Enjoy this story “What Might Happen” by talented young author Libby G.
Table of Contents
The Beginning of the End
I feel like my knees could crack; I’ve been kneeling on this stone so long. But I can’t come off it, not yet, I have to wait…
Whilst I’m waiting, I should tell you who I am. It’s probably best to start with the basics, so here I go. My name is Nova. I was born in the year 152 After Anno Domini, I’m twelve years old, and this is my story.
I’ve grown up with an environmental catastrophe defining my life. My world is unsafe because of my ancestors. If they had changed something in their time, maybe my parents wouldn’t have died in the Great Flood. But enough about that, this is my story, not that of my ancestors, so let me begin.
It starts with the Great Flood.
The Great Flood
I was sitting on the city walls, a sketching pad clutched in my hand, ready to draw anything that might lie in the Wilderness before me. Plants or trees, maybe even birds; it’s so rare to see birds these days. I knew that the graceful, beautiful world was gone, but I had hope, hope that someday I might have something worth drawing.
I looked at single leaves dripping from almost bare trees. If it weren’t for the tales, I wouldn’t believe in the times where cherry blossoms sprang from trees in spring, and it was only winter when they were bare. Now all the trees had bits of bark drooping off them. The only green in sight was invading weeds. Other than that, everything was dead.
Even the sky was grey and dreary, with the sun imprisoned by monster clouds. The clouds were drinking up all liquids, expanding their already giant bodies. Rain was going to come, but it wasn’t going to be just a small shower. I mean thunder. Stuff that tears down trees. I’ve seen the few birds still around be torn apart by these storms.
The world was strange. In summer it got extraordinarily hot; the sun would blast light in between dead branches. In winter, it was the opposite. We didn’t all have enough warm clothes, so If you didn’t wear the right amount of clothes, sometimes you would get bits of patchy ice over your skin. We’re always too warm or too cold. In my life, I have usually been too hot or too cold. That’s just how it has always been.
Sometimes I wished more than anything that I could travel back in time, to the days where floods were not normal, when I could imagine a time where you could hear birds twittering in the breeze, where foxes slid through streets at night, their red bushy tails wafting through the clear air. But that would never happen. Humans had flicked a switch that couldn’t be reversed.
I swung my bare feet to and from. I never wore shoes whilst on the city walls. Looking back at the city, all I could see were billboards, cinemas, and the steel bungalows that everyone in the city owned.
Even among rows of identical homes, I could always make out my own. I could see our solar panels absorbing the sun, and I could see the dead plants that my father had painted green. We would pretend they had life, planted in brightly coloured wellingtons and I could see the splats of paint I had stained our fence with when I was five.
My family had always been relaxed. They didn’t mind if my creativity wobbled over the edge a bit, they just wanted me to be happy. When I was younger my father used to call me his Supernova, because, just like with a star, I sometimes exploded into a burst of energ. I would glow with happiness, and run all around the city. When I came home, I was usually panting and breathless.
A few streets down was the school. It stood out as it was the only wooden building in the entire city. It had a square clock hanging high, big rusty doors, and fire exits dotted everywhere around the building. Every building had fire exits, after last summer it became a law. A sizzling source of fire had spread, spitting out ashes, soaked soaking up the streets with malice, and some people were trapped, as most buildings had no fire exit.
School was a tatty building. It was a marker of how I knew just how long people had lived like this. Most of my teachers were overly stern, but they had heart. I mean, teachers were basically made to be stern. Unlike my friends. I had warm hearted, jolly, happy friends.
We were sort of a gang, except for the alcohol, drugs and stealing bits. The only thing that made me want to be bad was the dentists. It was my least favorite building. It was an iron building,all iron, with a huge tooth shaped sign swinging in the wind. Even the dentists had several fire exits.
Not far from my least favourite place the dentist was the place I loved most: the cinema. It was the biggest place in the city, even bigger than the school. It had ivy creeping up the entire back wall. The cinema was a place everyone loved. It brought color and life to an otherwise black and white city.
The entrance was a massive tube lined with electric candles with flames of different colours; it looked like the aurora borealis. My friends and I had spent many a time at the cinema. I loved seeing films from before the environment changed. Films with bright green leaves as scenery.
My favourite film was about all different animals, and one man. It was non-fiction; some parts were about aqua life in the Antarctic seas, others about the lion’s circle of life. My favourite bit was in America, Brazil. A huge rainforest, filled with pink and green and blue, every colour you could ever imagine. The water wasn’t murky either; it was completely clear, with lily pads seven feet long floating peacefully along the waters.
I looked up, just thinking about the water had made me hear the sound of rushing waves in the distance. Made me taste a mix of salt and river water in the air. Or maybe it wasn’t my imagination…
Suddenly I saw it. A giant surge of water racing towards me.
I had done so many drills for this. We have all been told what to do in this situation before, knew what to do in this situation, but at the moment the flood happened, I had no clue what to do. In the excitement I couldn’t think. The water was getting closer, ripping down everything and anything that got in its way.
It was a ravaging monster devouring its prey. Branches fought against the screaming waters, but eventually, they were pulled under the triumphant waves. I wanted to run but was glued to the wall. I wanted to scream, but my lungs were too dry. All the while, the water was rushing closer and closer.
Then I remembered them, the holes in the walls. They were placed over the city, one for each family. They were symbolic. The people had had them for hundreds of years . It was also like a window from the city into the onside world. They were high up the walls, so the people weren’t worried about water getting in because of them. They should have been more careful. Before long, the water would get in through them. I shut my eyes and waited for the inevitable.
Everything went black.
