Out Of Hiding (A short story by Tyler Scott Hess)
Five more minutes. I’ll be ready then. I’m waiting for my breakfast to settle. I look over to the dining room table to see two empty bowls. They were halfway filled with oatmeal when I woke up this morning, just as they have been every day for as long as we’ve been in here. I would normally wash the dishes, but today I’ve asked Caly to cover for me. After all, she’s not the one going out there. She’s old enough to handle chores now.
“Did you forget how the door works, Adélie?” she asks me from the couch she’s been lounging on since breakfast.
“Shut up,” I tell her. I know how the door works. Two weeks isn’t long enough to forget anything. It isn’t long enough to distract myself from my last vision of the outside world. A boy was torn from his mother’s grasp as she screamed obscenities at the gray caps, the state’s soldiers. Caly thinks she went to school with him two years ago, but doesn’t know his name. We call him Ebenezer in our prayers every night, but only because we don’t want to call him that boy. It makes us feel like he’s safer. Maybe it makes us feel safer too, having some connection with another helpless being. But today I have to find out for sure. I must know if we’re okay.
We’re running low on supplies. I would have stocked up if we had known when it would happen, but the threats had been going on for months. We held out hope they were only idle warnings, but we were wrong. We’ve been stuck inside ever since.
I put my hand to the doorknob. It’s cold. My knees have been aching since Tuesday. I think it’s been snowing outside, but we boarded up the windows back in November, so it’s hard to tell. Maybe I should put on my thicker winter coat. No, that one has a hole in it. I meant to take it in to get fixed. I’m stuck with this one. It’s mother’s. She left it for me on purpose, I think.
I put my ear up to the door. Are they waiting outside for us? Not likely. They would have broken down our door if they wanted us. But they don’t want us. They came for the boys. They came for more soldiers. All they think we’re good for is making them more soldiers. That’s why they took mother. She was too old to make more soldiers. So now I’m in charge. I’ve been responsible for my sister since I turned fifteen. Our father and brothers were taken before I ever met any of them. Caly and I only have each other.
But none of that matters today. We’re starving in here. Maybe the war has come our way, but I have to risk it or we’ll die in here anyway. Maybe I should wait one more day. No. The water isn’t flowing and our reserves are running low. We might not make it one more day if I wait.
I look back at Caly. She thinks this is a fantasy, like the ones she reads about in her storybooks. I wish that were true. But the jagged stripes on my back will never let me believe it.
I jiggle the handle. It’s still locked. Maybe I should keep it that way. I can’t. Caly needs me to be brave. She’s too young to take care of herself. Please, God, let the market be open today.
I unlock the dead bolt. Be brave. I tighten my coat and open the door. It’s not as cold as I thought it would be, but there’s six inches of snow on the lawn. The streets are paved, but that could have been done by the gray caps. It could be worse. The other side wouldn’t have bothered to pave our streets with anything but the blood of our neighbors.
I make my way south, looking back every few feet for foot soldiers. I’d be able to hear tanks if they were nearby. The market is seven blocks away, but it feels farther in the snow. I should have worn my old boots. They have better traction. Caly needs me. I have to go faster, but I don’t want to slip. What’s that noise?
I look over my left shoulder and across the street. It could be anything. A neighbor in hiding. A stray animal. A foot soldier. But I don’t see anything. That makes me suspicious, but if they wanted me dead I would have already hit the pavement. Five more blocks. I can do this.
No one is outside. That’s not typical, even for this time of year. It’s only been two weeks since the siege. Maybe I’m the first one out. I can’t be the first one out. I need the market to be open. We can’t go long without restoring our supplies. If only I had listened to mother when she spoke of such times. She would have been prepared. She would have known what to do.
I pass main street. Something is moving in the distance, but it’s going away from me. I can’t tell what it is. It’s too quiet. I have to hurry. If I came out too early, they’ll find me and lock me up. I wouldn’t mind the free meal, but my sister depends on me. Three more blocks. I have to make it.
My legs are tingling. There’s no place to shake them out in our home. The air is thin. I need something to eat. Please be open. I can see the market from here. Someone is standing outside. Is that gray cap? I can’t make out a uniform. He’s going inside. They’re open. They have to be open. Caly can’t make it on her own.
I hear a squeal. I whip my ahead around. Nothing. I have to get inside. The market is open. It has to be open. The lights are on. I open the door.
“Hello?” I ask.
“You shouldn’t be here.”