The Dark

Posted: November 15, 2012 in Speculative fiction

This is a story I wrote a while back. Its the impetus of another longer story that I’ve also been working on that unfortunately is currently sitting in the “later/too hard/abandoned” basket.

The Dark

Hana trailed her hand down his chest, feeling her way over skin and muscle.  She like the feel of him under her, his strength nesting her, her own body sinking into him.  She followed the lines of the scars on his chest with her fingers, her heart as always catching at the sight of them.  She knew their pattern by now, how the ropes had burned him as they strung him up, how the wounds had bled open and raw and how the scars that remained were rough, more obvious as the weight fell off the body they coursed.  She thought of her own scars across her body and the unrelenting presence of the war that had marked them there.  She felt his hand on her breast and she closed her eyes, needing the warmth of him on her, his breath at her throat.  She kissed him on the mouth, deep and long, a surge of happiness piercing her.  He rolled her over, his weight not pressing into her, her body open with wanting.  She pulled him to her, felt him inside her and pulled him deeper, and all the time she is calling his name in despair, in hope, Karl, Karl.  She hears the thud of the bed, his low moans and her own voice ringing in her wars and for a moment, she forgets.

The morning hovered over the city like a reluctant lover.  A dull light filtered through dark clouds.  People stepped from their homes released from the night’s curfew.  They moved quickly without lingering, faces drawn, eyes watchful.  Hana looked down at the city, the strong taste of nicotine burning her throat, the cigarette smoke wafting in front of her.  She hated this city now, its battered ugliness a constant reminder of what it had survived.  The traces of four years of war with the Otherworlders clung to it in every crevice.  Buildings stood empty, long abandoned by their occupants.  Rubble cascaded across whole city blocks, burying furniture and people beneath them.  Hana looked up at the horizon and saw columns of grey smoke rising in the distance.  The city now stood in quiet desolation while the fighting continued in the outlying areas, the burning rage of the Otherworlders sweeping through once green and lush fields.

A creak sounded outside her apartment and Hana pushed herself away from the window sill when she saw the brown envelope slide under her door.  She barely looked at it as she slid it under the rug.  She felt the old twist of pain in her chest as she went back to the window, picking up discarded clothes along the way.  For a while she stood at the window, the clothes in her hand, watching the sky and remembering the first time the bombs had fallen, a torrent of sound and fire.  Then she turned back to the apartment, moved on with her tidying and organising, not looking at the threadbare rug.  She heard Karl in the shower, and breathed it in, this remnant of domesticity, and cradled it like a mother.

“You don’t have to clean my clothes up, you know.  I’m going to put them back again.” Karl’s voice surprised Hana and she looked up and smiled.

“Old habits, I guess.” She handed his clothes to him and watched as he dressed himself.  In the morning shadows, she could barely see his scars.  His damaged body looked almost new, fresh and clean.  He tugged his jeans on and she saw the flash of his ring in the light.  Carol’s ring, she thought and she felt a flush of envy on her cheeks.  She saw how the blue tones in it caught the light, of how they sat with ease and familiarity in their gold band and she thought again how nice it must be for Karl to be able to have something to remember Carol by that did not burn into his soul with pain and grief.  She had nothing of Bill’s, no photos, no old letters or well worn shirts.  Everything had gone, she had burnt them all.  Karl laced his belt through his jeans and she thought again with that sliver of envy how comforting it must be to have one’s loved ones die a natural death.  How easy it must be, to be prepared, to watch them sink slowly into the dreamless sleep of death.  There had been no scorched faceless body for Karl to claim, just Carol’s soulless body, given up finally to the cancer that swept through her.  How lucky, Hana thought, and felt herself blush with the shame of the thought.  Then she thought of Sam and how the only thing she had left of him was the thin scar across her belly and a cold hardness inside her.

“You know that beef dish of mine, the one with the lemongrass?” Karl asked and Hana drew her thoughts back to him.

“The one you made a few months ago?”

“Yeah, that one.  I’ve managed to get hold of some beef.  Do you want to come over later, after work?”

“I can’t see you later.  Mum’s been asking for me, I thought I should go and see her,” Hana said, the lie slipping easily from her.  Karl nodded his head as he worked his foot into his boot.  he looked up at her, a light frown on his face.  “Take care,” he said and she nodded, her eyes on the deep imprint his boot had made on the rug.  She reached for him then, wrapping herself round him, bringing her mouth close to his ear.  “You too,” she whispered, her voice unsteady, longing to be able to keep him with her and hold the day at bay.  She felt his clean shirt, pressed and neat on his body and she wanted to keep him always like this, near her and free from the mud and dirt of the battles.  When he left she ran to the window watching him walk away, leaving her alone in the empty apartment with its unmade bed and dirty dishes.

