After Memory (part 1)
Heia’s feet shuffled against the dirt, kicking up dust into the air as she walked back into LakeLost. Coughing to herself, she glared out into the destruction that was little fixed. After all the time, not much had changed. The fires may have been gone, but the dank smell of ash, water, and sewage remained. The air and the lights, while on, were musky. Long gone was her home, and city that had housed her. Before her was a cesspool left by the government, for her to exist within as they fled to their better fixed, better protected cities.
Looking to Layla, who’s dark circles had grown permanent, Heia started towards their house, bags in hand. As their original home was lost, they had been assigned a new home. Getting on to the public bus, Heia tried to let her heart settle. She thought of Shawn, of the orphans who had never found their families, of the families who had never found their loved ones, of her parents who were still missing.
“Have you heard from Shawn?” Kori asked.
“No.” Heia glared at the ground. She thought of his sad smile and his voice as he told her that he was going away to join the military. She wanted to punch him more now, then she did when he told her. He had hugged her tight and told her he’d get back to her, but she did not believe that. She didn’t believe in anything anymore. He was doing it for her, for his family, she knew that. The military offered great benefits of protection, and now that the Catastrophe had begun, they needed it.
When they got to the new house, it was much too small for her family. The entered it anyway, seeing it spotted with furniture and belongings of those who had not survived. For a long moment, Heia was unsure of what to make of it. What if the family came back? What if they wanted their things? What if…
“We need to collect what we can sell, and what we can use.” Andre said as soon as he walked in. He placed his hand on her shoulder and squeezed. If the family had not come back yet, they were not returning.
“I hate this. This feels wrong.” Karla whispered.
“Its our life now.” Layla started into the house, headed straight for the kitchen, that probably held copious amounts of spoiled foods.
Heia started towards the bedrooms.
Heia walked down the street with the supplies she had looted from other empty houses. No one asked her where she got it, and paid her equal coin. They then went on with their business as if she had not seen her at all.
“You gave me three yesterday!” Someone yelled.
“Yesterday you gave us more.”
Heia kept her head down, when she heard a scream. She looked over and saw a little girl being grabbed by adults. No one jumped in to help her and when Heia went to run someone grabbed Heia to stop her.
“No,” someone told her.
“She’s a beggar and she’s been stealing from us all,” the man told Heia, as if the act was a kindness.
Heia watched as the little girl was dragged away, her heart sinking.
“Where are they taking her?”
“To someone who can take care of her.”
Heia doubted that was the case.
Heia smacked the man over the head, looking at his face as he crumpled. The Unwanted Guest fell to the ground in a heap, and Heia grabbed the little girl up into her arms. Unwanted Guests, were the name for them, people who collected the children who were not wanted, who were abandoned, and forgotten. Little kids who were like her and her siblings: orphans. They were Guests and they collected the Unwanted. What started as slang had caught on, and in time most people ignored their presence, but Heia could not.
With the little girl in her arms, Heia raced to her home and kicked the door down. She hurried to place the little girl with the others, getting them to learn her name as she was a part of their family again.
“Another? Heia!” Layla groaned as she walked into the room.
Heia had stollen her boss’s baby back. She had found a set of twins, and another little boy. With this little girl, they had five mouths to feed, but Heia did not plan on stopping any time soon.
“I can’t leave them. They have no one.” They never should have left the orphans to begin with. She’d had so many with her before, and the government said they’d take care of the kids. They’d promised.
Heia should have known better than to trust promises by the government. They were all politicians and all politicians were liars.
“We can’t keep doing this. We can’t feed ourselves.” Layla told her.
“No one followed you, right?” Andre asked instead.
The house was crowded and cramped. There were too many of them in the small house, and they were not making nearly the amount of money needed to keep them all fed. They’d need to steal more.
The three were about to start arguing when there was a knock at the door. They stood frozen as they heard Karla open the front door.
“Hold on… Let me get my older sister… Heia!” Karla shouted and Heia began to run. On one side of the frame was Karla, holding the door close to shut. Kori and Kony held knives on either side of the frame, hidden from view and ready to strike if necessary. Heia walked up, placing her hand on the door so it would not be moved as Karla stepped back. The military man on the other side, had his door in the doorway, keeping the door from shutting.
“How can I help you?” Heia shielded the room with her body and Karla stood by her, ready to help if necessary.
“We have gotten noise complaints and word about crying children. Our records say that no one under ten should be at this premises.” The man said trying to look in. “Could you let us—“
“You got a warrant? No?” Heia tried to shut the door. It would not budge.
“Heia!” Layla snapped. She stepped up and then got the man outside, tossing her hair over her shoulder. When she shut the door behind her, Heia looked to Kori and Kony, who nodded and went to round up the kids. Andre stood next to Heia with Karla. They watched the door, waiting for Layla to return. Her sister was beautiful, she could play the game to make them trust her.
Heia waited on baited breath, shifting her weight and ready to bolt the moment that she heard her sister scream. Kony whistled from behind, that the kids were secure, when Layla walked in with a giggle and shut the door.
“What do they want?” Heia asked, watching as Layla locked the door.
“For us to give the children back.” Layla said, ensuring the curtains were closed.
“No. We don’t know where they take them.”
“Somewhere safe.” Layla said the word but even her words did not convince Heia.
“I don’t believe that.” Heia’s gut told her otherwise. She believed in the feeling.
“They’ll be back tonight for the children.”
“Then we leave.”
“You said this place was too cramped. Then we find somewhere else?”
“Where? They won’t give us a new—“
“Across the ridge.” Kori said. All eyes turned to her. “What? Karla, Kony, and I found a way across.”
“What?” Andre asked.
“We haven’t been able to get home, but… It would be a better place. And, Layla you don’t understand. The Unwanted Guests are taking the children out of the city. We have to help them. The military is probably assisting them.”
“We don’t have the food.” Layla repeated.
“On the other side of the ridge we could find the food. If not, we can find things to trade for it.” Kori suggested. “And we can keep the kids safe. I don’t trust the Unwanted Guests. I don’t know what to say.”
“No. We are giving them back.” Layla shook her head, but Heia looked to Kori, and nodded. They’d leave even if Layla wanted to stay.
That night, when all the children were gathered, as were their supplies, Layla reluctantly followed them from the house down the streets and to the ridge. They crossed with Kori and Kony’s help and found a house to rest in for the night. The next day they began looking for a much larger place. They ended up stealing the manor of the former mayor. Once they were settled, they began a raiding schedule to collect more supplies and more things to sell.