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Drama Fiction Speculative

Rhea slipped quietly past the guards at the front gate. It was well past midnight and if she was caught another demerit would be added to her file. She was a wispy sort of girl that most people ignored when they walked by, so getting past the guards at the gate was relatively simple, as long as she stayed in the shadows. As inconspicuous as she was, it didn’t mean that she wouldn’t run into a patrol while out in the forest. The risk was necessary because she needed to know about life outside the walls.

Rhea lived in a community called the Brambles, which was torture for a curious person like her. The rest of the settlers thought nothing of following the rules and regulations, but not Rhea. She was a free spirit and she was suffocating living here. The community had formed not long after what the older people called The Severing. Why it was called that Rhea didn’t know. The elders of the community refused to discuss it. Rhea had many theories, but no one listened. Were other communities out there? What if theirs was the only one?

Rhea had been a child when The Severing occurred, only three years old or so. She figured she was somewhere in her twenties now. An older couple named Pearl and Neil had found her by the side of the road, crying and hugging a teddy bear. Rhea still had the bear, but time had not been kind. It was now missing an eye and part of an ear, the result of an unfortunate encounter with a stray dog that wandered into the community.

For twenty years she lived with Pearl and Neil until a mysterious sickness came and took them from her. That happened six months ago, and with nothing tying her to the Brambles she was ready to leave, but that was the problem. In her entire time living at the Brambles, no one ever left. If anyone did leave no one talked about it or saw it happen. People were there one day and gone the next. Exploration beyond the borders of the community was forbidden. It was for their ‘own safety’ the leaders told them. It was the number one rule of the Brambles and it was the one that Rhea despised the most. She constantly questioned the leaders why this rule was in place, but never received a satisfactory answer. She mostly took slaps and punches for asking. Therefore, Rhea took to sneaking out after curfew in order to explore the world outside the Brambles walls.

Tonight she was heading to an abandoned building that she had discovered a couple of weeks earlier. It had large windows across the front and broken statues by the front door. A damaged sign said “B-R-A-R-Y” Rhea wondered what a ‘Brary’ was. Had they stored food here, or perhaps it was a place where people lived? Rhea was determined to find out the secrets this mysterious building held.

After walking until her legs ached, Rhea decided she needed a break. She settled herself under the lofty branches of an old gnarled tree. Pulling open her bag, she grabbed the sandwich and canteen of water. Rhea had carefully rationed her own personal food supply in order to have some for her journey. The community leaders kept a close eye on it, so stealing food from the community pantry wasn’t an option.

Exhaustion was overwhelming her, and Rhea knew she was taking a risk by closing her eyes, but chose to anyway. Sleep had eluded her since she first discovered the building. It had appeared in front of her like a vision. She had to pinch herself to make sure what she was seeing was real. Rhea wished she could remember life before The Severing, then maybe she could understand all the rules she was supposed to follow. It might make her life in the Brambles a bit more bearable.

The leaves rustled nearby, caused her to wake with a start. She peered around the trunk and was relieved to discover the ‘noise’ was simply a deer in search of acorns. Gathering up the remnants of her meal, she stood up and continued walking.

Luckily, Rhea didn't encounter any patrol the rest of the way. She should be relieved, but there was a gnawing thought at the back of her mind. No patrols weren’t necessarily a good thing.

Looming up ahead stood the remnants of the ‘Brary’. Carefully, she picked her way through the grounds and up to the front of the building. The entrance was boarded over and rusted chains were looped through the handles. Rhea reached into her sack and pulled out a decrepit hammer. The head was mottled with rust and there were chips missing from the wooded handle, but it was serviceable. She had found the hammer on another one of her ventures outside the confines of the Brambles. Most of the boards nailed to the door were rotted, so the worn tool made quick work of them. The rusted chains took a little longer to break, but she managed to get the job done.

Once inside, she pulled a lantern from her sack and lit it to get a better view of her surroundings. There were shelves all over the place; knocked over and their contents scattered. Rhea bent down to examine the debris. They were…Rhea was having a hard time coming up with the word… Books! That was it! Pearl used to talk about them all the time and how she wished there were some in the Brambles. This must be a place where books were once stored!

Rhea sat her lantern on the floor and picked up the book nearest to her. The cover was worn and impossible for her to read. She flipped through the pages hoping to find pictures. Pearl had taught her letters, how to write her name, and how to count, but her schooling didn’t extend beyond that. Rhea leaned against a wall and began searching through the piles of books for one she might be able to pick her way through. After half a dozen books, she gave up and headed further into the building. She found more of the same the further she went into the building, toppled shelves, chairs, and tables. There had to be more here than just broken furniture and books.

