The world ended over a hundred years ago. Now, we must abide by the rules of The Nameless or we will be sacrificed to the river demons. Few who have managed to survive all this time from Nameless tyranny remain in fear of the day we are discovered. Our wisdom of the world outside the city walls would completely shatter the current government structure and send all those loyal to ONE (The Nameless Leader), crumbling to their knees.
My childhood feels like eons ago. I was captured seven – no eight- years ago. Torture by my ‘merciful’ hosts have all but numbed me to pain. Every single friend that I grew up with had either escaped that night succumbed to our captor’s unspeakable acts. But the numbness only covers my physical wounds because there is a haunting guilt that drags me down. And, no matter how hard I try to push it out of my head, I will never forget that day.
“Ten, eleven, TWELVE,” I shouted as the yellow piece on the game board moved to the end of the line. “I win again.”
“I don’t even think you know how to play this stupid thing,” Christine huffed and crossed her arms. “Does anyone here even know all the rules except Peter?”
“The rules were probably destroyed by The Nameless,” Ethan said. “So Pete makes them up.”
“Are you having fun or not?” I whispered loudly and looked around the abandoned Laundromat.
“I don’t even know why I hang out with you guys,” Mark sneered. “We don’t ever do anything fun.”
Sandy threw a couple pieces at an old dryer, a ting of metal echoed through the room. “How can we have fun when it’s impossible to win. Whenever one of us gets close to the end, you change it up and we lose. And you win.”
Her brother, Randy was always the loudest. He could never keep his voice down. “No more game. I want a new one. We make the rules or -“
The threat was cut short. Just outside the paper-covered windows was the sound of screaming and footprints.
Nameless, Rebecca mouthed as we skidded to the back room. Our feet squeaked loudly from the puddles we had just walked through. Josh slipped to his back but Randy and I managed to pull him into the bathroom to wait. Eight of us were crammed in the little room, hoping and praying that they didn’t hear us. Eight thirteen-year-olds.
Randy, Sandy, Rebecca, Josh, Ethan, Christine, Mark, and me in the humid, smelly bathroom of an ancient building. A single window supplied some fresh air. We were all silent, craning to hear the sound of broken glass or nearby footsteps. All of our parents made us swear that, even if we heard them scream, we would run the opposite direction. If we were caught, we would be sacrificed to the river demons.
My mother always told me that the myth of the river demons came from the “Nameless’ ignorance to science”. “Apparently, knowledge has been lost to those who live in the cities,” she would say. “Willow River was tainted by poison long ago. Either sewage or something like this. It must seep into the skin and destroy your insides. Regardless, Pete, it isn’t a demon. There are no such things in another world. The only demons are the here and now… The Nameless.”
I don’t care what my mother says. The thought of being tied and weighed down by cement up to your neck is more terrifying than being stabbed to death by one of their Dalheim Daggers. And those things give me nightmares. Somewhere overseas makes them and ships them through the caravans. Heavily guarded. The weapons themselves? Only a handful of survivors but the same explanation each time – sharp going in and tearing going out. Something inside the mechanism explodes open and tears chunks out of the skin, only to reform into a normal-looking dagger. Outcasts like me have only heard stories, but they probably aren’t far off.
An hour must have passed before any of us moved a muscle. We were sore, but it beat whatever hell the Nameless would unleash if they found us. I hopped off the toilet as quietly as I could and pressed my ear against the door. I thought I heard something. Or maybe it was my tired mind playing tricks again.
“So?” Christine whispered. “Are they gone?”
I just motioned for them to follow me out of the swiveling door and into the laundromat. The shadowy silhouettes of armored men and women pacing back and forth caught our eye. I started to feel sick. Everyone else was freaking out behind me.
“Where do we go?”
“What do we do?”
“This is it. We’re going to die.”
“I don’t want to be sacrificed to the Willow River demons.”
Randy and Sandy were crying softly. Christine’s face was ghost white. The only one who had their wits about them besides me was Rebecca. She was looking right at me, awaiting further instruction. Her face gave me the push I needed to get us all out of here.
Inhaling sharp, tension-filled air, I grabbed Ethan by the arm and started pushing everyone towards the back of the building. Crouching and zigzagging between the rows of washers, driers, and tables, they fled. When everyone was safely outside in the alleyway, I took one final look over my shoulder and tried to sprint towards the others.
The sound of board game pieces exploded from underneath my feet and shot towards the rusted metal appliances. Banging, followed by the boom of the board itself immediately made my heart race. I was sweating. I was terrified. I was frozen.
