Written by Gabrielle Rupert
When she reached the cabin with the last three children, Claire felt a muscle in her leg threatening to burst. It had been bothering her since the second trip back to the city, but she didn’t want to hear Mom’s criticism again.
Despite all the children inside, the cabin was quiet. When they reached the river, one of the kids next to Claire started dragging behind. When Claire paused to look at the child, though, she realized that there was fear holding her back.
‘What’s wrong?’ Claire asked, squatting down to eye level.
‘That house seems weird.’ The girl said, and the other nodded.
‘What do you mean?’ Claire smiled, looking at the cabin. ‘Everyone is there, safe. We got food there, and I think my mom is going to get some board games out.’
‘Look at it,’ the other girl whispered. ‘I don’t see anyone inside.’
Claire looked at the windows, and saw no movement. The lights weren’t on since there was no power, but she should have seen shadows moving as the sun came through the windows on the other side of the house. These kids were right. No one was inside.
‘Stay here.’ Claire motioned for them to lie down in the wet reeds, where they would be completely hidden.
Peeking through the front-door window, she didn’t see any kids or her mother. She opened the door and looked inside the empty cabin. The basement door suddenly opened, and Mom came out.
‘Where are the children?’ Claire asked.
‘Why do you have a gun out?’ Mom dismissed Claire’s question.
Claire looked down at the gun and held onto it, feeling better with it in her grip. ‘Where are the kids?’
Mom pressed her hands together and smiled. ‘I didn’t want to tell you.’
‘Tell me?’ Claire waited.
‘You know how I’ve always kept the family together?’
‘... What are you talking about?’
‘Hear me out, Claire!’ Mom let out a frustrated groan. ‘You never listen! I know you won’t understand, but you will.’
‘Where are the last of the children?’ Mom looked over Claire’s shoulder.
‘They weren’t at the church.’ For some reason, lying felt necessary ‘I looked around the block of the church and I couldn’t find them.’
‘What a shame!’ Mom kicked a chair. ‘We could have used them. We have enough, though.’
‘Mom!’ Claire shouted. ‘Where are the children, Mom?’
‘I made a deal with those robots.’
The words didn’t sound natural, though they were coming from a natural human. Claire felt as if Mom had hit her on the head again. But Mom was across the room, leaning against the table.
‘What is the deal?’
‘They only want the children.’ Mom spoke as if making a deal at a market. ‘They don’t want adults.’
‘They want everyone, Mom!’ Claire was trying to keep her head level. ‘They killed Will. They killed Dad.’
‘That was because they were resisting.’ Mom smiled. ‘We won’t resist. The humots don’t want a fight; they want cooperation, just like us humans.’
‘They will kill us eventually.’
‘No.’ Mom laughed. ‘They said they would let us live in this cabin together until the end of our days. We can revive the garden and fish from the river.’
‘And you believed them? What about the children?’ Tears were in Claire’s eyes. ‘There won’t be a future.’
‘I’ve only wanted a future with you, Claire.’ Mom walked over and reached out to take Claire’s arm, but Claire stepped away. ‘Even if you can be difficult.’
‘What if we just… cross the river with the children?’ Claire tried to think of a solution. ‘Or I can take the children, find them a good place, and come back?’
‘I don’t want you to stress out about them, anymore.’ Mom sighed. ‘Like you said, you never wanted to be a mother.’
Shaking her head, Claire glanced at the basement door. ‘Where are they?’
‘They are downstairs. The robots should be here soon.’
As Claire began to go for the basement door, she heard the hum of the humots. Mom went to the front door. Claire ran down the basement steps, wishing there was a way to lock the basement door behind her.
The walls were damp and the air smelled like mildew. The children Mom and Claire had already transported were chained to the cement floor.
Where in the hell did Mom get chains?
Claire was so bewildered by the situation that she just stood staring with an open mouth.
‘Hey!’ a familiar voice shouted from the chained clump. ‘I knew we couldn’t trust you!’
It was Jodie. Her braid was barely intact and her eyes shot lasers in Claire’s direction. Immediately, Claire came over to figure out how to break the chains.
‘Is there a key to these?’ Claire asked.
‘If there is,’ Jodie said, ‘Your mom has them. Thought she was dead.’
‘No,’ Claire looked around for a bolt clipper. ‘I didn’t know where she was.’
‘Oh!’ Exclaimed Jodie. ‘Course not!’
Claire yanked Jodie’s chain to get her attention. ‘Do you want to live? Then help me.’
The chains around each kid consisted of one, long chain that connected and looped. If Claire could cut Jodie’s chain, all the kids would be free. Then, maybe escape through the window leading to the river? Though, footsteps from above meant they all were out of time. They would all die.
‘What are you going to do?’ Jodie questioned Claire, who had suddenly frozen in place.
Staring at the window, Claire felt overwhelmed with the situation. Her mother’s words clouded her head. All she could see was the blue sky through the window. Then, all she could feel was the broken glass from the window on her hands as the pulled herself through it, clawing at the short grass outside. Jodie’s insulting words tried to reach Claire’s ears, but all Claire could hear was the river.
Like a child herself, Claire rolled down the short bit of yard until she reached the edge of the river and the water splashed her face. When she looked up from the bank, she could only see the roof the cabin. Next to her, the two hiding children lay in the reeds, watching her. Claire grabbed them, concealing herself with them.
Looking across the water to the other side, Claire debated how much energy she would need to pull these two children over the large rocks. Her eyes watched the water whip over those rocks, creating fast currents, white in some spots. The sun reflected and hit her eyes. She kept her eyes closed for a while and kept her body still, listening to the pounding of her head, fourteen gunshots, one of those accompanied with a pained shout from Mom, and the rushing of the river.
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