Short Story: Willowplace.

31.3.13

The teacher walked into the classroom. It was the first period and everyone rushed to their seats. I could see their eyes were still tired and faces swollen from the last night's attack. Miss Prior, the teacher standing in front of the classroom was our English teacher, came all the way from Puissant, the biggest influenced city in the state of Harmonny. The people there were mostly elegant and vogue and erudite even, because the city was all but indigent. The city was the heart to all Harmonny. Without Puissant, the state would fade to nothingness. Miss Prior was graceful, just like her people in Puissant. Sadly, her appearances didn't suit her attitude at all. Her sudden piercing voice rang into our ears.

"Filthy kids! Open page 19, right now!" her eyes were sharp as an eagle's, looking through her students' faces.

Everyone obeyed, reaching for the literature book she was talking about except.... Helena Morgan. My best friend. Her house was ravaged last night from the vicious attack. She and her family had been removed to one of the safehouses in our city (not much of a city, anyway), Willowplace. Yep, that was what our city was called. She was looking nervous. And then her head turned and her eyes came darting towards me, who was sitting at the second row next to hers.

Our eyes met and I could see the frightened look in her big hazel eyes. And then I was met with the colour blue, of Miss Prior's dress. She was towering over Helena with her arms folded. I didn't see her face or expression because her back was on me but from the other students' faces, I knew she was making Helena's heart sinking.

"Where is your book, Miss Morgan?" she demanded. She moved to the front of the classroom, but her eyes were still on Helena.

"It got burned down last night, with the attack and all," Helena's small voice was the only sound in the room. It was like everyone was holding their breaths.

Miss Prior shook her head with a menacing smile. "And that is all, Miss Morgan?"

I noticed the guy in front of me, Arthur McKenzie, was staring at Miss Prior with a tight face. That was not a way to look at a teacher. I knew Miss Prior did not make a good teacher, but still...

"You blame the attack? Don't you have enough money to buy the book at the nearby store?" her words were like thunders to us, the penniless children of Willowplace.

Willowplace was a sad city. Plants did not grow here. Animals died each day due to diseases. The streets were logs of broken pieces of the buildings. We were not like this five years back. We were fine. Even better than Puissant. And maybe that was all it took for Puissant to bring down Willowplace, because we were better. And Puissant could not take it if other city overcome their mightiness.

I was jerked awake when Arthur yelled, "It was your people that attacked our city!" and chaos erupted.

I didn't realize the kids - my fellow classmates - were now throwing chairs and desks to the teacher and they crashed upon meeting the whiteboard. I ducked, avoiding the chairs and desk - and now, they were launching all the stationery or things they could reach - towards Miss Prior. I ran to the back of the class, with Helena beside me. She was clutching my right hand tightly. And she was sweating. She was in awe upon seeing the class in chaos. I watched, too. The kids were shouting at Miss Prior with all their might. And the teacher was shielding herself under her desk.

I knew this would happen someday. And it had. The Puissants had pushed these kids to their limits. The attack they launched last night was the climax. Our fathers had died, our mothers had been tortured, brothers and sisters being slaughtered...

"Why aren't we joining them?" I heard my voice whisper.

I saw at the corner of my eyes that Helena was now staring at me. Her eyes were watery. I didn't look at her.

"Because... We're afraid?" she said quietly.

I shook my head. "No. I'm not afraid."

She didn't have time to respond because suddenly the room was crowded with Guardians - the policemen made from Puissant - straining every kid in the room, except me and Helena who were watching. I had no idea how the Guardians knew about the commotion here but I suspected Miss Prior had contacted someone under that desk of hers.

Brutally, all the students the Guardians that had gotten hold of, were being taken out of the classroom. The last one - I thought he was the leader of the Guardians - smiled and held out his hand for Miss Prior under the desk. She got out of her nest and smiled to the Guardian leader, then their eyes suddenly fell on us at the back of the classroom. The leader's smile quickly faded.

"What are you two doing back there?" his voice thundered the room.

Miss Prior pointed her finger on Helena. "You!" her eyes went wide. "You cause this! Arrest her! Captain Chase!" Captain? I didn't think he was more than two years older than me.

