January 12, the Year of the Fall
I slowly looked around the room. In addition to the motley crew of punks and rabble-rousers that called themselves the Order of the Hunters, there were a few well-dressed adults and several groups of children looking absolutely miserable. I fit into this last group, I suppose, I stood near the wall surrounded by five or six of my classmates, including my boyfriend, Matthew. In the middle of the hunters, looking tired and solemn, was a tall man with long, brown hair and a trimmed beard. He held a compound hunting bow and strapped to his thigh was a knife almost a foot in length. Were I to guess, I would have suggested his age to be about thirty. The room was full of muttering and uncomfortable shuffling. Everyone had torn clothes and dirt on their faces from evading the monsters that had suddenly appeared just three days ago.
The man in the center was the only exception to the general filth and unkemptness in the room. He wore a black leather coat over a simple white t-shirt and jeans. This was in sharp contrast with my own ensemble, black yoga pants and a slim fitting, polka dot tank top, the only clothes I could grab on the way out of my house when the Fallen Ones had jumped through my bedroom window. Neither of my parents had escaped the struggle inside my house. Fortunately, I had the foresight to grab scissors from the kitchen counter; they hadn’t protected me from the Fallen, but at least I had managed to shear off most of my hair to keep myself cool.
The man in the middle finally raised his hand in a two fingered salute that reminded me of an ancient statue of one of the Caesars. Immediately, the general hum of muttering was silenced. Most people had eyes red from crying or lack of sleep, but the man had a piercing gaze that seemed to peer into your soul. As he looked around him, his eyes lingered on me for a moment.
“Good Morning, my friends.” He began, “I am the current Grandmaster of the Hunters. My name is of no consequence. Throughout the trials of the last week, we hunters have managed to bring all of you here, to our safe house here at Ellis Lake Community College. Throughout the week, we have been moving caravans of locals to the emergency refugee sector in the city. I wish that I did not need to tell you, but the roads have been blocked by cars. The hunters are not aware at this time how the Fallen managed to accomplish this, but they are the most likely suspect.”
“This means several things.” He continued, “Firstly, it means that the Fallen are far more intelligent than we first believed, and are in fact working together. Next, it means that automobiles are no longer an option of escape. Finally, it means that the Fallen are actively pursuing us.” He paused for a moment and waited for the revelation to sink in.
The shock we all felt was palpable after the Master’s revelation. We had all grown to respect him and his authority. His leadership had saved all of us, and he took the mantle of command when our situation was most precarious. The Master lowered his hand for a moment, and the group began to discuss amongst themselves. Next to me, Matthew looked stricken. His mother, his only surviving family at the start of the week, was in the City where she had been working the day our lives had changed. She had escaped the danger, but Matthew had been injured a day prior when he had been found.
As the panic began to rise in my own chest, the Master graciously raised his hand and continued once more, “I see only two options available. Each man shall be permitted to choose which path they wish to take. Some of the hunters have opted to go to the city, as their family is waiting for them there, and they shall bring anyone who deems that course of action most prudent. I myself have determined to remain and create a safe haven for any survivors who may yet be in the area. Be advised that in neither course is your safety assured, and here least of all. In ten hours, those who wish to depart for the city must be ready to leave. Only know this, the government is not sure of the cause of this phenomenon, because of that, they have established a refugee sector, and any who go to the city will not be permitted to enter the rest of the country, for the safety of the general populace. Given that, it seems likely that they will not supply help to those of us who remain out here for some time yet. Thank you for your attention.”
With that, the man headed to the door closest to him, into a glass office formerly used by teachers. Matthew seemed lost in thought, but I had questions, so I left my place at his side and walked slowly through the crowd until I reached the door. The usual guards were currently discussing the announcement with a nearby group of middle aged women. Carefully, I opened the door without drawing attention to myself and took my first steps into the glass office. As I closed the door, I noticed a woman and her daughter walking towards one of the old classrooms. Our eyes crossed paths, but she said nothing, only raised her eyebrows at me
Closing the door silently behind me, or so I thought, I scanned the room. In one corner, the man who had just spoken sat with his back to me, pouring over a map that lay on the desk in front of him. I took a couple of steps towards him.
“How can I help you?” The man asked, still turned around. My jaw dropped. I had thought myself quiet and stealthy, but this man had perceived my entry as though his eyes were in the back of his head. Fortunately, I recovered before he turned around and said kindly, “I’m afraid that I won’t be able to assist you if you don’t tell me what the issue is.”
He motioned to the chair directly across from him as though to tell me to sit. Grateful for the man’s thoughtfulness, I eased myself into it. The chair was shockingly comfortable for a traditional office rolling chair.
“Um, uh…….I was just wondering what the plan is for those who stay behind.” I stammered, “It would really help me make my final decision, uh, sir.”
“No formalities please. You’re going to make me feel old.” He grimaced, “I really am only just slightly older than you are.”
