Communications had long since broken down and there was no way of knowing what was going on outside of Rohan’s village, which was not reached by any of the main roads. It might once have been an area of natural beauty attracting tourists and holidaymakers, but the youngsters no longer understood the concept of visiting an area to admire its beauty, or its quaint shops, or to sample local cuisine. The only entertainment they ever experienced was listening to the songs stored on their allocated codes or gazing at the holographic pictures the code reader projected onto the walls inside the house.
Rohan’s younger sister Rosie was sick. His parents had spoken in low voices whenever they thought Rohan was asleep, discussing how best to help her – but the nearest doctor was twenty miles away.
“I’ll take the bike,” said Rohan’s dad when her condition worsened. Even then his voice had sounded weary from long days spent working on the local farms. “I’ll be back before you know it.”
“There’s no guarantee the doctor will give you the medication she needs,” whispered his mum.
“If it guarantees we’re waiting for, we’ll be waiting a long time. I have to try.”
Rohan watched from his bedroom window as his dad dragged the old bicycle from the shed, straightened it up, and set off early the following morning with a wave over his shoulder at Rohan’s mum.
The man who returned three weeks later did not resemble the man who left on the contraption. This man returned on foot, dragging his worn shoes along the ground, his face grubby and covered with a greying beard, his shoulders carrying an invisible weight that appeared to be more than he could bear.
Rohan’s mum opened the door when she saw him through the window. She was pregnant with her third child, and although she’d barely eaten since her husband left, her belly was round and bulky, and her movements more sluggish than usual. With an arm around his shoulder, she supported him inside the house and settled him into a chair, then filled the kettle to prepare tea. Rohan was at the table eating bread and soft cheese, and the food stuck in his throat at the sight of his dad.
“Have you eaten?” Rohan asked him. It was a silly question – he looked as though he’d not eaten since he walked out of the door three weeks earlier. His dad rested his head against the back of the armchair and closed his eyes, and it was then that Rohan noticed the way his dad was breathing, rapid shallow breaths, his chest rising and falling like a sparrow, his skin grey as dust.
His mum took a mug of tea to him and set it on the floor by his feet. “Pete,” she whispered, stroking his hair away from his clammy face. “What happened? Did you get the medication?”
Rohan’s dad opened his eyes then and looked at her. He gave a brief shake of his head. “There was … no medication,” he managed between gasps. “Thieves … got there before me.”
She glanced at Rohan as though she was making sure that he was still safely in their home. Her gaze returned to her husband. “Are you hurt? What did they do?”
His dad raised a hand and stroked her hair. “Rosie?” he asked.
Squeezing her husband’s hand, Rohan’s mum raised it to her lips. “She is worse,” she whispered.
Until then, Rohan hadn’t realised how ill his sister was, but it was this moment that passed between his parents that made him understand. It was the hopelessness in their eyes, the drooping shoulders, the knowledge that there was no medicine available when someone became sick, that the knowledge itself belonged to a chosen few. He didn’t understand what was going on in the rest of the world, but he knew then, that whatever it was, it was not good.
Rosie didn’t have the energy to leave her bed, her skin had taken on a greenish tinge, her lips thin and blue and her eyes dull. When his father had finished his drink, Rohan helped him through to Rosie’s bedroom and tried not to think about how light he felt when he leaned against him; it felt wrong for a son to support his father when he still had so much to learn himself, so much growing to do.
He settled his dad on the side of the bed, studying his face, the lines gouged deep into his forehead, the tensed jawline, the way his eyes narrowed at the corners as though he was waiting for something to pounce on him. His dad rested his hand on Rosie’s, and she opened her eyes. They were vacant and it was several moments before she realised that he was back. When she did, her smile spread slowly as if it took a great effort to produce a movement that used to come to her so effortlessly, when they filled their days with laughter and games.
“Dad’s back,” said Rohan; he didn’t know what else to say. Rosie’s eyes flickered between them, her eyelids already growing heavy.
A noise escaped their dad’s lips and Rohan only realised that it was a sob when he saw the old man’s shoulders juddering to contain his emotion.
Rohan reached down and placed his own arm around his dad’s shoulders, squeezing them tightly.
“Rohan … son,” he muttered.
“I’m here, Dad.”
“Rohan …” He leaned heavily backwards and that was when Rohan saw the blood soaking through the side of his dad’s shirt. He hadn’t noticed it before because his dad’s arm had been pressed firmly against his side, hiding the wound.
“Dad?” Rohan blinked furiously. He didn’t know what to do. “What happened? Who did this?” Rohan struggled to process what was going on.
His dad reached for his hand. His breathing was even shallower, spit clinging to his bottom lip. “I’m sorry, son,” he managed.
“Sorry? Sorry for what?” Rohan was confused.
“Be strong …” his dad’s eyelids flickered. “Don’t ever … forget … you have a choice.”
“Choice? Dad? Which choice?” Rohan was panicking now. Rosie’s eyes were closed, and he was grateful for that at least. “Mum!” he yelled towards the main living area. “Mum, quick!”
“Always … a choice …”
Rohan: Superstar is a secret release from Dark Hour Dog Publishing, only known to those who stumbled across it here on Simily. One chapter per month will be released to free email list subscribers on our website, up to Chapter 6: Henry’s Hell, from January 2022. Soon after, the full blown novel will be released – and you’ll know all about it!
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