Beads of cold sweat drip down his pale face, leaving shining trails. His heart catches in his throat, as he hears his pursuer’s footsteps becoming louder, becoming closer. Arms pumping, legs aching, the boy forces himself to keep running, feverishly whipping his head back to glance at his pursuers. Breath coming out in gasps, he feels like his lungs might burst into flames at any second. Strands of dirty blonde hair obscure his vision, but he doesn’t sweep them away. His flimsy old sneakers crunch loudly on the gravel and he feels winded; the pain in his leg muscles screaming in his brain to stop. But he can’t stop. He can never stop.
It is the year 2097, and Australia is invaded by a foreign country. First came the soldiers, planes and submarines with their weapons of mass destruction. Then came the politicians, with their raving speeches about reforming Australia’s way of life. And lastly, came the settlers, masses of them arriving every day off huge ships, and crowding out Australia’s beautiful landscape with grey buildings and concrete. To sum it up, it was a massacre. Australia didn’t even stand a chance. The indiscriminative soldiers killed anyone who got in their way, even women and children.
They took him from his family, making him stand and watch as they raped his beautiful mother. They took her away. They took his lovely sister away too. They sent him and his father to labour centres where they were forced to work every day. He remembers the day they whipped his father for being ‘uncooperative’. He remembers the seemingly never-ending cracks of the whip, the blood running in streams down his father’s back, the screams of agony issuing from his father’s mouth. He remembers the tears running down his own face as they made him stand and watch.
That night, he asked his father a few questions that had been bothering him, like someone hammering on the inside of his skull. Why do humans go out of their way to hurt other humans? Other animals didn’t hurt one of their own kind for no reason. Why do humans try to take things that don’t belong to them? Animals didn’t do that either. Why do we have wars and kill each other? Why? His father didn’t answer. He just looked at his son with eyes filled with pain and despair. From that night on, the boy knew. He knew the answer to all those questions. Deep down in his heart, he knew that humanity was a lost cause. That nobody believed in good and evil anymore, because there was only evil. That all humans were selfish. But it was too late for him to care anymore.
The air rushing in and out of his lungs feel like fingernails scraping up and down his throat. Black dots fill his vision as he runs, threatening to blur the gravelly path in front of him. He vaults over a fence, cutting his hand on the splintered wooden edge. His eyes see the blood rushing out, he can feel the familiar red wetness on his skin, but his brain does not register the pain. He can only think of one word – escape. He sees an old, deserted farmhouse in the distance. He runs in its direction, panic escalating as he hears the thud of boots behind him –they must have vaulted over the fence too– he thinks to himself.
Arriving at the farmhouse, he frantically looks around his surroundings, trying to find somewhere to hide. Finally, his eyes set on a small metal storage box in a dark corner of the room – just the right size to fit him. He climbs inside, contorting his body to fit inside the tiny box. The soldiers rush into the farmhouse, their heavy boots thudding on the dirt floor. They shout to each other in their foreign, guttural language. The boy has limited understanding, but manages to make out what they’re saying. “Where’s the boy?” asks the leader of this group of soldiers. Nobody answers. “Search the farmhouse! Leave no corner unaccounted for.” he commands.
Trembling from fright and exhaustion, the boy silently prays that they won’t suspect he fits inside such a small box. Traitorous images flash before his eyes: the leader opening the box, the look of surprise melting into a look of triumph on the leader’s face, being pulled roughly out of the box, being bound and gagged, driven to The Sanctuary, being forced to kneel in front of The Commanding One, and forced to look into his ugly, hate-filled eyes. “Any last words?” he would ask. Then as they bring the gun to his head, he would feel the excruciating pain of the bullet entering his skull, entering his brain.
The boy is jolted out of his thoughts by the screech of the rusty lid opening. He nearly jumps in fright, but manages to control himself. The face of a weary soldier looks in, and their eyes meet. The boy’s emerald green eyes hold the gaze of the soldier. After a while, the soldier silently closes the lid of the box and leaves. The boy is paralysed in shock. Why didn’t the soldier pull him out and reveal him? Did this stranger from the enemy’s side, just decide to save his life? The boy is too confused and shocked to process this information, and pushes it to the back of his brain.
“Where is he? Do any of you useless people know?” asks the leader. Silence. Finally, a deep voice answers.
“We looked everywhere, but he isn’t here. Maybe he escaped through that window. After all, he is pretty small.” The boy immediately recognises this voice as the weary soldier who saved him. Although he had never heard the soldier speak before, the boy knew it was him. It had to be him.
“What are you people waiting for? Pursue the boy!” shouts the leader. The boy hears some grumbling, and the thudding of boots out of the farmhouse. Only when the sound of boots gives way to complete silence, does the boy dare to move. He slowly pushes open the metal lid of the box, cringing at the loud screeching of rust. Having acquired a case of pins-and-needles from his position in the box, he stumbles to the door of the farmhouse, and makes sure that the soldiers have gone. He runs in the opposite direction he thinks they went, and only now, does the fist of fear clenched around his heart, loosen its fingers.
After some time, the boy arrives at the ocean. The silky golden sand warms his aching feet, and the gentle sound of the waves crashing on the shore has a calming effect, like his mother’s sweet lullaby. He retrieves the piece of information from the back of his brain. Why did the soldier save his life? He racks his brain for a suitable answer and comes up with none. Maybe it was just a whim. Or maybe there are still humans out there who don’t go out of their way to hurt others. Maybe there are still selfless people in this world who believe there is good, and not just evil.
And maybe, humanity is not a lost cause after all.