Authors: Maya Shepherd
„The Scarred Girl“
Translated by Bradley Hall
Copyright ©2014 Maya Shepherd
Coverdesign: Ines Caranaubahx
Facebook: Maya Shepherd
For Sabrina Keim,
never forget E+M 4 freedom
o you know the feeling when you know that something terrible is going to happen? But instead of freaking out, you feel empty and internally frozen simply because you know you cannot change it? You have no choice but to stand impotent and look toward the coming disaster There is a small hope that maybe things won’t be so bad.
We are all affected, regardless of whether we are young or old, fat or thin, black or white. The disease does not discriminate. It can strike anyone.
There are people dying everywhere, and with them electricity, the water supply, food production... and everything else that is required for life in the twenty-first century. All of this is due to a disease that starts as a cold and progresses to a high fever and then on to hair loss and a skin rash until there is nothing left to hope for but death.
The news became filled with new theories about the disease. The adults have no other topic of conversation anymore. No matter where you go, you meet people who have lost someone they know due to the virus. Every evening on the news statistics are displayed that show how much of the world’s population has fallen victim. At the same time, researchers will not tire of pointing out that they are working on an antidote. Of course it has the highest priority and all other research has been postponed. Anyone with even a little medical knowledge is occupied with the search for the urgently needed vaccine day and night. It is the biggest disaster in the history of mankind. Not even the Plague claimed as many victims, and yet there must be some kind of cure. The solution must be close enough to touch, because otherwise it would not explain why some people are spared.
With all the panic, many sects and new religious communities sprang up to explain why some people are spared. Everything is the will of God, who wanted to cleanse the world. But neither myself, nor my parents, are very religious. We never went to church; never spoke a blessing, so why should we start now? But I catch my mother quiet and seemingly unguarded with folded hands as she silently prays to herself more and more frequently. She has a great fear that I can see in her. Her eyes are often red and swollen from crying.
When I was twelve-years-old, my parents ceased giving me a goodnight kiss in the evening or wishing me sweet dreams. I was embarrassed and explained to them that you cannot do something like that to older children. But for four weeks, they came back to me every night. They would sit down on the edge of my bed and look at me with concern. They would tell me that I should not fear and that everything would work out somehow. That no matter what happens, life would go on for me and it would be all right again. I do not know what they feared more, the fact that I might get the plague and die in front of them or that they might die and leave me alone?
I often lie awake all night long in my bed and seriously try to imagine how the world would be without my parents, without electricity, and all the things that go with them every day. But I do not succeed.
A few days ago in our garden, I tried to start a fire with two sticks. But instead of producing sparks, I only poked my arm with one of the two sticks so that it bled. How will I ever survive in this changed world? I will not even have a light in the dark in this world without electricity.
Of course, I could team up with other survivors, but I never had many friends. I have always been more of a loner because I do not like to rely on others.
In addition to my parents, there is only one other person for whom I would do anything for unconditionally, and that’s Miro. He’s my best friend. More than that, he’s the brother I never had. With him, I share my hopes and dreams and worries and fears. Whenever I am sad, he conjures up a smile upon my face.
If the world goes down in flames, he will hold my hand and dance with me upon the ruins.
(Six Years Later)
cold wind blows Nea’s face while drilling her bare toes into the wet sand. The sea water spills over her feet. It is early morning. The sun slowly rises over the horizon and bathes the world in a golden glow, dissipating the deep blue of the night. She keeps her eyes closed and inhales the salty smell and tries to memorize the sound of the sea. To her, these are as natural as the air she breathes. Since her birth, she has lived in this small seaside village. Here she not only learned to walk, but spent each of her birthdays with a campfire and grilled fish on the beach. Leaving the place of her childhood is to draw a line under her past life. Too many people have died. Too much suffering has she endured. Here there is no future and no hope. Her goal is the newly built city of Promise in the south. Nea will travel for several weeks on the road to reach it, but it’s worth it. She would take every risk and effort upon herself to be able to forget and to start over from scratch. About two years ago she learned about Promise. The only city that has electricity. The only city where she could make a life without fear. The only city that promises a better future. Of course, they do not grant just anyone access. There is a strict selection process, because it is an honor to be granted entry into Promise.
Nea is neither a high performance athlete nor a technical genius, but she learns quickly. Over the last six years, she developed a strong will to survive. She knows she can do a lot once she has seized the ambition. This ambition does not belong to the girls who are looking for a strong guy who can protect them; it belongs to those who have learned to get by alone. She had to learn it because she was alone in the world without family or friends.
Therefore, many take advantage of the power of community and hunt and survive together. Together we are stronger than alone, but the more people who come together, the more significant the strong differ from the weak. The strong take what they want, while the rest is left for the weak.
The best example of this is the Carris. They are a kind of cult that formed after the outbreak. At first she dismissed them as cranks because they worship one of their own people as a god. Supposedly he is resurrected from the dead and risen from the sea. They call him Ereb, the god of chaos. No one has ever seen him. Nea does not believe in gods, neither good nor evil.
Chaos reigns in the world, in every corner, but neither Ereb, nor anyone else, can control it.
But last year, Carris added more and more members. So much more that they now dominate an entire region. They call it Dementia. Very few people probably really believe in Ereb, the god of chaos, but joined Carris only because they are rewarded with food for their faith. It’s not necessarily a bad system. For many it is the simplest, but for Nea, freedom is more important than a roof over her head.
