Last week, I wrote a piece of flash fiction in Writespiration #55, about a city in which the adults were kidnapped by Hunters. Several of you asked me to finish the story, something which blew me away I was so shocked. But I’ve written on. I decided to name the story Adultland. If you would like to read Part I, it’s only short and you can do so here. Or here, where I will collate everything I write. I can only apologise that part II is so long, I’m currently a plotter writing in a panster world…So I don’t know where this story will end up, or how long it will be I have never ‘just written’ without a plan or a synopsis so if this ends badly, be kind! Here goes an adventure into the unknown… Hope you enjoy the ride.
The flat door was open, just a crack. Like someone forgot to shut it in a rush. I froze. Doors were never left open, not now. It was careless; an open invitation to Hunters.
Blood hammered in my ears like the thud of a pneumatic drill. My heart raced against my rib cage and the twist, twist, twinge of adrenaline kicked round my stomach. They couldn’t have been taken. Not yet. There was still the best part of a week before the Hunters were due to come back. I refused to believe they were gone, they just couldn’t be, I hadn’t said goodbye. This must be what the other children had felt like over the last year. A constant fever pitch of anxiety and paranoia, never knowing when their last kiss goodnight would be.
I pushed open the door. They were sat in silence on opposite sofas, staring into space. I shut my eyes let my head drop and expelled the breath I’d been holding. The tension oozed out of my shoulders leaving the smallest trace of an ache; reminding me that although they hadn’t been taken tonight, they would be eventually.
Mum was first to speak, “Rita, and John…” was all she could muster before tears spilled onto her cheeks.
I nodded, “I know, mum. I know.”
I wished more than anything it hadn’t happened, that this time we’d managed to stop them. But we hadn’t. There was nothing I could say to make their pain disappear. That’s what parents were meant to do, make your pain disappear. I wondered when the roles had reversed.
The air in the living room was heavy. Like an awful truth lingered making it taste like the bitter after bite of coffee. Tears stung the backs of my eyes. I shook them away. I wouldn’t let my parents see me cry. I had to be strong. I pushed the window open and let the cool breeze of early winter in. It worked, my tears retreated.
I sat on her sofa next to mum, “I’m so sor…” she held her hand up to stop me. Being sorry was a waste of time. She knew we had tried to save them. We’d tried to save all of them.
“Kirsty and Liam are science geniuses, Mum. They are still working in the school lab on an anti-sleeper drug to counteract the pink fog. Last I heard they were real close too.”
Dad sat up straight, an almost smile skirted the corner of his eyes. No body actually smiled any more. There had been so little success, so few break-throughs there never seemed to be much to smile about.
“That’s good, Jan, isn’t it?” he nodded, urging her to speak, “we just need one kid to witness the attack. Then we will have some clues, a direction. You know?”
Mum stiffened, her lip wrinkled into a pout.
“Bit late for that, Graham.”
I winced. I hated to admit it but, mum had a point. It was too late to save them. Even if they had found an anti-sleeper drug there was no guarantee it would even work. And who were we going to test it on? My jaw hardened. We’d formed a Council of Children to fight the Hunters and save our parents. But we were failing. Too young, too naïve and too afraid to save anyone. I sunk into the back of the sofa and pawed at my temples.
Mum’s bony spine curved dragging her shoulders into a hunch. I’d always thought it would be dad that lost hope, not mum. But she looked like a shell. She was a young mother and I’d been lucky enough to inherit her supple skin and sparkling eyes. But her body was limp now. Her beauty drowned by haggard skin and dull eyes.
I remembered exactly when she lost hope. It was the morning Sarah, my childhood friend, ran into our flat and flung herself into mum’s arms. Sarah’s mother was mum’s best friend.
“They’re gone, Jan,” she shrieked clawing her chest, “they took mummy.”
Sarah crumpled into mum’s embrace. I had to watch as my mother and oldest friend fell to the floor broken and sobbing. I remember the feeling, the testing in my heart as I stood helpless. That was the moment the sparkle was snuffed out of mum. Extinguished, like the destruction of a species.
She was just a ghost of hope once felt now. My heart ached because even though she was still here, it felt like she’d already died. I wanted to be angry, to feel the burn of resentment because she’d given up, but instead I just longed for a cuddle from my mummy.
“It’s a positive, Jan. I’m telling you. I just know we’re close to something,” dad said, reaching for her. She pulled away.
Dad surprised me. Mum had always been in charge. I’d always thought that made him weak. But maybe he just wanted a peaceful life. Because in the face of terror it was dad who was painting himself with the colours of valour. He was becoming the unlikely hero. I smiled. He was becoming my hero.
