to get there?” he inquired.
“Yes, Father, I remember. I also remember the path we took to get here. I won't stay long, I promise.”
After a minute of deep consideration, he finally said yes. I told Mother where I was going and stepped out the door to begin my adventure. I climbed down the stairs and started walking down the crowded streets of Safe Haven. The citizens stared at me with curiosity. I guessed they observed every newcomer for the first few days.
The walk seemed to take hours as my longing to view the beauty increased. Finally, I turned the corner and spotted the sparkly streams swaying in the sun. My pace quickened and I darted towards the fountain. I found a bench near the edge of the pool and sat down to watch the show. Flashes of light swarmed my eyes, growing my anxiety. Suddenly, an urge overcame me. I stood up from the bench, climbed onto the marble ledge of the fountain, and plunged into the cool water.
Like a swan, I emerged with my arms spread wide. My wet shirt clung to me, forming a suit of damp cotton feathers. In that moment, I was the swan. A smile dragged my lips upward and I looked out at the bystanders. The people stared at me, anger blazing in their eyes. I realized the citizens did not approve of my immature antics. Swiftly, I clambered out of the pool and dashed into a nearby alley. I sighed in relief when I realized no one pursued me. Turning to exit the dank corridor, I bumped into an elderly woman.
“Miss, I am so very sorry!” I exclaimed. “Please, forgive me!”
Her icy blue eyes pierce mine. The ebony cloak she wore cast an ominous shadow upon her face. My heartbeat raced and I began to shudder with fear.
“Boy, do not come back here again,” she whispered. Suddenly, she began singing.
“Flesh to ashes, bones cracked by flame. Alas, it appears life will never be the same.
Terror from the sky. From the heavens, fire shall fly. Screams echo from all around. Due
ash, all shall drown. Prepare ye foolish, ye sinners alive! All will die . . . all but I.”
The elderly woman clamped her lips tight and waved me along. Fear shattered my joy and I scattered wildly out of the alley. Chills tingled through my spine as I walked home. Upon reaching the house, I sluggishly sat down on the rugged couch in the sitting room. Mother walked in and sensed something was wrong.
“Matthew, you look like you have seen a ghost. What is wrong, dear?” she asked.
“Nothing is wrong, Mother. I am exhausted from the move,” I lied.
“Alright. I believe you,” she smiled. “Come on, supper is ready.”
A meager amount of food remained in the house due to the Carson family's recent departure. Regardless of scanty provisions, Mother whipped up a meal fit for kings. We dined in our new home, remembering our life in Fargus. After a lengthy day, I was exhausted. I ascended the stairs and crawled into bed. I rarely went to bed on time without Father's scolding. My eyelids fluttered against sleep, but thoughts of the eery old woman flooded my brain. After thinking about my encounter today, fatigue dragged me beneath the covers. Finally, I surrendered and drifted into darkness with the wrinkled face fresh in my mind.
Only two weeks after arriving at the new home, my sister Lilly was born. She was delivered by a local doctor, Harold Rummington. Lilly was a healthy baby and she was very eager to learn. Mother and Father rejoiced while Trevor and I gleamed with pride.
“Can I help teach her new things?” I inquired.
“Yes, Matthew, you can. How could I teach her everything alone?” Mother laughed.
“I am expecting both of you to assist in anyway possible,” Father stated boldly. He hugged Trevor and then me. Love emanated from his body, making me feel safe. I was finally beginning to appreciate life in Safe Haven. After holding Lilly for the first time, I wanted to see the fountain again.
“Mother, may I go visit the fountain today?” I asked sweetly.
“Yes. However, be home before dark,” Mother warned.
I reached the fountain once again, which seemed to spray jets of water to celebrate my arrival. The bench creaked as I slumped against the worn boards. I closed my eyes to listen to the rhythm of the dance and quickly slipped into sleep.
When I woke up, I knew punishment waited at home. Falling asleep at the fountain proved deadly and nightmares of the heinous woman jolted me awake. Darkness began to cloak the town and I was a few minutes away from home. Sprinting full speed, I flew through the streets. When I arrived home, I attempted to sneak in the door without alerting my parents. I entered the house and shut the door, thinking I was safe. Seconds after the lock clicked in the door, Father coughed to catch my attention. He sat in the armchair in the sitting room and beckoned me forward with his rough, callused hand.
“Matthew, where have you been? Tell me!” he ordered with an unprecedented fierceness.
“Father . . . I am sorry! I fell asleep on the bench and lost track of the time,” I said.
His eyes glowed with disappointment. “Matthew, you are banned from the fountain for three weeks. I cannot risk losing you and letting you travel alone is a huge risk,” he asserted. “I am sorry.”
My head slumped forward in defeat. I was forbidden to visit the one place I enjoy in the town. Slowly, I ascended the stairs and slid into bed. Fresh tears collected on my eyelashes before falling onto my pillow. In the corners of my mind, I could here the old woman cackling at me.
