Elsbeth hated the night. The moment the sun started to dip towards the horizon, she felt that old familiar cold fear grip her. The shadows reached for her, longing to drag her down to her grave. She refused to go, huddled in the back bedroom with her sister, waiting for the golden light of day.
“What if they come here,” Joy whispered, curling up at Elsbeth's side. “What if they know we're here?”
“They hunt by following lights,” Elsbeth replied. “As long as we keep the lights off and stay here, they won't come in.”
The Aretorih were the reason why Elsbeth and Joy were cowering in fear every night. The bat-like humanoid monsters had invaded Earth just a few years ago. They slept by day, hunted at night. Millions were slaughtered before the humans learned of how to defend themselves. Stay quiet in the dark, and they passed you by.
They also had a soft spot for children and pregnant women. Elsbeth knew this after her first encounter with the Aretorih. Seven years ago, when Joy was just a little baby, Elsbeth's family violated the lights out order. They were too busy fighting because Elsbeth announced she was pregnant. They never saw the sun go down or the shadows grow. Just, suddenly, the Aretorih were there and Elsbeth's parents were gone.
“What if they know we're here,” Joy repeated. She had no memory of the attack, but she feared discovery all the same.
“They won't,” Elsbeth whispered. “Come on, we need to sleep. We're moving in the morning. We should find another empty house and stay there.”
Joy nodded and laid her head on her sister's shoulder. Elsbeth stayed awake until she was sure her sister was asleep. Lulled by Joy's even breathing, Elsbeth finally let herself relax.
Elsbeth wasn't sure how long they slept, but it was not the whole night through. Loud music woke them up and sent them scrambling for the bedroom door. Tanya, a woman who joined them at this house, was playing CDs she had found with the lights on.
“Tanya! What are you doing! You'll bring them here,” Elsbeth shrieked. Tanya ignored her, playing the music and dancing with some greasy-haired man that Elsbeth had never seen before. She could smell the alcohol that the two had consumed.
“Lighten up, girlie,” the man said. “That's all a myth, put forth by a government that wanted to keep us in fear. There are no monsters. We're safe.”
“I've seen them,” Elsbeth protested. “They're real!”
The man laughed and twirled Tanya. Elsbeth grabbed Joy and they ran out of the house. Once away from the music, Elsbeth could hear them. Dry wings flapping in the silent night, the chirping noise they made when they spoke to each other. The Aretorih were coming!
“Come on, Joy, we have to hide,” Elsbeth whispered. She pulled her sister down into a ditch, laying flat. She had heard from a friend, now long gone, that the Aretorih only focused on houses and wouldn't notice a person laying flat on the ground. “Stay low, Joy. Stay low and keep quiet.”
Elsbeth kept a hand over Joy's mouth, just in case. The Aretorih flew over them, close enough that Elsbeth could smell the musky scent of their furry bodies. She hated them, but she was too weak to fight them. She closed her eyes as she heard the windows in the house breaking and the screams within.
She opened her eyes as she heard a thud next to her. Fearing that one of the Aretorih had dropped its lunch, she peered over. It was worse then that. One had landed next to her, staring down at her.
She recognized him. When her parents died, this one had been in her home. When she saved Joy at the hospital, this one had been in the room. Now, when the home she had been seeking shelter in was being raided, this one had found her again. She could never forget him; tall with a bat-like face, claws at the end of large wings and a strange white circle over one eye. A medallion hung around his neck, one she had never seen any other of the Aretorih wear.
Elsbeth held tightly on to Joy, pressing her sister's face into her shoulder so she would not see the monster. She heard her sister whimpering as she tried to back away from the creature.
Elsbeth bit her lip to keep from screaming when the tall monster bent down over her. She knew that this was it. She would die tonight. Any moment now, it would rip out her throat and start to feast. Maybe Joy would be spared, she was still a child, but Elsbeth was an adult and, thus, feeding stock.
She flinched when that clawed hand settled on her stomach. She had no baby there now, no reason for it to allow her to live. She could feel hot tears leaking from her eyes as she waited for her death.
To her surprise, it left her there. With a chirping command, it launched itself in the air and the others followed. None of them looked back at the huddled girls and none of them attacked. Elsbeth wasn't sure how, but she knew that they were safe for the night. The Aretorih would hunt elsewhere for now.
