Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dictionary Word Challenge: "Easy"-- Abigail Leskey

Here is Abigail's contribution to the challenge!


Author’s note

This story is partly true, but I did a fair bit of adapting and combining.
     It should have been easy.  Mama drove away to her appointment. After the appointment she was to pick up Papa, and they would come home in about two hours. I would have supper ready.
    I locked the door, and headed for the kitchen. I passed my computer genius, ginger-haired brother, being brilliant in front of his laptop with occasional pauses to make weird faces or imitate the voices of motion picture villains. My floppy dark-headed brother, a natural at the blarney, melted on the carpet. The little sister ran past, her hair like a wild nomad’s, pink flip-flops sticking to her feet and pulling off with a sound like pulling off a sticker. She hated hairbrushes and socks.
    I put rice and water into a pot, set it on the burner, and turned the stove on. Now I deeded to do nothing for a quarter hour or so save waiting for it to boil. So from the well-stocked box of library books I chose one with a hooded archer on the cover and began to engulf the contents.  
     The doorbell rang. Now we were not the sorts to have visitors drop in; and I was under orders that if anyone tried to come into the house when no parents were present to call 911.  I looked out at the driveway, discreetly; though as my two younger siblings were screaming the fellow could not have thought the house was empty. Unless he took it to be badly haunted. A well-mired pickup I had never seen before was parked in the driveway. He rang the bell again.
    My heart throbbed as I dialed the number.  As I explained the emergency, my brother shrieked that the pick-up was leaving towards the town.
    I barely concluded speaking with the dispatcher before the rice began to boil over. I turned it down and set the timer.  Then, still nervous, I went to my bedroom and drew my sword.
    My sword has never been used for feats of valor. But it is long and heavy. So I carried it into the kitchen and laid it on the table.
    This was November and I had not been expecting visitors. I wore a red tartan skirt, a brown turtleneck, a vaguely doublet-like velour vest with a hole I had been too lazy to fix, and a leather belt to cement the Auld Scottish look. Then I had done my hair like an elf from my favorite fantasy films, because I liked to do my hair like that.
     And that is what the kindly sheriff’s deputy saw when he arrived. My siblings ran to hide in their bedrooms, because they dislike visitors in general. So I spoke briefly with the enforcer of justice, he left his card for my parents, and he departed.
     I stirred the rice. My younger brother screamed. I ran down the hallway. The boys ran out of their bedroom and past me, yelling, “Giant spiders!”
     The spider was aloft, dangling. It was at least three inches, and I did not want to deal with it.  I trotted for the vacuum.
    The spider had crawled into a hole. One leg protruded. I made a face at the carpenter who had built the cranny, turned the vacuum on, and shoved the tip in, stretching. I deserve a Guinness World Record for worst stretcher, incidentally. After a couple minutes I removed the nozzle. No legs. Hopefully the thing was swept.
    In the kitchen the rice timer had gone off. After washing my hands I stirred it. It was burnt onto the pan, glued almost.
     “They’re home!” screamed a brother. They all emerged and ran down the stairs to the door.
     Loud storytelling. The day had been busy.
      “What’s that on your hands?” Mama asked my sister.
     “Marker,” she said.
     “I’ll go make sure it’s capped,” I said, and entered our bedroom. Blue permanent marker decorated the bedspread, the curtains, the walls, my white blouse, and the quilt Mama had sewed when I was a baby.
    It was such an easy day.
Copyright© 2014 by Abigail Leskey

Find Abigail's other stories on the Writer's Page

Monday, September 29, 2014

Dictionary Word Challenge: "Shadows"-- Caroline Keeth

First up for the Dictionary Word Challenge is Caroline, our newest writer on Modern Bard! Check out her bio on the Writer's Page.


Author's Note

The setting inspiration came from “Mire” and it being a sort of synonym for swamp. I'm a Louisiana girl and I immediately went there, even though it isn't stated in the short, it is set in Louisiana. With a stretcher being part of a row boat I had the inspiration for it to be set out on a boat for whatever reason and a lot of inspiration flowed from those two words. 