A month passed after Lilly's birth before Father decided to obtain a job at the blacksmith shop near the edge of the town. My father was a very intelligent man and could have any job he wished. However, he loved to work as a blacksmith. As a young man, he assisted his father in the blacksmith shop in Fargus. I guess he wants to feel closer to his childhood friend. He diligently works everyday, proving his love for us many times over.
I was permitted to visit the fountain after the three weeks Father promised. My appreciation of the fountain grew as my time there shortened. Regardless, I still enjoyed watching the shows at the watery theater. Whenever I go to the town center, I always check the alley for any signs of the demented woman. Usually, she sits against the stone walls and whispers to herself about death and explosions. I still try my best to avoid her at all costs.
One morning, Mother pleaded with Father to leave the shop. Although my family needed the money, Mother wanted him to get a new job.
“The work is too dangerous,” she cried. “I refuse to let you get hurt!”
Father caressed Mother's face, comforting her. “Stephanie, I will be fine. I have worked in the shop for three years now. The shop maintains a good record; no accidents have occurred in five years. Besides, I love what I do. I have not worked a day in three years because I love being a blacksmith. Watching rough ores turn into works of art stirs something in my heart. Forging weapons and crafting statues is my passion; nothing can change that.”
Mother started crying. “John, I just do not want anything to happen.”
“I know. I love you and I promise to be careful,” Father whispered.
Mother smiled, knowing she could not persuade her stubborn husband. She prepared breakfast afterward with fresh foods from the market. Mother started frying eggs and bacon. The scent of the crisp meat wafted upstairs and the eggs sizzled on the skillet. Trevor and I bounced out of bed for breakfast. Father must have heard us.
“Matthew! Trevor! Come downstairs as soon as you're ready,” he yelled up the stairwell. Father grinned and began to imagine our faces of excitement. After pondering this thought for a minute, he exploded with guttural roars of laughter.
“Sweetie, you are really loud! What is so funny?” Mother asked, although she could not remain serious. She laughed loudly as well. Trevor and I looked at each other.
“What do you think is so funny?” Trevor asked me.
“Who knows? It could be anything. Have you forgotten that we are talking about Mother and Father?” I said.
Trevor began giggling and I joined him. We walked downstairs to find Mother and Father still laughing, their faces red with happiness.
Trevor and I rolled our eyes again. This action set off another round of uncontrollable, boisterous laughter that seemed to make the house tremble. We scooped eggs and bacon onto our plates and sat at the dining table. We began eating and Mother and Father continued their conversation.
“Now, what were we talking about?” Mother asked. “Oh, yes. What was so funny?”
“Dear, you know how I like to enjoy life. Life comes along and it seems as if it will last forever. Each day passes by and we never question whether there will be a tomorrow. It seems like just yesterday Lilly was born and it has already been three years! I would like to enjoy every minute I have living, laughing, and loving,” Father said. “No one knows when death will come. It could be tomorrow or next week. Why not enjoy every pleasure life offers?”
“I never really thought of it that way,” Mother replied. “I do not believe that any of us will be going anywhere soon. We have enough money for food and clothes. Our children have the privilege of visits from Dr. Rummington when they are sick. Life is good and the future looks bright. My heart tells me that nothing terrible will happen.”
“I agree. Well, I must be getting ready. I cannot be late for work,” Father said.
Mother got a plate of bacon and eggs, sat at the table with Trevor and me, and waited for Father's departure. He gathered his hat, keys, and a few socors, avaritia, and a handful of abdomia from the money jar above the stove. After cleaning his breakfast utensils, he strolled to the door. Mother walked over to him and they met in a warm embrace. They stared at each other, locking eyes. They stared deeply into the light, sapphire orbs that attracted them to each other. Neither could decide when to let go. Mother pulled away first, knowing Father could not be late. However, I could tell she did not want him to leave.
“Stephanie,” Father murmured.
“Yes?” Mother inquired.
Father kissed her softly. “ I love you,” he said.
“I love you too,” she replied.
Father turned towards the door but turned around. “Trevor! Matthew! I love you both! Behave for your Mother!”
“Yes, Father!” We replied in unison.
“Oh, Father?” I asked eagerly.
“Yes,” he quickly yelled.
“May I go to the fountain today?”
“We will see,” he said. “Goodbye.”
Father once again turned towards the door. In one swift motion, he opened the door, exited, and shut the door snugly behind him. A few seconds passed before Mother swung open the door and clattered down the stairs after Father. I was surprised by the spontaneous action and I sprinted to the door way. Trevor followed behind me. As I watched Mother speed towards Father, Trevor kept breathing down my neck.
“Will you stop?” I said.
“What?” He asked. “Do you mean this?”
Trevor breathed in deeply before blowing onto my neck. He exhaled so intensely that saliva followed and coated my neck.
“Trevor!” I yelled.