The days blurred into a haze of broken sleep and hours in the science lab with Kirsty and Liam. Mum just sat in the same position on the sofa. Silent. Lost.
“I think if we add a little more adrenaline, a pinch more caffeine and perhaps some synthesised endorphins we might just have a strong enough solution to counteract the gas.” Kirsty beamed as she mixed the final components Liam was passing her. She held up the solution and grinned.
“We did it.”
Dad clapped and bowed at her achievement, she giggled and curtsied. It was sweet, and for the first time in weeks I cracked a smile. Kirsty danced around the lab desks. Liam rolled his eyes and then smirked shuffling his feet behind Kirsty and pushing her into a conga. Dad joined in.
I’d forgotten the sound of laughter. All I’d heard for weeks was nervous ‘ha-ha’s’ and broken sobs.
“Corr, it is a bit weird though,” Liam said, breaking up the conga.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“The anti-sleeper’s started to shimmer.”
“Well, and I know a couple of others that saw this too but, before I fell asleep the night my parents were taken, I remember seeing a pink mist, it sort of shimmered. Just like that,” he said, pointing at the vial.
On the morning of the last day The Council of Children called my parents to a meeting. Mum refused to leave the flat so dad went alone.
We entered the disused city council building. Despite several taking ownership a couple months ago For the Council of Children, the best part of a years neglect made it looked like a war survivor. Bits of paper were strewn across the floor, doors crooked and snapped off hinges. Bricks and plaster crumbled and left abandoned in the middle of the floor. But, it was the faint hint of mold that traced the corridors that worried me. That was the scent of decay. It convinced me we weren’t going to be able to survive alone.
“Graham,” the child sitting in the chairman’s seat began, “we of course, hope that Kirsty’s serum works and that you will be saved from the fate of the Hunters…” he paused and shifted in his seat at the top of the table. He gulped at the air as if tasting sour words, “But, should the serum fail, and you are taken, we need to ensure counter measures are in place.”
The chairman, Harry, was twelve. Twelve. A baby, it wasn’t right that he sounded so grown up. He shouldn’t have to use words like ‘counter measures’ or be the chair of a committee of orphaned children. If his falter, or the incongruence of his age to words showed the pressure he felt, then tomorrow would be so much worst. He wouldn’t just be the chair of a committee, he would be the leader of an entire city of Orphans.
“How can I help?” dad said.
Harry blinked and nodded to the boy on his left who was holding a needle. I studied Harry for little longer. He was odd looking for a young boy. Mostly, it was his eyes that made me uneasy. His irises were too big for the whites of his eyes. He sort of ogled at everything like he knew too much. I felt like he could see right through me. I shuddered.
“Er…what are you doing?” I said, barging in front of my dad as the boy brandished the needle.
“It’s ok, Lou.” Dad put an arm across my chest stopping me from standing in front of him.
“This is a microchip,” the boy with the needle said, handing it to dad, “it activates as soon as it’s embedded in the skin.”
The boy turned to face me, cocking his eyebrow, and pulling his lips tight, “we will be able to trace the location of your parents.”
“Oh. Ok. Fine. Good idea.”
I retreated and glanced at Harry. He pulled his hands through his hair, and rubbed his neck. He really was odd for a twelve year old. My eyes narrowed as I stared at him. I couldn’t quite place what it was about him that felt wrong. I shrugged it off. He was probably just messed up like the rest of the orphaned kids.
“We should have thought of this sooner,” I said to needle boy.
“What if the Hunters find it and remove it before they even get dad out of the city for godsake? We only get one shot at this now.”
The boy glared at me but stayed silent. A worm wriggled in my stomach. I shouldn’t have snapped. It wasn’t his fault he’d only just thought of it. I should just be grateful.
He took dads arm and pushed his sleeve up, “there is one other benefit, but…” he looked at me and pulled out a second needle.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m not certain it will work. And I don’t know what impact Kirsty’s anti-sleeper will have on the effectiveness either.”
I rubbed hard at my forehead I wanted to pull at my face and shout. But it wouldn’t do any good. Why couldn’t anything ever be simple? My face felt wrinkled. Sixteen was far too young to have wrinkles and I didn’t want to end up like mum.
“Go on…” I said, through gritted teeth.
“It’s a second chip, which we implant into your arm. I found the pair of them in the security firm building on Tower Street. I think it will enable one way communication.”
“Only one way?” I snorted.