I'll admit that I might be slightly in love with dystopian worlds, it fascinates me to no end how a world can so quickly and drastically be changed in so many ways. I also love the freedom of being able to make up my own rules and not be confined by those of current day or those of past. I had a vague idea of this basically being our world in the not too distant future, but something has gone wrong and land isn't safe anymore due to some sort of creature. I sat down with my sister and she had this idea for these shadow monsters which aren't really shadows, but actual tangible beings that live in the shadows and blend in quite well. They are also afraid of the water, which is where the boat came into play.
Something the characters don't realize though, is that it's not water, just large bodies of it. These creatures can't swim well and that's why it's safe out on a boat.
That is, they were until now.
These “Shadows” weren't based on anything but the imagination of my sister who was more than glad to lend her mind to me.
The stuff about the kids being targeted came into play from a writing prompt I came across one night; “All the boys in a village disappear” I toyed with the idea and used it as a springboard until it felt right.
This is a story I'm planning on revisiting in the future, whether it's for fun or a full length novel.
I also have a wickedly glorious love of cliff hangers and so I do leave it at a slight cliffy. It was mostly because I wanted to leave a lot to the imagination and let y'all (the readers) decide how you think things go from there. 
(Bonus note: If any of you are interested, Kat is short for Kathryn. :) )

Not long ago I would have thought it beautiful, watching the sun set over the lake. Today the only thought running through my mind is that I took too long on my run.
            I’ve become accustomed to rowing this little boat, my feet firmly against the stretcher as I pull the ores against the water. It’s methodical repetition that helps me to ignore the sounds of day being replaced with those of the night.
            When I come up alongside the boat I let out a whistle. It’s a simple melody, a song that both Zach and I know and we taught the kids. It helps us make sure there aren't any strangers trying to sneak on before we even see them.
            The cables are thrown over the side and excited voices chatter as little heads peek over the edge of the boat. The boat is a larger one of the fishing variety. It has enough room for all of us, though it can feel a bit cramped when everyone is in one place. Though it’s not so small that someone can board it without us knowing about it first.
            I hook the cables to each end of the boat and wait as the wheel jerkily reels me up. I frown at the side of the boat where we painted onto the side. The kids insisted we name the ship The Nomad after Lewis called us nomad’s one day and explained what it meant. “We need to freshen up the paint down there.” I stand as the little row boat comes level with the deck. If this qualifies as a proper deck.
            What did you find?” Gabby is the first to speak, as always. Her eyes lighting up as she stares at the lumpy tarp. It stands as proof that I found something on my run. She and Lewis stand side by side, almost touching. I always thought that those stories about twins being inseparable were silly. Until I met those two, they won’t leave each other’s sight. Though it makes sense these days.
            Zach stands back, his arms crossed over his chest as he watches, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
            A few things.” I smirk as I stick a hand under the tarp.
            What is it?” Cody is becoming impatient with my antics. “Ginger ale!” I pull out the cardboard box full of green cans. The kids collectively gasp and start squealing and chattering excitedly.
            I haven’t had a soda in years!” Mia might be exaggerating a little bit.
            One is missing.” Lewis looks at me and I shrug, “Someone had to make sure they weren’t poisoned.”
            Zach helps me unload as the sound of soda cans popping open fills the air. “You pushed it.” He speaks so that only I can hear as I hand him the fuel I found for the boat.
            I know.” I say looking out at the lake. The sun is gone, but there’s still some light left. “I had a lot to haul.” Between clothes, fuel, ginger ale, weapons and ammo, and finding some meat to hunt for dinner, it took longer than I had anticipated. I grab his hand and jump onto the deck with a thud.
            A screech pierces the quiet lake. It’s a shrill sound that makes me feel cold and every hair on my body stands on its end. The kids’ chatter has died completely and we all stare at the water’s edge. I swear I can see them moving in the trees, but it can be so hard to tell when you’re seeing a Shadow. They blend in so well after all.
            Let’s not cut it so close next time, okay?” Zach is always worried about me. I push things a bit farther than he does, but he has a right to worry. I worry about him when he’s the one out there. I did cut it too close today, if I had only been a few more minutes I’d be toast.
            Yeah.” I mumble.
We sit around the fire pit we built on the deck, munching on the game I shot earlier.
          The row boat hangs aloft beside the Nomad, hanging above the water and swaying gently in the wind.
            Kat?” Cody stares at the meat in his hands intently, turning it slowly.
            Yeah?” I take a bite of mine.
