Black Widow Ranch

There it was, this wooden shack that looked like it was about to fall over if given a good push in the right place. The sun was low enough on the horizon to force light through all of the cracks and holes, and illuminating the single individual inside. When he walked he could see them standing there, a disheveled lanky person bent over the bar wearing a shirt that looked like it had doubled as an old rag in the past. He pushed past the broken door that had fallen off its hinges and stepped inside. He stood there a minute taking in every bit of information he could get about his surroundings. The walls, although full of cracks, looked like they hadn’t always been that way, there were silhouettes on the walls where it looked like maybe photos or paintings had been hung. He noticed one frame was left busted on the ground. It contained a picture of a woman standing in front of a building with a huge smile on her face. She just beamed happiness with cute curly blonde hair and you could tell she was the kind of person who was full of energy.

He took and put the broken frame with the picture inside on the bar next to the individual. They immediately slapped the frame back to the ground and spun around yelling “Get the fuck out I don’t have anything left.” after she had turned around he noticed that she was the girl in the photo and the building behind her was the bar he was standing in now. She was a different person now as was the bar. They had both been stripped of any pride they once had and were using all of there strength just to stay upright. The woman standing before him had lost so much she would never return to being that woman in the photo again she had clearly lost what made her that woman in that first place. What ever joy she knew before had been stripped from her and not even the memories of her childhood would have seemed real to her at this point. “Hey sorry to disturb you it looks like maybe I caught you on a bad day..” He said before she cut him off. She just sneered up and said “that’s a hell of an understatement.” A little taken back and unsure of what to do he said “Yea sorry, uh look I just ran out of gas and I just need some to get to Persepsis, or at least the next station.”

She looked him up and down scowling, he started to really notice the bags under her eyes and completely defeated expression on her face that didn’t seem to change in the slightest at hearing his pleas for help. Then she said “Ain’t that a pickle, why don’t I just help you.” He started to relax and said “that would be great! any regular gas would do.” She said “right right, let me see what I have here.” She started scanning the room really taking in the destruction that had been laid to her bar. Then all of a sudden a vicious smile came across her face and she looked up and locked eyes with him and she looked as though she was remembering what the decrepit old shack used to be and said, “You know not long ago this place used to be pretty nice, I worked my ass off to keep it going but I had customers from the nearby mine and other travelers passing through regularly. Sure there was a tussle every now and then but mostly everyone who came in was happy and willing to pay.” Slightly irritated he said back “Hey, maybe you could just point me to a station nearby or at least point me in the right direction.”

She wasn’t listening and was still caught up scanning the room, her eyes had started to glaze over in subtle nostalgia, then a gentle grimace came across her face and she said, “I’ll never forget the day I first saw one of them walk in. she was just a cute little girl short brown hair big blue eyes about as adorable a kid as ever.” She started staring at the door and her expression went from wistful remembrance to pure anger, with her fists clenching and her muscles flexing on her emaciated frame. “They came in all nice just wanting to buy some supplies said they were setting up a ranch in the next valley. Seemed stupid to me but what do I know about ranching. They never had enough money at first it was fine a few dollars short but not long and they started to steal. I told them to stop that they were impacting my livelihood and we could work out a deal but they acted like nothing happened.” Her muscles relaxed and she dropped her head in defeat then she said, “I tried to tell the others not to trust them but they didn’t listen. Everyone just saw that they were the only ones doing well anymore, after the mine shut down. eventually it was just me and them after everyone else joined them, families and all.”

She fell back against the bar and then he noticed the cup in her hand filled with a bright green liquid and a little layer of smoke sitting just above the liquid. When she fell back against the bar a little had splashed out and on to the floor where it quickly ate through one of the remaining floor boards. She held up the cup and looked at it like it was the last ray of sunshine in otherwise dark cavern. “This right here is my way out, but I only have enough for me so you’ll have to find you’re own way” she said with a bite. “Look, I didn’t come here to listen to your stories but if you’re looking for a way out I have a ship we just need some fuel.” “Yea I heard that part, the only fuel you’ll find around here is with them. They went and took everything they could find. But you’d have to kill me before I go groveling to them, I know what they do and this right here,” gesturing to her glass, “ruins everything for them.” “Never mind them I’ll go get some fuel even if I have to steal it I just have to make this delivery on time I can’t afford to be late again. Just tell me where to to go.” She took her eyes off of her glass and said, “Well they’re up between those two hills over there” as she pointed out one of the windows, “good luck getting fuel from them though.”