Every resident in Dementia is assigned a task. Most have to work the fields or defend the country. A select few are allowed to conduct the ceremonies about Ereb, so they are a kind of priest. Anyone who enters Dementia cannot go back. You either stay and become a member of Carris, or you die. But the Carris are not really smart. One can easily play to them, which is exactly what Nea intends to do, because in order to become closer to Promise, there is no way around Dementia.
Before Nea leaves, she does not need to say goodbye to anyone because even though she grew up here, she has no ties with anyone else. The only thing she would want to see again is the sea. It was her most faithful friend. In the beginning, as the mourning of her parents was still too powerful, she would spend day and night at the beach and be lulled asleep by the constant sound of the waves. At the same time, it was always her source of food. It did not take long before she learned how to light a fire. When she was younger, she tried to make a fire in the garden of her parents’ home, but continuously failed. But plight teaches one to work harder.
The sea gave her confidence when she was hopeless, and rest when she was furious. It was always there, all her life, and to leave now, is harder than anything else. But she must go out at last; she has to, in order to change her life. Before dawn, Nea leaves her camp with a sleeping bag and a backpack. In the pack is only the bare minimum of supplies. A few cans of food, two bottles of water, a thin rope, a net, two flints, a compass, a map, and a knife with which she can defend, and feed, herself with. No sentimental ballast. There is neither a photograph nor a keepsake piece of jewelry or diary of her parents. She knows that others depend on such memorabilia; she does not, for these items can be used against her. This danger cannot fall upon Nea. While it would have been so easy to pick up a souvenir from her home, she has lived until today in the city in which she was born, but has not set foot in the house for the past six years, since the disease took her parents. She has not even ventured into its vicinity. She does not want to see how it lies there now, devastated by the raids of local gangs. She wants to keep it in memory as it was when she and her parents were a happy family, when her laughter could be heard all the way into the street.
Her thoughts of happier times desperately try to keep her here, but her decision has been made. Nea draws her feet out of the water and puts on a pair of socks, and then a second pair. The holes of one pair are hidden by the other pair, so it better protects her feet from the cold; in addition, the brown army boots are a little big. They belonged to Miro.
Focused, she ties her shoelaces together. The sea is just ahead, but she is lost in thought and doesn’t look toward it. For too long thinking has stopped her from leaving. A long road lies ahead, through the forest, full of unknown dangers. She trudges up the sandy hill without even looking around again.
The wind blows toward her, as if to push her back. Nea wanders through the tall reeds, continuing straight until she can see the forest. Before the forest is a meadow. The forest is silent and deserted, but already there is not enough light to take away its terror. The tall grass is still wet with dew, and again she is grateful for her moisture-repellent coat and solid boots.
She leaves the dewy grass behind and enters the forest. The soft forest floor is strewn with needles and is covered with moss. From close up, the forest no longer looks scary, actually, it is quite the opposite. Through the treetops, the light of the now rising sun radiates and envelopes everything in a magical glow. Individual beams of light dance around between the trees. The songs of birds and the gentle rustle of leaves can be heard. All of this reminds Nea of a book from childhood that her father often read to her. It was about a fairy that fell in love with a human boy. In her imagination, she is in the forest in which the fairy lived in a tree hole, next to Mr. Squirrel. The fairy would drink the dew of leaves for breakfast and eat juicy red berries for lunch and a few nuts in the evening for dinner. The fairy sang with the birds, their songs racing through the forest, bathed in pools, and would lie down on a bed of soft green moss. It was so careless and carefree. This silly story gives Nea a bit of courage for her trip.
It has become evening. The sun sends its last rays over the world and then the moon appears. An eternal cycle. The rays that this morning shone through the trees and appeared to transform the forest into a fairytale land now ensure that the trees cast long dark shadows. The light is, in fact, still golden, and one might assume that it is pleasantly warm in the spots where the sun shines through to the forest floor, as though it were a heated room, but the reality is different. It is bitterly cold, even if there is hardly any wind blowing.
It smells like snow. On the open field, it would still be bright for a long time, but here in the forest, where the trees catch the light, it will soon be so dark that you could barely see your own hand in front of your eyes.
For Nea, this means she should quickly seek food and shelter for the night. All day she ran through the forest. Her only guide is the compass and a map that she had been given by a traveler. She remembers how he came to the little village by the sea and paid for a warm place by the fireplace in the town hall with stories about his travels. Apparently he had even been to Promise, where he had seen a movie on a cinema screen, just like in ancient times.
Nea found it difficult to believe him, because why would someone voluntarily leave Promise once they were given access? Usually, she took no pleasure in unnecessary conversations, but what the traveler had to say did interest her, so she asked him why he had not stayed in Promise. He laughed and replied that to him, his own freedom was too important. He wanted to decide for himself about how to live his life and did not want or need anyone to dictate to him about what he should do. Even then, Nea thought this was a stupid excuse and is still convinced that he was just not good enough to be allowed to stay in Promise. As important as her own freedom is, Nea knows that a life without rules does not work in a community. This has always been so, and will probably remain so forever. The key is how the rules are set out: Democratically in joint elections, or dictatorial where an individual takes control of everything and lines his pockets. Probably the traveler never received admission to Promise and just admired the canvas from the city gates. Of course, Nea never told him this to his face. He seemed to have been quite nice, because he gave her a map, in which he had drawn in all the areas he knew. The old town names and new lines and new names were drawn upon it. He had marked the Carris territory red. At almost the other end of the map, in bright green, is the border of Promise, the city of promise.