Horrific by Amber Jager

They were all expecting a different result.  The world had sat by with bated breath, waiting, knowing that it just had to be so.  There was no other true option, was there?  The guilt was inevitable and undeniable.  The truth was a certainty, not a question.  Everyone knew. Everyone knew wrong. When the announcement came through the loudspeakers, it was as if the world truly paused.  It didn’t matter what language it came through on, everyone was receiving the same devastating information.  It was wrong.  It was so horrifically wrong that nobody could even respond for the seconds, and then minutes.  If not for the buzz of the loudspeakers, the silence would have been absolute. No one knew exactly where the first scream came from, but it was most certainly that of a woman, and unleashed a cacophony of noise.  Where a moment ago no one had spoken, everyone now was yelling at once.  Blood spilled within seconds of that first scream, and would continue to flow from man and woman alike throughout the rest of the night. Come morning, the devastation was horrific. Even nature felt the darkness of the world below. Fires were the only light with the dark clouds looming overhead.  The smoke filled her lungs when she dared go outside, a slender looming figure passing through a doorway into the deserted street. The carnage of the previous night was everywhere.  Broken glass from the overhead lights littered the gravel of the roads.  Blood pooled and spread across the surface, bodies no longer moving where they rested.  There was no avoiding them, most of them brutally beaten before some blow or another had caused that final fatal wound.  She didn’t even spare them a second glance.  You didn’t grow up in this generation without being used to the sight of death.  While this was a larger scale than she had ever known, Nathalie couldn’t be shocked anymore. The neighborhood loudspeakers were destroyed.  That much she had expected as she approached the center of town.  The post that supported them was on the ground, bent and dented, one of the few pieces of metal in the area.  The speakers themselves were shards of wires and crumbled mechanics, so bad that she doubted they would ever be repaired.  Soon enough they would be replaced though.  It was utterly unthinkable that any town would be without their voice from above.  Though, it had also been unthinkable that the verdict had been innocent. Three hundred and twenty eight people had been killed.  Three hundred and twenty eight bodies that were found in effigy, spread out across the town they had called home.  Every single one with a spike passing through them in the very same place, and every single one with a letter written in their own hand left tacked to their shirts.  They were letters which spoke of their every sin and every regret, of taboo wants and impossible desires.  When read aloud through the speakers there had been no one so hard that they had not felt sick as so many screamed to make it stop.  It had been a voice that none of them had known at the time, and yet had all come to know during the course of the trial.  The guilt was without question; they had all heard the voice. Not a single one of them could possibly ever forget. Nowadays, everyone lived in their little towns.  While the voices from above called them sectors, they were towns to the residents.  Centered around their loudspeaker, the areas always fanned out in a circular pattern.  The most important buildings were at the center, spreading out progressively until the outlying farming buildings with the large masses of fields and pastures that sustained them all.  No one would ever dare touch those homesteads or their residents.  Living off the land made a person hard, and the intense need to protect and maintain what they provided to their towns made them the only ones with tech weapons.  The rest just made due with their bats and clubs.  Bats and clubs did quite a lot though, with enough force behind them.  The human body could only take so much. Given the layout of the town, it was no surprise that the worst of the damage was towards the center.  It was there that Nathalie paused; gazing out over the bare land where previously had stood their town hall.  Little more than ash and crumbled stone was there now, a smudge across the land with dozens of charred remains scattered throughout. With a shake of the head, she continued down the winding road.  Now and again she would find a building still standing, or another person out surveying the ruin.  The bloodlust was gone from people’s eyes now.  Where there had been murderous rage the previous night, there was now little more than a forlorn sadness.  They had been let down.  The hierarchy that they had all grown up knowing as the only ones who might possibly be looking out for them had released the man who had somehow wiped out a town just like their own. From the south came the soft whir of approaching tech.  The sound was soft but unmistakable, so unlike anything that the small town naturally produced.  She gazed off in the direction of the sound, the capsule coming in just a few feet off the ground and easily swerving around the destruction in its approach to the intended target.  It wasn’t an unusual sight for her, but it was still difficult to understand what she was watching. The capsule itself was little more than a long oval dome.  Nearly seven feet long and about four wide, it progressively slowed to a hover over one of the bodies discarded on the street.  From there it lowered until the sides of the whiteish case touched the ground.  Within ten seconds it was lifting again with only the constant sound of the operational hum.  Where had once laid the brutally beaten form of one of her neighbors there was now nothing. Without delay, it continued down along the street to the next corpse and then the next.  The thing looked like it couldn’t possibly hold more than one human body, but in the span of a few minutes she watched it pick up six.  Soon it had turned a corner and disappeared, leaving her standing alone again there amidst the wreckage. Alone again, Nathalie turned her gaze skywards, up into the black sky supplemented by the glow of the false daylight. Where a short while ago the manufactured clouds had covered the blackness, the blinding artificial sun was already halfway across the sky and she had no idea how so much time had already passed since she had staggered from bed that morning.  It served as a reminder that she ought to be returning home to repair the damage to her own homestead.  There was much to do before the true darkness descended over the area.  The bonfires that had kept everything lit the previous night would not be illuminating the streets tonight. The walk home wasn’t especially long, and utterly devoid of the contact of life.  The tech sound was long gone, leaving just the quiet breeze as she pressed on the wooden door into the small building she called home.  A chunk of the roof was missing, the windows gone, but the door still stood.  It was a comfort to her to be able to close it behind her and take a slow breath. They came from nowhere, the hands that settled on her face.  Where there had been nothing in front of her a blink ago, now stood a man.  A tall, handsome man, his grey eyes penetrating right through her.  All she could do was stand there, not a single sound coming from her as long fingers cradled the side of her face.   “Tell me all your secrets,” a familiar voice cooed.  It was the voice from her every nightmare.  “I will purge you of your sins.”

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