The thunder echoed in Effie’s pounding head, cold rain hit her eyelids, and the icy wind woke her fully to her core. It was as if her nightmares had dropped her on her feet in a new location. Her head felt heavy, like she wasn’t on land, but on a boat, as waves swayed her mind up and down. She pulled her focus together enough to see if she was in one piece.
Her arms were painful and sore, with scratches all over, but not broken. Her head hurt, but not bleeding at least. Looking down at her legs:
They aren’t as bad as I expected. They hurt, and looked like they were dragged through the rocks, but they will work, Effie thought as she pulled herself up. Iwill need to be able to walk to get home. But where is home?
She tried to remember how she got here:
The river... trying to take her down, gasping for air. That was all that rang in her head at the moment. It would take a moment to get through that fog, of trying to breathe. Trying to stay above the water, and off the rocks was all she could picture. As she rose to her feet she wasn't sure where the ground went, her balance was still underwater.
Why am I in this situation? How did I end up in the river?? she desperately tried to remember,
her head trying to fight back against thinking while gaining her land legs. I can swim, but
I wouldn't have gone swimming in the River Sticks, the river overrun with dead burnt trees,
and boulders. No one used it for anything let alone swimming. The water, that no boat or
swimmer would ever attempt to cross, even with good weather. The river got wide and narrow
but never got easier to trek. The only bridge for that river had long since been destroyed by
whichever battle last crossed it. Too many battles to keep track. It’s not like the war has ended in
anyone’s lifetime, and it will probably continue forever.
The image and sound of the crashing water flashed in Effie’s mind again unwarranted. Heart racing, head spinning faster - nauseous, she finds her bearings under an oak tree. The cold ground feels softer than anything after the rocks hurling towards her moments ago. Her thoughts, trying to find focus on ‘how did she get here’, and how far she must have gone down river. She remembered the falling, the feeling of fighting, she was fighting someone, someone was fighting her back as they were ... stronger, someone…someone she knew… she knew them … they wanted her dead… because she…
That’s when it hit her. All of it came rushing back, as strong and as harshly as the river had
been. The tax man! He had come for the abby! He had come for the last place the lost had to
claim as their own. Effie and her friends would be on the streets. They had taken everything.
How would they get through the winter!? Where my friends now?!
When begging and pleading had failed her, and she had nothing left… she tried fighting him.
She felt truly a fool. How could she make these same mistakes as so many before her.
She knew they couldn’t fight the king’s orders for more to be taken from his
citizens. It was futile. But so was anything they tried, so fighting was the only option that she saw
left. If she was going down, at least she would be looking up on the way.
Effie tried remembered the tax man, his name was G something, Groman, Gromore, Grover, that was it Grover, the rich jerk, with his jackets so heavy he could barely keep a hold of Effie as she flailed around, her legs kicking as fast as they could, as he picked her up over his head, to throw her in the river.
He was a large built man, over 6’5’’ and shoulders as wide as Effie was tall. He laughed at first,
at her foolishness, for even trying to fight him. But when her small fist hit his nose, he lost his
grin. He barely had time to back hand her before she stomped on his foot and pushed through him with all her might. Knocking him backwards and hitting his head on the ground.
Attacking the tax man for sure was going to get Effie locked up, so she ran like the wind, but not far at all, to the banks of the river Sticks. Before she ever had time to look back to see if he was keeping up, he was yanking her back by her jacket up into the air and down to the ground, The thud could still be heard in her head, as she took shelter from the cold under the line of trees and brush while piecing this together.
The cruel river took her from there, away from everything she ever knew, her only piece left of her home. Though not much was left. Her friends that now counted as family meant so much to her, but she couldn’t help them now, she wasn’t even sure if she could help herself right now.
She could only hope they were okay after losing the abbey. The old building had been long
abandoned after the battle of Squires took the last of the nobles from the area. So most people Effie saw were the poor, the people who before the wars had belonged to farming families, small communities, and towns that had not a lot, but enough.
Now in each former town along the road you’ll find: broken windows, collapsed roofs, everything fading from what it once was. You'd be lucky while traveling if you're not robbed or arrested to fight in the next battle.
The painted flowers of the beautiful doors on many homes, faded or entirely gone. The streets cluttered with discarded shop carts no one will pull again. Fields empty of food, just hungry people who have nothing left. Most able bodied people had long died, from being forced into battle after battle with communities they didn’t even hate, people they loved, fighting people they cared about… till no one was left. Except the kids, and the elderly or disabled.
Now most of the kids are young adults, the few adults left in town aren’t what they once were. Injured in body and mind from the war. Effie was the closest thing many of her friends had to an older sister or adult. She’s 20 years old, so not a kid, and not sure what being an adult would even mean any more. But she wanted everyone safe. And she tried for the last few years to care for her found family.
Under the oak tree where Effie found shelter, she wished Jerrico was here, he would know at least how to read the stars to get them home, but he also wouldn’t have been as afraid. Effie was finding herself rather afraid with out him.
Jerrico was Effie’s best friend, he was probably about 21 but who knows when you can’t ask
your parents. He lost his dad to the Battle of Hilsks during the bombing that took their last home when Jerrico was probably 13 years old.
His dad had taken care of them before that. Jerrico kind of took over the role of dad to all the
kids younger than them, he avoided thinking about his dad being gone by taking that role and
not looking back. But Effie didn’t feel like mom, more like sister, because she didn’t have a mom in any memory of her own. She lost her but not to the war. One day Effie just realized that she didn’t have a mom, when it seemed others did. Before she could ask her dad about it, he was off to another battle. One of which he never returned from, assumed dead. Effie was about 8 years old then.
Jerrico was tall, smart, eyes gray like the stormy skies, and skin as dark as evening. His dark hair was short on the sides, and long enough on top to be twisted into locks that weren’t too long to get into his eyes. His smile kept most people comforted, the kids they looked after, the people he would ask for help, the few people left trying in the ruins of Newcastle. He could smile his way out of most situations, probably how he’s avoided being drafted so far. Jerrico knew the stars, the stories, and the ways from before the fire and destruction ruined most everything. He learned all he could from his dad in the time they had together. It kept them all alive more than once. But now Effie was alone.
The only thing clear to Effie after enduring this journey so far, was she needed rest to think
clearly again. Her body was less damaged than she feared but her mind still wasn’t out of the
Paradise kept behind impenetrable walls and hidden from anyone deemed the working class or poor. Where everything is in abundance, food regenerates and grows more of itself endlessly. Medicine for every ailment comes from the many plants in the garden. The water is clean and clear. But when Effie learns of this endless resource, she will stop at nothing to bring it to her people.
Can her found family survive till she returns? Can Effie trust the people she meets along the way?