They stayed in the ditch until morning. Without going back in the house to gather their few belongings, Elsbeth and Joy left to find a new safe shelter. Empty houses stretched out as far as they could see. Elsbeth managed to hot wire an abandoned car and they drove away, looking for other groups that were migrating.
Elsbeth knew of a rumor of an underground resistance. Since the Aretorih destroyed the political figures of the world first, most people had to look to each other for guidance. All of Elsbeth life had been lived in fear of the monsters, her mother telling her stories of what it was like growing up before the Aretorih came. She prayed that this resistance was real, that she could find them and keep Joy safe.
“Look, Elsbeth, people,” Joy said, pointing out the window. Elsbeth looked over in enough time to see a few people slip into an old diner. People, safety and food, just what she needed.
“Let's go,” she said, turning the car around. She didn't worry if she parked right or if she had any money. Money didn't exist anymore.
The diner was filled with people. They all looked at Elsbeth with distrust and hostility. What ever they were gathered for, she was not welcomed. It wasn't until someone spotted Joy, clinging behind her big sister, did they welcome the two wanderers.
“You look like death warmed over,” one lady said. “Here, have something to eat. It's not much, but it should help.” A plate of cold beans was placed in front of Joy with only one fork. Elsbeth didn't say anything as Joy ate, used to hunger.
“We saw you entering here, and thought we'd join,” Elsbeth said. “Our last safe house was raided last night. We slept in a ditch. If anyone can point us in the direction of another safe house, we'll be on our way.”
“No need for that,” said a man. He was about Elsbeth's age and looked to be the cleanest one of the bunch. Clearly the leader. “The more the merrier.”
“The more the safer,” said Elsbeth.
The man nodded and took the seat next to Elsbeth. “She's a might young to be traveling so much. You should find a nice home and stay there.”
“We were trying that. We stayed for nearly a month in the last safe home. Had a bedroom to ourselves and a full pantry,” said Elsbeth. “We were going to try and get a generator so we could have hot running water.”
“You still had running water? Most houses don't have that anymore.”
“We lucked out, but we didn't use it often. Had to be careful, you know.”
The man nodded and held out his hand. “Name's David. Do you know where you are?”
“In a diner?”
David laughed. “Nope. You're in the presence of the Great Resistance.”
“Geez, Dave, don't tell her that. What if she works for them!”
David shook his head. “I think they're legit. Look at how hungry the younger one was. I heard the Aretorih overhead last night, about in the same direction as they came from.”
“How did they survive? If there was a raid last night, how did they survive?”
Elsbeth spoke up, “We spent the night in the ditch. They flew over us, but must not have seen us.” She kept the fact that one had seen them, that he had touched her and let them live. They didn't need to know that.
Turning to David, she said, “You're really the Resistance?”
“Yep. Not much, but this is just what I've recruited this week. You're welcome to join.”
She looked over at Joy and then back to David. “Thank you. We accept.”
As the morning wore on, David divided them up into groups. Each group had a senior member of the Resistance with them and left the diner at different times. Each was to take a different route to the headquarters. Elsbeth learned that they had discovered that some humans were working for the Aretorih, turning in safe houses and betraying the human race. Since the Aretorih couldn't walk around in daylight, these humans became their eyes and ears.
“I don't know what would cause someone to do that,” said Elsbeth. “To betray their own people.”
“I know why,” said David. “Greed, a desire to live, fear. They think that if they serve the Aretorih, they'll be rewarded in the end. All their doing in prolonging their own lives for a little while.”
David also told her of human farms that the Aretorih set up. Humans being bred for livestock. If they didn't cooperate, they were drugged and forced. Babies raised on special hormones and nutrients to make them better equipped to be food when they reached the ripe age. David had seen a farm with his own eyes and it was horrifying.
Elsbeth was among the last group to leave. She had pleaded that Joy be part of the first groups, so she was sure that there was enough sunlight to save her sister. The member that took Joy radioed David once they reached their headquarters. Joy was safe.
“We may have to stay here tonight,” David said. “The sun is already starting to dip down.”
“There's a locker in the back and a few closets we can sleep in,” said a woman. “It'll be a bit snug, but we can do it.”
