“There’s no one to save us. We save ourselves.
The knights are who we are!”
“Come in!” Ms. Smith yelled over her shoulder with her hands being busy making coffee which is as flavorless as hot water, “you’re later tonight.”
“Been working around the clock recently. There are a million tons of tank tracks to assemble.” Lyla dropped her bag, walking in.
“Don’t work too hard, you’ll be worn out.” An elder raised his head.
“Evening, Willy. You also play the puzzle?”
He stood up in a pile of puzzle pieces, stretched, “Argh… Been sitting too long. Climbed up and down with heavy loads during the day. They must want to break my back.”
“Mummy can I have a candy?” A little bouncy girl shuffled in the kitchen.
“No, honey. We’re running out of sugar. We got even less this time.”
“Here, Katy.” Lyla took out a small piece from her pocket.
“Thank you Lyla.”
“Help me with the puzzle?”
“I’ve been looking for a piece but can’t find it.”
“Don’t worry. Let’s look for it together.”
Willy got back to the pile, “I don’t remember I age so fast.”
Ms. Smith came and served the coffee, “this kid… Always want candies.”
“It’s OK. I don’t like sweet.”
“Don’t know how long we can last out on the food.”
“I’ll bring my coffee beans for you. I only drink here.”
“Thanks. Keep some for yourself. In case you work too late, you still have some to drink.”
“Speaking of work, there were only three soldiers left at my section today. Don’t you think that’s weird?”
“It is. I found them seemed quite moody, like being covered by dark clouds.” She leaned forward, “you know what? I heard some of them were deployed to the front line.”
With Katy’s help, Lyla had a success in the bottom right corner. Willy joined the conversation when he keep looking for pieces, “The table has been turned, ladies.” He unexpectedly found the correct place for a assembled chunk.
“I kind of heard that too. It’s said that the fronts are getting close here. Think about that, maybe there are intense battles just miles away from the city.”
“Hope this situation pass faster.”
“Carry on, Krystal. It will end.” He was delving in the pile, “but mind you. Here is a touch nut. Easy to hold, but hard to attack.” He still couldn’t find what he was looking for.
Hardly had some progress of the puzzle, Lyla stood up looking at the clock, “it’s near the curfew. Got to go home. Katy, watch our puzzle. Don’t let others mess with it.”
“Can I play some by myself?”
“Well, you can. But don’t go to bed too late.”
Ms. Smith walked them out, “night, take care.”
“Thank you, Krystal, good night. Good night, Willy.”
“Good night, sweethearts.”
Lyla picked up her pace for work when she thought of those hills of track parts and wondered when she can finish it.
She came with a trot, “Mind walking together?”
They went through the streets on the double, leaving the hustling crowds behind. Ms. Smith took two glances backward, “you know what? I just stopped by the post office and met Sophia. Our army is just outside of the city.
“They’ve been in a stalemate for two months, she said. Sophia must’ve heard a lot from the postmen.”
“Yes… How about your food? Still OK?”
“Hell no. We’ve been starving for a while. Especially when the work became harder recently. Everyday I work with my stomach rumbling.”
Lyla glanced at the soldiers on the corner, turned into another lane, “I think I have a plan.”
“What is that?” Ms. Smith whispered. There were more soldiers when closer to the factory.
“I don’t know if you noticed that. When we were rationed last time, the east door of the storehouse was blocked. They only use the north gate.”
“Right. I was lucky to get there early. Didn’t spend much time waiting in line.”
“There are only two sentries left. One of them even have to help the office sometimes. They barely have enough hands.”
“Lyla, if you’re gonna break into the storehouse, count me in.”
“Shush.” They stopped, moved forward, crossed the street, “let’s talk later.”
“Ya. I’ll walk this way.”
There wasn’t as much room in the house, so Katy tried to carefully move the half-finished puzzle away. A dozen of neighbors filled the seats. Katy lie on her stomach and played alone with the puzzle alone.
