Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 191,485,197 Issue: 607 | 9th day of Hiding, Y15
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by pillarbox


It was like waking up from a long sleep or coming up for air after being under water for too long. The burn in your lungs, that stifled and stuffy feeling, can't think straight, can't see straight, everything fuzzy and unclear. And then you break through. The sensation of fresh air expanding your lungs, warm air caressing your skin, bright light penetrating your eyelids. Freedom. Life.

     That was how Schuldich felt as she lifted her hoof, tentatively turning the door knob until the door clicked open. Wisps of light curled round the edge, and she took a deep breath. She was drowning and she needed to breathe. She needed to reach the surface.

     The door creaked open, millimetre by millimetre, until it had swung fully open and the bright sun was blinding her. It was good to be alive. The air tasted different out here, less stale, full of life. She could hear things, beautiful things. Airaxes chirping and Mazzews purring, the tiny pitter patter of niptor feet scurrying around. She had missed these sounds. Before, they had been drowned out by fierce beat of the drums of war, the thirsty yells of axe wielding tyrants, the sharp crack of lethal spells. And then, silence.

     No screams, or clanging, or chirping. It had seemed like the world was empty and bare. Raw, gaping, and that had scared her more than the fighting.


     The day it had started, Schuldich had been carrying out her usual routine.

     Get up, make bed (iron sheets till crisp, place pillows 2 inches apart, fold flat sheet and blanket down to about 12 inches, fold coverlet so it's 18 inches across), shower, clean bathroom, shower, get dressed into morning clothes, make breakfast (bread sliced three quarter inches in thickness, toasted for exactly 3 minutes, spread butter evenly, place on plate one centimetre apart), clean kitchen, shower, get dressed into outside clothes, go downstairs (go back up to that second stair, in case you missed it before), put on coat, grab keys and shopping bags, leave house, lock door, walk down path, walk back up to door to make sure it's locked, walk down path, one last check of the door, walk down path.


     It was as she was walking towards the market that she felt something off in the air. The roses in Mrs Jamieson's garden didn't smell so sweet, the water in the pond of Mr Wilkie's garden didn't look so clear. Even the sun felt different on her face, the heat was weak, as if the rays were scared to touch her.

     Confused, she started to count. Eight gnomes in Mr Barrie's garden, 12 fence posts in Mr Graeham's. Two small cobblestones between each large cobblestone in the path, 18 bricks on that Brickwork Patio Table table top over there, twenty four Boadaisies in Mrs McCluskey's garden.

     Speaking of Mrs McCluskey, where was she? Schuldich usually spoke to her at 8:03am NST every day, at this exact spot, whilst the elderly Acara trimmed her Axe Shrubs or sprayed her Cineraria. Where was she? Schuldich checked her wristwatch, three minutes past eight exactly. Where was she?!

     Schuldich halted in her tracks, needing to fulfil her customary five minute stop in front of this gate.

     Her eyes scoured the front of the house. One door, one handle, four windows, four sills, four window boxes, three plants in the gutter, two steps, six slabs in the path, three cracks in the slabs, two hanging baskets, one chimney, one plant bed, sixteen Colour Changing Tulips, fourteen Cineraria, twenty four Boadaisies, two Dark Island Palm Trees, five Axe Shrubs, one Happy Acara Gnome.

     Just the same as yesterday.


     But where was Mrs McCluskey?

     Four pairs of curtains drawn.

     She felt her five minutes coming to an end; it was nearing eight minutes past eight. She had to reach Mr Thompson's house by ten past to greet him good morning.

     She hovered at the gate, wanting to check on her friend, but she couldn't stand the prospect of deviating from her schedule. She carried on, almost unwillingly. Maybe she could check on Mrs McCluskey on her way back.

     Torn from her usual morning cheer, her gaze searched each passing house with growing dread. By the time she reached Mr Thompson's house, she had counted 44 windows with blinds and curtains drawn. There was no person or open window in sight.

     Her desperation and fear grew as she approached Mr Thompson's house. No one was there. Where was his deckchair, with him lounging on top of it, reading his newspaper while enjoying the morning sun?

     Come to think of it, where was the usual chirping of Crokabeks or the rustle of wind between the trees? The morning sounded dull and empty, almost unreal.

     Schuldich scurried on frantically, needing to find the market and the comfort of company.

     Six houses, 24 windows, 24 sills, six doors, twelve steps, six gates, three drum beats.


     Drum beats.

     She stopped in her tracks, frozen in shock.

     She knew this sound. She had heard the stories her whole life, the stories of the war in Tyrannia. She knew that these weren't just normal drums she was hearing; these were the drums of war.