In one room she finally found something more. Hung on the wall were drawn pictures of land masses and bodies of water. Those would be useful to help find more resources or maybe other communities like their own. Another room contained thin pieces of paper with more writing and pictures on them. These new materials fascinated Rhea and she couldn't wait to discover what they were and what they were used for.

She gathered a few books and other materials she found into her sack. First things first, she was going to have to learn to read, so she grabbed a couple of simple looking books with lots of pictures to add to her growing stash. Since she already knew the basics, perhaps it wouldn't take long before she was able to understand the rest of the material.

Quickly, she exited the building and disguised her breaking and entering the best she could. Halfway back to the Brambles, Rhea was nearly discovered by a patrol. She hid herself in the hollow of a tree, covering the entrance with sticks and leaves. As the voices grew louder, she did her best to steady her breathing. If she was discovered, her plan would fail before it even began! The voices eventually faded, but Rhea stayed in her hiding place until she was sure that it was safe. She hurried back to the gate slipping in while the guards were distracted.

Inside her living quarters, Rhea tucked her bag away in a secret spot. It was too late to work on her plan now, it would have to wait. Right now all she wanted to do was sleep. Curling up on her bed, she closed her eyes, and let her dreams took over.


Six Months Later


Rhea was running. Not because she enjoyed it, but because a patrol had spotted her outside the walls. She flitted between the trees looking for a place to hide. She noticed the old hollow tree that had saved her only months ago. Crawling inside,she hunkered down and prayed she wouldn't be seen. There hadn’t been time for concealing the entrance.

In the past six months, she had made numerous trips to and from the ‘Brary.’ With each trip she learned more and more. Using the children’s books, she taught herself to read and was now tackling some of the thicker books in the ‘Brary.’ Rhea discovered that the pictures with land and water on them were called ‘maps.’ She learned about places called New York and Los Angeles and oceans called the Atlantic and Pacific. She also uncovered mentions of a horrible event, in the newspapers she found. They were damaged in several places, but Rhea could make out something about battles being fought and the sending of troops. The Severing must have been worse than she realized, but she knew she was on the right track. It was just going to take more time.

Lanterns swung across her hiding place, Rhea held her breath and pushed herself inside of the tree as best she could. The lanterns soon turned away and she breathed a sigh of relief that came out louder than she meant it to.

“Come out from your hiding place,” a voice called, “I know you’re there. I can hear you.”

She was caught! All of her careful planning, gone! She considered running, but that would just make things worse. There was nothing left to do but surrender.

“All right, I'm coming out.” Rhea emerged from her hiding place, hands in the air.

The patrolman jerked her closer to him and thrust the lantern right into her eyes. The sudden movement of light caused Rhea to flinch. That only made the patrolman tighten his grip on her arm.

“Do you know how much trouble you are in?” the patrolman said menacingly. The meanest, most brutal members of the community were chosen to be patrolmen. The one that caught Rhea was no exception. He was like a warthog in men’s clothing with breath that would wilt a field of flowers.

She wasn’t about to let this man know how terrified she felt. She stood tall and let her silence do the talking for her.

“Nothing to say for yourself?” the man spat at her as he squeezed her arm tighter and tighter. Rhea wanted to cry out, but she wasn’t going to give the patrolman the satisfaction.

“Eventually you’ll talk, if not to me then to one of the leaders, now march!” The patrolman shoved her forward as he said this. Rhea continued to say nothing, she was focused on what she would say once she arrived back at the Brambles.

She knew she wasn’t going to throw herself on the mercy of the community leaders. Rhea was going to tell them everything that she had been doing for the past six months. Then she was going to demand they tell her exactly why things were the way they were.

Through the front gates they marched, a patrolman on either side of her. The community leaders all lived in a series of buildings in the center of town and that's where they were headed. Whatever was going to happen to her, Rhea knew they wanted no record of it. That's why they were taking her there instead of the community hall where punishments were generally handed out.

One of the patrolmen knocked on a door and waited. Rhea could hear a shuffling of feet and grumbling on the other side. The door unlocked and there stood Bryon Hargraves, the man in charge of The Brambles.

“What is the meaning of this!?” Hargraves said gruffly. “Do you know what time it is?,” he continued in the same gruff voice

“Apologies, Mr. Hargraves, Sir, but you said if we ever caught someone outside the walls to bring them straight to you. She hasn't told us her name though,” the warthog patrolman said in an oily voice.

Mr. Hargraves turned his head to look at Rhea. His beady eyes bored into Rhea’s green ones. She wanted to turn away, but she forced herself to return his stare. After another agonizing moment, Mr. Hargraves looked away and told the patrolmen to release her.

