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Reads: 30

Unknown Location

 

Running through the woods, his muscles were on fire, aching, and a strange taste had entered his mouth. Every so often a tree branch struck against his body as he flung himself through the brush and trees. Tripping on logs, rocks, and fallen trees, there was no moon in the sky to help guide them. The wet leaves underneath him caused him to fall and hit the ground, his arm struck against a rock, and the collar that had been placed around his neck pinched into his skin as his head went against his shoulder. 

Behind him he could hear Odette let out of yelp as she fell, Finnley was with Kettu so he had stopped to help them. In the distance he could see an orange glow, crawling up off of the ground he slowly went towards it. Staying close to a tree he looked and saw the remnants of a once town, that had been slowly burning. The chard remains were still burning and glowed in the night. He saw just a few houses away, one that remained in well enough shape that they could stay in it for the night. 

“Hurry up!” He turned around and whispered harshly. 

Finnley had Kettus's hand in one of his and his other on Odette's back almost pushing her. Closing in were the guards chasing after them, Seath waved his hand to Finnley and slowly they crept through the street, stepping past bodies from the townsfolk that once lived there. Finnley covered Kettus' eyes and shielded Odettes with his body so they couldn't see them laying on the ground. Reaching the single-story house that seemed to have the fortune to survive the onslaught, he opened the door and could see food strewn throughout the kitchen off the left and on the floor to the door. Kettu and Odette stayed huddled next to Finnley as he started arranging them on the step-down living room floor. 

“What do we do now?” Odette quickly asked the group.

Odette had been there by chance when they decided to make their escape from the ‘Children War Orphanage’, a holding facility where the rooms were separated by a chainlink fence. They did give them a cot, pillow, and a blanket though, and three meals a day. When they did leave the pens, they were being ‘educated’ and taught to live under the authority of a man named Daniel. They would walk down hallways plastered with papers talking about him or watch stuff on television listening to stories about his wife and him. Odette was separated into a girl's wing, they went through a similar thing but seemed to be more geared toward girls. 

Staying low to the ground Seath went to a window and looked outside, behind him Finnley was reassuring Odette and Kettu that they were fine. 

With the buildings still smoldering, he could make out the dark silhouettes of the guards looking back and forth through the tree lines. Seath noticed they wouldn't come back into the town though. Voices went between them and then he couldn't see them anymore, waiting several more seconds he turned around. 

“I don't think they are coming back,” Seath said to his new companions. 

“How do you know?” The eight-year-old questioned.

“Shh Kettu,” Finnley walked over to the window, peering outside himself before turning to his little brother “As far as I can tell Seath is right.” 

Seath took a step down into the living room and sat down on the floor between Odette and Kettu, Odette let out a deep sigh as if she finally felt some solace from the circumstances. Finnley got up and disappeared into the other rooms, they could hear him searching and moving different things looking for something. 

“Where are we?” Kettu asked Odette and Seath. 

“I don't know,” Odette responded. 

“I think we are at the border of Nei,” Seath broke a bit, realizing that it meant that the last bit of Nei is gone. 

His mom and younger siblings were gone, he had no idea where his dad or his brother are and he had no home left. For however long he had been locked away he hadn't had time to think it over and he felt like it was all coming at once. Odette seemed to notice Seaths distress and leaned over, closing the space between them, grabbing onto his hand. 

From down the hallway, they heard the door creak as Finely stepped out of the last room. Coming down the hallway, he had several blankets in his hands and started handing them out to everyone. They were small, some children sizes and Finnley balled up a few so they could have pillows for the night. 

“We can't sleep in the beds?” Kettu asked Finnley, looking up at him as he knelt and set the blanket he made into a pillow down for him. 

“No, we can't,” It was a quick answer and from the sound of his voice, Seath could tell he didn't like what he saw in the rooms. 

“We are in Nei Finnley.” Kettu repeated, proud of the knowledge he gained. 

“I heard,” Finnley placed a blanket on top of Kettu “Time to go to bed for the night now though little man.”

They sat silently for a few moments while they waited for Kettu to fall asleep, Finnley's leaned his back against a chair. “You're from Nei arent you Seath?” 

Kettu let out a little snore and Seath replied in a low whisper “Yes, I was kidnapped from here. We were taken on the train cares to Liato, my dad, he was…..two cars down from me….... I never actually saw him get off.”

“You weren't kidnapped Seath you were “relocated for a better future”, Odette mocked the slogan of a center they were at.

Seath sat thinking for a moment while Finnley and Odette laughed “If Nei is destroyed and they got you guys from Puva Ceansri, is that where they are going next?”

