Sorry, realized that the other post was wayyyy too long, so I split it in half and made two. The first part of this is the post right before.
Only one bulb hung from the ceiling, giving light to the small space. She didn’t like it and she wanted out but she knew that if she left she would get in trouble. She had already gotten yelled at for complaining, she didn’t want to be yelled at again.
For awhile, they stayed there with nothing happening. Then, the ground shook and dirt fell from the ceiling. Her brother screamed and began to whimper again. Katie shushed him, but he didn’t listen. “Mama!” he cried, “Mama.” Giving up, Katie simply tried to keep herself from joining him.
It wasn’t even half an hour after their parents had left that a clamor started close outside the cellar. Shouts, gunshots, and then screams echoed in the air around them. Seeping in through the door over head, the sounds were muffled but no less frightening. They stopped almost as soon as they began and a new sound took their place: the creaking of metal. Dirt showered around them again and Katie covered Nathan’s mouth while he screamed and she held back tears. The noises only lasted for a couple of hours, stopping and then starting again, but by then the strange laughter and shouts of terror had driven the children to great bouts of tears.
They stayed where they were until late in the afternoon. By this time, all noises from above had ceased and Katie’s brother had fallen asleep. Dirt crunched over head and Katie jumped to her feet. A hiccupped sob escaped her before the chains rattled and the door opened to reveal the tear stained face of Mason, the neighbor boy. He gazed at Nathan’s exhausted form and shuttered, whipping at the tears. He turned his attention to Katie and whispered, “Can you lift him up to me?”
Katie sniffled and nodded. He wasn’t who she had hoped would come for them but at the moment she wasn’t going to complain. She wrapped her arms around Nathan and stood. He sagged in her grip and she grunted. Squeezing her eyes tight, she shifted her grasp to keep from dropping him. Mom and Dad told her to take care of him and she would. Slowly she made it over to the ladder and heaved Nathan up. His head barely cleared her shoulders and he shifted with a snort.
Leaning through the opening as far as he could, Mason clasped Nathan under his arms and lifted him the rest of the way out of the cellar. They both disappeared from Katie’s view as he set Nathan on the ground. Returning to sight, he reached down to help Katie up the ladder. Once above ground, Katie dove into the boy’s arms and wept into his neck. Gasping, he pulled her closer and let his own silent tears fall into her hair.
They remained like this for sometime, moonlight illuminating their crouched forms. Katie saw the people laying on the ground, dead, over his shoulder and wept harder. She tried to run from his arms, “Mom!”
Mason didn’t let her go. “I know,” he whispered, “I know. She’s gone, they’re all gone. They killed them.” Even at her young age, Katie knew what he meant. Together, they cried for those they had loved and lost. In that moment, Mason, the thirteen year old from next door, became more than just that. He had just become a comforter and a protector, much older than his years, if for only a short time.
Nathan snorted again, rolling on his side and curling up into a ball. Hearing him, Mason pulled away from Katie, “Come on, we should go inside.” He picked up Nathan, who was now sucking his thumb, and began to walk around to the front of the house. Katie stumbled behind him, blinking away her tears. Other than the sleeping sounds Nathan made and the crickets chirping, nothing else could be heard. Was no one else still alive?
Inside the house, Mason laid the still sleeping Nathan on the couch. Then he sat down in the single chair next to the couch. It had been Daddy’s chair. Katie let out a sob and crawled into Mason’s lap. There, they cried themselves to sleep.
The following morning, Katie awoke to find Mason missing. Clunking noises lead her to find him in the kitchen, banging through cupboards. Unable to find what he looked for, he kicked the counter and yelled. Collapsing on the ground, he kept on screaming, head tilted back. Startled awake, Nathan began to cry in the living room. Frightened, Katie silently moved onto the tiled floor. Slowly she placed her hand on his shoulder.
“What?” Mason shouted, jerking his head around to see her. Face ablaze, he glared at her until tears leaked from her eyes uncontrollably. His face softened with remorse, “I’m sorry, Katie. I didn’t know it was you,” he whispered. He tried to hug her but she stepped back, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, Katie. I really am,” he begged her to understand, “I just- I just couldn’t,” he sighed, “I just couldn’t find the peanut butter.”
Gasping through her tears, Katie stared at Mason’s face. He was sorry, she knew, but she couldn’t stop crying. Turning, she pointed to the cupboard above her head, where she couldn’t reach. “There,” she choked out.
Mason looked from Katie to the cupboard. Standing, he reached out and opened it. The peanut butter sat right there on the shelf. Shoulders down, Mason looked at the floor and sighed, pinching his eyes closed. Slowly he removed the peanut butter and set it on the counter. A little while later, after Mason had her and Nathan wash off the dirt from the cellar, all three of them sat at the dining room table eating the one dish Mason knew how to make: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It wasn’t what she usually ate for breakfast but Katie refrained from mentioning it.
