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Author's note: I hope that people will find this book entertaining and suspenseful, because it is unique and was written to male or female readers.
Splat! Splat! Splat! CRACK!
Heavy rain slaps at my face as I dart through the barren streets of Aspendale. My tennis shoes squeak noisily as I struggle to avoid pebbles and direct spotlight. What seems like blue lightning bursts from behind gray clouds, and bolts attack the ground with force. The book-bag slung over my shoulder now feels as though it’s weighing me down.
Panting, I consider pausing for a moment and resting against a building. However, I’ve already been separated from my group and it’s crucial that I locate them first. Normally, I would’ve headed straight for home, but Tamus, my older brother, is part of the group, and he wouldn’t have left me behind in a situation like this.
With shaking hands, I draw out the pistol from my book-bag and securely hold it by my side. I never shoot to kill unless I’m on an assignment, but more to threaten. The streets of Aspendale are like a maze, and they’re difficult to navigate through. But the caretakers at the orphanage made sure that each and every orphan knew the pathway back home-from anywhere. Swiftly, bun ready, I whirl around to check the name of the building next to me.
Mindy’s Hair Salon. Perfect, that meant that I was close. From here, I take a right, go left around the 7-11, make another left, pass the flagpole, and keep running straight. As I follow this route, my hood constantly falls off of my head. My clothes are soaked, and dark brown bangs keep falling into my eyes. I arrive at the flagpole, and, too exhausted to continue, sink down against the metal pole.
While squatting on the ground, I hear what sounds like a distant call. Taken by surprise, I stay completely still. “Flax!” I hear someone whisper harshly. Heart pounding in my chest, I weakly stand up and turn around, gun held out. “Whoa!” Raquette, the Cleaner of the group, holds her hands up in a surrender position.
My hands drop immediately and my heartbeat gradually slows in relief. “Jesus, Raquette, you scared me to death!”
Raquette shrugs sheepishly. “Group is priority, right?”
I cup my hands over my face and rub my eyes. “Is it just you?” I ask tiredly.
She shakes her head quickly. “No. Tamus and Warren are hiding behind the grocery store back there.”
Aw, why did they have send freaking Warren? When did he get here? I think to myself. But instead I reply, “All right, let’s go.”
As if reading my thoughts, Raquette answers, “Warren was just sent to hold the umbrella.” She giggles a little, then whistles sharply. Two figures appear in the shadows, and begin running our way.
Tamus wraps me in a brotherly hug of relief, and I instantly feel better. Warren suddenly interrupts, “are we going to leave yet?”
Kicking his foot, I hiss, “Quiet down and start running.”
Instead of taking off, he casually stays by my side as I keep a fast pace. “So what happened to you?” he asks nosily.
I got separated from the group. God, why do you have to ask such stupid questions?” I snap.
He raises his hands in mock surrender and smirks. Idiot.
Once we arrive at the orphanage, the building senses our presence, and the lights abruptly turn off. I wish I could say that we were back at our “home-sweet-home,” but this was more like returning to a nightmare.
The orphanage is what you might call a mansion, but more so the kind that would scare off little kids. It’s well hidden in a forest that’s void of anything but trees, and nobody but us has set foot in here for years. With the new and improved environment filled with addictive technology, why take leisurely walks in peaceful forests anymore?
The minute we walk through the door, we see Ivy, one of one of the two founders of this seclusive and secret orphanage. The other founder is her just-as-cruel husband, Helian. Behind their backs we call them Hell and Poison Ivy. Ivy’s arms are folded across her chest and her back is pin-straight, making her look even taller than she is. She wears tight-fitting black pants, a solid black, long-sleeve shirt, and black stilettos (which also help with her menacing height). Her auburn hair is cut in an upside-down U shape around her neck, and bangs sweep across her forehead. One piercing blue eye is exposed, glaring at us with force.
With one dismissive gesture, Ivy shoos away the rest of the group, and they obediently depart to the artillery to check in their weapons. I know that she’s targeting me, but Tamus remains at my side protectively. Ivy’s expression softens a little, and she says with false kindness, “Tamus, honey, I only need to speak to Flax.”
Tamus flinches but doesn’t move. Her attitude goes harsh again and she barks, “To your room! Now!”
Before leaving he takes a second to whisper, “Be strong, Flax.” Then he walks away confidently, muttering to Ivy, “You’re not my mom.”
Once he’s out of sight, Ivy gestures for me to follow her. I do, with no other choice, but imitate Tamus’s no-fear posture and keep my best serious face on. Ivy leads me to her office (the worst place for an orphan to be) and I sit in one of the blood-red chairs. After what seemed like a long stare-down between us and complete silence, she leans back and says, “You’re late.”
Thank you Mrs. Obvious. “I know,” I reply blankly.
Ivy sighs. “You know, Flax, I hate to blame you for what should be a group punishment, but you seem like you have the most leadership.” She cracks her knuckles. “Usually Helian does the threatening, but he’s not here right now,” she says and laughs a little.
