“Are you coming tonight?”
I paused, my back facing the speaker. By the voice, I knew it was my mother.
I returned the book I was holding to its shelf. “Of course. Where else would I be on a Saturday night?”
“Well you better hurry and get ready. I’m heading over now, be there before seven.”
“I will.” I said, turning my head to face her.
She opened the door, and paused in the threshold. “I’m sorry it had to be her.” She said softly. I gazed into her dark blue eyes. They were compassionate, but I knew none of that compassion meant anything when it really came down to it.
When I didn’t offer any response, she left and shut the door without another word. I stayed still until I heard the door lock and Mother’s footsteps recede along the gravel path leading away from our house. I glanced out the window. She was out of sight.
I rushed to the other side of the room, grabbing clothes out of drawers and food out of cupboards and shoving them into my backpack. I grabbed a warm sweater out of my drawer and pulled it on, pulling on my socks and tying my sturdy boots faster than I ever had before. After an additional check out the window to see if my mother was nearby, I opened the door and ran to the stables as fast as I could.
Luckily, our house was farther away from the rest of the village, so I ran around the populated center of our town and off to the other side, reaching the town square on the other end. The stables were near there, so I could sneak into the woods behind the stables and slip in unnoticed by going the long way around. At least that’s what I hoped.
After avoiding any torchlight I saw in the crisp night, I slipped into the forested woods and soon faced the back of the stables. Over the stables I could just see the town square, where the townsfolk were already almost done with their preparations for the Ritual. I knew my mother was helping them set up, somewhere in the cobblestone circle beyond.
I crouched down. The last thing I needed now was someone seeing me. I caught a glance of the Elders in their hooded robes by the square. I cursed them silently. I was among a small few of the Last Ones who did not believe that the Elders were godlings. They were just cruel men, like so many others.
There was a side door in the stable. I cracked it open slowly, and glanced into the gloom. We didn’t keep the horses here anymore, they were kept in a stable farther from town. These stables still reeked of horse-stench, even though they were for people now.
I walked slowly into the near full-dark of the building. There was a single torch that dimly illuminated the interior, casting strange shadows.
“Lila?” I called in a loud whisper. “Lila?” I called again.
“Christy?” I heard a familiar voice call out. I sighed in relief. I had hoped they hadn’t already brought her out in the square to be gawked at. I walked towards where I had heard the voice.
I stopped in front of a stable stall. “Lila, are you there?”
“I’m here.” She said softly.
I opened the stable door. To my surprise, it was unlocked, but then I saw why. Lila was chained by her wrists and ankles, which were attached to the wall.
“I’m here to get you. I have food, clothes, we can run away.”
“It’s hopeless, Christy.” She replied.
“No it isn’t! We should at least try!”
“And go where?” She asked. “We’re the Last Ones, remember?”
“You have a better chance of surviving out there than in here.”
“How would you even get me out of here?” She asked, her head hung low, gesturing to the large shackles restraining her. “If there even is anything out there.”
I fell to my knees and hugged her. She smelled of hay and sweat, but underneath the stench was the distinct fragrance of lilies that was typical for her.
I kissed her.
“I’ll figure it out.” I reassured her. “Don’t go anywhere.” I joked, winking at her.
A small smile flickered on her lips, but she didn’t look very hopeful.
I left the stall and exited the stable. I tried to stay out of sight, while looking for a large rock I could use to smash her shackles. After looking a bit in the woods, I found one I thought was suitable. I rushed back to the stable door, and made my way to her stall.
The stall door was already cracked open, and when I looked inside all that was left of Lila was the shackles. They had already taken her.
I ran into the square. Several bystanders, larger men, grabbed me by the arms and held me back. “Lila! Lila!” I screamed, as I thrashed violently against their hold on me.
There she was, on the stage, strapped to a crucifix. I saw my mother in the crowd. “Mother stop them!” I screamed. At this point, I didn’t care if I was next, or if my mother was. Someone had to stop them.
I thrashed and thrashed but they held me down. The mayor came out in his ceremonial robes, which marked him as an Elder, with a large bejeweled knife in his hand which he cleaned with a velvet cloth. He stepped onto a stool facing Lila, so that his knife could easily reach her neck.
Lila’s pale grey eyes spotted me in the crowd. Tears streamed down her face. “I love you”, she mouthed.
I screamed again, sobbing violently now.
“We are the Last Ones!” Called the mayor into the crowd.
The crowd held up their fists, except for me and my captors, in a gesture that meant pride in being a Last One and devotion to our way of life. I spotted my mother as one of them. She didn’t look at me.
“As the Last Ones it is our duty to keep our community pure. We must prune the thorns. The Elders have chosen.”
He turned back to Lila. In one swift movement, his bronze knife slashed her throat.
It was slow, so slow, the way she died. The blood poured out of her neck, and blood gurgled out of her lips. The lips I had so recently kissed. Her grey eyes, almost white, glanced down at me once more, filled only with fear. Then, in one long moment, she stopped shaking, stopped gurgling. Stopped living.
I fell to my knees, my head in my hands, crying out ‘Lila, Lila…” between sobs so violent I felt as though my lungs were going to rip from the pressure.
After I had collapsed, the men let me go. They didn’t think I was a threat anymore, paralyzed by grief. I reached to my side and grabbed the rock I had retrieved previously. I picked it up and ran full tilt towards the mayor. I was too fast for anyone to catch me in time. Once I reached him I swung the rock over my head and hit him on the skull with a sickening crack that echoed across the square. He fell to the ground, blood gushing from his wound. He twitched pathetically.
There was a hush in the crowd for a moment, then chaos broke loose. People were screaming, others were crying, but most of them were coming to kill me.
I kissed Lila’s hand one last time, then ran for my life.