She put the glass down and had a real mischievous look in her eye now. He was pretty confused, “What are you so worried about what did they do that is so horrible?” She snarled back at him, “You don’t want to know, just don’t trust’em.” He was pretty sure that “drink” was going to kill her but not knowing how to stop her he said, “What are you gonna do after that drink runs out on ya, why don’t you come with me and show me the way?” Looking back at her glass with bliss in her eyes she said, “Oh, don’t worry about me once this drink runs out there won’t be much of me left to keep occupied.”

He had a real cold feeling leaving the bar knowing full well that she was about to kill herself but he wasn’t in a position to help her and anyway maybe she won’t go through with it. But what was he supposed to do about it if he didn’t get this delivery done on time he would be fired and then he would be in her position. Besides she had obviously lost everything and it wasn’t like he was going to be bringing any of it back anytime soon. Nope it was better to try an ignore the fact and just assume she was going to get real drunk on whatever that was and maybe he could give her a ride somewhere else when he got back to his ship with some fuel from these nice people he was going to see.

He started walking since his ship was nearly out of fuel but he could fit what he needed into his back pack. It was just going to be a long and hot walk. He had visited other planets like this before, its a wonder people choose to live on them. There was no obvious life around most likely if there had been a mine nearby they had killed everything off so that it wouldn’t get in the way. He hadn’t seen any cities or any people really except for the bartender on his scans. If these ranchers didn’t have fuel he was probably stuck until a rescue ship could get him. Then he would definitely be in trouble with his boss.

The dessert surrounding that little shack was not exactly a vacation spot. The hills he was walking to were the only features he could see in 20 miles and the other mountains beyond those were obscured by the heat coming from the desert itself. The biggest worry he had was he had no real idea why she was so afraid the only person she mentioned was that adorable girl, what could make an adorable little girl so frightening? He was also worried about being caught while walking out in the open there weren’t any trees or rocks to hide under but at least he might see someone coming before they saw him if he was lucky and since the ranch didn’t show up on the scans he had no idea how many people were there.

When he got closer he saw the big entrance gate tucked just inside the valley he couldn’t see anybody around but decided he would climb the hill surrounding the ranch and get a birds eye view. Maybe he could see the fuel from up there and then sneak in and steal it, if he left some money behind what would be the issue, they could always go buy more. Besides He just needed enough to get to the next fuel station which couldn’t be that far off.

The first star had already descended below the horizon which left only the dimmer of the two still shining a dusky glint of light over the barren desert he was surrounded by. Soon it would be completely dark. He sat up on the hill and tried to take in all of the information he could without being seen. He peered over a boulder and counted the buildings. There was a main house and a barn as well as two other little shacks. There was also a big fire pit nestled up against one of the hills with some seating in front of it. He could see the kids running around, maybe ten of them but no adults. They must be in the buildings while the children are out amusing themselves he said to himself. The world slowly spun away from the second star leaving only the view of deep foreboding space.

He sat and decided to wait until he couldn’t see any movement down at the ranch before he would make his move. He sat there staring up at the stars and remembering his childhood doing the same thing back on Sadus when his dad would take him and his brother out camping. Their dad would tell them stories of the war their grandfather was in and how the oligarchs fought with each other using their giant armies and how only the toughest army could win. The stories he told of these desert people who came from no where and who had lived in the harshest environment, but whom went on to engulf planet after planet in a theocratic rule under a single blind man. It was all so distant yet the feelings of those wars were still fresh in everyone’s minds. Although the theocrats and oligarchs of those times were gone there would always be tension surrounding the planets at the center of that feud. The thing that always struck him so odd about those stories was the flagrant disregard for ones own life at the behest of ones leaders who are merely testing the strength of their armies to see who treats their soldiers worse. His wandering thoughts kept on thinking about the various planets that were involved in the wars and the heroes who had emerged during conflict well into the night.

