By Dominique Law (~550 words)
He sat on the hill overlooking a valley holding a message still undelivered. The old man wrote on papyrus, a relic from ancient times when the trees stretched far into the heavens and the air did not burn their eyes. His patron had given him this flimsy material. How was it expected to last? How would the patron even know if he had delivered it? He could just keep the money, but no, he would find the girl.
Her village was just as all the others. Women with sunken eyes roamed willing to do anything for fragments of fruit. Listless men looked past his 6 foot 7 inch frame for either opportunity or prey. He arrived at the final hut in the commune searching for a brown 19 year old who would answer to the name “Soogi”.
“What do you want?” said a teenager whose fierce expression belied her hobbled posture. His patron had said that she might be sickly, but he had not expected this garbled mass.
“I have something for you.”
They did not trust him.
Seeing their blades, he spun and grabbed the two women slightly lifting them by their throats.
“Calm down! I just have a message from Soogi’s father.”
From behind an awkward beaded curtain stepped the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
“Daddy sent you to get me?”
In her eyes he saw a mixture of optimism and horror. To her, he must have looked like a monster.
He couldn’t just give her the note. This couldn’t be her only memory of him.
He’d give it to her later…. after she got to know him.
“I knew he wouldn’t forget me”. She ran to the back to grab her knapsack and they left amidst watershed eyes and suspicious glances at the man.
“I am coming with you, but if you even look at me the wrong way, I’ll kill you.”
Adorable, he thought. Like she’d have a chance.
“Of course”, he replied.
Days turned into weeks. Side by side, they fought the elements and hoards of monsters, both man and beast. She spoke of the family farm where her father went when she was too sick to travel. The man spoke of the orphanage where strict matrons gave him bread and paste on steel trays.
One day, he gave her another present, this time a rose that he had fashioned out of aluminum.
“I love you,” she said. “You don’t have to say it back. I know. I feel so safe with you.”
“I have something I need to tell you…” he began to reply. But his words were cut short by the sudden appearance of a hoard of men. The man fought with all of his might, but they were too many. He laid in his own blood as they dragged the only person he had ever loved to a fate he couldn’t imagine. As he lay alone, he finally unfolded the old ratty paper:
“Your uncle’s made a paradise here in the Grove. Be ready. We’re sending a team for you. You’re coming home.”
The Grove. It was the village they had passed just yesterday. Why hadn’t he simply told her the truth? Had he, they would both be alive today.