Honorable Mention, 2014 Bethesda Magazine Young Adult Short Story Contest
The bomb hits the building next to me and explodes instantly. I cover my head with my arms and scream for my twin brother.
“I’m here! I’m here!” He runs to my side and grabs my arm. “Come on!” he shouts above the commotion.
“What about Mom?” I cry.
“Heather, there’s no time. Tears streak his grimy face, “We have to go now.”
He pulls me towards the bomb shelter my family built two years ago, when we first heard war was coming to Phylaca. All our neighbors had laughed at us.
“What war?” they had said. “The city gates are locked. Nothing gets in, nothing gets out.” No one is laughing now.
Logan and I climb down the rickety stairs that descend into the cold, dark earth. I go first and he slams the steel door above our heads. We light the lanterns and sit on the dirt floor for what seems like eternity. I tell myself that we’re going to live and that everyone is going to be all right.
The bombs that have been raining down for the past three hours suddenly fall silent. Then, after about 30 seconds, a strange rumbling begins. The walls shake and the ground trembles.
An explosion louder than I have ever heard shudders our shelter. Tendrils of white mist start to creep around the edges of the trap door.
“Block it!” Logan yells as he starts stuffing blankets into the cracks. I follow suit. I start to feel lightheaded and stumble backwards. I fall to the ground and everything goes dark.
I’m sitting next to my mother on the old leather couch in our living room. Logan stands near my father across the room. Father gazes out the window with a concerned look on his face.
Today we heard rumors of trouble in the surrounding governments. Our leader assured the city that we were perfectly safe inside our walls. My father, high up in the government himself, is not so sure. I can tell he and my mother are both stressed, but they both try to put on a brave face.
“Oliver,” my mother says sternly. “Come here and help me cut the cake.”
“Right.” He walks over to my mother and passes Logan and me each a piece of the small cake. “Happy fifteenth, kids. We’re so proud of you.”
But right now, he doesn’t look proud. He just looks tired and scared.
Two weeks later, Father vanishes. We’re told he was on a government mission gone wrong. They give us a flag and a check and call it even.
I wake up to the dim glow of a lantern. I try to stand up, but I’m too dizzy. Logan is slumped on his side in the corner. I crawl over and shake him awake. He opens his eyes and looks at me in confusion.
“I have no idea. How long have we been out?”
Logan looks at his watch. “Fourteen hours.” There is an eerie silence all around us. “Do you think it’s safe to go up?” he asks.
“Only one way to find out,” I say.
We struggle to our feet and Logan shoves the door open. He pushes the rubble out of the way and helps me out. Phylaca is in complete ruins.
“There’s nothing left,” I whisper. “They’ve destroyed everything.”
“Where is everyone?” Logan says, a look of complete shock on his face. “They can’t all be dead, can they?”
“Let’s check.” I can’t seem to help the tears that stream down my face.
We take the familiar route to school, from what was once our home, through the destroyed city, past the gates- the gates! The gates that are supposed to be perpetually locked were swinging wide open, with several pieces missing. I stop in my tracks. Logan walks into me. He gives me a questioning look and I silently point to the gate.
“That’s not allowed,” he murmurs.
“Logan, we could leave. We could leave and never come back!”
“No! That’s against the law. We couldn’t.”
“What else can we do? There’s nothing left here. There’s no one left here. We’d starve. We’d die!”
“They’d catch us and punish us!”
“There’s no one left to punish us, Logan.”
“Okay,” he sighs guiltily and glances around. “Let’s go.”
We walk slowly towards the gate. I take a deep breath and step through it.
“Good bye Phylaca.” I walk away and don’t look back.
We walk for about two hours. I don’t know where we’re going, but there’s no point in turning back now. We come to a shaded area on the side of the dirt road and sit down to rest for a while. Suddenly a loud voice comes from above.
“Put your hands up and turn around!”
We slowly do as we’re told. I look up to the voice. There are several men in a hovercraft with their guns trained on us. Ropes are thrown down and they instruct us to grab on. I know there is no sense in running. We are hoisted into the hovercraft, where we are quickly handcuffed, blindfolded, and gagged. We are only in the craft for about twenty minutes before we land. We are roughly moved from the hovercraft and set on our feet. I am grasped firmly by each arm and turned around. There is a small click and a gun is pressed into my back. I am told to walk. After about five minutes, I can tell we are inside. I am shoved into a hard plastic chair. The blindfolds and gags are removed, but our hands remain cuffed. I’m relieved to see that Logan is still next to me. We are in a small white room with two armed guards in front of the door. A man in a dark gray suit paces in front of us.
“You should not be alive,” he says softly. “My army was to wipe out your entire population. How did you manage to survive our biological bomb? The poison should have killed you instantly.”
Logan and I say nothing.
“Things are much different here in Perbeatus than they were in Phylaca. People are happy here.”
“I was perfectly happy in Phylaca- that is, until you destroyed it!” Logan snarls.
I shoot him a warning look. Be careful, I try to tell him.
“You children. You do not understand. The people of Perbeatus are always happy. See for yourselves.”
He presses a button and one of the white walls turns into a window. We are at street level.
“You can see them, but they cannot see you,” the man declares.
I get up and move closer to the window. People walk by with smiles on their faces, greeting each other like they’ve been friends for years. Everyone is full of joy.
“At birth, they are injected with a chemical that will make them happy forever. We have created the perfect society. There is no anger, no fear, and no violence. Much unlike your filthy city, your people armed and angry. They kept you locked in the city with all your problems. They controlled the population so you would never need to leave. They made it so there was no way to escape, no way to find happiness. Did you realize that? Of course not. But my people were beginning to realize that they were different, strange even. And we couldn’t have that. You see, we could not let your corrupt government pollute the minds of our citizens and ruin our flawless way of life.”