I couldn’t move.
I must have broken my leg. To this day, that’s what I tell myself. Needless to say, our story didn’t end with a happy ending. The Nameless busted through the door almost immediately and tackled me and Rebecca, who had turned back for me. Sandy, Mark, and Ethan fell to the Dalheim Daggers. Their screams haunt every second of my life. The sheer pain of which I cannot imagine. Randy, Christine, and Josh were dragged away with me. But Rebecca… my near savior… somehow managed to fight her way out of that god-forsaken laundromat.
I never her again.
And here I am. Randy was the first to go. Didn’t even make it a week. Poor guy. Next was Josh… I saw his final breath. Tied to a chair and I watched as they performed ‘experiments’ on the both of us. It was to test our pain threshold. The Nameless that Josh fell victim was slightly too proud of his job and took it too far. That kid would never see sixteen.
Christine and I shared adjacent prison cells and became very close friends. One day, about two years ago, she got sick from the slop they feed us. Well, that’s what she said, but it could’ve also been the deplorable conditions we are forced to live in. Either way, I felt worse for her long, drawn-out death than the others. She suffered immensely for twenty five days, moaning from the pain.
“Do you think there is an afterlife?” We had talked about it. Considered whether our friends were in a good place. I hoped they were. They didn’t deserve what they got.
“Yeah,” I truly believed it. “Anywhere has to be better than hear. Growing up wherever they are has to be better than growing up like we did.”
I saw her hand come around the other cell. I reached out and held it. Her skin was cold and clammy. My stomach churned in guilt and sadness as I began to cry softly for her and the others.
She snickered. “Ain’t that the truth. I bet it’s a nice place where you just get to do what you want. No rules but no fear. Beautiful mountains with the ocean not too far. Always sunny with a slight breeze. Delicious food…”
Now she was becoming my rock. “Do you think the rest of them are there too?”
“Absolutely.” She tore her hand away to cough until she nearly fell unconscious. “Sorry man. I don’t think I’m going to be here for much longer. But at least I have a nice place to go.”
Death was her release.
“I’ll see you on the other side Pete,” she said.
The following morning, she was dead.
Today is my final day. My fate is the Willow River. I have endured so much pain and torture that I was ‘chosen’ by ONE as a sacrifice to appease the demons. They tore me out of my cell, instructed me to dress in a white robe and ushered me out the door of the prisons, blindfolded.
The ride was long, but we made it within and hour or so. I became accustomed to guessing how much time had passed in my years as a prisoner. To be honest, I wasn’t scared at all. Christine’s words gave me hope. Anywhere had to be better than here anyway. But it was the shock of what I saw when my eyes adjusted to the light that scared the soul right out of me.
It wasn’t a ‘what’. It was a ‘who’.
It was Rebecca.
I didn’t recognize her at first. She had not aged as much as I had imagined. Because it had been so long, my last vision of her was at thirteen. Now, she was nearing twenty. Clad in the same white dress that I was, she stood facing the crowd that had gathered. She instantly recognized me.
“P-P-Pete?” she choked. I could see the tears welling in her eyes. “I-I-I-… I thought you were -.”
“Dead?” I wiped my eyes as they untied my bonds. “Same here. You okay?”
We were pushed near the water’s edge. “Yeah. You?”
“I’m about to be,” he smiled. “Sorry about back then… I still feel so indescribably awful.”
“Don’t you blame this on yourself Peter McMillan,” she scolded with a tearful smile. “Please. This world isn’t meant for us… but maybe the next is.”
She reminded me of Christine. I had almost forgotten that they were cousins. Two Nameless on either side of us, tying our arms to heavy blocks on a platform that dropped at our feet. Just below us was the clear water of the Willow River. Bones of countless victims strewn just under the surface.
“Rebecca,” I called to her. She turned. “Thanks for coming back for me when the other’s didn’t.”
“How could I not?” she laughed. “You were always the cutest one!”
With that, the lever was pulled and I felt the cold water splash over me. Then, it began to burn. I relived the day that led up to this one last time and looked over at Rebecca. A tinge of fear in her eyes as she gazed back at me. I felt a lurching sensation in my chest, as if my heart was trying to keep up with the water dissolving it. Then, I started to get tunneled vision, blackness encroached on me. Finally, I felt lighter than air as the last ray of sunlight disappeared in front of my eyes…
I’ll see you on the other side, Pete…
My apologies for the dark prompt today. I hope you enjoyed it though! 🙂
I don’t have a prompt that I made today, but hopefully you can use the one above for your own story.