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After the Devil Has Won

Chapter One


  
Cia couldn’t tell you how it happened, or why it happened.
      It just seemed as if Hell opened up one day and that was that. Instant carnage, liberated monsters, death for all. They rose from somewhere beneath the ground, attacking for no clear reason, and killing until God knows when.
      Cia remained calm, which was strange, even for her; but at the time, she was a young child with a wild imagination, and it was as if demons invading the Earth was as expected as homework, or acne, or her dad’s nonsensical ramblings about science.
       You may ask – well, didn’t the humans fight back? Didn’t they have somewhere to go? Didn’t they try to create someplace where they could hide?
      Yes, they did. It was called the Sanctity. A large underground fortress beneath a small dome built with some kind of impenetrable metal that had a really long name Cia had never heard of. So of course, yes, there was a place to go. A place to hide.
      At least, there was for some people.
      The politicians and the millionaires and the bankers and the royalty with money coming out of their ears – they built their new home and barricaded themselves in. Only problem was, they didn’t think kindly of overcrowding, or uncomfortable living conditions, so they had to be picky. And when they were being picky, the politicians and the millionaires and the bankers and the royalty didn’t pick a mixed-race bastard child with no money and no worth.
      Cia had learnt enough to survive in the four years since the initial attack. She was young, but not really. She was seventeen years old, but she wasn’t in the mind of a seventeen-year-old; in terms of maturity and tenacity, she was a twenty-year-old at least. She had the smartness and the survival instincts to rival anyone who tried to oppose her. She wasn’t an intimidating sight – petite, with black, bouncy, curly hair, and bright-green eyes that shone with innocence. But, what she lacked in physicality, she made up for in intelligence. Not intelligence in terms of reciting facts or using the Pythagoras theorem or explaining the meaning of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets – her intelligence came from her resourcefulness. If you gave her a twig, an elastic band, and a stone, she would fashion an expertly crafted bow. If you gave her a soggy leaf, she would create a work of art. And if you gave her a small amount of time, she would accomplish grand plans and perfect schemes that would help her avoid any of the rampaging monsters.
      She knew these monsters and knew them well; which included what they could do, and how to avoid them. Like I said, she didn’t know how to recite mundane facts you may get taught in school – but she knew the information that mattered.
       The Masketes were the first of the monsters she ever saw, through a news broadcast in the few hours before the BBC stopped broadcasting. Masketes are flying monsters, and they reminded her of pterodactyls – long snouts, veiny wings, large in size. But they were far scarier than pictures of dinosaurs she’d seen – their fangs were sharper, their claws curved and pointed, and their precision when diving on prey was uncompromising.
      The Thorals were the four-legged creatures. They were sturdy on their four legs and quick to pounce, but their most terrifying feature was their appearance; they would leer at you whilst salivating and drooling the blood of their previous victims. They were large enough that their potential reach was deadly – but heavy enough that their thudding announced their presence long before they arrived.
      The Liskers were the scariest-looking creatures of them all. With long, snake-like bodies, thicker than a tree trunk, longer than numerous football pitches, and teeth that dripped a poison that paralysed their victim, meaning their food would stay still for their feast. Thankfully, Liskers were the rarest of these creatures, and Cia had never actually seen one in person – but she was always cautious.
      Then there were the Wasters. Though they weren’t technically monsters – well, not in the way these other creatures were – they were still just as deadly. Wasters used to be people, people who were so desperate to live that they took the cowardly way out, bowing to the monsters and agreeing to be their slaves. The price they paid was their consciousness – they turned from functioning people to feral, cannibalistic creatures without awareness, obediently carrying out the monsters’ bidding as mindless, predatory drones.
      Those were the four enemies Cia had to look out for. Masketes, Thorals, Liskers, and Wasters.
Cia was always alert. She would always be listening for the sounds, looking for the signs, checking for the best hiding spots, ready for when she needed them.
      And that’s pretty much all there was to Cia.
      Ah, except the most important thing to her in the whole world.
      Boy.
      His name wasn’t Boy, of course. It was James. But Cia didn’t know that, and she never wanted to know, and she never really tried to find out. Any wretched survivor who would briefly meet Cia and Boy assumed that they were brother and sister, but they weren’t. Though they may as well have been. It just so happened that Cia was alone, in need of someone to care for – and Boy was alone, in need of caring.
      Boy – or James, if you want to be fussy about it – was unlike other boys, you see. He didn’t find things easy to understand. He didn’t like loud noises, he struggled to deal with strangers, and he became easily overwhelmed by situations he couldn’t fully comprehend.
      She’d met him on a sweltering summer afternoon. She wasn’t entirely sure what time it was exactly, as time was a concept that had escaped necessity. Time doesn’t exist, after all; it is simply a manmade invention created to keep track of events. But, from the position of the sun in the sky, Cia deduced that it was early afternoon. Cia approached a petrol station, desperately thirsty, hoping there would be something left that would rid her of her dehydration.
      That’s when she heard the screaming. Mature screaming, a man and a woman. She’d already spotted an abandoned car on her approach, with smashed-out windows and dust particles scattered along its side. She hastily ducked behind it, resting her bare knees on the rough, dead grass below.
      As the screams grew closer, she could make out some of what they were saying. They were shouting at someone. Shouting to get inside, or to hide, or something to that effect. It definitely ended with ide.
      Cia lifted her head upwards, slowly, carefully, and peered past the smashed car window.
      The couple looked to be in their forties. The man was grey-haired and wearing a sweater. The woman was slightly overweight, struggling to keep up. The man held tightly onto her hand, refusing to let go.
