I'm participating in a story-a-day challenge from a Reddit writing group. My first story is based on this prompt.
We called ourselves Defiance because we were so certain that we could hold out until God's Kingdom arrived. We'd heard the trumpet call of the Devil-- the roar of artillery, the constant clatter of machine guns, the dying cries of thousands of men-- but we still hadn't convinced the Elders that what we young men had seen and heard was indeed the work of the Devil himself. It wasn't until Josef came back, every breath sounding like a wet gasp, that we learned of the very smokes of Hell. You call it mustard gas or chlorine gas; we know it to be an evil unleashed upon the Earth.
Josef spoke of thousands of soldiers choking to death in seconds because he turned a knob on a steel canister. He told us that they literally drowned in the liquified remains of their lungs, gasping for air, burning on the insides. He told us how the winds changed one morning, how he barely crawled out of the trench where that toxic green cloud settled. About the months in the infirmary.
It was because of Josef's story that we took the name Defiance, and thanked God for seeing fit to give us the perfect place to hide. Defiance, a walled village on a small island in a tiny lake in the inhospitable heights of the Carpathian Mountains; what better place, save perhaps the deepest jungles of Belgian Afrika or Borneo, could He have made to seal ourselves off from the dying Human race?
It was easier than even we had suspected. The Elders went out into the world and hid us from prying eyes. Corrupt government lackeys, easily bribed, erased us from the official maps. Census workers spread the news that Defiance was no more, abandoned. The lone mountain road that led to Defiance was torn up, soon covered in thick-growing mosses and grass. The ferry was sunk after one last trip, returning the Elders to us; with no other villages for miles, we were finally alone. We thought we had beaten the Devil.
It was on Century Day that we learned how foolish we had been. 1 January 2017 by your calendars. One-hundred years to the day that we'd locked ourselves away from the world. It was a celebration of our prosperity and good fortune. You say that we are anachronisms, forever trapped in a world without modern medicines and technology, without money, even. But we are happy and fulfilled. Our lives may be short, but we are all the more joyful for it. But we became prideful.
Young Nicholai, a newborn babe when the gates were closed, turned 100 on Century Day, and the entire village (many of whom were now related to him in some distant way) came out to celebrate his life. He told us stories of the first years, of how Defiance had learned from Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dream and stored away food during the fat years so that no one starved during the lean. How the land was divided and given to the people of the village to do with what they chose. How labour-hours replaced money as the means of payment. It was only fitting, then, that he proved to be our downfall.
It was during the Century Feast that the man was first spotted. He was coming up the old road, now so overgrown as to be nearly indistinguishable from the sparse forests on the mountainside. He wasn't the first, of course; others had dared the mountains and had even spotted our settlements. But none had been curious enough to come across the narrow strip of lake that separated us from the world. This man, however, was not to be dissuaded. He carried with him the instrument of our downfall, a small black device the size of a sheet of paper. He touched it constantly, which we found curious, but never wrote on it with pen or quill. Instead, he simply headed back down the path. Many of us ignored the man, but I felt uneasy.
He returned the next day, followed by two other men carrying a light boat (a canoe, you call it). The men rowed toward us, and stepped out onto the shore. He had that black device in his hand, and on the front of it, shining in the sun like a mirror, was a map of the lake and the surrounding forests. Strangely, whenever he touched it, it appeared to shift, growing larger and smaller or moving under his fingers. I was enchanted with this device already, as were many of the villagers. He touched the screen with his fingers and made boxes of words appear, even a typewriter's keys with which he wrote!
"Is there a Nicholai Romanescu here?" he asked, finally speaking. He touched the device again. "I'm here as an agent of the Government of Romania." His words were strange to us; we understood them, but it was as if he was speaking a strange dialect. It was then that I realised how much we had grown apart from the world in a century; our language had evolved in different directions, it seemed. That's when the revelation struck me: the world hadn't ended, we had sealed ourselves away for nothing.
"I am Nicholai," the old man said, tenatively raising his hand.
"Good," the man said as he withdrew a piece of paper bearing a wax seal I didn't recognise. "On behalf of President Crin Antonescu and the proud people of Romania, congratulations on reaching the hale age of One Hundred." He handed over the paper then wiped his brow. "You know, I had a hell of a time finding this place; it wasn't on any of the post-war maps, the Communists hadn't marked it, either, and even before then, there was nothing. Hell, I had to go back to the archives of the Principalities to find a map that had this village on it." As he said that, he touched his device a few times, and it transformed into an ancient map. "We probably never would have found it if you hadn't turned 100; we'd just digitised our archives, and you're one of the first that popped up automatically upon reaching that age. Here," he said, handing the device to one of the children to hold for him. He shook Nicholai's hand, took back his device (with some resistance), and left us.
More men came, more than we'd ever seen in generations. Some came with wires to connect telephones for us, others came to photograph us with strange cameras that bore no film. Great machines like the tanks of the war dug out a new road, carved so smoothly that we thought nothing would grow there again. Strange cars came to the other side of the lake, and people in bizarre fashions would come just to look at us. A historian rented a house so that she could teach us of the history we had slept through.
But most importantly, the Devil came to Defiance. I had thought that he would return to Earth dragging pestilence, death, famine, suffering, greed, wrath, and hatred behind him. And from what I've learned, that still exists in this world today. No, he came to us as temptation, as a device which pulled information from the very air we breathe, which promised us instant connections all around the globe. Such a temptation was too much for the people of Defiance. Most have moved on to the world outside, and only a handful of us remain. There are no more children; Defiance is a dead village.