Suddenly the first star had risen and the light scorched his bare skin. He realized he had squandered the night by falling asleep against the boulder he hid behind. He peaked back over the boulder to see if anyone was up yet and when he peaked his head just over the top he noticed two girls walking up a path in his direction. He quickly fell back behind the boulder hoping they had not seen him. Surely someone spying on your ranch would not be appreciated and if these people were to be feared as he was warned then he better hope these two girls had not seen him. He stayed behind the boulder hoping they had not spotted him and looked for another place to hide. There weren’t enough rocks near for him to move to without being seen. He thought if he could lay flat and crawl over the crest of the hill once he got to the other side he could run down and hide behind the rock outcrop near the base of the hill. He decided that was what he would do, but first he slid his backpack across the top of the ridge and watched if fall over the top and out of view.

Just as he was laying down and beginning to crawl over the ridge the two girls came from around the boulder. They might have been around 14 years of age back home on Sadus. They were obviously sisters one a little taller than the other but both with curly brown hair and sun damaged pale skin. They both wore simple jumpsuits with long sleeves that looked as though they had not been washed since they were purchased. Both had a look of confusion one tilting her head slightly as if trying to figure out what the strange man was doing scurrying across the ground like some millipede.

“Hey mister what are you doing?” said the taller one still looking confused. The shorter one had started to look around trying to figure out if he was running or hiding from something. Feeling pretty dumb and at least a bit awkward he looked up at the two girls and said “well I’m not quite sure, I guess I was just trying to hide from you two.” Both of the girls looked at him even more confused than before and the shorter one said, “why would you hide from us?” He smiled thinking these girls are completely harmless how could they possibly hurt him? “I just wasn’t sure what was coming up the hill and I didn’t know if someone or something would be startled so I just wanted to see whatever was coming before it saw me.” “That seems odd, you’re odd mister, besides there aren’t any animals around for miles” said the shorter one. “Yea nothing here but a bunch of kids and a few adults left” said the taller one. The Shorter one suddenly got a real big smile and burst out “HEY! do you know how to play kickball!? Uncle Jim said he would show us but he never did.” Slightly confused at what to say or do he said “…uhh, sorry I’ve never even heard of kickball, but say maybe I can talk Uncle Jim into teaching you, is he around?” The taller one looked a bit sad and said “No” then she perked up and said, “but Aunt Sally might know, maybe you could ask her for us?” “Yea Aunt Sally might know come on you can ask her right now!” screamed the shorter one as she started to run off down the hill. He followed close behind, the taller one was obviously the older of the two since she walked and seemed slightly disgusted at her younger sister for tearing off down the hill like a wild animal.

upon reaching the bottom of the small valley he looked into the buildings and saw dilapidated farm equipment but he couldn’t see any fuel stored anywhere. The girls lead him up to the largest building right in the middle of the compound. The building along with the other buildings all looked like they had been muddled together and were ready to fall apart if someone gave them a stiff kick. As they drew in closer to the main house a bland smell of scorched meat overcame him and the girls both yelled “FOOD!!”

He slowly walked up the steps to the broad porch surrounding the main house where there were a collection of tables and some of the other children had started to come out and eagerly gathered at the tables. He slowly sat down at one of the tables next to the two little girls who had found him, Unsure of what to do but not wanting to get in anybodies way. They sat, mouths watering at the acrid smell of burnt meat. Then he noticed that his own stomach was beginning to grumble. The girls introduced themselves while he was slightly distracted by the scene in front of him, the shorter one was Gabby and the taller one was Francis.

The flimsy screen door to what was probably the kitchen flung open and a short gal with her hair in a pony tail walked out carrying a pot and a big ladle. She was followed by a boy proudly carrying a big stack of metal plates trotting out and chucking plates and silverware in front of everyone at the tables.

Then he noticed that of the four tables of people surrounding him there was only one adult the woman with the pony tale dolloping out the stew to each child. There were probably twelve children all up smacking their lips and gripping there spoons while waiting for their food. Gabby and Francis were the oldest children there with the others being much younger. The girls who had been chatty and giggling with each other, the whole time had fallen silent with their eyes transfixed on the pot of food slowly making its way around the tables. That’s when he noticed the skin on Gabby’s arms was stretched thin over her bones and you could see the inner workings of her joints. She clearly was not well feed and looking back at the surroundings that shouldn’t be surprising. Suddenly he felt bad about sitting at the table to eat when he had eaten last night and still had food in his pack up on the hill along with a cache of food in his ship.

