David gently stroked the ebony face of his mother's horse and fed her an apple from the nearby tree. He could hear the argument escalating from within his house already and was in no hurry to go inside just yet. Instead he leaned against one of his oldest friends and looked up at the stars. It was a clear night tonight and the cold night's air pricked him like a thorn. He stood staring as his mind tried to find some kind of reasonable explanation to all that he had saw tonight.
"Something's going on." He muttered to the horse, "The Hearts are up to something." The horse neighed almost in response and David patted her side affectionately, "I know, I know. I can't go around accusing the royal family when I don't know what's going on. I'll get killed. But they're up to something. I just know it."
The sound of breaking glass from inside broke through David's concentration and he led the horse to her stable and made his way inside with a sigh.
"At last, the little prince has decided to grace us with his presence has he?" his father sneered, swinging a half broken whiskey bottle around as if not yet noticing that the other half was missing.
"Go to your room David, there's a good boy." His mother urged. She was crouched on the floor, trying desperately to mop up the broken glass and whiskey.
"No. He's not going anywhere. Where have you been, boy?" he demanded,
"Out." David shrugged and side-stepped past him.
"Not so fast." He grabbed a handful of David's shirt and pulled him backwards, "You treat me with some respect, boy."
"I will when I think that you deserve it." He pulled himself free and bent down to help his mother.
"How dare you speak to me like that!" he roared,
"Bill, don't. You're drunk." His mother stood between them before coughing into her handkerchief.
"Do you see what you're doing, boy? You're killing your mother." There was genuine concern in his eyes as he looked at his wife, "You should be here after school to help her."
"I'm sorry." He looked to the floor,
"It's okay; I can manage on my own. I'm here to look after you, not the other way around." She stroked David's face gently,
"I was at the casino." He confessed,
"Where?" his father demanded, his eyes bulging,
"The casino that they're building over the water. There's something not right about it."
"David, you don't need to worry yourself about things like that. It's nothing to do with us." His mother spoke gently.
"But something's going on, mum!" he protested, "I saw something..."
"I don't care what you saw, boy. You hear me? You don't go talking about the Hearts or meddling in their business."
"Don't but me, boy. Listen to me. People go missing that meddle with the Hearts. Stay out of it. You'll get this whole family into trouble if you don't stay away."
"But they had someone strapped to a chair!" David blurted.
"I don't want to hear about it. You're making up stories, boy." He scolded but David could see that he didn't believe his own words. "Get to bed."
"Do as he says, please." His mother urged softly.
"But you believe me, don't you?" he pleaded,
"Of course I do, now get to bed." Her sentence was punctuated with a throaty cough that broke David's will and made him climb the stairs to his room in silence. He stared up at the crack in the ceiling above his bed; the night's sky was just about visible through it if he closed one of his eyes.
"One day," he muttered to himself, "People will believe me. They'll come to me for information." He tried to fight sleep but all too soon it found him and he drifted off peacefully into a deep, deep sleep.
The next few days saw less and less people on the streets and in schools and work. Just overnight, whole families would vanish, things packed, apartments empty. No clue as to where they had gone or why. People started to get on edge. The school's closed down in the weeks that followed, libraries boarded up, book stalls in the market up turned, the books burnt in town centres with no explanation as to why.
"I'm home!" David called as he meandered into their little house. Most of his friends lived in apartments closer into the city but David and his family lived in a small house close to the edge. It had been a part of Wonderland generations ago, when the city wasn't so built up. Most of his friends laughed about it, but it served David well, he liked the clean smell of the green grass that surrounded his house. So much better than the concrete that his friends had.
"We've got to go." His mother bounded down the stairs with armfuls of clothes that she threw into a suitcase.
"Why? What's dad done now?" he sighed,
"What? No, it's not your father. It's the Hearts. We have to go."
"But I didn't tell anyone what I saw!" He insisted, "I swear I didn't." She took a moment to stroke his jaw line delicately; he looked hurt by the idea that he had done something wrong.
"It wasn't you, my love. The Hearts are burning books."
"I saw. I don't understand why though. The school's closed too."
"She fears knowledge, this is bad. We have to go." She continued with her frenzied packing.