             “Can you teach me to hunt?” He looks up at me with expectant eyes.
            I glance at Zach. His lips are puckered as he leans down and rubs his fingers on the wooden floorboards. Admiring the amazing carpentry, no doubt. He always does that in uncomfortable situations.
            You know it’s not safe for you on land.” I speak carefully. I don’t want to hurt Cody, but he knows the reality of our lives these days. Land isn’t safe. Especially not for those fourteen and under. And he’s only just turned fourteen.
            But how can I ever learn how to protect myself if I never have any experience?”
            I sigh and chuck my bone off the side of the boat, “Cody, it’s dangerous.” I wipe my hands on my pants and look at him. I don’t want to scare the younger kids. Sabrina is especially sensitive on such matters. She watched a gang of Shadows murder her family. She’s only six but she managed to escape. She has more reason than anyone to be scared to death of them. In truth, we’re all scared of them.
            Except Cody.
            He possesses a dangerous bravery that borderlines ignorant stupidity. There’s been a raging fire inside of him since the foster family he was living with died because of this mess of a world. He wasn’t there to witness it like Sabrina, though. He doesn’t understand the real dangers and he hungers for revenge. Though Cody insists it’s justice. Zach and I worry he’s going to get himself, or someone else, hurt one day. We’ve talked about him many times and we both agree; we have to keep Cody on this boat for as long as we can.
            I open my mouth to answer but I stop as a strange noise calls through the darkness. It’s a deep throated sound, reminiscent of an alligator call. 
“What is that?” I stand and walk toward the edge of the ship. All other noises have vanished. Frogs, cicadas, crickets. Even the owls are silent. The only sounds are that of the breeze and the water gently swishing to and fro, which seems deafeningly loud in the absence of the odd call.
            I stare out at the water, the sky is overcast tonight, leaving it too dark to make out anything.
            Zach comes beside me and switches on the flood light. We rarely use it in an effort to conserve its power, and most times I would tell him not to worry about it, but I've never heard an animal like that, and I'm very familiar with animal calls.
            Ever heard that before?” I ask under my breath so that the kids can’t hear.
            “No.” He shakes his head. “Do you think it could be-”
            There!” Gabby shrieks and wraps her arms around my waist. Zach jerks the light back and there it is. Perched atop a raft, with a long, flat piece of wood as of replacement for an ore in its long hands. Its body is slender but very large. It’s the kind of slender that makes it better fitted for speed. It gnashes rows of long teeth that come to sharp, ragged ends that glint starkly white against its dark body. Its eyes are black beads that are only visible because of the light bouncing off of them, reveling a hungry glint.
            Kat.” Zach’s voice is barely a whisper. I have no words to respond with. Shadows don’t come out on water. We don’t know why, but they don’t like water. Maybe they’re adapting, maybe this one is just desperate for a child to eat. At least that’s what I think they do with the children they steal. They never eat the adults, they will brutally kill them, but they don’t eat them. I’ve wondered if the slaughtering of adults is a scare tactic. They’ve proven to be intelligent enough creatures on more than on occasion to have those sort of tactics.
            What is it doing out this far?” Mia’s voice is steady and low. I stand still as Zach rustles beside me. I worry that the moment I move it will move. It’s a stare down into its hideous eyes, the second I look away it will be an act of submission or weakness.
            Mia, hold this for me, will you?” Zach asks. She’s only twelve, but she’s one of the bravest souls here. She takes the light and holds it high. “It’s not moving.” She says after a few seconds.
            The creature opens its mouth and that odd, almost roaring sound echoes toward us again.
            Zach shoves a rifle into my hands, but I keep my eyes on the creature. “Why would it be out here all alone?” I whisper to him.
            What?” He’s rustling through something.
             “They don’t travel alone, remember?” I say. “They’re like wolves, always traveling in packs.” It’s something we learned over time. If you see one Shadow it means that there is at least one more close by.
            He stands up and looks at me, “Maybe it’s a reject. Wolves do that, don’t they?”
            I don’t-” Darkness fills my vision and I’m shoved to the ground by something heavy.
            A scream pierces the air as I slam onto the deck. My head slaps back against the floor. Every wisp of air is shoved from my lungs with the impact. Shouts fill the air around me, matched by shrill, animal squeals.