I was dreaming, but I wasn’t sleeping, yet I wasn’t awake. My father was reading one of the ‘Prophecies of Life.’ It was a book filled with all the prophecies ever to exist. I would sometimes sit for hours reading as many prophecies as possible.
It had always been my dream to fulfill a prophecy myself. It was about how one day, a girl around my age would save their city from despair, doing it with ‘The Key that Unlocks All. Only at a solar eclipse will this be possible. She will face a choice, if she fails, everything will fall.
Then I awoke for real, and the wave hadn’t come.it didn’t come. I didn’t die. Even now I’m not sure how it happened, but when I finally opened my eyes, I was at the bottom of the wall, outside of the city. The automatic closing system fitted to the holes must have eventually been set off, but it must have been too late. In fact it might have been better if the holes had never closed, at least some people would have been able to swim through the holes if that had happened, but no.
The city was now filled with water. The city, my only home, all gone. I felt like screaming, crying out to the people of the city. I felt like my tears could flood the city once more. Then I remembered my dream, but at the same time I didn’t; I remembered I had a dream. I couldn’t remember what happened though. I decided not to focus on that. There were more important things to dwell on.
I tensed up, my heart pounding, trying to escape from my brutal ribs; In that moment I had realised something: I would never see anyone from the city again.
Everyone in the city must be dead.
Everyone in the city dead, that meant my mother and father, all my friends too, so why was I alive? It didn’t make any sense, how come they died, and I survived? It was all so confusing, making it hard for sorrow to come into my petrified body. Everything was wrong. I shouldn’t even be alive. I shouldn’t be here; I should be up by the stars with Mother and Father. Not in the wilderness on my own.
The trees were peering in on me as I walked, their barked heads seemed to always be facing me. I gulped a chunk of air and started to breath heavily. I was utterly terrified. A gust of wind came, getting to my brain, finding any little drop of hope or joy, and blowing it away. I was more depressed than ever. I had no faith, no bliss, just misery. Everything in my life was gone.
I looked into the wilderness before me, distorted trees lining an eerie traill;. Some sort of a trance fell upon me, making me walk, walk to the path. I was led to it; and before I knew it, I was walking up that twisted trail, and into the unknown.
The darkness enveloped me like a net, and I started to walk more slowly, cautious of whatever might happen to me. Then it came; a single light swerved before me, illuminating the area, and my dark skin for a few moments. Then it was gone.
“What just happened?” I said it out loud, over and over again.
“What happened? Why?” But it didn’t make sense, all I knew, is that it would be a vital part of my survival.
I started to create theories to explain the light inside my head. Each one made slightly more sense than the last, but they all had their faults, and by. By the time I had rejected my last theory, I still had no clue what the light was.
I started to walk again, but forgot to be cautious, tripping, and landing in some sort of ditch. It was full of thorns, and it wasn’t long before I started to bleed. I didn’t know it then, but when you bleed in the wilderness, bad things happen.
Blood trickled down my cut face. Rolling around the edge of my eyes, staining my eyelashes. I was full of pain, and I had a pounding feeling inside, urging me to scream. But I couldn’t, I just couldn’t scream, for the thought of what might happen if I did. I started to become cold. I was losing a lot of blood, and the thorns getting at me were making deeper cuts.
I looked from my wilting body to the now blood-stained ditch. So was this what death felt like. You feel too weak to have pain, too strong to be restful, wishing for it to be quick, wishing to get it over with. Or maybe this is just how I experience the end, maybe others have an easier demise, I thought. But then, suddenly, in the middle of my thoughts, I experienced total darkness.
I lifted my eyelids, but knew I was not awake.
I was dreaming, dreaming about my mother.
She was standing before me, smiling, but not at me. She was merely smiling to herself.
I reached out, and tried to touch my mother’s face, but my hand slid right through it.
For this was a dream, and not reality.
But when my hand slid through my mother’s face, it stopped against something. I felt something hard against my skin. As soon as I touched it, it started to glow. Glowing from my mother’s neck, it allowed me to see what the object was.
It flew into the air, and was gone.
That was the moment I woke up, enraged at the moment that I had awoken. I tried squeezing my eyes shut, hoping to get back into the dream.
But I couldn’t, I couldn’t.
To distract me, I tried to figure out where I was. I could see it was bright, brighter than the woods. My eyes slowly adjusted to the scorching sun’s light. Once they had I could see my surroundings. I was lying on dry, fallen leaves. A wind blew and brushed through the leaves. It sounded like they were making a croaking sound full of pain. I could see endless fields on one side of me, and those familiar woods on the other. And there were voices, were they people’s voices?
“Is she the one?”
The one? The one what? I thought. Is this something from the Book of Prophecies?
“Could she get us out?”
Get out of what? Are you trapped as well as my people?
“But will she?”
Will she what? What will she do?
“What if she’s not the one?”
What do you mean? What will happen if she isn’t the one?
“Is she a danger?”
In danger of what?
They kept repeating these things over and over, with voices that didn’t sound quite human. I couldn’t figure out what else they could be. They didn’t sound quite human, but I couldn’t figure out what else they could be…
Then I noticed it, a white patch on my hand, it stuck out like a sore thumb against my brown skin and it seemed to be hurting. It was like scorching heat, as if I had a miniature sun on my hand. I tried to scratch it, but my fingers instantly burned when I did. Like a tsunami, panic rose within me. I needed to find out who the voices belonged to, and if they wanted anything to do with me.
Without warning the voices suddenly started getting louder; I tried to get up, run away, but I was too weak.
I was utterly terrified.
I suddenly saw a hand slither into sight; it looked like pure malice. It was followed by a mechanical looking head, and robotic body. It was gleaming white. But the face was light blue, and looked like plastic?
