I throw open the shutters of my room, breathing in the humidity. Just another normal day. They haven’t attacked yet, the League hasn't attacked yet. I peer over at the outer walls, like I do every day. The same sturdy brick construction as always, still just as safe. What do I expect to see every morning? A pile of rubble? A cannonball thrown through them? Do I expect to see them simply stolen like a piece of jewelry? They’ve worked for thousands of years, they should be fine. But then I imagine the League climbing them, their swords slung behind their backs, and desperate, frantic children running away, adults, parents running to battle. No, the warning wasn’t for today, not for another few months. But this is the League, who knows if they lied or not? The town is so peaceful, in blissful ignorance. It makes sense that my dad didn’t tell them, everybody knows that. That way, they won’t go into a frenzy. We’ll be able to salvage normal life. But I feel like a dirty liar every second I don’t bring it up. How many other people would be sticking their heads out the window at 5:00 in the morning if they knew? The sky turns bright pink, reflecting on the yellow and blue of our houses and shops. Everything is always so warm, even the sky. The sticky heat is causing chaos. We’re used to normal weather, not this. Nobody knows what to do since the drought started. The meat has all rotted at the butcher’s shop, the water all but evaporated, only drops being scavenged. Maybe it’s better that way, if we leave the League nothing to steal if they come for us. Maybe they’ll die off too. But then what of the human race would be left? Our footprints in the mud would be our only memory, we’d be as insignificant as a wave washing up on the shore. Maybe that would be better anyway. We’ve already been reduced to two colonies, the Kingdom and the League. The Kingdom tears up land to create better, more beautiful things, but where are the deer now? The rabbits? The songbirds? All gone. The League is worse. Far worse. All they want is to kill, like it will give them power. Or they get some sick pleasure from staring at the emaciated bodies that used to be more. There used to be a third colony, I’ve heard. Long, long ago, there were people who called themselves The Villagers. But eventually, negligence to their population grew, until they began to morph into the Kingdom. Every now and then, you will come across somebody who doesn’t look like they belong, they don’t have platinum blond hair or warm gray eyes. Their skin is deep brown instead of tan. Their noses are hooked rather than button-shaped, their hair the color of charcoal. Bright blue eyes. These are all signs of having some Villager ancestors. I hear it used to be lovely in The Village. I hear that all the shutters and doors were lavender, and pink, and gold, that flowers climbed the shops and houses, leaving the entire place glowing with color. I hear it was warm, and cherry blossoms created shade for anybody who needed it. But some things confuse me. They didn’t have our snowstorm to mark the end of The Frozen Season, and the beginning of The Building Season. They didn’t have a curfew bell telling everybody to go back inside. How did the entire community not go into chaos? How did they do it? But that’s nothing compared to the fact that they didn’t have walls like the Kingdom does. All they had was a sparse forest of maple and magnolia trees. How did they keep safe? I guess they didn’t.
“But it’s not like our walls are doing very well anyway,” I mutter, before clamping my hand over my mouth. Nobody’s listening, I tell myself. You’re fine. I have a hard time believing it though.
I hear a soft tinkling melody in the distance, and quickly close the shutters a bit louder than I’d like, but it’ll all be drowned out by the bell, getting increasingly louder. The morning bell signifies the beginning of a work day. We don’t usually have work on Thursdays, but half of the Kingdom has volunteered to build up defenses against the League. Well, they don’t know it’s the League we’re defending against. We’re practically building a new wall inside of the outer walls, but, unbeknownst to the population of the Kingdom, the space in between them is laced with teargas for the benefit of the League. You’re not allowed out of bed until the morning bell, but I don’t follow that rule, it’s pointless really. Nobody else is up, so nobody can see me. But now people will be looking out their windows at the streets, letting the weather tell them what to wear. Like it won’t be blistering heat as it has been for the past few months. Still, it’s protocol. I thrust myself under the covers, falling limp, only a lump in a tangled mass of bed. I always have to sleep with at least ten pillows every night. I don’t know why, I just do. I feel safer, like they’re my bedroom’s form of the outer walls, like if the League finds me, they won’t kill me. It’s pure delusion, a lie I tell myself to be true. Just the very thought of death horrifies me. In the Kingdom, we’re taught to welcome death, that it will come no matter what we do, but I still can’t shake the fear around it.
