Short story by Iris Carden
Karliss woke with a start. Something was different. It took her a moment to realise what it was. The compound was completely quiet. It was never quiet. That was what was wrong. It was the silence. The silence woke her.
This compound had been her home for six months. That was how long ago members of The Light had found Karen Lisson, half-starved and living on the streets, after her parents had thrown her out. The Light had given her a new home, a new family and a new name.
Karliss looked around the room. The other three bunk beds were empty and made. How late had she slept? Karliss pushed herself up – it was getting difficult now that her abdomen was so swollen with her father’s last gift to her.
Why was everything so quiet? Even if they were all at the morning gathering, she should hear singing or chanting. Voices always carried clearly here from the Meeting Hall.
Karliss went to the kitchen. Breakfast was not until after the meeting, but eating a little as soon as she got up helped with the morning sickness that had not gone away after the first trimester. Everyone understood.
That was the thing about living with The Light. Everyone just understood her and cared for her. No-one mistreated her in any way. Because of her pregnancy, she was given work in the sewing room, not out in the vegetable garden. The women in the sewing room made beautiful dresses to sell for high school formals. It was the main source of income for The Light, and provided whatever necessities could not be grown or made in the compound.
Life in the compound was simple. Karliss liked it. There were none of the secrets and lies of her old home. There were none of the cliques and cattiness of the girls in her old school. Everyone wore the same clothes, ate the same food, so there was no reason for anyone to look down on anyone else. There was just the simple matter of living in a community day to day, growing and eating their own healthy food, beginning the day in the meeting, and the Great Hope.
Karliss cut herself a large slice of the coarse bread, and poured a glass of creamy goat’s milk. She didn’t really believe in the Great Hope. Even if it was a lie, it was a harmless lie, she thought, unlike the lies of her old life which were anything but harmless. No-one would be more surprised that Karliss if the Great Hope turned out to be true.
Feeling less queasy, she washed her dishes, brushed the crumbs from her smock, and began to walk across the compound to the Meeting Hall.
Passing the garden, the strangeness of the silence again struck her. She hadn’t heard a sound since she’d woken.
What if the Great Hope had actually come to pass? What if all the Lightspeed Ship had been and taken all of the members of The Light to their new planet? What if all of her new family were in some distant galaxy, leaving her alone, just as she had been when they’d found her?
Karliss walked a little faster. Would everyone be in the Meeting Hall? She passed the goat yard. The goats were waiting near the milking stand. Hadn’t they been milked yet? She passed the chicken yard. No-one had yet let the birds out to free range for the day. At least there were some slight sounds from the goats and chickens. That was a relief.
Karliss ran the last fifty metres to the Meeting Hall. She could still not hear any human voices.
She flung the door open as she ran into the Hall.
There they all were: all of the members of her new family. They were perfectly quiet, perfectly still, all in their seats as if they were in Meeting, but eyes staring, still.
Slowly, quietly, Karliss approached. She placed a hand on Gravan, the girl who usually slept in the bunk above hers. Gravan was cold. She wasn’t breathing.
Frantically, Karliss checked on all thirty-five members of The Light. They were all cold, still, silent, dead.
Once again, she was alone.