UKArchive ID: 36606mitch
Originally published on June 10, 2016 in Fiction
Chapter 17 of the Light-Father: Harold learns more of how Amos and Rebecca, two of the remarkable Children of Exodus, survived the unspeakable brutality of the Inquisitors of the Order.
Harold could not believe how quiet it was now that the older children were all in bed. Surl, Peter, Pup and Rabbit were curled up on his mattress and bathed in the glow of the stove even though the late evening air was hot and humid. The rain still lashed down but he no longer heard the drumming on the roof or the incessant rumbles of thunder. Brilliant erratic flashes lit up the sky but there were no local strikes to wake them so he was content to sit in a chair and watch them sleep while he smoked a cigar in the back doorway. Mouse was asleep but she was obviously in the throes of a fever dream as she turned and mumbled constantly.
He was analysing a strange sensation – a growing paternal love for his new family. “Huh!” he said aloud. “It’s not as if I had much of a life back there.” He checked his watch and noticed the faint trembling in his outstretched fingers. “About this time, I’d be getting in two pints at last orders plus shorts on a Friday. Let’s see - Monday to Saturday… whiskies…” His eyes widened. “Christ, over a hundred units a week - no wonder I’m shaking.”
“Units of what,” Amos asked, climbing into the wagon.
“Alcohol, Amos – I drank too much. Can’t you sleep?”
“Not really,” Amos sighed, pulling up a chair. “I keep dreaming that Mouse dies… only her face is that of my mother…”
Harold blew a smoke ring out of the door and recalled Surl’s words as it vanished in the rain: ‘he’ll just be another monster in a world full of monsters.’ “That image will never leave you, son,” he said carefully. “Nor should it because it’s a part of you but you have to make sure that you are not part of it.”
“Huh? What do you mean by that?”
“What lost Surl her hair was watching you caving in a Tally-man’s skull with a hammer. I don’t care if you knew no better or not just tell me what you felt when you were doing that?”
“The same as when I killed two Tally-men last year. I saw a grown man smothering a child so Fria and I killed him. I had this red mist in front of my eyes and I felt a hundred chains tall and Fria was angry too – she drove a knife into his neck. We got him off Sur… Rebecca then I made sure that he was dead.”
“Do you remember smiling?”
“Why should I?” Amos shuddered then he bared his teeth. “All I wanted to do was erase the face of a thing that killed my parents and Eorl and Sara,” he snarled, rubbing at his ragged scar. “I have nightmares and I feel guilty about my sister – I haven’t been able to love her as a brother because I feel ashamed of what I am.”
“You are not a monster,” Harold smiled and put a finger to the troubled teenager’s chest. “What you feel is the result of being brutalised by the Order. In here is a heart that cares for your sister and Fria even though you’ve said they’re burdens to you.”
“Fria was hard work, Light-Father,” he said, pushing Harold’s hand to one side. “I didn’t know she was anaemic. She almost got us killed three times before she learnt to use her knives. I…”
Harold raised a hand to silence him. “I’m going to make you a hot coffee then you can tell me everything,” he said as the lightning flickered overhead. “I can’t sleep with Mouse like this…” He halted at a faint sound outside the back door but Amos had drawn his knives before he’d picked his sword up from the floor.
They both breathed a sigh of relief as Fria showed herself. As they lowered their weapons they noticed that she was thoroughly soaked with her hair plastered to her head so she’d obviously been eavesdropping on their conversation. “Yes, I’d like to listen to that story as well, Amos,” she declared icily. “Once I’m dry. I can’t sleep without Rabbit snoring in my ear anyway.”
“As you wish,” Amos huffed, folding his arms. “Dry out and let the Light-Father make you a hot drink as well - we can’t have you fainting on us again…”
There were dreadful sounds coming from the front room: thuds and groans; the crackling of tazers and vile raucous laughter. Amos opened his eyes and instinctively bit his lip to keep from howling with pain from the beating he’d taken from the Father who’d cut his face. He saw a pool of blood on the floor and knew that he was badly injured and a white hot fire burned upon his face.
Something moved beneath the table hidden by the chairs then Rebecca emerged and crawled over to him clutching her stuffed owl toy. She picked up a towel from the floor and tried to press it to his wound. “Amos, your face is bleeding. They stabbed Eorl and Sara - they’re still hurting them,” she whispered in tears. “Please, Amos, make them stop. Make them stop!”