The little boy throwing out plates to everyone ran around and slammed down a plate in front of him and then the woman noticed him. She slowed herself down then quickly started moving at her normal pace again following the boy with the plates she dished out food to Gabby and Francis then to the boy with the plates who had sat down next to him. Then she stopped and looked at him, he said,”I don’t need anything I just want to speak to someone in charge, if I can.” A tired smile came over her face and she said, “well I’m Sally Dalton and I’m the one running this place at the moment. And don’t you be silly we don’t have much but we’ll share what we have.” She proceeded to plop a pile of what looked like a brown gravy stew with pieces of meat in it. “We don’t want someone as strong as you to lose your strength out here in this desert.” She then went back in the kitchen with the pot and disappeared. Some of the children at the other tables that were served first had already finished and were throwing their plates into a bucket near the screen door then sprinting off to one of the smaller buildings. Gabby and Francis were scarfing down their meals and also keeping an eye on what the other children were doing. Gabby quickly ate all of the meat and slurped down gravy making sure to scrape every bit off of her plate. When she was finished she jumped up and flung her plate into the bucket like the others and shot off after the other kids into the shed. Francis and the other boy quickly followed. Then Gabby yelled back as she was running away “don’t forget to ask Aunt Sally about kickball!” then she giggled and ran into the shed where the other children had gone.

All of a sudden sitting there alone with his plate still full of the stew that was really just a mess of chunks of meat and a little bit of watery brown broth. He decided he would walk in and make sure that Sally had eaten before he had. He was hungry but knowing that there was food in his ship meant he could hold off for a bit longer. So he grabbed his plate and spoon and walks towards the door he saw Sally enter. When he reached the door he heard her crying. Not loudly but just crying to herself. Suddenly he felt a pit in his stomach and looked at the food on his plate and remembered how she said they didn’t have much. He slowly pulled the door open and gently walked inside. she was sat in a chair with her back to the door and her elbow up on the counter crying into her hand. He stood there for a moment unsure of how to approach her he desperately wanted to give her the plate of food in his hands.

He starts to slowly walk towards her and his loud footsteps give him away, she spun round and wiped the tears from her eyes, he stood still for a second, he hoped that by the time he made his way over to her he would have figured out what to say. Instead he just kind of stood there awkwardly holding out his plate of food to her, as if to say here eat this you’ll feel better. She looked up at him, her eyes still red from crying, and looking sad but trying to act happy, she said, “I know it doesn’t taste great but there isn’t much around and I can’t stand to see someone else die around here right now.” He was very uncomfortable having walked in on her like this but said, “I actually didn’t even try it I just felt bad taking food from you its obvious you’re all struggling out here. I can’t just take food from your hands not with all these kids to look after.” She tried to cheer up some more and said, “No really I’m not hungry please eat it, its just nice to have a new face around.” He stood there still holding the plate out towards here and with a look of confusion, how could she not be hungry he could see that she was thinner than Francis clearly she had been starving herself to make sure that the children ate. “really its OK please come and sit down.” she gestured to another seat at the kitchen counter. “It would be great to talk to some one new for a change.” Her face lit up with a warmth. As he walked toward her he started to look around the baron kitchen as if to expect Uncle Jim to step out of the next room. There wasn’t much, just the one pot that the food came from on the stove and a cutting board with one big knife on it otherwise it looked like all the other pots and pans were clean and put away but with a nice layer of dust covering everything.

He walked over and sat down next to her. While he walked over he glanced into the pot that he had been served from and noticed that there was still stew left in it. This made him realize that if she had been hungry she could have still eaten and the worry of stealing food from her dissipated. He started to eat, the meat had a chewy feeling to it but it had obviously been cooked for a long time. He quickly finished the food on his plate while Sally wiped her face clean and tried to pretend like she hadn’t been crying. “So where did you come from there isn’t anything around for miles.” He looked up from his plate and said “My ship ran out of fuel not too far away and you were the only place I saw around so I was hoping to maybe buy some fuel from you so that I could make it to a fuel station.” Sally’s face changed from pure warmth to a sense familiarity and said “Oh is that all, I’m very sorry about that. If you give me a minute to rest maybe I’ll see if I can help you out. I’m not sure how much fuel we have left.” He instantly started to cheer up, he would be back on his way soon, and said, “That would be great. I don’t need much just enough to get to the nearest fuel station, and I’ve got money to pay for some, so I’m not some lecher.”