When Nathan finished, he pushed away his plate and climbed from his chair. He walked over to Mason and tugged his sleeve. “Wiggles.”
Mason looked down at him, his face still swollen. “What?”
“Wiggles!” Nathan repeated, bouncing on his toes.
Katie sighed, “He wants to watch the Wiggles. Its his favorite, he watches it every morning.”
“Oh.” Mason pushed out his chair.
As soon as he saw that he was going to get his wish, Nathan took off, running for the living room and shouting, “Wiggles,” as loud as he could.
About lunch time, they heard trucks driving around outside. Mason rushed to the window in the front room with Katie close behind. Nathan was too involved in his show to even be curious.
The trucks parked in the middle of the street and the people in them hopped out and looked around. Katie was filled with fear at the sight of them but Mason began to smile. “They’re Christians, Katie,” he said in excitement.
Katie hardly heard him. Her eyes had landed on the bodies in the street and in the yards. The one at the end of the driveway looked like Dad. She ran for the door forgetting all about the people in the trucks. Mason yelled after her as she opened the door.
Across the yard Katie ran, as fast as her legs would take her. Mason’s shouts at the door did not deter her. Reaching the body, she saw that it was her Dad. Sinking to her knees, she sobbed and buried her head in his bloody shirt. “Daddy!” she wailed, “Daddy!”
Arms Katie did not know wrapped around her waist and tried to lift her away. “No!” she screamed, flailing her fists and jerking her body. “No, put me down!”
Mason appeared in front of her and grabbed her hands. “Katie, stop! You have to stop,” he said. With a sob, Katie fell limp and the arms released her to Mason. “I know,” he whispered once more, “I know, Katie.”
Katie began to shake her head. No, no he did not understand. How could he? But then she remembered, he did. He knew her pain because he had lost his parents too. She cried harder, this time grateful that someone could help hold her pain. Maybe later she would cry with him for his parents.
By night fall, all of the town’s children were piled into the trucks that had come. Katie, Nathan, and Mason huddled together, a blanket wrapped around them to ward off the cold. Mason noticed a girl about Katie’s age sitting in the bed of the truck with them. On her lap, she held a baby. She had wrapped the baby in her blanket. “Come here,” Mason whispered, lifting a corner of their blanket for her. She eyed him warily for a moment but then saw Nathan and Katie huddled at his sides. She scooted closer while Mason shifted Nathan onto his lap, making more room. “What’s your name?” Mason asked.
“Sarah.” Her teeth chattered. Nodding to the baby, she added “And this is Tyson.”
Mason smiled, “Well Sarah, I’m Mason, and this is Katie and her brother Nathan.” The girls smiled shyly at each other, “Hi,” they said at the same time.
Drawn together by their common loses and their common responsibilities as protective sisters, the two girls soon became friends. In the years to come they did everything together. They played together, bossed their brothers together, and ignored Mason together when he was pretending to be their older brother; a role he believed that he was required to fill. They were still friends years later when Katie decided to visit her old home, though Sarah had not agreed to accompany her. Nathan hadn’t agreed either and Katie had not bothered to ask Mason. He would have tried to lock her up somewhere.
None of them had wanted to remember those two days. It still hurt to think of it, but Katie had to come anyway. She didn’t want to forget but instead wanted to remember the sacrifice their parents had made. For this reason she had needed to see the last place she had been with them. Her need had brought her here, to be chased by Liberators. Soldiers who had killed hundreds and orphaned thousands. The thought caused rage to well up in her chest but she beat it back. It wouldn’t help her right now. But oh, how she wanted to let it well up with in her and spill out to crush those who had crushed her family and those of her friends.
“Why?” Katie labored to the sky as she pushed herself up. She wiped away tears, “Why? When all they have done is hurt. Why should I love them?” but she knew the answer. The Lord demanded it. At the cross he forgave those had who beat and killed him. She couldn’t do any less. Help me Father! Katie cried out in her head, “Help me to turn my hate into love.
Lurching to her feet, Katie tried to continue on but she had twisted her ankle when she fell. Pain ripped through her leg and she ground her teeth together to keep from crying out. She had to keep going, but she couldn’t take a step. Her feet gave way under her and
she landed with a thud.
Gravel crunched behind Katie and she knew that someone was behind her. She tried to crawl away but it was too late. The barrel of a gun pushed against her temple as the Liberator leaned over her. “Rise with your hands up,” the man growled. Instead, Katie fainted when the man stepped on her ankle, not seeing it below his foot.