And Captain Chase called someone using his walkie talkie. Helena clutched my arms really hard that it hurt. I winced. She didn't even notice.

Two Guardians appeared at the door. Captain Chase instructed one of the Guardian something and the Guardian came to me - no, to Helena - and grabbed her ferociously. I felt nothing. Except a part of me had been shredded to pieces because they just caught my best friend. I did nothing. I just stared, at Helena, Miss Prior and Captain Chase.

"Miss Evans..." Miss Prior started. Her expression was not bitter this time.

I gulped. "Y..yes?"

She gestured for me to come near her. I obeyed.

"You didn't join your classmates just now?" Captain Chase's strong voice caught me on guard. I stared.

Miss Prior cleared her throat. "No, I did not, Captain," I answered flatly. My answer had enlighten Miss Prior's mood.

"Good girl!" she patted me on the shoulder and went out with the Guardian waiting at the door. I just watched, again.

I did not know what to do. All my friends, my classmates and even my best friend were caught and being taken to who-knows-where. And the fact that I was not with them made me sick. We were of the same class, the same city, even. Why wasn't I with them right now? Why was I safe here? And my best friend, the only one who understood me, who knew me, was also arrested. But my emotions were stable. At least, for now.

The Captain's voice jolted me out to reality. "It was a good thing you didn't attack the teacher," he said.

"She is my teacher."

He looked shocked a bit but his straight face remained there. I looked at him, he was wearing a black uniform with red lines on the shoulders and waist. Other Guardians wore black high-technology helmets, but his head was bare. He looked strong than any other Guardians, maybe that was why he was chosen as the captain. He had a handsome pale face with deep green eyes. I had never seen any Guardian this close before and never thought they would be as good-looking as him. But there was something...something familiar about him. He noticed I was staring and studying him.

I looked elsewhere. "Where should I go now? School is supposed to be over at one, but now it's only ten. Besides, I can't study here, with all these ruins," my voice still sounded flat.

He cleared his throat. Maybe I should offer some water, but I didn't have any. "Go home," he said.

I sighed. It was the answer I was expecting. "Okay."

My eyes went around the room and found my bag lying helplessly on the floor. I went to collect it, and let my legs walk me out of the classroom.

"Rachel....be careful," his sudden tone made me hesitate for a while, but I kept on walking.

I walked past through a few classrooms and I realized all of the students and teachers were following me with their eyes. I never gazed back at them. I was thinking something else. The captain. He called me Rachel. He knew my name. How did he know? And yet I thought I noticed something familiar about him. I wasn't famous at school, I was just a quiet girl with her own world, and maybe with her best friend, Helena. But that was all. I was never popular. I was the opposite of it. Only a few of the teachers remembered my name, even though I always got good grades. I was quiet most of the time.

Then I my mind shifted to something else on the road just outside the school fence. Helena's favorite scarf, all torn and dirty. She would never do that to that scarf, I gave her that on her fifteenth birthday! I did not see her wearing it today, but she could still keep it somewhere in her pockets or sweater. I picked it up and felt the smooth silky scarf. I bought it at a backyard sale two years ago. It cost me two weeks of my savings, but I did not mind buying something for a beloved one. I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes became watery. I never cried and I would not change that now. I rubbed my eyes and took a deep breath. There was something building inside me. Determination.

They took all of my classmates, but worst of all, they took my best friend. I would not allow that to happen. I did not know where they were taking my friends, but the Puissants must have asked the Guardians to torture my friends and made them regret for causing the riot. Those kids, maybe they never talked to me, or even noticed my present, but still they were my friends. And Helena was with them.

I had to save them, by hook or by crook. I quickened my pace and finally I ended up running to my house, at the end of the street. It was a nice home, enough for me, my parents and my brother. I ran really hard and ignored the pain from my legs. My heart was now not enough of oxygen, but I kept running and running until I reached the front door. I panted and put my hands on my knees. I let the oxygen came in and imagined the respiration process I'd learned in Biology. This was an anaerobic respiration.

My hand was about to knock the door, but my elder brother, William, opened it first and was shocked to see me. He eyed me suspiciously.

"Why are you home so early?" he asked.

