Chapter 1

Written and designed by Mary Van

“One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.” – Joan of Arc

THE NAMING

She had never seen electricity. The Elders told their stories, and phantom reminders towered in the city streets, but these metal ghosts were long dead–except one light pole that sliced the inky night with its terrible radiance. The steady glow was an impossibility, and under the illumination, swayed death’s silhouette. 

Clara wanted to scream. She opened her mouth, but there was only the sound of stretching rope that echoed as it swung, straining against its heavy load. Although she tried, Clara couldn’t tear her eyes away. She was frozen, listening to the rope’s maddening creaks. A body swung like a sluggish metronome when, suddenly, its lifeless eyes snapped wide–bloodshot and knowing.

Breaking from the dream was so jarring that Clara almost lost her perch in her favorite nook. Her pulse was frantic, and damp fabric made a slight seal on her forehead. Sighing and ungracefully thumping her head against the seat’s wooden frame, Clara slowed her breathing and peeled her fingers from their grip on the seat’s crown molding.

The dust particles were golden flakes drifting softly across the stained glass as the sun gasped for life as it was consumed by the urban architecture. There was so much filth. Dust fitted the streets. Dust drifted its way onto food. Dust even hid her beloved books. The residue crowded every corner of existence. She felt that she could not escape the dirt. Grimm said the ash set in after the Destruction. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” Grimm would mutter to herself.

The Destruction brought so much death, and Grimm said they were all orphans and refugees. The library was a sanctuary that housed them from the prejudice of the streets and comforted them in blankets of yellowed paper and plastic library covers.

A dark shape bridged the broken window and cast shadow upon the ash particles. The multicolored beams shone with an ethereal light until the shade choked the light; the ash was lost into nothing. The stained glass had once been a proud saint’s visage but was now insufficiently covered by scrap material, a crude bandage to cover the once whole and beautiful.

The cloth covering Clara’s mouth and nose ballooned as she exhaled. Her veil was a patchwork of vibrant colors and various material haphazardly sewn together. It covered her extremities, leaving barely any skin exposed. Grimm told her the Destruction had marred her people with burns and excruciating boils that healed into hideous scars–leaving them untouchables. The fabric dressings masked the Destruction’s cruel kiss and the library helped hide them from the world.

Many thought that life would cease to exist, but here they were, warm and comfortable, and she sitting in a window seat in one of the most beautiful libraries in the lost city whose spirit was being continuously crushed by the Corporation. In many ways, they were blessed.

The girl was still left with so many questions. At breakfast, Clara, burning with curiosity, frequently glanced from the older woman, to the table, and then back again. Grimm’s mouth curled in humor under her veil at Clara’s uneven breathing and neglect of her meal. The girls was never adept at hiding emotions.

“What is it, Clara?”

The girl paused, knowing to tread carefully. “Please, tell me about the day you brought me here. It’s important. I need to think about tonight, think about the naming ceremony.” She started to chew on the edge of a hangnail and tap her bowl with her spoon.

Grimm’s disposition faltered, and the far off echoes of the library’s daily routine could be faintly distinguished. Silverware clinked musically, shoes shuffled, conversation ebbed and flowed, and children fussed. The woman pushed her chair from the table, encircled Clara in her arms with the girl’s head resting under her chin, and stared ahead.

“Clara, you know it isn’t much of a story. There’s not a lot to tell,” Grimm sighed. “I found you.”

Grimm hated to lie.

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