Chapter 21

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Two tiny hands clutched the bundle of protein bars and drew them inside the bunker. Gray heard the rustling of paper as they were unwrapped, then Henry stepped forth, chewing more than he ought to.

"I knew you would bring us sumthin'," he mumbled.

"Don't talk with your mouth full," advised Gray. "You'll choke."

The boy nodded, then gave a thumbs up. Annabelle appeared in the doorway. "Thank you," she said. She had unfolded the note that was bound to the bars.

"Oh yeah. Thanks," added Henry, still with food in his mouth.

"You're welcome," said Gray, lying back with his hands behind his head. His body spanned the entire length of the vestibule.

"Have you seen our brother?" asked Annabelle.

"No brothers. No sisters. No aunts or uncles," responded Gray in frustration. "Just Eva."

Annabelle held the note out. "She gave you another?"

Gray nodded. "Put it with the others."

"How many notes is that, now?" asked Henry.

"A lot," said Annabelle. "What's wrong with her?"

Gray tapped the side of his head with his finger. "She's stuck...up here."

Henry frowned. "Her brain's stuck?"

Gray sat up. "Each time she writes a note, she thinks it's the first time she's written it. She's mixed up."

Inside the bunker, Annabelle dropped the note onto a stack of others. On each, in Eva's handwriting, were the identical words: "Tomorrow at dusk." She scooped up a drawing on yellow construction paper and returned to the doorway. "Did you see the man in the wall?"

Gray blinked twice. "Garrett?"

Annabelle nodded.

"Not today. Tomorrow."

The girl handed the drawing to their massive visitor. "I made this for him. Maybe it will cheer him up."

Rotating the paper, Gray studied the crayon markings. They depicted a sunny day, with green grass and a bright blue sky. "I think he'll like it."

Henry leaned over Gray's arm and pointed to a what looked like a large black and white bug on the grass. "I drew the dog. Doesn't look like one though," he laughed.

After a moment, Annabelle spoke. "What do we do about Eva then?"

Gray thought for a moment, scratching his chin with his hammer-hand. "I'm grabbing her tomorrow, no matter what."

"And Alex?" asked Annabelle.

"I think I know what building he's in. It's the same one Eva's been going to. When they're together in there, I'll break in and take them."

Henry sighed. "I miss them."

"Yes, but are you going to be a baby, or big and strong?" Gray looked each of the children in the eyes. "No room for babies in this world."

"Big and strong!" said Henry.

"Good," replied Gray.

The lights in both the vestibule and the bunker dimmed, then returned to full brightness. "They've been doing that a lot lately," said Annabelle.

"Yeah," added Henry. "I think the genilator is getting empty."

"It's generator, with an "r," corrected Annabelle." She looked at Gray. "What do we do if it runs out?"

"You can do nothing if it runs out," replied Gray. "I'll have to find more fuel...if there is any."

"But you're not leaving tonight, are you?" asked Henry.

"No. I'll sleep up there, like always," said Gray, pointing through the ground-level door. "Then leave in the morning to find supplies."

Henry nodded. "Okay...good."

"Another thing," said Gray. "I saw two men in the area." The twins' eyes widened, and they stepped closer. "They had guns. It looked like they were searching for something. That means I'll have to find another..." Gray stopped and held up his finger, urging silence from the children. He cocked his head. "Hear that?"

Henry and Annabelle shook their heads.

"Go inside and lock the door. Turn off the lights. And be very quiet." When the children had followed his instructions, he ascended the ladder and emerged out into the open, hoisting the shed and placing it atop the closed door in the floor. He slinked into the dark coverage of the trees bordering the property's rear yard. There was an approaching sound similar to the cycles the two men had been riding, but also different; this was quieter. Sneakier.

The sound ceased and Gray sensed that whatever had produced it was close. The front of these unfinished homes opened to a cul-de-sac and from where he stood, Gray could see all the way to the street. After a few moments of silence, he thought that maybe he had miscalculated the proximity of the sound, but then a large figure appeared in the spaces between the dark houses. Gray watched as the thing rose to a stand and its wheels retracted into the limbs. It was nearly as big as Gray.

A beam of red light erupted from the thing's head. The thin glow moved across one of the neighboring lawns, then rose to wash a crimson line along the house's façade. It moved along the contours of the home, sometimes flush against the exterior, sometimes sinking with the alcoves, infiltrating the rooms behind the transparent windows. Gray understood that this light was scanning. He glanced at the shed and wondered if the light might be capable of penetrating objects...of scanning through earth. If this was the case, he would have to confront it.

He ducked as the beam turned in his direction, then passed to the next closest home to the thing, which was to Gray's left. He got a better look at the thing and it looked like a giant robot. Black, non-shiny metal.

It moved toward the home on the left and Gray decided to act. He would engage and take it out. Emerging from the trees, he moved along the iron fence with the hole in it. When he was about to pass through it, something scampered into the yard, stopping between Gray and the house where the robot had approached. It was the dog from the stream.

Gray froze and stared at it. "What do you want?" he whispered. The dog stared back. Gray walked toward the house but stopped when the dog bared its teeth. It trotted up to the home's rear door, turned to snarl at Gray once more, as if to be sure he would remain where he was, then vanished into the shadows within.

What was it doing? Inside, the red light flashed in multiple directions and then gunfire erupted. Gray dropped low. The dog bolted into the cul-de-sac and dashed into the darkness across the street. The robot gave chase.

Gray frowned. Did the dog just help him?

He couldn't be sure, but it sure seemed that way. At any rate, he took the opportunity to run to the shed and toss it aside. As more gun shots discharged in the distance, Gray reached below and knocked his signal on the bunker's door.


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