The Gathu Village Reckoning
Zev and Elina
The sun rose high on voting day in Gathu Village. Zev woke first. He dressed up for the day and left his room. He found Elina in the kitchen busy making breakfast. She placed a mug of milk tea, and a plate with two slices of toasted brown bread and scrambled eggs before him.
“Mama,” Zev said, drinking his tea as he watched her prep vegetables for lunch.
“Yes, Zev,” Elina said, pausing to look at him.
“Do you really think I shouldn’t join the apprenticeship at Santi?” he asked.
Elina grabbed a kitchen cloth and used it to wipe her wet hands. She returned to the kitchen table and sat next to him.
“Zev,” Elina said, placing a gentle hand on his left shoulder. “I have my own views about a company so large it has become vital to every household in Afrotheria. They do provide jobs to the people, but…”
Elina smiled and shook her head.
“I’m just worried,” Elina said. “I know how smart you are, Zev. Of all my children, you’re the best when it comes to technology. You’re gifted and I do believe Santi Corp would give you the opportunity to explore your talents. All I ask is that you don’t put all your time into Santi Corp. Like you run the Pink Piggy, you can make your own company later and…try helping out ordinary people with tech.”
“Okay,” Zev nodded and then smiled. “I will graduate from the apprenticeship and make the Pink Piggy come to life in the real world.”
“You can also change the name when you have a chance,” Elina said. “I don’t see myself shopping at the Pink Piggy.”
Zev chuckled and ate his slice of bread.
“At least I’ll have a shop, what are you going to do about Grey?” Zev asked. “Guardians are not easy characters.”
Elina sighed and ran her hand over the top of his head. Her fingers sank into his short hair.
“I don’t know what we’ll do about Grey,” Elina said, shaking her head. “I’ll give him time to grow a bit. Theria Guardians look cool to kids because of their armor and the weapons they carry. In time, he might change his mind.”
“You hope,” Zev said with a grin.
“I hope,” Elina said, with a nod. “You used to want to work in the greenhouses at the village center when you were his age. Look at you, now preferring to code. It’s called the change of tide. You’re seventeen, turning eighteen soon. I bet in a few years, you’ll have a different set of priorities. Do you know what will remain constant?”
“What?” Zev asked, looking into Elina’s dark brown eyes.
She smiled and leaned in.
“You amazing me,” Elina said. “No matter what you’ll choose to do with your life, Zev. You always amaze me. I’m proud of you.”
Zev grinned when she leaned in and hugged him tightly. She rubbed his back and got up.
“Eat your breakfast,” Elina said. “Malachi called to make sure you would arrive in time. The voting doesn’t start until eight in the morning. He wants the voting assistants to arrive by seven o’clock. It’s only six-thirty. You will make it to the village center before then.”
Zev nodded and ate his breakfast, watching his mom start washing vegetables at the sink. After breakfast, Zev took his backpack from his room, bid his mother bye, and ran out of the house.
The Village Center was a fifteen-minute walk to the east of his home, it usually took him ten or less, if he ran. The academy he attended with Amare was ten minutes from his house to the west of the main road. Zev emerged from his street and joined the main road heading east to the village center.
Dalia stared at the voting console and the list of names that included her father. Izra Taj for Elderon, and his running mate Kakura Jafar as Izra’s chancellor. She had half a mind to vote for the opposing party. She was sure if Izra won, her life would change. The way people looked at her at KISTech was already different. She did not want to think of what her life would be like when her father became Elderon.
Her parents’ voices filled her head then.
Family comes first, her father said. When one member of the family wins, we all win, her mother said.
Closing her eyes, Dalia took in a deep breath and pressed the tick next to her father’s name. Unable to fight her parents’ constant advice. Shaking her head, Dalia finished voting by signing her name with the stylus pen on the voting machine’s screen. She submitted the signature, and waited for it to verify. When it did, the vote was complete and she could step out of the booth.
A photographer took her picture, and her phone beeped in her pocket.
Dalia looked around the large voting hall filled with fifty voting booths. They were in the city center hall. Voters made lines according to their last names. Hers was Taj, so she was at the ‘T’ booth. She caught a glimpse of her best friend at the ‘D’ booth and smiled when he waved at her.
