I Am King

I think the world ended. I don’t know the exact date, but it ended, nonetheless.

It was predictable, but the endless fire of imminent torture was a surprise. If the rugged ground was covered with water, the sky would appear a tarnished crimson. They had called it a revolutionary read, eager to dismiss our fears. They said the tanks rolling over homes was a peace initiative, lying for the sake of their own shattered souls.We hadn’t believed them, but our options were running as low as our hopes. If the world was lit by fire, it was onlyfair that it ended with it.

Hope’s a fickle gift. When every cell of your body yearns for its relief, its presence is a ghost. It haunts you asyou break down, letting despair shatter your being. Never leaving your side when the season is full of the sweetest fruits and most tannic wines, hope mocks your struggles. Somedays, I’m not sure hope and death are entirelydifferent.

The broken pieces of our city are a reminder of the death that washed over us in waves.

It wasn’t the gentle, serenity of the sea shifting up and down, casting a melodic song into the deep blue.Instead, it was the continuous crashing of waves into the shoreline. Unable to catch a breath, the shallowest ofwater defeats you. Your life fades when your eyes are fixed on your escape. Like everything else, it slips throughyour fingers as fast as it appeared.

Life wasn’t the only thing to disappear amidst the rubble. On the day of the first attack, we were running, but we had no direction. Our only objective was for the thunder in the sky to be quieter than the cries around us. Wailing children were easier to ignore than the deafening shrills of homes collapsing and sirens screaming.

I see her face at every corner, every puddle of muddy water on the ground. I don’t know anything about her.She’s a lost princess searching for her kingdom, aching to feel the weight of her crown on her fragile head. She’s a member of the secret service, using her age to distract her enemies. She’s a child, watching her father force her onto the packed train while he stays behind to fight for everything she’s ever known. The train cabin is full ofimminent orphans.

While her father refused to let the emotions reach his face, she was too young to understand the reality ofher new life. Every step he took further from his world, the harder she sobbed until nothing could appease her.

Often, I wonder if she reached her new safe haven, a place the rest of us could only dream of. There wouldbe sunsets of brilliant pinks and bold purples that would remind me of the home I used to know. Laughter would be the only noise audible on the street, and those streets would be crowded with the most compassionate of people. Their humanity would still be intact. Dreaming is my only release now, and even then, the stark contrast causesshivers to roll dreadfully down my spine, for even my mind cannot lie.

My home is only composed of shattered pillars and faulty foundations. The second floor is inhabitable. Its ceiling collapsed immediately from the impact of a missile on the adjacent house, but the demolition was isolated to only that floor. My room was up there. Every photo I took, every memento I clutched to my chest, every reminder of my old self was buried under layers of dust and particles of viscera. The first-floor smells of decaying animals, and Ican’t help but ponder if those animals are us. Shutters collapsed into heaves of rot while the door was blown off its hinges in the same manner our neighbors’ minds were dislodged from their souls. Our refrigerator is without power,and our daily meal of packaged beans is disappearing slowly.

The only familiarity in my new routine is the one chair in front of a television set that refuses to be silent. Momhasn’t left that chair since the day my father announced his imminent demise.

Unfortunately, the illness of hope convinced him that he would return to us. I lost hope the day my world erupted into flames that refused to be tamed by the remnants of morality. He sat in the chair so often I thought it was his throne, and she claimed it as soon as he abdicated. Now, her eyes remain glued to the fuzziness of the screen. Each gray line is a stronger solace to her than I ever could be. My eyes, the exact color of my father’s, are a colorfuldeception. She prefers the honesty of the color gray. Unlike the blue, it makes no promises of the future.

For the first few days, I begged her to look at me, to tell me that everything would be alright. Her silence wasthe sharpest weapon any human could yield. Without directing its aim, she sliced my arms and scarred my face untilher daughter was unrecognizable. Her bliss was ignorant, but my own was smeared with the blood of my neighbors.

Today, the television is connected. He appears on the screen in a freshly ironed suit, but his gut is spillingover the waistband, each life he stole begging to find their salvation. A wooden cane accompanies him onto the platform. There is a simple gray screen behind his form, the remainder of his silver hair blending into the wall. I want his teeth to be sharpened like a bat’s and his eyes to resemble those of a reptile, but he looks human. Despite all he’s done, the man is human.

I tell Mom the television is on because despite her fixation on the screen, her glossy eyes convince me thatshe is unaware. I receive no acknowledgment or appreciation, but she blinks once.

It’s the most we have communicated since the war began its vicious attack.

The man on the screen begins to talk. He calls himself the King as he talks to his subjects howeverfew the number may be. His voice feels like a rabid animal’s claws are seeping deeper and deeper into mydelicate skull, and I fear there is no relief.

Gripping the cross around my neck, I walk out of the unsecured home. For good measure, I push theunhinged door until it’s completely dislodged. I step over the door and onto the remains of the porch. My surroundings are as demolished as my residence, but the outside world is more tolerable than the house that raised me. Directly in front of me, I study the church at the center of the square. The pews are filled with bodies, both breathing and deceased, but the roof is completely shattered. Stained glass compliments the scarlet trails on the streets, the only colors to be seen for miles. The building is demolished, but the altar remains upright. Each person clings to the wooden benches but not a soul approaches the heart of the church, for even the living are not alive.

Still clutching the golden chain around my neck, I sit down on the last step and rest my feet on the ground, but there is none. Every inch of grass, every inch of stone is covered in the scraps of humanity. My left foot hoversover the chest while my right foot claims the abdomen as its home. With my nose being accustomed to the smell of decay, the smell of the remnants of the body don’t accost my nostrils. My eyes have yet to adapt to the new scenery. A river for blood. A mountain for a heart. A valley for an intestine. The square is covered in extinction andthe ruination of humanity, but no one seems to care.

This is life.

Involuntary, a single tear baptizes my right cheek before falling onto the body beneath my feet.

A bitter laugh escapes my parched lips as I recall the scene on the television of a madman declaringhimself a title he doesn’t deserve.

Staring into the obliteration, I whisper a single sentence.

I am King.

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