Rubble (A short story by Tyler Scott Hess)
I remember when they called this The City. It was an appropriate name at the time for the chief hub of commerce in the district, even if our tallest building’s third floor was hardly more than an attic to hide contraband from The State.
But that was when we were at peace. It’s been three years since the rebels assassinated the king’s heir, his only son. Within three days they had taken over Ardax, the political capital before the uprising.
Now they call Elgon home, as we once did. We still live here in the bunkers; cold, quiet, and desperate for nourishment. Lately I’ve been wondering if this life is one worth holding onto or if there is a risk worth taking to improve it.
My feelings have only grown in my imagination as rumors have spread of infighting at The Rebel base. We’ve been told not to call it the Rebel base anymore, but we never agreed to The Rebellion. Most of us were willing to keep peace in hopes of diplomacy, but diplomatic civilians were weaker in arms and action.
One of my prayers was answered today. It’s the third day of the week, which is the day we are free to receive our rations. I wasn’t sure we’d make it this time, especially Silia. My sister’s been getting thinner day by day, even when the rest of us share our portions with her.
It’s my job to pick up our family’s allowances at the hospitality center. I’m the only one strong enough to handle myself if a quarrel were to arise, so I am the one who must be brave. But my fingers still tremble each week as I unlock the chains binding our front door.
They’re not much good; at least not against anyone with more power than the typical looters that wander the streets at night. I wouldn’t have a place to hide around here if the rebels wanted to draft me . I could go north, but I don’t know how well I’d be received by the rulers of the Aksa. They’d most likely think of me as a spy and kill me on sight.
After unlocking our doors, I step outside to see more destruction than I remember from last week. I had forgotten about the raids from five days ago. It didn’t seem like such a large skirmish at the time, and it isn’t so noticeable from our doorway, but the rubble becomes more extensive as I make my way past our alleyway.
I kneel down to examine a piece of brick lying in the middle of the street. It doesn’t belong here. I look around to apprehend confirmation of what I first suspected. In the distance I can see the school I attended as a boy is gone. I assume it was demolished in the skirmish.
I think back to the raid and I distinctly remember one moment being louder than the rest, but I didn’t know the rebels had access to this kind of artillery. It hits me that I haven’t seen one guard today. But I do see one person.
“Orvin!” I shout. “Orvin! It’s Mel! Come here!”
But he doesn’t move. I repeat myself, but he looks unsure. I give up and walk toward him instead. He’s afraid, but of what I do not know.
“Just stay back!” he shouts.
“Why?” I say, stopping in my tracks.
“Who’s in charge of you?”
“What?” I ask.
“Who’s in charge of you?” he repeats. “Who’s giving you orders?”
“Orders?” I shout back. “No one is giving me orders. I’m just going to get my rations like everyone else?”
“Rations?” he laughs. “You have got to be kidding me. Rations? Wake up, Melvin! There are no rations. The State has moved on the Rebellion. They’ve pushed them out of The City. The battle is taking place halfway between here and Ardax.”
“What do you mean The State?” I ask him. “Since when is there a state to fight The Rebellion?”
“There’s no time to explain,” he tells me. “We have to move. Now.”
“No. There’s no time. You have to decide if you’re with us or The Rebellion.”
And now I realize what has become of us. The Rebellion has become the state and The State has become the rebellion. Everyone I love is dying, either from war or famine.
“What do you think?” I snarl.
He waves at me to follow him. I don’t say another word. Neither does he, but I know where he’s taking me. If the fighting is outside the city, it must be because the rebels have lost ground on their police strongholds. The State has recaptured what once belonged to them.
He takes me up the hill to a watchtower I have never seen in person before. Most people don’t suspect there to be anything more than power lines up here; certainly not a watchtower such sat this. At least not before the uprising. Nothing surprises us anymore.
We wait as a gate opens for us. I look over my shoulder to see two armed men completely ignoring us. They’re eyeing bigger problems than the two haggard youth in front of them. One unarmed soldier takes us down a tunnel that’s been dug into the hill. We pass several men with rifles before I’m introduced to the commander of the unit protecting the stronghold.
“What’s your name, soldier?” he asks.
I look over to Orvin. He doesn’t flinch.
“Are you talking to me?” I ask. “Oh. It’s Bede, sir. Melvin Bede. I come from…”
“Enough, Bede,” he says as he shoves a rifle into my hands. “Do you know how to handle a weapon?”
“It’s been awhile,” I say, stammering as I reposition the firearm to a more natural position.
He looks unconvinced. It doesn’t matter; they need numbers. If the rebels were to make it back here they’d be able to take over this base within hours.
I’m led away, apart from Orvin for the first time since entering the base. We emerge from the tunnel, and I’m shown a station toward the back of the hill. It’s not likely The Rebellion would decide to come back this way, but they want to be safe.
My instructor leaves after giving a series of commands. No mention of food or mission, just the task of watching out for rebels. After several hours of being by myself I get a transmission in my ear. I’ve been tracked to my location.
“Yes,” I say. “Silver Gopher has uprooted the nest. Two dozen men: all of them poorly armed. Attack at dawn.”