By WILLOW DELP
The water was brown.
The Brabantio family had adamantly tried to ignore this fact – even the more progressive members politely refused to comment. It was a trick of the light, the photos had been edited; it was not at all relevant to the gas pipeline; thank you very much, and besides, the energy needs to come from somewhere.
Nobody knew exactly how it had gotten that way. It had happened just quickly enough for people to notice – but when historians pored through their stuffy archives, they saw that it had always been tainted, just less so. It was once clear and blue; with a beauty that underlined the exquisite nature of the Ruby Palace. There were reporters that had commented on the fish that swam underneath the wooden drawbridge: fat koi fish, with fanciful patterns on their gills that seemed befitting for the human royalty above. But the fish had been gone for years.
The palace was still beautiful, after all. Its marble walls glistened in the sunlight (it was always sunny now) and the alabaster color prevented it from boiling as much as the rest of the outside world. It was the summer palace for the House of Brabantio. Every year, in late June, the drawbridge would ceremoniously extend – marking the beginning of the royal family’s lavish getaway. Their fashion was distinct: an array of pastels for the women, sweeping gowns of rose-pink and baby-blue, and sharp tan suits for the men. In the past, the queen had been draped in glittering gemstones, but it had only attracted questions of their origin and demands for their return. They were quietly tucked away in the Brabantio Royal Archives, and only brought out for special occasions: coronations and the like.
The extension of the drawbridge was symbolic of the Brabantio family’s commitment to building bridges with the rest of the world. Their PR team had drafted a list of approved words — Unity. Connection. Togetherness. (“Union” had been suggested, but it was immediately connected to unions, and hastily moved from the whitelist to the blacklist.) With the freshly-printed press rolling off the racks, the royal family was ready for the show.
Their procession had begun early in the morning, to avoid the worst of the heat (a largely unsuccessful endeavor.) The security team was ready to fend off reporters – especially the infamous environmental extremists. They were the Brabantio family’s worst enemies, what with their constant demands and pesky protests. Thankfully, it seemed that most activists had decided today’s procession wasn’t worth it.
The police team’s guns glittered in the sunshine.
The royal family began to cross, slowly and surely, over the wooden drawbridge. They walked, every step measured, hoping to maintain this moment for as long as they could. The glory was fleeting; the beauty short-lived.
They did their best to ignore the beads of sweat building on their foreheads. The women, in particular, felt their thick foundation begin to melt. The men were a little better off, but their stiff dress shoes and starchy suits still provided no comfort. The sun scorched with a vengeance.
But still – they would be moving into the palace – the beautiful Ruby Palace – and within the walls, there were no problems. It was not hot, nor cold, and they slept soundly, sequestered far away from the screams of the damned.
The pipeline running underneath the drawbridge had burst.
The flames slashed through the brown water, angrily ablaze. It danced upon the surface, snapping at the dress shoes and high-heeled slippers from above, delighted by the scene.
The procession broke into chaos, the still air punctured with shrieks and curses and prayers – God save the queen – and the brown water had never seemed so close, and the drawbridge so fallible. So wooden.
The police clutched their guns, wracked with confusion. They were far away enough from the drawbridge for their own safety, but dammit they had to do something – and, with frenzied glances from one to another, they wondered where to shoot. Could they gun down the fire? Could they kill it?
It was a futile thought. In the end, judgment took its course. The drawbridge caught fire.
They all fell.
The koi fish readied themselves. At last, they thought. A feast.