Chapter 1 - Malaki - Part 1

With every slide back into unconsciousness, another memory began. Snapshots of his past that his mind had pinpointed as being significant for some reason.

Malaki was sitting at a small square table. To his left sat his mother who was pushing her food around while mulling over something in her head. To his right, his father’s fork still lay next to his plate while he was scrolling through the local news on his tablet. He stopped doing both when he noticed the sullen look on Malaki’s face and began asking questions. After a short exchange to determine what the issue was, his father asked, “You are fifteen Malaki, how bad could it possibly be?”

Damon, Malaki’s twin brother, sat across from him and ignored everything that was going on at the table. He was focused on the food on his plate which he devoured like a starving animal.

Malaki was older than Damon by only 12 minutes. Since Sonto mothers carried their babies for nearly 13 years, having twins was extremely rare. In order for the mother to survive, one of the babies had to be much smaller. This was Malaki. He was born first, but just over half Damon’s size.

At first, the size didn’t matter to Malaki. He proudly stated to anyone who asked that he was the oldest. However, he quickly grew tired of being picked last for every sport and losing to his brother at every physical contest. A fact that Damon typically ignored, but one that Osborn Roth found particularly amusing.

Osborn was the annoying, selfish show-off who took advantage of Malaki’s size to make himself feel better. Just about every day, he would find something to pick on. Clothes, hair, anything Malaki said or did, even his parents’ job. Nothing was off limits in Osborn’s quest to ruin Malaki’s entire life.

Pushing his plate away, Malaki folded his arms across his chest. He had lost his appetite. Facing another day with Roth made the thought of eating unbearable.

Mrs. Karen entered the room, “We need to be leaving in 20 minutes boys.”

Mrs. K, as the boys called her, was originally hired to clean the house. Every corner and surface was thoroughly cleaned. Everything Malaki had left out the night before had been returned to its place. A fact he found perfectly satisfying. His brother however, did not. Sure, everything had a proper place, but that place may very well be smack in the middle of the floor. Mrs. K put everything away where she felt it belonged, and this drove Damon crazy.

Lately, it seemed Mrs. K’s duties had grown. Malaki vividly recalled the sudden change in routine when he woke to Damons screeching voice at having the covers suddenly yanked off his sleeping body and exposed to the morning air. “Time to wake up boys,” she would say while shaking their beds without any care for how early it was.

The most recent change included Mrs. K preparing breakfast for the family each morning which, after pressing hard, Malaki’s mother had managed to convince his father was something they should make time for.

Malaki’s father waived his fork towards Damon on the opposite side of the table. “Your brother seems to be perfectly fine. I don’t hear him complaining about this Rath kid.” Malaki looked over at Damon who seemed disinterested.

Malaki’s mother, who had been quiet for the last several minutes, seemed to side with Malaki. “I think it’s about time we have a chat with Mrs. Williams,” she said. “This has gone on long enough.”

His mother talked less than his father. She always listened first, then took action. Malaki had learned to be a good negotiator because of this. When it was his turn to tell his side, he made sure his argument was as good as possible. His dad on the other hand didn’t take much time to listen to what they had to say. He always guessed at what happened and whose fault it was. When he couldn’t decide, he just punished them both.

“It’s Roth,” Malaki mumbled, correcting his father. “Osborn doesn’t mess with Damon because he is bigger and faster than I am.” Damon finally perked up, sliding food to the side of his mouth and proclaiming through full cheeks, “Ain’t that the truth.”

Malaki jerked his foot forward and slammed it into his brothers shin so hard that the table jumped, nearly knocking over everyone’s glass. Damon dropped his fork to his plate and cried out in pain.

“Malaki Deasley!” His father shouted, “that is enough! If you are not going to eat, then leave this table and finish getting ready to go.” His father, who rarely raised his voice, glared at him, waiting for a retort. But Malaki knew better than to reply with anything other than ‘OK’, which he did as he stalked back to his room to grab his shoes and his bag.

The drive to school was relatively quiet. Damon made dumb jokes about some kids at school and Malaki simply mulled over how he was going to try and avoid Osborn. Mrs. K dropped them off at school and reminded them to be waiting at this very spot because she would be there at 3:30. As always, Damon ignored everything she said, now out of the car and beginning his slow trot towards his group of friends. Malaki nodded at Mrs. K and turned to follow Damon, who would inevitably find some sort of distraction that would make him late for the morning bell again.