I shrugged. "Arthur, that guy in class, yelled at the teacher. And then all kids started throwing things at her. The Guardians came and took them away. Class dismissed," I answered.

Will's eyes went wide. He hugged me really tight until it was so hard for me to breathe. But then he released me, his face suspicious again.

"Why aren't you caught?" it was the most ridiculous thing to ask. Did he really want me to get arrested?

I sighed. "I didn't do anything. I went to the back of the class with Helena. Helena was caught, too, because the teacher claimed she was the cause. She didn't bring her literature book because it was burned down with her house last night."

He hugged me again and sighed out of relief. I heard him say, "I'm just glad you did nothing."

"I'm going to save them," I said quietly and he broke the hug, his grips on my shoulders. He stared into my eyes.

"You are not serious? You won't get past the Guardians."

And then I became fierce. "HELENA IS WITH THEM! I HAVE TO SAVE HER!" I shouted at him.

He went silent. I pushed past him and went into the house, landed on the soft couch in the living room. I had to think of a way to save them. I needed to have a plan. Or not. I could just randomly go find the place where they were keeping my friends and break it open. As simple as that. But it was not as simple if I had to go past through a dozen of Guardians. It was as if I had any weapons, neither could I use one. I let out a desperate sigh.

"I'll help. I have a friend who can help," Will was standing next to the couch. I looked up at him. The hope bloomed.

I nodded. "Then we'll be great allies," I winked at him. He smiled.

"Before the sun goes down, we must get to him. Maybe you'll see Helena tonight," he said.

That evening, after dressing up as casual as possible, I shoved my backpack onto my shoulders. Inside it was ropes and food (just in case I got hungry). Will had told Mom and Dad that we were going for a private party tonight. I waited for him outside the door, carefully eyeing the street in front of me. I gazed at two Guardians who were patrolling the little street I lived in. My brother got out of the house, grabbed my hand and our adventure began. He said we would be meeting his friend at an old broken hut next to a stream.

Our journey was not easy. We had to sneak past through half a dozen Guardians and run through a small forest to get to the stream. There were a lot of turns and bushes. I never went for jungle trekking before, but my first time was not as bad. I managed to go along with Will. He was used to the forest. He even knew how to hunt. The brief journey was ended shortly when I saw the old hut he mentioned earlier.

The hut did not have any doors. It was a total ruin. From afar, I could see a familiar figure with the black outfit. I stopped abruptly. Will did, too. He turned to me. He frowned.

"What?" he demanded.

"That...that's a Guardian. We'll walking straight to a Guardian," I said.

Will laughed shortly. "That's the friend I was talking about," he retorted.

And at the same moment, the Guardian inside the old hut saw us. He jumped off the hut and stood in front of it. He was stern in his posture, his eyes on us. Will kept on walking toward his friend, but I stayed there. It could not be. He was supposed to be....Captain Chase. The leader of the Guardians.

My brother shook his hands with him and they talked casually like they were friends for ages. And maybe they were. My legs involuntarily moved to them. Captain Chase welcomed me with a stare. Will was grinning.

"Hi, Captain," I greeted.

Captain Chase smiled. "No need to call me Captain here, Rachel. Just Steve," he replied boldly.

I shrugged and looked at Will. "You don't remember him, do you?" Will asked.

"Will and I were good friends back then. I didn't rebel, like you did this morning, so I was taken to Puissant to become a Guardian. The only Guardian from Willowplace. Fortunately, five years ago, Will had a fever on the day of the rebellion because Puissant attacked Willowplace, so he was saved. Our other classmates got tormented and some were killed during the torture. Others were either traumatized, insane or scared of the world," he explained.

I remembered the day Will got the fever. It was raining bombs in Willowplace. I was thirteen. Mom and Dad had told me to stay inside and took care of Will. I never knew where they went, but Will hugged me closely when Puissant stormed our beloved city with bombs, guns and even poisons. And they left us with destruction. Until now.

And Captain Chase - I mean Steve - did the same thing as me. He did not rebel, did not fight. In the end, he was gladly appointed as a Guardian and then became the leader. And now he was a traitor. To Puissant.

"You betray Puissant?" the only question that came in mind was that.