            My head is warm as I stand and my vision is fuzzy. Zach is shoving the kids into the door to go below deck and shouting something at me. I grab my rifle and shoot for the first dark shape I see. It moves at a lightning speed, barely illuminated by our glowing firelight. They thrive in the darkness. It’s our greatest weakness.
            A screech fills the air, but it’s not human, and it’s not the hungry one we heard at dusk either. It’s pain. I shot one.
            Vicious snarls and growls assault me from all angles. It isn’t the Shadow that I see coming at me, but its teeth.
            The gun flies from my hands and pain shoots through my arm like an electric wave. A gun goes off and the creature pulls back with another pained scream, its eye gleaming with fury.
            Mia stands, feet braced apart and her hands shaking, a pistol held high. The pressure of the body on top of me disappears and everything in me screams. “Mia, run!” I shout as I jump to my feet.
            Something crashes into me and I slam onto the floor again.
            I push myself to my feet as Mia’s terrified scream rings out in the silent night like an alarm. A dark arm is wrapped around her waist, pulling her toward the edge of the ship faster than I can think.
            Mia!” Zach runs past me and I follow closely on his heels. We reach the edge of the ship and all we can hear are Mia’s screams becoming more and more distant in the dark night.
            Mia!” Zach shouts at the loudest volume I’ve ever heard him use. He starts to lunge himself off the edge of the ship and I grab his arm. “We can’t!” I say, pulling as he struggles against my grip.
            I’m not leaving her!” He turns and shouts in my face. “And you’ll leave them?” I shout back, waving my arm toward the door he ushered the kids into. “They’re still here and they’re trusting us to protect them.”
            And Mia isn’t?” He snaps. “One of us has to go after her!”
            You know as well as I do that we won’t see her again.” I lower my voice, I don’t want the kids to hear.
            You’re giving up just like that?” Zach’s face is tight and his voice quivers. “We can find her!”
            And what good will it do Mia if you throw yourself over the edge of this ship and go running right into Shadow territory? You wouldn’t be on land for two seconds before they were on you.”
            His chest rises and falls with heavy breaths, his dark eyes piercing mine with a fury. I don’t know if the anger is because of me or because of the situation, but I can’t let him be stupidly impulsive and endanger his life or the kids. I can’t take care of them by myself.
            We need you here.” I whisper harshly. “These kids need you. I need you.”
            Mia needs us.” He whispers back, but the shouting is gone. The anger is replaced with an exhaustion. His shoulders slump and his mouth drops into a frown, his eyes quickly becoming glassy.
            We’ll look for her tomorrow.” I set a hand on his shoulder. “We aren’t going to just abandon her. But we have to be smart about this. Besides,” I look out into the darkness. I can’t hear Mia's screaming anymore. “We can’t stay here anymore.”
I stare at the door, rifle in hand. We barricaded ourselves into the only room with no other entry ways. Not even a window. Zach woke me up a few hours ago to keep watch while he sleeps. Sabrina is curled up in his lap.
            The flood light sits in the corner, pointed at the ceiling to distribute its light. It works well, but nothing will compare to daylight. My watch says it’s after seven AM. I set to a rough estimate of what I guessed the time was, but the sun should be risen by now. I just want the kids to get enough rest for the long journey.
            Is it early enough?” I glance at Cody. He was shifting a lot and I wondered if he was awake. I don’t know.” I answer. “But I want them to get enough rest.”
            We should get started as early as possible.”
            I know.” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Mia. Zach and I didn’t put it all together until late into the night. The first Shadow, the one calling out in the water, was only a diversion. These things are smart, maybe smarter than us. I don’t even know how they got away so quickly.
            Cody dozes back to sleep while I wait for a half hour to tick by. I get to my feet and crouch in front of Zach, reaching out to tap him. He wakes with a sharp breath, “What’s wrong?” He sits up straight, making Sabrina stir.
            Nothing.” I shake my head. “It’s just getting late, we need to move.”
            He nods and I wake up the twins, then Cody.
            A few minutes later Zach holds the door handle and looks at me. “Ready?” He asks.
            I nod, readying my finger on the trigger of my rifle for anything that may be on the other side. It scares me some days how natural this has become for us, carrying weapons everywhere and checking dark corners for monsters.
