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I surveyed the now empty room, glancing at the stack of cardboard boxes. The walls were white and lifeless. My bed just a wooden frame and a mattress. The small bedroom now empty of belongings. It’s strange to be moving all the time. I bet kids my age don’t have to go through this. Hopefully I’ll find some friends and actually get to go to school. I thought, crossing my arms. I circled the bedroom, pausing at the window to look out at the scenery for the last time. Then I walked to the door. I thought we really found a home. A place to stay. Now we have to move back into an apartment. I sighed and turned the brass doorknob. I stepped out into the whitewashed walls of the corridor and walked down to my sister’s bedroom. When I got to the front of her door, I knocked. A voice coming from inside said, “Come in.” I swung the door open and walked in. She was kneeling on the hardwood floor, placing her last belonging in a small shoebox. It was a picture of our mom.
I wonder what she thinks of moving? I asked myself. She stood up and faced me. I could see the words, WATER WORLD printed on the front of her white T-shirt.
“For a moment there I thought you were Dad. He kept popping in to make sure I was still here. Did he do that to you?”
I looked at my sister, she had a questioning look on her face. I shook my head.
“I don’t know. He just seems really nervous about something.”
I nodded my head in agreement and said, “Have you noticed that really scared look Dad gets on his face whenever somebody is at the door? And Dad just ends up hiding us somewhere but never tells us why?”
Sara nodded her head briefly but didn’t reply. She seemed to have something on her mind, as she was staring at the floor and not paying attention to anything around her. I thought about how she seemed to have grown up so fast in the past few months. Suddenly Sara snapped out of her trance and changed the subject. She asked, “Are you done packing? I am. Let’s bring the boxes to the living room.”
I nodded and was about to head for the door when she said, “Oh, Jane I just remembered something.” Sara dug into her brown capri’s pocket and took out a small key chain. It was a small brown dog, hanging off of a key ring. “Do you think Dad will like this for his birthday? I found this at the rest stop on the way here.”
I hit my forehead with my palm and leaned back, letting out a small groan.
“Oh, shoot! I almost forgot about Dad’s birthday. Now what am I going to do?” I turned around and left the room, closing the door behind me and continuing down the hallway and back into my bedroom. I moved the boxes from my room and down to the living room. Then I headed back up the spiral staircase and walked to my sister’s room. The door was open.
“You need help?” I asked as I leaned against the door frame, arms crossed in front of me.
“Nope, just carrying down the last box.” She showed it to me, I nodded. Suddenly a familiar voice came from down the stairs.
“Hey kids! You done packing yet?! We have to get this stuff into the car!”
It was my dad. Sara and I rushed down the stairs. My dad came back in, I could see the bags under his eyes. He’s not sleeping enough. What’s going on with him? I thought. He ran his hand through his messed up hair. I had never seen him look more tired. We helped him carry out the last of the boxes into the car.
For the last time my dad locked the front door of the large house. Sara and I got into the car. Through the window I could see my dad check the black mailbox nailed next to the front door. I watched him walk down the stone path and up to the car. He came back clutching a white piece of paper in his right hand. My dad climbed into the car, slamming the car door behind him. He took out the car keys. His hand seemed to shake uncontrollably as he fumbled to turn the key into the ignition. Finally I heard the engine start. I sat behind my dad in the backseat, Sara sitting behind the passenger seat.
In the mirror I could see my dad’s face. It had gone pale. His face like a white canvas, had a painted look of fear so strong that it seemed like all hope was lost. He noticed me looking and caught the confused and worried expression that must have been on my face, because he forced a smile and turned on the radio. Then with as much enthusiasm as he could muster, he said, “We’re going home!” I faked a smile but I could hear the falsity of his words, and I pretended not to hear it. Instead, I turned to my sister. She was staring with eyes wide and blank, at the piece of paper that my dad was still holding. I don’t think anyone should have to see the look of fear to that extreme in anybody. I thought, as we pulled out of the driveway and left yet another ‘home’ behind.
The music from the radio seemed to taunt us, the mood in the car was silent, tense. I looked at my sister. She was no longer staring at our dad’s hand, still holding the piece of paper that seemed so important. Instead Sara was looking out the window. Anybody would have thought that she was looking at the scenery outside, but from the reflection in the window, I could see her eyes. They were all fogged up, as if she was seeing something unworldly. I wonder what she’s thinking about. I began to worry, everything that had happened in the past few months was very unnerving the more I thought about it. The moving, the not being able to go to school like a normal kid. The being hidden whenever somebody knocked on the door. And the few strange visits, were the most difficult to comprehend of all. I turned away from my sister and stared at the seat in front of me. I could remember the first visit, very clearly. Almost like looking through glass.
Finally. I thought. A home of our own. No more apartments for me. I walked into the living room. All of the furniture was gone, but it was still our home. My sister skipped into the house.
“I want first pick of rooms!” Sara cried as she headed for the stairs. My dad walked in, he was carrying a large cardboard box. For the first time I saw a small grin on his face and happiness in his eyes. Although he still looked tired. He put the box down.