Trevor galloped away, gleefully singing his victory song. I wiped the saliva off my neck and rubbed my hand against my pants. I made a mental note to seek revenge later. I looked back to the street and spotted Mother and Father embracing each other once more. They hugged for ten minutes before Father raced away. Mother skipped home humming. She acted like a giddy schoolgirl for the remainder of the day. Although my parents should love each other, I think they love each other too much. I wonder how angry Father will be when he notices he is ten minutes late.
After Mother returned, I asked her again if I could visit the fountain.
“Go ahead, but remember the rules!” she reminded me. “Also, I need you to get these things,” Mother stated as she handed me a list. “Run along, now!”
I settled into my usual spot on the bench nearest the fountain. The fountain began its usual routine and I glanced towards the alley. The old woman was not in the alley, but a small, brown package was leaning against the wall. Curious, I stepped over and picked up the bundle. Before I could view the contents, the estranged old woman appeared from around the corner and began shrieking at me.
“What are you doing?” she squeaked. “Stealing is punishable by decapitation! You had better watch yourself! The Holy Knights will sneak up and steal your arteries!” she cackled. Her cloak rustled in the wind. As I retreated from the alley, the sound of the fabric rubbing together made me shiver. I turned and sprinted towards home. I knew sickness clouded her mind, but she sounded very confident about the Holy Knights.
After returning home, I found Mother in the kitchen preparing a poultry dish.
“Mother, who are the Holy Knights?” I innocently asked. Mother's eyes swelled with anxiety.
“No one dear. Now, hand me the spices over there,” she stuttered.
I handed her the small containers. “Mother, who are they?” I repeated.
“I said no one! Respect your Mother!” she screamed. I backed away, wondering what type of monster had possessed my mother. I knew Mother was hiding something; I just had to find out what.
Hours passed and the sky faded to darkness. Mother's anxiety grew intensively as time passed. Father was due home from work over three hours ago. Mother mumbled something about “idiot” and “irresponsible.” I knew the anxiety was shredding her patience, but I still did not like hearing her talk about Father that way. Another hour passed before Mother could not handle the emotions any more.
“That's it! I am going out to find your father!” she said. “Matthew, stay here and watch your brother and sister.” Mother gathered her coat, scarf, and hat before rushing to the door. She slammed the door open to find a man in a policeman's uniform standing by the staircase.
“Who are you?” she asked, worry vibrating her voice.
“Miss, I am Officer Stanley. I am very sorry to inform you that your husband, John, was killed in a terrible accident.”
Mother blinked a few times in disbelief. Her body twitched in several areas before collapsing to the floor. Distressed, incoherent sobs flooded the entire house as Mother shrieked in pain.
“It is all my fault,” she wailed. “I made him ten minutes late!” Tears stained her porcelain cheeks and she began to rock herself on the floor. Officer Stanley knelt by her side and tried to comfort her. However, no one could console her. I could not believe what I had just heard. Father is gone?
Emotions pushed against my chest, feeling like someone had stabbed my heart. Trevor longed for Father and began to cry wildly. Lilly sat among the chaos, oblivious to the fact that she would never see her father again. I sprinted upstairs and flung myself onto my bed. I screamed into my pillow, beating the mattress with malice. After a long period of silence, I passed out, unwilling to face reality.
Mother stopped me one morning on my way to go to town. “Matthew, there is something I must tell you,” she said. “This story goes back to the beginning. When I was a young adult, I lost both of my parents in a flood. I was devastated and left with no home, no money, and no parents. Every night, I would go to bed hungry. I decided the only way to survive was to become a prostitute. With the money I received, I barely ate two small meals a day. I doubted I would live much longer when a miracle occurred.”
“One morning, I was walking home and passed by a young man from the wealthy district of Fargus. I thought nothing of the encounter until he stopped me and handed me a handful of money. When I asked him why he helped me, he said, 'I think your eyes are pretty. They look just like mine.' He winked at me and walked away. I never forgot his kindness. Only a few days later, we met again and fell in love. Shortly after, we married and he took care of me. That man was the man who raised you,” Mother proclaimed.
“You mean Father?” I curiously asked.
“No, Matthew, John is not your father.”
“You mean Father?” I curiously asked.
“No, Matthew, John is not your father.”
“What do you mean? Father is my father!” I said as I blinked in disbelief.
“As a prostitute, I exposed myself to many risks,” Mother confirmed. “After a short period of time, I became pregnant. John knew but accepted you as his own. I am sorry for waiting all these years. I just wanted all the secrets to be told.”
“I love you, Mother. However, I have no words for you right now,” I uttered angrily through clenched teeth. I slammed the door as I departed for the fountain, hoping the water's graceful dance would soothe my festering anger.
It has been three years since Father's death. Mother does not live anymore; she merely exists, completing only the necessary tasks of the day. Trevor has grown substantially and he is a teenager now. However, he does not have Father there to teach him anymore about life. Lilly will be six in a few weeks. She will never know the joy of having a father. After I turned sixteen, I secluded myself from the rest of the town. I refuse to deal with sympathetic hypocrites.