The sudden appearance gave me a ferocious shock, and then the thought came to me. How could they have plastic? I thought it was prohibited. It had been since 2100 AD. And anyone who used it would face the punishments.
But maybe those rules only came into account in the city?
Suddenly the figure reached out and touched me; right on the patch, but it didn’t burn. In fact, the figure made my whole body feel colder than ice, then it said in a monotone voice.
“You are one of us now.”
I remembered something about these things. They weren’t entirely unfamiliar, it seemed. I reached into the depths of a childhood memory.
I was listening to one of the old myths. Everyone in my class had gathered around for a story. Our teacher opened the myths book, and started to read a story, I can remember the exact words of it.
“A long time ago, Humans lived in fear of the Malums. Everyone barred their windows at night. Locked their doors. And kept their children close.” A lot of the children were terrified, but I was excited at the time, I was eager.
“The Malums came every night, and every night they managed to steal a child from one of the less risk averse, they say the children were eaten by the Malums. That they chewed on their bones like carnivorous dogs. One day we humans had had enough of it. We decided to punish the Malums for what they had done. That night when the Malums came, we knocked them unconscious and trapped the spirits in heavy metal bodys of pure white steel.”
I had always been in awe of that story, I wanted to meet the Malums one day, I wanted to give them a piece of my mind.
They had betrayed the heroes, tricked them, pulled them into a trap. But like in all children’s tales, good overcame evil and the spirits were given the punishment of life in heavy metal bodies and sentenced to be slaves to the wilderness’s wishes. And that was where it ended. The story was over.
As soon as I got sucked back to the present, I felt my heart pound blood through my veins, pushing it, until it was everywhere in my body. Copious replicas of the first robotic creature were coming towards me. But now I knew what they were; Malums.
They were known for their habit of stealing children from mothers’ arms. They say, if you get captured by a Malum, you will suffer a slow, painful death, and what the Malums do is stick wire like things into your body and drain out all your blood.
They started to swarm around me, grasping my clothes, and grabbing my fingers. I was terrified. What was going to happen to me? I tensed up and waited for the worst.
Once again it didn’t come.
I was so confused. I looked at the beings’ unemotional still plastic faces and saw their souls. After all the horror stories I had heard about them, I still couldn’t be sure that the Malums were my destroyers. Within them, I saw a jumble of lost thoughts. I didn’t know what to feel.
Were they misunderstood, or did they deserve the punishment they got? Either way, that didn’t mean that they were on my side. Would I find out?
Maybe I would survive, maybe I’d get out of this all-encompassing mess, but then I thought to myself, what if it was a trap, what if…
One of the creatures suddenly drew my hand towards its palm and got me to touch it. It felt hard and cold on the outside, but I could feel something warm and tingly on the inside. It was struggling, trying to break free.
Maybe they were good? I let my fingers drift away from the being’s palm. Were they captives, or were they free? Then the dream popped into my mind, the key my mother had been wearing. And the light, I saw it not long before the dream.
It was… the key.
I must find out if the Malums were friends, or if they meant trouble. Whether they killed, whether they tortured. I looked towards where the Malums were standing. They were whispering amongst each other. I prayed it had nothing to do with me, but I felt, deep inside, I was coming to the end of my life.
I looked up at the sky. Sun sinking into the horizon, like an enormous candle, possessing the heat of a thousand fires, all blending into one… I had always loved the sun. I had thought of it as a guardian, always watching over me. Even at night, when it was nowhere to be found.
Whilst I had been thinking about the key, I had dived so deep into my lake of thoughts, that I hadn’t noticed that the Malums were gone. Once I had, I didn’t know whether to quiver in fear for being alone, or to shout with joy.
I decided neither of those would do. I stood up. I wasn’t too weak to run any more. I looked left and right, trying to decide whether to take the fields or the woods. The fields seemed an easier run, but they weren’t very protective, whereas the woods would be the opposite. I knew where to go.
Sharp twigs pricked my bare feet as I ran. All I could hear was the crunching noise those leaves made as I stepped on them. I felt a sudden rush electrify my body, flooding me with energy, just as water had done to my city. The woods around me were getting thicker and even darker as night fell. It felt like a giant bat had spread its wings and wrapped them around the earth. I kept on running. I ran and I ran. I felt like never stopping, but that was not an option.
Even though I had spent half my life running around the city, trying to keep warm in winter, whilst running just for the sake of it in summer, it seemed my talent for holding my energy had gone. Tiredness Fatigue loomed over me like a shadow, hiding the sliver of light of the moon from me, making everything pitch black. I started to jog, then do a quick walk, and finally, I stopped.
I looked around the forest, hoping to recognise something from when I was lost last time. But, alas, no. It was all new. I felt my stomach twist into a knot. I was hungry, and tired. My energy was depleted. And I realised what I had done.
I had run into danger. I mean, I could have at least gone through the fields. I had been a complete idiot. What would I do now?
I didn’t know.
I was back to being lost. I was back to being alone. I felt tears roll down my face, seeping into the dip in my mouth and I could taste their saline against my tongue. I fell to my knees and it happened again.
Another memory, a memory about me and my mother. I was about to go on the school residential. It was going to be the first one outside the city. Mother was telling me what to do if I got lost.
“Find the high ground. Go to it. You will see what you need to see.”
“But how will I know where the high ground is?” A younger me had asked. “What do I need to see?”
“Think of it like the city.” My mother replied, “The school is the tallest structure. And you can always see it, even if all of the bungalows are in the way. The school is the high ground, the bungalows are the thick trees everywhere in sight.”
I nodded my head to show I understood.
“As for what you need to see.” My mother said, “You need to see home.”
