The Death Of Toby Mulholland

She held my hand as we made our way, reluctantly, though the shadows. Her grip was as cold as it was clammy: she was terrified. I couldn’t let her know that I felt the same way. They would be here any minute, and now was not the time for physical displays of human emotion. Hold on tight, folks.

Red lights and the wail of poorly maintained machinery punctuated our path through the cool yard. The thought of what we had left behind pushed us onwards. We would miss what we had lost, but we could not risk a return. They were coming for us, but we had begun our path to true freedom.

I had made a pact with the elders: her freedom would be assured, even if my death were the price. That was an easy decision to make, and I made it willingly. She was the new flock, and she would lead us out of the darkness and in to the light. Her form held our shared destiny; our legacies.

I had put her in this position with my lust. It was natural human instinct to consummate such feeling, and I was only human. Time passed, and her need for concealment grew. They had stopped us from procreating for centuries, except artificially: we would take our human destiny in to our own hands.

The scream pierced the air like a dart through the smoke. We couldn’t afford to stop moving, but our heartbeats certainly didn’t get that message. On our hands held, tight through the sweat. We knew that they had uncovered one of us, but we couldn’t respond to it. Our lives hung in the balance now.

A crash and a fall. The darkness engulfed us as metal screamed overhead. We had been granted a temporary respite from the chase, but we needed to make sure that nothing had been lost. Too much was at stake for anything to be left behind. A momentary pause; a deep breath; a shared look.

Corridors of brick; soot fills the air: a mechanical wasteland, occupied only by fear. We had been in the Corral for several centuries now: an affront to the freedom of our progenitors. This had been our domain once; this street had been full of human life. I stifled a laugh in the darkness. She squeezed.

A face in the gloom; a shock in the heart of our escape. I pulled her behind me, hoping to bring her to safety. She resisted, if only for a moment. She had seen before I had what we were looking at. Who we were looking at. I screamed in to the face of our perimeter guard, as he laughed in to mine.

My anger seemed to shock her. I was her protector, tasked with keeping her alive, and they seemed intent on ruining that. Of course I would be angry; of course I would scream at them; of course I would lash out. She was never at risk: I couldn’t allow it. Why would she feel so shocked by that?

They had been our tormentors, our oppressors, for years, through the seemingly endless dark. It was they who had scorched this planet of life; it was they who had reduced us from the monarchs of all we surveyed to the peasants forced to toil on the graves of our forefathers. Anger would not suffice.

They took our form as a means of control: there was no certainty afforded to us; anyone we spoke to, anyone we loved, could’ve been one of them. Anyone we shared the wrong truth with could be our betrayer: Judas. All power is hidden in plain sight, and they were nothing but power projected.

It hovered in the sky above us, a figure of fear. Its suspension a grotesque parody of human desire. Centuries of men, women and children had dreamt of flying the way this mechanical bastard did now with consummate ease. It viewed us with disdain as it tore open its jaws, ready to feed on us.

It fell. It fell and it crashed. That was the end of it. If there had been any more we could have done it would’ve been a pleasure, but there wasn’t. Instead, only destruction and decay. Their success was not going to be our failure: that would be too linear a game for our liking. Zero sum has no place.

I took hold of a lifeless arm; a stake. I held it like a club, and tested its weight. I knew that it would afford me no defence, but I would keep it with me nonetheless. She looked warily at the object, not sure of its use; afraid of its purpose; sick of its provenance. She nodded her dim approval. We ran.

We had been stalled twice now, and we had escaped both times. Either luck was on our side or our journey was fake. In either scenario I was sure of my oncoming death; I was at peace with it. I had no more time to question, no more time to consider: I only had time to keep running for our lives.

The ability to protect her would be my shining triumph; my greatest achievement. It had brought joy to our whole community when it was announced that we would be bringing about the exodus. We were to be the foretold; the first steps of the new human race, back in to our rightful destinies.

We ran through the dark. We weren’t sure we could make it even then. Luck had been on our side, if only for an instant. We were unsure if it would – if it could, if it should – hold for much longer. We dared not think of all of the faces we would never see again. We needed to keep our resolve now.

Thoughts ran through my head; thoughts of the end game. If only one of us were to survive, it would have to be her; I knew that. My only hope was that my sacrifice could be given late enough in our flight to afford her sufficient protection from the darkness. She deserved the warmth of the light.

She pulled me short, before a high wall, as a creature flew through the night. How could she hear it? I wanted to attack, to protect, but her will was strong. She pointed the way, across the dark street: A hole in the wall, as had been foretold. A dim light – one candle at most – glimmered from within.

I pushed her through as I looked around the street, expecting an ambush. She climbed in; I heard her settle herself in. I put my head through the hole in to an explosion of red light. They had beaten me; they began to eagerly devour my flesh. I saw her there: watching, smiling. She had won her prize.