Tell A Tale in 500 Words

There were Twelve By Susan James

There were twelve of us in that house. They found eleven, arrested ten. That’s what they do: set one person free as a warning to the others. We found them, and we’ll find you.

Jon was hidden under the floorboards. Saving him had been the right thing to do. Kal had braced his shoulder against the door, looked at me and nodded. Jon was his brother. I’d lifted the board, pushed the younger man inside and dropped the wood back into place. The door had splintered. Kal had staggered back. Boots and batons had surged forward. Louder than the beating, almost as loud as the beating of my heart, was the sound I was sure I could hear through the soles of my feet: the sound of Jon’s breath into the cup of his fingers.

Only they didn’t find him. They didn’t find anything other than us. Plans weren’t kept on papers, but they could read tongues with their blades. They’d slice out the answers with the sharp edges of their questions. Kal said that everyone breaks eventually, even him.

And then they were gone. Everyone except me, and untouched by their fists, ignored by their warrant, I was the one they left as bait. Only I’ll never be accepted back into the faction. Those cut loose are always disinherited.

I lift the board and watch Jon brace his hands against the floor to pull himself up. His hands are shaking, and he stays on his knees, retching.

“It's alright, Jon,” I say, bending over, squeezing his shoulder. “It happens. They knew the risks.”

I give him a minute and peer out of the window onto the empty street. They'll keep watching me, wanting to see if the rat goes back to the nest.

“Wait for a while after I’m gone, and then find the others. Keep to the plan.”

“They'll kill him, won't they?” he says, getting to his feet.

“They'll kill all of them.”

“I wish-”

“Wishes are for the old world” I say, one hand on the door, “when we weren't starving, pressed sixteen to a room, classified as numbers on pages or by silver coins in a purse.”

He wipes his hand across his face, sniffs loudly and nods.

“I know what to do.”

“They’re not looking for you but be careful.”

We shake hands, and I feel like I should say something, something his brother might have said about what we’re fighting for, but I don’t. I walk out, and the last thing I see is him clenching his fists.


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