Enjoy this poignant short story from Lilly, Year 11, Emmanuel College in Gold Coast, QLD.
CW: Violence, gore
It was the blood I felt first, the warm splatter across my face and grey shift dress, that made me look up from my trance, shuffling along the footpath. The rumble and snapping I could hear through my headphones, windows of the tram displaying a carriage full of people with their heads down, thumbs moving swiftly, undisturbed by the sounds of a life that had just ended. The wheels rolling over the body, the girl’s dress following, dragging along the tracks, material caught, leaving clumps of skin and bone in its wake.
The tram slithered on through the silent street, its sleek steel skin reflecting the buildings that never end, and the busy streets filled with people whose eyes I never see. I bring a hand to my face, pulling back to see red marring my fingers, and wiping it on my now ruined dress, numb to Death’s antics.
He’s been preying on us for two years now, pouncing when you least expect it, like the predator He is. The virus came so quickly and suddenly, striking communities down, tearing families apart. Some were immune to it; some fell later than others. The world went into lockdown, an eerie silence as everyone held their breath, hoping it wouldn’t be their last. Then the government saved us from extinction with an antidote and we were released after 19 excruciating and isolating months, from our home prisons. But they were too late to save some. Too late to save 10 million people.
By now, Death was just an old friend who occasionally came to visit. Turning my back away from the tracks, I join the flocks of people clad in their slate grey clothes, necks craned down, seeking comfort from the screen in their hands. I scroll, flick, like, scroll, flick, like, trailing with the crowd into one of the forest of cold buildings. I am swallowed by a sea of grey as the glass doors click shut behind me, filing into one of the organised lines. The line moves. I scroll and scroll and scroll.
The line moves. I scroll and scroll and scroll, numb to my surroundings as music fills my ears.
‘Name,’ a gruff voice demands from behind a screen panel, interrupting me from the reel I was watching. ‘Emma Young’, I reply, not looking up as the cool metal pierces my arm, the vaccine rushing through my body. ‘Next’, he commands, fingers clicking on his glowing screen. I walk forward, following the current of people to the small cube of a window, typing in my name on the screen and collecting my pay check for the month. I move, head drawn to my phone, and file, ant-like in a line, back out to the street. I scroll, scroll, scroll, walking on autopilot back to my apartment. Crawling under the covers, I turn onto my side and scroll, scroll, scroll, until sleep washes over me.
The screeching of thousands echoes in my ear, their repetitive shouts of ‘Black lives matter’, keeping in time with my erratic heartbeat. Where was I? I turn my head, taking note of the splashes of colour worn in the squashed, sweaty crowd. People wore reds, whites, blues, blacks and I saw skin, lots of exposed skin glimmering in the heat. They wore shirts and shorts, skirts and hats. Not grey dresses or suits. Some chanted with eyes glistening. Some looked aggrieved, yet content to be among their people. They looked primal, as they thrust signs in the air, all feeling … emotion. It was chaos, beautiful chaos. A heaving sea of people joined by this thing they were fighting for.
A flash of auburn had me turning, in this ghost of a body I found myself in, wanting to follow what felt somewhat familiar. I rush ahead, stopping as she stopped, in front on a man in blue, punching the sign she held in the air in front of his face chanting, before she turned back to the crowd, my green eyes met green eyes, looking at me but not the me I knew. Continuing on with the chant, the other me kept on walking with the crowd, leaving me questioning everything I knew. Was I watching back on a past me? My ghostly body is brought into an eerily familiar living room, a blue and white striped couch taking over the small space, a flash of copper peeking out from under a pile of blankets. I move around to face the girl, looking back into those green eyes we share, those green eyes leaking tears as they stare unseeing at the television, at a news report, the female presenter declaring the world death toll has just reached 10 million but the government has saved the day with a vaccine! The girl doesn’t move, just sits there, tears trickling down her freckled face, staring unseeingly at the screen, whispering quietly to herself, ‘it’s too late, it’s too late’. Walking around the couch I notice the framed photos hanging on the wall, pictures of a young gappy toothed version on the couch girl, a much happier person than the girl silently drowning in her tears. Another frame held that same young girl, on the shoulders of a man with her same green eyes. Another of the two of them, except gone are the gaps and the man is sporting greying hair, the glittering Eiffel tower shining in the inky darkness. Photo after photo filled with life. I wonder where that man is? I listen out, searching for sound, evidence of another’s existence in the dead house, but deafening silence is my answer, the news reporter’s silky voice delivering death toll after death toll, the breaker of the chilling silence. I don’t remember the man from the photo, my dad? I wonder what he was like?
I wake up in a dreary haze, head pounding and I touch a hand to my face, tears falling. Tears falling? Tears? I haven’t cried in almost a year! I inhale sharply and jump to my feet, a weird buzzing going on in my stomach. I feel sick, but not sick. I don’t know what I’m feeling but I like it. I am feeling something! A feeling of … unease settles uncomfortably over me, dampening my mood. Images from my dream last night flash through my mind. The colourful mass of protestors, the silence of the house, the green eyes. Green eyes. Hauntingly familiar green eyes. My green eyes.
Was last night just a dream or did I glimpse into my past self?
The doorbell chimes, shattering my thoughts, followed by a thump, thump, thump of a fist against the door. Running, through the hallway, I swing the door open to a man in a blue suit, a bird perched on his burley shoulder, robotic eyes focusing in on my face before the bird starts screeching. ‘Miss Young, correct’? The man asks, a frown etched into his tan face. I nod and he continues, ‘Your biometrics are showing elevated heartrate which is symptomatic of emotion. Have you taken the monthly vaccine?’ With another nod of my head, he steps forward grabbing for my arm. I back away, just as the squawking of the bird increases, the rustle of wings flapping and a stabbing pain in my neck, the bird’s red, assessing eyes, the last thing I see before collapsing to the ground.
Shouting stirs me awake, squinting I open my eyes against the stark lighting. My heartrate quickens as I realise I am restrained in a chair. I try yanking my legs, pulling at my arms, but nothing budges. I’m surrounded by crisp white walls, an oak desk taking up most of the room, pens scattered over a blueprint of the city streets. Breathe, breathe. I focus in on the shouting that’s filtering in from the room over. How did the injection not work on her? She had one just this month! If she’s now remembering and feeling how many others are, huh? You had one job, do you want rebellion again? One voice shouts, her voice rising with each revelation. Stop, stop, stop, the other voice pleads, increasing in volume as the person edges closer to the door of the room I am in, no one else can feel anything, she just reacted different this round due to her medication she is taking. It will be dealt with. She will be dealt with.
Panic seizes my lungs, I kick and struggle against the constraints as the door opens slowly, a short man entering, a needle in hand. ‘Ms Young, so good to see you’re awake’. He moves closer, and I scream, voice cracking, not used to its function, but I don’t stop. Someone has to hear me. I scream, throat raw, wrestle against the bands holding me in place. A pinch on my arm had me turning, horror flooding my body as the bearded man discarded the needle on the table. Fear is the first to dissolve, slipping out of my clutches. Anger leaves my body so fiercely I collapse motionless in the chair, the fight deserting me. Sadness sucked all the tears out of my eyes as it left, the spark of happiness I felt only hours earlier, forgotten, as I am enveloped in the familiar embrace of nothingness.
There was a before, a time that was different that … just feels different. I can feel it at the blurred edges of my mind, can brush its edges with my fingertips, but cannot grasp hold of it. Like something is stopping me from remembering.
But it doesn’t matter anymore.
Lilly, Year 11,
Gold Coast, Qld