Onyx awoke amidst the glare of post-apocalyptic daylight, wiping matter from her eyes as the pill still lingered in her veins; making her rise from the couch and directing her every move. The surgery transpired to be an ideal form of shelter, one she would have liked to make permanent, but it was situated too close to the hideout, and she felt she should leave the vicinity before the group caught her up and reaped its revenge.
Moreover, there was another reason for abandoning the surgery – one which had been plaguing her the previous night: the Arena; she had to reach it for the sake of seeing Sapphire for the very last time – before the patch board would end her existence. She stuffed the torch into her rucksack, dogged by the thought she did not know her way to the stadium. She remembered having been there only twice – to view a tournament with the others from the hideout – but that was a long time ago, and the electrocutions had repulsed her to the point where she had to shut off, without noting her surroundings or the route to the site.
A succession of sounds resembling the chug of an engine, followed by voices and the patter of footsteps, interrupted her thoughts. Her immediate fear was that whoever was outside would enter and find her alone without protection or support. Her biggest dread of all was that it may be Sardonyx or Emerald, both of whom were after her blood and who would be likely to seek their revenge. Grabbing her rucksack with both hands, she curled her body into a ball, hiding in the hollow beneath the bureau until the footsteps subsided, to dissolve into the ill, outdoor air.
She rolled out from the recess in relief, unravelling her body to retrieve the rucksack and scurry madly out of the surgery; down the narrow slit of its passage; out of the entrance, and onto the frosty pavement outside. The street was still deserted save an object sitting stationary by the kerb, one she did not remember having seen on entering the surgery the previous night. It was the rare sight of a truck, now strictly used to transport criminals to the Arena following their arrest, as petrol was scarce and no longer accessible to the public.
She panicked, struck by the thought that Sardonyx may have been the cause of her arrest for having raided the larder on the night of her escape. But the vehicle was empty; no one was present at the wheel, and she peered down the street to see no loot patroller in sight. Incoherent voices amidst twangs of guitars hit her ears from the Methodist church, interrupting her train of thought as she struggled to hear.
She edged towards the entrance to hear the voices more clearly; they were too casual to be the voices of patrollers, sounding more like those of musicians’. It was likely the Arena had loaned them the truck which they must return in due course, a sign they knew their way to the site. But a darker possibility made her consider whether to approach them more carefully: she was young; she was vulnerable; she was alone; a young girl who would be asking a favour from the gender of men. Who was to say that they would not want something in return, and would not think twice about raping her whilst granting her a lift?
The roof of the church dazed her eyes, reflecting sun, fall-out and frost. She sighed, ready to withdraw from the entrance, and decided to go it alone; until a voice from the church yelled an intimate word that made her instantly stop in her tracks.
The mention of Sapphire stripped Onyx of her fear and sent her bursting through the entrance of the church. She scuttled down the long, ghostly aisle, halting at the foot of the altar to come across four youngish, scruffy-looking men dressed in jeans and black leather jackets. They were slouched on collapsible, wooden chairs, drinking cans of pre-holocaust beer – no more an accessible luxury to the masses. In the background, propped up against the organ, lay two dented, acoustic guitars, whilst a triangle and two sticks lay idle on the lid of the keyboard.
Onyx’s heartbeat grew steadily faster; her eyes swiftly darted from one man to another as she heard herself desperately cry:
“Sapphire! I heard you mention Sapphire! Do you know her? Have you seen her? Do you know if she’s still alive?” The men eyed her without a reaction, the effects of the beer having paralysed their wits. She lingered at the foot of the altar, staring at them without speech, until one placed his can on the floor and started to speak:
“What brings you to this church, young maiden?” he casually asked, sweeping his long, auburn hair from his eyes. “Are you lost? Allow us to introduce ourselves,” he added, before Onyx had the chance to reply. “We’re ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’, who perform at the Arena before each tournament. Let me introduce you to each talented member in turn.”
The men rose from their seats, ready to become acquainted with the young, timid girl.
“I’m the noble lead singer,” continued the man with auburn hair. “My name is Gold.”
“Mercury,” announced another, a man with long, blonde hair and a ring cut through his nose.
“Lawrencium,” said another, with a ponytail of long, mid-brown hair.
“Radium,” said the final member of the heavy metal band, a man with bushy eyebrows and black, shoulder-length hair.
As he picked up his can, Gold drew nearer to Onyx, who remained mutely near the foot of the altar.
“And who may you be, timid maiden?” he asked her, as the other band members sat back in the seats.
