I had a dream last night.
There was fear in that dream. I remember feeling weighed down by the terror. I remember feeling eyes watching me from everywhere; feeling that they - whoever they were - were just waiting for me to slip up and make a mistake, to chase after me and capture me. I don't know what I did. I don't know where I was. It was a world where things had gone terribly wrong, and the metallic smell of fear and oppression and blood filled the air. That much I knew, and I knew I was in danger.
But there was a woman, and though she was afraid she was kind to me. She sheltered me; said that I was kin, that I was part of her family. She said that to a group of uniformed men who had come knocking at her door - terrible, terrible men with cruel faces and sleek rifles by their sides. I was terrified, and I'm sure she was terrified as well, but the men took her for her word and left.
They left, and they brought the woman's son with them. The boy couldn't have been older than twelve. I don't remember the reason why they took him, but I remember him looking deathly pale and shaking out of terror, and I remember her kissing his cheeks and telling him to calm down, and that if he remained calm she would come and see him soon. She told him to be on his best behaviour, so that they would let him go quicker, and I remember him looking slightly comforted, and I remember thinking, what incredible power do mothers possess, calming their children with just words alone. I remember him hugging her so tightly, and I remember the terrible men in uniform just let him be, and when he finally let go they took him away and disappeared.
I remember seeing a tear sliding down the woman's cheek, and her wobbly smile as she watched them leave.
I remember seeing her watching the front door, rushing to open it whenever the bell rang, hoping that it was her son. She treated me kindly, but I knew she was worried for him. It went on for several weeks, and one day we went to the market. I don't remember why we went there, but the woman's face was nervous and agitated, and I remember the deathly hush that had fallen the market square, an eerie shadow of the usual hubbub and chaos of such places. I remember feeling afraid, and I remember somehow knowing that this was about her son.
I remember seeing it before she did. I closed my eyes and turned away, but she had already noticed it, and she started to wail. There was a gallows in the middle of the square, and there was a body hanging from the wooden beams. The chains that were wrapped around its neck were rusty and bloody. Its limbs were broken, so as to wrap around the body. One of its arms were wrapped around the neck, while a leg had its bones broken so it could be twisted around the torso. It was a massive lump of tangled, broken limbs wrapped in chains and stained with blood. The face was too disfigured to make out, but I remember knowing instinctively who it was.
It was the woman's son.
I remember her wails. I remember her running up to her son's body, and clutching at the chains trying to bring it down. I remember there was a counter by the gallows, where a man with a sad look on his face was sitting with some papers in his hands. I remember the woman going up to the man and signing the papers, and all of a sudden the chains snapped and the body fell to the ground. As she knelt beside the body, its grotesque maimed head on her knees and her tears falling on its face, I went to the man at the counter and took the papers that she had signed.
I remember the heading printed smartly on the paper: Children's EXTRACTION Services. The word EXTRACTION was printed in red, and was rather smaller than the other words, but I remember feeling a chill down my spine as I read it. Extraction? Extraction for what? The paper had the boy's face and name on it, and various other details and as I read further down the page, something cold gripped my heart.
"REASON FOR EXTRACTION: LEVERAGE/INFORMATION
CONNECTION OF CHILD WITH TARGET: SON
EXTRACTION STATUS: FAILED. CHILD DIED WITHOUT GIVING ANY INFORMATION"
As my fingers trembled while I read those words, the woman laid a hand on my shoulders gently and said that we should go. I remember seeing a mound of dirt; a freshly dug grave for her son, some way away from where we stood. I must have stood there shaking for a long time for her to have finished buried him. There was a deep sadness in her serene expression; the kind of sadness that would last for centuries, and for centuries to come. She said again that we should go, and she smiled with dead, faraway eyes.
She had protected me, and her son died for it.
Her son died because of me.
I woke up then, and today there is an incredible sense of guilt in my heart. The dream was too vivid, and even as I'm typing this bits of the dream keeps replaying itself in my head. I'm still scared, and I feel a heavy weight on my shoulders. I don't know why - it's just a dream, after all.
But I guess the most terrifying thing is that while it may have been a dream for me, it may well have been a reality for some. And for someone to have felt this fear and guilt for real...
...that was truly frightening.