Aaron looked down at his hands, “I couldn’t sleep that night so I got up and went to the kitchen to get some water. When I looked out the window I saw Philip and Hiram talking to Mother Cable on the patio. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but when they were done the two men put their axes up on their shoulders and walked straight out of town, in the same direction as Caleb. I was just a little kid, but even I knew that you didn’t go chopping wood at night.”
The boy looked up at me, his eye pleading, “I was only eleven. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do.”
“It’s okay son, there was nothing you could do.” I reached out and put my hand on his shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze for reassurance.
“I stayed up all night, watching and waiting, hoping I would see them come back with an arm full of wood. They never did. I dozed off at one point but woke up when I heard talking outside. The sun wasn’t quite up, but there was light in the sky when I peeked out the window. Philip and Hiram were back, standing at the bottom of the steps before Mother Cables home. They were dragging something behind them. I couldn’t make it out, but I kept watching, trying to hear what they were saying. Mother Cable came out and whispered something to them and they followed her into the house. That was when I saw it. A hand had flopped out from under the blanket on top of whatever they were dragging. The light from inside her house made it easy to see and there was blood on it.”
Aaron paused and took a deep breath before continuing, “I looked up in time to see Philip and Hiram standing inside the doorway and they both had blood on their clothes.” He looked up at me, tears falling from his eyes, “they killed them. They killed them with axes all because they wanted to leave!”
Chloe moved away from the door practically running to Aaron to wrap her arms around him. The teenager broke down in her arms while I got up to take her position by the door. Stephanie tried to offer some words of comfort, but they were lost amongst his tears. Life after the collapse was brutal and forced people to become stronger or they died, but what this boy had endured in his short life was monstrous. I found myself wanting to burn this little town to the ground with Mother Cable and her henchmen locked inside.
Stephanie came to me and held my arm in her hands, “these people are worse than animals. We have to do something.” Her voice was filled with rage, and I didn’t doubt for a second that she was entertaining the same pyrotechnic thoughts as my own.
“I know, I know.” My mind raced, searching for answers, “the problem is anything we do here leaves us with a whole lot of kids to take care of. There are too many for us to simply sneak off with and we don’t know how many of them may be too well indoctrinated by that psychopath and wouldn’t be willing to leave anyways.”
“What if we just kill her and her enforcers and let the rest decide what they want to do for themselves?”
“I thought of that. It may work, but for whatever that woman does wrong she has managed to keep these kids alive for more than a decade. Would they make it another year without her?” I wasn’t so sure that they would. They were a commune of sorts and if enough of the wrong people left they wouldn’t have the skills to survive on their own, especially if they decided to stay in that rot infested town.
“I know who’ll leave if you’ll take us,” Aaron and Chloe were standing, hand in hand, looking at us. “We want to leave and we know some others who will come with us, but we would need your help. Most of us have never been more than an hours walk outside of the lake bed. We only know what we’ve heard and we couldn’t tell you if it was even true. We don’t know where we want to go or what we’ll do when we get there, but we can’t stay here any longer.” Aaron’s words were firm, his stance strong. He was a man before his years and I knew he would leave with or without us.
“Mother Cable is getting worse,” Chloe’s quietly feminine voice was the perfect accompaniment to Aaron’s. “We heard her rant when she was speaking to you. The outbursts used to be rare, but they are becoming more and more regular. She’s going crazy and one of these days she’ll end up taking all of us with her.”
“What about the others? The ones who don’t want to leave? Are you willing to leave them here with her?” Stephanie’s voice was hard. She wanted them to understand the ramifications of their decision.
Aaron swallowed hard, “most of the young ones will come with us and the older ones can make up their own minds and live with the consequences.”
“How many will want to leave exactly?” I asked.
Aaron and Chloe looked at each other, “Well there’s us, Mark and Rebecca…”
“Thad, Nathan and Hannah will want to come.”
“And the little ones make eight more for sure, so about fifteen.” Aaron paused for a second, his brow furrowed, “I think we could persuade maybe three or four more of the older kids to come along as well if we had a day or two to talk with them.”
“How many people would we be leaving behind exactly if you convinced those three or four to join us?” I was starting to think my original plan to sneak out of town under the cover of darkness was being shot all to hell.
“Well that would leave maybe ten people plus Mother Cable.” Aaron’s estimate had to be at least half of the town. What the hell had I gotten myself into here?