            Zach swings the door open and steps out into the hallway. I see light, so the sun has risen at least. But that doesn’t mean a Shadow couldn’t be hiding somewhere, which is what Zach is looking for, and why I’m still here guarding the kids.
            All good.” He shouts back at us. I pick up a sleepy Sabrina and balance her on my hip, the other three following me down the hallway. I still find myself peeking in the doors, double checking, but everything seems safe. They got what they wanted last night.
            The sunlight is bright and brings attention to the throbbing in my head. There’s a lump back there and Lewis keeps fussing about a concussion.
            Zach sits on the deck, a map rolled out in front of him. “They took her that way.” He points south.
            I sit down next to him, pulling Sabrina closer. He has to know we can’t get Mia back. At least not without risking the other four kids that we've managed to keep alive this long. He’s too emotional for me to just say that, though. He’ll blow up and then we’ll never get anything done.
            We need to get off the lake.” I say. “They’re figuring out ways through the water which makes us sitting ducks in a cage.” I look at the map, we aren’t far from the coast. “If we stick to open roads I’m sure we could get to the coast before dark.” I tap the ocean. It’s our best bet.
            What about Mia?” Gabby looks from me to Zach. He and I don’t disagree often, but this will definitely be one of those times.
            Mia’s gone.” Cody says. “We all know that. Going after her will be useless and just get more people killed.”
            Sabrina buries her face in my shoulder and I think she might be crying.
            The way they took her is in the direction we’ll have to go to get to the coast.” Lewis inspects the map closely. “We can keep to the water by traveling through the mire.”
            The what?” Gabby stares at him.
            “It’s a synonym for swamp.” He says, still looking at the map. Gabby sighs and rolls her eyes, “Why can’t you talk like a normal nine year old?”
            Because I refuse to stoop to their level of intelligence.” He shrugs.
            We have to travel on land.” Zach says quietly. “Open roads with plenty of light.” His eyebrows are pulled closely together and he’s puckering his lips again.
            “That’s what you said, right?” He looks at me.
            I nod, hugging Sabrina close. I think Zach is accepting that we can’t go after Mia. If we were to find her, and if she were still alive, she would be in the middle of gang of Shadows. We can barely fend off one. Surviving an entire nest of them would be an incredible, but extremely unrealistic, feat. Mia is gone and going after her would be useless. I want to go after her, to hunt down those Shadows and find her. But in all honesty, I don’t think she would want us to risk coming after her.
            We pack light.” I stand up, Sabrina still in my arms. “Necessities only.”
            What do we do when we get to the coast?” Lewis always wants concrete plans.
            Zach sighs, “We’ll figure it out when we get there.”
Zach shuts off the boat’s motor, letting us drift into the dock. I keep my eyes on the trees. We found the brightest and most open dock we could, I just hope it’s open and bright enough.
            I hop down to the dock, Cody following suit. We help Lewis and Gabby down and Zach jumps down with Sabrina hanging onto his back.
            My backpack is heavier than the others. Zach and I didn’t want to make the kids carry too much, and we’re used to carrying more because of our runs. Sabrina is still so young that Zach keeps her on his back, so I took most of the heavy supplies.
            We follow the road, Lewis telling us which directions to take to get to the coast. None of the kids have mentioned Mia for the past hour of walking and I think they’ve resigned themselves to the fact that we won’t be seeing her again. They would of had to come to terms with it eventually, but they’re learning to cope too quickly. At such young, influential ages being in this environment, being so used to death, I worry they’re going to become hard. I worry Cody already is. Zach and I have over twenty years of memory before everything went dark, but they’re just kids. Kids who had been living hard lives and then had them become that much harder.
            Sabrina sleeps on Zach’s back and I know he must be tired, but I let him carry her. They have an unusual bond, always comforting each other only with their presence. As tired as he may get, it will be far easier for him to have her close.
            I’m hungry.” Gabby breaks the long silence. I glance at my clock, it’s two already. We’ve been walking for hours and we only ate a light breakfast.
            Let’s take a quick break.” Zach says.
            He fishes into bags and pulls out some cans of food and sits on the road with the kids. As hot and tired as I am, I can’t sit. We’re getting close, maybe another few more hours of walking and we’ll be able to see the ocean. I don’t like sitting still, not when I’m on my own, and especially not when I’m on land with a group of kids.