“Five years ago, I stood by the window, imaging I’m the princess of fairy tales, waiting on the castle tower for the knights to save me.” Lyla said, “the only thing I saw was the enemy marching into our city. Thousands of soldiers crushed the streets, with no shouts, no screams, no sounds. Entirely silence. Until the end, the princess has never seen her knights. We tolerated everything, like a flock of sheep. We accepted rations. Then we started doing the labors. We naively expected our obedience would at least save us. Now ask yourself, have you ever starved? Aren’t they treating us like slaves?”
“As you know, our army is right out of the city, still struggling. It’s not we’re waiting for them. Instead, they’re waiting for us. This is our city, our castle. There’s no knights at all. There’s no one to save us. We save ourselves. The knights are who we are!”
She lifted up her shirt and pulled out a pistol. People widened their eyes.
“It has been hidden for five years and waiting for the right time. We aren’t with no strength. No more tolerance. No more hunger. Give me a hand and help yourself.”
“I never turn in my rifle. My old man gave her to me. There’s no way I would leave her. No matter what.” Willy broke the silence, “Rather than rotting away under floor bricks, she’d prefer to come in handy.”
“Don’t leave me out, Willy. Don’t forget your hunting partner.”
“And me. If anybody need a gun, I’ve got two.”
“Come on. Go check them before you speak. You never clean your guns.”
With laughters, the plan was bounced back and forth.
The frame of the puzzle has come together piece by piece. From a corner to another, they were finally connected.
Katy was tired, going back to the bed.
“Everybody leave separately. Don’t catch any attention.” Lyla said.
“People have guns, but don’t have any food hidden?” Lyla moved the puzzle back, not dropping a single piece.
“Anything edible must’ve been eaten. I would eat a gun if it was made from flour.” Ms. Smith said with a helpless smile, cleaning the table.
Another day, Lyla got invited to another house. Another night, more families pried open the walls and dug into their floor stealthily. Like the ants under a rock, people never rested, but there was nothing different on the surface. If one day you lift the rock, the troops of the whole empire will terrify you.
Listen, rustling, the light of dawn whispered to people. Lyla slightly opened her eyes, holding her pistol beside the pillow. More rustling, crowds of ants spilled out of their nests, crawling all over the streets.
Clink! Broken the silent morning. Fierce tongues of fire bursted out of the office on the corner.
BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!
The gunfire drowned the words of shouting. The footsteps of people surging in and the crackle of burning composed a exciting rhythm.
“Take the stuff out first! Move, everybody! It’s burning away!” Lyla shouted with her dehydrated throat, sweating, baked by the fire at the gate, passing crates after crates.
More people rushed into the storehouse. Suddenly the crates on the streets formed several roadblocks. People crouched, pointed their barrels toward the end of the street. More and more soldiers came. When they seemed short of fire, a blinding glare shot with the ground shaking, making people shrink, then came the deafening great bang. Lyla raised her head. Who knows how many blocks away, a dark gray cloud was rising into the sky.
“Don’t you tell me someone has that shit in the house.” Ms. Smith said, sticking out her tongue, “what’s the problem of people?”
Lyla rose the right corner of her lips, “Maybe someone made it from glycerine they collected.”
“I don’t care if it’s made from fertilizer or soap or fat or crap. That guy needs to see a psychiatrist seriously.”
When the sun was going down, dozens columns of black smoke stood out against the afterglow, dominating the skyline, with fires gleaming from below in the dying radiance of the sunset.
Lyla helped Ms. Smith with the crate, “Katy little sweet tooth, see what I bring for you.”
“Lyla, Lyla, come here!”
“What?” As Lyla came closer, she saw the puzzle was near finished except the top left corner.
At a leisurely pace, they put pieces together…
“Why don’t you put the last piece together?”
“The time hasn’t come yet, cutie.”
“What do you mean?”
“Got to strive for a few more days.”
“But we’ve done all the rest parts.”
“Don’t worry, the last step won’t take too long.”