Ivy was terribly wrong on two things: one, I am not the ringleader of my groups- I lean on Tamus most of the time for help and guidance. Two, Helian may look threatening, but he’s a shrimp compared to Ivy. Everyone despised Poison Ivy much more, even though Helian was just as much of a bad person.
Remaining quiet, I wait for Ivy to continue her lecture. She does, after a few seconds. “Now, Flax, you know you’ve always been one of my best little helpers. You know that, don’t you?” I nod bitterly. She smiles. “Good! I’ve always admired you and your brother. You two are the dynamic duo, the super siblings!” Ivy makes some lame hand gestures as if a big sign advertising Tamus and I was right in front of her.
Sighing again, she props her head on her hand. “I hate to get on your case for much. I’d hate to lose my best!” She barks out a laugh. “But that’s not going to happen, is it?” I shake my head stiffly. She practically roars while laughing again.
Wiping her nose, she shakes her head. “I feel like I’m doing all of the talking, Flax. Is there anything you’d like to say for yourself?”
“No,” I reply coldly.
“Of course not. It’s all bottled up in that head of yours!” She taps my head, and I flinch. Suddenly, Ivy’s expression turns serious and hard. She fishes out a small piece of paper from her top desk drawer and hands it to me. “This is your assignment for tomorrow. Don’t be late again, Flax, because I really have nothing else to say to you. We had a nice chat, but I really don’t want to do it again. You’re really boring, you know that?”
I don’t nod or shake my head this time, but stand up and begin walking to the door. But before I do, I get the idea to do something that would probably end horribly for me, but I take my chances. Turning around, I face Ivy. She meets my eyes. “There is something I’d like to say, Ivy.” She listens with an amused expression. “Go to Hell,” I spit, and I barely see her face harden into fury.
Satisfied, I exit her office. But the minute I hit the end of the hall, I spring upstairs in terror.
Once I breathlessly reach the hallway upstairs, I see Tamus sitting by his door, waiting. Whenever one of us is “taken hostage” by Ivy or Helian, the other sibling doesn’t rest until they come back. In his hand is a cheap travel radio that only plays about four stations clearly. When he sees me, he immediately stands up and jogs over. “So how did it go?” he asks.
“The usual. Ivy talks, I don’t. She thinks I’m a leader.” I laugh weakly.
Tamus nods gravely. “Nothing new?” I gulp and he seems to notice. “What happened, Flax?”
“Well…I sort of told her off…” I mumble, my voice trailing away.
Tamus’s expression is shocked with a hint of anger. “You did what?” He begins to pace. “This isn’t good, Flax, this Is not good.”
“I know. But honestly, I hardly think she’s going to do anything about it,” I reply. “She loves us, Tamus. She wouldn’t lose us at any cost.”
Suddenly, a head pops out of Tamus’s room. His roommate (the nosy and annoying) Warren’s head. “Something wrong, guys?” he says with an amused tone in his voice. “Hey, Flax!” He grins.
Stupid, annoying, nosy little…”Go away, Warren,” I spit.
Tamus covers his hand over his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Not now, Warrren.”
But Warren, instead of shrinking back into the room, steps all the way out and begins walking toward us. “Are you sure we couldn’t settle this argument with some hot chocolate?”
“From where?” I explode. “Ivy’s pissed ate me, it’s past lights out, and the box is empty!”
Warren looks stunned. “You ticked off Ivy? Nice!” He holds up a hand so I could high-five it. As if!
“You ignorant- “ I stop mid-sentence when an audible thumping up the stairs can be heard. My face goes pale and Tamus motions for everyone to go to their rooms. Before departing, I wave to Tamus and leap into my room, somersault, and shut the door.
Violet, one of my roommates, stares at me in wonder. Mirabilis (whom I despise), Raquette, and the other two are asleep. I hop into bed and hold my finger up to my lips, making eye contact with Violet. “poison Ivy,” I whisper almost inaudibly, but she hears me, nods and pulls the thick covers over her head. I do the same, and pretend to be in a deep sleep.
Later into the night, I do drift into one.
Right when Tamus and I exit the rather ghetto but free bus we were riding, heavy rain pelts our heads. Being two homeless orphans at the ages of ten and fourteen, we seek shelter under the roof of a well-lit 7-11. The bangs across my forehead are plastered to my face, and water drops off of my nose. Tamus shivers and pulls his sweater hood over his head. He sweeps damp, brownish-black hair out of his eyes.
I fiddle with the strings of my wool-lined grey jacket. We found warm clothes by scavenging throughout the city, searching for donation boxes on people’s driveways. Both of us were underfed and bone-skinny. After a long period of silence, I ask Tamus out of the blue, “Why did Mom leave us when she knew no one would take care of us?”
Tamus takes a deep breath. “Because she didn’t care about us, Flax.”
