Written by Rylee Cooper
Shatter is the fifth edition in the continuous short story series, Eyes of the Innocent, that will span across this year’s Verse Magazine, inspired by the theme of each particular edition. It tells the story of how one cataclysmic event can affect different people and how it can bring them together.
Chairman Pierre Romanez was staring out towards the middle ring of the city; the chaos rising in black plumes of smoke and ringing artillery when the first drops of rain began to fall from the sky.
They struck the windows of his high-rise office in light footsteps, suspended diamonds glittering in the grey light of the cloud-covered sky. The building was far enough away that the glass didn’t shatter after they exploded the dam, but close enough that he was still able to see the debris steaming all those miles away, and the darkness of the outer ring behind the lower buildings glowering like a predator’s gaze.
A shudder drove up through the floor.
Romanez’s reflection tilted as he glanced downward, to the doors 30 flights below that were obstructed from view. But he knew that the specks gathered outside the building, swarming like ants to fallen meat, were close to breaking through. They had locked down the building when the first bomb went off; heavy steel grinding into place over glass on the lower levels. But it wouldn’t be long.
He turned his back on the carnage outside, closing his ears to the echoes of gunshots and explosions, and clacked long fingers onto the computer built into the desk. His nails were short and ragged, the sides pulling away where he had ripped up the flesh. His wife answered the call, her sallow face appearing, green eyes wide with fear and worry.
‘Where are you?’ She said in a hushed tone, trying to hide the frantic lilt of her voice. Romanez could see Danny in the background, rolling toy trucks over the carpet and talking to himself. His eyes were glazed over and he looked sleepy, sedated. It was how he always looked after his medicine.
‘I’m in the office.’ Even to his own ears he sounded tired, resigned, and was sure that resignation showed on his face. ‘I don’t think I’ll make it, Stacy.’
Another boom rumbled through the floor, stronger this time.
‘No,’ her large eyes began to glisten and he silently begged her not to cry. ‘No, we’ll send a helicopter over, they’ll fly you out. It’ll be okay. You’ll be-’
He softened his tone, ‘I’m not going to make it, Stace.’
It was always a possibility, one he had long ago accepted when he agreed to the sterilisation. Though he didn’t think it would be this soon. Hell, they had only just finished making the formula the other day. But as soon as that explosion had thundered across the city, he knew that he would likely not see his family again.
A sob choked its way up Stacy’s throat and his stomach tightened. In the background, Danny looked up, the car stilling on the coloured carpet.
There was a final shattering boom and Romanez knew the rebels had broken through the doors. Their rage filling the hallways and staircases, tearing apart everything in their path.
He didn’t have long.
‘Could I talk to him?’ Romanez asked, keeping his voice steady. He pulled the yellow bottle of pills out from his top drawer. Placing it in view of the camera. He saw Stacy’s eyes flick to it slightly and the briefest of smiles passed over her features.
‘Danny,’ She called, ‘Could you please come over here?’
Danny was already gently walking over his carpet, small feet padding across the tiled floor of the bunker, until he was close enough to the screen to make out Romanez’s face. ‘Daddy!’
‘Hey bud,’ Romanez felt his heart squeeze in his chest as his son looked up, bleary eyed, into the camera, ‘How’s it going?’
‘I took my medicine today, daddy,’ His son waved a small wrist in front of the screen, white medical bracelet glinting under fluorescent lights.
‘That’s great, buddy,’ Romanez said, heart aching. His eyes flitting to the bottle placed purposely at the base of the screen, making sure it was in view of the camera. It was an idea Stacy had come up with, to make Danny feel more normal, less ostracised for having to take a pill on his bad days when his hallucinations were more intense.
‘Are you having fun on your holiday with mum?’ He was still too young to know how to differentiate reality from his hallucinations, and stressful situations made them so much worse, ‘Are you making friends?’
His son made a face, ‘Everyone here is old.’
Romanez chuckled, ‘Watch it, your mum will get mad at you if you call her that.’ He looked over at Stacey, who was looking at him with those wide eyes, that sad expression. His heart broke.
‘Hey buddy,’ he said, hearing gunshots and screams on the floor below, ‘Can you look after your mum for me? I might be going away soon and I need to know I’m leaving her in good hands.’
There was a banging at the office door, angry shouts from the other side. He prayed the bar securing the doors shut would hold out for a little while longer.
His son grinned up at him. Such a young face, such a hopeful expression. It would be all worth it. He had taken this job for him, had done everything that he had to do for him, to pay for everything that he needed to go through life feeling normal. The doctors, the psychologists, the countless books, seminars and groups he had gone to so that he could understand his son’s condition, so that he could help in any way he could. He would do it again too, as many times as he needed, just so he could keep on seeing that smile.
There was a tremendous impact from across the room and a fissure splintered through the thick wood. He had seconds.
‘I love you both. So much,’ he said, feeling his throat tighten, the pain in his chest near unbearable now with the thought of never seeing them again. Stacey had begun to cry, tears streaming down her face as all she could do was nod. Danny grinned wider, eyelids starting to drop. ‘Please never forget that.’
He ended the call just as the doors split open, wood flying inwards to cut his cheek. It was a mass of black and red, bodies screaming nothing but rage and injustice as they descended on him to make him repent for his sins.
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