Christopher Linforth

The Last of Us

They came for us in our sleep. They came for us boys. Six of us. They stole us away that winter night. Just hours before our parents would drive to the school, pack our trunks into Land Rovers, pocket our report cards then slip Christmas tips to our teachers. Another term over. But that night a winter storm rolled in. The heating went off. Snow coated the grounds outside and the window panes of the refectory. We drank hot, milky tea and devoured packets of wafers. We said our prayers at vespers and listened to our teachers reassure us that the old boiler would refire. In our dorm, we could see our icy breaths. We huddled together in a mess of blankets and pillows. The room was dark and quiet. Slumber hit us all. Then they came. Perhaps ghosts of past students or teachers. Or a covey of nurses who’d lived here in years past. Or the doctors they married. We weren’t awake to see our captors. They bundled us up in our blankets, carried us silently down the stairs, out the front doors, whisked us away in the back of some vehicle. We barely stirred. We lost sense of time. Then the vehicle hatch lifted. They unrolled us from our fabric cocoons and we saw the woods in the violet of dawn. From behind, they wrapped our eyes with blindfolds and tied our hands with rough twine. They jostled us through the trees. They didn’t talk. They didn’t question us. They led us along a dirt path. They stopped us at some point. They whispered to one another. We couldn’t hear what they were saying. The voices sounded deep, male, old. They dragged us one by one into a body of freezing water. We stood there, the water up to our chests. Our skin grayed and puckered; our minds faded. We called out. We begged them to take us back to shore. We heard our voices echo across the water. Why us? we whispered to the men around us. We’ve done nothing wrong. They said nothing back. They made no noise at all. We weeped. We said our goodbyes and waded through the water. We went in different directions. Our voices disappeared. A last syllable. A distressed gargle. Then silence. Nothing. Some of us made it back to the dirt bank and stumbled through the woods. Slowly, we lost track of one another. Only I made it to the school. A single boy. They’d come for all six. Even all these years later, I think about the other five and those who took us: boys and men, men and boys, and I wonder where they are.

Christopher Linforth’s latest book is The Distortions (Orison Books, 2022).