I didn’t get lost, we didn’t even go into the woods, I could remember the exact feeling of disappointment I got on that trip. But the only thing that mattered, was the advice my mother gave me. Find the high ground, maybe I would be found.
I started to run again. I would find the high ground. I wouldn’t stay lost, and most of all I would be free…
But almost as soon as I had started to run, I realised it wouldn’t work. My brain wasn’t working because of my tiredness, my eyes were failing me, my vision was blurry. I tripped over a loose stone and I fell onto my front. I couldn’t move. My body was too weak. The feeling of self-pity invaded me. I wished more than anything that I could leave my wretched body and be free.
Suddenly, a hand grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled me into the air. It wrapped its other hand around my mouth and dragged me away. Pulled, and pulled, and pulled.
A Very Big Kiln
I must have slept, because when I lifted my eyelids, I was in a completely different place. I noticed that a smooth dome made the ceiling of this place; the dome was made with bricks, so it looked like a massive kiln.
The place was hot and stuffy, and it felt as if I was a rodent roasting on a spit I looked down at my feet, to see they were on a small wooden platform hanging a few feet in the air. I started to look around, the walls were made of copper, but in the same dome shape as the ceiling, in some places around the walls there were bits of ash, blacker than the night.
In some places there were small ledges like mine, they had dark shapes on them, bent into balls, they looked like humans, but I couldn’t be sure. Maybe they had been taken here, just like I had been, and they had been here for far too long. As my eyes darted up to look at their heads something happened.
My brain whirled, it started to spin. I got sucked up and placed inside a sort of dream. There were clouds wading through the treacle thick atmosphere; I was boiling and freezing at the same time.
I was standing on a pavement next to a thin road; I started to walk, there were shops dotted around the place, but they were all closed. Finally, I came to a small inn with an open sign swinging in the breeze.
I went inside. It was completely deserted, all there was was a few benches and tables and a rusty old bar. I walked behind the counter, wondering if I would find any water, but no; there was nothing to drink.
All I saw was a few shelves and drawers. I searched through every shelf and opened every drawer. Eventually, I found a parcel, it had a note on it, it said ‘The insights inside of this parcel is full of soul, in fact it has two. When you use this one soul will die, it will go away from you.’
I opened the parcel as quickly as I could and found some sort of key. It was weirdly shaped and completely white. How could this have two souls? I was expecting a two headed rat or something. Not a key.
Just like that I was thrown into reality, but that dream thing that had happened was slipping from my mind. I had no idea what had happened; all I knew is that it was important, important beyond all reaches, but I decided not to get too caught up with that. I looked at the floor; it looked like copper; it had a greenish look to it, and I couldn’t help but think that someone had bent it in some places. Or maybe I was just having delusions. In some places there were flames licking the air like serpents. In others there was smoke creeping upwards towards the ceiling; my gaze followed it.
I was soon looking up at that domed ceiling. I could see a small hole letting smoke out. It looked like the only way out. I started to despair. There was no way I could get to the hole, maybe I’d be stuck here for all eternity. I jumped down to the floor, hoping to find another way out. But as soon as my bare feet touched it, they instantly burnt. It just added to the kiln-like features of this place. I felt beads of sweat run down my face. My brain whirled, making me dizzy. I started to shake uncontrollably. What was happening to me? I scrambled onto the wooden board; I needed to escape the heat.
Even though it was huge, this place was like a vacuum. It felt like there was no oxygen; even if I gulped down a huge chunk of air, I still felt like I wasn’t breathing. My fear was feeding off me now. Getting bigger by the millisecond.
I was prey, in my predator’s fatal trap.
I didn’t know who or what the predator was. But I had a feeling it was the owner of the hands that had taken me here.
I could smell the stench of malice in the air, see the shadow of evil crawling up the copper walls and hear the cackling voice of Death himself in the wind.
Then, I had an idea.
There were ropes that were holding me in the air. I could get to the smoking exit by climbing them. Sure, it would be hard, but still. I started to pull at the ropes, trying to test their strength. They seemed strong. Everything was going perfectly; I started to climb.
I was getting splinters all up my arm and blisters on my feet. But I didn’t mind. I was nearly there. The ceiling was getting closer; soon I’d be out.
That was the moment when smoke reached my face, filling my eyes like poison. I couldn’t see. And suddenly, I lost my grip. I was falling. Falling through nothingness.
Everything turned dark.
I lifted my eyes to see I was in a dream about the city. I could see my mother and father at the door of my house, waiting for either something or someone. I didn’t know.
Then it happened. The world turned. It became dark. The city was flooding again. But no one screamed; no one cried. It was only the water that made any noise. Everyone stayed where they were. They were breathing.
I’m Not the Only One
When I came to my senses, the very first thought that came to my mind was how was I alive? I had fallen from a fatal height, but yet, I was alive.
Some may think of that as a miracle. But I was almost wishing Death would come to me. Then I thought of my dream, everyone in the city imprisoned, trapped. They were looking into Death’s hollow eye sockets. On the verge of the end. But not able to pass on. That seemed like a much worse fate than mine. Would it be like a feeling of exhaustion, but you can never get to sleep? Or would it be like staring into a black hole, knowing your fate, but not being able to stop it? Or maybe something far, far worse. I didn’t know.
Back to me. It seemed that the hole in the roof wasn’t a usable good escape route. But I was determined to get out now. I knew I would. But I didn’t know how.
When I had looked around the first time, the only visible exit was the hole in the roof. But then, how did I get inside this place undamaged? There must be another way…
This new realisation changed everything. I could almost taste freedom, but then I thought, what about the ball shaped things? I would find out what they were. They were almost definitely in need of help, otherwise, they would be out of here by now. They could probably help me as well. My first thought was to shout out to them, but that could cause too much unwanted attention.