“Shhh!” he hissed at the red-headed tot. “Be quiet! I can’t stop them - I’m hurt, Rebecca. We have to hide from them.”
Her face took on a determined look. “I’ll go and tell them not to be so cruel,” she said and clenched a fist.
“No! They’re very bad men!” he whispered urgently. “Dad gave us medicine to stop us getting sick but those bad men want to hurt us. We have to get out of here but the back door is locked.”
“Key,” she smiled suddenly, waving it at him. “I hid it.”
“Clever girl,” he said, getting to his feet. “We’ll come back to help the others when the bad men have gone, I promise.”
“Promise, Amos? Sara is screaming…”
“Let’s go,” he whispered, carefully unlocking the back door. He felt like vomiting from the pain and tried not to imagine what was happening in the front room and the blood on the beautiful carpets. He drew her outside and carefully locked the door behind them. He grabbed her hand and dragged her down the garden barely aware of the rotor-craft in the air and the dozens of sirens wailing across the city. He could see plumes of smoke and the stench of burning was choking him and making Rebecca cough pitifully. “We’ll hide in our secret hiding place until they’ve gone but you must promise me to keep quiet or they will hurt me again, promise?”
“Yes,” she nodded gravely, clutching her stuffed toy owl. “Me and Mister Hoot won’t make a sound.”
He prised up a manhole cover at the bottom of the garden. Their mother, Ilena, had always objected to the smell in summer when the foul drain water ran low but the cover was light enough for him to lift. His father, Abraham, had always told him of his army days before he’d joined Exodus Industries and how he’d hidden from an enemy patrol. “Always misdirect the enemy. Make your escape routes obvious so that your hiding place is overlooked.”
They were hidden from the house by bay bushes so he pulled away some laurel branches to expose a large gap in the border hedge. He smeared the leaves with blood and threw the towel into their neighbour’s garden. Then he squeezed down with Rebecca into the inspection chamber. “Yuck! Kack!” she retched.
“Shhh!” he hissed angrily. “I can hear them forcing the back door. They are very bad men, Rebecca, so keep quiet.” His father had been re-laying the lawn so he grabbed several pieces of turf and dragged them onto the cover as he lowered it shut. “O, Lord Jesus, please let this work,” he prayed in pitch-black despair.
To his amazement and relief, Rebecca remained silent as he clutched her to him but she trembled as angry voices sounded nearby and boots crunched along the cinder path. “Abbot Makarov will have our heads if we don’t find that brat,” one voice said. “Why didn’t you finish him off, Brother?”
“According to the personnel records at Exodus,” a second voice said in exasperation. “There are two more children unaccounted for here – that boy and a girl having three years.”
“Here!” cried a third voice. “There’s blood on the leaves and a blood-stained towel on the other side of the hedge.”
“Damn him and you incompetent fools to hell,” a fourth voice said – obviously the leader. “You circle around and look for him while I check the house again for the little one. Don’t engage with any of the Unworthy - just find those two inoculated rats and kill them. We must not let any of these Exodus children escape or Schimrian will Redeem us all.”
The sounds of booted feet and voices faded but he resisted the overpowering urge to open the cover and take a peek.
“I can’t breathe, Amos. It stinks.”
“Keep quiet, Rebecca. Dad said good soldiers should never break cover too soon as the enemy is usually waiting for them.”
“I don’t like this game, Amos.”
“Neither do I but it’s not a game.”
“I need to go to the toilet.”
“Hold it in,” he gasped. “This ledge is too small to stand on – ah! I’m getting cramp in my legs…”
“I need to go.”
“Well, I can’t see you, so take your underwear off and just go,” he whispered desperately. “This is where it all ends up anyway. Just don’t drop your underwear or Mister Hoot in the kack.”
There followed a series of blind gymnastics as she removed her underwear to relieve herself. There was a satisfied sigh as she completed her task – mostly over his shoes. “By Saint Peter’s Beard,” he groaned. “You could have aimed a little better.”
“Sorry but it’s dark – I can’t….mmff!” she struggled as he clamped a hand over her mouth.
There was a sudden thump of a boot on the cover. “We’ve combed the surrounding gardens and roads,” a deep and sinister bass voice said. “We can’t find them and none of the Unworthy we Redeem have seen them – ha! I can’t believe they just keep coming up to us like lambs to beg for our aid.”
“So they should - we are the world’s leading medical Order after all,” another voice replied sarcastically. “What shall we do with those we Redeemed in the house, Father?”