            Birds fly from trees to telephone lines. They usually become quiet and restless like this when Shadows are nearby. They should be chirping and hiding from the summer heat, but they sit in the sunlight, some bathing in puddles to cool off.
            I try and look through windows of nearby buildings as best as I can from here. Shadows wouldn’t dare attack in the sunlight. They never do.
            Aren’t you going to eat, Kat?” Gabby’s voice is muffled by her full mouth of canned fruit. “I’m not hungry.” I smile at her, I don’t want to let on that Shadows are nearby. They’re probably following us, waiting for us to make a mistake so they can attack.
            Zach only glances at me for a second, but it’s all I need. We’ve gotten used to having to communicate with nothing but eye contact. He gives me the slightest nod and tosses me a water bottle.
            He spends the next few minutes reminding the kids to hurry up and eat so we can get moving. My water is hot and not very satisfying, I only take a few sips.
            Branches in the woods start cracking and breaking. A flock of birds fly from a tree, moving quickly to get away from whatever danger lies within their home.
            I peer between the trees. Dark shapes move in the shade. I think I see a head poking out from behind a tree, watching us from its shaded haven, but it can be so hard to be certain. “Let’s go.” I glance back and Zach is already standing, hauling Sabrina on his back.
            The day becomes hotter as it gets later, the heat radiating off of the concrete making it even more unbearable.
            When we hit the interstate, abandoned cars lining it, the kids start behaving uncomfortably. Forest lines both sides of us, we have no escape if something goes wrong. But we never really did.
            Another hour goes by and it’s almost five in the afternoon. “How close are we, Lewis?” I ask. We still have a few hours until sunset, but we also have to account in time for finding a boat to get into the water. And how we’ll survive in the ocean with no land to make runs to. Are we just going to take the kids out to sea so they can slowly die from dehydration?
            A few miles…” He’s barely stopped looking at the map. It’s as if he’s trying to distract himself. I’m glad he has something to distract himself with. I wish I could give the others a distraction. Gabby’s not even talking. On any other day we would call it a miracle, but I think she’s scared and missing Mia. They were almost as close as she and Lewis are.
            How are you doing?” I ask Cody, matching his stride, but placing myself between him and the tree line. He’s been drifting too close and I worry it’s intentional.
            Hot, tired.” He shrugs. “But we all are.”
            Anything you want to talk about?” I give him a pointed look. If he is intentionally wandering toward the forest it’s a stupid plan. He’s unarmed and wouldn’t last.
            No.” He looks straight in my eyes. That was his mistake because I know he’s lying. Maybe he’s just thinking about Mia, though. He could be missing her like the rest of us. I hope that it’s only a matter of him not wanting to talk about her and not him planning a suicide mission.
We’re here!” Lewis beams proudly, looking ahead at the ocean. We can see it, but we still have about a mile to walk before we actually reach it. And we have to figure out a plan to get out into the water without dying after a week or two.
            A city lies between us and the shore. So does a storm. The wind is strong and cool and the sun is hidden behind dark clouds.
            We need to hurry.” Zach says, walking at the front of the group. I stay at the back so that the kids are in sight at all times. There could be enough shade that we could be attacked.
            Cody kept wandering earlier and Zach ended up calling him over and they talked about a number of random things. I’m just happy that Zach noticed.
            My sister was a lot like Cody. She was angry that our family had been killed. When our little brother was taken it was the last straw for her. She went on a rampage and tried to kill as many Shadows as she could.
            I don’t think she even got one.
            Zach is the only one here who knows about her. He was with me the night she ran off.
            The city is full of short, abandoned buildings that keep the streets bright. Or as bright as they can be with these clouds.
            A warm raindrop falls on my face and I wipe it away.
            It only takes a few moments for the rain to pour from the sky in a veil that obscures our vision. I make Gabby and Lewis hold on to my backpack so that I can feel them, and I keep a firm grip on Cody’s arm. I won’t let him run off and get himself killed and this is the perfect place for him to do it.
Zach walks only a few steps in front of me, a soaking wet Sabrina still hanging on his back like a little koala.
            I run into Sabrina when Zach stops suddenly. “What are you doing?” I shout over the noise of the rain.
            “Kat, get your gun!” He shouts back.
            I grab the rifle slug over my shoulder and hold it ready. “What is it?” I shout back. If this rain would quiet down a bit communicating would be much easier.