I would have to think deeply. The only problem was, I didn’t know where to start. It seemed that there would be an end without a known beginning. I thought and thought, but nothing would come to me. I had no shoes, so I couldn’t just walk up to them, that would end in me having feet made of ash. I thought about cutting the rope and using it to swing to them, but I had nothing to cut with.
What would I do?
Then it came to me, how hadn’t I thought of it before? I ripped the sleeves of my top, did some tearing and folding with them, then laid them on the ground and stood on them. I could still feel a blazing heat full of pain, but at least it wasn’t quite so bad. I started to shift towards the other platforms. It took awhile. I was terrified the whole time, thinking that I would slip off the sleeves at some point. But I didn’t.
At first when I looked at them from up close, I thought they were dead. Their faces were pale, their eyes looked drowsy and full of nothingness. They looked like the trees next to my city, droopy, miserable, and not what they used to be. If I wanted to, I could count the bones in their skinny bodies. Then one of them murmured something, and I knew they weren’t all dead.
He said something like, “Leave. Save yourself, before it’s too late.”
I should have been surprised but he didn’t even make me jump. I didn’t know why. Maybe it was because I had got used to this sort of thing by now. I started to talk back to him.
“What are you doing here? You should-“
“Leave!” he interrupted.
“But why? I-“
“Leave!” he hissed.
“I just want to-“
“LEAVE!” he kept interrupting, louder every time. His voice was full of agony. But he kept on interrupting me, saying “leave,” louder every time.
I was starting to get scared now. I knew I wouldn’t do what he was telling me to do. I would save them. Or at least try to. But a lump was forming in my throat. If he was right, this would mean trouble.
I tried to push what the boy was saying to the back of my mind. If I do this quickly, I will be fine. But no matter how many times I thought about it, I still shivered until my bones rattled with fright; my heart still thumped in my chest like a boxer’s fist against my ribs.
I was starting to question whether to save them or not. I almost ran, but then I realised, I still had nowhere to go; besides, I couldn’t just chicken out of this. I could be a hero, and I would be. Then I thought about it, how had the boys got here in the first place? Had the same thing that happened to me happened to them? How long had they been here for? How had they survived? It was tempting to ask, but it didn’t seem right.
I looked straight at the boy’s sunken face, and into his drowsy eyes, and said “I will not fail you, I will not leave without you.”
He paused for a moment, then he nodded.
He had agreed.
I was completely clueless now; I hadn’t thought this far ahead. I had thought the boy wouldn’t agree. All I knew is that there was a way out, other than that I had nothing. I started to look around again. I started with the walls; they were just copper.
No secrets, no nothing.
Then my eyes flicked to the roof; but all that was there was that hole. Had I just got someone’s hopes up for nothing? Was I completely useless? Yes. Yes, I was.I looked up, but not looking the boys in the eye.
I told him I was sorry, that I had no plan; I didn’t even know where the exit was. One of the other boys gave me a confused look, and pointed at the ground, “look”, he said. There in the middle of the floor was a crack. “We don’t know how to get there, let alone inside it.”
“I’m sorry! I don’t have a plan. I’m just young like you, I don’t know why I’m here. Where’s the exit, anyway?”
“Look,” the boy said, confused. He pointed to a crack in he floor. “We can’t get there, let alone inside, but maybe you can.”
I knew these humans would help me.
My heart started to pump at a normal speed again, my brain stopped whirling. I felt a sigh of relief gush though my body. Now all I needed to do was figure out how to open the crack; I thought of just using the shirt sleeves again, but then how would I open up the crack? I thought and thought some more. Nothing would come to me. I was on square two; now all I wanted was to get to square three.
But something else was bothering me. I had pushed the thought out of the mind for a long time. The dream I had during the flood; the one in which I couldn’t remember what happened. I was starting to remember.
There had been a book, full of mysteries beyond this world. Word of present, future and past; the Prophecies of Life, I would fulfil the prophecy, I would find the key and save my city. And I would do it all on the solar eclipse.
But first I would escape.
To escape we would need more detail, and that meant waiting. I would have to wait for a sign, something that would tell me what I needed to do. Over the time in which the boys were here, they must have had at least some food and water, otherwise they would have died; I knew for a fact that food and water didn’t just magically appear, someone would come.
We would wait for that someone to come, and then we would know how to get out. I had it all planned, I was certain it would work, much surer of this escape route than the ropes. So, I went back to my shelf and started to wait, and wait, and wait. I was starting to get tired, but I knew if I fell asleep, I would miss it, and everything would be for nothing.
A few hours later, a creaking sound started to stretch towards the crack, from underground, almost like creaking floorboards. This was what I’d been waiting for. I curved my back into a hemisphere and tucked my head into my body; I had the same shape as the boys when I had first seen them. Having my eyes pressed against my chest, only seeing blackness made me even more tired. I had to use all my strength to keep myself awake. I could hear footsteps, still underground, getting closer, closer…
Suddenly, an ear splitting screech pounded against me. I knew that he had finally pushed against copper and got out of the crack; it was time. I tried to fight the urge not to look up, but it was too strong. I slowly lifted my head.
And saw horror.
A man drenched in a white cloak, the cloak was as white as his skin, I had never seen anything so white as that man’s skin. His eyes had no pupils, no irises, just white. His hair was ragged and looked like it was tearing to pieces; it was also white. This man looked like his soul had been torn away from him. Maybe it had been? Though I was terrified, a part of me pitied him.