“Damon, you’re going to be late again. We need to be getting inside,” Malaki called after him. Without turning or slowing down, Damon raised a hand and called over his shoulder, “Whatever big brother,” he replied in a voice dripping with sarcasm.

Before Malaki could respond, the scene started to blur. His head began to pound. He suddenly felt a chill breeze blow across his face. He was aware of a dull pain that grew with each breath until it seemed to be in every muscle and joint in his body.

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As his body regained consciousness, the memory faded out. Still in darkness, unable to will his eyes open, his other senses began to stir. He could hear birds chirping. Some nearby, some more distant. The sound of leaves rustling in a gentle breeze. His fingers slid through what felt like dirt. He could feel small stones pressing into his fingertips and lodging under his nails. Where he laid felt cold and hard. He felt grass on the back of his neck as it pressed into his ears.

This is when he noticed the pain, as every bone in his body seemed to ache all at once. The worst pain, however, came from his right leg. It surged up into his hip and lower back. A quick draw of breath, as if wanting to cry out, caused a sharp stabbing sensation in his chest which was more than Malaki could bear. He once again slipped into a deeper darkness than even his closed eyelids could create.

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Somber music played as people slowly shuffled across the floor, making their way to open seats in the military hangar where Malaki found himself. His left foot was involuntarily bouncing, as the heel of his polished black shoe fluttered from nervousness.

Malaki had been looking down since they took their seats. He pretended to be preoccupied by the wrap around his right arm that the doctor had put on his sprained wrist. A few days before, Malaki had another run in with Osborn Roth, something that seemed to occur more frequently since Damon had been accepted to the military training program. He was not around as much to distract Osborn from having fun at Malaki’s expense, only this time Malaki had had enough. He attempted to fight back, but his courage was rewarded with a bloody lip and a sprained wrist.

He refused to look up from the concrete floor of the military hangar that had been temporarily made up to host his father’s funeral service. He refused to acknowledge the faces that stared at him as they entered, offering silent condolences and whispering amongst themselves about how sad it was to lose a father. He refused to again look into the eyes of the portrait of his father that now sat atop a closed casket draped with the Manst flag.

Malaki could hear Damon whimpering on the other side of their mother who sat between them.

He recalled the moment she told them their father had been killed. Damon had immediately cried out, leaping from his chair and slamming into their mother as she enveloped him in her arms. Malaki just sat in stunned silence.

He looked up at his mother, who stared at him as her hand moved gently across Damon’s back. “How?” Malaki asked. “What happened?”

She responded through tears, “He died serving Manst in a mission to secure our freedom.” The response sounded rehearsed, as if she herself wasn’t convinced but had been fed that line enough times that she had memorized it. But instead of pressing, Malaki didn’t respond or question further.

Malaki didn’t remember much of the last several days which went by in a hazy blur. What he did recall, sitting there waiting for the ceremony to begin, was that he had not shed a single tear. He felt no emotion at all. Not sadness. Not grief. Not even anger. Perhaps that is why his heel bounced so heavily off the floor.

His mother's hand came down gently on his knee to calm the rapid and rhythmic motion of his foot as the commander of the Manst military approached the podium.

He heard little of the man’s words proclaiming how well his father had served. One line stuck out in his head above all the rest. Towards the end of the speech, the commander paused, took off his glasses and looked up from his note cards. After a brief moment he said, “The loss of Commander Deasley will leave a lasting void that will be hard to fill. Both in our hearts and in our country.”

Malaki didn’t feel a void. Through all the handshakes and hugs. After all the well wishes and if-you-need-anythings. Malaki still felt nothing.

The day ended late as his mother insisted on waiting until the last guest had left before taking them home. She must have noticed his blank expression, because she asked him to stay in the car when Damon went inside. She began fishing for how he was feeling, and Malaki made up something about shock and each person grieving in their own way, which she appeared to buy. He quickly retreated to his bedroom and laid down, feeling nothing but exhaustion. It wasn’t long before he was asleep.

Part 1- Written by Matt Henderson, Created by Micah Metz, Edited by Alex Gergely

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