“My name is Onyx,” replied the teenager warily. “I’m trying to find my way to the East London Arena. I must see the Eliminations Organiser as soon as I can…” An invisible knife pierced the silence that ensued, as the men curiously eyed her, swapping glances of amusement and surprise.
“Please help me,” she implored, killing the silence in desperation. “If you’re unable to take me to the Arena, could you at least tell me how to get there?”
“And are you and the Organiser acquainted in some way?” the lead singer quizzed, draining his can and crushing it wantonly in his hand.
“No,” said Onyx with unease, “but he should know if Sapphire has not yet been eliminated. She was arrested two months ago for taking food from the local warehouse. I would like to see her for one last time. She was the leader of my group; I heard you mention her name before I entered the church – and wondered if you’d seen her at the Arena.”
The musicians eyed her in silence; her heart sank as she studied their blank expressions; clearly she had been querying these musicians in vain.
“So you haven’t seen her, then?” she dejectedly assumed. “I’m sorry … it’s just that I thought I heard you mention her name, that’s all.”
“We did,” asserted Gold, “Sapphire’s a beautiful name – and such a beautiful gem — but I was referring to the title of a song that I wrote for the band – a beautiful song that is by far our best creation — although Lawrencium is not in agreement with his noble lead singer on this. He wants us to end our performance with ‘Uranium Gin’ – instead of my wonderful work of art – at the next Eliminations.”
“Sure thing, Gold,” interrupted Lawrencium, who stood with his band mates at the altar. “What do you think, guys – ‘Uranium Gin’ or ‘Sapphire?’”
“’Uranium Gin!’” wailed Mercury and Radium in unison, as Onyx lingered mutely in the aisle to watch Gold’s grimace that his song had not been chosen.
“Come and join us at the altar; come and hear ‘Uranium Gin’,” said Gold beckoning to Onyx, who ascended the steps to take a chair pulled up for her by Mercury, as Lawrencium and Radium fetched the guitars, triangle and sticks from the organ’s dusty lid. “It’s less than three weeks before the next tournament beckons – and the singer and his band must rehearse to get things right. Are you ready, my noble followers?” he added, as Radium handed him the triangle. “One, two; one, two, three–.”
Onyx listened in submission as the band burst into song; each member sat crossed-legged on the marbled altar floor, centimetres from the girl’s fragile frame.
‘Uranium gin; uranium gin,
Now I’ve survived all the fall-out and blast,
Will I come to find contentment at last?
And feel the fall-out winds blow through my hair?
And see what once was ample now extinct or rare?
Uranium gin; uranium gin,
If the acid rain falls and gets in my shoes,
And I thread my way senseless through soup kitchen queues,
I’ll be the last to flounder or suffer the blues,
As my past now reminds me, I’d nothing to lose.
Uranium gin; uranium gin,
In those dark, lifeless days before nuclear war –
The years of trade, fairgrounds, pure oxygen and law,
For it’s now that the microcosm melts into mists,
As this new world and I harbour cancerous cysts.
Uranium gin; uranium gin,
Served with a smile at ‘Plutonium Inn’,
Where I’ll rent a room with convenience tins,
And laugh at the money that used to spark sins.
Uranium gin; uranium gin,
To enter the park where I played as a child,
Which now stands so barren; so lifeless; so wild.
Where others would cry, I’d raise a chipped glass
To black, poisoned trees and stiff, yellow grass.’
As the last chord was struck, the musicians rose swiftly to their feet prompting Onyx to get up from her chair; Gold opened his mouth to speak:
“And now, my noble followers, we must depart for the Arena in haste,” he began in earnest, as his band mates collapsed the chairs and cleared the altar of empty cans. “Giant has kindly granted us the loan of his truck and will soon want it back – so we must now take our leave from this building of worship.”
Onyx hovered at the foot of the altar as the band fetched their gear and sped down the aisle towards the entrance of the church. Tears of anger welled up in her eyes, as she thought her request to be guided to the site had been ignored. But seconds later Gold stopped in his tracks; turning back to face her as the others disappeared through the arch-shaped door.
“Are you not coming with us, shy maiden?” he asked her, dragging his chair across the radioactive floor.
“You mean you’ll take me with you to the Arena?” exclaimed Onyx in surprise.
“Just follow my noble band mates into the truck, meek Onyx; your wish is our command,” he said to her casually, as she sped down the stone altar steps, pleased that her request would be fulfilled.
I'm Karen Clark from East London. On leaving school, I worked as a shorthand / typist, and then went on to work as an ad taker for Loot Magazine. I've always been single, and have no children, and started writing as a hobby once becoming unemployed.