Originally Published May 19, 2009 by Timm Holmes for Collective Inkwells’s Fiction Contest

She never imagined that crossing the street could mean so much.

Harry and Wendel stood on either side of Stephanie, the
shields in their hands nearly as tall as they were. The shields had once been
car doors. Their eyes darted from the open windows of broken burned out
buildings to the piles of rubble scattered throughout the streets, anywhere one
of Dragon’s Flames might be hiding. They couldn’t risk a confrontation with
Stephanie in the condition she was.

Dragon was an older boy, almost nineteen by some accounts,
and was the self-proclaimed leader of The Flames. Dragon was Asian, muscular
and a vicious fighter. No one knew his real name, but they all knew to fear

Stephanie caressed her round belly that extended outward.
She was unsure of what was going to happen and exactly how it worked but knew
there was a new person growing inside of her frail thirteen year old body.

Harry began to cough and she turned to look at him. Unlike
the other Smiths, Harry was her real brother from before. They had survived
together. Harry wasn’t the oldest or the strongest boy on the island, but
certainly one of the smartest. She thought about all he’d done for her and the
others and couldn’t imagine never being able to see him again. The other Smiths
affectionately called him Turtle because of the glasses he wore. He was her
younger brother by a year or so, but she looked to him for guidance as did the
rest of the family.

Harry had managed to collect a number of books from
throughout the ruined city and he had read as many of them as he could. When
someone had a problem or if they got sick, Harry usually knew what to do. So
when Stephanie started vomiting each morning about four months ago, it was
Harry that revealed to her that she was pregnant.

After the bombs had all been dropped and the last of the
bullets fired, you couldn’t see anything but fire and smoke on every horizon.
The big green statue to the North was charred and broken. Looking south,
burning boats and ships littered the wide expanse of blue.

They had all looked for a way off the island, but the
bridges had all been destroyed. Swimming seemed an unlikely success. Many had
tried and failed to get to what had once been Brooklyn. A shorter swim existed
on the western side of the island but no one wanted to go that direction. All
day and night nothing but screaming came from over there since the fighting had
stopped. They must have gone crazy to the West.

Dragon and The Flames had made their home to the North

So the Smiths settled to the South East, taking refuge in
some of the less disturbed suburban homes. Everything had been looted, nothing
was left unscathed. But with a little work under the guidance of their former
leader Desmond, The Smiths were able to carve out a decent existence.

Desmond had been the last adult to live on the island and
when he finally succumbed to the sickness like the others, the family he had
built needed a new father. Harry was well liked, knowledgeable and had been
close with Desmond. He was the natural choice to lead the family. Even though
he did not want the responsibility, he wasn’t given a choice. It was unanimous.
He became the head of the Smith family.

Dealing with the threat of Dragon and his Flames was enough
of a daily concern, but they also had to contend with the Scavengers that would
come across the water from time to time.

They were adults and they would come take anything they
thought might be useful. The problem was as far anyone on the island was
concerned it all belonged to them. They’d been left abandoned here, so anything
that was on the island was theirs. No one could be allowed to just come and
take their property.

It was rumoured though that the Scavengers were just a few
of the many adults that lived across the water. It was also said that they had
managed to bring back electricity and that they had proper doctors over there.

This is why Stephanie had to go.

So when the look outs spotted the Scavengers’ boat and
reported back to Harry, he immediately set out with Wendel and Stephanie to
meet them.

Dragon had once had a girl that always stuck by his side.
She was less vicious but seemingly as crazy as he was. They called her Diamond.
Her belly got fat just like Stephanie’s was.

Five months ago, Harry and another boy named Sam were on
lookout duty and spotted Diamond shuffling weakly past a couple of the Smith
residences. Before they could approach her, two visiting Scavengers stumbled
upon her and after a short conversation all three walked away together.

Harry and Sam followed the trio and watched as she was
loaded onto the boat, wrapped gently in a blanket and given a bowl from which
she cautiously began to eat. Once the other Scavengers returned from looting,
the boat’s engine started up and they all went back across the water.

Harry and Sam reported this to Desmond and he asked them not
to speak of the incident to any of the others. They promised they wouldn’t. Out
of respect for the family’s father, the lookouts kept their word.

Shortly after, Dragon came looking for Diamond, convinced
she had run away to join the Smiths. He brought about twelve of his Flames. Four
of them were girls, although you wouldn’t know it to look at them.

They came to the Smith’s neighbourhood hollering and
screeching, Dragon loudest of them all.

“Diamond! I gave you everything! You owe me everything! Come
back where you belong! You’re mine!”

Desmond had become quite ill and could not get up from bed.
He could do nothing when The Flames began dowsing one of the unoccupied homes
with gasoline. And he could only watch as they lit it on fire.

