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The Marchers (chapters 1-12)
“They should be coming soon,” Kyle whispered.
Alice and Joyce huddled closer together in the corner, their faces buried in the prickly hay. Did they know that this could be one of the last hours of our lives? Did they know if we made it out alive, we would be orphaned? Did they know Kyle might have to leave the country? Did they care?
I looked around at the items sprawled out on the concrete under us that we would have to use to protect ourselves: a hand painted hammer, a nail file, and a rusty chain from an old run down chain saw. I picked up the nail file and clenched it between my middle and ring finger, the way you’re suppose to hold it when you need to do some damage to someone. The sides of the metal dug into the skin on my fingers. I felt a drop of blood run across my fingers and drip onto my bare knee.
The warm sun poured in through my window, and I knew it was officially spring. I sat up delicately in my bed; the springs moaned beneath me. Outside the window, pink flowers poked out of the inch of snow that had already covered the ground two nights ago. How it still seemed fresh, I didn’t know.
I swung my legs around to the side of the bed and slowly set them on the ground. To my surprise the floor felt warmer, most likely from the sun. I draped my silk blanket around my shoulders and stood up. I glanced at the digital clock surrounded by old papers and crumpled notes that lay on my chipped antique bedside table.
6:13 A. M.
I was supposed to feel more tired at this time in the morning, but I guess the spring fever had infected me. I opened my large stained oak window and let the breeze tickle my face. I knew I didn’t have as much time as I felt like I did, as I opened my door and skidded down the hall to the upstairs bathroom.
The bathroom was currently mine, but tomorrow it would be shared by three people. The other two residents would be my new step-sisters next June, but tomorrow they would be sharing my bathroom with me.
Alice and Joyce, my soon-to-be step-sisters, were five year old twins. I already hated them. Luckily I only had to stay here during long weekends and breaks. But that was already too much for me.
Up until four days ago, my father was busy planning the wedding, which is three months away. That is when he remembered that there would be three more people living in our home, his home. We have been cleaning since then, incessantly.
I wanted nothing to do with being here; I just wanted to be with my mother. My father had decided to marry Courtney, a French designer strait from Paris, without even asking my approval. I knew she hated my mother, and she was already starting to talk me into calling her mom.
“You might as well get used to it now. It will be a less difficult change to start calling me ‘Mom’ as soon as I move in, rather than after the wedding. The girls are already calling Sean ‘Dad’.”
I shuttered at the thought of it. I turned on the shower water and adjusted it to the perfect temperature. I knew it would have to be a quick shower. My father had told me that he wanted to start cleaning the basement as early as possible. It was my second to last day of spring break and all I wanted to do was sleep in, relax, and just chill.
“Maria?” my Dad’s voice scratched through the door. “I know I promised you could have some free time to yourself today, but I went over everything that has to be done before the moving van arrives here tomorrow at 7. We are completely behind schedule, so I’m sorry to say, but it looks like you are just going to have to put it off until a different point in time.”
“A different point in time” usually meant never when my Dad said it.
“Screw it,” I muttered under my breath.
I flipped the knob down in the shower and plugged the drain. The water started to fill up the tub. I opened the cupboard above the sink and dug through its contents until I found Courtney’s expensive bubble bath relaxation gel, which she had left here.
I dumped almost half of what was left into the bathtub, and inched into the warm water.
“Did you hear me Mar?”
Yes, I heard him all right. But I’m not sure I understood the message that he thought he presented to me. I would take as long as I wanted this morning.
What the hell? I might even do my nails.
The sound of a gunshot filled the room. Then the steady beat of the drums of The Marchers began. They had to be close. A tear drop rolled down my cheek. For I knew our items of defense were useless against the guns and technology of The Marchers.
Kyle ran his fingers across my cheek, and smeared the tears away. He looked into my eyes, and I knew he expected me to kiss him. Anger filled my lungs and spread around my body rapidly.
It was him who caused all this. Him who made The Marchers come to hunt him down, and destroy anyone in the way, even if it was my mother. It was him that came in my bedroom window begging for my help. It was him that made me fall for him, his looks, his charm.
It was him who made me come to hate him.
I turned away from him and crossed my arms over my chest. I slumped down into the hay and closed my eyes and listened to the drums of The Marchers. I listened to their chant as they called who they wanted, who they wanted dead.
I sauntered into the kitchen, where Dad was dragging loads of boxes up the stairs and depositing them on the table. He looked more haggard and disheveled then he had in years. The only other time he had looked this bad was during the duration of his and my Mom’s divorce. I almost felt bad for him. I was barely doing anything to help.
“Maria,” he said when he saw me standing in the entryway, “where have you been? I thought I heard you up an hour ago. Did you go back to sleep?”
I was about to apologize to him when he broke in, “I don’t have any time for you to be acting like a little pampered diva. You are acting just like your mother did when I was with her. If you keep it up no man in hell will want to be with you. Ever.”
I could just stare at him. I understand him getting at the diva angle, but to drag my Mom and love life into this was just messed up. The worst part about it was he wasn’t joking, I could see it in his face.
I narrowed my eyes at him and pushed past him toward the basement door. I took the stairs down two at a time.
“You better be going to get some of those boxes!” he yelled down to me.
With that, I tugged on the sliding glass door in our walk out basement and stepped outside into the warm spring air. The Attitude ² was propped up against the base of a large oak tree in the middle of our yard. I quickly hopped on barefoot and peddled down the street.
The Attitude ² (squared) is the name of my bike. It received its name when I was bike riding with my father and the evil b**** Courtney. Dad told me to leave the attitude behind. We had been stopped on the sidewalk in the middle of town and Kyle the cutest guy in our school had been hanging out with his friends’ downtown that same day. They also had happened to be in earshot distance from me and my Dad, and could hear our whole conversation. As hard as my Dad tries he can’t talk quietly.
I had to think quickly and say something back to my dad so Kyle wouldn’t think I was un-cool. So I slyly looked up at my Dad and said, “I’m nothing without my Attitude, and if you make me leave mine here, then you have to leave your Pink Dinosaur.”
His face flushed pink and then red. I knew I had gone too far. Pink Dinosaur was the name we had called his bike as a joke. My dad was nothing if he didn’t have manly pride.