I don’t know why I asked that question, because I knew the answer. I guess I just wished that reality was different. Tamus didn’t even refer to our mom as ‘Mom” anymore. He called her Lourdes, as if she were only an acquaintance. I couldn’t blame him. Since our dad died when we were very young, our mom had started drinking. She became an alcoholic, and then left abruptly, leaving us with no relatives and no place to go.
The rain continues to pour down, and snails begin to roam the empty streets. Suddenly, a noise occurs in the trees ahead of us. “Don’t move,” Tamus whispers warningly. He shifts into a squatting position. I pull my knees into my chest, feeling vulnerable in the bright light.
Through the trees pops out a red-head girl with grown eyes. She stops in her tracks, surprised, and then whispers something into the trees. More rustles can be heard, and the girl moves forward, making room for a black-haired boy who looked about Tamus’s age. The boy motioned to another person, a girl with blonde hair tied in a bun, who approached cautiously. The red-head girl’s eyebrows furrowed in what looked like…sympathy. But she immediately snapped out of it and smiles.
“Hi. My name’s Raquette,” she said. “And this is Warren and Violet.” She gestures to the other two. They wave. I stare at them blankly in confusion, then turn to look at Tamus.
“Why are you here?” he asks Raquette.
“We’re orphans, just like you.” She smiles, but I could almost see a pained expression flash across her face. “You’re not alone.” Raquette reaches out a hand. I hesitate, and then take it.
Warren reaches for Tamus’s hand, and he accepts it as well. “We’re here to take you to our orphanage,” Raquette continues.
Tamus frowns. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. There’s no existing orphanage in Digitalis. What’s going on?” The whole thing sounded a bit too-good-to-be-true to me also.
“Well, that’s where you’re wrong,” Warren replies.
Tamus and I exchange a glance, and silently imply that we have no choice. The three kids are looking at us anxiously. Finally Tamus says, “Okay.”
The kids lead us through a well-memorized path into the well-known abandoned forest. After a ways, they stop for a bit, but not to catch their breath. Patiently, they wait for us to catch ours. Leaning against a tree, I see Warren pull out what looks like a—gun! He points it at me and says, “Freeze!”
My heartbeat picks up pace and my legs feel like jelly. Tamus leaps in front of me, but Warren just laughs and sticks the gun back into his pocket. “Gotcha!” he says, but shrinks back when Tamus approaches him angrily.
He grabs Warren by the shirt. “Who do you think you are?”
Warren holds his hands up in surrender, and Tamus drops him. “What is this?” Tamus demands from Raquette.
Raquette gulps. “I swear this isn’t a joke. Please, Warren’s just an idiot.”
“Hey!” Warren exclaims. Violet kicks him in the shin. “Ow!”
Tamus shakes his head, grabs my hand, and we reluctantly begin running behind them again. In a few minutes, we arrive at a haunted-mansion looking building. “Whoa…” Tamus and I both say at once.
We follow Raquette to the door, and it opens after the first knock. At the end of the hall is an about 6’4” woman standing impatiently. She smiles when she sees us, though. “Are these the new ones?” she asks Raquette. Raquette nods. “Good, good! My name is Ivy, and I’m the founder of this orphanage. Raquette, will you please show them to their rooms?” Again, Raquette nods, and motions for us to follow her upstairs.
“I’ll chat more with you later, but I have to run!” Ivy waves goodbye and disappears into another room.
As we walk upstairs, Raquette grips my arm and whispers, “I’m so sorry.”
A ray of sunshine peeking out from the curtains hits my face. Groggily, I rub my eyes and sit up. Scanning the room I see that only two people are still sleeping and the clock reads seven o’clock. Breakfast time. Sleepily I stand up, grab a random jacket from the doorknob, and walk outside.
The breakfast room is semi-crowded, but most of the early-risers are already seated. A line of people shuffle almost simultaneously from one dish of food to the next. A group of people are huddled around the waffle-maker, awaiting their turn to pour in a cup of pale goop. Searching through the food line, I make eye contact with Tamus who waves me over with a smile.
Feeling more alert, I grab myself a tray and cut through the line. There are moans and groans from people behind us, but I ignore them. “Morning, Flax.” Tamus gives me a one-arm hug.
“Buenas noches, Tamus,” I attempt.
In front of Tamus, Mirabilis snorts. “That means ‘good night.’ Anyone who goes to school knows that.”
I see Tamus stiffen. I’d never actually attended school past kindergarten. One random day during the summer, Tamus and I had walked home to find that our mom had left without a warning. After that, Tamus, who had just finished fourth grade, taught me the basics of academics. “At least she actually made an effort,” he shoots back. Mirabilis looks hurt.
Monotonously, I pile fruit, a bagel with cream cheese, and a blueberry muffin onto my plate, followed by a glass of apple juice. Tamus, Mirabilis (ugh), Raquette, Warren (even more ugh), and I all sit at the same table. After a minute of silent eating, Raquette pipes up. “Am I in any of your groups today?”
