As they approached the cache, Alex shut down the bike to reduce noise. He walked beside the vehicle, while the children stayed in the sidecar. They had been outside for far longer than Alex had wanted; he had miscalculated their journey. The onset of dusk had painted the land with a golden-orange hue and with the sun at their backs, the Dash children's shadows became elongated phantoms before them. The road was a two-lane route that crossed the marshlands leading into the shore town of Sunset Bay. Here they would find one of the caches their father had buried for them.
After receiving a few "How much longer?" inquiries, Alex suggested the twins play a game of I Spy.
Henry said, "I'll go first. I seeeeee...something...orange."
Annabelle tapped her finger to her chin, then replied, "The sun!"
"Yep! You're turn!"
"Ok. I see something goldenrod."
"Huh? What's goldenrod?"
"It's a color," said Annabelle, grinning.
"Nut-uh! You're cheating!" Henry frowned and balled his fists.
"No, I'm not," she said gleefully.
"Alex! She's cheating!"
"Guys! Shh! Way too loud," Alex scolded. "Annabelle, stick with normal colors."
"But it is a normal color."
"No, it isn't Annabelle," countered Henry. "I've never even heard of it before – Alex, you ever hear of it before?"
Alex rubbed the tension away in the back of his neck while Annabelle replied, "It's a crayon color, so it has to be a real color."
"Annabelle," uttered Alex blankly.
"Fine. It's yellow. I see something yellow."
Grinning and appearing to bask in his victory, Henry surveyed his surroundings, then pointed. "That street sign!"
"Nope." Annabelle smirked. "Over there," she quipped, signaling a large, heavily concealed school bus. Only a portion of its dulled yellow exterior was visible, the rest of it concealed by vegetation.
"Darn!" Henry swatted the air with his fist.
The bus had not been immediately noticeable, and Alex's pulse quickened as he recognized the vehicle as a potential shelter. There might be someone inside.
Alex stepped toward the bus with the rifle in firing position. The vehicle appeared to have run off the road quite some time ago. Wild growth had climbed up and over the entire vehicle and at first glance it looked like only a massive tangle of brush. Upon further scrutiny, Alex was able to identify a single, massive vine with smaller offshoots running in every direction. After ensnaring the bus, the vine wound down a dilapidated dock and into the marsh.
At the left rear taillight, Alex stooped to the ground and peered beneath the bus. The vine interweaved throughout the underside and even into the engine. Alex could see nothing hiding within the coils and determined that it was next to impossible for anything larger than a rodent to even enter the space.
With Henry and Annabelle behind him, Alex yanked open the bus door and it yielded with a creak. The vine pulsed, then constricted, and a portion of the bus's front grill was torn free.
Alex moved the twins away and decided searching the bus wasn't worth the risk of being crushed to death. He focused on the cache and located the metal rod his father had long ago driven into the ground. Removing the shovel from the wagon, he found the "D" etched into the pole and then measured twenty paces in the direction the letter faced.
Alex's heart sank as he saw the ground had been disturbed. Obviously the cache had been dug up and pillaged. In the underbrush behind the bus's rear tire he found the open metal box. Alex went to it and lifted the lid. It was empty.
He felt sick and lightheadedness overtook him. The children's voices suddenly sounded distant, like he and they were not outside, but in separate rooms. He looked toward the twins and their forms became fuzzy, out of focus.
The girl materialized - as she always did – off to the right, in Alex's peripheral vision. She had appeared on two other occasions, but Alex hadn't told Annabelle and Henry about the phenomenon. Alex tried to ignore the otherworldly presence. She was likely just a hallucination, maybe brought on by hunger or dehydration.
When the children walked away from him and toward the bus, Alex discovered he was unable to follow. He pressed his hands against an immovable, albeit invisible object before him. He pressed harder, this time his entire arm slipping between partitions in the object, while the rest of him remained constrained, like unseen bars occupying the empty air.
"This is just like the bus we took to school," said Henry, his voice far off.
"No, it isn't," rebuffed Annabelle. "That one had a flat front. This one has the kind that sticks out." There was an echo to their voices, as they continued to fall farther away.
Henry shook his head. "No. This is the same kind, isn't it, Alex?"
The twins turned and looked behind them, then continued speaking, as if Alex had been right next to them, answering the question.
"Quiet now," said Alex, in a dream-like mumble. Even his own voice was failing him. He became dizzy and began to swoon. The twins' voices tumbled away as the peripheral-girl looked on, sitting just to Alex's right. Was she doing this to him? Was he going crazy? Had he become sick like his mother had long ago?
Even in his condition, Alex understood that Henry and Annabelle's bickering was much too loud, and he feared them drawing the attention of possible predators. "Shhh," he said. He thought he next said, "Quiet down, guys," but had the feeling it came out more like gibberish. He attempted to squeeze through the invisible bars, but they were too close together, allowing only his arm to pass through. Alex backed away and prepared to shoulder through the invisible barrier, but instead, in his stupor, he crashed to the ground.
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LITTLE GREEN MENScience Fiction
As nineteen-year-old Alex Dash cares for his six-year-old twin siblings, Henry and Annabelle, he is forced to navigate a post-cataclysmic world full of hostile entities. Dogs that seem more aware than they ought to, sentient plant-life, nomads aiml...