He instantly knew that bartender he spoke to was wrong and said to Sally, “You know I got told I should be scared of all of you.” Sally’s face started to change to anger and she said “Who!..” but she quickly put her hand in front of her mouth and faked a cough. she composed herself again, “who told you to be afraid of a bunch of kids?” she said with a thin smile. He hadn’t noticed her slight loss of control and said, “That crazy bartender, I think she might be losing it a little, probably drinking too much of her own stock.” Sally looked up and said, “That poor bartender, she used to have such a great place but she ran it right into the ground and then started drinking herself to sleep every night and accusing everyone of stealing from her.” Sally’s face scrunched up. “I just felt so bad for her we tried to help her but she wouldn’t accept it and was always real rude to the children.” Looking a little worried and remembering the state he left her in he said, “I only talked to her briefly but she didn’t come off as the gentle type.” “Yea gentle isn’t really how I would describe her” she said and shook her head as if in worry.

He cocked his head back up and said “Hey Sally, Francis and Gabby asked me, to ask you about how to play something called kickball? said someone named Uncle Jim knows how to play.” Sally had gotten up and was trying to look busy in the kitchen by refolding the same wash cloth over and over, “Jim will be back in few days he just went out to get supplies that’s all, he’ll have to show them when he gets back.””Sounds good to me I just thought I would pass the message along. They seem like such sweet little girls. Also thanks for the food, but like I was saying is there any chance I could get some fuel from you I am happy to pay I just need to get this delivery and I’m behind schedule now, so I really can’t sit around to long.” She put the finally folded wash cloth down and said “Jim should be back any day now with supplies but we are low on fuel ourselves I’m afraid, but I’ll have a look at what we have.” He got up to put his plate in the bucket with the others outside and on his way said “I hate to put you in this position but look I’ll pay double for any bit of fuel you’ve got I just need to get to the next fuel station.” She started to follow him outside and said “I’ll have a look in the shed and see what we have, I’ll be back in just a minute.” Sally’s face clearly said she didn’t want to do this but felt pressed. He started to follow her down the steps and said “I can come with you if you want?” She quickly turned and said, “No, that is quite alright, and no offense but you are a stranger so I think I’ll go have a look and let you know.” He stopped and took a step back and with a gracious smile said,”OK I understand, I’ll just wait here at the tables.” She smiled back and said “OK that would be fine, I’ll be back shortly.” As she started to turn he saw her face start to drop as if she had just been punched in the gut.

he went and sat down waiting at one of the picnic tables just staring out at the expanse of desert behind the gate. He was sat there for a few minutes just taking in the view of the heat rising up off the desert floor and obscuring the bar in the distance. He heard little footsteps come up from behind him and he turned and saw the little boy who had passed out the plates for everyone earlier trying to sneak up on him. A big smile came over the boys face and he smiled back, remembering his little nephew back home. “You trying to sneak up on me?” He said with a big smile. The boy laughed and said, “Maybe?” still smiling and feeling pretty relaxed for the moment he said “What’s your name?” The little boy had a mischievous smile and said “My names Spencer and I bet I can run faster than you can.” He laughed and smiled back saying “I bet you can too Spencer, I’m not quite the runner I used to be, but I have to wait for your Aunt Sally to come back, Hey do you know any cool tricks Spencer?” knowing that if he could occupy Spencer for a few minutes that might brighten his day and maybe win him some favor with Sally for a better deal on some fuel. Spencer thought for a minute and put his hands up to his face looking like he was thinking really hard. Then with a yell he screams out, “I can do a handstand want to see?” He realed back from Spencer yelling and shouts back, “Yea, go on then.”

While spencer tries to work himself up into a handstand the sound of some more footsteps come up from behind him but they sound like they might be Sally. He doesn’t turn, keeping all of his attention on Spencer for the moment. Thinking that Sally would probably find it adorable that he was getting along with one of the kids so well. When he just feels something touch his head then sees the ground quickly getting closer to him.