I was seven. This is my second bike since then.
“MARIA! SLOW DOWN!”
I was quickly shaken out of my memory. I yanked on the front brake, sending the back wheel of The Attitude ² up and over my head, dumping me on the ground beside it. I looked up to see Jared offering me his hand.
“I’m sorry Marty; I didn’t mean to scare you! Honestly! I saw you fly out of your Dad’s driveway in such a rush that I thought there had to be an axe murderer following you! So I ran all the way downstairs but my mom was cooking in the kitchen!” he cried out. His voice was wobbling and I swear he was going to either cry or faint, “She wanted me to try her new oatmeal cookie recipe, and you know how she prides over her oatmeal cookies! I had to try one, and then I rushed out here super-fast. But you fell! Are you okay! Please tell me you’re not hurt Maria! I am so, so, so, sorry! Please forgive me Maria!” Then he took a big breath of air in.
I grabbed his hand and hoisted myself up to standing position. I patted Jared on the back and gave him a small hug.
“I’m okay. You’re okay,” I told him.
Jared had always been my best guy friend. I started hanging out with him and his hot-as-can-be brother Kyle so much that all my other friends dumped me like hot coals. I didn’t mind though. Jared had the sweetest heart and would die if I ever got hurt.
Jared and Kyle were brothers. They were both in the same grade; juniors, one year older than me. Kyle was older and was one month too young to be a senior, and Jared was one month too old to be in my grade.
They were the total opposites. Jared has longish light brown hair that slightly covers his brown eyes. He is about my height, and has a rounded face. He has the biggest smile I have ever seen. He is in most of my AP classes and is mostly average in all of them.
Kyle, the hotter of the two, has blond hair and freckles across the bridge of his nose. His eyes sparkle a florescent green. He is the tallest guy in our grade. He has a skinny figure but is completely muscular. His grades aren’t all that but he axels in all the sports he tries; baseball, basketball, lacrosse, football, hockey, even track.
“If there isn’t a masked murderer or someone after you, then why did you come out of there so fast? Maria, where are you going?”
I sighed. Jared knew me so well. We had been friends for eternity. He knew when I was younger and my parents were fighting I had run away for a whole weekend. I had told my parents I was going to, my Dad had laughed and sent me to my room.
I had snuck out my window and was at Jared’s house in less than five minutes. He had believed me, and even gave me money to help me out. I stayed at a hotel downtown for two days before he came to my door begging me to come home. He told me my parents had called the cops and where searching for me, but he hadn’t given up my location.
“I would tell you if I was leaving town,” I told him, “I was just taking a ride to get rid of my fumes.”
Jared nodded in agreement, “Another fight with the dad?” he asked.
He picked up my bike and then gave my hand a tight squeeze, “You can come inside and hang out, call the dad or whatever. My mom can make lunch.”
“Kay,” I whispered.
“It doesn’t look like you can ride your bike back,” he said.
I looked down and saw both my knees were scraped and my hand was swelling up.
“Could be broke. Does it hurt?” he asked.
I nodded and grimaced at the sight of dirty gravel stuck in my knee mixing with my blood..
He started walking back toward his house, then turned around to face me, “My Dad will take a look at it for you. Possibly cast it up. No charge.”
“Kyle. Kyle. Maria.”
My name in their chant made me bolt upright bumping my head on the blanketed roof, nearly knowing it down. Kyle leaped to fix it. I glared at him. They knew that I knew. Or at least they thought I knew. I looked at my sisters. The little girls I had hated two days ago, now slept lifeless in a small pile in the middle of an old barn hundreds of miles from home. They had cried their selves to sleep. They were scared, and they knew nothing. They knew as much as I did.
And I knew nothing.
The inside of the Freeman’s home was magnificent. Mr. Freeman was the manager of a hospital. Mrs. Freeman was a lawyer and ran a very successful family owned café in her free time. A lot of money was brought into the house, and they had the best house on the block because of it.
Mr. Freeman had already offered to help pay to get me into any collage I wanted next year. They had always thought of me as their daughter. They were so impressed by my grades and wanted me to get into a great collage. Of course Kyle and Jared had the same offer I did. Kyle was thinking of passing up collage, and Jared was thinking of going to study to be a doctor like his father.
As soon as Jared helped me into the house Mr. and Mrs. Freeman were there instantly. Mrs. Freeman had oatmeal cookies, just as Jared had said, and Mr. Freeman was already pulling out his medical bag that was kept in their living room.
“Oh goodness! Sweetie, you have to stop getting hurt! It kills a part of me every time you come in our door broken!” Mrs. Freeman cried to me.
“You would be dead by now if that were the case,” I joked.
Mr. Freeman sighed after taking a look at it for a moment, then said, “It looks broken to me, if not fractured. I will put it in a sling and we will make an appointment for you tomorrow to have it x-rayed.”
I shook my head understanding and pulled my arm closer to my body. It throbbed and it made me start to shake. Mr. Freeman scuttled down the hallway towards his office and Mrs. Freeman excused herself to answer the ringing phone.
Jared and I locked eyes for a minute and it looked like he was about to say something when a smooth voice hummed through the air.
“God, what’d ya do now Pucker?”
I started to blush bright red and hiccup insanely.
Pucker is the nickname Kyle gave me after his and Jared’s joint 13th birthday party. We were playing spin the bottle and Kyle and I got picked. I leaned in first and puckered up to him. He had just laughed it off then and patted me on the knee saying he would love to but he didn’t want to ruin our special friendship.
I have been truly in love with Kyle Peter Freeman since that day.
“Every time I see you, you have the hiccups,” he laughed.
It was a deep laugh. It sounded nice to my ears and only made my hiccups get more intense. It was nothing like Jared’s laugh. His was cheery, it could brighten a room. It always made me feel happy, but Kyle’s laugh was different. It felt like it was meant just for me.
“Just fell off my bike again,” I shrugged it off as no big deal, which it wasn’t, “and landed on my arm.”
“Huh… looks like it must have hurt.” He walked over and pretended to examine my arm that was now pressed against my chest. I noticed he was staring, but not at my injured arm. My face turned a brighter shade of pink and Kyle must have relisted what he was doing, and quickly looked at his brother.
I noted that Kyle’s face was a little pinker then the normal shade of his skin.
