Waiting

“Over and THEN under!  See?  Ron, no, under THEN over!”

Koro’s arms scrambled around the children, teaching the older ones how to tie a baby carrier made of cloth and the little ones how to tie to their shoes.  Horne helped Koro as well with the shoe tying.

When all the babies were strapped comfortably and the toddlers shoes tied tighter than an old knot, the kids made their way to the tram.

“Don’t trust anyone there, okay?  They are a traveling group of “reformed” criminals, but still be careful.  Do you have enough money?” Koro asked, digging into their pockets.

“No, we’re just going to get out and explore.  We ain’t buying nothing,” Aya said matter-of-factly.

Koro nodded, but slipped Ron a few credits.

“Now, it’ll take you a few hours to get there.  The tram hasn’t been updated since I lived here and that’s been over 50 years.”

Everyone nodded and walked into the tram car.  The door hissed closed as they sat.  The car started to whir as it warmed up, the lights flickering, making the little ones whimper with fright.  Horne comforted them, telling them that it was just the car trying to wake up.  The car lurched forward, everyone fell back 2 feet.  The children laughed, the teenagers grumbled.

As the tram shuffed its way along, the smaller children started to get antsy.

Sasha opened up one of the bags they had brought and handed out coloring books and markers, as well has some snacks Koro had packed.  It was a silent hour, the children colored or walked up and down the tram car, the teenagers just looked out the window of their seats, Ron and Ree patting the backs of the babies strapped to their chests.

Aya rubbed her head, still not used to being bald.  She looked at her reflection in the mirror and remembering the picture of young Granny.

“Why did Granny take me in?”  She asked loudly, but mostly to herself.

Ron and Sasha looked at each other, Ree got up and sat next to Aya, pulling her close and rubbing her shoulder.

“Do you wanna talk about it?” Ree asked, squeezing her a bit.

“Maybe in a bit,” Aya said.  Aya got up and started walking toward the next tram car.

Aya was tall and still growing.  Her and Ron were almost the same height and he was five years older than she.  At 14, she was already 5’11.  She paced the empty tram car by herself, mumbling to herself, pulling at her shirt, tears running down her face.  She started to scream before collapsing to her knees, sobbing.

What seemed like hours, Ron rushed into the car and cradled Aya in his arms.  She sobbed even harder into his chest, clawing at his arms.  She wailed for twenty minutes, turning into small whimpers and sniffles.  Ron said nothing, rubbing her back, resting his chin on her head.

“I should be dead.  I should be fucking dead,” she managed to grunt.  Ron stayed quiet.
“It was too quiet and I… I heard those voices again… After all these years, they came back.  Granny made them be quiet.  And now she’s gone.”

Ron nodded.

“Did Granny ever tell y’all what happened when she found me?”

Ron shook his head no.

“Those aliens… They raided my neighborhood.  I was 10.  They killed my momma.  I remember she shoved me in the closet before they kicked in the door.  I remember the sound of their rifles.  I remember her scream.  I remember the heat when they set my house on fire.”

Ron stared straight ahead, listening.

“I barely escaped the fire.  I had to scramble for food.  I ate a rat once, I was so hungry.  I was… homeless for a long time.  I made friends, though.  Other children like me.  We learned how to be quiet when they came around.  They could hear your fear.  They didn’t find me when I was 10 because I was confused.  They found us one day, though.  Someone snitched.   They rounded us up.  Then Granny showed up.  She yelled at them in their language and she had a pistol pointed at them.  There was two aliens against her, I remember.  4 of my friends including me.  They yelled back and she yelled back.  They killed my friends, I remember.  Slit their throats, I remember.  Slit mine, too.  That’s why I have this scar.  I remember it being really cold.  And her yelling and her gun going off.  I remember falling asleep and then waking up at the farm.”

“I remember,” Ron whispered, squeezing Aya.

“…Why am I still alive and she isn’t?  Why aren’t I with my friends?  Friends I can barely remember…”

“…Because.”

“Oh.”
Ree and Sasha were feeding and changing  the toddlers and babies as Ron and Aya talked.

“Do you think she’ll be okay?” Ree asked Sasha.  Sasha shrugged, laying one of the babies down in one of the empty seats and covering them up with blanket.  She sat next to See, studying her face.

“How are you doing?”

Ree blinked at Sasha, as if she was confused by the question.  Sasha raised an eyebrow at her.

“I don’t… I don’t know,” Ree replied.  “I feel… Numb?” 

Sasha nodded, watched Ree’s face go through various emotions.

“I’m just really tired,” Ree finished.  Sasha nodded and squeezed Ree’s hand. 

“I’m here if you need me.”

“Thank you…”

They sat in silence for a while, looking up when the door from the other car hissed open.  Ron walked over to the two young women.

“Aya is sleeping,” he said, changing his shirt to a dry one. 

“Is she okay?” Ree asked.  Ron nodded.

“Just let her rest.”

Two and half hours passed and they were little over three-quarters of the way there. The glow of the carnival lit up the dark sky in a haze of red.  Horne and their young chargers started screaming and hopping, yelling “CARNIVAL” to each other and pretending to be various animals.  Aya came back into the car, her eyes swollen and red.  She sniffed.

“Ayaaaaaaa!” The toddlers screamed, running over to her and climbing up her legs. She smiled and tried to walk, causing them to laugh.

The music from the carnival started to play over the loud speaker, followed by a raspy voice.

“HellOoooooOoo, travelers!  Welcome to The Carnival!”

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