May 11th 1826
I still remember the smell of cherry blossoms. I remember watching the Killer twitch and fall. I remember the oranges rolling down the mosaicked streets, through his splattered blood. Most of all, I remember the cherry blossoms.
I was fifteen and I was walking through the streets of Bearcaska with my step-mother, Caterina. We had just finished visiting the grocer and my step-mother wanted to take the long way home since it was such a beautiful day. Looking back at it, I am amazed at how grand and beautiful Bearcaska was and how she has fallen during recent times. We have lost so much to time and war, it is hard to imagine that there was once a time when Bearcaska was the jewel of Terra. When the roads had been cobbled with beautiful stones from Marye’s River, the very sidewalks of Bearcaska had been covered in mosaics that told stories from beloved fairytales and folklore and the city, had not been illuminated by the dull buzz of electric lights, but by the Southern Lights created by thin gem filters placed over burning candles. The house walls had been embedded with precious jewels and stones taken from the Kanas Mountains and statues danced and walked with traveling Shivians. Bearcaska’s true beauty, however, had come from the cherry trees that lined every street, turning the city into a perfumed wonderland.
“Oh, look, Kingsley, Mr. Adams has a new bird feeder in his garden,” said my step-mother, pointing at the contraption.
Mr. Adams, who was working in his yard, muttered to himself and shook his head as we walked by.
“We should get one for our house,” I told her, a faint grin flirting across my snout.
She looked at me and laughed, “As if your father would ever agree to that. He curses every time he has to clean their droppings off our bench.”
My step-mother oafed as a strong wind threaten to blow her white, wide brimmed hat off her golden head. I laughed and she gave me a mildly annoyed glance.
“You know you’re the one chasing after it if the wind blows it off my head.”
“Keep telling yourself that,” I smirked.
She scoffed and flicked one of my long, fuzzy ears. I feigned outrage and my step-mother glared at me. We lasted for a good two seconds before we both burst out laughing. We found ourselves so entertaining that we turned a corner and nearly bumped into two Shivian businessman. I bowed my head as they stared us down and my step-mother looked ill.
“Watch were you’re going, perra,” snapped one man as he pushed passed us.
I clenched my teeth and was about to snap at their retreating backs, when my step-mother placed a hand on my arm.
“They’re not worth it.”
“They just insulted you!” I retorted.
My step-mother shrugged and continued to walk down the street. I glared at the retreating Shivians before bowing my head and following her. We walked the first three blocks in silence as I stared at her with muted pity. I do not know if my step-mother made the right decision in taking us in. She was punished far more than she was rewarded and I have often wondered if we should have refused her kindness. I believe she would have had an easier life that way, although I do not believe she would have been happier. Yet, what is the worth of happiness in a world like ours and is it truly worth the cost?
“You know Mr. Wilkinson has an opening at his café,” she said as Shivians bustled passed us.
“Yes, I know,” I said, admiring the beauty of the cherry trees.
“I could ask if he would be willing to hire you.”
I looked at her in disbelief.
“I’m a Killer.”
“So? He’s already hired a female Killer. A rather cute one, I might add,” she said, nudging my shoulder.
I smiled and shook my head.
“That’s the last thing I need.”
“Oh, don’t be like that. You should start looking.”
Thankfully I was spared a response by a ringing bell. We both looked up and nearly died laughing as a poor poodle walked out of a pet salon. I almost felt bad for it because of the ridiculous haircut its owner had given it. The owner was of a richer class of Shivian who did not notice anyone around her unless they were wearing 24 carat gold necklaces and rings full of sapphires and emeralds. She was dressed as if she was going to a ball and even her pet seemed like a nuisance to her. She brushed passed us without sparing us a glance and our laughter must have followed her down the street.
“Oh, I will never understand the vanity of others,” my step-mother said as we cross the street, an unusually large crowd of Shivians pushing passed us. I furrowed my eye ridges as my step-mother shrugged.
“Maybe the Avion has opened a new exhibit.”
I frowned as the street grew increasingly deserted and we heard the faint hum of chanting.
My step-mother, a stark white, paused and said, “Maybe we should turn around.”