I tried to quickly get back into position, but he had seen me. He started to scoop up some grain like mixture, stuff like chickens eat, and placed it in a bowl of murky water; he walked towards me and placed the bowl on the copper ground. The water immediately started to evaporate, by the time he turned his back and started to walk away; it was almost all gone. There was no doubting that this man was bad. Who would taunt a thirsty girl with disappearing water? I quickly scooped the dish up and quenched my thirst.
The grain was probably disgusting, but it felt delicious at the time; I had been that hungry. Soon the bowl was empty, soon everyone’s bowls were empty, we finally raised our aching necks. And stared at the man, our eyes all hit different parts of his body, as if we were wrapping him in a net that was to cover every inch of his terrifying body.
He left; and as soon as he did, I knew exactly what to do.
He had walked right to the middle of the floor and bent up the copper. Then he squeezed himself into it, into his underground tunnel. His glossy white hand appeared and bent the crack back down. There must be some small bit of copper that wasn’t flaming hot, otherwise the man would have burnt.
We would all walk over to the crack, using the sleeves tactic I had used. Then I, being slightly athletic, and slightly strong, would bend up the floor, and we would escape. It was perfect, I just knew it would work; I was sure of it. I would get out, and I would save my city. I mean, I had to. If I didn’t, who would. If I didn’t, all my family, all my friends, all my teachers. Everyone would suffer a fate far worse than death.
As we walked over, bad things happened. Some people’s sleeves were flammable, and both human and clothing were burnt and dead within seconds. I had to sacrifice bits of skin from my fingers to lift up the crack; though there was a bit that wasn’t that hot, I ended up touching many other bits too. All were as hot as fire.
When I finally did get the right bit, it was a bit cooler, but still boiling. To make matters worse, some people were too big to fit through the crack and had to stay behind. Everyone who did get out was cramped in the tunnel, like fish in a net, all pushing against each other; trying to get out. We were so close to escape. But that meant we could also be close to getting caught.
I told myself not to think dark thoughts, I should think happy; I should think about the key, the possibility of saving the entirety of my beloved city. I started to think. I thought of a line in a book I had read when I was younger. It was a beginner’s guide to keys. I had read it because when I was of that age, I wanted to be a detective, and I gathered that to be one, you would have to know about keys. A line in it though, one at the beginning of the book; ‘keys can unlock anything.’
Maybe the key I was looking for could do anything. Maybe it could bring the dead back to life; I could be with my mother and father again. It was all unravelling, I would use the key at the next solar eclipse. Like in all myths the hero would face challenges, the amount of challenges I’ve faced so far was uncountable.
I was starting to know what to do.
Then I saw him; a glint of white and red glistening in the darkness. I stood still. Paralysed. Not knowing what to do. Had he seen us? Or were we safe? A voice rang in my head, the voice of an old school bully taunting, ‘You are never safe.’
He had seen us.
He started to move, slowly, slowly and silently. Like a rusty wind up toy. He was in front of us. Blocking the way out. Then, in a creaky but powerful voice he said, “Who wants to die first?”
My brain spun, I didn’t want to, but I had sworn to protect the boys. I stepped forwards. I didn’t want to die. My hands shook, my heart desperately tried to thump a way out of my body. I couldn’t be brave, I couldn’t save my city. Maybe death would be good for me. Maybe the city would be fine without me. The man lifted the knife high above his head, I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the pain.
I could see a rail, a train track. It was right next to me along with a key. I started to walk up the side of the track; two shapes appeared in the distance and it looked like they were lying on the tracks. I changed my gentle walk into a hurried run; I was eager to see what these things were.
As soon as I got within fifty feet of them, I knew who they were. One had dark skin like mine with deep, dark brown eyes that shimmered like a summer lake. Her hair was the colour of nutmeg, which curled down her chest – my mother. The other shape was shining brightly and was as white as a dove. Its face was a pale blue, like a clear sky – a Malum.
They both looked terrified, but they were lying as still as the dead. Heavy steel chains hung over them, tying them to the tracks. What was worse was that I could see a train bearing down on them. It was black. With a steamy white window so the driver wouldn’t be able to see my mother and the Malum. I had to use the key to save one of them, and only one.
The Malums needed saving as much as my city.
Suddenly the present fell upon me, the man had his knife inches away from my head. Out of instinct I grabbed it, grabbed the knife. The man was shocked and let go.
Now I was the one with the knife in my hand. I was the one with the threats. As I raised the knife, he backed away, but I moved with him. I started to bring the knife down; it was about to split down the center of his head when… I backed down.
I couldn’t kill someone. I was just a girl, the age of twelve, not ready for this.
‘G-go,’ I stammered. But he didn’t leave, instead something happened, something as beautiful as hope itself.
The man’s cloak fell from his shoulders, showing him the clothing of an average city man. His skin turned from pure white to a peachy skin tone. Grey irises suddenly simmered thoughtfully on his eyes, perfectly centered around jet black pupils. His hair slowly changed from rags to silk.
He spoke to me, but his voice wasn’t creaky and disturbing. It was soft. It was human.
“Thank you for your mercy,” he said. “I was once just like you. I was given barely enough food to survive. I spent years here, starving, burning. One day they turned me into this monster, until you showed me forgiveness.”
“Y-you mean you wer-were once like us,” I stammered.
“Yes” replied the man “But I gave up hope, started to see only the darkness instead of the seeping light. I know now that that is something you must never do. You must always see the light.”
Never give up hope, I thought, hopefully I can follow his advice. “I have to go” I said, “Farwell, maybe we shall meet again.” We started to walk again.
I could see light. Finally. It had been so long, I had spent far too long inside; it was amazing to feel the sun, my beautiful sun shining it’s welcome onto my face, it made me forget my worries, made me forget everything but happiness. It had been a long time since I’d felt that way. I let my eyes roll down to my hand; I’d forgotten about the patch, my fingers slid to it, like a paperclip to a magnet, the weird thing was, it didn’t burn; in fact, it cooled down the entirety of my body.