      A screech echoed, and Cia recognised it instantly. It was the sound of a Maskete – high-pitched, long, with a lowering inflexion. Like the sounds the birds outside her bedroom window used to make, except louder and a lot more frightening.
      Cia looked to the sky and saw it. Its wings were at its side as it soared downwards from the open blue sky, heading straight for the couple.
      Behind this Maskete was more of them. A lot more.
      One of them landed on the man’s back.
      Cia ducked down once more.
      Thinking instinctively, she crawled onto her belly and slid beneath the car until she was completely concealed, and all she could do was listen. It was cooler in the shadow.
      The man screamed.
      The woman screamed.
      Cia initially wished she was able to see what was happening, then decided she was grateful for not having to witness the violence.
      She closed her eyes and put her hands on the back of her head. She couldn’t cover her ears – what if they found her and she had no idea? What if they approached the car, and she didn’t know?
      But this meant she had to listen.
      And that was all she could do. Listen.
      Listen as the Masketes tore the poor couple apart.
      Their shouts had melded into a barrage of white noise, rising louder and louder. At one point, the woman screamed, “Help! Help!” and Cia wondered if they were shouting to her, and grew scared they would give away her position.
      Then the screaming stopped.
      Sounds of slopping mixed with the squawks of the beasts, as if they were fighting over the food. Sounds of tearing persisted, ripping apart like Velcro, mixed with chewing and thudding.
      Cia thought of other things. Like the beach her father used to take her to on holiday.
      It was in Skegness. Everyone at school made fun of her for going to Skegness on holiday, everyone saying it was a ‘dump’ – but Cia loved it. She loved it because it was just her and Dad. Paddling in the sea. Eating fish and chips with wooden forks. Talking about which subject she liked and which teacher she hated.
      Eventually, the noises stopped. The battering of wings grew distant.
      Still, she didn’t move.
      She had to be safe. Had to wait long enough to be sure they had gone.
      The hazy darkness of an early evening was beginning to settle by the time she allowed herself out from beneath the car. Sure enough, the Masketes had left. But their remains left nothing to the imagination.
      She could make out a skull, a vertebra, and ribs smashed into pieces. Beside these were more indistinguishable bones and splatters of blood lining the cement floor like a big Rorschach test. She saw a butterfly in one of them, then realised what a morbid thought that was, and willed herself to walk on.
      She entered the petrol station, a pointless ding announcing the opening of the door. The shelves were cluttered with dust and absent of items. Behind the counter, the cash register had been emptied and the cigarettes ransacked. Cia wondered why someone would rob the money – what good would that do them now?
      She walked slowly between the shelves, looking from left to right, knowing she would find nothing but was so thirsty, she was going to look anyway. Maybe there’d be something in the back.
      Then she heard it. A distant hum.
      Her instinct was to be on the offensive, but this wasn’t the sound of a Maskete – or a Thoral, Lisker, or Waster. This was a child’s voice, like a constant whining, mid-pitched and whirring.
      She found the source of the sound in the far corner of the station. In that corner was a boy. Younger than her, maybe about eleven – yet already taller than her, which wasn’t a big surprise, as pretty much everyone she’d ever known was taller than her. His hands covered his ears, his fingers resting in his scruffy hair as he rocked his scrawny body back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
      Cia knelt down before him.
      “Hey!” she shouted, trying to get his attention.
      His whining continued. His rocking continued. He was oblivious.
      “Hey! Hey, knock it off!”
      Nothing.
      “Oi, I’m talking to you!”
      She grabbed hold of the boy’s arms and pulled them apart. The boy immediately screamed, staring wide-eyed at Cia, ripping the arm she’d grabbed away from her grasp, out of her reach.
      “It’s okay,” Cia insisted. “I’m not going to hurt you, it’s fine.”
      The boy looked at her again, his face shaking, tension widening his eyes, his body wrapped into a ball.
      “I’m Cia,” she told him. “What’s your name?”
      He didn’t answer.
      “That’s fine. I’ll – I’ll just call you Boy. Where are your parents?”
      Boy looked toward the door.
      Ah, Cia thought. She knew where his parents were.
      “Would you like to come with me?” Cia asked.
      His eyes remained big, but his shaking slowed, caught between a desire to be helped and an instinct of self-protection.
      “It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.”
      He didn’t move.
      She reached an arm out, and he flinched away.
      She thought of what to say. What if she sang to him? Like a lullaby, or something?
      She didn’t really know any lullabies.
      Her dad had been a scientist. When he put her to bed, he didn’t so much sing to her as he did explain complex theories.
      Then there was that one poem her father had taught her. Her mum had written it just for him. The only thing she’d ever known of her mum was her pictures and this poem. A beautiful face, skin blacker than hers, an enchanting smile, and a perfect set of words.
      She decided to try the poem.
      “The devil has departed,” Cia said in a hushed whisper. “And you are not alone.”
      Boy’s eyes relaxed slightly, but he retained his look of caution.
      “Take time to rebuild, Your love in our home.”
      She reached out a hand and placed it on his arm.
      He let her.
      “Shared time it is slowing, The pace of our heart.”
      He leant toward her.
      “But from now to the end, We won’t be apart.”
      He placed a hand on her face. Let it run down her features.
      She did nothing to stop him. In fact, she liked it. It’s strange how much we object to the touch of other humans – yet, when it’s gone, it’s something you crave.
      She took his hand and stood up. He followed.
      She led him out of the store, pausing by the door, not wanting the boy to see the remains of his parents.
      She pointed into the distance, away from the discarded features. He looked into the direction she pointed and he followed her into it, not looking back.
      She smiled at him.
      She had someone to take care of now.
      Nothing was more important than that.
      And that was how Cia met Boy.
  

After the Devil Has Won is OUT NOW

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