The Children

The Children

A Story by Lady Celery
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Two siblings are faced with a tough choice, and don't have long to make a decision.

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    “We can’t keep going like this,” Jerome said in a voice that was barely above a whisper. “You know we can’t.”
    His face was so solemn as he gazed into the small campfire that he no longer looked like a fifteen year-old boy, but rather a forty year-old man. Sam stared at him intently, concentrated on his features as he spoke. Half of her knew what he was about to say next, but the other half of her hoped to god that he wouldn’t. Had she been able to look at herself, Sam would have noticed the same signs of age and maturity on her own face, despite her being three years his junior.
    They both sat quietly for a moment, feeling the tense air between them and listening to the crackling wood on the fire. Everything else seemed to join in on their silence; the tall trees that surrounded them, the night sky full of clouds and stars, the ground covered in snow. The world was silent in a way that was not peaceful, but empty.
    “I won’t do it,” Sam finally said.
    “You have to.”
    “I won’t.”
    “Sam…” Jerome finally turned his focus towards her. Sam frowned at him intensely, her eyes burning into his as they locked on to each other. He seemed so tired, and was clearly losing his patience. He was going to be headstrong about this. But so was she.
    “He’s not going to get better,” Jerome continued.
    “I won’t just leave him to die.”
    “It’s going to keep getting colder every day from now on, and trying to take him with us is slowing us down. If we don’t leave him behind, we’ll all die.”
    “But that’s not what Mom would’ve-“
    “If Mom were still here, she would do the same thing.”
    “No she wouldn’t! She would never give up on any of us. How would you feel if it was you being abandoned?”
    “I’d want you to keep going without me. I don’t want you being dragged down for a lost cause.”
    “He’s not a lost cause,” Sam felt some of the fire in her eyes being doused by the water that was taking its place. “He could still get better, you don’t know for sure that he won’t.”
    “Look at him.”
    Sam didn’t want to, but Jerome persisted. “Go on, do it,” he said.
    Next to the fire, wrapped up in a sleeping bag and bundled in a thick coat, scarf, and beanie, lay her younger brother. He looked ghastly pale, his skin nearly blending in with the snow that coated the ground. He was asleep, but even when he was awake he still seemed to be asleep. If Sam moved closer to him, she would have heard his labored, wheezy breaths over the sounds the campfire made. She hadn’t wanted to look at him, but now she could not tear her eyes away. The tears began to roll down her cheeks, but she wiped them away with a frustrated swipe of her arm and turned back to Jerome.
    His eyes still looked tired, but they were also sympathetic. And sad.
    “Can’t we just take him a little further? Just in case?” Sam pleaded.
    Jerome sighed. “No. You know I don’t like having to do this. I didn’t want to have to make this decision. But it’s a rough world out there. There’s not even a guarantee that if we make it far enough south we’ll even live. I don’t know what kinds of people we’ll find, or if there will be people at all. But if we’re gonna stand a chance at all, we have to make tough calls like this one. There’s no way around it, you know? We’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do. And that’s that.” He wasn’t looking at Sam anymore; his gaze had returned to the fire.
    Sam let out a shaky breath, not even realizing that she had been holding it in. She pursed her lips and thought about what her brother told her. Deep down, she knew that he was right. But she also knew that she would never forgive herself for leaving Daniel behind like he was some piece of garbage. He deserved better than freezing to death alone in the forest somewhere. He was only eight. She wished he hadn’t been born. In fact, she wished that none of them had been born.
    Her mother used to tell her stories about the way the world was before it crumbled. Back when there was electricity and cars still ran and cities were full of people. Before, as she put it, everything turned to s**t. But then a small smile would creep upon her face and she would say, “It wasn’t all great before, but it’s a hell of a lot worse now.”
    Thoughts of her mother were painful. She had died two weeks ago, apparently from whatever sickness was taking Daniel. He had still been healthy when she went. She wished her mother was there to help now more than ever. Sam tried to channel her mother’s wisdom as often as she could, but she couldn’t always use it to make sense of the world. Especially not now.
    Sam didn’t know what to do, but at the same time, she did know. Because what her mother wanted most was for her children to have a better future, or at the very least, a chance for one. Not to die in that frozen hell-scape. And as Jerome said, even if they didn’t stand a chance, they still had to try.
    The thoughts danced around Sam’s head for quite some time. Clearly Jerome was lost in thought as well, as he was still sitting like a statue and looking into the fire. She knew it wasn’t easy for either of them. They hadn’t asked for any of it, but it was their burden to bear nonetheless.
    “What will he think?” she suddenly asked aloud.
    “Who?” Jerome responded.
    “When Daniel wakes up tomorrow, and we’re gone. What do you think he’ll be thinking?”
    “Maybe we’ll be lucky and he won’t wake up. He doesn’t have much longer, anyway.”
    “He’s lasted longer than Mom did.”
    “Yeah, but now he looks the way she did in her last days.”
    Sam put her face in her hands and groaned. “I’ve never felt so horrible in all my life.”
    “I know. Me neither. I wish it never came to this.”
    “So… We’ll just leave when the sun comes up?”
    “Yup.”
    “And just… leave him. With nothing.”
    “Yeah.”
    Sam pursed her lips again. “What if we… I mean, he’s going to die either way. You were right about that. But what if we just did it ourselves? We could put him out of his misery.”
    “F**k, I really don’t want to do that.”
    “It would be faster for him.”
    “But one of us would have to do it. And the thing is we don’t have to. Nature will take its course, probably faster than we think.”
    “But what if it takes longer than we think?”
    “It won’t.”
    “I’d rather not leave that up to chance.”
    “Fine. Then you can do it yourself, because I don’t want to.”
    “I don’t want to do it,” Sam said, trying to swallow her anger. “I don’t want to leave him behind, either. But we’re not doing these things because we want to.”
    “I know, I’m sorry. This is just… F**k.”
     “I know.”
    There was more silence between them before Jerome spoke again.
    “Let’s just go to sleep, okay? We’ll see what he looks like in the morning and make a decision.”
    Sam nodded solemnly. Her throat felt tight and she was sure if she uttered another word she would burst into tears.
    And so the two children crawled into their sleeping bags, but neither slept for a long time. They laid there, their eyes wide open as they stared into the darkness and the trees that surrounded them.
    Eventually sleep found them, and in the morning they quietly packed up their things. They decided not to decide, choosing instead to trudge off into the woods and put the whole situation behind them.
    Sam let Jerome get a head start, staying behind just a moment to say farewell to Daniel. Even if he was asleep, she wanted him to know that she loved him. She loved him very, very much, and was so sorry for what she had to do.
    Jerome didn’t even seem to notice that he started walking without her, nor did he notice when she caught up. They made their way south and never turned back.

   

© 2017 Lady Celery


Author's Note

Lady Celery
Once again, I'm posting a first draft. It's genuinely terrifying to post something on here if I have not edited it at all, but I also find that this is the most useful time to start receiving feedback and getting first impressions--you're getting my raw writing, and I want your raw opinions. So please, come at me with your constructive criticism! Especially regarding the characterization in this story.

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Added on February 10, 2017
Last Updated on February 10, 2017
Tags: post-apocalypse, post-apocalyptic, family

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Lady Celery
Lady Celery

albuquerque, NM



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