Tamus looks at me questioningly. I pull out the tiny slip of paper in my pocket and check the back. Tamus, Flax, Mirabilis, Raquette. Waving it in the air, I announce, “You’re in my group.” With cold eyes I add, “Mirabilis, you’re in my group also.” Mirabilis scoots noticeably closer to Tamus. Anyone who can’t see that she loves him is either blind or just an idiot. Anyone who knows for sure that Tamus likes her a tiny bit back is either me or Warren.
“Hey guys…did any of you hear that?” Raquette asks openly. All of us shake our heads. “It sounded like a…”
All of a sudden, a boy with dirty-blonde hair sprints clumsily down the stairs. “Hey!” he yells in a fearsome and panicked tone. “HEY!”
Everyone turns around and the mild chatter stops completely. I barely noticed it until everything went silent. The boy, whom I recognized as Dalus, leans against the end of the stair rail, panting. “Erasus…” he shout, breathing heavily and…crying? “is dead!”
Gasps erupt from everyone, followed by shocked faces and a few choked sobs. I drop my fork, barely aware that I had done so. The room quiets again, though, as a tall and a short figure emerge from the blackness of the hallway. A voice like poisonous honey projects from the hallway,
“WHO SAID THAT?”
As Ivy and Helian enter the room, nobody and I mean nobody speaks. It’s like they don’t even have mouths. Speech is death, a literal phrase now that someone is actually dead. Not that I know why.
Ivy’s face radiates pure rage. “I said WHO SAID ERASUS IS DEAD!” she shrieks. Dalus, the poor kid, stands frozen and vulnerable at the foot of the staircase. She turns toward him, her face sickly sweet. “Was it you, my dead Dalus?” Helian cracks his knuckles menacingly
Dalus shakes his head, which looks obviously fake. “N-n-n-n-no, Poi—I mean Ivy.”
Ivy taps her chin, analyzing the situation. Then, calmly as if nothing happened at all, she grabs Dalus’s wrist. But I see her knuckles whiten, her long French-tipped nails digging into his vein, and cry, “Stop!”
She lets go and Dalus, tears running down his face, cradles his wrist gingerly. For a minute I stand there, taking in my boldness. Looking at Tamus, I see that his face is pale and twisted in fear. “Now who said that?” Ivy spins to face me.
My legs suddenly feel wobbly, but I place my hand on the table. “I did.”
Instead of screaming at me, Ivy laughs lightly, walking forward a bit. “You know, Flax, I was really stunned by your comment yesterday. I believe you told me to ‘Go to Hell?’” Everyone in the room gasps and murmurs. “QUIET you imbeciles!” she barks. They all shut up simultaneously.
I gulp and nod.
Ivy sets her hand on a random table and leans toward it. “Flax, honey, do you really think I’m not planning on going there already?”
Helian chuckles behind her. Eyes flitting around the room, I reply, “Don’t call me ‘honey.’ You’re not my mom and you never will be.”
“Do you think I want to be your mom? Honestly Flax, I admire your fighting skills, but is your brain fully functional?” Ivy spits. She turns in a full 360 degrees, arms open. “I’m just this evil woman who uses children to do important work for our clients. Is that so bad? It’s not like anyone wanted you anyway.”
That last comment stabbed me in the heart, and I fought back tears. My dad loved us. My mother drowned in the grief of his death. They loved us at one time. They didn’t choose to let us go.
Looking around me, I realized that anything was better than living with Ivy. Even death. So why not risk it? Balling up my fists, I scream as loudly as I can, “YOU MONSTER!” and lunge at her.
I’m successful in knocking her down, but her hands clasp tightly around my neck. I can’t breathe. In my peripheral vision I see someone suddenly fall to the ground. Helian? It doesn’t matter because in moments everything goes black.
“Come in!” Ivy says.
Tamus and I cautiously push through the translucent glass doors, and into Ivy’s office. The room is smaller than I expected, but fancy. All around us are walls painted in stripes of crimson and dark brown, and the floor is made of smooth, dark oak. To the right of a wide, see-through desk sits a huge high-tech computer, accompanied by other knick-knacks. To the left are various writing utensils and papers, and in the middle are Ivy’s elbows; her hands arched in a V-shape to hold her chin.
“You…wanted to see us, Ivy?” Tamus asks tentatively.
“Yes, yes! Please, sit down, by all means,” Ivy replies, looking us square in the eye. We seat ourselves in two comfortable red chairs. “Good, good. Now, how are you enjoying your stay?”
Tamus and I exchange a look. He nods at me. “I-it’s good. Thank you for taking us in,” I say (I guess you could say we were really naïve at the time).
“Well, of course!” Ivy throws her arms into the air. “I love children. I can’t stand when they’re abandoned. Can you?”
We shake our heads vigorously. Someone finally understands! we thought. That is, until she handed us a small piece of paper. I slide it off of the desk and read it. Tamus cranes his neck to see.
