Rupture is the fourth 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.
Written by Rylee Cooper
Johnathan was standing near the back of the line-up, trying to stop his hands from shaking, when the first gun fired.
The ringing seemed to fall flat between the walls of half-fallen houses. The chaos in front of them went silent for a moment, like a raging tide silenced for a single second, before it rose back up, screaming against the rock that barred its path. He couldn’t see what was going on, couldn’t see what had caused the gun to fire, what was happening beyond the blurred lines of police in dark visors and navy uniforms surrounding him.
He couldn’t see.
His hand rattled against the side of his uniform, like a tin can pulled behind a car as the front of the line pushed back, as if being pressed down upon by a great hand, then steeled itself against the wall. Police around him shouted, orders being thrown from one side of the barricade to the other. The visor pulled over his own head was fogging slightly, the perspiration gathering on his forehead and under his eyes pressing against the plastic. Another gun went off, a cry of pain followed. Too close.
How did it come to this? How did they get here?
Jonathon conceded a step backwards, the pressing of bodies in front of him making it hard to breathe. He gripped the riot shield in front of him harder, knuckles almost white beneath black gloves.
‘Did you hear?’ Sam slid into the seat beside Jonathan, metal plate clattering onto the table. Her roasted pork slid from one side into steamed vegetables.
Jonathan turned tired eyes towards her, ‘What?’
Sam shovelled broccoli into her mouth; the real stuff, not the frozen slop they had distributed to a border sector earlier that week. As she spoke, green specks flew onto the table, ‘The president is going to sterilise the border communities.’
Jonathon choked on the piece of meat in his mouth, ‘He’s what?’ he asked, eyes watering.
Sam leaned in conspiratorially, ‘He’s going to sterilise them, the ones on the borders, all the way up to the middle ring.’
His stomach curled and he tapped his fingers against the table to keep them curling into a fist.
‘Something in the water, I think. I’m not sure, Kaleb told me.’
Jonathon relaxed slightly, ‘He doesn’t know what he’s talking about half the time, why is he so sure?’
‘He says he overheard Sarge talking about it with the chairman who visited the other day and that we should “prepare for the worst” if news gets out.’ Sam picked up the pork with her fingers, letting the juice of it run down her wrist as she bit through the crackling.
Jonathon shook his head, ‘But, why? What’s the point?’
He thought of what the slums had looked like when he passed it on his patrol route. The people practically living on one another, the streets awash with dirt and muck, the disease that killed off dozens at a time from the proximity, the famine. He didn’t need an answer.
‘They’re dying out there, Jo,’ Sam wiped her wrists with the cloth napkins beside her, ‘We gotta do something.’
Jonathan looked down at his plate, at the red meat and the real vegetables picked from fields less than an hour away. His mind went back to the canned food, the frozen meals, the dark “protein” sludge that they served on volunteer days to those in the lower part of the middle ring. He thought of the fresh running water that they had flowing through every corner of this building, the dark puddles he had seen that day in the slums. His dark eyes shifted to the bin in the corner of the cafeteria, overflowing with half-eaten food and leftovers. This was the best thing they could think of?
‘So, when will they tell the slums?’ he said, voice hollow.
Sam picked up the last carrot on her plate, staring intently where the steel prongs of her fork poked through to the other side, ‘They’re not.’
Another gun fired at the front of the line, the shots closer together now. The shouting rose too in intensity as more orders were called out from the frontlines.
‘Hold steady!’ A sergeant in front of Jonathon bellowed, standing beside the hood of a car fitted with bulletproof glass, a metal bar made for barraging through bodies welded to the front.
It was then that the first protestor broke through the frontline.
It was a child, a small boy no older than the age of 10, face contorted into a mask of hatred and rage. Something inside Jonathon’s chest broke as the boy was met with the riot shields and batons of the second line. The officers shaken, being so close to the frontlines, they were itching to move, nervous energy pent up to violence to clobber anything that entered their path. It was an officer with dark brown hair pulled back into a tight bun that struck the child first.
And kept striking.
Again and again and again.
Jonathon felt bile rise in the back of his throat as blood spattered on to the defence shield. Onto the visor of the officer, onto the neck tattooed with three interlocking circles. Jonathon clutched a hand against his mouth as an officer, that could only be Sam, beat the child until he fell.
A scream went up in the crowd, near the front of the lines, a scream that sounded too much like a name. Then the lines broke. Succumbed against the raging river like the battered walls of a dam. People wielding makeshift weapons and despair broke through the lines and kept going, surging, unstoppable towards the reaching towers beyond.
Jonathon was shoved to the ground, feet pounding against his back, his legs, his head. But he made no move to get up, no move to protect himself. All he could do was stare, glassy eyed, at the small hand limp against the pavement, resting in a pool of blood.
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