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“Aliyah. Aliyah, wake up.”
My eyes flutter open at the sound of my name. My vision blurs, but I blink a few times and it clears. My older sister, Tana, is leaning over my bed, her forehead crinkled with worry. Her chestnut hair is scraped back into a ponytail and she’s fully dressed. I glance out the small window to my right; the sun is barely over the horizon. Why is she up so early?
“Get up and put on some clothes,” she orders. Her eyes flit from me to the door, her expression anxious.
“Where’re Mom and Dad?” I ask, pushing back the covers and standing up quickly. “What’s going on?”
“They’re in the other room,” Tana tells me, grabbing a backpack and stuffing some of my clothes into it. She bites her lip, then looks over at me, her expression somber. “The Invasion’s started.”
My eyes grow wide. I hurriedly pull on an outfit and lace up my boots. “Are you serious? I thought they said we had at least another month.”
“It happened earlier than expected.” She takes a deep breath, and I can tell she’s doing her best to keep calm. Her hands are shaking as she picks up her backpack. I take the one she packed for me and sling it over my shoulder. We don’t have any time to waste. If the Invasion has really begun, we have less than 24 hours until the Others come.
“It’s going to be fine,” I say, doing my best to reassure her. “We’ll be okay.”
“I hope so,” Tana says quietly. “C’mon, Mom and Dad are waiting.”
In kitchen we find our parents taking things out of the cabinets and packing them into their backpacks. Everyone is allowed one government-issued backpack for their possessions, and whatever they can fit into the backpack is what they can to take to the Bunker. I assume my parents packed clothes, and now they seem to be adding medicines, in case we get sick. There are limited resources in the Bunkers.
My mom turns and sees us, and I think I catch a sparkle of tears in her eyes. She manages a wry smile, and I force one back. Everyone has to be strong for each other.
Outside, we join the masses of people hurrying to reach their assigned Bunker. The streets are flooded with civilians, all carrying their backpacks and moving in a huge swarm. I glance back one last time at my house and take it all in--the peeling yellow paint, the crocuses that have just begun peeking their noses out of the ground, the old rocking chair on the porch. I’ll probably never see any of it again. If I ever emerge from the Bunker, everything will likely be destroyed.
I feel a lump in my throat, and I quickly turn away from the house and follow my family through the crowd, clutching the straps of my backpack with white knuckles. People stream by me, their faces painted with uncertainty, their voices hushed. I see a little girl with her head buried in her father’s shoulder, crying, and I feel a pang of sympathy for her. She has no idea what’s going on; all she knows is that something bad is happening and she is being taken from her home.
We reach the center of the city, and police officers in black suits direct us to our Bunkers. “Please do not panic,” an officer instructs us through a megaphone. “This is all temporary. We will tell you when the Invasion is over and you will be released.”
I hope she’s telling the truth. There has never been an Invasion in my lifetime, but my parents have told me about having to go into the Bunkers when they were younger. Invasions can last for months, years even. The Others are unpredictable; although we can usually tell when they are going to strike, knowing how long an Invasion will last is nearly impossible.
Tana’s hand slips into mine, and I grasp it with relief. Her palm is hot and sweaty, but it feels good to have something to hold on to. I see the Bunker approaching, metal steps leading down into the earth, and my heart rate quickens. Our parents make sure that Tana and I are following, and then we begin to descend the stairs, along with the rest of the civilians assigned to our Bunker. The staircase seems to go down forever; the morning sunlight disappears behind me until I am completely consumed by the stale, yellow glow of the bulbs on the Bunker walls. Will I ever see the sun again?
The steps come to an end, revealing a dimly-lit cavern with metal walls and a low ceiling. Rows and rows of narrow cots stretch down the side of each wall, each with a number painted on the side. My parents, Tana and I all claim cots beside each other, and I take off my backpack and sit down on the edge of my bed, number 37. The mattress is hard and the blanket is thin. This is going to take some getting used to.
Tana walks over and eases down beside me. Her face is pale and her ponytail is coming loose. She purses her lips and stares at her lap.
“Are you scared?” I ask.
“Aren’t you?” she replies, raising her head to meet my eyes.
I emit a shaky laugh. “Yeah. I just don’t want to be stuck here forever.”
“We won’t be. Like you said earlier, we’ll be fine.”
“What if the Others come for us?”
Tana shakes her head. “They won’t. They don’t want humans.”
“Then what do they want?”
She takes a deep breath. “I don’t know. But not us. We’ll stick it out.”
“Together?” I say.
Tana smiles, and I can tell this time it’s genuine. “Yes,” she whispers. “Together.”