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C. A. Hannan


Heart of My Enemy

Dad told me that if I ever saw a man in uniform I should run

back to our basement.

The soldier was only five feet ahead of me, silhouetted

under the light of a single street lamp. His smoking gun

pointed at the stars.

I turned. My foot caught the lip of the pavement and I

almost twisted my ankle, but I couldn’t let him get me after

curfew. I had to run. I bolted across the road.

The smash of another gunshot knocked the wind out of

my lungs.

I stopped running.

‘Come here,’ he shouted as loud as a horn.

My feet wouldn’t move.

The loaf of bread in my hands seemed more trouble than

it was worth, but Dad would still be hungry. I was still

hungry. I unwrapped my scarf, bundled the loaf inside it and

shoved it under my coat. My neck and face were cold, but at

least the soldier couldn’t accuse me of theft.

I turned, feeling the pain in my ankle.

The soldier was ten feet away from me. His massive

outline was a black block underneath the yellow light.

‘Do not make me wait much longer,’ he said.

I limped faster.

Ten feet became nine, nine feet became eight; my legs felt

like lead weights. I wrapped my arms around myself to keep

the loaf from falling out of the bottom of my coat. With my

head down, I scanned around me from the corner of my eye.

The alleys between the buildings were thin. The darkness

meant that I could only see varying shades of black from

where the tributary roads went deeper into Stonehaven.

Alleyways. Alcoves. Smashed windows that I could have

jumped through – all seemed miles away.

‘No escape,’ the soldier said, waving his gun at me. The

smoke was still pouring out of the barrel.

There was no cover on Longport Road, I was an obvious

target.

I stepped over a frozen imprint of a tyre tread. Longport

Road used to be a canal that split Stonehaven in half, but once

the War-Hawks started their occupation they drained it and

filled it in, turning it into a long dirt track for their heavy

transports.

I had to stretch across a pothole before stepping back onto

the pavement. Foot by foot, inch by inch, the soldier came

closer. With each step, heat rushed up my face.

I heard the faint thump of the officer holstering his gun.

Stonehaven was a war zone, yet there were no crows

chirping. No distant sounds of screeching tyres. No distant

firefights. My footsteps were all I could hear. There was a

tightness in my chest, a bellyache, a dizziness that made the

black of night even more impenetrable.

Before I knew it, I was stepping beyond the arch of light

from the street lamp and into the soldier’s shadow.

He wasn’t dressed like one of the normal City-Guards,

with their blue and white helmets. He had a long black waxy

coat, with a ruff of wolf-grey fur. A large Hawk badge was

sewn to his chest, instead of a breast pocket. The duck-beak

of his city-camo cap cast a shadow across half of his face,

covering his eyes. I had seen this type of man before in

propaganda.

The officer was fiddling around inside his coat.

Fight or flight. Wasn’t that what set the strong apart from

the weak? I couldn’t run. I couldn’t fight. So what was I?

My bladder filled. I wanted to hold my crotch, but then

the bread would have fallen out by my feet. The cold hurt my

chest.

‘What’s your name?’ He said. His accent wasn’t like mine

or anyone else’s in Stonehaven. It was posh and loud as if he

had rehearsed it for a play.

Smoky clouds escaped the officer’s mouth.

‘…’ Words were stuck in my throat like hard boiled sweets.

My heart was hammering my rib cage.

Underneath the light, the officer’s waxy-coat rippled with

scuffs, scrapes and mud-stains.

All the words, all the sentences I might have created

brought tears to my eyes.

And if the bread falls out? The officer will know I am a thief.

Sweat dripped down my wrists into my mittens. My

fingers were curled up inside them because they were Dad’s

and I had to keep them from falling off. I clutched at the

bread, it was slipping away from me. The loaf was still warm

so I tried to take comfort from it, but the officer’s presence

made that difficult.

The officer leaned forward.

I saw his green eyes and I found something unexpected.

