The Shattered Stones of Fate- A Dwellers Short Story
A character guest post by Adele Rose from The Dwellers Saga by David Estes
Hours before The Moon Dwellers
Sometimes time ticks by at a pace so dismal you can almost see the stones of fate gathering moss before your very eyes. And other times…well, life seems to roar past with the speed of an inter-Realm through-train, whipping your hair around your face and forcing your eyes shut against the airborne debris.
Today starts with the former, but you can never guess which way it’ll end.
Class is heavy and tight on my skull, full of “important” dates and wars and a history that only half sounds real. Did humans really live on the earth’s surface once? It’s hard to believe, and yet everyone says it’s true. And if they did, why did they seem to be constantly in the midst of disagreement and strife?
My grandmother—may she rest in peace—used to say that being outside was like laughter and a warm blanket and the hug of a friend; but of course, those were the same things her mother had told her. No one really knows anymore—all we have are stories from the generations before us. Do I believe them?
Does it matter if I don’t?
I massage a knot in my forehead, the beginning of a sharp headache. Something pokes me from behind. I ignore it.
“Gannon, you do that again and I’ll break your arm,” I hiss.
“Ms. Rose…something to share?” Mrs. Hill asks, stopping in mid-lecture, her hands on her hips.
“No,” I mumble, writing Gannon on my blank notebook page. When the teacher resumes her monologue about some kind of civil war, I slash through Gannon’s name with a single stroke of my pencil.
You’ve got to be kidding me. I whirl around, my pencil snapping under the strain of my fingers, which are already curling into fists. My chair falls over with a slam. “Do that I again…” I say, pushing the unfinished threat out into the air.
Gannon’s face is even whiter than usual, his big blue eyes as wide as false moons. “I—I—”
“Yeah, everyone’s sorry,” I say, feeling bad seeing Gannon look so scared. After all, he’s one of the few people who are ever nice to me anymore. But my breathing is heavy, my blood running hot and angry through my veins. An overreaction. Something my father has always warned me against.
I try to swallow it down but all I get is a lump in my throat.
Suddenly I’m aware of the many eyes on me, staring, some with open mouths of shock and others with smirks of amusement. I cringe and turn to face Mrs. Hill, who’s placed her lesson plan on the table in front of her. Never a good sign.
I know I should apologize but the lump gets in the way. So I just stare at her, feeling my face redden.
“I’ll not have students threatened in my classroom,” the teacher says. I’m already grabbing my pack and pushing for the door when she says, “Detention. Now.”
The grey-stone halls are empty and hollow, like the feeling I’ve had in my chest ever since the other kids started talking about my father a week ago. I asked Father about it, but he swears everything’s okay, that it’s no big deal, that the rumors and gossip are exaggerations. But his words don’t match his eyes like they usually do. He’s protecting me from the truth: a dangerous world has become infinitely more dangerous.
As I stride down the hall toward the detention room—my fourth such journey in the last week—the playground shouts hit me like bursts of gunfire:
“Your father’s a dead man!”
“Better start looking for a new dad!”
I touch a hand to my gut, half-expecting to feel moist holes in it, but all I get is the brittle texture of my school-tunic. Dead man! New dad! Complainer!
Are things really that bad? If they weren’t, would I have broken those three kids’ noses? Would I have two black eyes and fire roaring through my skin?
When I reach the detention room, I glance through the window and see the regulars: Drummer, the heavily pierced kid who can’t seem to stop tapping his fingers on his desk; Gina, the girl with the spiked purple hair and unexplained scars up and down her arms; Chuck, the dude who smells funny and is addicted to pulling bad pranks. Freaks. Am I one of them?
I stride past the room and push through the school doors. Mother will be furious when she finds out I ditched school again, but she’ll just have to deal.
There are a couple of punks on the corner, smoking something that doesn’t smell like normal cigarettes. “Try it,” one of them says as I pass, holding out a joint.
An insane urge to kick him rolls through me, balanced only by a desire to take him up on his offer. I ignore him and run past, wishing my feet had wings—that I could fly: out of subchapter 14 of the Moon Realm. Out of the underground world of caves and rock and disappointment. Excitement shivers down my spine at the thought, making me feel nauseous because of the conflicting emotions, like I’m spinning and spinning.
Turning a corner, I take the next block in stride. It’s only when I reach my neighborhood that I slow to a jog, hoping Mother will be out.
Worse, she’s standing in front of our house, looking right at me, like she has delinquent-radar or something. I stop, consider turning and running in the other direction, think better of it, and cautiously approach her.
“I know what you’re going to—” I start to say.
“Come inside, I’ll make you something to eat,” Mother says, cutting me off.
She turns and makes her way back to our small stone cube of a house, holding the door for me. I follow her inside, wondering whether this is one of those mom-pretends-to-be-your-friend-as-punishment teaching moments. I hope not—I’d prefer a harsh punishment dealt by a swift hand any day.
“I shouldn’t have left school,” I say, dumping my pack and my words in a heap on the floor. My only hope is to control the conversation.
“No, you shouldn’t have,” Mother says. She doesn’t sound angry. Why?
She starts chopping something with a dull knife. Potatoes. I gawk at her, unable to feel my feet, like I’m floating. Who is this woman?
Before I can consider the possibilities, Father pushes through the back door. “Hi, Adele,” he says, as casually as if school and work are meant to be over.
“Why aren’t you at the mines?” I ask, more sharply than I intended.
“Why aren’t you at school?” he counters, but a smile plays on his lips. His eyes disagree with his mouth, remaining downcast and tired, like he’s just woken up.
“The school called,” Mother says, stirring a pot. “Adele was supposed to go to detention but she left.”