I was recently told the story of how Father died. That fateful morning, Father had left for work as usual. He arrived at work ten minutes late for an unknown reason, although I knew why he was late. He spent ten minutes embracing Mother in the street without watching the time.
He had been training an apprentice for the past two months. Father rushed into the shop looking flushed. The apprentice, a young man named Earl, was already at his station awaiting orders. The fire was blazing in the stone fireplace so Father immediately began to instruct him.
“Okay. Earl, you need to melt this tin and copper. Make sure that you melt them completely. Then, mix them thoroughly. Do you understand?” Father asked.
“Yes, sir,” Earl replied confidently.
“Next, you must pour the mixture into the molds on the table in the back,” Father said. “While you do that, I must work on a separate project. Can you handle that?”
“Yes, sir,” Earl replied.
“Excellent. Get to work,” Father ordered.
Time passed and the sun rose high above the earth, warming the chilly ground of autumn. Earl continued his work diligently and was finally ready to pour the tin-copper mixture into the molds.
“Sir?” Earl asked quietly.
“Yes, Earl.” Father sighed. “What is it?”
“I am ready to pour the mixture into the molds. I wanted to inform you to prevent an accident,” Earl announced.
“Good thinking,” Father affirmed. “Please, be careful.”
Earl carefully carried the container with the tongs as if it was a bomb. He scuttled across the dark, dirt floor to the table and preceded to pour the smooth metal into the mold. Sweat from his previous work was accentuated with fresh perspiration caused by nervousness and the overwhelming heat. He tilted the tongs and the glowing liquid began to cascade into the mold, filling every crevice. Earl carelessly poured without watching the amount of metal in the mold. The hot metal crested and overflowed. Hot, orange drops of molten tin and copper landed on the table and instantly ignited.
Flames spread out across the table. The fiery tentacles of the blaze licked the walls, hungry for fuel. Thick, opaque smoke saturated the entire shop, drowning Earl and my father in a sea of toxins.
“Get out!” Father gasped. “I'm right behind you!”
Earl nodded and fled the scene. He busted through the curtain of smoke at the door and sucked in the fresh, autumn air. A few minutes passed before Earl noticed my father was not behind him. Earl pulled his shirt over his nose and reentered the shop. He could barely see anything through the smoke. His eyes began to sting and his mind became clouded. Suddenly, Father came out of the smoke and waved his arms wildly towards the door.
Earl understood and again sprinted towards the door. His foot had just passed through the door when an unearthly groan filled his ears. He turned around to see what was making the noise. The main ceiling support was engulfed in flames, and the groan was the support creaking as one of the minor supports crashed down. Gravity's pull seemed to increase and the flames eroded the supports until the wooden structure slammed down to the earth with a deafening boom. Father was directly underneath the support when it fell and he was pinned to the dirt floor. The socors and avaritia fluttered from his pocket like butterflies, seeking refuge from the scorching flames. A few stray embers bit the bills and singed them. They floated down into the fiery hell of the shop.
The support had fallen on my Father's pelvis, crushing several bones instantly. The flames still gripped the post and chewed on my father's flesh. His legs were on fire, burning to the bone. My father screamed in agony as pain surged through every fiber of his being.
“Earl! Help me!” Father wailed.
Earl flew outside, found a bucket beside the water pump, and hastily filled it. Sloshing loudly, Earl sprinted inside and chucked the water at my father. The support hissed in pain as the flames were quenched. Father followed the sound with a blood-curdling scream. Earl felt fear and guilt deluge his body. His mind raced and his heart felt as if it was going to explode out of his chest. Earl knew he had started the fire; he had killed my father. Father's body fell limp, still pinned to the floor. Bloody water mixed with the dirt and ash, coating the floor adjacent to his lifeless corpse with crimson mud. The fire still blazed on the walls and floor of the shop, but it was too late. My father, John Amuletta, was dead.
I heard the story from Earl himself. He came to the house a month ago to tell us he was the one responsible for Father's death.
“I cannot forgive myself for what I have done. I know it cannot replace your father, but I want you to have this,” Earl whimpered, holding out to me a small, burlap sack.
Earl slithered away and headed towards the cliffs in the west carrying a sack similar to the one he gave me. When he was out of sight, I opened it. The sack contained seven bundles of superbias! I had never seen so much money in my life! I was grateful for Earl's gift, but I still would much rather have my father here with me.
A policeman stopped by the house yesterday to tell me that Earl had committed suicide. In fact, his suicide was the most gruesome the town had seen in over one hundred years. After leaving my house, Earl climbed to the top of the cliff. He found a thick tree and set up his plan. He laid wood around the base of the tree and stuffed dry weeds into the empty spaces. Using stolen gasoline, he doused the entire tree and surrounding ground. Earl chained himself to the tree and lit a match. He put the match in his mouth, holding the flame in front of his face. Closing his eyes, he dropped the match and the entire tree ignited.
