“There’s trouble coming, son. Take your sister and hide in the basement. Remember, always survive. Live to survive.”
Solemn brown eyes in thin oval face were bright with fear and determination. The sharp edges of his nose, cheeks and jawline become prominently displayed as every muscle in the young boy’s body coils close to act. His only answer was to give his Father a single nod of understanding and then he was off to gather his sister and minor provisions.
A tiny little girl with lopsided pigtail braids, bright smile and tattered boys clothes sat at a chipped wooden desk. Homemade ink splattered across her right hand as she tried to draw a lizard on an old magazine. Igwa the lizard was a present that her Father had given to her as a birthday present that year. She loved it! Her older brother called it a lazy animal but she didn’t care. She loved the way it scampers across the floor and flicks its tongue out to eat bugs. She was just about to finish drawing the spines on the back when her brother tapped her shoulder.
She looked over her shoulder and beamed at her brother. “Guguh! Look, I’m drawing Igwa!”
The boy’s sharp features softened as he looked at his sister. “That looks great! We have to go and play the hiding game. You ready to play?”
“Yes! I remember. We have to be quiet, take our bag and go hide.”
“That’s right. Go get your bag and be ready to go in one minute. Ok?”
As the youngest Park scootched off her seat and ran to get her backpack, the young boy moved to grab a water filter, a large bottle of water and the flat cakes that their Father had made for breakfast. He threw everything into a bag that already held a change of clothes for each of them and zipped it closed. He swung it onto his back and met his sister by the main door to their suite of rooms. He put a finger against his lips and she nodded. He opened the door slowly and listened hard.
Nothing but the rush of blood pumping hard in his chest. The angry hiss of him trying to breathe sounded too loud. So loud that anyone could hear it. He knew it was nothing but fear spiking into paranoia but he couldn’t strangle it silent. Taking a big breath, the young boy that has yet to see his teen years, took his baby sister’s hand and they ran down the shadowed hallway, past the stairwell, rusting metal doors, and stopped at the maintenance closet just long enough to open the door and closet themselves inside.
His heart pounded louder than their soft footfalls on the carpet when they ran in the hallway. He put one hand on the wall and held onto the little one with the other. Uneven texture of pitted and paint peeling wall turned into a cold rusted metal. He pulled the chute open and whispered, “Remember to keep your arms and legs together and roll once you get to the bottom. Ok?”
“Ok,” she whispered back. She felt him pick her up, and she gave him a quick hug and kiss on his chin before he placed her into the chute. There was a moment where nothing happened at all and then she was off! She almost gave out a whoop of glee before she remembered that they were playing the hiding game.
The little girl loved the way the world seem to pass by in a hissing whoosh. She knew she was falling but it felt more like an adventure ride that ends in a pile of old pillows. She couldn’t help but giggle when she landed with a whumph and a cloud of dust danced into the air. She was about to jump up and down on the pillows but remembered to roll away instead and hide behind the large grey laundry cart. She tucked into herself, became as small as she could be and waited. She started to count to a hundred the way her Father taught her to.
One one thousand.
Two one thousand.
Three one thousand.
Her bubbly joy began to fade as she reached the thirties without a sign of her brother and started to count into the forties. A ping of unease wove into her heart and the palms of her little hands became moist. The feeling of foreboding crept over her slowly with the passing of each thousand and she was ready to give up on the game when a hissing noise tempered the silence and a darker figure flew into the air to land with a whumph! She didn’t wait like she’s suppose to. She ran fast as lightning, threw herself on her brother and hugged him tight.
“I was scared, Guguh.” she whispered into his side. Her eyes closed tight. She felt him hug her back awkwardly, patting her thin shoulder.
“Shh– shhh. It’s ok. Don’t forget the rules. We have to be very quiet and hide. Let’s go hide in the basement storage room. We’ll hide until Father finds us.”
The little girl nodded. One of her pigtails loosened and wavy little locks of blue black hair bounced as she moved her head. This time, she grabbed her brother’s hand and held tight. Her small, heart shaped face no longer held a bright smile.
