IN PERFECTION THERE ARE VERY FEW THINGS I KNOW ANYMORE. THE WORLD I’VE KNOWN FOR EIGHTEEN YEARS OF MY LIFE IS A LIE. MY FAMILY IS A LIE. MY HOME IS A LIE. MY BOYFRIEND IS A LIE. THE TIRAN HAVE BEEN CONTROLLING US AND I NEED A WAY OUT. AND I’M NOT SURE EVEN THAT’S TRUE. MY NAME IS ASHTON TRAVERSE, I’M EIGHTEEN, AND THIS IS MY STORY.
I was six years old when it happened. Six years old when my entire world changed. Six years old when everything truly began. But I wouldn’t know it until I turned eighteen.
The sun hung high in the mid-September sky as a breeze whistled through the trees around us. In my hands rested a thick piece of rough paper, and before me was a newly formed table. Tools hung from the walls, and a thin layer of sawdust was everywhere within my reach.
“Hold the sandpaper like this, Peanut.” My dad wrapped my delicate hands in his and I could feel the callouses that were so familiar to me. “Now just run it along the table until it's smooth, see?” He guided my hands along the table doing all the work for me. When we finished he rubbed his hand against the wood and grinned, “You did it! Wow, Peanut, you're a better carpenter than I am!”
I covered my mouth with my dirty hands and giggled. He always loved the sound, so he pinched my side to make a second giggle escape me. I batted his hands away and giggled again, “Daddy! Stop playing, we have work to do!”
His eyes were gentle and his smile light, “I think we’ve done enough work today. I’ll finish the sanding tomorrow, then you can help me stain it.”
“But I have to go to school tomorrow!” I whined.
But dad only chuckled and touched a finger to my pouting lips. I pulled away and scrunched my face together at the taste, making him laugh louder. “I have plenty of other furniture to work on tomorrow, I’ll save this one for last so you can help me finish.”
I pointed a tiny finger at him from the stool where I stood. “Promise me,” I ordered.
He raised his arms and laughed again, “I promise. I would never cross you.” I nodded my little head and jumped down, taking his calloused hand in mine. “Will you walk me home, Sweetie?” he asked.
I giggled again. “Of course I will, daddy!”
Down the road we walked from the shop to our home. I sang songs from my favorite cartoons and he sang along, making up the words as he went. “You’re singing it wrong daddy!” I tugged on his arm.
His thick eyebrows pulled together and he looked down at me, “Am I? I was sure those were the words.”
“No! It’s macaroni and cheese, pickled spinach for me, please!”
Daddy scrunched his nose at me, “Pickled spinach? What’s that supposed to be?”
“I don’t know!” I laughed, “But that’s the song!”
“Okay, Peanut, I’ll try again,” he promised. But when I started singing again his words were all wrong, “I want some chips! Bring me candy please!”
“No daddy!” I squealed.
He started to argue as we rounded the corner, but stopped short. In front of us, a man held tight to a woman’s arm, but she fought him. “Leave me alone!” she screamed.
I scooted closer to him, “What’s happening, daddy?” I whispered.
He looked back behind us. “There was a Guard back there, we need to tell him what’s happening.”
The man said something and the woman jerked her arm from his grip. “No!” she screamed.
“We have to help her!” I whispered.
“No. We need to get the Guard. Come with me -”
But I pulled away from him and ran to the woman, my little feet quietly slapped the hard ground. “Ashton, no!” Dad ran after me.
The man faced me, turning his back on the woman. Faster than I could see, she pulled a knife from his waist and swung. The man cried out and wrenched the knife from her hands, knocking me over as I came crashing into him. I hit the ground hard, and my head smacked against the asphalt, light bust in front of my eyes.
“Ashton!” daddy screamed. He threw himself against the man and landed on top of him, then stopped.
So, so slowly, the man pushed my daddy off him and ran away. Daddy rolled onto his back, a long shard of glass stuck out from his chest and blood rushed down his side. The woman screamed and ran away too, leaving me alone with my dying father.
I could barely see past my tears as I crawled to him, “Daddy!” I screamed. I tried to shake him but he wouldn’t move. “Daddy!” I pushed him again, covering my hands in his blood.
A Guard came around the corner with a gun in his hands. He aimed the barrel at me, then lowered it almost immediately. The Guard spoke into his radio then rushed to my side. “What happened?” he asked. His eyes were wide and his hands hovered over my dad’s unbreathing figure.
I looked up at the Guard’s wide eyes and back down at all the blood on my hands. “Daddy.” I whispered.