They had a reassuring quality, a quality I had never seen in

my enemy. They looked at me as if to say, you’re ok, I have

no claws. But War-Hawks hunted people down, they tore

cities apart. Dad told me that they had a direct line to the devil

himself. Dad said that only rebels could deal with WarHawks.

What if this officer thinks I’m a rebel?

The officer scratched his thick blonde beard. He smiled, deep

lines stretched out from his dark eyes. Why was he smiling? And

then a bear-paw of a hand reached out towards me.

The officer was going to smash me to pulp and bones.

A man in uniform, run; that’s what Dad said.

I stepped back.

‘Don’t you fucking think about running.’ He grabbed my

sleeve. It was caked in white crusty snot that had frozen in

the cold. ‘Have you ever heard of a handkerchief?’ he said.

‘Rebels wear rags like this you know. They’re filthy, like you.’

I wanted to squirm. I wanted to scream. Instead I dropped

my chin to my chest, and closed my eyes.

I could feel each throb of my heart in my ears.

‘Well, what’s your name?’ he said.

Muscles bulged through his waxy coat; stretching the

material to the brink of tearing.

For a second I thought about giving him my name, but

talking brought a pain to my belly as if I had been stabbed

with an icy knife.

My hands were shaking. If I spoke, and accidentally

insulted the officer, then I would be taken to Slaughterhill.

From what I heard, those who had broken curfew did not do

well in Slaughterhill.

The officer took off his cap to reveal a bald head.

He has no hair like me?

The officer’s scalp was shiny. Barely any stubble, except

for the sides of his head, just above the ears, where there was

a speckling of fine blonde hair. I bet he hadn’t lost all of his

because of lice though.

‘What’s your name? Don’t make me repeat myself again.’

Should I give him a false name? Alexander? No, too posh.

Maybe something like Howlock, or Solomon.

What was I thinking? What name wouldn’t he see

through? I couldn’t think of any other than my own.

‘Elijah,’ I said.

When soldiers called me rat or shit I was still Elijah.

‘Do you mind if I call you Lije? Elijah’s a bit of a mouthful,’

he said. ‘I’ll call you Lije for short.’

I didn’t mind what he called me as long as he’d let me go.

The officer held out his hand and revealed to me a

photograph of a young boy. The edges of the photo were dogeared. A cross, from where it had been folded, split the

portrait in four. It looked like one of those old school photos

with the blue backgrounds.

The boy’s cheeks were swollen like a cherub’s and his neck

was long. He’d clearly had his face washed in the last couple

of months.

‘Well Lije. I need help, you see. Have you seen this man?’

the officer said.

A man? Impossible. I had never seen a man with such a

young-looking face.

‘Pierce. That’s his name. He has a missing finger on his

right hand. And he’s got these deep brown eyes you see and

he’s very pale. You’d recognise him.’ He pushed the portrait

closer to my face. ‘He’s missing the middle finger you see.’

Trawling through my memory, I tried to remember if I had

seen this strange, youthful man in the last couple of months.

‘Come on, come on, you must have seen him.’ A deep

crease had appeared in the space between his eyes. The

hammering in my chest disappeared, leaving behind only

pain, but if I could answer this then it could be my chance to

escape. If I said I had seen Pierce and told him where, then

he’d let me go. I could run far away because he wouldn’t need

me anymore. I could run back to our basement. Back to Dad.

But I couldn’t recognise this Pierce. It was easy because most

of the people in Stonehaven looked the same. Their faces were

dirty and their clothes a jumble of rags. Their hair was always

ruffled or had been shaved off to keep the lice away. I’d have

noticed someone as clean as Pierce.

I shook my head. I waited for him to speak. Officers and

soldiers who had been disappointed by the civilians of

Stonehaven always had a speech prepared.

The officer returned the photo to the inside of his coat. He

moved his giant hand towards me, but I clutched the loaf to

my chest, digging my fingers into the scarf.

‘What’s that you got?’ he said, looking at the bulge under

my coat.

