Ch. 6: Clara’s Visions
Clara’s first visions had been so many years ago now. Clara had woken up by the river that flowed along one edge of the village. She shivered with sweat in the night breeze. She stood entranced by the flow of the river: the rushing water, the intense current that cut under the surface of the water, and later surfaced, in bubbles and crashing waves, the eddies that swirled near the edge. It played out just like the dream she’d just awoken from. In it, though, she had been in the river, fighting with every last reserve of energy to keep her head above water. But she had bobbed in the current, her head dunking below the surface too many times, and with no warning, so that her lungs gurgled with the inhaled splashes. She suddenly felt like all was wrong in their world. Or at least hers. She ran back to her hut, little bare feet in dirt and mud. The conifer canopies bent back and forth in a sway with the breeze. They hovered above her and reached for her. They creaked and moaned in the dark night.
When she arrived back at her hut, the guards were sat slumped in a heap on either side of the door. One snored while the other one mumbled incoherently. She tip-toed past them, didn’t bother to wipe off her feet, and climbed under her covers. She’d wanted so desperately, even at that young age, to wake up Gage, sleeping nearby. All that she’d seen and experienced swelled in her chest until she felt she might explode. Waking an elder had never occurred to her, and she had gone to sleep that night knowing, just knowing there are certain things you don’t tell the elders. As she fell under the weight of a fit full sleep, in the back of her mind, growing like a migraine, were the thoughts of what would happen to her if they found out about her visions. Her hands shook and her palms sweated with the thought.
It had been days before anything happened. And then it did. Clara had ducked away from the guards while they had been busy breaking up a fight between Hope and Gage. She ran down past the rows of huts, all uniformly sized, down past the amphitheater, and rushed to the river’s edge. She didn’t notice the parishioner pinned to a log in the fast moving waters at first. What she had noticed was the flapping of a bright colored piece of material, a shirt perhaps. She edged closer to the fast moving waters. Then, slowly, he came into view: the bald head, the arms bobbing on the surface of the water, the legs submerged deep in the current. The blood drained out of her face and she was left stone cold and shaking with the knowledge of what her dream had meant. She hadn’t put the pieces together until hearing the news. She was a kid after all. She’d thought it a nightmare.
She ran back to the guards as fast as her legs could carry her. She told them of what she had found. They notified an elder and raced to the river. They’d been in such a hurry, they’d not even bothered to ask her why she was there or reprimand her for ducking out on them.
The children, left on their own, wandered down to the river. They arrived just as the guards had pulled the body out. Clara stared into his eyes, wide open with terror. His mouth gaped like a scream had been frozen in time. Rigamortis had already set in and there were no softening of his features. There was no sugar coating it for her, a still a child, or for his family, off in their hut crying for the man they’d known.
In the years that followed, Clara had never been able to get away from the look on that man’s face. His face was there when she closed her eyes tight. There when the darkness consumed the land. There when she woke in a fit to the sun rising over the hills.
The elders had taught that there would be peace in death, but that corpse, the dead man, was as non-peaceful a thing as you can get. She wondered if they were wrong. She wondered if everything they’d said was misguided. Death to her seemed anything but peaceful and she imagined that if he’d left to meet his maker, he’d fought that maker tooth and nail, with everything he had to remain on earth.
In the years that followed, Clara would see that man’s face in her dreams. She’d twist and turn in her sleep and attempt to claw her way through the water and either escape its grasp, or alternately, to reach him. She didn’t know why the nightmares alternated like that. And that’s what they were, nightmares, not really dreams per se. She wondered why she had to be weighed down with such things.
In the years that followed, Clara would wake to sweat and heaving more times than she cared to. She’d wake to a racing heart and a confusion about what was actually happening around her and she’d wake to fear of what she’d see when she opened her weary eyes.
She was glad the elders still held the book knowledge in them, past down through the generations. She often picked their brains and broached the subject of dreams without disclosing her visions.
The elders called it the hypnogogic state, a state when you’re dreaming but still recording the world around you and then you incorporate those elements into your dreams. But she knew that couldn’t be what was happening to her because she had the dreams before the events happened.
The young people had knowledge, but it was of the land and of the water. Of living and growing up and experiencing life head on. The knowledge the elders had were of experiments, of science that you derive from a lab or from school.
Clara remembered when she finally did tell Gage of her visions. She had shook with fear. What if he didn’t understand, she had thought. There were so many fears in this life. Fear of being hurt, fear of being attacked, fear of being exiled. She had whispered to him while playing in the field. “Gage, I need to speak with you.”
