Hey, all! I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write the next installment of this. I’ll try to be a little more on the ball with the next one. I had no idea it would be this hard to maintain my interest in a serial story… anyway, I hope you like it!
Mama’s got to be so strong.
I don’t know how she does it, how she can keep going, how she can run with my little brother on her back and the tears streaming down her face. I can’t hardly see, ‘cause my eyes are all blurry from the tears. I want to ask Mama if Pa’s all right, but I’m afraid to know the answer. So I just keep going, just keep running, like I ain’t never done nothing else. The forest seems to go on forever. Behind us we can hear sirens, and droning that means the Police have copters. Then I think it’s good the trees are so thick, ‘cause otherwise those copters would catch us. I’ve seen movies of this: of people running from the Police, and they never end well.
But I have to hope this won’t be like the warning movies.
We splash through a stream. Mama’s stopped crying now, and her mouth’s in a thin line, a hard line, that scares me a little. The sirens fade behind us, and we start going uphill, up and up and up until it feels like my legs might fall off. My little brother starts coughing, and we have to stop so Mama can let him sit against a tree and rest. She takes off her pack, her arms trembling, and collapses next to my little brother.
“Mama,” I say. But I don’t know what to say next.
“You’ll be fine, sweetie,” she murmurs. She opens up her pack and starts digging around inside, pulling out little bottles of pills. When she finds the right one, she takes a red pill out and slips it between my little brother’s lips. He swallows and his coughing stops, for now. Then she stuffs a few of the pill bottles into her pockets and hides the pack in a hollow in the tree. When she sees me looking, she smiles.
“We have to leave that behind, sweetie. I can’t carry your brother and the supplies.”
“But how will we survive?” I ask, and I feel so afraid.
“We’ll make it. Don’t you worry.”
Then she slumps back against the tree, I sit down, and we rest for a little while. We’re on a hill, or maybe the beginning of a mountain, and I can see the forest stretching away at our feet. In the distance there’s some flying dots, little dots that crisscross over the trees, and I know those are the copters. I count four of them. Why so many just for one family? Was–is–Pa that important? Or are they afraid other people might try to escape if they hear we done it?
Well, no matter. All that matters is that they’re chasing us, and they’ll catch us if we don’t move on.
I turn around. Mama’s head is resting on her chest, and tears are leaking down onto her shirt. It’s like something huge and heavy is crushing her, like a whole tree is resting across her shoulders. I want to start crying again, too, but I don’t. I swallow and I stand up, and put my hand on Mama’s shoulder.
“Come on,” I whisper. “Time to go.”
She looks up, and gives me a wan half-smile. “You’re right. Let’s go.” And she stands, wipes away the tears, puts my little brother on her back again. We’re walking away within a minute, still going uphill, and we don’t stop again until well after dark.
I dream of Pa during what little time I sleep that night. Mostly I don’t sleep, because we’re up in a tree and all the branches poke my back, but when I do, I see Pa smiling at me, then a bullet and some blood come flying out of his mouth and he’s dead. I wake up sweating and crying. Over and over I tell myself: you didn’t see him die, you didn’t see him die, you didn’t see him die, so maybe he’s still alive, maybe he hasn’t died. I can’t know for sure. Ain’t it likely that they’ll just put him in jail? But they might do things to his head. He might not remember us anymore when he gets out. He might even want to kill us, just like those Police do.
I shiver and shudder, and I want to ask Mama what will happen, but I don’t think she’ll be able to answer.
There’s mist everywhere when we leave the tree and set out again, and I think that’s good because it hides us. There’s so much mist you couldn’t see me if you stood ten feet away. It burns off after a few hours, but now I think we’ve left the police well behind. It’s hard tracking someone through a forest. The old woman who called herself an herbalist, she always said that to me. I think now maybe she was trying to tell me to run, back then, but maybe that’s thinking too much.
Mama don’t speak much that day. My little brother don’t cough much, either, but he seems to be getting weaker. I’m getting hungry, myself. I ain’t eaten since before we left, and I know I need food. I need drugs, too, and Mama gives me some of the pills she rescued. I feel a little better after that, but still hungry, and now I’m feeling thirsty, too.
We drink from a stream and it makes us sick for hours.
When we wake up, I can hear sirens again.
That’s when we keep running, really running now, so the tree limbs scratch our skin. I’m so tired I don’t think I can keep it up for very long, but somehow, I do. The whole world starts to blur together. It’s just trees and boulders and sirens in the background, branches scratching my face, stopping sometimes to throw up because of the bad water. We slow down. Mama’s streaming with sweat, and trembling, and she can barely hold my little brother anymore. Well, I think, now it’s my turn.
I don’t ask Mama if I can hold him. I just take him off her back and she gives me a grateful half-smile. We keep going, but it’s harder after that, with my little brother’s weight dragging me down. The moon’s coming out when we collapse in a little grove, unable to go any further. I can still hear those siren’s behind us. They ain’t getting closer yet, but it won’t be long. I reckon they may not catch us tonight, but we’re too tired to keep up this pace tomorrow. It’s only a matter of time.
That’s when someone speaks out of the woods.