My curiosity, however, got the best of me and I turned the corner and saw a large gathering at the end of the block. There were numbers of Killers, shouting and jeering, some carrying signs, and many were dressed in dirty rags while some were barely wearing enough clothes to protect their scaled skin from the sun. Most had dirt and soot blotched skin while many of their long snouts were red from whatever cold they had caught in the tenements and a few had sawed off their horns and had pulled out their molars and sold them for a few extra pinta.
“Oh, Kingsley, we should turn around.”
The blue and scarlet dressed Shivian policemen gathered around the crowd, trapping the protesters in a tight circle. While the Killers were weaponless, the police men had revolvers and clubs.
“Return to your homes!” a police officer shouted through a bullhorn, “We don’t want any trouble!”
“Kingsley!” said my step-mother, grabbing my wrist, “Let’s go.”
I shook my head and said, “You go.”
I barely glanced at my step-mother before wrenching my wrist from her grip and walking down the street. I heard a clanking and watched as a pair of firemen drove a steam driven fire engine down the road.
“Free streets! Fair wages!” chanted the Killers as the police officer with the bullhorn sighed.
The fire engine parked and the firemen pulled out a hose.
“This is your last warning!” shouted the police officer, “Place your signs on the ground and place your hands behind your head and there will be no trouble.”
“Why should we?” shouted a Killer.
“So you can kill us like Collins and the leaders of ‘29?” shouted another Killer.
“Hot food and soft beds!”
“Free streets and fair wages!”
“For Collins and the leaders of ’29.”
The police officer lowered his bullhorn and nodded towards the firemen. I had been hovering by a candy store-which had pulled its curtains together and I only assumed the owner was hiding behind his counter- when I saw the firemen point the hose towards the Killers. I gasped and took a step forward. What a fool! As if as single Killer could stop what was about to happen.
Fwoosh! The Killers screamed as a pressurized blast of water slammed into the crowd like a rock crashing through a glass window. The crowd shattered as Killers fell to the ground and others tried to run to the sides.
“Kingsley!” snapped my step-mother grabbing my arm.
I pushed her away and ran towards the Killers, oblivious to the fact that I still had a bag of groceries in my arm, oblivious to the fact that the hose was an unquenchable monster, and oblivious to the fact that the policemen had drawn their clubs. The police officer gave the signal and the firemen turned off the hose and the policemen moved in, beating the first Killers they saw. My step-mother jumped in front of me and placed a hand on my chest.
“Kingsley there’s nothing you can do for them.”
“I have to try!”
“Kingsley, look at me. Look at me.”
I stopped struggling and looked into her frightened blue eyes.
“There’s nothing you can do.”
We both jumped as we heard a sharp crack. I looked across my step-mother’s shoulder and watched as a police officer bashed a Killer’s head in, blood and brain matter gushing onto the mosaicked street and mingling with the pool of water. My step-mother brought her hand to her mouth as I blinked.
“We have to go,” she said as Killers fell to the ground, their blood splattering the faces of the police officers, and others tried to run, “Kingsley, we have to go.”
I didn’t hear her. I didn’t hear anything. I stared at the red water and the fallen Killer and I smelt the cherry blossoms, those damn cherry blossoms. My eyes widened as my step-mother smacked me across the cheek.
“Kingsley, we need to leave now, otherwise they’re going to turn on you and I cannot guarantee I can protect you.”
I looked at the policemen who were too busy beating the protesting Killers to notice us, but I knew she was right. I nodded my head and she grabbed my wrist and pulled me up the street. I tried to ignore the cries of the Killers and the sickening sound of clubs beating down on my people. My step-mother was practically running down the street as I struggled to keep up with her while also wanting to stay behind. The fool I was, I thought I actually belonged there. That I could make a difference by joining the dissolving protestors. In retrospect, it seems ridiculous, by they were my people. How could anyone be expected to ignore an attack on their own people?
A crowd of Shivian bystanders were hovering around the perimeter of the scene and many gasped and some clapped. They all stared at me, but everyone recognize my step-mother so they did not say anything to us nor did they try to get in our way. I managed to escape her grasp and was about to turn around when a Killer ran into me, knocking the bag of groceries out of my hand. All of the items in the bag landed on the mosaicked street. A group of watching Shivians laugh as oranges rolled down the street and the Killer continued to run. My step-mother and I bent down to pick up the food.