“Dalia,” her mother called her name.
She turned to her right and saw her parents waiting on the side near the exit. Her father was careful not to greet or smile with anyone in the hall. He had his arm around his wife’s waist. He watched Dalia with expectation. Forgetting her best friend, she crossed the room to her parents.
“All done?” Sophina asked when Dalia reached her.
“Yes,” Dalia said.
“Then we should head out,” Sophina said.
“Yes,” Izra agreed. “It would be nice if we kept track of the process even if it’s on the screen-,”
“No,” Sophina said, cutting her husband off. “You’ve done all you can until now. Today is for family. We’re going to the hotel to have a good meal, watch a show or swim. The next hours are family time, Izra Taj. No talk of politics.”
Dalia grinned when her father stared at Sophina, then nodded.
“You’re right,” Izra said, rubbing his stomach. “I’m starving. Food sounds like a great idea.”
“I’m always right,” Sophina said and held out her hand to Dalia.
Sophina led the way out of the voting hall. She did not slow down until they reached the slick, modern, black-armored vehicles they were using to move around these days. There were two. One for Izra to use and a second car packed with four black ops guardians. It was a standard government issue for candidates campaigning for the Elderon office. Afrotheria was peaceful, but there were still passionate political individuals who took opinion to the extreme. Izra had faced a dozen death threats in the past week alone.
Once in the backseat of their vehicle, Dalia pulled out her phone from her pocket and frowned when she saw a picture of herself coming out of the voting booth. She was dressed in a white trouser suit, her braids in a tight ponytail. She had tried to look conservative, even wearing flat shoes.
‘Taj’s only daughter at the polls looking utilitarian. She’s one to watch even as we wait for voting results.’
Dalia shut off the screen on her phone and wished she could hide under a rock. She truly missed her obscure life before this election campaign started. Dumping her phone in her bag, she hoped her father would not win. At least then, she would return to worrying about research results and nothing else. The weird articles about her style choices would also disappear.
Shaking her head, she wondered if the Pink Piggy had made his decision.
Was he out there voting too? Would he choose her father?
The Village Head’s Son – Jiru
Zev’s work as a voting assistant was easy. He answered questions from voters, explaining how to use the voting machine, and sign the votes. He hauled in bottles of water from the store for other voting assistants and worked with the security forces to make sure there were no problems in the lines.
On a trip to the village hall’s store, Zev noticed the shelf holding the bottles of water was shaky. He found a power drill, an electric screwdriver, and bolts from the tools shelf and busied himself with securing the shelf to the wall.
Zev gripped the electric screwdriver and crawled under the shelf to drive in the last bolt. He was tightening the screws securing the shelf to the wall when something bumped his left leg. He couldn’t see what it was from under the shelf, so he called out.
“Who is there?”
When no answer came, he cursed under his breath and made sure the screws were tight before he scooted out from under the shelf. He bumped his head on the corner of the shelf and grimaced as he rubbed his left temple.
Looking up, he scowled when he saw Jiru, son of Malachi the Village Head, and Zev’s non-friend.
Jiru was a conundrum.
Zev was never sure whether Jiru wanted to be friends or to bully him.
“What?” Zev asked, still rubbing his forehead.
Jiru grinned, perched on top of the worktable holding baskets of bread buns for the voting assistants. Zev was supposed to take the basket to the voting hall and distribute the bread buns. Jiru’s fine black leather boots rested on the only chair at the worktable. He was dressed in all black, his hair in a high box cut fro. Zev always thought he looked like a cartoon.
“I heard you’re going to join Santi Corp’s apprenticeship at the Swala Oasis,” Jiru said, his tone caught between interest and mockery.
Zev sighed and got up from the floor. He undid the bits on the screwdriver and moved to return it to the toolbox on the tools shelf. He glanced over his shoulder to see Jiru scowling at him.
Zev hid a smile and shook his head.
“Do you want to join the Tech Apprenticeship too?” Zev asked, closing the toolbox and stretching his arms above his head to ease his muscles.
“No,” Jiru said, crossing his arms against his chest. “Will you see the Theria Guild cadets while you’re there?”