It felt good, but it felt strange, good because it replenished my burnt skin, but strange because it was like when one of the Malums had touched me. Maybe it was a warning, telling me something about the Malums?
So, I was being urged to save my family, and then I got information that the Malums were in need of saving. Why couldn’t anything be straightforward? everything in my life has been hard.
I had been thinking so deeply, that I hadn’t noticed that we were out of the tunnel, and I only did because one of my companions tugged my sleeve and said that we must go our separate ways; that they must go back to their tribe. He said that they had a city of their own to go to, that it had been far too long since they had seen their families, they were just like me, desperate to see their families again.
I bid my farewells, said thank you for their help, then set off. I started to wander aimlessly towards the forest hoping to see something I recognised, I had to get back to the city, I must be the saver of my city. I was inside the forest now, breathing in the dead smell lingering on the trees.
I started to talk.
“Why couldn’t I just live a normal life?” I said this to a wood pigeon perched in a tree. When I asked a question it cocked its head to the side, as if it was trying to figure out the answer.
“I could have lived a normal life, but my ancestors stopped me, if it weren’t for them, I could have lived a different life, be a normal kid who grew up to be a normal adult. Who is in a normal world.”
I was starting to feel angry, angry at my ancestors. At the city, at the Malums. At everything. But that will never happen, I will never be normal. But, maybe I will go down in history as the girl who saved her entire city. Then again, maybe, I will be forgotten the second I die.
I could hear the pigeon cooing; I smiled, I smiled at the beauty of the pigeon’s song. For you this may be something heard many times a day, but for me, it’s a rare miracle. As I looked for familiar trees, I listened to the soft yet throaty cooing of the pigeon. Then, I stopped; right in front of me was a ditch, and not just any ditch; a ditch that almost killed me, dangling over it was a branch, and on that branch was a key.
I knew that I must be careful. I had suffered the insides of that ditch before, and I didn’t fancy another encounter with the thorns. I started to sidestep around the ditch, towards the tree holding the key; I pressed my hand against the tree, in a sort of apology that it had to live in this world. Then I started to climb. It wasn’t nearly as hard as climbing the ropes, but I wasn’t as weak then as I am now. I clasped my hand around one branch, then another, then another, then another…
Finally, I saw it, a glint of white amongst the brown. The key was right there. I leant over and picked it up, now I just needed to get back to my city and wait for the next solar eclipse.
The sun was setting; my city always saw the last of the sun before it disappeared into the night. If I followed the sun, I would be fine.
Soon the ditch was out of sight, and the sun was my only guide. I saw a brick, then another, and another. My city was right there, just before my eyes; when the sun rose, I would do it, but for now, I would have to wait.
When the Story is Over
That’s my story, and now I am waiting on this rock till the sun comes up in front of the moon, and I am able to use my precious key. I always thought the key would be some shabby bronze thing, like one for a back door or something. But it isn’t. Now that I have it up close, I can see that it’s ivory; it’s also shaped like a capital ‘T’ and has a sort of jagged arrowhead.
I can see a glint of sun rising after a long night; the sun and moon are starting to merge. I must hold the key tightly now, for I’ve got a strange sensation that something is going to try to pull it away.
Not a sound. I can’t hear a sound. Even the beating of my heart seems miles away. The sun, that fiery ball of gas, is shimmering miles away; the solar eclipse is happening. The sun is creeping behind the moon, or maybe the moon is strutting in front of the sun. I hold the key to my chest, to my heart; I can suddenly hear the people of the city. They’re crying, they’re screaming. But at the same time, they’re as quiet as the dead.
Now I put the key to my forehead; to my brain. I’m hearing a monotone scream of agony. A call for help. The Malums? The key isn’t going to try to escape from me. It wants to confuse me. It reminds me of the Greek god Janus, the one with two faces.
The key is my best friend. The key is my worst enemy. The key is my saviour. The key is my doom.
I remember a quiz at school. One of the questions was “What is juxtaposition?” If I did that quiz now, I would think that juxtaposition is the key. The key is two contrasting ideas merged together, as if it was two souls being forced into one thing. I’ll have to choose which keyhole I will slip this key into. I must decide whether to follow my heart and save my people. Or to follow my brain and save the Malums.
There’s a saying, ‘follow your heart and you shall sink, follow your brain and you shall fly.’ I remember the prophecy, make the wrong choice and everything will fall, sinking means falling, but now I remember more, ‘If she follows her brain the ones in her heart shall sink,’ sinking means falling.
I use my hands, fumbling with the key, I always thought the key knew all, maybe it was just the ones who had used it before had brains and were ready for whatever came their way, I’m just a twelve year old girl, I don’t know what to do; the train track dream, it gave me some information, just not enough. I just want to know what to do. I just want my family.
The wind is gushing through and through. The trees are whispering. It seems like they’re competing, trying to be louder than each other; it seems as if they’re saying Malums, but it’s probably my imagination. Trees don’t talk. Trees will never talk, but maybe it’s the wind; carrying the word, the word to free the Malums.
I’m so confused.
I start walking towards the trees and a piece of bark drops off one of them as I walk over, I pick it up, and run my fingers against it. It feels rough and hard on one side, but soft and gentle on the other. It reminds me of the Malums who have cold, hard bodies on the outside, but I remember when I touched them, I could feel their warm and loving soul.
I sit down, my back leaning against one of the trees. I lie the key in my lap, trying to work out when the key was created, it must have been thousands of years ago, from before poaching elephants was banned. But I would never know. I wasn’t around when the key was made; if I was, I would know how to use it, but instead I’m completely oblivious. I don’t know what to do.