Gage grabbed the ball from her and kicked it like a beanie bag with his feet. He’d always been good at sports and now he dazed her with his acrobatic feet. “Don’t tell me, you need some pointers on how to play better.” He had laughed.
“No, it’s about the dead man,” She couldn’t bring herself to use his name. “I dreamt of the river before he died.”
“We all dream of the river, Clara. It’s the lifeblood of this place.”
“No, I mean, it was as if I were drowning. And I woke up at the edge of the river. I woke up there.”
Gage dropped the ball and stood staring into her worried eyes. “I always knew there was something special about you.”
“I’m serious, Gage.”
“So am I.”
Something special. Clara didn’t know about all that. Maybe something broken, she thought. She had shaken with confusion during her first vision. It had been a strange year, with her being name Keeper and she’d first wondered if the stresses of the new job were getting to her. But no, she had thought, the new job had brought so much more into her life. More love, more companionship, more activity.
Ch. 7: The Massacre
On the day Clara had turned 13, the elders followed the trail in a procession to her hut and woke her up. The village people teetered on tip toes behind them to get a good view of the events. She yawned and wiped the sleep out of her eyes as the elders knelt down before her. They unrolled a scroll and read from it. They spoke of rules and regulations, hopes and dreams. At the end, they said “The children are our future. We the elders, and every one of the village people before you today, takes the roll of The Keeper of the Young as sacred. The Keeper ensures the youth stay young while they are of an age where training for The Great Celebration is out of the reach. The Keeper protects the young. The Keeper watches over the young all day, until they can be released to their parents’ in the evening. The Keeper ensures our future. Clara, do you take the roll of The Keeper?”
“Yes.” She had said. “Yes.”
“Due to your still young age, you’ll be accompanied by armed guards during Keeping hours, until you’ve been tested in The Great Celebration.”
The village people whispered in the dark about the massacre that befell the last keeper when she was only an infant. She had already been told about the tragedy. Clara, Hope, and Gage hadn’t grown up in as relatively carefree way as the kids she would soon watch. The kids would laugh and play and tumble in front of her. They would run and skip and holler. That was the Keeper’s job, after all, to make sure the kids grow up without the stresses of this life. Clara, Hope, and Gage, on the other hand, had grown up with no Keeper, under armed guards 24/7, as a result of the massacre.
It had been a day like any other, if only a little warmer. It had been the first seventy degree day after a long winter. The kids hooted and hollered and raced through the fields to the edge of the woods where two guards stood talking.
The Keeper nodded at the guards as he approached them. The sunlight shone bright in the open field, reflected off the dew still clinging to the grasses. “Thought I’d bring them to the edge of the village to explore. Maybe run off some of the long winter’s steam. You know how it builds up ‘round here.” He’d long since been through the Great Celebration. So long ago, in fact, that his hairline had receded and the tips of it had been frosted grey by time.
The kids yelled out commands at one another. “Stop. You’re trespassing.”
“Keep your voices down kids.” He said, then with a flourish, “We wouldn’t want the wake the Beasties.”
The kids screamed and giggled at the mention of the Beasties.
Two guards stood beside him.
The Keeper laughed at the kids’ rambunctiousness. “Well, we’re off to finish our patrol. Good luck with the young ones.” One said. The other nodded. They turned and walked away. The guards had later reported they’d heard screaming from across the village. But they’d chalked it up to the kids’ antics and continued on their rounds.
Early the next morning, elders found the bodies strewn across the edge of the woods. They never spoke openly of the blood that must’ve lain in pools at their feet. Or the defensive wounds—deep slashes on little hands. Or clean marks left by dried tears down dirty faces. What they said could be easily summed up. The Keeper dead. The six rowdy children, dead. Everything the village had been working so hard for, gone. But she’d heard a rumor that the first thing they had said had come from pursed lips, “Those animals!”
Those animals. She mimed the words with her mouth. Those simple words meant it wasn’t animals at all but some depraved human being. She’d long since been warned. These woodlands were filled with Sociopaths looking to fulfill a deep urging in them—to kill. The stories circled their collective imaginations like ghost stories at a campfire. Some said the government had sent them to destroy the dissenters. Born of a government program to turn them into killers, the Sociopaths had bloomed into their full capacity. Others said they were regular people, gone mad in the wake of The Great Blaze that had turned the landscape to ash. Others said it was neither, that these people were simply born without a conscience and when The Gathering happened and everyone with common sense went to live in a government built secured facility, the Sociopaths had stayed behind and jumped at the opportunity to make the USA their hunting grounds. She shuddered thinking of them.