I hear rapping knuckles on my door, and a gruff voice coming from the hallway.
“Eve. Get up.” I sigh, trying to calm myself down. My dad isn’t angry, he’s just tired, always, perpetually tired. Or at least that’s what mom told me. He tries the best he can, but sometimes he slips up. We all do I guess. The day I told her that I was worried, we had a brief conversation about it.
She’d sat down with her cup of herbal tea brushing against her lips, still steaming. In that place, where we used to live, she needed the herbal tea to sink into. She always needed to disappear. She was so sad, and having steam rise up into her face made her feel like she didn’t exist. She was happier when she felt that way. I tried not to think about it, I tried to ignore her imaginary absence. She’d let out the breathy sigh that I now perform to calm my heartbeat.
“Honey,” I remember her voice trailing off for a minute, as she vanished again into another puff of steam. Her eyelids would droop, like she was about to sleep. But she never let herself sleep, and she never really seemed to mind either. “Your dad works so late, so hard.” That was true. He practically never stopped working. But he worked from home. He sat in a blue plush chair at his desk, and was on the phone with a colleague the entire time. He was nearly a leader, but mayors run the police and monitor the shops, they don’t write laws, they don’t work on the Kingdom’s infrastructure, or economy. “He’s just so...tired. He needs more sleep.” She didn’t sound like she believed the words escaping her lips. She sounded like she had to defend him. My mom was like his servant, she always treated him with kindness and cooked him food, and did the cleaning. Her love for him was like a leash holding onto an animal. She couldn’t let him go, no matter how unhappy she was. Ever since that day, I gave my dad the benefit of the doubt with his irrational anger. He probably is just tired. I always need to remind myself of that so that I don’t suddenly slip up myself.
“Eve come on, we have to go.” The knuckles on my door rap harder, faster as his patients gets used up.
“Okay,” I say, scrambling to get out of bed. I don’t know where we’re going, he yet again failed to tell me what’s happening. I throw on a flowing green dress with white spots, tugging on it to get the neckline higher up. The knocks stop, and I’m grateful. He must know I’m out of bed. Still, I get worried every time they do, like he’s going to throw a tantrum. Cinching my dress with a make-shift belt from the same fabric, and pulling lacy stockings up to my knees, I slip out the door, and into the hallway. I find myself standing only two inches away from my dad, and he’s not so scary anymore. He’s short, and thin, his face is adorned with wire-framed glasses, and his blonde hair is in short ringlet curls, sitting atop a rounded-out face. He wears a frustrated look, but eventually just mumbles out,
“Blue looks best on you.” I don’t think he intended for me to hear that, but I blush. I shouldn’t care about what I look like to my own dad, but I do. I brush past him, walking to the bathroom to clean my teeth and go.
My dad opens the front door for me, but not for a long enough amount of time. It closes in on me, whacking against my face. But I’m lucky that I’m only hit by the plastic mesh meant to air out the house. I force a smile onto my lips, and laugh it off, even though there’s now a grid-pattern of dirt on my face. I bat it off with my fingertips, trying to seem proper about it, the mayor’s daughter is expected to look perfect all the time. Well, that’s what I’ve been told by my dad anyways. Nobody else seems to bring it up, but everybody stares. I swallow, I hate all the attention I get for the stupidest things. I duck my head, trying to avoid the judgmental eyes. I’m tired of this. I see my dad’s arm moving, no doubt shewing away the stares, because I can hear the bustle of people getting back to taking laundry off strings, and hanging up new garments. I can see feet moving towards the walls to build, and the buzz of talking fills the air. But this all feels forced, fake. The town gossips will definitely spread the news. Did you hear? The mayor’s daughter got a facefull of dirt because of her father! Can you believe it? It’s happened before, the rumors, the stories. Every time they hear of or see my dad act even remotely rude, it becomes the topic of the week. They act like it hasn’t gotten old yet, like it doesn’t happen almost every day.