Investigators found a note written by Earl. In his note, he said he could not forgive himself for the sin he had committed. He asked every citizen to forgive him, especially the Amuletta family. The final line of the note asked for forgiveness from God. Most of the religious citizens refused to attend the funeral and would not help gather the impure remains. I did not attend the funeral because Lilly was sick. I was her only caretaker because Dr. Rummington was attending the funeral. Mother was spaced out again so that left me to raise my siblings. I wish Father was here.
I approached Mother in hopes of talking to her.
“Mother,” I said. “I need to speak with you.” Mother sat in the armchair and stared out the window towards the ocean.
“Mother!” I yelled.
“Yes?” She replied with apathy.
“Talk to me!” I said.
“Okay. Matthew, listen closely,” Mother said. “The Holy Knights are the reason why we fled Fargus six years ago.”
“Holy Knights? Their name makes them seem like heroes,” I stated. “What did the Holy Knights do to make us leave?”
“I know this is sudden and you have not heard this before,” Mother said. “ Our country has been at war with the Holy Knights for eleven years. It took their army five years to become a threat to us. After conquering several small villages near Fargus, your father and I decided we were not safe. We gathered what we could and headed to Safe Haven. Due to its name and clean record, this town seemed ideal. It was perfect for me until your father died. However, the Holy Knights have increased in strength and numbers. The army pushed through all of our country's defenses. Now, their entire arsenal is two days time from Safe Haven and we will be soon under attack.”
I could not believe what I was hearing.
“War? But, Safe Haven is impregnable! Their army will never reach us! It is impossible!” I screamed. “Right?”
“Matthew, I am sorry. I should not have waited this long to tell you,” Mother cried. “We are all going to die because I waited too long! We could have escaped!”
“Mother, we are not going to die!” I whimpered. “I will not allow it!”
“Matthew, they are the Holy Knights. They have been brainwashed into believing God ordered them to conquer all lands and murder all sinners in order to purify the land. They choose their victims based on the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust,” Mother uttered. “Does this sound familiar to you?”
Suddenly, I had an epiphany and remembered what the seven currencies of Safe Haven meant. Superbia was pride, invidia was envy, ira was anger, and socors represented sloth. Avaritia was greed, and abdomia was gluttony. Clarus stood for lust. These seven currencies all represented a sin, which would eventually lead everyone in Safe Haven to slaughter by the Holy Knights.
I also remembered one afternoon when I was relaxing at the fountain. The elderly woman screamed in the alley, but everyone ignored her. I rushed over to find out what had happened. She was screaming at the voices again.
“Stop teasing me!” she shrieked. She noticed me and said, “You there! Young man, do you have a few clarus for a poor woman?”
I rummaged through my pockets and found a forgotten avaritia. I held the bill out for her and she greedily stuffed it into her pocket.
“Thank you, sir. Remember, avaritia stands for greed. This charity will keep you free of greed,” she laughed.
I turned back to Mother. “That means that everyone is a sinner, and that means the Holy Knights are going to murder everyone! We are in grave danger and we have to sit here are wait,” I said, realizing our fate.
I suddenly felt uneasy. My stomach churned with disgust and I vomited my lunch all over the floor. I wiped my face with my hand and rinsed it off. I climbed upstairs, leaving the pool of digested food for Mother to clean up. I found Lilly and Trevor and hugged them, holding them with such energy my arms began to throb.
“Ow! Matthew!” Lilly cried.
“What was that for?” Trevor mumbled.
“I love you two so much,” I sobbed. “I just want you to know how much I love you.”
“Big brother, what is bothering you?” Lilly asked, rubbing my back with her small, innocent hand.
“Nothing,” I lied. “I just love you so much.”
“No, Matthew,” Trevor said. “What is wrong?”
I turned back to look at Lilly and Trevor, staring into their innocent faces. Their eyes burrowed into mine, demanding an answer. Lilly sprang up and crossed her arms at me.
“Okay, fine. I will tell you,” I stuttered. “An army called the Holy Knights is going to attack Safe Haven some time in the next two days. I don't mean to worry you, but we must barricade ourselves in the house. We all need to support each other, remain calm, and let our bravery shine,” I finished.
“Matthew?” Lilly asked.
“Yes, Lilly?” I cautiously responded, anxious of her reaction.
“Are we all going to die?” she inquired, her eyes asking the same question.
“No, of course not. Go to sleep; we need energy for tomorrow,” I sighed.
I left my siblings and went to my room. After collapsing on my bed, I passed out, hoping I would sleep through the torturous days to come.
Mayor Denser called an emergency town meeting today around nine o'clock.
“Citizens of Safe Haven,” he said quietly. “I am sure most of you know, but the Holy Knights have surrounded our town. Our informants have alerted us that they have warplanes capable of firebombing. An army of close to 50,000 waits directly over the mountains. There is nothing we can do about the situation, so I suggest going home and falling asleep. Maybe you will be one of the lucky ones who dies in the initial bombing. Sadly, any survivors of that attack will likely be captured and beheaded, shot, hung, or tortured. Good luck!”