“I have a game tomorrow; do you think you will be able to cover up my shift for me?”
“Yup, sure, whatever,” Jared quipped a little harshly.
I scratched the brim of my nose in the brotherly awkwardness. I had no idea what they were pissed at each other about all of a sudden.
At that moment Mr. Freeman came back into the room carrying a box, “Let’s wrap you up again Maria.”
I extended my arm and let him began to bandage my pitiful limb. I was still watching the boys closely looking for an indication over what was going on.
Jared ended the stare down by looking away slowly, naturally. As if he is used to this, as if it always happens and I just don’t know because I don’t catch the first remark or look. Jared took a seat at the kitchen table and reached out to get an oatmeal cookie casually.
Kyle still stared at his siblings back, most likely mentally shooting arrows into it. I cleared my throat in order to relive some tension and break the silence.
A couple moments went on in pure painful silence, and I heard the town’s King Engine siren blare in the distance. One of the terrorists must have been located. The Marchers would soon be out looking for them, it wouldn’t be long until the King Engine siren sounded twice signaling the catching of the traitor.
“I have some uh, homework to work on,” Kyle said suddenly. He quickly turned and practically ran out of the kitchen like it was on fire.
Mr. Freeman sighed, “Jared, could you go check on your brother? Make sure he’s okay?”
Jared stood up slowly and walked upstairs after Kyle, definitely not in any sort of rush to find out what was wrong with him.
Mr. Freeman attached the last bandage on my arm and adjusted the sling into place then went to get his planner.
While he was gone I tried not to think about Kyle and his strange behavior and tried to focus more on the fact that he had actually noticed my boobs.
A brief image of Kyle and me together in the mall, holding hands and kissing formed in my head. I shivered at the joy of the thought.
“I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with him,” Mr. Freeman interrupted my thoughts as he came back into the dimly lit kitchen, “he has been doing this odd thing where he keeps spacing out as if he’s like in some sort of trance. And whenever the King Engine goes off he freaks out, third time this week. Ever since the day when a couple of The Marchers came to school to talk to you guys about the new laws.”
He seemed to be talking more to himself then me.
“I don’t quite understand it,” he continued, “it’s almost as if…” he paused for a second as if thinking of how to word his next thought.
“As if he went against the Governments orders,” I finished for him jokingly.
But he only just shook his head.
I heard footsteps at that moment. Somebody was coming near. I crawled closer to Alice and Joyce and tried to bury them behind my body. I tried to shield them from everything outside.
A couple days ago I would have laughed if someone had even told me I would feel any concern over my step-sisters very soon, ever. But here I was, protecting them; guarding them; shielding them from danger.
Here I was willing to risk my life for them to return safely back home, away from all this mess.
At that moment I knew what I had to do to protect my little sisters.
I wheeled my bike out the Freemans huge metal gaits and down the sidewalk for a block and a half until I knew I was out of the view of all of the windows in their home. I tore my sling off and hopped on my bike and took a short cut into the woods behind our neighborhood. One left at the big tree, then a right after the bear trap, and then a second left after the bench at the end of the trail and I would be on Maine Coon Ave. Only two blocks away from my moms.
I found this short cut when I was younger. From my mom’s house to my dad’s is 14.2 miles exactly, the short cut is only 3.9. Sometimes I ride the other way when I’m just trying to use up time. It goes up Mt. Keel Rd though for 6.7 miles, and you have to cross over interstate twelve.
There was a rumor floating around school last March that a kid died on interstate twelve when he was crossing for a dare. The kids who dared him allegedly got arrested and thrown in juvie. But, rumors are rumors.
Big tree; turn left.
I hate rumors; they only cause hurt feelings and broken hearts. I should know. My first real boyfriend, Matt, dumped me over a nasty rumor started by CeCe. She moved away three years ago though. Matt and CeCe still keep in contact. Only successful long distance relationship I have ever heard of. I bet to this day they still laugh about how they were matched up.
Right at rusty old bear trap.
There were never any bears in this town either. That’s just another stupid rumor. It is possible though that there were still many of them in the year 2060. But that was so long ago. My grandma said her great grandma told her she could see bears any day at the zoo or even in her backyard back then.
Turn left onto Maine Coon Ave.
The front wheel of my bike wobbles as I cross over to the other side of the street, reminding me of my crash. My arm also begins to throb on cue.
I stop in front of General Market, to buy some milk and some bags of cookies for later. Whenever I have a tough day with my dad, I always go home and spend the evening with my mom, eating junk food, bawling our eyes out during a sad movie, and then discussing our problems and coming up with stupid solutions that we wish we could do or say.
This tradition started when I was in first grade. John Travis Parker had asked me out, eaten all my cookies my mom packed me, stole my red and blue crayons, and then dumped me for someone else because she had grapes in her lunch every day.
It was the first worst day of my life.
I peddle around to the pedestrian line and waited behind two young teenage guys ordering about six 12 packs of beer. They already look drunk to me.
The guys lugged off their purchases and I rolled up to the window. The automatic ladies voice greets me in a chirpy tone, “General Market. How may we be in assistance of you today? Please list your items in general format.”
I nibble on my lip as I hit the buttons on the keypad indicating my list.
“One pint of Sam’s chocolate milk. One bag of Chico’s chocolate chip cookies. One bag of Chico’s mint crèmes. One bag of General Market’s cheese doodles.”
The machine repeats my order to me with perfect pronunciations.
I finish up and pay for my items then wait for the people inside General Market to bring me my items packed up and ready to go home.
I would hate to have to be one of the people forced to work here. It’s basically a prison for people to package other people’s food for them, while working inside a giant freezer. I wish the government would allow Jeremy Watson to open back up Watson’s Market. It was dream market come true.
Watson’s was a small building that is now a post office, you used to be able to go inside and push around large baskets and put your own food from the different isles in your basket. You could take your time, and socialize. It used to belong to Jeremy’s grandfather. According to him all markets used to be like that. I think it’s just another rumor.
“Here’s your order, have a nice day!” the voice sings as my General Market bag is spit out of the hole in the wall.
I place the bag in the basket on the fount of my bike and head home. As soon as I bike up the driveway my mom is outside.
