Liberty Checkpoint | Teen Ink

Liberty Checkpoint

August 8, 2022
By jordanliu2023 BRONZE, Richmond, Columbia
jordanliu2023 BRONZE, Richmond, Columbia
4 articles 6 photos 0 comments

The last day of November painted a sky of dull grey. The air shuddered and ripped at the skin. Sparrow warmed his hands in the soft recesses of his coat pockets, as the wind muttered in a city that once dinned. He peered around a heap of stones, the remainder of a twelve-storey apartment. He looked up to the dense wall of clouds hovering menacingly above the empty road. When the war began, Grandmother would never go outside if clouds appeared. She always warned him that Providence sent clouds as an ill omen. Even absent clouds, Grandmother would carry Sparrow’s old wool coat and follow him outside, insisting he wear it despite the warm breeze. A kindly but tense lady with thin curls of silver hair, she bore a blood red birthmark in the shape of a teardrop upon her wrinkled left cheek. Grandmother never left his side, until a stone eagle came and struck her down with lightning. Curiously, not a single cloud had accompanied the eagle in flight that day. He realized afterwards that the stone eagles refused to fly with clouds present. Clouds represented luck, not misfortune. 
           The smell of stale milk and rotten eggs in the heart of the city choked Sparrow out of his pensive mood. Behind him bled the scars of war, shells of half-destroyed apartment towers blanketed with moss and vines. Wrinkled villas of rotting marble and stone stood sentry ahead, every window shrouded with iron bars and planks of timber. To his left, an amalgamation of broken gears, blackened steel twigs, and flat wheels perched in a nest of grimy rubble. The kill of a stone eagle, Sparrow thought. He trod lightly around the dead leaves littering the road. Even the slightest sound could betray him. Safety lived a captive, while the red-uniformed rangers with cold stone masks patrolled the streets, looking for partisans. Since partisans refused to wear uniforms, the rangers seized any adult male they found. Sparrow, only a child, wore a leather coat that made him appear taller; unfortunately, the war had blurred the age range for “adult”. Night used to provide the safety to sneak around, until The Crows began operating after dark. Unlike simple street gangs that scavenged for nails and looted the dead, The Crows scavenged living people. For what purpose, nobody knew. Sparrow assumed nobody wanted to know.
           A long time ago, Grandmother told Sparrow about Pax, a nation of peace and plenty. No Crows prowled the streets there, nor did stone eagles hunt from the sky. When the partisans came, many in the city had journeyed far west past Liberty Checkpoint to reach Pax. Vividly, he remembered Grandmother once showing him crisp yellow sheets of paper bearing a seal of a red rose. This promised freedom in Pax, she explained to him. Grandmother continued to share how the yellow papers would grant them passage through Liberty Checkpoint and escape from conflict scarring the world. The next day, the stone eagle obliterated her, burning the papers she carried. Whenever a stone eagle buzzed overhead, Sparrow noticed that other children on the street would pray to Providence. He never joined them. Providence forgot to shield Grandmother from the stone eagle. Why would Providence remember to protect them now? Or maybe Providence had sent the stone eagles. To survive, one needed initiative, the will to act independently instead of vainly entrusting life to higher powers. Sparrow took one step forward, and then another.
           Carrying faint tears of rain, a mighty tomb of decrepit bricks and cracked mortar stood to his right. A severed arm fused to the former home halted his footsteps. Another ghost in a city of ghosts, Sparrow thought. Brittle and shriveled like a branch with fingernails, the arm looked no different to his unblinking eyes than the arm of the body from whom Sparrow had procured the leather coat. Yet, seeing dead brick and flesh joined ignited an uneasy fire in his stomach. Staring at the flesh, he felt it staring back. For a moment, he met his reflection in the lifeless amalgamation. Eyes closed; Sparrow kicked the arm with an open hand away. He rejected it.
           Determined, he turned the corner, a hot teardrop spurning his cold right cheek. Sparrow’s stomach suddenly churned with acid and his legs froze. In a black puddle to his right perched the silver talons of a stone eagle. A shining tower at least two meters in height and with outstretched wings twice that in length, the creature bent its metallic head down, empty eyes fixed on the prey caught beneath its enormous shadow. From as high as the stars, the predator could rain fire that levelled the most robust buildings and all unfortunate life therein. Shortly before the rangers came, he had watched the raptor eviscerate an entire cell of partisans. The talons’ grip effortlessly crushed bones, while the hooked beak tore flesh with an unnatural agility. The stiff points of the wings swiftly struck others in the back of the head. With wings extended backwards and talons pointed forwards, the creature could swoop along the ground several times more quickly than human spirit. In less than a minute, the melee produced forty bodies: some with bruises, others leaking blood, but most with skulls crushed like juice cans. With neither fight nor flight an option, Sparrow chose to face the aquiline eyes in his final moments. He would not pray. The stone eagle made no movement, nor did it emanate the typical low buzzing. Sparrow’s eyes drifted downwards to a chink in its sleek breastplate, revealing not flesh, but wires and smoke. Sparrow grasped that something had broken inside the strange beast, no, the machine. He noticed a marking on its chest, depicting a red rose with obscured thorns.
           Hearing footsteps, he glanced back to the road. Two stone-faced rangers in red uniforms, rifles in gloved hands, approached him, yelling in a strange tongue. Each carried a badge of a red rose sewn onto his vest. Not understanding their precise words, Sparrow tasted their wrath. Sparrow turned from the road and sprinted back into the labyrinth of the city, as the sound of gunshots echoed behind him.
           Running until his knees grew stiff and his lungs tight, Sparrow crawled through a window into a dark, unmarked workshop and closed the blinds. In the center of the room, he noticed funny-shaped knives and greasy stains on a rectangular table. The concentric circles of tiny glass bulbs above the table felt oddly familiar. Thin streams of sunlight through the blinds revealed a furnace besides a bin rich with dozens of shoes and clothes. Sparrow took a closer look inside the bin and recognized a wool coat. An assortment of trinkets littered the desk next to the bin: silver coins, watches, necklaces, cards of faces, and yellow papers each with a seal of a red rose. Sparrow took one before hurrying back onto the street. He had no desire to remain in the workshop until The Crows returned.
           As Sparrow approached Liberty Checkpoint, his spirit despaired. A cascading river of bodies stood between him and the gate. Brandishing rifles, red-clad statues ushered each entrant past concrete walls. He tasted relief everywhere, except from a pale man sweating heavily in front of him. Sparrow peered into his sharp eyes, as the pale man stared intently at the column of rangers planted along the wall. Sparrow crept closer to a wall poster of a shattered rose and read aloud the only word written: “JUSTICE”. He wondered what it meant. As the chop of ranger boots drew nearer, he heard the faint groaning of a stone eagle in the distance, somewhere deep in the city. The pale man clicked open his red briefcase. Sparrow witnessed the man pull out an iron pineapple, as a ranger pointed death in their direction. Instantly, he heard yelling, gunshots, and a cacophony of frenzied footsteps. Sparrow refused to turn back, not now with the gate so close. While others retreated from the gate, Sparrow leapt forwards. Before he fell, a hand grasped him by the shoulder. Beside the gate, an aged lady with curled silver hair and a teardrop-shaped birthmark lifted him back up. Sparrow noticed that a small wool coat shrouded her other hand.
        “Don’t cut in line,” she said politely, “I arrived here first.”

The author's comments:

Jordan is a high school senior in Vancouver BC, Canada. He has been recognized by the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, Teen Ink, Reddit and more. As the Art Director of his school’s magazine, OPUS, he is well-versed in writing and arts.

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