The mayor finished his speech and stepped offstage. He climbed into his automobile and his chauffeur sped off towards the distant cliff, likely to a secret bunker. The citizens remained surprisingly calm after hearing the news. Many of the people guffawed at the thought of an army penetrating the natural fortress of Safe Haven. The citizens began their daily business like nothing was wrong.
I shook my head in disbelief. How could these people be so stubborn? I realized it was due to the extensive period of peace they had experienced. Growing up, every citizen of Safe Haven was taught the city was an invincible. That lesson will be every person's downfall.
I spotted the old woman in the center of the square. She began singing the eery song she sang to me that day many years ago. After hearing the news about firebombing, I began to believe her. As I left the square, I caught a glimpse of the fountain, twirling gracefully. This final sight of my beloved sanctuary urges me to persevere. My hope rises and I begin to think we will survive.
I went by the small supplies shop in the marketplace. Using some of the money Earl gave me, I bought several sheets of fire-resistant metal plating used for ship making. I lugged the weighty sheets home and dragged them up the stairs to the attic. After opening the windows, I took the sheets one by one and attached them to the roof. The metal covered every square foot of the roof, including the windows. With the remaining sheets, I covered the front door and all of the windows inside the house.
I gathered a small amount of food, water, and bedding and placed it at the top of the stairwell.
“Mother, Trevor, and Lilly! Come here, please!” I yelled through the house.
Mother came from her bedroom. Lilly and Trevor were reading in the sitting room.
“Yes, big brother?” Lilly asked.
“I need you to sit here,” I said pointing at the supplies. “You cannot move unless I say, okay?”
“Do we have to?” Trevor whined.
“Yes, unless you want to be roasted alive,” I said. Lilly began crying and Trevor glared at me.
“Matthew!” Mother scolded. “Stop scaring your brother and sister. We have enough to be anxious about without your mindless statements.”
The house suddenly began to shake. I could feel the rumble of an explosion and I heard loud booms erupting overhead.
“Everyone, get down!” I screamed. The firebombs had started to descend over the city. Shrieks of people floated through the streets, reiterating my thought. The incendiary explosives were engulfing homes, shops, and people. Lilly began sobbing in fear. Trevor trembled in my arms and Mother stared upwards, waiting for flames to pour through the ceiling. However, the flames never came. A gargantuan sigh of relief flew from my mouth. I had placed little faith in the house's structural integrity. Thankfully, our home held together, despite a direct hit.
After fifteen minutes, the distant sounds of explosions ceased. I uncovered one of the windows to look outside and instantly wished I had not. The stench of burning wood and flesh invaded my nostrils, making me nauseous. A few structures were unscathed, but every other building was flattened or missing walls. Others burned brightly, filling the air with smoke.
“Stay back!” I ordered. “Mother, do not let the kids near the window.”
“Lilly and Trevor, stay back,” Mother barked fiercely.
“Look at this. Could there be survivors?” I gasped, choking on ash. In the back of my mind, I hoped the ash was from a building. Over time, survivors climbed from the burning wreckage. Shrill screams emanated from every direction as people began to discover dead loved ones.
Mother choked, horrified by the carnage before her eyes. “What is that?” she asked.
I scanned the rubble of the town and tried to find what Mother had seen. After a minute of searching, I spotted a mass of white trekking through the carnage.
“The Holy Knights!” I shrieked. I quickly replaced the sheet of metal over the window.
“We need to all go to the attic,” I said. “Now!” I pushed Lilly and Trevor upstairs. “Lilly, Trevor, go to the attic and hide. I am going to talk to Mother and then I will join you.”
“Okay,” Trevor cried. Lilly nodded, gripping her stuffed teddy bear for dear life.
I came back downstairs and found Mother in the sitting room. “Mother, do you have a plan?” I asked.
“No,” she sighed in defeat.
“We can hide in the attic. Maybe, the Holy Knights won't find us,” I said hopefully. I walked over to the window and uncovered a small portion of the window. My legs began to burn as I crouched to peek through the opening. The Holy Knights descended on the survivors in groups. Some groups dragged the citizens by their hair before slitting their throats in front of their family. Others instantly shot their victims. One heinous group forced their victims to murder their own family. If a person gruesomely murdered their loved one in order to survive, the Holy Knights claimed he or she had committed the sin of anger. The individual would be dismembered limb by limb.
I could not watch the scene anymore. I climbed the stairs but when I reached the top, the front door crashed open and a trio of Holy Knights entered the house. Mother screamed and scattered up the stairs after me. I entered the attic and dived behind a stack of boxes.
“Lilly, Trevor! Do not make a noise or come out!” I managed to whisper before Mother fell through the doorway. She crawled towards the other end of the attic, finger nails digging into the ancient, wooden floor.
“Please, do not hurt my babies! Please!” she pleaded as she turned over onto her back, facing the Holy Knights.
The Knight closest to her wielded a silver spear in his right hand. He pulled back his arm before thrusting the point into Mother's stomach. She gasped on impact and the Holy Knight pulled the spear from her body.