     She twirled on the spot and rushed forward, her breath coming in short gasps. She was desperate to get home, desperate to get back to order and routine

     Eighteen houses, seventy two windows, seventy two sills, eighteen doors, thirty six four steps, eighteen gates, nine drum beats.

     Past Mrs McCluskey's house, with her one door, one handle, four windows, four sills, four window boxes, three plants in the gutter, two steps, six slabs in the path, three cracks in the slabs, two hanging baskets, one chimney, one plant bed, sixteen Colour Changing Tulips, fourteen Cyclamen, two Dark Island Palm Trees, five Fir Yooyu Flowers, one Happy Acara Gnome

     Four pairs of curtains drawn.

     Past the eight gnomes in Mr Barrie's garden, the 12 fence posts in Mr Graeham's, the two small cobblestones between each large cobblestone in the path, the 18 bricks on that Brickwork Patio Table table top over there.

     Past the off smelling roses in Mrs Jamieson's garden, past the dull water in Mr Wilkie's pond.

     Open the gate, up the path, unlock the door, slam the door, relock the door, close all the windows, lock all the windows, close the blinds and curtains, check the door is locked, check all the windows are closed and locked, check all the curtains and blinds are drawn, check the door is locked, check all the windows are closed and locked, check all the curtains and blinds are drawn.


     Schuldich slid down to the floor, her breathing evening out. She had not prepared for this.

     She had so much to do, so so much to do and organise and check and clean and redo and reorganise and recheck and re-clean.

     This wasn't in her schedule; this wasn't part of her ritual. She should be at the market right now, buying food. First some omelettes, two Ugga Melon Omelettes, two Veggie Delight Omelettes and two BBQ Sauce Omelettes. Then meat. One Bargasaurus Steak, three Bronto Bites, and five Nerkin Legs. Then to fruit and veg, three Mild Burumups, and bags of Plateau Berries, Tyrannian Rockberries, and Tyrannian Water Beans.

     A loud bang in the distance broke her from her imaginary shopping spree and jumped up from the floor.

     Food. She needed to check her food supplies.

     She made her way to her emergency food supply. Opening large cupboard doors, she scoured the shelves. Twenty of Freshly Tinned Carrots, twenty Tins of Sardines, twenty Tins of Olives, twenty packs of Canned ham, twenty packs of Silver Lupe Canned Chia Fruit, fifty cans of Neocola and fifty cans of Prune Juice.

     That should last her a while, at least.

     Then she settled down in her armchair in the living area, the growing sound of steady marching sending her off to sleep.


     Eighteen of Freshly Tinned Carrots, fifteen Tins of Sardine, nineteen Tins of Olives, thirteen packs of Canned Ham, eighteen packs of Silver Lupe Canned Chia Fruit, fifteen cans of Neocola and fifteen cans of Prune Juice.


     Eleven of Freshly Tinned Carrots, ten Tins of Sardines, fifteen Tins of Olives, eight packs of Canned Ham, twelve packs of Silver Lupe Canned Chia Fruit, eight cans of Neocola, ten cans of Prune Juice.


     Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.

     When would this end? For so long there had been the sounds of war outside, the screams and cries and drums.

     Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.

     She was sure those drums would drive her crazy. Maybe that was why these people kept fighting; they had been driven insane by that incessant drumming.

     Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.

     She wanted to check on her friends, she needed to, but how could she? Poor Mrs McCluskey and Mr Thompson and Mr Wilkie. She hoped that they had been prepared; she hoped they had emergency supplies to last the ordeal.

     Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.

     She looked down at her fingers. Now even her fingers were tapping to the beat of the drums.

     She couldn't last this.


     Five of Freshly Tinned Carrots, four Tins of Sardines, eight Tins of Olives, two packs of Canned Ham, seven packs of Silver Lupe Canned Chia Fruit, five cans of Neocola, six cans of Prune Juice.


     One of Freshly Tinned Carrots, three Tins of Olives, four packs of Silver Lupe Canned Chia Fruit, one can of Neocola, three cans of Prune Juice.


     One pack of Silver Lupe Canned Chia Fruit.


     It had stopped. The sounds had stopped. No clash of metal, no whizz of arrows, no cries of unbearable agony, no more blasted drumming.

     It had stopped.

     Schuldich half rose from her seat, unsure of what was going on.

     It had stopped.

     She waited for what seemed like hours, waiting for those drums to start up again.


     Then, a sound. Not a sound of violence, much to Schuldich's surprise, but a welcome sound, so human.


     She got up, cautiously making her way over to a window. Peeking from underneath the blind, she knew this ordeal was over.

     The street was full of people, her neighbours.

     Bursting with joy, she made her way to the front door.

     It had stopped.

The End

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