“Leave them. All these houses are filled with those Unworthy of Revelation; fit only for the bellies of rats and dogs.”
“Hallelujah, our New Jerusalem will soon be at hand.”
“Let’s go - the rotor-craft is here and we have six more Exodus families to Redeem before nightfall.”
Amos bit into his hand to stifle his pain and his grief as the heavy footfalls receded up the path.
“You’re bleeding on me and Mister Hoot,” Rebecca whispered as she struggled back into her underwear.
“Can you spare me your petticoat? I need to press something against the wound – it’s really deep.”
More shifting and slow-motion acrobatics by his little sister resulted in her small petticoat being forced into his hand in exchange for Mister Hoot. “Good girl,” he said gratefully. “We have to wait a while to make sure they’ve left the house.”
An hour passed that seemed like an eternity as he whispered stories to keep Rebecca calm. He felt shaky and weak but he knew that this was shock setting in – their parents were both medical researchers and he had listened to their advice avidly all his life. He slowly raised the cover and peered about but there was nobody in sight. He almost screamed with the pain from cramp in his calves as he climbed out and hauled his sister up into the hazy sunshine where he ground his teeth in fear and frustration as she insisted on gathering up a posy of four large wild flowers.
He peered over the bay bushes for several minutes before he was satisfied that the house was empty. The back door was hanging from a single damaged hinge and inside the kitchen they found a scene of utter devastation. Every drawer and cupboard door had been ripped out and all the contents strewn across the floor and trampled upon repeatedly.
“What bad men,” Rebecca pouted. “Mum would have been so cross at the mess they’ve made in here.”
“Stay here,” he said, righting a chair and sitting her upon it. “While I make sure that all the bad men have gone.”
“They’ve gone,” she insisted with an odd tone to her voice.
He didn’t answer but crept down the corridor to check the back rooms then he went up the stairs to check the bedrooms, bathroom and the study which had been ransacked. He came back down to the kitchen to find Rebecca had vanished. With his heart in his mouth, he raced along the hallway to find his little sister had placed a flower on the bloodied remains of Eorl. He watched astounded and speechless as she calmly knelt in a pool of blood and said a prayer for him then she did the same for their parents and for Sara last of all, leaving Mister Hoot next to her body.
He knelt down to comfort her but he could not howl and sob with grief like her for these bloodied, mangled corpses could not possibly be his parents, his brother, his sister! Never!
Abraham’s battered and barely recognisable face turned to him almost making his heart stop. “A good soldier must abandon a base that’s been compromised, son,” he said. “Take what you can pack and leave quickly because the enemy will return.”
He blinked to find his father’s head back in its original position. Shaking with shock, he forced the weeping Rebecca upstairs. He washed the blood off her hands then dressed her in outdoor clothes and a sturdy coat. He changed then packed spare clothes into their backpacks before going back into the bathroom. He cleaned the ragged wound to his face and applied a dressing but blood soon seeped through the gauze. There was nothing he could do about the bruises either but he found a bottle of antibiotics and took one, knowing that his wound could become infected.
He found two black rats in the kitchen so he angrily threw knives at them but it took several attempts to get them to flee. He made sandwiches, sat Rebecca down at the table and placed them in front of her with a cup of milk. “Eat,” he said as he crammed medicines, tins and bottles of water into his rucksack.
“Not hungry,” she said defiantly, wiping at her tears.
“You have to eat,” he urged, cramming one into his mouth. “We’ll need all our strength to find our grandparents.”
He hefted the sledgehammer that the Brothers had used to smash the front door down as his sister ate and wept. “Why can’t I cry like you, Rebecca?” he shuddered, placing a hand on his chest. “All I’ve got is this dark hole where my heart used to be.”
Rebecca suddenly got down and grabbed his hand. “You can cry later, Amos,” she sobbed. “We have to go now. The bad men are coming back!”
(c) Paul D.E. Mitchell 2012 - 2013
Archived comments for Chapter 17: Amos
Mikeverdi on 10-06-2016
Chapter 17: Amos
Great chapter, you excelled with this one. The descriptive text was gripping, I was there with them. Well done.
Thanks, Mike - I loved writing these chapters! When you see the kids' faces in refugee camps, it makes you wonder at their inner strength to survive. In this story, sadly, many of the kids and young people the Exodus scientists vaccinated did not make it. Mitch