“You have committed the deadly sins of envy, sloth, and lust. Prepare to die,” the Knight smirked. He lifted the spear high above his head. “By the power vested in me, I denounce you vanquished!” he yelled as he lodged the spear head deep in Mother's chest. Blood spurted from her mouth and her shirt soaked up the crimson pool collecting on her bosom.
“Mother!” Lilly screamed. She ran out from behind an old sofa and knelt beside Mother.
“Children. . . I just wanted to say that I love–,”
The Holy Knight cut off her goodbye with a final thrust into her throat. He began laughing as he dislodged his weapon and rejoined the other Knights.
“Mother!” I yelled, but I knew she was gone. Lilly stood up in shock, Mother's blood still warm on her hands.
“Young girl, you have committed the deadly sin of envy. Prepare to die,” one of the Holy Knights laughed.
“Lilly!” I shouted as I sprinted to her and pulled her to the back window behind some boxes. “Trevor, come here!” Trevor crawled out from underneath a baby crib and joined Lilly and me, fresh tears of mourning clinging to his pale cheeks.
“What are you waiting for? Come and get me!” I yelled at the heinous fiends. The trio walked towards us and I quickly formulated a plan.
One of the Holy Knights came at us from the left and one from the right. When the one from the left came close enough, I slammed into his body with all my strength. He toppled over into a maelstrom of boxes and slammed his head against the edge of the sofa, but cut my arm on the way down. Warm blood quickly coated my arm and began dripping to the floor. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and my heart beat faster. I turned around quickly and found Trevor had been knock unconscious by the second Holy Knight. Lilly hung from his arm out the window.
“Lilly!” I screamed as I scrambled towards him. Before I could save her, he released his grip and Lilly plummeted to the ground. Slamming intensely against the stone street, her head bounced against the rough surface. She rolled over and stared blankly at the smoky sky.
I suddenly felt dizzy from the horror and my loss of blood, but I refused to give up. I wildly sprinted over to the incapacitated Knight by the sofa and retrieved his spear. Gripping the spear with a malicious intent, I sped forward and thrust the spear into the other Knight's skull. The stab proved fatal and he crashed into the crib, remaining still.
All of my attention redirected to Lilly. I scurried down the stairs, through the living room, and out the front door. I jumped down the outside stairs two at a time to reach Lilly. I fell down beside her and held her hand.
“Lilly! Lilly, answer me!” I wailed.
She continued to stare at the sky, filled with smoke and death. I gripped her hand tightly in mine before snapping my neck upwards at the heavens.
“Why?” I screamed, tears gushing down my face.
Lilly began to stir. “Lily?” I said hopefully. “Can you hear me?”
She gasped for air and whispered, “Big brother. . . I love you.”
“I love you too, Lilly,” I cried. “You are going to be okay. I just have to find a doctor!”
“Big brother, I. . . love you,” Lilly repeated. “Don't worry. I will wait for you,” she whispered before her head rolled over to the side, her eyes glazed and emotionless.
My screams echoed through the burning streets. “I have lost my mother, father, and sister. My only family now is. . . Trevor!” I yelled.
I sprinted back into the house and clambered up the stairs. I reached the attic but Trevor was no where in sight. The other Holy Knight disappeared earlier after Mother died. I realized what had happened.
“Matthew!” Trevor screamed.
“Trevor! I am coming for you!” I said as I turned to go downstairs. However, I turned too quickly and tripped. Falling down the stairs, I fell onto my arm and felt the bone snap like a twig. Pain rippled through my body and I screamed in agonizing pain. After I reached the bottom of the stairs, I stood and assessed the damage. My bone was sticking out of my skin like a white knife. I screamed and watched the blood pump out of my arm. Quickly, I pushed the bone back into my arm. My flesh seared as if it was on fire and I nearly fainted from the pain. Taking a cloth from the kitchen, I wrapped my arm tightly and continued my hunt for Trevor.
Exiting my house, I surveyed the area for the Holy Knight. After a minute of searching, I spotted Trevor in the choking arms of the Knight. My arms throbbed, aching for medical attention. I felt uneasy and the world seemed tilted at an abnormal angle. The world blurred as I walked; I paid no attention to the murders occurring on all sides of me. I hurriedly walked past the Knights before they picked me as their next victim. After passing an enormous group of Knights, I sprinted full speed towards the Holy Knight that had captured Trevor. My entire body ached with loss, pain, and fatigue. I refused to stop, knowing the Knight planned to kill my brother.
I ran for what seemed like hours before I caught up with the Holy Knight. He rounded the corner and I followed. He must have planned a rendezvous with some fellow Holy Knights because three more Knights waited for him. The Holy Knights threw Trevor against a brick wall and laughed like demons. They relentlessly harassed him, telling him he was a worthless sinner. Trevor trembled as he knew what was next.
“Young boy, you have committed the deadly sins of pride and envy. Prepare to die,” the Knights stated in unison with evil looks upon their faces.