Zev dropped his arms to his side and leaned on the tools shelf.
“No, actually,” Zev said. “All I saw when I visited for registration was their transport vehicles.”
“That’s a shame, I’d go find them if I were you,” Jiru said, his tone smug.
Jiru’s entitled tone made Zev nervous.
Zev tried to stay away from Jiru or spend as little time with him as possible. Sticking to that motto, Zev pushed off the tools shelf and picked up the basket of bread buns.
“I need to take these to the voting hall. After, I have to find your dad,” Zev said, keeping it polite.
“He’s in the control room at the tech center,” Jiru said, jumping off the table.
Zev bit back his sigh of frustration when Jiru moved closer to him. The black shirt Jiru wore looked too tight. Zev wondered if it would tear if Jiru flexed his muscles. Hiding a scoff, he turned toward the door. It annoyed him that Jiru followed, but there was not much he could do. This was Jiru’s turf.
Zev carried the basket of bread buns, heading to the main hall. It was a sunny day, and the center was filled with people who were coming to vote. His parents were somewhere on the ‘M’ line. Amare could not vote yet, so she had to be watching his brothers in the children’s center. The playground at the children’s center allowed kids to play football. He too loved the field behind the children’s center. He and Weru sometimes played when they got time. They hadn’t been able to play of late, too busy with planning the future.
“I met your sister earlier at the children’s center,” Jiru said, as they walked along the corridor to the main voting hall. “She’s helping out with babysitting kids for parents.”
Zev gripped the basket filled with bread buns tighter.
“She is so nice to talk to,” Jiru continued. “I heard she wants to join the education class. My father has connections to the apprenticeship sponsored by our academy. I can talk to him and get her in.”
“Amare will get in on her own merit,” Zev said, refusing to think of being in debt to Jiru.
“I’m just saying I’d like to help her,” Jiru said. “Maybe she’ll look at me with kind eyes.”
Zev stopped, turning to face Jiru.
Jiru was two years his senior. He was nineteen to Zev’s seventeen. The thought of Jiru thinking of Amare when she was only fifteen made him want to punch the hell out of Jiru.
“Don’t glare at me,” Jiru said, grinning at Zev. “Amare is cute. You must have noticed all the boys at the academy are interested. I’m just saying I can help her secure her future.”
Zev stepped into Jiru’s personal space and met Jiru’s smug dark gaze.
“Amare is off-limits,” Zev said, the words coming out between his gritted teeth. “Stay away from my little sister.”
“Make me,” Jiru said, his smile making Zev feel like he might turn murderous.
“Zev!” Malachi’s voice rang in the wide hallway.
Zev swallowed down his anger and stepped away from Jiru. He turned to find Malachi watching them, and continued toward the village head. His first instinct was to get his sister out of this place. When he reached Malachi, the village head placed a calming arm around his shoulders.
Zev looked behind him to find Jiru still standing where they had been facing off.
Jiru smiled wide, making Zev scowl. He allowed Malachi to lead him into the voting hall.
“Did you finish with the shelf?” Malachi asked, leading him to the staff refreshment table.
“I did,” Zev said, placing the basket on the table.
“Give me your token card,” Malachi said, glancing at the time on his watch. “Your parents finished their vote. They took the boys home but left Amare to help out at the children’s center. Since it’s almost four, I want to release you, so you can walk her home.”
Zev reached into his trousers pocket and got his token card. He handed it to Jafar who took it and swiped it on the side of the cell phone he held.
A second later, Zev’s token card lit up and Malachi pulled it out and handed it back.
Zev swiped his thumb over the surface of the card and smiled when he saw his total tokens had increased to four thousand. He had been counting on the amount paid today so that he could make his upgrades.
“Thank you, Sir,” Zev said, giving Malachi a wide smile.
“You do good work, Zev,” Malachi said. “I know Jiru gives you a hard time, but he’s just trying to be friends. Be more patient with him.”
Zev nodded though he did not agree. Malachi was blind to his son’s wrongness. Jiru was a bully, and it worried him that Jiru’s eye was now on Amare.
“Then, I’m going to wait for Amare,” Zev said, pointing to the exit doors, that would lead him to the children’s center.
