The room remained quiet as I processed Annaliese’s news. At first I was saddened by the thought of him being alive and held prisoner and then anger replaced my sorrow. I looked at the walls searching for answers.
“How…when did he…” I couldn’t bring myself to finish the question. I struggled with my emotions, despair, sorrow and anger. I continued gazing around the room, starting and stopping speaking while my mind spun out of control.
A hand reaches out and takes mine. Annaliese watches my face, tears staining hers. Breathing deeply I fight for control.
“What happened?” I ask in a much calmer tone then I feel. “Did you talk to him much, how did he…die?” I needed her to tell me everything about his stay here. She leads me over to a cluster of chairs. When we’re seated she composes herself and with great effort she starts at the beginning of the arrival of my father and the other men from the Capital City.
The men were marched through the city from the opposite end that I appeared, the Prophets proclaiming that the outsiders were caught spying on the city. The procession traveling past throngs of wide-eyed city dwellers that stared at the strangers as harbingers of evil. The crowds angered by those who posed a threat to their peaceful existence.
The men were led to the cages and awaited a ruling by the Prophets on their punishment. Annaliese’s face brightens as she tells of the talks she has with the prisoners.
At first she admits she was scared and intimidated by the strange men. She had been tasked with delivering their meals and had ignored the men’s attempt to talk to her but slowly she became less afraid and more curious about the newcomers and the world where they lived.
The prisoners regaled her with stories of the ice dome they called a city and the brutal fight on the planets surface, a surface that was as alien to her as this shiny city was to them.
She stopped in her tale and smiled, more to herself than to me. “Your father bragged about you, you know. He constantly said his last wish was to see you one more time.” The smile faded. “When I saw you locked in that cage a few days ago I was certain you were his son. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do but I knew that I would not let you end up like the others.”
Her eyes welled up again as she looked at me. A weak smile returns to her face. I was stumped, I didn’t know what to do or say. I choked out thanks and waited for her to continue.
She told me of the mock trial the prisoners were put through and how in the end they were branded as spies and sentenced to work in the oil mines. Not certain what the oil mines was I asked her to explain?
“The mines.” She said. “They are really a underground pit where oil was discovered hundreds of years ago by our ancestors. They are the reason the prophets built this city and have jealously fought to keep it a secret from outsiders.” She paused recalling the cities history.
“When the world turned against the prophets they retreated back to Adams Mountain as a refuge. Then, according to our history the climate on the surface changed. When the volcanoes shook the earth releasing the dust and ash and blocking the sun our ancestors were trapped here.”
“Then the temperature continued cooling and as the surface slowly became uninhabitable the prophets people began tearing down the giant metal wind machines and began constructing this city.”
“By some miracle, we are told, the heat from the city combined with the close proximity of the Adams volcano kept the snow and ice from consuming the city. As the ice and snow built and the cold increased the city was enveloped with the heated air and over decades an ice dome formed over the city to shroud and protect us.”
“The oil mines. Who works them, where are they?” I pried. Then the question I was skirting around. I gulped before asking. “Can I go there? Is my father buried there...is there some…” I fought for the right words. “…Is there some kind of reminder of him there?”
She shook her head again but wouldn’t look at me. “I’m so sorry.” She repeated again as if she was to blame for his death. Everyone in the room remained quiet leaving me to deal with the news. I sat motionless. I had never grieved for his loss before because against all odds I held out a flicker of hope that one day I would meet him again.
I sat for hours lost in my thoughts, memories of my father and the brief time we shared together played over and over again in my mind.
A rustling by some of the others pulled me out of my reverie. I sat and watched as several of Annaliese’s group donned the military robes they had worn when I arrived and appeared to be about to leave.
Standing I walked over to where they had gathered and tried to figure out what was happening. I remained quiet as the group talked amongst themselves and then started to leave the room.
When only Annaliese and a couple of others remained I turned to her. She must have noticed the puzzled look on my face.
“The city will be awakening soon, they have to return to their homes before their absence is noticed.” She explained.
“What about you.” I asked but as the words left my mouth the dawning of what she had done for me struck home. “Won’t your father and the others wonder how I escaped?” I waited for her to answer but the question was rhetorical.