-Angelica J. Price
-Rubus A. Links
“What’s this?” I ask.
Ivy’s expression turns serious. Dead serious. “Flax, Tamus—you’ll find that there’s a way things work around here. We give you meals, shelter, and entertainment. In return, you must complete certain tasks.
“What tasks?” Tamus questions suspiciously.
Ivy examines her French-tipped nails. “The people on the list you’re holding are to be removed by Saturday. Today is Thursday. You have exactly two days to accomplish your assignment.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Removed? You’d better start making sense, Ivy,” Tamus warns angrily.
“On the back you will find a list of the people who will accompany you. There is one Cleaner, one Bagger, and judging by your builds and personalities, you two will be the Gunners. I will send another if it rains to hold the umbrella. Is there a type of gun you’d prefer?”
“G-g-gun?” My knees suddenly feel weak. Oh no. This wasn’t the orphan refuge we thought it was. We’d been lured into an orphan slave society.
“Come on, Flax, we’re leaving.” Tamus and I begin walking towards the door, when Ivy stops us.
“If you leave now,” she says, “we will find you. And your name will be in bold letters on the lists until we finish you.”
Tamus glares at Ivy, and she smiles. Then, before leaving, he spits on the wooden floor, and exits the deadly room.
Suddenly, I wake from what must’ve been unconsciousness. Someone’s carrying me, and as they run my body jerks up and down. Wait—why are they running?
“Hey, Flax,” Tamus (who must be the one carrying me) says. Then louder, “All right, everyone, we’ll stop here.” Once Tamus’s pace slows, I look around and see that other kids from the orphanage surround us. The street we’re on suggests that it’s in the mostly abandoned part of Digitalis. All of the houses are one-story, painted a basic brown color, and sport dead grass for lawns. None of the residents, if any, are outside.
After a few seconds, Tamus asks, “Can you walk?”
“Probably,” I reply. He sets me down gently, as if I were a baby about to take it’s first steps. At first, I’m a little unsteady, and fall back into his outstretched arms. But after some deep breaths I’m able to maneuver myself.
The crowd of kids awaits Tamus’s further instructions. In silence, he walks toward a specific house; Mirabilis and I trailing him. The first thing I notice is an eviction notice on the door. When Tamus jiggles the knob, it falls off, and he pushes the door open with a mild struggle.
The inside is eerie. Absolutely no furniture or belongings remain inside. The wall-paint is chipping, and hints of mold thrive in scattered spots. Cobwebs fill in each nook and cranny, and shards of wood crowd an area near a hole in the wall.
“Everyone search the house for useful items. Any remaining things—curtains, food, blankets, or weapons of any kind. It could be a thumbtack for all I care. Just find something,” Tamus orders. The crowd of kids separates into searching teams, leaving Tamus, Mirabilis, and I to search the kitchen.
Looking through, we find that the cabinets are empty except for cobwebs with spiders on them. Tamus huffs in frustration. “I knew she wouldn’t have anything left.”
“Who are you talking about?” Mirabilis asks, placing her hand on Tamus’s shoulder comfortingly.
Meanwhile, I decide to wander off to scavenge somewhere else. Walking towards a closet towards the end of a hall, something catches my eye. Bending down, I spot a barely-noticeable square outline in the wall. It looks as though somebody cut out a small piece and glued it back on. Intrigued, I fumble in my pocket for my gun, silently thank Tamus for putting it there for me, and use the butt of it to crack open the wall. It forms a hole in a few tries, and I peer inside. A faint object can be seen.
After pulling it out, I blow off the layers of dust. Wiping the remaining particles off with my hand, my heart almost stops beating. The object I hold in my hand is a picture of Tamus and I when we were young, playing a board game with our dad. With trembling hands, I neatly fold the picture and tuck it in my back pocket along with my gun. All of a sudden, I hear a noise coming from the closet.
Pulling my gun back out, I stammer, “Wh-who’s there?”
“Flax?” Slowly, the door creaks open, and a blonde head cautiously peeks out. My gun falls to the floor with a loud clank.
As Tamus and I begin walking home from school, I notice the trees have changed colors. Happy thoughts pass through my six-year-old mind. Red leaves, orange leaves, brown leaves. I hum a tune while holding Tamus’s hand and enjoy the scenery. He smiles and picks me up, putting me in his shoulders. I laugh and giggle as he entertains me by making up stories about the trees, to which I would respond to, “That can’t happen, silly!”
“Anything’s possible if you believe it is,” Tamus states.
“Do you think Dad will come back if I believe?”
The conversation suddenly turns to a serious note, and nobody speaks for a bit. I guess my dad’s death had never really hit me. There was always a small spark of hope that he would show up at the door one day.
Finally, I whisper, “He’s never coming back, is he?”
I know Tamus is choked up, even though I can’t see his face. But he always tries to stay strong for me. I’m lucky to have a brother like him. His voice is low when he answers me so it doesn’t crack, “No, Flax. He’s not.”