She is wearing her usual home attire; sweat pants, a large collage t-shirt, fuzzy socks and her blueish bunny slippers. Today she has an oversized robe around her shoulders, so I can’t tell what collage tee she is wearing. Her slippers ended up in the wash one day with my dark blue sheets. My sheets have lost a little color, and her slippers now take on a unique new look. Mom’s hair is in a messy braid. Her hair has always been too short to braid, but she does it anyways.
She held out her arms, “Hey baby, your father already called, said you were probably on your way up.” She looked at me for a moment and took everything in, the scrapes, bandages, scratched bike and all the glory. “You got my mint crèmes?”
I almost collapsed into my mother’s arms. All I could do was nod. She pushed me back a minute to look at my face, then she said, “Looks like it’s your turn to pick the movie tonight. I will go heat up the chocolate milk and pour the cookies into a bowl. You clean up and get the movie set up.”
Less than ten minutes later I am standing under the shower head, and letting the hot water massage my back, relisting all the tension and stress my dad causes me.
Once all the boiling water had drained out of our hot water tank, or so says the old saying, I get out and wrap my Veelveteer Towel around my body. The towel tickles my skin as it absorbs all the moisture off of me. I wash my face and run into my bedroom to get ready for movie night.
I’m thinking The Last Song for a movie choice. It’s so old, the only copy we have of it is on a DVD, and so we have to hook up our DVD player every time we watch it, but it’s worth it. It is most defiantly my favorite sad movie of all time. It makes me cry, every time. At least her Dad loved her.
I take my towel off and wrap it around my hair, than I go look through my hamper for my favorite flannel boxer shorts.
I whirl around, someone is at my window.
I rewrap my towel around my body and scurry over to look. Kyle’s face is not but two inches from the screen. He has a wicked grin on his face, like a little boy on Christmas morning.
I unlock the window and let him in.
“What is your problem?” I almost scream at him, “You almost gave me a heart attack! How long have you been there?”
I don’t know whether to hit him, or run out of my room and never speak to Kyle Freeman again.
“Don’t be so embarrassed Pucker,” he says as he flicks me on the arm, “It’s not like you’re the first girl I’ve seen naked.”
I just stand there stunned.
“Why the hell are you here?” I asked as I ran into my walk in closet and closed the door shut behind me.
“You’re going to think I’m crazy, or something. But first, I need you to promise you won’t tell anyone and I need you to promise to help me,” he starts. All the joke has drained out of his voice and he is babbling. The coolest guy in school is babbling, and asking for my help.
I’m silent for a minute, as I pull on my boxer shorts and the sexiest tank top I own.
“Promise?” Kyle asks again, his voice strains, like he is trying not to cry.
I brush my hair out and tie it in a loose pony tail.
“Maria, please. I’m asking you, as… as my closest friend.”
“I promise,” I say as I walk calmly out of my closet and sit down on the floor across from where Kyle has plopped down.
He is lying on his back facing the ceiling in my pile of pillows. He nods his head yes, but just keeps staring at my pink striped ceiling.
He finally takes a deep breath and begins, “Last week, when The Marchers came to our school, I found out something. They aren’t who they say they are. I caught them… talking. Discussing, I don’t know. They were talking about some sort of secret attack, an attack against the government and the people.”
I just kept nodding my head as I took in everything.
“They saw me. They saw me Maria, they know who I am, and they want me dead. I know too much. That Fire Engine bell today, that was for me. I know it is. The last three weren’t, but this one is.
They found me. I’m not a traitor though. And I can’t let them catch me. I need to run. I need to get out of here. I need to leave the Country.
I heard them coming Maria, in my dreams they have been calling my name. I’m tired, and I can’t sleep or eat. If I don’t go soon, I might die of sleep deprivation. “He sat up and turned toward me, “I don’t want to die.”
I looked at him for a moment. This is the guy who everyone looked up to, the guy all the other guys wished they were, and the guy all the girls wanted. This guy now sat in my room almost begging me to believe him, to give him a chance, and to help him.
“Yes, you do have to run away,” I told him, he nodded, looking almost sad that I agreed with him, “but I’m coming with you.”
I kissed Alice and Joyce on the head and looked directly at Kyle. Tears tugged at the corner of my eyes as spoke, “Take care of them. Get them home and as far away from here as physically possible in the next sixty seconds. I am going to provide a distraction. But as soon as I tell you to… run.”
I turned and shimmied out of our small shelter and crawled behind a stack of hay toward an opening. From there, if I stood, whoever was in this barn would be able to see me. I was as good as dead, but my sisters would escape, alive.
Behind me I heard Kyle’s frantic whispers, “Maria! Wait! Maria, I love you.”
My heart almost stopped. He really did love me. I knew it; I knew that he had feelings for me. I also knew I was in danger of running back into that tent and into Kyle’s arms, so I stood.
There was a man in front of me. He was dressed in all black, and looked ready to kill. He lifted up his gun and took a couple steps closer to me.
Kyle’s green eyes shine against the gleam of my hot pink lamp and I can tell he is going to say yes. Kyle and I are going to run away together. We are going to build a small cottage in the middle of the woods, and get married. But in order for this to work I need to start with the basics. What will I pack? I might need a swimsuit, but since we won’t have our cottage built yet I’m going to need sweaters to start with. Hmm, should I bring flip flops? My gold flats, or just my sneakers? I know he likes girly-girls, so probably my flats. Oh, and I am going to need my new silk nightgown. He will love that, and—
I just stare at him for a minute trying to understand what he is saying. No to the nightgown? How can he hear what I’m thinking?
As if reading my thoughts (again?) he frowns and says, “It’s too dangerous for you. You would be hurt by something, and I don’t want them coming after you too. I just don’t think it would be in anyone’s best interest if you went missing. Jared would miss you, and…”
Did he just say Jared would miss me?
“Kyle!” a male voice yelled from downstairs.
Kyle stood up and went running downstairs. I decided to follow him, but first grabbed my leather jacket and fuzzy hat; I then slipped my Uggs on and ran after him.
Both of the Freeman brothers were in my mom’s kitchen. They were fighting in my mom’s kitchen like it was any other day. Only I knew this wasn’t any other day.
“Why would you come here? Here! Of all places!” Jared yelled at Kyle.