Desmond asked Harry to gather some of his brothers and see
if he could manage to chase Dragon off or at least convince him that Diamond
wasn’t with the Smiths.

Harry ran from house to house and gathered ten of his
brothers. They joined Dragon and his bunch in the street just as they were
beginning to soak a second lawn. The groups were only a couple houses apart.

“Dragon!” Harry shouted his voice wavering ever so slightly
as his nerves reached a fever pitch, “We need to have a word!”

The entire group of Flames moved as one and began to
approach the Smith brothers.

“No!” Harry shouted again, “Just you and me.”

His brothers mumbled protests but Harry hushed them.

“Just be ready.”

He walked toward Dragon. Dragon signalled his boys to stay
behind as well and met Harry about halfway between the groups.

“This better be good Goggle-face,” Dragon spat the words
out, “Where’s Diamond?”

“She’s not here—“

Dragon lashed out with a single punch that knocked Harry to the
ground. His glasses fell off and skipped
a step or two away from him. Harry could hear his brothers start to charge but
put his hand up to stop them. Then he crawled and recovered his glasses
returning them to his face.

“Liar! Don’t lie to me!” Dragon roared.

“I’m not lying,” replied Harry standing back up, “I saw her
about a week ago. She left with the Scavengers on their boat. Dragon, she was

Dragon lashed out again. He buried a knife in Harry’s ribs.
Harry fell against Dragon’s shoulder and his attacker whispered, “I don’t like

Then Dragon was gone, Harry was on the ground and there was
chaos all around. Behind all the shouting and fighting Harry watched the house
that had been set on fire burn. He didn’t have the strength to move and there
wasn’t a free hand to help him.

Harry woke up on a couch. It was dark outside and candles
lit the ransacked room.

Stephanie knelt at his side carefully, like she was sore all

“What’s wrong? What did they do?” Harry tried to sit up, but
a sharp pain from his wound made him lie right back down.

“Tore up every house
looking for Diamond,” she spoke softly, “And they … hurt me. But I’ll be
okay. We all will.”

Harry thought of Dragon’s words, I don’t like liars.

The Scavenger’s boat was pulling up near the shore now. They
could see the light on the bow guiding it safely in.

They crossed the street, Harry in front of Stephanie and
Wendel behind, with shields in hand. All three of them scanned the streets and
buildings for any sign of Dragon or his Flames.

They reached the other side of the street and made their way
down the gentle slope directly toward the boat. Two men clad in yellow rubber
suits were disembarking, their heads covered by the yellow hoods sealed to the
necks of their suits. As they turned and came face to face with the three kids,
Harry saw that a clear plastic seal covered the front of the hood. It was
nearly impossible to make out any facial features in the late dusk light.

The two men still on the boat began to shout for the kids to
stay back. One of them fired a weapon and a large rubber projectile slammed
into Harry’s shield knocking him back into Stephanie who helped him regain his

“We just want to talk!” Harry yelled out. He began to cough
and the two men on the shore each took a step back.

“Stay back!” one of the men on the boat demanded again.

“Please,” Harry began, “My sister here. She’s pregnant. She
needs your help.”

“Turn around and walk away!” came the voice from the boat.

One of the men on the shore turned to face the boat, “Shut
up Mike! You know the Doc’s gonna want to see her.”

The man turned back to face the kids and started to walk
slowly toward them his hands raised up to his shoulders.

“Let’s see her kid.” He said to Harry.

Harry nodded at Stephanie to step out from behind him but
she was reluctant.

“I won’t hurt you miss,” there was something in his tone
that reminded her of Desmond.

She stepped out from behind Harry, her hands wrapped around
her belly.

“How far along are you?” the man asked.

Stephanie looked at Harry.

“Four months or so,” Harry answered.

The man looked silently at each of the three kids in turn.

“You know we can’t take you boys too, right?”

“We know, “Harry said, “The sickness.”

“Can’t risk it. But her. She’s a different story. With every
new baby comes the chance for a cure. One of these days a baby will be born
that’s not sick.”

Hollering and shouting could be heard in the distance.

All four men looked up over the kids’ heads.

“You better get going,” Harry told the men. He lifted his
shirt showing his scar, “They’re good with knives.”

Stephanie kissed Wendel on the cheek and then held her
brother for a long moment until the man in yellow spoke softly, “Come on miss.”

“I love you,” Stephanie whispered in her brother’s ear.

She didn’t give him a chance to answer as she turned toward
the boat, her tears beginning to spill down her cheeks.

Harry watched his sister float away across the water. She’d
be safe. She’d be taken care of.

Wendel’s free hand fell gently onto his shoulder.

“Better go Harry.”

Wendel was right. The shouting was getting closer. Harry
picked up his shield and the boys ran off into the night.

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