The silver of the moon was all but extinguished by blackness. The tiny remaining sliver lit up the road as she ran, her heart thumping wildly in her chest. Behind her the steady beat of the drums went on and on, drowning out the sound of her own footsteps and any belonging to the Searchers.
No warning of a lunar eclipse had been given to the people of the city. The Elders thrived by exploiting the superstitions of the survivors of the plague who wandered the deserted streets of this dead city.
These sad creatures eked out a miserable existence by plundering the abandoned warehouses, shops and factories of the pre-apocalyptic world. The Elders made use of their brawn and muscles to perform tasks such as clearing the city of the dead bodies in the aftermath of the plague and foraging for the fuel that kept the generators in their palace running. The people also paid homage to the Elders, bringing them food and drink in return for blessings. Distasteful as it was, the Elders knew they had to keep the people happy in order to maintain their luxurious and comfortable lifestyles.
Now I know why I was taken from my parents and brought up with the other Chosen in the palace of the Elders. They wanted us to have soft and pleasant lives so that we would grow up to be beautiful. They wanted perfect sacrifices for the gods.
Lilly extreme strength and fitness had come to her aid tonight when she had discovered what lay in store for the fifteen teenage girls that made up her group in the palace. Suspicion had nibbled at her mind for the last few weeks when they had all been subjected to a stringent beauty regime and cleansing diet. Lilly had been forbidden from engaging in her daily runs along the castle wall although she had been able to continue her intense yoga sessions. Possibly, the Elders weren’t aware of those as she did her yoga in the early hours of the morning and after lights out at night.
“You must escape tonight,” her personal maid, Ella, had whispered to her earlier that day. “Tonight is the lunar eclipse that the Elders have been planning for ever since you and your friends were children. They plan to sacrifice you to the gods to appease the people who will be terrified in their ignorance of the celestial bodies. The people will think the disappearance of the moon is a sign of displeasure by the gods. The Elders will distract them with your sacrifices and maintain the status quo in the city.”
Ella’s words made perfect sense to Lilly. They explained her privileged existence in the palace and the unusual behaviour of the Elders during the past few weeks.
“What about the others?”
Ella shook her head, “I can’t help them. I am already risking the lives of my family and myself to help you.”
Horror embraced Lilly at these fatal words.
All my friends will be sacrificed. How can I live with that? How can I carry on all alone?
Pictures of Amy, Charlotte and Hannah, her best friends out of the group, flashed through her swirling mind.
“And if I don’t escape?”
“Then you will die by burning with the others. There will be nothing I, or anyone else, can do to save you.”
Lilly’s shocked eyes bore into Ella’s. “How will I get away?”
“At 8P.M. exactly the current to the electric fence around the palace will be cut off for exactly 60 seconds. It is just long enough for you to climb the fence if you are quick. We have timed it with your evening bath. You and I will be walking back from the bathhouse to your room at that time which will give you your opportunity.”
Lilly didn’t ask who the other party to the “we” was, it was better for her not to know in case she got caught. “What about you, Ella? What will they do to you?”
“I am leaving tonight as my job here is complete. It has already been arranged and all of the maids are going. They do not want us to bear witness to their wicked plan in case we cause a scene and try to obstruct them in any way. The sacrifice is scheduled for 12.30A.M., the exact time when the face of the moon will be completely hidden. That gives both of us about three hours to get as far away as possible before they send out the Searchers.”
“And where will I go?”
“You must take the back roads and head out of the city. The people will all be gathered in the Great Park for the celebrations. At the city’s edge you will find a great bridge. On the other side is Freedom City. Once you can get to the half way point you will be in that city and the Elders there have a different approach to running the city. They work together there for the benefit of all the people, not just a few.
Lilly threw her arms around Ella and wept bitter tears, “I’ll do it, Ella. I don’t want to die.”
Lilly had escaped as planned. Scaling the fence and disappearing into the foreboding shadows of the numerous abandoned sky-rise buildings that surrounded the palace. The Elders preferred to keep the people at arms length and they were forbidden from squatting within a 10-mile radius of the palace on pain of death.
As she ran through the city, using back roads to reach the city’s edge where the bridge crossed the great river into the country beyond, she expected the Searchers to shoot her at any moment. She could almost feel the seering pain of their arrows piercing her back as she ran.
The last of the great buildings loomed on either side of her, she could see the bridge straight ahead.
Where are the Searchers? Surely I am not going to escape?
She stopped suddenly. They are waiting for me to reach the edge of the city. Just when I think I have escaped, the beams of their torches will find me and they will shoot. That will amuse them the most. Well, they will be disappointed. I am not going to run anymore.
Lilly drew her body up as tall as she could and walked with grace, head held high towards the half way station on the great bridged that would signal she had crossed the border and was no longer under the jurisdiction of the Elders. The Elders could not touch her once she was in Freedom City.
Lilly was so deep in her thoughts that she didn’t realise that she had passed the half way station until she was about twenty meters further across the bridge.
She saw men dressed in white robes coming towards her, their arms outstretched in welcome.
I can’t believe I’m really free. Tears streamed down her face as she took the hand of an elderly man with a flowing white beard.
by Roberta Eaton Cheadle
This story was written for Diana Peach from Myths of the Mirror blog’s monthly write photo prompt. You can join in here: https://mythsofthemirror.com/2019/03/01/march-speculative-fiction-prompt/
Thank you, Diana, for a fabulous prompt this month.