“Let’s see if we can get a carpet onto this hardwood floor. That might be nice. What do you think Jane?” I shrugged, but smiled at him. His grin got wider and he headed out for the rest of the boxes. I ran up the spiral staircase, looking for my sister.
“Sara! Where are you?” I called out, walking down the long corridor.
“I’m in here sis!” She called back. I followed her voice and opened the door to the room where Sara was. “I think this room is a little large. What do you think?”
“Do you want a smaller room?” I said.
“I don’t know. Let’s look together.”
“Okay.” We walked out of the room together and into the long corridor.
“Do you think we’ll be able to go to a real school this time?” My sister asked, leaning against me. I put my arm around her. “What I really hated about the apartment was that I saw kids my age go to school, while I was stuck inside. Why does Dad teach us himself. Was Daddy a teacher too?”
“Yeah. He was. Although I’m not sure why Dad home schools us.”
“What’s home school?”
“It’s when you learn at home instead of going to school like other kids.” I said. My sister nodded.
After our conversation, we parted our separate ways. I had looked at all the rooms except one. I noticed that all the rooms were the same; one window on the far wall, white painted walls and ceiling, brown hardwood floor, and a bed with a mattress.
I stepped into the last room and I knew this one was for me. Although it was plainly furnished like all the other rooms, the scenery was what struck me. Outside the window I could see the sun shining down on a small garden and the outskirts of a forest. I tore my eyes from the window and headed down the stairs and into the living room.
“All done with the boxes outside,” said Dad, as he walked in. “Have you guys decided your rooms yet?” He locked the front door.
“I have, but Sara’s still deciding,” I replied. My dad nodded, breathless, and glanced around the living room.
“This is a nice place, isn’t it?” I nodded, and turned to the pile of boxes. Suddenly there was a faint knock, it was barely audible.
“I’ll get it!” I heard Sara’s voice call from up the stairs, as she ran down them.
“No!” Came the harsh and commanding voice from my dad. I had never heard my dad’s voice like that. Sara stopped at the last step of the winding staircase. Shocked and a little scared, she stood completely still, her hand resting on the metal rail.
I stood in the living room, not sure what to do. I heard the doorbell ring, then again and again. Each time getting more impatient sounding.
My dad walked over to my sister and took her by the arm, leading her to an empty coat closet located in the hallway next to the stairs. He signaled to me silently to follow. I followed. “Hide in the closet.” He mouthed. Confused, Sara and I stepped into the closet. My dad closed the door behind us. I could hear him walking back down the hallway. Once I was sure that he was gone, I gestured to my sister in the dim light to be silent. I opened the closet door just a crack. Through it I could see my dad answer the door. The ringing ceased. I saw my dad, he was trying to keep the figure behind the door outside of the house. But it seemed that the figure insisted on coming in because my dad let him in. I was able to see the figure clearly, it was a man. He was tall and wearing a black overcoat with a black hat and black shoes. I could hear them making a tap sound on the hardwood floor of the living room as he walked in. I wasn’t able to make out any facial features, and I didn’t dare open the door any wider. For fear of getting caught.
Through the dim light I could see my sister, silent. She was also staring at the crack, the light shining on her face. Even with the light coming from the crack in the door, it was still too dark to see the emotion in her eyes. But I knew that she was as confused as I was. Who is this man? I thought. As I continued to stare at him. I stuck my ear close to the crack, I could hear the conversation echoing through the long hallway. I could hear them, as clear as if I was standing right next to them.
“Where are the others?” Questioned the gruff and unfamiliar voice coming from the man.
“What others?” My dad said, I could hear him strain his voice into a question.
“Don’t play dumb, you know the rules. Every fifteen years I take one, as long as the organization is still running. I’ll take one. Every fifteen years Jake.”
Every fifteen years? Could these be the people who took Mom away? What organization? Questions raced through my mind.
“But I don’t have the girls. You already took them thirty years ago,” I could hear my dad say.
“I’m not stupid, I know that you have the girls somewhere, and I will get them. Now, by the next time I visit, you better have the girl waiting for me. Understood?” Said the man, in more of a command than a question. I stuck my ear closer to the crack, but no more words were exchanged between the two of them. Instead I exchanged my ear for my eye. I saw the man show himself out of the house. As soon as he was out the door, my dad went to the window, I heard an engine start, and slowly get softer. Then I shut the closet door before my dad came back. I heard the sound of my dad’s feet coming from the hallway. Finally he opened the closet door. The usual fear I see in his eyes were replaced with sorrow, and something else. Regret? Worry?
“Daddy, is everything okay?” My sister said, she stepped out of the closet. My dad shook his head.
“Who was that person?” I asked. Again, my dad shook his head. Never had I seen eyes so sad.
I closed my eyes for a brief moment and came back to reality. We had stopped at a gas station for more gas. My dad was outside, filling up the tank. I looked at my sister, she was no longer staring out the window, but dozing off. I wonder what she’s dreaming about. I thought silently. After a few minutes my dad got back into the car and turned the key. The car started up again, and we were back on the road. To a new home, once more.