The Rebel King After the War – Part One
Serial Short Story
I didn’t watch her walk away. I didn’t stand by the gate at the outskirts of camp and watch her shrink into the distance, eventually disappearing into the tree line. Instead, I turned away. I walked back into camp and let them close the gate behind me. I didn’t turn back. If I had, I would’ve gone after her. I would’ve begged her to stay or carried her kicking and screaming or followed her through the woods like a ball and chain shackled to her ankle. So, I turned with her kiss still burning on my cheek and I didn’t look back.
I remembered what happened to Orpheus when he looked back on his trip from the underworld. He lost Euripides forever, even after the hell they’d been though together. He was weak for one moment and she was lost. If I had any chance of seeing her again, it had to be this way. I had to let her go.
The first few weeks went by quickly. I busied myself with work, building cabins for winter, hunting, manning the gate with my gun at my side like a loyal dog. I checked in on each of us that had survived the ordeal, just like she had asked of me. I listened when they voiced their concerns. I hugged the younger ones when they cried.
At night I paced the grounds. Sleep was out of the question. I’d developed a nasty habit of falling into nightmares where children with radiation burns on their faces closed in on me, all chorusing: why? I dreamt of my skin being blasted with acid wash, beaten and chained, drifting through different stages of hell in a cage that was slowly shrinking around me. When I was shaken awake, I would be clutching my sister’s arms and screaming for my life. No, sleeping was no longer an option for me.
The first few weeks blurred together as I did what she had bid me to do. And it worked for a while, but after two months passed, I began to break apart like an abandoned house. She had not returned. I heard them all whispering over meals.
“I bet they found her,”
“No, it’s the cold that’s going to do her in, wherever she is.”
“Either way, she’s a goner. Not even she could survive this long on her own.”
I had all but run from them. I grabbed my gun from my tent and headed for the gate. I told one of the other guards I was going out to hunt, but in truth I needed to run. I needed to put as much distance between me and that camp as possible. I jogged into the thick forest without checking for traps, without bothering to silence my footfalls. Their words clawed at the inside of my skull. It was my deepest and most private fear and they were discussing it over dinner. She couldn’t be dead. I ran through darkness and just ahead of me I caught a glimpse of something- a streak of blonde flying between the trees.
Her name tore its way from my throat and I ran after it, my gun clattering at my back. But it had been too many sleepless nights, too much work and longing for someone who left. My boot caught on the root of a tree and I crashed into the dirt. The taste of blood filled my mouth and I rolled over. The canopy of trees blurred in and out of focus. I didn’t have the energy to stand. I was tired. I had done my part. I had kept my promise so she should be back. It was only fair. I heard footsteps crunching the fallen leaves near me and I closed my eyes.
And then I heard my name. Barely a whisper in the darkness. I opened my eyes to find a figure above me. It was her…
more by NOELLE CURRIE
photograph by Jonas Nilsson Lee