Elsbeth stayed with David as he sent the next group out. That would probably the last group before it became too dangerous to leave. She felt safe here with him. He knew what he was doing, and it was nice to have someone else do all the planning for a change.
“So, how old is your sister?”
“She's six. We've been on the run for all of her life.”
“How old are you?”
“I'm twenty-three. Joy was a late-in-life surprise.”
David put his arm around her and let her curl up against his side. “You're parents are dead, aren't they?”
She nodded. “They died seven years ago.”
David's arm tensed on her shoulder. “If your parents died seven years ago, how can Joy be six?”
Elsbeth sighed. “She's not really my sister. My real sister died when the Aretorih came to our house seven years ago. I think it was an accident. The one who brought my baby sister's body to their leader was beaten when he saw that she was dead. They have some weird soft spot for babies.”
“How did you survive? Did you hide in another ditch?”
“I was pregnant. They let me live.”
Elsbeth buried her face in David's chest as she started to cry. “I had a son. I don't even know what happened to him. I was at the hospital and weak after giving birth. The baby was taken away. They never attacked hospitals before. My mom even said so. It was a safe zone. But, they attacked that night. I ran to find my son, but I never did. I was at the baby ward and the babies were crying. One of the Aretorih was there, bending over the babies. I panicked and grabbed one.”
“You grabbed a girl, not a boy.”
“Yes. When I realized that I never saved my son, I named her after my sister. I told her I was her sister, she doesn't know. All she knows is that our parents died and I've been caring for her.”
“You're very brave,” said David softly. He held her until she could stop crying.
They were about to board up the windows when the doors opened. Elsbeth gasped as she saw Tanya standing there with her greasy boyfriend. They had guns pointing at the small resistance group.
“Well, it took all day to find you, but it's worth it,” said Tanya. “A small snack for the Aretorih.”
“Traitors! How can you betray your own kind!”
Tanya smiled. “It took some convincing, but it's the right thing. Don't be so angry, not all of you will be eaten. The Aretorih need breeding females. I get a nice warm bed and hot food if I bring them breeding stock.”
Elsbeth frowned. “Tanya, how long have you been working for the Aretorih?”
“For a while. They weren't pleased that you and Joy got away last night. I can fix that mistake now.”
The sun was slipping further under the horizon. Any moment now, Elsbeth would hear the dry flapping of the wings, smell the coppery tang of blood as the monsters fed. She clung to David, fear gripping her. At least Joy would be spared.
“You must think we're some kind of idiots,” David said. “We won't go peacefully.”
Tanya waved her gun. “You have no choice.”
Just then, a shot rang out. David pushed Elsbeth to the floor as more shots rang out. Tanya and her boyfriend were firing on the small group. The woman behind the counter had found a shot gun and was returning fire. The stench of blood filled the air as Elsbeth heard a body hit the floor. After a few moments that felt like a lifetime, the shooting stopped. Tanya and her boyfriend were dead, two Resistance members stood over them with the guns. Several members of the Resistance lay in a pool of their own blood.
“We can't leave now, and they'll know where we are,” David said.
“We can't go to the headquarters,” moaned one person. “We're going to die.”
David started pacing. He muttered to himself and Elsbeth caught a few words of it. “No doctor...dieing...trapped.”
“One car still has gas in it,” she said.
“The Aretorih will be on us quickly if we use it at night,” David said. “If not now, then once we stop. And then, they'll know where the headquarters is.”
“Not if we go in the opposite direction,” she said. “Lead them away from here, make them think we're escaping. The wounded can be bandaged and hide. There's not much else we can do until morning.”
David stared at her for a moment as the shadows crept into the diner. Finally, he nodded. He ordered that the wounded that had a chance to live through the night be taken to the back locker and bandaged. The wounded that were about to die be left in front, in case the Aretorih show up. They should find some evidence of the fight.
“I'll take the car and you stay here,” David said, but Elsbeth was already gone. She sped out of the diner parking lot, the lights on and music blaring. She had seen the direction that Joy's car had gone and took the opposite way.
“Forgive me,” she whispered as she drove down the dark road. She could hear the dry flapping of the wings, even over the blaring music. In the rear-view mirror, she saw them coming for her.
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