He looked determined. "Puissant is not my city. The people there are not my people. Willowplace is the place I was born. And they destroyed it. They slaughter my people. I will not let my people get slaughtered anymore," he said. But he was the leader...?

"A revenge needs strategy. Mine is working for Puissant and become an important role to them. And then will I have the chance to defeat them, with Willowplace people united," he added. "Now, let's get to the real point. You're going to save your friends. But first of all, we need to clear the city. Tell the citizens to gather here, exactly here. Will and I can do it, while you go to the building next to your school and here, take this," he handed me a key, and continued, "Open the door at the back of the building with this. Your friends are there. Get them out and lead them to safety, which is, at the mean time, is here."

I searched for his eyes. "Why should I trust you? You're already a traitor," I said.

He took both of my hands. I heard Will whistled. "I didn't do this for nothing. I have a reason to save my people. And saving the only girl I love," he stared deep into my eyes.

Okay, this was going awkward. I pulled my hands and went beside Will. My heart was beating really fast than it used to.

Steve sighed. "They're going to destroy the whole city and its people tonight. So if you can move all of them here, it would be a safe haven and they wouldn't die. I promise you I won't betray Willowplace. I will wait for you," he said quietly.

Will, Steve and I jogged to the streets back, and we went separate ways. Steve was with me. He said he wanted to make sure no Guardian could hurt me with their weapons upon reaching the building next to school. We did meet a few Guardians but they paid us no attention because Steve was their leader. It was not strange to see a leader going for a walk with a girl. Not strange. When we got to the front school gate, he placed his hand on my shoulder.

"Most of the Guardians would be gone in a moment, they are gathering for the Big Attack. Good luck," he said and he was gone.

I did not hesitate, afraid that any Guardian might be patrolling around. I made it to the building without any noise. I almost laughed because I thought this was absolutely crazy of me, sneaking away to save my friends. I saw a small wooden log and picked it up. Maybe it would be useful. I went to the back of the building and noticed a Guardian leaning against the door. This was going to be hard. I took some of the pebbles on the ground and threw them forward so that it would produce a noise.

The Guardian was aware of it and he went to the place where I threw the pebbles. He looked dangerous. I lifted the log I had picked and hit him in the back repeatedly, full force. He was still conscious, so I gave a blow to his exposed neck where the helmet did not cover it and he went slack to the ground. I quickly went to the door and unlocked it.

There, my friends were staring wide-eyed at me. They were about to cheer up on me when I put my finger to my lips. I shook my head and gestured them to follow me. I did not have time to enjoy this little triumph with Helena because we had no much time. When they were all closing to me, I started to whisper so that everyone could hear.

"Everyone, you must go to a hut - an old broken one - near the stream at the end of the forest near the street. They're going to finish up our city and we are gathering everyone there, at the hut," I said.

Their faces were sad, some were angry. But they all understood and I started leading them to towards the forest. I could see no Guardians and all the houses were empty because their doors were opening widely. Oh, if the Puissants knew there was a traitor among them, they would be furious. I smiled at that. But my smile vanished instantly when I saw a rocket ship launching straight to our school. And BOOM! A few of the girls screamed and we quickened our paces. The attack had started and we had to reach the hut in time. It was a matter of time before they landed the bombs.

"Helena!" another rocket was launched, "You know the way to the hut! Lead them! And run!" I yelled.

We all ran while the rockets were launching like crazy above us. I hoped none reached us. I stayed at the back of the group, just in case. Upon reaching the forest, Helena took us straight to the hut without any difficulty. Helena, like Will, was used to the forest. I knew everyone was out of breaths so I kept shouting moral support for them. We saw the hut - and the citizens saved by Will and Steve were looking at us with various expressions. Everyone went to their families and hugged each other. I saw Mom and Dad with Will. I wanted to go to them but suddenly there were arms around me.

"Oh Rachel, you're safe," he said. I could feel his heart beating on my back.

I turned. "Oh hi," I said sheepishly because everyone - including Mom, Dad and Will - was staring at us.

He chuckled and let go of me. I went straight to Mom. I hugged her tight. She hugged me back and she was crying.