She looked at me then turned away. Quietly she murmured. “They will know.”
“You were the only one who had access?” I hoped I was wrong in my assumption.
She walked away leaving me standing alone. From the door Marcus came to my side.
“She can’t return home, can she?”
“No. She will be hunted the same as you.” He replied sadly. “She knew the risk she was taking when she released you.” He added. “We tried to talk her out of doing it but she said she was willing to take the risk.”
“What will happen now?”
“Well…I suppose we wait down here and let the Prophet’s men search the city until they convince themselves that the two of you have left.”
“Will they.” My tone was underlined with worry, not so much for myself but for Annaliese, the daughter of the High Prophet.
“I’m not sure. Nobody has ever left the city before.”
“Is there a way out, a way back to the surface?”
“There must be but none of us have ever tried.” He pondered my query. “The Prophets send men out on excursions to the surface but how and why is not something that they share.”
“So what?” “We hide here and hope that they don’t discover us.” I fired back. “How many people know about this room, the tunnels under the city that we came here through?”
“Very few.” He answered. “This small group you met here is all. We discovered these tunnels years ago and have kept them secret.”
“How long do you think they will search?”
“Again. I don’t know. The Prophets are relentless with their rules, they make and uphold the laws with out any leniency.”
Leaving Marcus I wandered over to where Annaliese stood.
“I guess I’m the one who should be sorry.” I apologised. She turned her face up to me and smiled a weak smile.
All through the day and into the next evening we sat and bided our time. It was nerve wracking sitting hidden and not knowing what was happening in the city streets half expecting the Prophet’s guards to come bursting through the door.
Idly chatting, Marcus and Annaliese told me of the dangerous hard labour awaited those who were sentenced to the oil mines.
“There can’t possibly be enough…” I searched for the right word. Prisoners were all I could come up with to describe foreigners to this hidden city. “Prisoners to work the mines and I can’t see the people of this city volunteering to work them if they are as dangerous as you describe?” I waited for an answer as I tried to wrap my mind around how this city functioned.
Marcus depicted how people who objected or questioned the Prophets were subjected to a life in the mines as a way to discourage further dissidence and to quell any resistance to the Prophets.
Needing time to myself I sat alone and dug out my reading paper trying to remove my mind from the waiting and worrying of the present situation. Annaliese joined me after a while.
“I have seen old papers like yours before.” She said.
“I thought you said that your history records only went back to the start of this city?”
“All the public ones are.” Then she went on to clarify. “Years ago when these tunnels were discovered Marcus came across some old papers stashed in a cave a little distance from the city.” “The story in those papers is similar to the one that is written in yours.”
“You didn’t turn it into the Prophets?” I asked curiously.
“No. When Marcus showed me the papers we agreed to keep them hidden. Over the years we have heard rumblings, rumours really that the history taught us by the Prophets, my father included, was written to add truth to their teachings. A way to keep the people of the city from wondering about or questioning our laws.”
Throughout the day members of Marcus’s group would pop into the hidden room and update us on the search now taking place. The city had been placed under a very strict curfew as the Prophet’s men roamed the streets and checked building after building in pursuit of me.
Most of the city’s residents were forbidden from leaving their homes. We were told that the city was at a standstill, the lives of the Prophet’s followers halted because of the lockdown, as the already nervous population of the city remained mostly indoors scared of what was happening.
Marcus explained to me that as far as he could remember a search of this magnitude had never before happened. The city had a small underground resistance of sorts to the ruling Prophets but it had never grown big enough to cause the leaders of the city any worry.
Aside from watching a few of the resistance from a distance the leaders had not attempted to quell the small secretive gatherings. Names were known, people and groups spied on but never to the extent where the population was ever harassed or locked down.
I sat talking with Annaliese when the door of the hidden room was flung open interrupting us. One of the men who had been here when I first arrived rushed into the room and ran to Marcus. Annaliese and I jumped up and hurried over to them.
“Daniel was taken by the guards to see the Prophets.” The man gushed. “He wasn’t going voluntarily by the way he was struggling with them.” “He knows where this place is, that these two are hiding here.” He spoke frantically. “What if he talks?”
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.