“You’re a good big brother, Zev,” Malachi praised. “Go ahead. I’ll call you when the village center has another job for you.”
“Thank you,” Zev said.
Malachi patted his back in encouragement and urged him to leave. Zev swiped two bread buns from the basket and left Malachi with a quick grin. He navigated to the exit doors, crossed the street, and entered the gates into the children’s center.
He headed straight to the painting room and stood at the entrance watching Amare moving among five round tables filled with kids. They had water-based paints on the table, and it covered their hands, and paintbrushes, as much as the papers before them.
Zev unwrapped one of the bread buns he held and leaned on the doorjamb. He waved in greeting when Amare noticed him and waved in excitement.
“Want to help?” Amare asked. “When was the last time you played with paint?”
Zev finished the bread bun he was eating in three bites, and went to the sink in the corner of the room to wash his hands. In minutes, he was kneeling on the floor having found space at a table with a group of six-year-olds painting doodles on paper.
Amare supervised his work and threatened to paint his hair with green paint. His attempts to escape her had all the kids laughing, especially when she finally succeeded and painted his left eyebrow, his cheek, and ear.
The Reckoning – Ghost Wraiths Attack
When it was time to go home, Zev carried Amare’s paint supply bag and his bookbag with his upgraded tablet. They walked home at a slow pace. Zev listened with rapt attention as Amare gushed about working with the children.
“By the way, Zev, will you still run the Pink Piggy when you start going to the apprenticeship?” Amare asked. “I heard mom telling you to make it a real shop. Would you open it at the village center, or find a place closer to the Theria Guild oasis?”
“I’m still thinking about it,” Zev said, hiding the fact that he was anxious about becoming an apprentice with Santi Corp.
If he chose to stay with Santi Corp, he would need to close the Pink Piggy. Santi Corp was proprietary about code development. If he did well, Santi Corp might even offer him a long-term contract working with them. However, it would restrict his creativity. All code made under Santi would belong to Santi.
“I think it would be fun to have the Pink Piggy as a real store,” Amare said, making him look at her in surprise. “Your ideas are always the best. You help a lot of people create code for gadgets used around the house. It would be fun to see our Gathu Village filled with little gadgets made by you.”
“You’re too biased,” Zev said, shaking his head.
“I’m your sister,” Amare said. “I’m supposed to be extremely biased. My brother is the best no matter what.”
Zev chuckled at her blind faith in him. A man on a motorcycle approached from the front, driving too fast. Zev pulled Amare to his left side to protect her from the rising cloud of dust. They were five minutes away from home when a loud thundering siren filled the area.
Zev looked in the direction of the village center and panic filled him when he saw the dark clouds above. Lightning danced across the sky and then thunder rumbled.
Amare stood frozen on the side of the road.
Zev grabbed her right hand and jerked her into a fast run. They needed to get home. Zev held his sister’s hand tight and started a punishing pace that had Amare tripping three times. Each time, Zev slowed, helped her up, and pushed her even harder.
His heart squeezed when he saw the black Theria Guild utility vehicles speeding past them toward the village center on the main road.
Zev had no time to think of what had descended on the Village Center.
They entered the access road and ran to their gate. It didn’t matter if the gate was open or not. Ghost wraiths could jump very high. Zev pushed his sister into the house, where she collapsed on the floor panting hard.
Zev dropped the bags he carried next to her and ran deeper into the house.
“Grey! Silas!” Zev called out, glancing at the digital clock in the kitchen. “Mama, Baba?”
It was just after five o’clock. Their parents should have already returned by now.
Zev ran to his brothers’ room and slammed their door open. The bitter taste of bile filled his mouth when he found their room empty. His parents’ room was empty too. They weren’t home yet.
Getting his cell phone from his pocket, he paused in the corridor when he found a message from his mother. They had dropped the boys at their neighbor’s house. His mother needed to return to the conservancy center, and his father was meeting a supplier in the next town. Zev and Amare were to pick up the boys from Gen’s house.
Zev wished he had checked his phone earlier. Running back to the living room, he found Amare had gotten up, though she was clearly shaky.
“Are they home?” she asked when she saw him.
“Not yet,” Zev said, rushing to a closet in the living room.