Kyle glanced at me quickly and shouted back, “I trust her! I need someone I know I can trust.”
“You are just doing this make me mad. I know it. It’s what you do. I’m sure your stupid Marchers story is made up too. You just want everything I want, but not because you want it. No. You want it so I can’t have it! Cuz’ that’s what brothers are for? Right?”
I had never seen Jared madder in his life. Just then my mother came into the kitchen and saw the intruders.
“Are they joining us for movie night?”
The sound of glass shattering filled the house. I almost screamed tornado until I saw the men in black climbing into our house from all different sides.
The Marchers had finally arrived.
I’m not sure who said it, and I’m not sure who screamed. All I remember was the ear splattering sound of a gunshot as it flew across our living room, and into the kitchen hitting my mom. She fell to the floor and there was another scream. This time I’m sure it was mine.
Another gun was raised and this time pointed at me.
I think I remember passing out. Everything went black and I heard more screaming. My right leg started to burn. And I felt my body being carried out of the room in a hurry. I felt the cool air of the night against my closed eye lids.
I didn’t know where we were going, or who I was going there with.
I just knew one thing. My mother was dead.
The man spoke, in an oddly familiar voice as he shouted something outside, “Everything’s fine! False alarm, I thought there was a bomb. It was just my imagination. Stress of a new guy I guess.”
He was covering for me. He wasn’t shooting, and he seemed to be lowering the gun. He was protecting me.
The figure in black nodded his head and took four huge steps and filled in the space between us. He yanked off his mask and under it was the face of my friend.
“Did you miss me?”
And then he kissed me. Jared Freeman was kissing me.
When I woke up the next morning two things occurred to me:
I was not in my bed
A guys arm was over my waist
I could feel the man’s breath against my neck, and hear his deep snoring pattern. I stirred in bed a little and the strangers arm pulled me closer to him.
I pulled away quickly and sat up, then winced in pain. I glanced down to see Kyle looking up at me. His eyes were sparkling and his expression read worried.
His eyes seamed to follow me as I stood up, gripping for something to rest my weight on.
“Oh!” I cried out as I feel the fire in my leg racing upwards and spreading through my bloodstream.
Kyle jumps up instantly and is at my side in seconds. He wraps his muscular arms around me as he helps me lower myself to the ground.
Confusion wraps itself around my brain and holds on tight as I look around us. We are sitting in the middle the woods. My back aches and I realize we must have slept on the ground. Kyle’s shirt sleeve is ripped at the shoulder and now wrapped tightly around my thigh. Blood covers my flannel boxer shorts, and my jacket is stained with grass.
Then I take note of Kyle. He is also covered in my blood. His brand new sneakers are now coated in mud, and his blonde hair is sticking all out to the sides.
“I was worried about you, so I thought if we slept closer together you would be safer,” he explained out loud.
“I don’t mind.”
Kyle blushes for the second time in twenty-four hours. He is so cute when he’s embarrassed.
“I, I’m so sorry,” he starts, “I know everything is entirely my fault. I feel horrible. You don’t know how bad I feel, I can’t even explain it. It’s just… I don’t know.”
I put up my hand to stop him. I do understand where he is coming from. He came for me, and The Marchers came for him. I don’t remember a lot though. I just remember my mom and Jared were there too.
I quickly look around the dense woods for any other sign of life. Maybe Jared and my mom were in a different part of the forest. Maybe we split up so we could take turns looking out. Maybe it was our turn.
“They’re gone. I saw Kyle leave with them. And your mother was shot. I called the police using your cell phone to tip them off about her body,” he says calmly.
Kyle said, “her body,” because all that was left was a body. There was a body in my house, and it was my mom’s body. My mom. My mom was dead.
There was crying then.
Kyle wrapped me in his arms, and I had snot dripping out of my nose. We sat there in the woods for I don’t know how long. We just sat there and I cried. I’m sure if you saw the incident from afar you would assume it was just two high school students saying goodbye, because one was moving or going off to college, or both. But, what you wouldn’t even think of is that one of them had lost a brother, and the other had lost a friend and her mother. You wouldn’t think they were suffering from pain and grieving; not only for themselves but one another. No, that thought wouldn’t even cross your mind.
I’m sure by the time I stop my face is puffy and bloated.
Kyle pulls back a second once he notices I’ve stopped crying. He looks into my eyes and leans toward me.
This is it. I’m about to kiss Kyle.
“Come on,” he says suddenly as he yanks his head back so hard I swear his neck must have snapped, “I’ve got a plan.”
Before I can protest, and pull him back to my lips to finish the deal he snatches me into his arms and stands up.
“We have to move fast, and by the looks of things you won’t be able to keep up.”
He runs quickly into a dense part of the forest then slows down to a walk. His breathing is fast and heavy as he explains his plan.
Our kiss is long. Jared’s lips are warm and desperate. The kiss is more amazing then the ones in my dreams. Everything is perfect.
We are in the mall now. We are sitting at a small table in the cute café right next to my favorite boutique. I just took a huge sip of my mocha and now have milk on my top lip. He laughs and leans over to wipe it off, but then kisses me. Then we both laugh and he leans back. His blonde hair dangles over his green eyes.
Green eyes. Blonde hair.
Kyle smiles at me and then reaches over and brushes the hair out of my face.
This isn’t Kyle.
I pull back quickly and harshly, yanking my lips away from Jared. My heart is ripped out of my chest and thrown down a murky abyss as I see a look of dejection take over his face.
I am surprised at how quickly we reach my father’s house.
We amble to the edge of the woods behind his house and Kyle looks deep into my eyes as he sets me on the ground gently and steadies me, “Remember, go inside and act like everything is normal. Pack your backpack, get good nights sleep. In the morning at 5 am I will be out here behind your house. Don’t tell your dad anything.”
I nod my head yes. And then watch as Kyle walks back into the unfathomable woods. I wait till I can’t see him anymore then count to twenty before walking into my house.
The coffee maker is on in the kitchen, it’s still really early. I will go upstairs and get ready to go, and then I will just chill out until about 7 tonight and go to bed. Get up early again tomorrow, and start my journey with Kyle.
I slowly creep up the stairs, skipping the broken step that moans every time it’s touched. I move slowly down the hall towards my room, where I can clean up and then put on some jeans so no one will know I got shot in the leg last night.