The Killer continued to run. I grabbed the loaf of bread and put it back in the bag.
“I said halt!”
The Killer continued to run. I grabbed an orange. The air was rent apart by a sharp crack. I looked up and watched the Killer tumble to the ground, our oranges rolling down the street and through the puddle of blood that seeped from his fallen body. My step-mother pulled me up as the police brushed passed us. A few police officers stopped to harass me, but I barely noticed and my step-mother quickly stepped between us and berated them. I took a step forward as an officer used his boot to turn the fallen Killer over. His chest was deep red and his blood dripped onto the cobbled road. His eyes were wide open, staring at an orange that had stopped rolling an inch from his outstretched hand. He was gasping for air.
“Well there’s one last cow to worry about,” smirked the police officer as the last spark of life faded from the Killer’s wide blue eyes.
The other officer chuckled before they turned their back on the body. They cast a glance at me and one made a move towards me, but the other grabbed his shoulder and pointed at my step-mother who was screaming at the police. I waited until they had passed by before walking towards the dead Killer.
I stopped at the edge of the pool of blood and my eyes studied his body, memorizing every feature. He had a gold pocket watch that had fallen out of his pocket. It was open and the glass was shattered. He must have stolen it from a Shivian and probably meant to sell it. His vest was black and frayed, it had obviously been mended many times. His hands were rough and callused which suggested he had once been a farmer or a construction worker. His shoes were held together by pieces of string and he did not wear any socks. His horns were missing, he had most likely cut them off and sold them for money, and he was missing one of his molars. Despite the commotion going around me, I could not hear anything. I did not notice the policemen around me dragging the protesters away and the Shivians pointing and either gasping or cheering. I did not notice the wind causing the limbs of the cherry blossoms to shake. I did not notice my step-mother arguing with a police officer. There was only me and the dead Killer and the orange a mere inch away from his outstretched claw. His eyes were wide open and stared at me. I stared back. Blood began to clot at the corners of his snout and his blood was already starting to darken. As I stared at his body, a strange acceptance washed over me. This was the way things were supposed to be. If the Killers rebelled against the Shivian government they were murdered. As soon as the thought took root, I felt a burning in my chest. An all-consuming rage that would never be satisfied until it drenched the streets of Bearcaska in Shivian blood. I blinked and the world slowly returned as the smell of cherry blossoms permeated the grisly scene, condemning it to be nothing more than a dim memory, another tragic moment in a never-ending tragedy and I slowly noticed that my hands were fists, my sharp claws drawing blood.
I jumped as my step-mother grabbed my arm.
“Come on, Kingsley, let’s go home.”
Her hat was long gone and her hair danced with the crisp breeze and she was pale. I pulled myself away from the body and followed my step-mother back to the groceries. I picked up a bag and felt the eyes of the policemen on my back. I slowly rose and turned and an officer spat at my feet. I snarled and took a step forward, but my step-mother grabbed my arm.
“Come on, cow, I only need to beat one more Killer to qualify for a promotion.”
“Kingsley, I’ve saved you once. I can’t do it again.”
I grimaced before turning away and followed my step-mother up the street. We half walked/half ran down five blocks before she stopped and leant against the corner of one of the buildings. She brought one hand to her face and stifled a cry. I placed the bag on the street and wrapped my arms around her.
“I am so sorry.”
I nodded my head. She wrapped her arms around my waist and tightened the hug. I rubbed my snout against her cheek and she shook with tears.
“Let’s go,” she gasped pulling away, “Your father will be worried about us.”
I nodded my head and picked up the bag of groceries.
We walked two more blocks before my step-mother stopped me and said, “Dear God, are you all right? I didn’t even think…”
I stared at her before looking away.
“I’m sorry, of course you’re not all right,” she said, shaking her head, “I can only imagine…”
We both looked up as a young Shivian threw a pebble at a window. The window opened and a young woman stuck out her head.
“What’s wrong with you, Jack?”
“Did you hear?! A gang of Killers jumped a police officer! There was a brawl just down the block.”