Zev pulled out a long heavy jacket. It was heavy on his shoulders when he wore it because it was lined with delicate silver netting. It was meant to protect skin from the bite of a ghost wraith.
Zev could not be sure it worked. He could only hope. Picking up an ax from the same closet, he closed the door and turned to find Amare shaking her head.
“You’re not going out there, are you?”
“I have to,” Zev said. “Grey and Silas are at Gen’s house. Baba is in the next town. Mama returned to the conservancy center. She asked us to pick Grey and Silas. I need to go get them and make sure they are safe.”
“I’m going with you,” Amare said, rushing to the closet to get a jacket of her own.
“No, you’re not,” Zev said, heading to the console near the front door.
Their dad had installed strong security netting around the main house. The silver netting would stop ghost hounds from breaking through the roofing and the walls to enter the house. Zev brought up the controls to activate the netting.
“You stay here and wait for us. Also, to wait for the boys in case I miss them on the way,” Zev said, turning to Amare. “You need to be here to open for them if they come back first.”
“Zev,” Amare said, shaking her head, tears filling her eyes even as she struggled to pull on her heavy jacket.
Zev sighed, leaned his ax on the door, and hurried to help her wear the jacket. He made sure it was zipped closed and hugged Amare.
“I’ll be right back. Be brave for me, sis,” Zev said. “I’ll be back with Grey and Silas before you know it.”
Amare nodded, tears still tracking down her cheeks.
Zev squeezed her right shoulder then turned and headed to the front door. He grabbed his ax and came out of the house. Closing the door, Zev was glad to hear it lock. He was glad to see the silver netting crackle with electricity, engaging around the building.
The siren was still ringing. Frightened screams rose from the direction of the village center. Zev could see smoke rising over the trees. He hoped their parents had found shelter. It was up to him to get to Silas and Grey.
Zev broke into a run, gripping his ax tight as he left their gate headed up the access road to the main road. He turned left toward the village center.
Gen’s house was five minutes away from their home. She was a family friend and she had a son the same age as Grey. The boys liked playing together, so their mom often left Grey and Silas at Gen’s house.
Zev ran like a madman ignoring the growing screams. He was breathing hard when he reached Gen’s gate. The sound of hefty stones dropping sent his heart to his throat.
A blood-curdling scream came from Gen’s compound and Zev tore through Gen’s open gate and came to an abrupt stop.
Gen’s cottage had a large hole in the roof. A larger crack broke the walls of what he knew to be the living room in half.
Thunder rumbled and Zev gaped as he stared at the largest ghost wraith he had ever seen in his life. It was as tall as Gen’s house, its dark skin slick and seeming to shimmer in broad daylight. The tail was long and had spikes that reminded him of a porcupine on its end.
Zev stood frozen, unable to move forward or back. His hand gripped the ax tighter as the ghost wraith turned to him. Its mouth stained red, the sharp teeth gleaming in the evening light. Zev could not look away from the deadly teeth on the wide mouth. The ghost wraith opened its mouth wider and Zev realized the sound it made caused the lightning and thunder.
Fear gripped him, sinking deep into his bones, his breath lodged in his throat.
A horrified scream came, and Zev’s gaze shifted from the ghost wraith to the crumbling stones of the living room. That’s when he saw Gen. Blood covered the front of her blouse as she fought off a second ghost wraith with a lampshade. It broke away and she grabbed onto a dining chair, throwing it at the ghost wraith, desperate to survive. She took the second chair and brought it down over the ghost wraith’s head. She turned to run and must have seen Zev because she shouted.
“Zev!” she said, her voice strained with pain. “The kids….in the back.”
Zev started forward, shouting to warn Gen when the ghost wraith she was fighting went for her back. The ghost wraith’s mouth opened and came down on Gen’s left shoulder hard. Gen screamed for a second, and then the sound was cut off as the second ghost wraith joined the first.
Zev’s scream lodged in his throat as he watched the savage wraiths tear into Gen. Anger replaced shock and all he could think was that he had to get the damned ghost wraiths off Gen. She was like a second mother to him; all he knew was that he had to get to her. He ran toward the house in a mad dash to avenge Gen, or to save her.
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