I should have known not to call it home, should have known that doing so would allow it to be taken from us. But I’m only fourteen, and Mama hasn’t taught me how to defend myself, let alone my whole family.
That will change after today.
The sun is heavy, and so are my eyelids. But I walk anyway, stumbling really, since my feet are heavy, too. My boots absorb the heat like an iron skillet, and the dirt inside them turns moist between my toes. It’s been three days since we left, three says since the strangers forced us from the only place we’ve ever called home. It was the first time I ever made eye contact with a gun, me and the double barrel in a stare-down. Mama went hysterical.
In that moment I thought was the end, Mama fell to her knees, between me and the shotgun. She cried until the woman with ratty hair and crazy eyes shoved her aside. That was when they found our white chickens, and Mama says those white chickens saved my life. And because Mama wouldn’t put up a fight, they let us go. Made us leave everything behind.
Just like that. Everything we called home, gone.
Mama being too passive to put up a fight sickens me. That house was the only place Hank and Rose ever knew, and the only place with walls I ever knew. It was small and lacking, but it was ours. And so were the chickens.
It was those thoughts that made me lose it on the woman with the gun. I grasped the barrel of the shotgun with both hands when she was distracted, but she kicked me in the stomach, knocking the wind from me. I fell into Mama, and Mama’s arms imprisoned me as I screamed at the beasts. The Vultures.
The rabid woman just laughed, like I was a joke. In two years, maybe one, I wouldn’t be. Maybe I’ll even be stronger than Mama by then. I’m determined to be.
Now we are journeying through the mountains, not a single possession with us. Mama and I take turns carrying Hank, and sometimes my arms tingle until I feel nothing at all. Rose cries a lot, and so does Mama. She tries hiding it, but I know the sound well.
I’m so much better at hiding it. I don’t sniffle like her, or blubber like Rose.
“We’re almost there,” Mama says. I almost jump, even though her voice is soft. Hank was asleep at her shoulder, but now he stirs. It’s the first any of us have spoken in hours. She’s talked about the Sea of Yellow ever since I was little, about the place she and Grandpa fled to many years before, when all Hell broke loose on the civilized world—a world I will never know anything about, if Mama has it her way.
Jennie is a published author of paranormal fiction, a lover of fairy tales, and an avid supporter of the Oxford comma.