She finished another cigarette before she looked at the envelope.  She took it out from under the gun and held it in her hands for a while, feeling its weight, trying to guess what her next hit was.  When she finally slit it open, she stared at what she read, a slow sliding dread breaking through her.  Sizan.  The Leader.  Paradise Healing Centre 209 dead, Aureallis docklands 11 dead, Crispin Gardens 112 dead.  She read on and on and at the last line, her breath stopped while deep rumbles of gunfire strained the air.  Orchard School 412 dead. She slowly let the breath out of her mouth and she got her gun out then, laying its pieces on her bed and with firm hands that once brought fragile life into the world, Hana cleaned the pieces of her gun, dusting dirt off the edges till they shone bright in the grey morning.

The city at night was a different place.  The streets emptied abruptly when curfew fell.  The distant smoke that had drifted in during the day from the fighting hundreds of kilometres away still hung about, pressing in on the dark night, bringing with it a hint of burning wood.  Lights peaked out from drawn curtains.  Buildings sat closed and waiting.  A lonely wind rustled along the dark streets.  Hana moved through them now, her forged pass tucked deep in her pocket.  But still she hurried, not trusting that the pass would save her if she was stopped by the police.  She knew the streets and her near blindness in the black night did not make her falter.  She felt her way along familiar roads, side streets and tunnels.  She had lived in this city all of her life but she never knew it as well as she did now.  She knew every turning, every short cut, every hidden doorway.  She lost track of the number of times she had moved through the dark streets, wiping wet blood off her hands as she hurried, her gun strapped tightly to her body.

She felt energised tonight.  She would try to get him in one bullet.  It would be, she knew, a merciful killing for one that had murdered so many.  But she saw an end now and she did not want to waste more time.  She hurried on.  When she arrived at her destination, she paused a moment by the door, waiting for her breath to slow down.  Then she slipped her gun from its hiding place, fed the codes into the lock and quietly let herself in.

It did not take her long to move through the darkened house to the room that she knew he would be in.  Her sources were never wrong.  She had her gun clasped in her hand and the moment she turned into the doorway, she knew that she had her target in sight.  He stood, his face half concealed by the shadows that the dim night light cast on him.  She did not give herself time to think as she aimed and fired.  But he had sensed her a moment before and in the half light, he moved, only slightly but just enough so the bullet lodged in his side rather than in the deep cavity of his chest.  In that moment, as the bullet pushed itself free from the vice of her gun and her hand jerked back slightly at the force of it, Hana caught the glint of something, shiny and bright.  As he fell to the ground, catching the side of his body as he fell, there was only one thing that Hana saw, one thing that her eyes noticed, the gold and blue ring that lay tight around his finger.  She followed him to the ground and all the while there was a tearing inside of her and she sank, deeper and deeper, drowning in her own pain.

She did not know how long she sat facing him, watching him trying to stem the blood that poured out of his side.  His breathing was ragged and deep moans escaped him.  “Oh God, oh God,” he said, over and over and she listened to him, her eyes unflinching, her fingers still round the butt of the gun.  When he turned to look at her, she saw lines that she never knew he had.

He tried to talk some more but his words came out disjointed and she had to listen hard to hear him.  “You’re in the resistance.”

“The people’s army,” she corrected him and she did not recognise the calm detached voice she heard.

She heard him give a small laugh.  “God, and I was worried those damn cigarettes would kill you.” He started to give half cries and she knew that he was in pain by the way he sat hunched over his side and the panic that broke through his voice.  His blood pooled on the floor and the tang of copper in the air made her dizzy.  The room felt stuffy and she could feel the dark closing in on her.  She matched his ragged breathing with her own rasping breaths.  She could not bear to look at his face, the lips once kissed.

“Why are you on their side?” she asked after awhile, feeling a rush of tears on her face.

“I’m on my people’s side.”

“Your people?  You’re an Otherworlder?”

“Yes, though we call ourselves the Shin-An.”

“I don’t care!” Hana cried, feeling the anger bursting from her.  “Your people have killed thousand of innocent people.  Your people crossed the border with guns and bombs.  You killed hundreds of people.  You’re a monster.”

“I’m a monster?  Hana look at me.  Look at what you’ve done.” Karl said, his voice even, his blue eyes on her.  “How many hits have you done, Hana? How many of us  have you killed?”

Hana felt a hard pounding in her chest.  She sat looking at him, her silence lay like a cloak around her.  “My God, Hana.  You’re Dark Eyes, aren’t you?  Asha, Minte, Ray.  You did them all, didn’t you?”