‘Stop,’ I said, the word coming out of me as a last defence.

‘It’s bread. Just bread. Please – please – just bread-’

‘You’re a thief?’ He said, looking me up and down with

crinkled lips as if he had just sucked a lemon. ‘You also a rebel?’

‘No,’ I said, stuttering as the word hung like an anvil off

my tongue.

‘Good,’ he said. ‘A thief I can stand. A rebel I cannot. Do

you know Stonehaven well?’

My stomach twisted, becoming even tighter. I knew the

quarter better than anyone, but I didn’t want to tell the officer

that.

He leant towards me. I saw thick lips underneath thin

strands of his blonde moustache.

‘I bet you’d do anything to stop this fighting wouldn’t

you?’ he said, his voice softening. ‘How old are you?’

‘Fourteen.’

He looked surprised, his eyes moved up and down my

body.

‘If you’re a civilian and not a rebel, you’d do anything to

stop this fight, eh?’

Wouldn’t anyone want to bring this war to an end?

‘Have you got a family?’ he said.

It was just me and Dad, but I reckoned I could call that a

family.

I didn’t understand how anyone could survive in

Stonehaven without a family, but people did. They were

resilient, more than I could ever be. Dad always spoke about

the importance of resilience.

‘Speak, speak,’ the officer said.

‘Yes, yes,’ I said. ‘Dad – It’s just me and Dad.’

‘Well Lije. Pierce is, how best can I put it? A man of

importance to the War-Hawks. A diplomat of sorts, if we’re

using the old definitions. I’ve been tasked with finding him.

If I succeed? Well… Let’s just say… Stonehaven would be a

better place, but I need help getting around the city. I’m not

from here you see.’

What exactly did he mean by, ‘Stonehaven would be a

better place’? This man was a War-Hawk. Did he mean a

better place for them? It was us or them, so I couldn’t imagine

he meant it would be a better place for the civilians.

My throat started to dry.

My stomach felt like it was gripped in a giant’s fist. Refusing

to help the officer felt like a one way trip to Slaughterhill.

But this man was an officer in black. Officers weren’t to be

trusted. Maybe this was a trick. I reckoned it was a trick.

Be brave. Be brave.

I could hear the chirpings of nocturnal creatures going

about their nightly routines. I could see all the places I could

escape to.

But the street light caught the Hawk badge stitched to the

breast pocket of his coat. Its talons were gripping a mouse.

I didn’t know what to do.

Giving him what he wanted seemed the least dangerous

option.

‘I’ll help,’ I said.

‘You see, I want this fight to be over,’ the officer said. ‘You

can help me achieve that.’ A smile stretched across his face

revealing a set of black stained teeth. ‘A man called Eric Jones

can help us. I’m looking for him.’

Was he expecting me to know this person as well?

‘He was last seen at six Agnes. Can you take me?’

I turned and pointed north.

The officer pulled a half-smoked pack of Marlboro Golds

from his breast pocket. Cigarettes were a currency more than

an indulgence, but he seemed to pop one in his mouth

without a care for what they might be worth to someone like

me. He lit the cigarette and started to suck. I hadn’t seen them

smoked in a long time. Orange embers glowed at the tip of

the fag and smoke trickled out of his mouth towards the

indigo sky.

‘Do you want one?’ The officer said.

The cigarette hanging from the officer’s lower lip was

undoubtedly cool. How he held it in between his fingers, I

couldn’t help but imagine guys clicking their fingers to attract

all the girls.

But the smell was horrible and it was filling my nostrils

and stinging the back of my throat.

‘Sorry, maybe – maybe – later.’

‘Stop stuttering,’ he said. The officer placed the halfsmoked pack of Marlboros back into his breast pocket.

‘Go on. After you then,’ he said.

I obeyed.

With an officer of the War-Hawks behind me, I walked

deeper into Stonehaven with Dad’s words ringing in the back

of my head:

A man in uniform, run.


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