“We were on the border when we were taken,” Finnley adjusted his back against the chair, he had a lamentable look on his face while he was thinking back to it. “We had come with our mother, she was trading.”

“My dad, mom, and I were at home, they did the same there that they did here,” Odette was holding back tears “They didn't end up on the train cars, they fought back and they killed them.”

Before anyone could say anything a soft clicking noise started to come through the walls. Growing with each passing second accompanied by loud footsteps, it crept closer and closer to the door. Seath watched as Finnley reached his hand down placing it on Kettus's mouth, his eyes shot open looking up at his older brother. Finnley raised his finger to his mouth telling him to be quiet. Next to Seath Odette leaned closer to him, shrinking herself to as small as she could. 

The young 14-year-old didn't know what was going on, as the hair raised on the back of his neck as the clock clicked past the door and was underneath the window right above him. A growl came around the corner of the house, interacting with the clicker, rustling of their feet on top of the dirt street came from them. They were replaced with low threatening growls, angry shrieks, and loud snarls. Seath could only tell one thing, these were large, angry creatures. Bodies started hitting each other as they slammed one another against the ground growing louder as they got closer to the house. Odette squeezed her hands into Seaths shirt as she let out a whimper, Finnley huddled himself on top of Kettu, shielding him from any danger that might come into the house. It seemed to go on forever, back and forth they would pummel each other as they sat in the darkness, that was until the noises were replaced with a guttural death rattle, and the sound of eating. None of them said anything as the gulping and gnawing noise continued through the rest of the night until dawn. 

As the sun was starting to rise, it ended, and a flood of relief came over Seath as he hear the noise of it retreating off as it had its fill. No one moved though for a while after it left until Finnley started shuffling items around. The fear and adrenaline had finally subsided and Seath was tired, worn out, and wanted to sleep. 

“We should go now,” Finnley was the first to say anything and it was blunt, matter-of-factly. 

It took several seconds for the younger members of the group to will themselves to move. Seath stood up and helped Odette up onto her feet while Finnley had to coax Kettu up. With Kettu standing Finnley started dashing around the house gathering different items and supplies. Odette started joining in finding two backpacks to shove different items into, one with food, the other with medical supplies, water bottles, and different flashlights. Luckily they were close to the border so they had different amenities than if they were deeper into the region. Rolling and tying the blankets, Finnley started attaching them to Odettes' back. 

“All good let's head out then,” Finnley said to them. 

“Where are we even going to go?” Odette asked both of them. 

The boys looked at each other, they had yet to even discuss it in a group since they left the relocation center. Seath knew he had to find Hemming though, if there was any chance he was alive he had to take it and find him, and then their dad. Finnley and Kettu wanted to find their mom, if they went back to Puva there was a good chance Odette would go with them. The thought of traveling North all by himself scared him and he would prefer to keep going with the group they had made. 

"You guys could come with me North," Seath looked between Finnley and Odette, doing his best sad face. 

Finnley rubbed his hand through the hair on the back of his head " I gotta find my mom, I already don't know where to start with that."

"My brother could help you with that though! We just have to head North towards Barmi, it's a good distance away but it will be worth it if my brother is alive. I know he will help you guys find your mom." 

Seath didn't know if his brother would help them, but he didn't know if his brother was alive or dead or wherever his dad went. But he did know he couldn't do it by himself, he needed Finnley, Odette, and even Kettu and he hoped they needed him. The older boy stared between Odette, who was now staring at the floor, and Seath, who was pleading with him on the inside. 

After a minute or two passed " Fine, let's go find your brother, but then he better help us. Kettu needs our mom, plus she'll kill me if something happens to him." 

Seath nodded and Odette smiled at him causing him to flush and feel hot everywhere. Finley took note of the situation and decided it was time to leave the dwelling, Kettu following behind him. Seath took a moment to flash a smile back to Odette but she had already started walking out the door. After last night, they didn't bother to shield anyone from the sight. Laying on the ground was the carcass of a half-shifted feral puma. With the daylight, they could see everything they had missed before. The dead shifters that had attempted to fight for their lives, blood was splattered onto the ground or the outside walls like graffiti. Shifters were sliced open or apart, and women were completely or half naked laying on the ground. Children and infants lay underneath or next to them. 

Seath stopped dead in his tracks, mouth opened starting at the sight. 

Is this how Barmi looks? Is this how our home looks? 

His eyes started growing wet as tears formed in his eyes as he thought about his mom and sibling still at home. Odette came over to him, grabbing onto his arm, he turned to look at her. A soft, caring smile crossed her face coaxing him to leave the scene, wiping his eyes, they trudged forward holding hands.

 


Submitted: November 24, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Jo Boz. All rights reserved.

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