How long does it take for a shot wound to close itself up? It only symbols my mother’s death. The first shot was hers, the second mine. I was supposed to be dead. The bullet that punctured my leg was intended for my heart. That bullet was supposed to be the thing that ended my life.
“Didn’t you run off to your mother?” The sound of my father’s voice climbs out of his bedroom from down the hall.
I hear his footsteps as they echo through the house in time with my heart beat. Faster and faster, louder and louder.
I think my heart stopped too, as my father takes a quick intake of air.
“What happened to you?”
Then he storms off down the hall.
“I knew this would happen!” he yells, anger and fear fills my Dad’s voice.
It scares me. Like Kyle, my dad is never in fear. People fear him.
“Dad!” I yell at him, he looks down at me; his eyes are watery, “Tell me.”
“No.” His voice is diminutive and frail. Then he runs into his office. I hear the deadbolt lock into place and the sound of his I.S 11 start up. The light from the new computer sinks under the locked door in a bluish green glow.
I limp into my room and slam the door. At least let him know I can be just as pissed off too. Then I sink down onto my floor and cry.
The clock turns from 6:54 to 6:55 and then to 10:13.
My door shakes as the two little girls on the other side pound on it, “Maria! Mari-AH!”
Annoyed I stand up about ready to rip the door open and tell them to piss off when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror on the back of my door.
I’m still wearing my bloody boxer shorts and my pink tank top under my now grassy green jacket. My Uggs are covered in mud much like how Kyle’s sneakers were. My hair is knotted, and my hat is gone. Twigs and pieces of grass cling in its place. Kyle’s shirt sleeve is wrapped around my thigh and blood is running down my leg from under the bind. My knees are still scraped from my tangle with my bike yesterday, and my left arm, now black and blue, hangs down at my side.
I look like s***.
“I’m going to tell D-aa-d! You’re not s’pose to lock your door!” Alice (Joyce?) says in a snotty tone.
I quickly strip my clothes off and grab my bride’s maid’s dress for the wedding and drape it over my body.
It hugs my curves and covers up my bloody leg.
“Here I go! Downstairs! To tell Dad!” she yells again. And I hear the banging of her attempting to make it sound as if she’s going downstairs. Then they both giggle.
I wrench open the door, and parade past them down the hall to the bathroom.
“AW! You are most positively NOT allowed to wear that until the wedding! Mommy told us that if we did, we would get in time out,” Joyce whines. Alice nods her head in agreement.
“You guys would make a mess of it, and then it would be ruined. I can wear mine ‘cuz I know how to keep a dress clean.”
Quickly I step into the bath room and let the dress fall to my ankles. So much for keeping it clean, the dress is now also covered in blood from my gash.
I take a long shower and then wrap my leg in gauze from the medicine cabinet. I also bound my wrist in it tightly. Then I start to pile the stuff from my bathroom I might need to survive in the wild into my arms.
I quickly hobble down the hall wrapped in my bathrobe. The dress hangs over my shoulder.
Once in my own room again I get out my backpack and start to pack it with my possessions. I pull on a comfy pair of jeans and a baggy sweatshirt I borrowed from my mom. It smells like home.
Then I lie down in my bed and cry till one. That’s when my belly starts to complain.
I scuttle down the hall and stairs. The kitchen smells like waffles and syrup. I then start to stuff my face with the donuts on the table.
Courtney. The b**** herself.
I turn around to face her then shrug, and making sure to talk with my mouth full, mutter, “Iffs gowd.”
“It’s okay if you want to eat like that. I don’t care. Your body you’re ruining,” she smirks.
I wonder if she knew what happened last night if she would behave any different. Probably not.
“Your Daddy was right about you,” she continues to chatter. Then she sees my confusion and crinkles her nose up and snorts, “If you keep feeding your belly slop, one day you’ll wake up a a little piggy. Just like your mother.”
Jared pushes me back, a little roughly. “Where’s Kyle?” he asks.
Kyle! He is going to be so happy his brother is back. Then we can all run off together. No more worrying. No more crying.
What I do next must look like a mix between a skip and the potty-dance, as I hurry back to our enclosed shelter where we sat earlier waiting for our death sentence.
“Guys! Jared’s back! We are going to be okay. He’s alive!” I shout at the refuge.
The empty refuge.
The sound of my open hand and her skinny cheek making contact must reverberate through the whole house.
Before Dad can be down stairs to ship me off to some bordering school in Alaska, I storm off upstairs.
“Que la merde est votre problème? Obtenez votre cul de retour ici!” Courtney’s foreign tongue curses and shouts behind me.
I ram my bedroom door closed and run over to my bed. The room whirls around me and I feel as if I’m going to hit the floor. That’s when my vision focuses on the piece of fabric hanging on the back of my chair.
The bride’s maids dress. Bingo.
How would precious little French Courtney react if the dress she spent about $400 on was suddenly ruined?
Not well is my guess.
I whisk the dress up and dash over to my desk. Scissors, dyes, paints, oils, and glue stare up at me from their various locations on my desk; so many options.
I select some glittery green dye to compliment the dainty lilac shade on the dress.
As the dye spreads throughout the fine threads I get a sick idea in my mind. Why go for minimum damage that looks like an accident? I want the b**** to know I intend on doing her some harm.
Minutes pass as inks and oils are poured onto the helpless dress. Eventually the scissors find their way into my hand.
I hack the dress at about mid-thigh length. Then slice up the side of the left leg. The sleeves are next, and soon become nothing as the dress is transformed into a strapless. I then snip away at the neck line.
Well look who’s the bloody designer now.
I hear crying in the hallway now. Courtney’s high pitchy voice shrills along with her wobbly tears. Dad’s voice starts to rise with anger. The side of my dad I saw this morning has been replaced with the old version.
“Maria Hannah Phillips!”
The tension from earlier has eased out of me and has been replaced with a calm and collected personality. I take a deep breath and reach over to the doorknob and lock it.
Not the largest act of defiance ever, though the shredded dress will be. I’ll be sure to leave it on my bed when I leave tomorrow, with a short snarky note stapled to the delicate design.
My dad continues to call for me from downstairs, so I turn up my radio slightly to drown him out.