Hana saw a streak of lightning through the window.  A summer storm.  She lifted the gun again.  “They deserved to die.  Asha blew up a university laboratory.  Nine scientists died, one was pregnant.”

“He was trying to save his wife.  Do you know what they were doing in that lab?  Making toxins that they fed into our streams, filling our water with poison.  You didn’t know that did you?  That wasn’t in your brief was it?” Karl’s anger jarred on her.

“It doesn’t matter.  That doesn’t matter.  He wasn’t innocent.” Hana heard the burst of rain as it broke through the sky.  She remembered Asha.  Her fourth hit, long ago, when she still kept track of the numbers.  She remembered the clean hole the bullet made in his skull, the thin thread of blood that ran smoothly down his face.  She remembered how she had moved through the dark towards home that night and how the numbness had sat deep in her belly, spreading itself through her that when she got home, she could barely open her door, the keys slipping through her fingers.

Hana stood up and moved slowly to Karl, the boards beneath her feet creaking with every step.  When she was up close to him, she bent down, almost touching him.  His face looked pale and she pressed her gun into his temple, feeling his fear pour off him.  She felt her throat constrict and heat fill her body.  Her head filled with the sound of Sam’s laughter and her finger tightened itself round the trigger of the gun.  She could almost see the hole that she would put in the side of his head, how the bullet would bury itself in his skull, piercing through tissue and vessels.  She tried to pull the trigger but her fingers lay useless round the gun.

Karl slumped against the wall behind his back.  HIs voice, when he spoke was quiet but authoritative, a trace of the old lecturer still lingered in his tone.  “A war doesn’t start with bombs.  It starts with subjugation, the plundering of resources, starvation, poverty.  Enemies are not born, they’re made.  God, Hana, think, think, its never as simple as good and evil, is it?”

She stood, threw the gun spinning across the floor.  It hit the wall behind him with a thud and they both winced, drawing deep breaths.  “Sam went to Orchard School.”  She looked at him when she said this and she watched him close his eyes, soft tears sliding down his face.  She kept going, unable to stop this rush of words.  “He had a sore throat that day but I still sent him to school.  They were short at work, I had to go.  I should have kept him home.  He should be here now.” The pain clawed at her and she held her arms round herself for fear that she would break.

He was crying as much as she was now.  She remembered a day, two years ago, when they had only known each other a short time.  It was summer, a hot lazy day.  The way had been going for a while but the city still had places that looked beautiful, where one could lie in the green grass and taste the scent of budding flowers.  They huddled together basking in the splendour of the day when overhead the creeping sound of a plane broke through the clouds.  The splattering of bullets cut through the air, sending people for cover.  Hana had stood there, an overwhelming urge to run into the fire of bullets overtaking her. She ran, towards the plane, strands of grass still in her hair.  He pulled her back, roughly against him.  “Let me go!” she yelled at him and he held her head with his hands, close against him and said, “Fight it, fight it, don’t let them get to you.”

She looked at him now.  He had lost a lot of blood; the floor around him was stained with it.  She moved to the bed and pulled the sheets off.  She started to tear them into strips and when she finished she went to him and pulled his hand away from the wound.  The blood still seeped from the hold and the wound was deep.  He leaned into her and she could smell him.  He smelt of coffee and beer and she almost stopped, wanting to kiss his neck and taste him again.  Instead, she started to wrap the cloth round his body.  Round and round she went, pulling it tight over the wound.  “Thank you,” he whispered to her.  “You need a doctor.  You need to go to hospital,” she said and looked away from him, unable to say more.

“My phone. On the desk.  Ring RC.  The number’s there.  Tell him I’ve been shot.”

After she did this. she moved over to Karl once more, felt his skin, checked his wound.  The blood sat in a congealed mass over the side of entry and Karl sat still, his skin clammy to her touch.  He kept his eyes closed and when she lifted a finger up to his neck, she felt a soft pulse beating against his skin.  He said something, so faint she could barely hear.  “Go.  Better go.  Now.” She pulled herself away from him, feeling a tired ache in her bones.  She remembered watching him that morning, from her window, walking away and how she had felt a sharp pain then at his leaving.  She stepped away from him but as she turned to go, he lifted his hand, reached for her own and she felt the expanse of his hand on hers.  But it soon slipped from hers and she kept moving to the door and away from him.

There was a sharp click and her body tensed, bracing itself for a bullet expecting a slice of pain to hit her any minute.  But a shot never came and she kept moving, not looking back.  As she stepped outside, a heavy rain slashed into her face and she ran into it, her heart beating unevenly and her body trembling.  She moved into the dark, feeling the tears on her face and his dried blood on her hands.  She felt herself breaking then and the smell of burning air lined her lungs, tearing into her.


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