Aftermath – Chapter 14

A short story set in a near future – Internet and our societies have fallen and the law of the jungle prevails…

This article is also available on Medium.

2063. After the Event, communities have reformed — while the majority of the population has regrouped in a handful of megacities under lockdown, the rest are scattered across the globe and fighting for their survival. This is the story of seven survivors stuck in a bunker, in the Middle East…

Chapter 14—Elle

Once upon a time, in a grand prairie of green and emerald, lived a little girl named Elle. She liked running in the grass, jumping over the solid wood fences and rolling down the hills as her head was up, lost with the birds. Rumor had it she was the most happy child anyone had ever seen and people used to gather under the great porch of the big house just to watch her. They would pretend they enjoyed the tea of Mummy or that they liked listening to Daddy and his music tour stories. Yet in truth, everyone knew in their heart they were here to fill their soul with the girl’s joy.

At two years old, Elle jumped, laughed, smiled each second. At three years old, she started singing to speak with the robin which had made the high oak in the garden its home. At four years old, her merriment was embellished by a bright intelligence, one of those eccentric minds the world was missing after the Event. However, she knew nothing of the fascination she exerted on visitors. Her life was a long sunny day, with blue sky, red apples, green horizon, black birds, nice Mummy and sweet Daddy. Every night, as they fell asleep in front of the warm fire, Mummy would say: ‘May rain never drown our little ray of sunshine’, then she would put a wet kiss on Elle’s head and take her to bed.

To Elle, Mummy was a large woman with strong hands, a peaceful voice and colorful hats. Because she worked at the farm everyday, digging the dirt, planting the crops, plucking the fruits and cooking, cleaning, washing, she had decided a few years ago she deserved one whim and when Daddy reluctantly drove her to town, she set her heart on a magnificent straw hat that sun had almost burnt to ashes. Elle remembered playing with it on the way back to the house, on the red leather seat. This was the birth of a pure and unconditional love between Mummy and hats. Later, Elle would often ask herself if this passion would have been this strong if Daddy had been more around.

In fact, Daddy was more a name than he was a face. As a young child, Elle would dance around the living room to the sound of his piano, a sort of huge killer whale that looked down at the small girl as if it was going to eat her whenever she got too close. Daddy was the only one who could calm the beast, his large fingers ran on the heavy blocks loudly to crush the teeth and crack a melody out of the animal. When he played the piano, Elle felt safe and genuinely happy. Then years went by and he started to travel more and more to town to buy beans for the cupboards, or wool for Mummy, or nails for the fences, and every time she would try to run after the silver truck when it turned at the end of the yard, unaware that her little feet covered in dust would never catch up with the coughing thing. When the glowing vehicle disappeared in the distance, she would sit on the ground and close her eyes tight, very tight, praying for the truck to come back quickly. It did not work most of the time. Mummy’s arms would lift Elle up, hug her tight, very tight, before letting her go to get back in the field. One night, Mummy and Elle waited for hours with their spoons in their hands, looking at the loud clock in the kitchen, the voice of Daddy echoing on the tiling: ‘I will be here for diner, don’t start without me’. Next morning, Elle woke up with soup in her hair and holes in her belly.

Mummy was gentle and sweet and she taught Elle to keep the bad days and the hard weeks locked up in her heart, squeezed in a small space, then throw them into the deep well they had behind the apple tree. She had to wait long enough for the ripples to click down below. She never let the darkness outside: Elle always remained the little child who jumped, laughed and smiled, even when she grew up and she stopped running after the truck. When sun was out and skies were blue, Mummy would take the straw hat and work in the garden, the rest of the time she had a cloche, a floppy, a cap and many other hats as she went around the house. No matter where she was, Elle was always there with her, helping, smiling and singing. Over the years, the word spread that there was, somewhere in the East of Europe, a small girl who could take your pain, lift your worries, make you forget the tears. People would come like pilgrims, the groups would gather at the wood fences and stay there for weeks in a state of adoration. Elle was eight and she had long blond hair that fell down on her light blue dress like a gold river: she was a perfect doll smartphones and cameras flashed relentlessly. She looked at them with curiosity, incapable of understanding that she was the reason they had come, afraid of their avid eyes, then she would hide behind Mummy until they went away. At first, Mummy did not say anything, she thought it would pass. But weeks turned into months, months into years. Mummy started yelling at them more and more often, until eventually it became her normal voice, her only voice, so she started yelling at Elle too. Daddy’s silver truck was far away, past the horizon, dirty with new dust and filled with new hats for new heads. He had not been here for dinner in three winters.

One day, Elle felt the little place in her heart was heavy and she needed to run to the well. She spent her life pretending to be happy, hoping that it would calm down Mummy and bring Daddy back, that maybe they would think the rain had not drown the ray of sunshine, and it felt like the little joy remaining was sucked out by the silent witnesses standing at the fences. This Wednesday afternoon, Elle’s head was buzzing with bad days. The sun was asleep, it had not woken up this week. Storms gathered around the big house, plunging everything into an endless night. Elle took a step under the freezing rain. Mummy shouted that she should not go out. But the wind was too strong for her to hear – right? Yes, this is what she would say tonight, when Mummy’s strong hands would put red on her face and Elle would have holes in her belly. She started running on the grass and for a moment, Elle was two years old again. Ten years back, out of the tornado and the hail, back to the green hills, the silver truck and the birds. In a distant memory, there was the robin that had learnt to sing Mozart, one bar at a time, as Elle climbed up the tree to reach him, one branch at a time. The roll of thunder rang under Elle’s feet and she tumbled down, packed up in a small ball of blue and gold, racing to the well. The hard stones cut her head without a sound. As she laid on the wet ground, pushed down by the lead drops, Elle wondered if the white screen that flashed before her eyes was really lightning. Tears, pain and blood were all flowing away slowly in the puddles.

Then, the voices rose. One was deep and steady, like Daddy’s when he told Elle a story. Another was calm and quiet, like Mummy’s when she hugged her tight, very tight. Many others were there, too, to comfort Elle. Their words were tender, they made her forget about the storm. ‘Go home’, they said, ‘go home and shine, little ray of light’. So she did. The silent crowd watched her from the fences as she staggered back to the house, slipping on her ripped dress. Rows and rows of immobile shades that only had a pair of eyes to offer. Elle knew she had left more than the little place in her heart in the well, and so did they. One by one, the pilgrims disappeared. ‘You will be quiet, sunshine. Rain will never drown you now.’ She smiled, for she finally had enough space to welcome her new friends.

The house was dark and still. Mummy’s cloche had fallen on the floor, at the entrance. As she turned around, Elle saw Mummy a few meters away, in the middle of the tornado, yelling at the sky and calling out her daughter’s name. ‘Elle!’, carried the wind, ‘Elle!’. Mummy’s voice was not as angry anymore, it had tears in it. She was finally seeing the world without this red screen. The storm was getting stronger. Soon, Mummy would stop yelling, and she would be peaceful again. Elle picked up the cloche, took the straw hat next to the door and looked outside. Where she was going, Mummy would have sunny days: she needed the straw hat. One swift throw and the hat flew quickly to her. Elle closed the door, it stopped the roaring and the hissing of nature altogether. Calm and peace, like the voices promised.

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