This would be something my mom and I would talk about doing, something of course neither of us would ever do. An act of rebelliousness against my father was strictly uncalled for. It felt great. I pinched myself for not of trying something like this earlier. I whipped out my iPing 7F and started to dial my mom.
As I clicked on her contact and the smiling face of my mother materialized on my screen my heart plummeted. The tears started to fall again, and I had to hold my hands over my mouth to keep from screaming again.
My mother would never get my missed call. She would never answer any of my calls again for that matter. She was nothing but a body as Kyle had put it.
At that moment I heard my dad’s footsteps strike the steps, “MARIA!” he yelled, “Don’t you dare ignore me! I know you can hear me!”
My doorknob rattled.
“You have fifteen seconds to come out of there young lady or I’m breaking down this door!” he screamed from the other side of my door. Then to my horror he started counting.
My dad was counting like I was five years old.
“Thirteen. Fourteen. Maria… Fifteen!”
The door shook again and I heard him grunt then go tarring off down the stairs. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“It’s not very funny.”
I turned quickly and saw a little girl peeking out from my closet, “He’s really mad. He might hurt you.”
How long had she been in there?
“I’m not afraid of him anymore,” I stated, “and you shouldn’t be either Joyce. He’s just a big bully. You can’t let bullies rule your life. They’ll just make it a living hell.”
The shock on the five year olds face only made me laugh again. She knitted her brows together then nibbled on her chapped lips.
“I’m Alice, but Joyce is here too.”
An identical head poked out from lower down in my closet, she grinned, then all the humor dropped from her little face, “You said a bad word. But I won’t tell ‘cuz I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Maybe they weren’t so bad.
My phone buzzed lightly on my bed and I whipped my head toward it.
New Text Message from Kyle: Get out of the house NOW! Be at the tree in five min.
My heart thumped and I looked around for the bag I had packed earlier.
New Text Message from Kyle: Run.
They had left. Kyle had listened to me and left when I told him too.
I couldn’t call for them, The Marchers were close by. Jarred was one of them and he had come in here looking for me. The others must have been outside the barn or really close.
The Marchers could have Kyle and my sisters by now. They could already be dead.
Jarred notices the look of panic on my face and grabs my hand, “It’s fine. They probably won’t kill him. I know everything. They sound the King Engine Bell when a traitor is caught, not killed. They turn them into some genetically enchased robotic human if they any use. They spared me my life. They made me one of them. They are good.”
He then roughly grabbed my wrist and pulled me back to the front of the barn. He was going to openly hand me off to The Marchers.
Jarred was giving me to the people responsible for my mother’s death and the gun scar on my leg. I was going to die.
That’s when I heard the familiar sound of windows breaking downstairs.
The Marchers had found Kyle’s location again. But this time they were going to kill me.
I was trapped. Frantically I looked around my room. The window was the only option.
“What’s going on?” Two little girls’ voices cried in unison from my closet.
“Just be quiet and follow me,” I snapped at them.
I made my way over to the window and looked out. If I could climb down the trellis and then crawl through the flower garden it would be a straight shot to the woods. I could find the tree from in there.
It was the door from down the hall. They were upstairs now, and breaking down the doors.
“Come on,” I whispered.
I lifted Alice to the window and instructed her where to go. Then I did the same with Joyce. As they both made their ways down the trellis and toward the garden I grabbed my iPing and wallet and slipped them both in my pocket. If The Marchers found my phone they would see my texts with Kyle and I might need money.
My dad’s office across the hall.
I hurled my leg over the window sill and climbed down the trellis. I ran to the garden and threw myself into the hydrangeas.
The Marchers had just reached my room. They would know I escaped again.
I felt around in the plants until I had both Alice and Joyce’s hands gripped firmly in mine. Together we ran across our backyard to the woods.
We sat quietly in the woods out of breath for a few minutes before Joyce broke the silence.
“I don’t know.”
I held them both close as they whimpered into my shoulders. We were most likely orphans now. My mom was dead and my dad and Courtney were probably just killed by The Marchers. I let out a small gasp of air. I couldn’t cry. Not now.
“I saw it all,” a deep voice said above me.
I looked up and into Kyle’s eyes. He was still as dirty as he had been this morning.
“I heard them coming and that’s when I texted you. Then I saw them find your house. So I told you to run.”
I just nodded and stood up slowly.
“We’re playing a big game of hide and seek. Whoever wins gets a big prize. Your mommy has a great hiding spot. Hopefully she won’t get found either. Mind if I carry one of you so we can move faster so we can win?” Kyle explained to the twins.
“You can carry me,” Joyce suggests, “I don’t mind.”
Kyle leans down and picks up Joyce carefully and she squirms around a little, “Is Alice gonna get picked up too?”
I nod and put my finger to my lips. Then I lower myself gently to my knees and let Alice wrap her small pencil like arms around my neck.
“We should get moving. Find a place to sleep. It will be best to sleep during the day. The Marchers won’t be able to run around as much during the day. Too many people,” Kyle explains to me.
I study him for a minute. His eyes have a faraway look to them and are slightly puffy from crying. His face is caked in mud and he has scratches all over his arms and legs.
He is looking at me with the same quizzical look that I’m giving him. I turn quickly and start walking toward the middle of the woods. After a few seconds I hear his footsteps follow behind me.
In a matter of minutes I would be dead.
The realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Jarred didn’t believe they were good. They had just brainwashed him. He was a robot to them now. He was still the same guy that loved me underneath all of the mud that The Marchers had piled into his brain.
I knew I had to shake him out of it.
He stopped suddenly and looked at me. His grip remained tight on my wrist. His eyes bore into me. They were black with hatred, not the normal chocolate brown color that I think I loved.
Then I leaned into him and kissed him. I was sure if I could reach the part of him I had earlier when I first stood up in the barn I would be able to knock him out of whatever trance he was in.
His lips remained like stone on his face. All the passion was gone. I lightly pulled back and tried to look deep into his eyes. Nothing was getting through to my friend.
So I did what a girl had to do. I slapped him.
I was rewarded with a punch in the face then everything went black.
We walked in silence for what felt like hours. Alice had fallen asleep on my shoulder miles ago. The only sound was Joyce who kept asking, “Are we there yet?” to which Kyle would respond, “No.”
