The hooded figures. They guard our village. People say they protect us, but all they do is harm. Every day, the damage gets worse; on the first day they stole someone’s car. On the next, it was a house set on fire to ‘apparently’ mark the death of the family who had previously lived there. A long time ago, a crime struck Pandona – our tiny village. Murder, I think. The village blamed this woman called Mary who used to work at the bakery just down my road. When the guards brought her into the forest to starve as punishment, the village thought they were heroes.
The woman was never seen again – but I don’t think she was even the murderer.
Many people after Mary have gone missing or were forced to leave their homes. No one even questions the guards’ decisions because we’re scared of the consequences. The townsfolk are blind when it comes to the fact that the hooded guards don’t protect us at all.
Today, however, was different.
The guards didn’t do their morning route. The only house they went to happened to be mine. I ran down the stairs and looked out of the window. Their shadows crept up the walls.
They knocked again.
Mother always tells me I should never open the door to the guards. That’s what all the parents tell their kids anyway. I froze. There was something about their hollow, tortured eyes that keep me awake every night. Looking out of the window now, one of the guard’s eyes were so blank, soulless, you could say. Cloaked by his black hood, there was no part of his body that was visible; his gloves were like spindling spider legs – one for each finger. This time the knock was harder, shaking the whole hallway. My father - Patrick ran down the creaky stairs, yawning (clearly, he had just woken up). Our stairs were very old because even though my parents didn’t like to admit it, we were quite poor.
“Get back, Luna. I’ll open the door and you’ll stay in the living room until I say otherwise.”
This is what he tells me every morning.
Reluctantly, I dragged myself into the living room and shut the door behind me.
I bent down and crawled into the cupboard on the left. From here, I could pull the latch on the wood down which opens to a skylit trapdoor. Pulling myself through it, I coughed at the amount of dust that had collected over the years. Rotten wood dug into my fingers as I reached for an arm hold. It was like scaling a chimney, but way harder. Finally, I reached the roof. The village spread out in front of me as the yellow, orange and pink sky splashed behind the houses, vibrantly. I sat there for a few minutes, watching the guards approach my father in the doorway. Despite them being just underneath me, I couldn’t hear what they were saying.
The closest guard cleared his throat and stepped forward, “How many times will we have to ask you until you come to your senses and hand over your child.”
“I don’t have a child,” Patrick snapped.
The woman to the right of him pulled her hood down further, as if she was afraid of Patrick recognising her. Yet again, the guards advanced on Patrick, close enough to the roof that I could finally hear what they were saying.
“We would bring your child to The Orphanage of Pandona, I’m sure you remember there?” she teased.
Father flinched, then his face went back to showing no emotion.
“We’ll be here tomorrow to pick the child up. Nine o’clock sharp or she won’t be the only one saying goodbye.”
They turned and left.
I was left on the roof for a while, the woman’s words ringing in my head – ‘I’m sure you remember it there.’ Did that mean father had been an orphan? Afterall, I’d never heard him mention his parents, he kept things like that to himself. Another thought circled my mind: what happened to the children whose parents didn’t hide or home school them like my parents did? How many children were already at the orphanage? I shook my head; the only way I could be legally brought to an orphanage was if my parents were dead. But maybe they just call it an orphanage when really it is just where they bring kids, even if their parents aren’t dead? That thought didn’t reassure me anymore than the last.
Evie ducked behind the jagged stairs. The other orphans watched in anticipation, through various different crooked doors. She bolted down the corridor as one of the guards ran after her. The candlelight he was holding illuminated the hallway and the remnants of picture frames hanging above him. A skidding sound echoed in the opposite direction.
Someone else was out of bed.
“Whoever is out there better come here now, or I am going to beat you until there is nothing left of your tiny hands. Do you hear me?” He roared, pulling down his black hood to reveal his face.
This time, Evie did as she was told, and stepped out into the light.
“Miss Knight, oh how I do love your little stunts at nighttime, however, this will be the last of them.”
Before The guard could get his hands on her, Evie was gone. He looked down, only to find a letter addressed to him. Why did the girl have his letter? Without thinking twice, he ripped it open and skim-read the whole letter.
Deputy Head Guard,
It is my duty to inform you that we have another orphan. She is not actually an ‘orphan’ seeing as her parents are still very much alive. However, we can find her a place and I believe she would be a great contribute to your plan to collect every child in the village.
Someday, the children will know what we are doing for them.
As the other orphans went to bed, the guard blew out his candle and gave in for the day.
The next morning, a carriage pulled up outside the orphanage. I stepped out along with my mother and father.
I couldn’t believe this was happening.
My heart thumped against my ribcage like a caged bird about to be let free.
The only difference was, I was not just about to be let free. We were greeted by the guards; they lead us into the building. Past the ominous metal gate and through the creaky hallway.
“You need to say goodbye now,” mumbled the guard.
“Oh, ok…” I held back tears as I embraced my parents in a hug for what I hoped wasn’t the last time. My mother looked at me sadly as she and my father left the building. Three hours later, me, Evie and all the other orphans were having lunch when the guards rushed in.
Cries were heard from outside.
“The other village is here they’ve come to attack us!” She screamed.
Back outside, the metal gate was being locked and secured. By the front door, bars were being lowered so that no one could get in. All of the guards frantically bolted all the windows shut. The children of the orphanage screamed and ran around, but the attackers didn’t get in. For the children were all safely in the orphanage, it had been the guards’ plan all along. That day, the guards were real heroes, the orphans and children who didn’t have a protective home had been brought to the orphanage for protection from the rival village, knowing that they could’ve attacked any day, at any time.
The hooded guards. People now say they’re heroes, even if people had judged them before.
Because you can never judge people who quietly save the world.
Afterall, they tend to be all around us.
© Amy McCarthy
Winning Story: Contest #17
The following stories are the Outright Winning Entries for the Monthly Short Story Contest
March 2020 onwards