“So, how old are you”
“Only nineteen.” The man said with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. I couldn’t believe it; this guy was just one shock after another. If he was only nineteen, he really was only three years older than I was. That was not how he appeared. To me, he looked as though he were twenty-two or older, and his calm, almost cold personality in the face of tragedy suggested that he was even older than that.
“I see.” I said, still in shock, “Um, but, about the plans……”
“Yes. I am afraid that there is not quite a plan at present. Outside of providing a place where refugees can stop and rest on their way to the city.” He said, “Of course, the trick is in the not dying part of that plan. I’m sure you’ve realized already that in spite of our weapons and manpower, the hunters cannot protect this place for long without some sort of miracle. That, however, is the province of suicidal lunatics like myself and not the concern of pretty young girls.”
I blushed at his compliment, though I objected to this guy calling me young as though I was incompetent. Whatever his reasons, this man had handed me a challenge, and I was ready to accept. “Well then, I suppose that there is no point in a weak insignificant girl like myself asking the almighty protector his name?” I stabbed out.
“As I have said, my name is of no importance, though if you must have a form of address, call me Marius. Every member of the hunters is given a name for many……silly reasons.” He replied, still smiling, “May I be given the honor of knowing your name as well?”
I looked down at myself. I was small for a girl of sixteen, still only about five foot tall and light to the point where my parents had thought of me as anorexic. “You can call me Minnie.” I joked, “Cause I’m small.”
Marius looked at me appraisingly. In this moment, I realized how very uncomfortable he made me feel. It was as though he was sizing me up, in case he had to ram his long knife into my chest. None of his smiles had been sincere, and the atmosphere in the room seemed to reek of despair, like a thick perfume. His clothing added to his already imposing size to make him look like a traditional thug, and his eyes, with their glassy silver irises, seemed unreadable. It took me by complete surprise, therefore, when he finally responded to my joke with, “I don’t think you look very mouse like.”
I froze for a second, sure I had misheard, and he just looked at me without expression. I felt that I could make bad jokes better than anyone I knew, but this guy had completely upturned my expectations. His simple joke was so unexpected that it completely shattered the serious, orderly image I had held of him, and I started to laugh, in a very unladylike way.
I’ll admit, I suck at jokes. I try very hard to be funny, but it somehow never ever works. So I was completely dumbstruck at the site I now beheld. The girl who called herself Minnie, and who was indeed very small, was sitting in the chair holding her sides and literally snorting with laughter. She sat there for some time, with her roughly cut, dirty blonde hair waving in front her face as she shook. The sight was refreshing in its own way, an oasis of joy in a desert of misery. It took her many minutes to compose herself, and I found myself smiling at the outpouring of her mirth.
“That aside though, ‘Minnie,’ this place really is quite dangerous. I’m intending to start a colony of sorts to help ensure the mutual safety of everyone involved, but I doubt that will really reduce the danger of staying here.” I said.
“If you are planning to start a group, you will need some administrative people involved, right? If everyone is out hunting monsters, rescuing refugees, or generally trying to acquire food, conflicts may arise that there won’t be enough time to solve.” She looked thoughtful, and I reflected on the unnatural comfort she seemed to have given that she had acted so cautious and stiff when we had first met. “I could help with that, you know.”
“I mean no disrespect, but you seem a bit young as an administrator, and this is going to be a hard life.” I fumbled, “Don’t you want to go find your family in the refugee sector?”
Minnie frowned at me. I knew that I had picked the wrong motivator even before she said, “My parents were the last family I had left. They died in an attack. It seems the only way to stay upbeat is to keep moving forward. If we stop trying to make the world a better place, we will lose our hope in the future. Once that happens, we may as well give in to despair and just die.”
This was not the first time that Minnie had surprised me in this conversation, but it was the most startling thing I had heard her say. She wasn’t wrong in my opinion, but her thoughtful approach to despair contrasted shockingly against her generally sunny attitude. Rarely had I heard anyone, let alone a teenage girl, admit that the only way to make their life better was simply to keep moving forward. This girl was going places, that was the conclusion I had come to, so why not let her try her hand at bureaucracy; after all, this was going to be my first foray into leadership as well.
“Welcome to the team then Minnie, I’m sure you will be an excellent addition to my administration.” I forced a smile at the words and then led her to the door. “If you will excuse me for a bit, I need to create a plan for this place.”
I left the room feeling more optimistic than the previous three days had allowed me to be. Having a job to look forward to really helped my outlook become sunnier. Talking to Marius had also helped me. His mannerisms and appearance made me feel comfortable. Calmly and deliberately saying bad jokes and trying to coolly put together a plan made me feel that he was reliable.
Shaking my head to clear thoughts of my new friend from my mind, I quickly located Matthew and went over to discuss his plans. I spied the woman and her daughter once more, pouring over a piece of paper at the nearby table. Finally a thought occurred to me: everyone in our little community ought to pick a new name; that might help us to move beyond our pasts. With hope rekindled in my heart and my new goals in my head, I began to smile as I pushed through the crowd.