God. Word travels fast. Mrs. Hill must have expected it. “I hate school,” I say. I hate people, I don’t say.
“I know,” Father says, to my surprise. If Mother is a clone, Father is a robot. Where are my real parents?
I stare at him. He stares at me, his smile gone. Mother nonchalantly stirs a pot.
The unanswered question springs back into my head. “Father…why aren’t you in the mines?” I ask again.
He sighs, scratches his head, looks more vulnerable than I’ve ever seen him. “Oh God,” I breathe.
“They let me go,” he blurts out, turning to head back outside.
“They what?” I say, following him onto the back patio, a familiar place where we’ve trained every morning for the past ten years. Now a place so foreign and frightening I barely recognize it. “You lost your job?”
He nods. “I guess I stood up for one too many people,” he says.
“Fix it,” I say, a knot forming in my stomach. People don’t just lose their jobs in the Moon Realm. There are always repercussions, especially when it’s related to a complaint.
“You can,” I protest.
“It’s unfixable,” he says, and before I can contradict him, he throws a punch at my head.
I duck, grabbing his arm and swinging a low kick at his legs, which he easily hops over. He lets me try again, this time with a hooking fist, but at the last minute he ducks and my momentum of my wayward punch spins me around. He grabs me from behind, trying to lock my arms, but I manage to twist out of it before his hands can get a good grip.
I whirl around, my chest heaving, my blood flowing, my adrenaline higher than the dim and rocky cavern ceiling that arcs above us. I charge my father, aiming dual jabs at his chest.
He grabs my arms, pulls me into him. I’m squirming and clawing and bucking…and then I hear it.
A strange sound, low and guttural. A groan. I stop moving, listen to the slightly disturbing noise.
“Adele,” Father says, hugging me, crushing my face into his chest. “It’s going to be okay.” That’s when I realize: the strange sound is me. Grunting and groaning and protesting the truth.
“Nothing’s okay,” I manage to wheeze out, breathless. A hot tear spills down my cheek and I wipe it away angrily. “Nothing.”
Father’s eyes are sad, and this time they match his lips, which couldn’t form a smile if we were suddenly rich and living in the Sun Realm. “Be strong, Adele,” he says. “For your mother, for your sister, for me, for yourself.”
“No,” I say, even though I know I will. It’s the only way I can be. It’s the way he’s built me.
“No matter what,” he reminds gently.
I push away and go to bed early, eating my pathetically unfulfilling supper alone in the room I share with my sister and parents, wishing I was oblivious the world that’s about to end.
And times races on and on and on, shattering stone and bones and lives, twisting fate into a blind whirlwind of grief and splintered moments.
I awake to the sound of our front door slamming open.
The Moon Dwellers by David Estes, is out now on Kindle, Nook, and everywhere ebooks are sold, or in print on Amazon.com! And don’t miss the thrilling sequels, The Star Dwellers and The Sun Dwellers, or the action-packed sister series, The Country Saga (Fire Country, Ice Country, Water & Storm Country) also available! And now, a sneak peek at the prologue from the book, which picks up where David’s short story ended!
7 months ago
Hands grope, men shout, boots slap the rock floor.
Clay dishes and pots are smashed to bits as the Enforcers sweep recklessly through our house. There are more bodies in the tiny stone box that I call home than ever before. The walls seem to be closing in.
My mother’s face is stricken with anger, her lips twisted, her eyebrows dark. I’ve never seen her fight like this. I’ve never seen her fight at all.
It takes three bulging Enforcers to subdue her kicking legs, her thrashing arms. For just a moment I am scared of her and not the men. I hate myself for it.
I realize my sister is by my side, watching, like me. I can’t let her see this—can’t let this be her last memory of the ones who raised us. I usher her back into the small room that we share with my parents, and close the door, shutting her inside alone.
When I turn back to the room, my mother is already gone, taken. Undigested beans from our measly supper rise in my throat.
My father is next.
The Enforcers jeer at him, taunt him, spit on him. As he backs his shoulders against the cold, stark, stone wall, five men corner him. Smart. They don’t underestimate him.
He makes eye contact with me; his emerald-green eyes are hard with concentration. Despite the inherent tension in the room, his face is relaxed, calm, the exact opposite of his eyes. Run, he mouths.
My feet are frozen to the floor. My knees lock, stiffen, disobey me and my father. I am ashamed. After all that my father has done for me, when it counts the most, I fail him.
One of the men lifts an arm and a gun. I hold my breath when I hear the shot, a dull thwap! that doesn’t sound like a normal gun. The man moves backwards slightly from the force, but his legs are planted firmly and he maintains his balance.
My father slumps to the floor. I feel my lips trembling, and my hand moves unbidden to my mouth. My frozen feet melt and I try to run to him, but a big body bars my way. I don’t think—just react. I kick him hard, like my father taught me. My heel catches the Enforcer under his chin and his head snaps back. Like most people, he underestimates me.
The next Enforcer doesn’t.
The Taser rips into my neck and tentacles of electricity slam my jaw shut. My teeth nearly snap off my tongue, which is flailing around in my mouth. They don’t take it easy on me just because I’m a kid, or a girl—not after what I did to the first guy. Still stunned by the Taser, I barely feel the thump of their hard boots as they kick me repeatedly in the ribs. My eyes are wet, and through my blurred vision I see the arcing nightstick.
Strangely, it feels like destiny, like it was always going to happen.
I hear my sister’s screams just before I black out.
The Moon Dwellers by David Estes, is out now on Kindle, Nook, and everywhere ebooks are sold, or in print on Amazon.com! And don’t miss the thrilling sequels, The Star Dwellers and The Sun Dwellers, or the action-packed sister series, The Country Saga (Fire Country, Ice Country, Water & Storm Country) also available!