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Listening 4

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The sun rises, painting the sky a multitude of colors, and sunlight streams through the windows of the beaten up, cracked Dari Mart. The boy’s eyes flutter open and he yawns and stretches tiredly. The girl is sleeping soundly; a slight puddle of drool is on the boy’s jacket.
He sighs as he notices that, but a corner of his mouth twitches up anyway.
The boy doesn’t wake her up though; he gets up noiselessly and rummages around the shop. He looks behind the counters, under the racks, in the “Employees Only” room, but later just grabs a couple sacks and stuffs them with drinks and food. There appears to be nothing of value here.
The girl mumbles something in her sleep and then lazily wakes up.
But her awakening is seemingly unknown to him, as the boy is murmuring things to no one. “Yeah, I’m awake… Wait, we need to go now...? What do you mean…? Stop talking so fast… Seriously-wait. Stop it. Stop screaming at me! What’s wrong!? C-Carina what’s the matter-stop it!”
“Empathy?” The girl jerks upright, rubbing sleep out of her eyes quickly.
“Carina stop it!” The boy is shouting now, his face flushing red. “Stop screaming! Just talk to me, please, just talk to me! What do you mean!? What do you mean they’ll kill us!?”
But then the girl sees what’s outside.
“Empathy, look! There are people! Real people out there!” The girl suddenly cries and jumps to her feet, clutching the boy’s jacket to her chest. “Empathy, look!”
The boy sinks along the wall, holding his head. The girl runs up to the window.
The clouds begin to obscure the sun.
There are people standing stiffly outside on the cracked road, totally frozen in place in awkward positions. Some have their necks twisted, or arms bent, or hunched over, or some on one leg. One man with a scarf obscuring his face has a leash wrapped around his arm, but the leash leads to a collar around a baby giraffe’s neck.
“Empathy!” The girl squeals in amazement. “Look, it’s a giraffe! They’ve got a giraffe! I wanna pet it, let’s go outside!”
“Angel, no!” His words come out harsh and throaty, startling the girl into flinching. “Angel, don’t you dare open that door!”
The girl inches away from the Dari Mart door, whimpering a little. “…am I in trouble…?”
“You-you will be if you let them in.” The boy gasps, getting a hold of himself.
The girl dashes over to him, appearing to notice his alarm. “What’s going on?”
The boy doesn’t reply for a few long seconds, just sitting there holding his head and wincing.
But then he says, “Carina says they’re working-working-shush Carina, you’re talking too loud-for someone across the… across the what? I-I can’t understand you. Just-just never mind, Angel, she says they’re bad. She says they’ll kill us. She says-she says they’re faceless. That’s how we can tell the difference between them and normal people.”
The girl looks across to the street.
And she gasps when she realizes that it’s true.
“Carina-please-please stop screaming. It’s okay, I’m not hurt, we’re not hurt, please-please…” The boy whispers anxiously. “They’re outside-just-just tell us what to do, we-we haven’t opened the door, please…”
And he stops suddenly, grimacing.
“Okay, Angel.” He says just as abruptly as he stopped. “Carina says they can only come in if we invite them in, so we’re safe in here until they leave. Problem is: She-she doesn’t know when they’ll leave. But at least we have food and water, right?”
“Yeah.” She says nervously.
The boy blows out his breath, wiping his brow with the back of his hand.
“Huh. I would kill to have things be normal again.” He says.




---
They wait for a long time; killing their apparent boredom by making a game of rolling Skittles and M&M’s across the floor into a goal made of licorice.
In the middle of a round, the little girl asks, “So what are those people called?”
“Hm?” The boy glances at her.
“Those people. The ones outside with the giraffe.”
The boy’s expression turns pensive, and he flicks an M&M like a marble into the licorice goal. “Carina says they’re called Carrion Men.”
“Carrion Men?” The girl looks at him, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah. Carrion, like-er never mind.” He swallows, seeming to realize her age and censors his words. “Carina says they aren’t alive, they’re just dead people that are controlled like puppets. Like shells of former people.” He flicks another M&M, but it misses the goal. “But she won’t tell me anything else, Carina’s in a bad mood.”
“Carrion Men are gross.” The girl wrinkles her nose.
“That’s what I think.”
“But why is Carina in a bad mood?” The girl asks suddenly.
“Huh? Er- I don’t know.” The boy sighs. “She’s moody. She has good moods and bad moods.”
“Where does she live?”
“What?”
The girl groans and throws back her head in annoyance. “I mean, if we know where she lives, then we can send her cookies to make her feel better.”
The boy bursts out laughing, and then quiets and pops an M&M in his mouth. “Well, I don’t know where she lives. I never asked.”
“Why not?”
“Because that thought never came to me to ask.”
“That’s dumb.”
“Shuddup. I’m being honest.”
It’s the girl’s turn in the game. She shoots a Skittle right through the goal.
“Where do you live, Empathy?” She asks.
“Me?” He looks at her. “I live on Ocean Avenue. Where do you live?”
“Blue Jay Loop. Isn’t Ocean Avenue right by Main Street?”
“Yup.” He says.
“But right now we’re both living in a Dari Mart.”
“Yep. That’s true too.”
“I miss my parents.”
The girl flicks a Skittle, but it spins away from the direction it should have gone. It whirls to a stop an inch away from the goal and sits there alone.
The boy looks at her, his expression sad.
“Shuddup, I’m being honest.” The girl says and pouts.
“It’s okay, I miss my parents too.”
The girl’s lower lip quivers. “I miss my older brother too. He got old and moved out of the house, but he still visited sometimes. He was like my best friend. I miss him the most, I don’t ever think about him becoming a monster…” Tears well up in her eyes and she lowers her head. “Malachi can’t ever become a monster; he’s-he’s too kind…”
The boy pats her back, saying certainly, “I’m sure he’s not a monster.”
“Promise me we’ll find him.”
The boy is taken aback. He blinks in surprise.
“Please, Empathy…” A tear slides down her cheek.
But finally, he says,
“We’ll find him. I promise.”
“Thank you, Empathy…”
The boy just looks at her pensively.
“I’m always here to help.”





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