I pretend I don’t care.
We walk through the square, passing the bakery. Sweet air fills my lungs, but we don’t stop. We don’t even take a moment to breathe in the scent like I used to do with my mom. I finally look up to see a bright yellow sky, streaked with dark gray clouds. The yellow tapers out to teal as you look farther west. The sunrise looks the same every day. First pink, then yellow and teal, then a cold gray-blue. Eventually it brightens up, letting the heat absorb everybody and everything. I hear the League gets rain. Lots. I miss that weather, even if it bothered me before. At least we had good food. At least we had more than two outfits to exist comfortably in.
But this is all nothing compared to the attack warning, so I don’t complain.
We walk on, going by the crooked dirt paths, and past the hodgepodge of houses and shops that is the Central Neighborhood, and reach a vast vineyard sloping sharply upward on a hill, dotted with buttercups. The vineyard is lit with sunlight, as the sunrise turns to daylight, illuminating dewdrops speckling the grass that me and my dad are standing at the edge of, temporarily halted for no apparent reason. The sun is hot on my face, and all I want right now is a rainstorm.
Just at the tip of the horizon, I can see the winery. It has an old shingled roof, light brown stone walls, and a door painted in chipping blue, just like every other building in the Kingdom, but what sets it apart is its size. The winery is the width of six suburban houses—which are considerably bigger than Central Neighborhood houses—and two times the height.
Peeking up behind the winery is a tall, slim steeple, a blue and yellow flag drooping from it, hanging still, due to the lack of wind. If the winery was a single grape, then the Leaders’ Palace would be the entire vineyard. It stretches from the North wall to the South, reaching up above every other building like a shoe about to squash a bunch of ants.
I turn to my dad, about to ask why on Earth we’d be visiting the Leaders’ Palace, but he reads my mind. “We’re going to buy some wine.” I frown. We never have wine. He says that it makes your senses less acute, and gets you more prone to getting yourself hanged. So why now are we buying wine? I open my mouth, about to say something, but find no respectful way to question this trip.
He turns toward me, and peers down a few inches to meet eyes. “Eve, you don’t say a word. You follow silently, and you don’t say a word. You have to listen to me. Understand?” I nod, confused, but I listen to his rule, not wanting anything bad to happen, not that anything bad would happen necessarily.
He starts to walk up the hill, and I follow, being careful not to squash the buttercups. The hill seems so much taller now that I’m actually climbing it. I see my dad is up ahead by quite a distance. I push ahead, trying to catch up. I don’t know this area of town, and I don’t want to get lost.
A horn pokes out of one of the bushes and vines in straight rows. It’s curved and ridged threateningly, but points away from me. It lives on the head of a wheat-colored goat with shocking green eyes. Goats are one of the few animals that were able to survive the great build. This is mostly because of their nature to eat anything and everything, and, of course, their horns. Now, they thrive, simply because there are hardly any other competitors for food, and all of their potential predators were wiped out. You see them wandering around everywhere. Some people choose to farm them for milk and cheese. The more domestic ones know not to eat crops, but the kids and non-familial ones tend to get into places they shouldn’t and tear up an entire season’s-worth of work.
I know I shouldn’t, but I go to pet it. I studied goats in fifth grade three years ago, and know how to handle them. I approach it with caution at first, and find it trying to grab a grape with its teeth. I laugh, and pet the top of its head. My dad, now about fifty feet ahead of me, looks back at the sound of my laughter.
A state of panic washes over him so fast that it startles me. I step away from the goat and raise my eyebrows in confusion. “Eve, come here now.” His voice is unsteady, but firm, almost angry. I walk to him, still not saying a word. “You don’t go up to random animals!” he says, his voice in a loud whisper, but I can tell his overwhelming distress isn’t just about rabies. What is with that goat?