All my life, I’ve only wanted one thing.
Why, you might ask?
It is because love is meant to transcend all things. Love speaks out for justice and protests when harm is being done. Love points out the consequences of hurting oneself or others. Love allows room for anger, grief, or pain to be expressed and released.
Love is a force of nature. However much we may want to, we cannot command, demand, or take away love, any more than we can command the moon and the stars and the wind and the rain to come and go according to our whims.
It is also the one thing that killed my father, drove my sister to insanity and lead me to where I am today.
My name is Lily, and this is my story.
“Lily! Rose! Wake up!” mother calls us from the creaky wooden door, lighting up our darkened room with a candle. The orange flame casts a gentle glow to our little room. With great difficulty I open my eyes - the sky is still dark and I groan.
I’d much rather lay in bed. Thin as my blanket may be, it is much warmer than the freezing cold outside our wooden house.
“C’mon you two!” mother calls again, this time her voice is stern and I know better than to keep lying on my straw bed. Quickly I sit up and shake Rose’s shoulder. She is curled up beside me for warmth and refuses to open her pretty blue eyes.
“Last one out puts Thomas to bed tonight.”
That does it for Rose. None of us like putting that little tyrant to bed. Our little brother may only be two, but he has a temper that can rival the greatest of volcanoes, often erupting in endless fits of monstrous rage when he cannot sleep.
Rose gets up and we quickly fold our blankets before dressing up for the external cold. I pull a brown woolly sweater over my head. The material is rough and scratches my skin, but it does its job in keeping me warm. Rose silently combs her silken golden locks before tying it in a ponytail.
Mother kisses us on the forehead, “Stay low and stay safe.”
We wave her goodbye and step out into the dark. Above us, the stars twinkle to a silent song as the moon continues to cast its pale haunting glow on us.
We have to hurry to look for potatoes before the sun comes up. It will be dangerous then.
Dangerous, yes. We are living in dangerous times.
Eighteen years ago, just a few months before I was born, our government was overthrown by the warlords, the mafia. And now, the mafia control everything.
From the money we earn, the place we stay and the food we eat. Everything goes through them. And every once in a while, they will ransack a village and drag young girls away with them. It doesn’t matter whether the girls are still young, and it matters not if they scream and beg for mercy. The girls who get torn away from their loved ones never come back. Ever. And that scares me.
I look over to Rose as we trudge deeper into the woods and down the hill. She is my sister but we look nothing alike. Rose is an exceptional beauty. She has long bambi lashes and ocean blue eyes that even I can get lost in. Mother says I have soft hazel eyes but when I stare into the mirror, all I can see are muddy brown irises staring back at me. Oh well, I guess one beauty in the house is good enough. Anyways, a single smile from Rose's moist red lips can light up the entire household so her radiance alone is more than enough for us. And though she is a year younger than I am, her body has already matured with the curves that elude my petite frame. In short, she is a princess while I am the peasant, she, the diamond and I, the dirt. But I love her more than anything in the world and that is precisely why we must head back before the sun peeks over the horizon.
A war has erupted between the triads. The former ruler supreme who once controlled all the mafia has passed on into the afterlife. Some say he died from poisoning, others said he was murdered in his sleep. It doesn't matter to me.
The fact is the throne is now up for grabs, and every bloodsucking triad leader is after it – fighting day and night to expand their territories and to increase their power. And each time they fight, innocent lives are lost.
“Rose! Look! Wild potatoes! Let’s bring them back to mother!” I whisper with excitement, wiping my forehead with the back of my blackened palm. It is cold, but somehow I am sweating from all the digging.
We have found food! I grin from ear to ear and start to dig deeper into the soil with my bare hands. Food is scarce and we make do with what we can find.
Rose sits herself on the ground not far away, dusting the dirt off from her hand. “Hurry up Lily, it’s cold out here,“ she complains.
I throw the potatoes at her and she dumps them into a rustic sack.
“Stay here, I’ll go further into the woods for more,” I tell her. She is more than happy to oblige.
Deeper and deeper into the woods I wade. I can see the first rays of the sun snaking its way towards me. I have to hurry, we need more food.
The branches overhead claw at my hair and the tall grass cut into my skin as I push my way through. There is a spot not far away that has many potatoes. If I am lucky, I might even be able to catch a rabbit. That would make father and mother happy. We have not had meat in a long time.
Then I bump into something soft. I freeze.
I look down to see the face of a pale man staring back up at me with glassy eyes. He is grinning from ear to ear with dark red blood trickling out of his mouth. He is dead.
And I scream.