            Shadow.” He says. I grab Lewis and Gabby to make sure they’re still there. “They don’t like water!” I shout back. My heart hammers in my chest as I squint into the gray blind.
            “I saw it.” He shouts back.
            We need to run.” Cody shouts. Zach just nods and I make sure Lewis and Gabby are in front of me, then we start running.
            Water splashes as we run through the streets as fast as we can. Every now and then I see a dark shape darting around in the rain. This doesn’t make sense. They don’t like water. Unless it’s just large bodies of water. Maybe they just can’t swim and water really has no effect on them.
            The dark shape comes barreling toward us through the rain. I shove Gabby and Lewis ahead, out of its path and the figure crashes into me.
            I fall into the wet street, a heavy body on top of me. Its growling oddly clear and loud through the sound of the rain that pounds on my face.
            Something sharp and stinging scratches my arm and I shove at the Shadow. I hear shouting, my name, I think.
            The Shadow’s face comes closer to mine, jaw opening widely to show its shining teeth.
            I shove at its head, anything to delay the inevitable. It’s strong, though. Too strong. My arms shake, my muscles giving way. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to just let it end me right here, right now. It would be quick. But how can I beg Zach to stay with me and the kids and then just desert him without a fight?
            I keep shoving at the creature’s face with one hand and grab a knife from my hip with the other. A dark hand wraps around mine and sharp claws dig into my skin like needles that are on fire.
            A muffled bang sounds through the rain, and the Shadow turns to dead weight, falling on top of me in a limp pile.
            Hands yank the dead body off of me and I take Zach’s hand and let him pull me up.
            Are you okay?” A man I don’t know shouts through the rain. I shove him back and pull up my rifle. “Who are you?” I shout. “Where is Zach?” I look around, but I don't see anyone else.
            I snap when he doesn't answer. “Where are they?”
            With my group.” He holds out his hands, “We have a ship. It’s safe!”
            Why should I trust you?”
            He sighs and holds his hand up to shield his face from the water. His lips pucker slightly and whistles a choppy tune.
            I stare at him. “Alright.” I lower my gun. “Take me to the ship.”
That’s it?” I ask, staring at the tiny boat at the end of the marina dock. It's even smaller than The Nomad.
            “No.” The man shakes his head. “We have to ride out to the big one.”
            We hurry down the dock and a figure waits beside the ship. Zach.
            He squeezes me in a tight hug. “The kids are fine.” He says loudly, The rain still pounding all around us. “Are you okay?”
            Yeah.” I nod. Though long scratches run down one arm, and deep gashes from claws are in my wrist. My head is hurting too. I think I might have hit it again.
            “Good call on the whistle.” I say.
            I have a few of those every now and then.” He smiles, but it’s not the one that makes his eyes light up.
            The ride on the little boat is rough in the choppy sea. Lewis and Gabby are curled up beside me, all of us under a blanket. They both keep saying that I saved their lives, and all I keep thinking about is how Mia isn’t here. I didn't save her life. We never even looked for her. Maybe we should have, but we barely made it here alive without any detours.
            You didn’t scream.” The man who killed the Shadow that was attacking me stares at me curiously.
            “I'm sorry?” I ask.

            “When they’re about to die,” He folds his arms. “They always scream.” He turns around, a grim expression plastered on his face.
            The ones I’ve known that died by the Shadows do scream, I always remember the screams. It’s why I told myself that if it came down to a Shadow killing me I wouldn't scream. My sister’s screams were the last time I ever heard her voice. I don’t want Zach or the kids to live with that being their last memory of me; screaming for a life that I’ve already lost.
            I stare at the man’s back.
            His people supposedly live on a large cargo ship with their own little community. They make occasional runs to shore to get what they need and pick up any people who might be looking for safety. But they have an enormous stock pile of goods. The man says it was a miracle they were on land when we were attacked by that Shadow, but I hardly believe in miracles these days. Something doesn’t feel quite right about it, but then how could they have known we would be there? And what could they even want with us? Maybe it was a miracle. I don’t trust these people yet, and neither does Zach. Maybe over time we'll come to trust. But for now Zach says they’re our only shot, and he's right.
            I just hope it’s the right shot.

Copyright© 2014 by Caroline Keeth