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They all say that a long time ago you didn’t have to listen real close to hear the crickets. I don’t know about that. I’m thirteen years old and I’ve always had to concentrate to hear them. That’s what I’m doing right now, listening. I like listening to the crickets. They make me feel safe. I don’t know why, but they do.
“Being a cricket must be nice,” I whisper to them, and they chirp something in reply. “Well, you guys don’t have to worry about being killed.” The best time to hear them is at night. That’s when it’s the quietest, when there’s the least screaming and crying and shooting and killing. But that stuff is always there, even in the night.
“Jo?” I looked behind me in surprise. Everyone was asleep, or so I thought.
“Will? You’re awake?” Will sits down besides me. I look up from the dewy grass.
“Yeah, I couldn’t sleep. What’re you doing out here?” Will’s like my overprotective older brother, only he’s not related to me.
“Listening. If you’re quiet, then you can hear the crickets. Did you know?” He sighs and wraps his arms around me.
“When I was four, I used to listen to them as I fell asleep. They were louder back then, probably because there were more of them. And there wasn’t any outside noise, not really,” he says, probably talking about the faint sirens I could hear in the background and the ever-present sounds of gunfire. “You were probably two then. The next year, it all happened. The bombing in D.C., Prescott taking over as president, the martial law, all of that. It happened within a year, Jo. When I was four years old, when you were only three,” he whispered. A tear or two rolled down his cheeks. “They stole your childhood, Jo.” We sat there silent till the sun rose, listening. The crickets were louder than ever.
“William? Josephine?” I yawned. We must’ve fallen asleep.
“Mr. O’Callaghan?” Will said, startled. He sat up straight, rubbing his eyes.
“What are you two doing outside? You’re supposed to stay inside. It’s not safe out here,” Mr. O’Callaghan replied.
“But we’re on a huge farm,” I protested. “We were just in front of the house.”
“Still, someone could’ve seen you from the street. And everyone’s got guns with them.”
“Fine, let’s go inside,” I replied as I started to get up. Will rose, too, and the three of us returned to the farmhouse. If Will is my overprotective older brother, then Mr. O is my overbearing father. He, in a sense, adopted us when our parents died. My parents died when I was six, a month before Will’s died. When I was little, my mom used to take me outside at night and we’d try to listen to the crickets while my father stood guard. One night, some guy came up. He was smart, he killed my dad first, then took his gun and killed my mother. By that time I was a block away, hunched over, sobbing hysterically. I wandered for a couple of hours until Mr. O found me. He took me in, and this is where I’ve been ever since. I don’t know what happened to Will’s; he’s never told me.
“I need you two to keep watch through the window while I go feed the chicken and goats,” Mr. O said, and we both nodded. “Will, later on I need you to milk the cows,” he added, referring to Cookie, Coffee and Milkshake. So Will and I trudged upstairs to the attic.
“You know, he really should dust in here,” I said. “If he’s going to make us sit up here all the time and keep guard, he should at least make it comfortable.” We complained about Mr. O all the time, even though we both were secretly grateful for what he’s done.
“Yeah, it would be nice if he could dust,” Will replied, then paused. He sneezed a couple of times, then continued. “But if you asked him to, he’d tell you to do it yourself.” We sat down in the two wooden chairs in front of the window. “We spend so much time up here,” he remarked, “that we might as well live up here.”
“Yeah, but then we wouldn’t be able to listen to the crickets.” He nodded in agreement.
“The crickets, yeah,” he sighed and craned his neck to see through the little window. There was Mr. O, strolling across the sprawling grassy fields with his overcoat flowing behind him. We’ve got lot’s of goats and chicken here, he boasted when I first arrived here, and again when Will joined us. It’s a funny thing. Seven goats, thirteen chicken. But all thirteen of those chickens are lucky, at least in my book. He chuckled a little there. I remember not quite understanding what was so funny. After all, I was only six years old. Also got three cows. I already named one, Coffee. You can name one, too. When Will showed up, I had already named mine Milkshake, so he added, Jo here’s already named the smallest one Milkshake, which leaves you with the one in the middle. ‘Kay, son?
“Now he’s on to the goats,” Will whispered, and I snapped my head back up. He had a bucket eggs in his hand, so he had to be done with the chickens. “I remember when I was younger my parents took me to a petting zoo. They had goats and chickens there. That was the only other time I’d seen a real farm animal.” He gave a little forlorn chuckle. “Now I’m with them every day.”
“Hey, there’s also the crickets,” I said with a forced smile.
“And you.” I could hardly make out what he said.
“There’s you, Jo. I… I love you,” he stammered. I flung my arms around him, my smile now genuine.
“Oh, Will!” I sobbed, because that was all I could think to say. He hugged me back, and we just sat there wrapped in each other’s arms for what felt like an eternity, longer than we sat outside the night before. And then with a single Bang! our world collapsed.
“The hell was that!?!” Will cried, leaping out of his seat. Immediately, my eyes gravitated out the window, scanning for Mr. O. I’d totally forgotten about him!
“Oh, god! Will!” I whimpered. Out the window I could see a little black figure lying in front of the goat pen. There was a pool of red stuff, presumably blood, collecting around it.
“Jo, what do we do!?!”
“Fight back,” I stuttered, grabbing one of the rifles parked along the other side of the room and began down the stairs. I could hear Will following.
“Jo, what the hell are we going to do? Shoot the guy?” I pushed through the screen door and outside.
“Whatever we have to, Will. Jesus, just come on!” I trampled the grass like a steamroller, probably mowing over a couple of crickets as well.
“Whoever you are,” Will shouted. “Get the hell off of this farm!” We were standing in the grassy fields I had been raised upon since six years old. Mr. O’s unmistakable corpse was no more than a yard away from us.
“You get the hell off,” a new voice spoke, and I turned to see a gruff-looking man holding Will by his arm.
“Will!” I screeched.
“Jo, run! Jesus, Jo, you have to run!” Will yelled back.
“Oh, no you don’t!” the man cackled. Then there was another Bang! and Will was on the ground. I did as I was told and ran. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but what does that matter? I’m all alone now, off on some desolate dirt road. Well, not completely alone. I’ve still got the crickets.