Shock is hitting my body, I remember something that has been out of my mind for from when I first saw the boys, the dream about the key. Now I remember it, as if the dream were to be happening now. No wonder the key is basically duality in one word; the key is two contrasting souls put together.
When I eventually use the key half of its soul will be taken from it and given to whomever I use the key on. The key will disappear when I use it, not being able to properly survive on only one soul. Eventually it will find someone else’s soul to feed off.
I’m starting to not like the way of the key.
So now I know, the key is a monster; it devours lost souls. It prevents the near dead from moving on. I almost feel like breaking the key instead of using it, but then again, using the key is sort of breaking it.
I have to use this key. I have come this far after all; this can’t all be for nothing. I arise from my sitting position; I’m starting to pace. I walk, I walk, I turn, I turn. I’m searching every spot in my mind. I just want information. I want to know how to use the key and whom I use it on.
I look at my precious city; the brick walls seem so clear. I feel aware of every angle, every side. I feel like I can notice the smallest cracks on any of the bricks. The shattering light is landing directly on the walls. I don’t have much time.
I’m lifting the key to my forehead once more; this time the scream is louder, and it seems like the monotone sound is invading a pure voice. I now drop the key to my heart; this scream is as loud as the other; it seems more human though. It seems like I’m calling with them. At the same time, it seems distant, very distant.
What do I choose?
Who do I choose?
Why is this happening to me? I’ve known my city since the day of my birth, but then again, the Malums saved my life, even though my city imprisoned them. Why can’t I choose both? I want both, I need both. But I can’t have both, one is such a small number, there is point infinity between one and two. Infinite chances, infinite possibilities.
A rustling by the trees, so sudden. I glint of white and blue, the Malums? Of course, I will have to be near both my city and the Malums when I eventually make the choice. One of the Malums is walking towards me.
I can see how the sun is reflecting on it, creating a sort of white patch on its hand, just like mine. The Malum is next to me now. I’m breathing in that metal scent; it smells rusty but fresh. So old, but so new. As if a piece of everything in the world is in the Malum, as if the Malum is everything and nothing at the same time.
I feel a sudden closeness to the Malums, as if I’m no longer one of the city, as if I am a Malum. I can’t trust my heart; I can’t trust love. My brain though, that I can trust.
I know my choice. I will save both the city and the Malums, in a way. “Today the Malums will be saved, today the city will be released.”
I raise the key above my head and cry desperately, “The Malums.”
At first It seems as if nothing happened, but I notice that the key, the thing I’ve worked so hard to get, is gone. My city, my family is gone. I don’t know what to feel. I will never see anyone from the city again. But then, the city can finally move on. The city can finally go up to the stars and rest in peace.
I look back at it, my city, one last time. My home shimmers and disappears. It flickers into nonexistence. The walls, the houses, the school, the dentist and the cinema. Everything gone. Everything I’ve ever known has disappeared into thin air. Everyone in the city has gone up to the stars where they belong. The people of the city are like birds. For ages they have been trapped in a locked cage. Singing a sad song for freedom. But no one listens to their elegant cries. I have used my key to unlock the cage. I have set the birds free, now they can fly up with the galaxies and finally be free.
A clunking noise hits me. I look at the Malums. But they no longer have metal bodies. They are beautiful, they glow. They look like the most beautiful humans that will ever live.
One is walking up to me, she says in a voice as soft as snow, ”We are not the Malums, we are not evil, we are the Nalla, we are the good.”
She’s starting to walk away, but I can see a white patch on her hand, exactly like mine. I’m debating whether to say something or not, when she turns around.
She says, “The patch on your hand means that you are always with us, it means you are always welcome among us, for you are one of us.”
“You mean, I am a Nalla?” I question.
“Yes,” replise the woman, whose voice sounds surprisingly like my mothers. I must look confused, because the Nalla woman explains everything to me, “The Nalla have the souls of existing humans, this tribe of Nalla are all the reincarnations of the people of your city. You are both Nalla and human, you are the reincarnation of yourself. You are the SuperNova, the burst of energy and light amongst the dark.”
Memories of me and my Father push into my mind. He is now with the stars, maybe near a real SuperNova. Maybe he is finally, truly happy.
And I finally have a home, there was a solution for my life. It may not have been the solution first I thought of, or the one I wanted, but there is always a solution.
Now, the Nalla are my family.
I have lived with the Nalla for a month now. Every day I become more and more like them. We spend the days pulling up weeds and planting seeds and saplings. We water the plants daily.
When it gets too hot, we gather leaves and twigs to build a shelter for the weakest trees. Soon, almost every plant had leaves. I saw nature’s green for the first time in my life. For the first time, I am truly happy.
I live amongst the trees. Where my city once was, there is now green and growth. I help wounded animals, make sure the soil is fertilized and good for planting. The birds are no longer a rarity – they are my friends every day.
At night, I lie under the stars with my new family pointing out star signs and constellations. Once we are tired and ready to sleep, we go inside wooden huts. We nestle under tightly woven grass blankets and sleep peacefully. We are creating a better world.
About the Author
Libby G. is eleven years old and home educated in England. She loves singing, learning, reading, and philosophy; and spends as much time as possible writing. Libby wrote this short story because she feels that we need to raise awareness of climate change. It is a real problem and if we don’t do something soon, we are going to destroy our planet; not enough is being done.
She also thinks that there aren’t enough stories were the main character is someone of colour – it shouldn’t just be white people who see themselves in books. She has always liked the idea of writing about an imperfect hero, one who struggles with emotional turmoil and doesn’t always know what to do. Her hope is that her writing can bring change.