“Thank you for bringing her to me. I know exactly who she is and I will take it from here.” Mr. Hargraves said, grabbing Rhea's arm. The patrolmen saluted Hargraves and left.

“Won't you come in, Miss Rhea, and make yourself comfortable,” Mr. Hargraves said with a smile that did not quite reach his eyes.

Rhea didn't answer, she just stepped inside the building, her resolve starting to waver, but she wasn't going to let Hargraves know that. She marched in and took a seat on a couch. Hargraves sat across from her in a high-backed wooden chair that shined from a recent cleaning. He laced his fingers together and cleared his throat.

“It seems we have a bit of a problem, Miss Rhea,” Mr. Hargraves began, his voice barely above a whisper.

Rhea opened her mouth to reply, but was cut off by Mr. Hargraves.

“I know what you have been doing these past six months. You thought you were so clever, but not clever enough it seems.” He sighed and leaned back in his chair.

“If you know what I've been doing then why aren't I being punished? Rhea replied, her resolve coming back to her.

“You aren't being punished because I want the same things that you do. We've been isolated from the rest of the country for far too long. It's time for our punishment to be over!”

“What do you mean about the rest of the country?” Rhea said, her voice rising. “And what's this about a punishment?” She was no longer afraid of the man in front of her.

“You know that years ago there was an incident called The Severing, correct?” Mr. Hargraves asked.

“Yes, but I was a small child when that happened so I don't know anything about it other than its name.” Mr. Hargraves flinched slightly. Rhea continued, “I asked constantly, but no one would answer. It was like people were afraid of mentioning it," she finished. Rhea’s curiosity was rising, she waited for Hargrave to continue.

“The Severing, my dear, was an uprising against the government of our country. It was a chance to ‘sever’ ourselves away from a government that sought to control every aspect of our lives. There were a few victories in the beginning, but the insurrectionists were ill prepared. The government crushed the movement with absolute devastation and forced those who participated into prison communities as punishment. Beyond these walls are more walls that separate us from the rest of the country.

It was beginning to make sense to Rhea now, the constant surveillance, food rations, endless rules, and the punishments. She had been raised in a prison, she was currently living in a prison! Angry didn’t even begin to cover what Rhea was feeling. She was on a whole other level of furious. Without thinking, Rhea stood up, her hand balled into a fist ready to beat Mr. Hargraves with every inch of her being.

Mr. Hargraves was too quick to her. He jumped up, knocking his chair over in the process and pulled a gun on Rhea.

“Sit down please, Miss Rhea, if you want to leave this room alive.” Mr. Hargraves steadied his gun right at her head.

Rhea sat back down, without taking her eyes off of him. She couldn’t make any more mistakes, not if she wanted the truth. She was going to have to play by his rules.

“Now if I may continue,” Mr. Hargraves reached behind him and sat his chair upright and returned to it all the while keeping his gun trained on Rhea.

“Fine, can you tell me why I spent my entire childhood living in a prison?” What did I have to do with the severing? I was only a child, a child!” Rhea was shouting now, regardless of the gun pointing at her.

“You weren’t supposed to be here!” Mr. Hargraves shouted back!

A silence fell across the room. It creeped in-between the sofa cushions and under the rugs. After a moment, Rhea spoke, her voice shaking as she did.

“What do you mean I wasn’t supposed to be here?”

“Your parents were traitors that were killed trying to escape back across the border. The patrolmen were going to kill you as well, but decided to abandon you to the elements.Pearl and Neil found you as they came through as part of a prisoner transfer. They refused to move any further until they were allowed to take you with them. It was a risky move, by all rights, they should have been killed, but there was a sympathetic guard that allowed Pearl and Neil to keep you. That’s how you ended up at the prison camp.” Mr. Hargraves finished with a frustrated look.

It was the truth she was looking for, she should be relieved, but all she felt was emptiness. She stared hard at him and said. “What do you want from me ?”

“I have a proposition for you, and if you accept it maybe, just maybe it will be a step toward a reconciliation between The Brambles and the rest of the country.”

He smiled down the barrel of the gun.

“So, Miss Rhea, are you in or not?”


April 26, 2024 18:02

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2 comments

David Sweet
21:29 Apr 27, 2024

A fun story, but I don't necessarily understand the need for the gun at the end. She isn't really resisting. I know it perhaps is to show what a bad person he is, or to show the violence of the place, but it seems that she needs to resist or refuse or something to warrant this escalation at the end. I am curious where the story is going. Way to keep it going and "putting it out there one story at a time."

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Bethany Walters
15:17 Apr 28, 2024

Thanks for the feedback, I do plan on continuing the story at some point.

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