"Don't cry, Mom. I'm here. Sorry I neglected your words to stay inside and polite," I said.

Since the attack five years ago, Mom and Dad had asked me to be polite and quiet. They told me to respect everyone, especially the ones doing deeds to us. And they told me not to attract attention. That made me who I was today.

She shook her head. "You did good."

I kissed her cheeks and Dad's. Will winked an eye and I searched for Helena. She was with her mother, holding each other tightly as if someone would grab one of them and separate them forever. Helena saw me and she said something to her mother and came for me.

We embraced. I reached for her scarf in my backpack and wrapped it around her neck. She seemed fond of it.

"I thought you'd never come for me. Well, you usually didn't care about the world so I thought that was all and -," she started and I interrupted, "Shut up," and we both laughed.

After that, Steve guided us to a clearing field we called Small Willow. It was to remind us of the old Willowplace and there was a big giant willow tree at the center of the field. We made shelters and the stream flowing was our source of water. The land was so fresh, we thought we could build a new home and lived peacefully without Puissant knowing. They still did not know and we hoped they would never know.

Helena got married to my brother, Will. It was a shocking news to me when they confessed they were in love with each other and going to get married, since they did not show any feeling towards each other all this time. I also did not understand how could she stand with his annoying attitude, but they seemed fine. I always knew Will was a good brother, and of course he would make a good husband. We lived in the same roof, along with Helena's mother.

I had a good neighbor, too. I did not know he had two sisters. They always came to my house and chatted with us, making the bond stronger. The whole community took care of each other and promised to be united forever, as long as we believed in ourselves.

Under the willow tree, I was leaning against it and staring at the horizon. The guy beside me did the same. We were sitting and constantly not talking to each other. It was always like this, every time we met. I was extraordinarily shy with him and could not speak much words, being the quiet girl I already was. But he loved me, and he wanted to save Willowplace people because of me. He was not much of a talker, too, so every time we were together, it was as if the silence made us closer. He smiled, I smiled back. There were also times when we talked, so that we knew ourselves more.

"You know, Rachel... Someday I'm going to claim back Willowplace. Not me, us. All the people here. We saved ourselves from destruction and now we live in harmony. But for how long until they find us? Puissant, means mighty. They become arrogant because they feel they're the mightiest. We're laying low, for now. One day, we'll strike back," he touched my fingertips briefly.

I let him. "You're a warrior. You think like one," I said.

"We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness - not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there’s room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone," his voice floated in the air, he continued "The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls - has barricaded the world with hate - has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed."

I stayed silent. I noticed he was holding back a smile.

He did not stop. "We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost."

His stare was like a tease. And he continued;

"The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man - cries for universal brotherhood - for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world - millions of despairing men, women, and little children - victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say: ‘Do not despair.’ The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed - the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish."

It felt as if somebody had woken me up. "Wait wait... That's not your line, Steve. That's..." Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator.

He laughed really hard until tears came from his eyes. I hit him in the stomach and I joined him laughing. It was a long time since I cracked like this. I never could be open like this with anyone, except Helena. I was glad he was here. He had a crush on me before he went to Puissant, and I blushed when Will told me this. I remembered him then, the mysterious boy who was always playing with Will and I would be watching from the window of our house. I never got introduced to him and vice versa.

I came back to reality as I saw Mom and Dad holding hands walking toward us. Helena and Will were chasing each other. Helena's mother, Nicole, were walking with Steve elder sister, Sheryl and their youngest sister, Sarah, who was two years younger than me. They chatted happily. I could see other citizens and children started playing around the field, enjoying the evening. Some were collecting crops and some were lifting buckets from the stream.

Maybe our city was ravaged. Maybe we were penniless. But we were together, united as one. And we lived in peace and harmony. We had each other and nothing was going to change that. We were surrounded by love.

And someday, like Steve said, we would claim back our city and strike back. I believed him.

This story is from last year SPM English question. AND IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ALL ABOUT REBELLION. It was also supposed to be SHORT. And if I have the time *eyes rolling* I'd make a sequel to this. Seems unlikely -.- Enjoy. [Story inspired by The Hunger Games and Divergent so yeah]


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