The rest of the walk home seems to take forever. I become lost in my wandering thoughts, and I know Tamus has a lot on his mind, too. But after about eight minutes, we arrive at our front door.
“Where’s mom’s car?” I ask. No car meant nobody was home. But she was always there to make sure we came back safely.
Tamus’s shoulder’s stiffen, and he gently sets me back on the ground. Worried, I grip his hand tightly. He gives it a reassuring squeeze. Slowly, we make our way to the front door. Tamus knocks loudly, sending a vibration through the fragile house. We wait a minute, but there’s no answer. He rings the doorbell, knocks again, and we wait some more. Nothing happens.
Mom never drank enough to cause her to pass out, but she came pretty close. We both knew that she was a light sleeper, so she must not be sleeping. And if she were to be watching TV or taking a shower, the doorbell is really loud, and she would’ve heard it.
I snap out of my thoughts to realize that Tamus is frantically pounding on the door and ringing the doorbell. Hesitantly, I wrap my arms around him in a hug. His hands fall limply to his sides, and then hug me back.
“Where’s Mommy?” I ask, scared.
“I don’t know,” Tamus says, tears rolling down his cheeks. Suddenly, I notice a small piece of paper buried in the grass.
Walking over, I pick it up and unfold it. Tamus follows me and cranes his neck to read the paper.
I love you, but I can’t do this right now.
We must’ve stood there for twenty minutes, letting the information sink in that we were now very, very alone.
Lourdes Lacroix. Alcoholic and abandoner, but underneath all of that: mom. She tentatively steps out of the closet looking nervous and slightly trembling. Her dirty blonde hair is ragged and out of control. The clothes she’s wearing (a t-shirt and sweatpants) are dirty and torn. But her grayish-blue eyes haven’t changed a bit.
After a few moments of silence, she hobbles over and wraps me in a hug. I hold my breath against the stench exerting from her. “My Flax,” she whispers hoarsely. After letting go, she heads toward someone behind me. Turning around, I realize that Tamus is standing there, looking as though he’s in shock. Mirabilis backs away once she gets a whiff of Lourdes.
When finished with the hug, Lourdes steps back and sinks against the wall. She pulls a small box out of her pocket, removes a cigarette, lights it with a match, and puts part of it in her mouth. I move closer to Tamus who doesn’t budge. After a minute of staring, he finally asks, “What are you doing here?”
Lourdes looks at him blankly. “I live here,” she croaks.
“You left,” Tamus shouts, his voice rising, “You don’t live here anymore! You abandoned us!”
“I…” Her eyes trail off to the side, thinking. She puffs out a small cloud of smoke. Sighing, she responds tiredly, “You wouldn’t understand.”
“You’re right,” Tamus says, raking his hair back with one hand. “I don’t understand how a mother leaves her children with nothing.”
If I were four or five, I would start crying at a point like this, screaming, “Stop fighting!” But I’m thirteen now, and agree with Tamus’s side of the situation.
A tear rolls down Lourdes’s cheek. She shakily pulls out her cigarette to puff out more smoke, and then says, “I love you two.”
I stiffen. I’ve always admired you and your brother, Ivy had said. “You have a funny way of showing it,” Tamus mutters.
Suddenly, Lourdes breaks out into an uncontrolled sob. “I didn’t know what I was doing!” she sputters. “I-I didn’t know what to do! I’m sorry…”
The room goes quiet. Lourdes wipes her eyes and struggles to blow out smoke between shaky breaths. Her eyes spot the gun on the floor. “Is that yours?” she whispers.
I nod slowly. Absentmindedly, I retrieve it. Lourdes reaches out and raises my hand holding the gun. She lifts it until it’s pointing at her heart. “I failed at everything. A drunk. The woman who left her children for the streets. I don’t deserve to live.”
Not believing what I’m hearing, I say, “You can’t die. You’re my mom.”
She laughs. “Am I? Would you consider the person who left you mom?” Closing her eyes, she says, “Shoot me Flax.”
I lower my gun. “No. I won’t do it.”
Sighing, Lourdes eases herself up and begins walking away. The other kids have found us and we all follow her. She leads us into the living room, where we used to play board games instead of using the new brain-washing technology. She bends down next to another glued square in the wall, grabs my gun from me, and pounds into it like I did. “I’ve been saving this for when I’d need it,” Lourdes says, struggling to pull something out. I begin to hope that it’s some sort of non-perishable food, or water.
Instead, she tugs out a gallon of gasoline. I reach for Tamus’s hand and grip it firmly. “What are you doing?” he demands of Lourdes.
She opens the cap on the gasoline and begins pouring it around the house. Everyone backs away. “I’m doing what I should’ve done six years ago, but never had the courage to.” Then, when only drops of gasoline roll out of the container, she hangs her head. “I love you two, but I’m done.” After that, she pulls out a single match.