“Oh God, is the police officer all right?”
“Yeah, they got the cows, they got the devil out of them!”
“Amal and the saints,” sighed my step-mother, crossing herself, “Have they no sense of decency?”
“Let’s go home,” I said, leading her down the street.
The young boy watched as we passed by, but I gave him a glare that could kill while my step-mother fought her tears. Many Shivians who passed us by did not even cast a second glance at her tears and some even hissed insults at us. As we walked down the street, the smell of cherry blossoms followed us and with the cherry blossoms came the dead Killer’s vacant eyes and his outstretched hand reaching for the orange.
When we arrived at our modest house, we saw my father halfway down the hand carved, stone steps struggling with his tweed coat. My father looked older than he was, the fur on his long ears was grey, deep lines were carved into his scaly green skin, and his shoulders drooped with the strain of the years. His right arm was wooden with a three pronged claw attached to the end of it-a reward for his part in the First Shadow War.
“My God, Cat, I was so worried! Are you right? Are the both of you all right?”
My step-mother collapsed into his arms, grocery bag clutched tightly in her small hands, and she burst into tears. My father used his good hand to stroke her golden hair and looked at me.
“We walked into a Killer protest on Broad St,” I explained.
My father whitened.
“Were either of you hurt?”
I shook my head as my step-mother trembled in his arms.
“All right, let’s get inside. I don’t think it’s safe for us to be outside,” said my father, looking up and down the street.
I followed my parents onto the front porch, but I stopped at the door. I could not go inside.
Instead, I placed the bag of groceries inside, closed the front door, and walked to the edge of the porch. I rested a clawed hand on one of the support beams and stared at the street. It was quieter than usual. There were no Shivian children racing home as the sun set, no happy couples walking towards the restaurant, no families returning from the theater. There was only the occasional carriage racing home and the unwelcomed policeman, whistling as he ran his club against the metal fences of the neighboring houses. He paused in front of our house and I foolishly wished that he would walk into the yard. I almost shouted at him, begging him to attack. All I needed was one reason, one simple slight…He grinned as he tipped his cap towards me and walked down the street. My eyes watched his back until it disappeared into the golden horizon. I took a breath and was overwhelmed by the smell of cherry blossoms. I turned my head and saw a cherry tree in our front yard and I frowned. The dead Killer flashed before my eyes.
“We should cut it down,” I muttered.
“Cut what down?”
I turned around and saw my father step onto the front porch and close the door.
“The cherry tree.”
My father frowned, “Why? It’s done no wrong.”
“No…but it’s reminder of what I did wrong,” I said, looking down
“There was nothing you could have done,” said my father gingerly lowering himself onto the stone steps.
“I should have joined them.”
“And what would that have achieved?” asked my father, looking up at me.
“It’s what you would have done,” I retorted, “It’s what you did when you were my age.”
“And look what I got out of it,” said my father, holding up his wooden arm.
I sighed as I sat down next to him. I rested my arms on my knees and sighed.
“I watched someone die,” I said, his vacant eyes flashing before my eyes.
“I know. Caterina told me.”
“I don’t even know who he was,” I said, shaking my head.
“Should you know him?” asked my father, looking at me.
“He’s dead. Someone should know him.”
“Well, it hardly matters now.”
I looked at my father and watched him age another forty years.
“Dead Killers don’t have names. Only dead Shivians matter,” he said, looking up at the golden sky, “Only dead Shivians.”
I stared at the empty street in front of me and watched a cat slowly slinked from house to house.
“At least God knows his name.”
My father nodded his head.
“Yeah, at least God knows.”
I looked down and furrowed my eye ridges as I noticed a string hanging from my pants.
“She’ll be all right.”
I nodded my head and picked at the string.
“It shouldn’t be like this.”
“No, it shouldn’t,” sighed my father, running a clawed hand over his bald head, “But it is.”
My father patted me on the knee and rose.
“Come on, let’s get inside. Caterina is worried about you and it’s not safe for us out here. It’s not going to be safe for a number of days.”
I nodded my head and slowly rose. I cast one more glance at the cherry tree before following my father into the house. “I’ll chop it down tomorrow morning,” I told myself as I closed the front door.