This happed about every twenty minutes.
I felt like I was sitting in class. I was bored out of my mind and I needed to talk. The silence was overwhelming me. I had already tried to speak. I asked Kyle where we were going. To which he had replied somewhere far away. He was beginning to scare me when he stopped suddenly.
“This seams about right,” he said quietly.
I looked back behind me and saw Kyle setting the now sleeping Joyce down in the soft grass under a large tree. He settled down next to her then motioned for me to join them.
With aching limbs and sore muscles I trudged over to the location Kyle had chosen for us to rest tonight. I unclasped Alice’s hands from around my neck and laid her next to her sister. Then I settled down by Kyle.
The grass felt softer then I imagined it to be. Not my everyday waterbed with my diamond cotton sheets, but it would make do for sleeping. I fell asleep instantly, even though it was light out.
I dreamt of horror.
I was running after a bus. Everyone I loved was inside. I think the devil was driving it. He kept going further down a large hill, and the sky kept getting darker and the grass started dying the further down we went.
We were headed into hell.
The bus kept propelling down and I kept slipping. My loved ones were being forced into hell and I couldn’t save them.
I woke up in a panic.
My breath was hot and heavy and I was sweating buckets. The tears came spilling out all at once.
“It’s going to be okay. I’ve got you. You’re safe in my arms,” Kyle pulled me close to him and whispered in my ear.
“Did I wake you?” I asked him.
He sighed and I felt him shake a little. “No, I haven’t been able to fall asleep yet,” He paused and then continued, more deliberately this time, “I saw them go into my house and drag my parents out. My mom was unconscious, but my Dad was shouting. I’m sure he’s dead by now.”
I rolled over slowly and buried my head into his chest. I couldn’t believe it; suddenly everyone I have ever cared about was being killed. My mom, dad, Jarred, Mr. and Mrs. Freeman.
“It’s all my fault. I should have left you be. If I never would have come to your window you would still be living your life,” he said.
“Not your fault,” I whispered. My heart thundered as I spoke.
I felt him shake his head and then let out a painful sob. He pulls me closer into his chest.
I can’t see anything.
Jarred punched me and I can’t see anything. I can’t talk either. I’m slowly losing all my senses. I must be dying.
I hear a barn door opening and can feel that I’m being dragged outside.
“I found… no others… empty… dead…” I can slightly recognize Jared’s voice as my hearing spaces in and out.
Then it’s gone. I can’t hear the wind, or feel the stones pressing into my back. The smell of hay and horse oats is gone too. I hear, see, smell, taste, and feel nothing.
I must be dead.
When I wake up I’m still tucked against Kyle’s chest. I slowly untangle myself from his embrace and to my surprise see Kyle’s eyes are closed. His breath comes lightly and it reminds me of a baby; innocent to the world.
Alice and Joyce are also still sleeping, and they lay much like Kyle and I did, wrapped in each other’s arms.
The sweatshirt that I had borrowed from mom months ago still smells like her, pumpkin bread and lilacs. I smile to myself glad that I threw this on yesterday rather than some lacey blouse.
I pull my arms into the blue frayed Great Union State sweatshirt. So many memories tug at my mind. I remember when I was only about eight and my parents were going through a divorce, my mother wore it practically every day. Great Union State was my mom’s Alma Mater and she met my father there. He went to East Westing University, the collage across town. Their schools constantly bashed heads. They were so in love that my mom gave up her dream and transferred to his school.
She once told me she wished she never would have, she said biggest mistake she ever made and she would give anything to go back and redo it. She had been drinking because it was a New Seasons party. The next day she apologized profusely. If she hadn’t of transferred she never would have had me. She said I was worth everything to her.
I wipe at the tears spilling down my face.
“Breath,” I told myself aloud.
I looked around; it had to be about five in the afternoon. I heard water from somewhere nearby. Kyle stirred in his sleep then his eyes opened slowly.
A big smile filled his face as he spoke to me, “You’re up.”
“And you fell asleep finally.”
He shrugged, “It was easy once I had-“ Red blossomed on his cheeks again and I couldn’t help but laugh.
“We better get started again,” I announced. I knew he was still out of it a little and that if I didn’t give direction we’d end up laying here all night.
He nodded. I leaned down and picked up Joyce and motioned for him to grab Alice.
Together we started out again. The girls slept practically lifeless in our arms.
No matter what I tried pinning my focus on it always tore me right back to thinking about Kyle, and last night. I had never seen him so fragile.
“I might just jump the border.”
Kyle’s words seemed to be more to himself then aimed at me. But I couldn’t help it, “You’re not leaving the country without me.”
I watched as his back grew ridged, “This isn’t all about you Maria.”
I stopped in my tracks. I had to admit, his response hurt me. But truthfully what could I say to him? I couldn’t blame him for dragging me into this; we had that conversation just last night. Also I couldn’t proclaim my undying love for him: too cheesy, too dramatic.
Instead I sighed and continued following him.
“Are we going to find Mommy now?” a small voice asks.
I look down into my arms at Joyce, “We’re trying.”
Hours later and we are still walking to a destination unknown to me. I want badly to say something to Kyle, anything.
I clear my throat and Kyle jumps a little.
“How do you girls feel about trains?” Kyle asks suddenly.
Joyce who is now walking with Alice, grins, “I love trains!”
“How about you?” Kyle asks me as he takes my hand in his.
Trains. Whens the last time I rode train? I had to have been six. I used to love trains, just like Joyce; when I was young and innocent. Now I know what trains are really for.
I nod my head feebly and twine my fingers with his.
“Trains are awesome,” I smile.
We walk forward for another mile or so with the girls buzzing with questions.
“When we get to the train station will we get to sit in red seats? - Will they be lined in gold? – Will we get to ring to bell? – How come we’ve never gotten to ride a train before? – Will the train take us to Mommy…?”
I feel my heart drop with every question. Kyle manages to keep up conversation with the twins while I slowly die inside.
“We’re here,” Kyle states.
I look around we are at what looks like used to be an old train stop. It looks as if it had been burned in a fire and abandoned for years.
Kyle walks up to the charred structure and hoists himself up onto the deck, dragging me behind him, wordless.