"But why? It's not like we pose any threat to them." David stated,
"Everyone is a threat. If we don't conform to her idea of how the world works, well, it won't be pretty. Be a good boy and go and pack your things. You father's waiting to meet us. The others, the ones who got out early, they're in hiding, we can join them." David took the stairs two at a time and flung the most important things he could find into his bag. All of a sudden a crash arose from downstairs followed by his mother's scream. He rushed to the top of the stairs but her eyes told him to stay hidden. She was being held up on either side by men dressed in black suits. Another man, a taller man, who couldn't have been older than twenty strolled through the door, fixing his cuffs as he did so.
"So, are you gonna tell me where the others are hiding?" he asked in a funny accent. It was like nothing David had ever heard before.
"I don't know." She tried to keep her voice strong but it broke with a cough.
"Don't play dumb with us." One of the suits shook her violently, "Word is that you were next to join them."
"I don't know where you heard that from."
"So you're not planning on running away?" the man with the funny accent asked, eyeing up the suitcases. "What's this then? Last minute holiday?"
"Something like that."
"We spoke to your husband. He folded like a cheap suit, told us everything. Only he doesn't know where it is you're going exactly. Said only you know."
Anger bubbled inside of David. His own father had betrayed them, put his mother in danger. He had to do something but he was next to useless. He was just a boy.
"No worry. We have ways to make you talk." He pulled a small glass vile from his jacket pocket. The two men held her mouth open whilst the third poured the colourless liquid into her mouth, it dribbled down her chin as she tried to spit it out, but it was too late.
"What is that?" she asked, for a moment her face seemed more serene before it crumbled in agony and she tried to claw at her head,
"Honesty. It's still in trials though, a few bugs to sort out before we can give it to the masses, but it does the trick. Now, tell us where the fugitives are hiding."
"They're in the..."
"NO!" roared David, charging down the stairs and pushing the men backwards. Anger bubbled inside of him stronger than ever before and he pulled his right fist back and punched the first suited man he could see in his chest. He fell backwards, clutching his ribs in agony.
"He's broken my ribs."
"What? He's like ten. Get him!" David propped his mother up under her arm and tried to get her out of the building as fast as he could. She clutched onto his shoulder and continued to cough up blood all down David's side, but he ignored it. He had to get her away.
"Stop." She panted, shaking her head in resignation, "You have to go without me." She ordered. David looked back to the house, they were only a few feet from it, the three suited men could easily catch up to them but they were preoccupied at the moment setting fire to their house.
"What was that stuff they gave you?" he asked in a panic, she closed her eyes and breathed heavily, "Was it a poison?"
"No." She breathed,
"Something...new." she wheezed, coughing up another handful of blood. "Find your father."
"Like hell." He snorted, "No wait, I will find him, just so I can kill him myself. He gave us up, mum."
"Please. For me. I don't want you to be alone."
"I won't be alone. I've got you." His smile faded though with his mother's pained look. She shook her head slowly and sat on the damp, dirty ground. "Come on, mum. We've got to keep moving."
"Yes you can." He stated, "Give me your hand and I'll pull you up."
"You need...you need to run, David." She was finding it increasingly harder to hold her eyelids open.
"No, mum. Not without you." He knelt beside her and gently pushed her flyaway hair from her face.
"Don't argue with me David, there's a good boy." She managed a weak smile and cupped his face, "My little Hatter." She smiled, remembering her toddler's face peering from underneath her grandfather's hat. "Hatter." She mused before her breathing became heavier. Tears washing down his face, David lay his head on her chest and she tried her hardest to wrap her arms around him. She knew this day would come eventually, she'd been getting weaker for weeks, but she had hoped that she could have had time to get him to safety first. "The library." She breathed,
"What about it?" he looked up at his mother's face but it was still, her chest had stopped moving also. "Mum?" he urged, gently shaking her shoulder, but she wasn't moving. She had gone.
"Twinkle, twinkle little bat. How I wonder where you're at." The taller of the three men sang to himself as he passed them by.
"You killed her!" he cried,
"No, we just tried to find the truth. We were going to let her live, for a while at least. You on the other hand, are a loose end. And I don't like loose ends." He clicked his fingers and the two flanking suits lunged forwards but David was too quick for them. He hated to leave his mother there like that but he didn't have much choice. He had to find a safe place and he figured that his mother's last words to him were a kind of clue. One that he had to figure out quickly.