Trevor looked over and saw me hiding against a building. “Matthew!” he screamed as he turned to run towards me. He barely took two steps before two of the Holy Knights gunned him down. Bullets penetrated his skin in several places. One bullet entered his chest and pierced his heart. His limp body crashed to the ground and the men laugh. Tears blurred my vision while fatigue clouded my mind. I concealed myself inside the building and waited for the murderers to leave.
After I was sure they were gone, I crept out of my hiding place and meandered over to my brother's cold body. I collapsed beside him and wept tears of despair. Tears flowed from my eyes without hesitation. My tear ducts were being supplied by a reservoir of longing and loneliness. I cried until the tears did not come anymore. I stood to leave but I noticed Trevor was gripping something. I reached down and discovered he was holding a rock covered in his own blood.
I retrieved the rock from his lifeless hand and began walking towards the town square. The center of town seemed to call my name, beckoning me towards it. I slid across the ash covered streets until I finally reached the center of Safe Haven.
I collapsed near the fountain in the town square. The beautiful structure I loved had been vandalized by the ash and explosions. The foundation was obliterated, leaking out the watery dancers I had enjoyed watching. I grasped the blood-stained rock, continually rolling it back and forth. A building across the street is collapsing, seeming to teeter on the town’s broken spirit. Suddenly, rage overtakes my being. Burning tears stream down my face, abducting the dirt and ash on my cheeks. Flames nearly engulfed the home I once shared with his family. Evil consumed everything I loved and destroyed my family. Laughter no longer vibrates the streets. The joyous sound dissipated with the alarm of war. Only screams of terror echo through these urban tombs.
I scream out in agony, the weight of death smothering me. Memories flood my mind and I think about the past few hours. A strange force grips my body, squeezing out the last vapors of life that managed to cling to me. I collapse by the fountain and go to sleep, hoping the past 24 hours was an elaborate nightmare.
When I awaken, I smell ash. The smoky sky instantly validates that yesterday was real. I can no longer feel the warm embrace of Father and Mother. I cannot play with Lilly or Trevor. My home harbors too many terrible memories to return there. I do not know where I will go. Hiking through the mountains would be a death sentence. If I stay in the town, the Holy Knights will likely find me and torture me for days before slowly murdering me.
I remember seeing the mayor depart for his bunker before the attack. Exhausted, I stand up and face the cliffs in the distance. I decide that the idea is too outlandish. The bunker may not even exist! I slump down against the filthy fountain, my faith crushed. What am I going to do, I scream in my mind. I curl up in the fetal position, hoping sleep can transport me back to my childhood.
When daylight breaks, I barely have enough energy to stand. Hope no longer exists; I finally accept what has happened. With my last remaining strength, I face the dilapidated shop. I angrily sling my arm, launching the rock and all of my memories into the rubble. The rock clattered against the charred walls of the shop and finally fell into a shallow hole. A low hissing sound crept from the depths of the hole and reverberated in my soul. Silence encompasses me and I surprisingly find peace.
I know I will soon die. The hissing sound grows louder and I know it is a broken gas main. Once the gas reaches the fire, I will be dead. The explosion will be my downfall. I would rather it be this way. At least, the Holy Knights won't get the last laugh. I have closed my eyes now. I somehow feel disconnected from my body. My body feels lighter than a feather. I am free of all worry and fear. All of my pain is gone and I am going to be reunited with my family.
The old woman stretched her arms out wide. She had spent hours reading Matthew's story. The most interesting character in his story was the elderly woman in the alley. She was entranced by the woman's strange personality. After reading Matthew's story, she realized he had been killed by a gaseous explosion. Surprisingly enough, the shop directly across the street from Matthew's corpse was flattened. Black streaks surrounded the area, validating his story.
The elderly woman stood again and walked over to a neighboring building with a tin roof. She quickly assessed the structure and decides she would spend the night in the small, interior room. Remembering the old woman's song in Matthew's story, the elderly woman burst into joyous song.
“Flesh to ashes, bones cracked by flame. Alas, it appears life will never be the same. Terror from the sky. From the heavens, fire shall fly. Screams echo from all around. Due ash, all shall drown. Prepare ye foolish, ye sinners alive! All will die . . . all but I.”
After finishing her song, the elderly woman laughed. Her laugh boomed through the empty streets. A strong gust of wind blew across the ruins. The tin sheets covering the building the old woman had chosen to sleep in began to rattle with an ominous rhythm.
Suddenly, one of the sheets of heavy tin disconnected from the roof. The sheet slid of and slammed into the woman, pinning her to the cold, ashy street. Blood seeped through her thick cloak and began to pool beside her. Gasps escaped her lips as she struggled against the crushing weight. She reached upwards in search of aid, but no one helped her. Her frail arm slowly descended before settling in the puddle of blood. The wind began to whisper through the tombs along the streets, hoping for someone to reply. The only answer the wind received was the lonely echo of itself.