They moved quickly in an almost jog. He lead her in a maze of turns that they both knew well. The whole building was their home, haven and playground. They knew every inch of it. Though, he had a better grasp of it than she did. The darkness didn’t frighten them. It never did. It would be hard to live in the desolate wastelands if one is afraid of the dark. Yet, the tension in the young boy’s frame only coiled tighter and the littlest Park could feel it. She didn’t understand why but she could feel that there’s something wrong.
It didn’t take long for them to reach the small storage room. He was careful to lift the door slightly and then open it. Otherwise, it would make a screeching squeal of worn and rusting metal. He tapped her on the back to let her know to go in. She felt for the edge of the door frame and walked in slowly with her hands held up in front of her. She only took seven steps into the room before turning around. She listened hard.
A noise of cloth moving against cloth. A huff of breathe. A ting-cked of metal and a definite click of the door setting into the place.
“Guguh?” she whispered.
“Go to the corner. We’ll wait on the little couch.” he whispered back.
They settled down onto the old, lumpy couch. He unrolled a blanket that their Father had left down there and pulled it over them. “We may be here for a while. Why don’t you try and take a nap?”
He felt her nod her head against his narrow chest and she snuggled in closer. It was a while before her breathing evened out in sleep. He tried to keep himself occupied by going over the plans for surviving in the desert. What to do if their Father didn’t come for them by nightfall. What he would have to do to keep them both safe until they reached Dodge City. It wasn’t safe for kids to be out in the desert alone.
Trouble was the code for raiders. Raiders came to toss Holda once every few years. Different ones for different reasons. The world’s gone to hell in a hurry when the bombs were let loose. Now everything is a wasteland and life is far from normal. Survival wasn’t for the smartest or the most fit. It was for whoever was strong enough to fight for life and smart enough to keep it going after victory.
Disjointed memories flooded his mind. He couldn’t just sit there and think about plans. No matter how many times he went over it all, it may not matter one whit. It could have been a false alarm. The Holda people may fight off the raiders. Their Father may die in the fight. Memories of the last big raid pushed over his denials and clogged his brain.
The sharp Hai of fighting turned into harsh denials that turned into screams of fear and pain.
It flowed quickly like a creature with a mind of its own. Searching for him. It came so close. Within inches of his face before stopping. A thin flow of red that grew thicker and darker. The rounded edges bloomed and made a lake of red out of the thin flow.
It grew each time Mother screamed.
Her screams grew hoarse and weak.
Wet sounds and masculine grunts took over.
He doesn’t remember when she stopped screaming.
When she stopped making any noise at all.
But the grunting and cursed filled satisfaction of the strangers didn’t stop.
He woke up in the darkness with a jerk and a whimpering scream clawing his throat dry. A rush of fear driven adrenaline and heat flooded his system. The cold quickly ate away the jagged warmth from his uncovered face as knowledge of where he was took root. An uncomfortable weight pushed down in his tummy. It didn’t help that the little one was snuggled tight against his side. He needed to go but he didn’t want to do it in the room.
A loud clank and the sound of people moving. Muffled voices. He shook his little sister awake with a hand over her mouth. It muffled her questions. Her sleepy confusion. He put his lips near her ear and whispered fiercely, “Keep quiet and stand up with me. People are coming. They may find us. If it’s not Father, we have to run. Ok? Just nod your head.”
They stood up. He reached into the cushions of the couch and pulled out a metal rod. He rolled his shoulders and loosened his muscles. They were light from sleep but sore and tingling from were the littlest Park slept on him. He put her hand on edge of the back of his shirt. She knew to stand there. To be out of the way if he had to fight. To run.
Only minutes passed as the noises and voices grew louder but it felt like eons to the children. They waited. Growing more tense as time edged by. They didn’t have to wait too long before the heavy metal door was thrown open with a screaming metallic clash.
The shadowed outlines of a large man filled the doorway and wetness quickly puddled in the young boy’s pants as his bladder let go. The sharp smell of fresh urine filled the air and his body shook in shame wrapped fear.
With a roar of defiance, he tore away from his sister and rushed the enemy.