Tamus’s eyes grow wide. “EVERYBODY RUN!” he screams. We all scramble to the door and leap out, sprinting away.
Seconds later, the shabby house is up in flames.
Ivy stands by a window upstairs facing east. Looking through binoculars, she’s able to pinpoint a burning house a few miles away. She smirks and tosses the binoculars aside.
Clapping her hands together, she turns toward the three children in the room. Her children. The only slaves she had a claim to: Tilia, Morus, and Teron. Helian stands close to them, awaiting orders from her. “Now,” she says. “I know the location of those brats. You three are to kill all of them except for Tamus and Flax. They’re dark-haired children with blue eyes. Can’t miss them.”
“But why do we have to kill them?” Tilia questions.
“Because they broke the rules,” Ivy answers flatly. “I made it very clear that if they left we would find them. So since they left, you will find them.”
“Why can’t you do it?” Tilia whines.
“Be quiet, you brat and do what I say!” Ivy barks. She doesn’t mind yelling at her own children. They’re ignorant in her eyes and deserve it.
Tilia’s bottom lip trembles. “Where are they?” Morus asks, his husky voice making him sound tough.
“There’s a good man,” Ivy remarks. “You’ll find them on the street with the charred house. Another thing you can’t miss. This should be an easy mission for you three, so I expect it to be quick, clean, and graceful, just like I taught you.”
Teron raises an eyebrow. Always the smart one, he asks, “But if we kill them, then who’ll run the place? Don’t you need them to do the work?”
Ivy glares at him, and then smiles. “My dear Teron. Did you really think all of them would get away?”
His confused face amuses her and she breaks out into laughter. “W-where are the other children?” Tilia dares to ask.
“Waiting in the basement for further questioning. Now are we done asking questions?” They all nod. “Good. Now grab your weapons and scram!”
Tilia, Morus, and Teron scramble out of the room. Once they’re gone, she says, “Teron is right. We do need more children. Of course, we can’t just wait for them to run to us.”
“What are you saying?” Helian asks.
“Methods are methods, and the one we used on Lourdes Lacroix was a very good one.” Ivy snickers. Helian joins in the laughter.
After a couple of minutes, Ivy walks over to a dusty wooden chest. Opening it, she takes out a small frame. In the picture are two dark-haired, blue-eyed children playing a board game with a man who looks to be their father. Wiping the dust off with her blouse, she smiles. “Ivy loves you,” she whispers. “She’s your new mom now.”
It’s only a matter of moments before I overcome my shock and break out into a sob. Everyone watches as our house collapses in flames. However, only Tamus and I had sentimental value for house number 17 on Greens Street.
Eventually, I rise from my crouched position across the street. Our parents were gone. The home where joyous moments had once occurred was gone. Silently, I begin walking away. Tamus follows me along with Mirabilis and the rest of the crowd. We walk for a block and a half until coming across three children armed with guns.
“Who are you?” Mirabilis snaps.
The children, two blonde and one brunette, all approach us at once. We stand our ground. The only girl pipes up, “You’ve betrayed the orphanage.”
So that’s what this is about. But…I’d never seen these kids before. Suddenly, realization clicks into my mind. “You’re Ivy’s kids,” I remark bitterly.
“And you’re Flax and that’s Tamus. Are we done with stating the obvious?” the brunette grunts.
“What do you want?” Tamus demands.
We all know what they want. And judging by their weapons, it’s not peace. If you leave now, we will find you. And your name will be in bold letters on the lists until we finish you. The girl points her first at me, then at Tamus saying, “You two are coming with us. The rest can kiss their life goodbye.”
Why weren’t they taking us? “Nobody’s going anywhere!” I snap.
She smiles. The boys crack their knuckles and retrieve their weapons. “I beg to differ,” she sneers.
Instantly, everyone on our side pulls out their weapons. Nobody wants to use them, but they will if they have to. The girl’s smile fades. “You’re on,” Mirabilis challenges.
One of the boys makes the first move, and fires at Mirabilis. It skims past her shoulder, barely missing it, but it ticks her off. She aims for his leg, and he goes down in pain. Suddenly, she’s by my side and whispers, “One down, two to go. Careful.”
I nod and aim. Tamus remains protectively at my side. All around us I hear sharp cries of pain as bullets fly through, and more than a few screams. I pray that nobody has died, but I know that some have.
Tamus cries out next to me, and I see him clutching his arm. The girl smiles wickedly. “I’m sure my mom won’t mind if his arm is a bit…punctured.” She snickers.
Rage builds up inside of me, and I fire at her arm. Angrily, I fire at the other one too. She collapses, moaning. “And I’m sure your mom won’t mind if your arms are, well…punctured.”
The blonde boy, who hasn’t taken any shots yet, throws his weapon to the side and screams, “I don’t want any part of this! I never did!”
“I had a feeling this would happen,” a too-familiar voice says, and a red-head woman walks up to us. “This ends now,” Ivy growls.