“Only one way,” the boy nodded, “it’s the best we can do. I’m putting the communications transistor into your dads arm. So he will be able to get messages to you,” he turned to my dad, “Graham, we want as much information about where you are, how you got there, any security and the Hunters. Anything you can give us that will help us get you back.”
“Assuming they’re still alive you mean,” Harry mumbled.
Dad winced, his face fell. Another piece of hope stripped from him. My head snapped in Harry’s direction. How dare he. His eyes were wide, he cupped his hand to his mouth. My chest tightened I wanted to fly across the table and punch him.
“They’re still alive, Lou…Of course they are…. They all are.” His stuttered words were too late. Even if he removed the knife from dad’s back, the wound was still there.
Harry’s brow was strained, furrowed and lined like mine. Only, I wasn’t convinced it was for the same reasons.
“Ok,” I nodded, to the boy, “do it.” And I held out my arm.
Gracey-Mae came to say goodbye. It was sweet. But she wasn’t really there for my parents. It was an act of solidarity for me and I was grateful. She told me she was there when I needed her and that she would find me first thing tomorrow.
There were no goodbye tears. We had all run dry through months of crying. Weeping for stolen friends and loved ones and for our inability to defend ourselves. Mostly, I cried in fear of losing hope.
But tonight there was a plan. A tiny flame of opportunity ignited… a renewed purpose. I could feel the change in air as the news spread through the city. The anticipation buzzed and popped on my skin. This evening, in the tiny vial of anti-sleeper that pressed against my thigh in my pocket, there was hope; a possibility of rescue and the potential to reunite an entire city of families.
The chip had slipped through the needle and embedded in my arm like it had always been a part of my muscle. The only evidence of its existence a tiny red dot that looked more like an unimposing bug bite.
I kissed my parents. Dad placed a soft peck on my forehead and held me tight. My throat was thick with grief. Even if I’d wanted to say good bye I couldn’t.
“I’m so proud of you LouLou, whatever happens, you protect this city. If you don’t find us in a couple of weeks, get the kids out. Move to a different city, find the authorities. Do whatever you have to, but Harry…” he paused.
Adrenaline flickered in my stomach. I wanted him to say something to confirm my suspicions. To tell me my gut was right. That he felt it too.
“He’s not old enough to lead a city of children.”
My stomach wilted, I must be wrong. Paranoia from the constant anxiety of being watched, of waiting for my parents’ to be taken must have been taking its toll. I decided to give Harry another chance. If my dad trusted him, he must be ok.
I nodded into dad’s chest, clinging on to him with desperate fingers. I wanted to stay there. Embraced in his arms. I wanted him to tell me it was all going to be ok. But I couldn’t stay there. And it wasn’t going to be ok.
My chest was so heavy I could barely catch a breath. He let me hang on for a few minutes longer. I needed to be strong, but I wanted let out the gut wrenching hysteria that was crawling through my insides like a virus. I wanted to stamp my foot and throw a childish tantrum. I couldn’t be alone or an orphan. I wasn’t ready to be responsible for an entire city of children. I needed my parents. I needed him, my hero.
“It’s time, Lou.”
He peeled my hands off him. We both stood staring at each other. I wouldn’t say it. I couldn’t. Part of me still desperate it wasn’t really goodbye.
“I love you, Lou.”
The lump in my throat was so hard it was agonising, I managed to choke an “I love you too, dad,” before sprinting from the flat. If I’d stayed a minute longer the Hunters would have had to prize my leeched like body off my parents.
I leaned against the flats wall outside, breathing heavily. I shook away the thoughts of my parents alone upstairs just waiting for their fate. I felt for the vial and stared at the contents.
It still was shimmering.
I necked it. It tasted sweet in my mouth but, as it slipped down my throat it burnt. My arm where the microchip sat tingled. I wondered which would fail; the chip, or the anti-sleeper.
I lost count of the circuits of the flat I did. Minutes drifted into hours and as the first specks of sunlight kissed the horizon I thought the Hunters wouldn’t come. Butterflies danced on delicate bubbles around my stomach. Maybe the Hunters had changed their minds. They didn’t need my parents. They had taken enough.
A soft pink vapor drifted across the tarmac in front of the flat. It was beautiful. It acted like clouds, billowing and fluffy. It shimmered in the dawn light, just like they said it would. I found myself wandering towards it. I wanted to touch it. It was calling me, singing in time with the chirps of morning’s first birds.
I was wrong. My parents weren’t special and they hadn’t been forgotten. The hunters were here. And they had come to take them.