Ivy taps her nails together, which makes a soft clicking noise. She comes toward us, then stops and surveys the scene. Turning my head, I look also. Six people lay on the ground, dead. Four clutch injuries, and the others sit and hang their heads in silence. The whole ordeal makes me sick to my stomach, and the people who brought it upon us are unforgivable.
“What do you want from us?” I demand, stepping towards Ivy. She stands her ground, unflinching. “You send your children to finish us off. Six people are DEAD!” I shove her stomach so she steps back. “Did you really think we’d all die? Three kids? They had no chance. Was this a test to see if we’d crack and kill them?”
Finally, I stop pushing Ivy back and look her straight in the eye. Her crystal blue eyes bore into mine, almost questioningly. Then, her face brightens. “Flax, I’ve always admired your bravery. Your boldness. Your courage.” She grips my arms and I tense. Her eyes are now pleading. “Don’t you know how much I love you two?”
“Well we don’t love you back and we never will!” I break free of her grip.
Ivy’s expression goes from shocked, to offended, to enraged. “Come HERE you little devil! You will be MINE!” She lunges at me and succeeds in knocking me down.
“FLAX!” I hear Tamus scream.
Suddenly, Ivy grabs my neck with both hands and squeezes. I can’t breathe. Last time I got away somehow, but her grip is tighter, those blue eyes full of motivation and hatred. Tamus tries to make her let go, but she uses one arm to fight him. In that moment I catch my breath, but soon her hands are strangling me again.
I have to do something. Black dots begin appearing in my vision. I feel my life slipping away, when suddenly BOOM!
Ivy’s hands instantly go limp and her body collapses onto mine. It takes me a while to recover, and Tamus lifts Ivy off of me and throws her to the side with all of his strength.
Once I start breathing normally again, Tamus helps me up. Immediately, I look to the left to see who fired the bullet that killed Ivy.
Warren. Immature, annoying, ignorant Warren.
Shakily, I make my way over towards him and embrace him in a hug. “Thank you,” I whisper hoarsely.
When I let go, he says, “Um, Flax?”
“I’ve been feeling guilty about this for a long time. But I want you to know that I pointed that gun at you because I wanted to scare you away. I didn’t want you to end up at the orphanage because, well,” He gestures to Ivy. “It doesn’t turn out well in the end.”
Smiling, I shake my head. “No it doesn’t. And I appreciate what you tried to do. Well, now I do.”
He laughs. I turn around to come face-to-face with Tamus. “It’s always just been the two of us, hasn’t it?” I ask him.
He nods. “You’re my sister. I’ll never leave you.” And with that, he pulls me into a hug. We part, and I hold on to his hand like I did when I was young.
Seven lives taken. One of them being my friend (Raquette), and one of them being my evil, obsessive caretaker (Ivy). I discovered that the boy I once thought to be a selfish idiot is really a protective, friendly person (Warren). My father died of sickness, and my mother killed herself by committing arson.
My life has changed in so many ways, and I’ve shuffled from place to place. But one thing has kept me strong for a lifetime: my 17-year-old brother Tamus.
After setting the last plate onto the table, I answer the door. Two dark-haired children (one boy and one girl) run at me and embrace me in a hug. “Hi, Auntie Flax!” they greet excitedly.
Tussil, the boy, 6-years-old, has dark-brown, almost black hair and blue eyes, like his father. Acacia, the girl, 3-years-old, has the same hair, except brown eyes, like her mother. “Hey, you guys! Good to see ya!” I respond.
After hugs and kisses, they race to the kitchen to snack on cookies. In a few seconds, their parents walk in. Their dad gives me a hug. “Hey, Flax,” he says.
“Hey, Tamus,” I greet back.
I hug their mom as well. “How’s it going, Mirabilis?”
“Great! Good to see you, Flax.” She smiles and follows her children to the kitchen, leaving only Tamus and I.
“You’re lucky to have such beautiful kids,” I say.
He looks over to where they sit at the table, pigging out on junk food. “They are beautiful, aren’t they?”
I follow his gaze, and nod, thoughtfully. “One day you’ll have to tell them the story.”
He shifts his eyes to the ceiling, and then to me. “Yep. But I can’t do it without you.”
Smiling, I suddenly realize something. “Be right back,” I say, and speed-walk to my room. Opening one of the drawers, I pull out something and rush back. “Here, this is for you.” I hand it to him.
Tamus accepts it and his face melts into remembrance. The object he holds is a picture of two dark-haired, blue-eyed children playing Chutes and Ladders with their dad. The picture, for me, brings back memories of guns and a burning house. But Tamus wasn’t the one who fished it out of a wall, so for him it’s a symbol of what used to be.
Tears brimming his eyes he pulls me into another hug. When we part, I smile and say, “Well, let’s get some food before your kids eat it all.”
He laughs, and I grip his hand. “Always together,” he says.
“Always,” I agree.