He woke up a little while later to look around and see that he is inside the barn he saw the kids all running to, but he is chained up by one arm to a three meter tall pole in the middle of a cement floor. The pole must be in deep because when he tries to pull on it, it doesn’t budge an inch or even rattle. There isn’t much in the barn except blood splatters all over the concrete and some torn up clothes in the corner. He hears someone coming, so he goes flat on the ground to try and pretend to be asleep. He can hear Sally muttering to herself. If he can get her on the round he could definitely over power her and make her let him go. He hears her say “God I’m glad he is asleep still it always makes this part easier.” Hearing that he lurches up to stare Sally straight in the eye. “What part would that be Sally?” he said, both stressed from the adrenaline of having found himself shackled in a shed, and confused about what was happening. Sally was taken back at first but quickly tightened her grip on the knife she brought from the kitchen. looking like a nervous wreck and obviously shocked from him jumping up she yells back “I have to do this!” Tears welled up in her eyes and he could see she was fighting against her self to stab him. More confused at finding this woman whom he had had a nice conversation with earlier about to stab him he yelled back, “What have I said, I don’t need the fuel that bad…” he stumbled over himself trying to figure out what she meant by having to do this. When he looked over near the door to the shed and realized he could see the shadows of little feet at the bottom of the door. This somehow made the whole situation much more grim, he realized that the children were waiting outside and obviously knew what was happening inside. He wondered, maybe they wanted to stop her and didn’t know how, most of them couldn’t have been more than 9 years old except Gabby and Francis. The stillness of Sally standing there with that dirty knife in her hand and the sun shinning through the holes in her clothes made it that much more obvious how dire a situation her and these children were in. They would resort to anything.

Then the sound of shuffling feet and a tiny murmur came from outside followed by what sounded like Francis saying “Are you done yet Aunt Sally?” Sally’s face tightened and she winced out “Almost darling.” Becoming much more frightened at the realization that the children didn’t want to stop her he said, “Sally you don’t have to do this, if you have some fuel I can get you all in my ship and we can go somewhere else, I won’t tell anyone whats going on here.” Still fighting back tears and fighting with her own arm about weather or not to stab him she cried out, “What do you think you ate earlier we sure as hell haven’t had any cows around here for a while.” With that he realized this was not the first time she had done this, He frantically said, “Let me help you we can still go somewhere else..” She cut him off and shouted back “And let them throw all of the children in jail and label them cannibals for the rest of their lives, How could I let that happen.” He was trying to come up with reasons why she shouldn’t kill him and while panicking said “How could you let them die out here like this I can’t sustain you forever. This is no way to live much less survive, what are you gonna kill yourself next to make sure they have food.” Sally’s eye’s became enraged as he said this but it was obviously an argument she had heard before and one she had thought about many times. Her knuckles were bright white and her hand writhed around the handle as if searching for the perfect grip and when it found it the knife would fall in to his chest.

Sally stood there and glanced at the door seeing some of the small faces peek in around the frame at the man sitting on the blood stained concrete chained to the pole. She grinned slightly through the scowl that had come across her face. “You’re coming in at the end of this story. We’re already dead weather it’s here on piece of land we call our own or whether it’s in some prison.” She sighed and put the knife down by her side, then she fell to her knees and rubbed her face with her hands keeping a tight grip on the knife. He instantly felt pity for her more than he felt when he first saw her she was obviously on the edge of what she could handle and who knows what she went through to get here. But he also realized this might be his chance her guard was down and she was on the ground with his left arm he reached out and grabbed her by the wrist and twisted it and clamped down to force her to drop the knife. She yelled out “OW!” and then he pulled her closer and wrapped his arms and legs around her. He clasped on to her with all of his strength and said, “I’m sorry you’re having a rough time, but I’m not about to die to help you out of a rough patch.”

Sally “You don’t underst…” Phil put a hand over her mouth, “I don’t want an explanation you were going to stab me and then feed me to those children out there. I’ve seen some fucked up shit lady, but that is right at the top. But right now I just want out of this fucking handcuff now where is the key? I’m gonna let my hand off your mouth and if you tell me anything other than where the key is I’m going to grab that knife myself.” He slowly removed his hand and Sally started to whimper something out but then just yelled “CHILDR..” before he slapped his hand back on to her mouth she tried to scream through his hand but he had hold of her jaw and nothing intelligible was getting out. The children started to walk in, soon all twelve of the small wide eyed children were standing only feet from him with his arms and legs wrapped around Sally holding her down as she struggled to get free.

trying to appeal to them and get them on his side he said, “Kids I’m going to save you and take you away from here, don’t you want that, to go to someplace with lush green forests and all of the juiciest fruit you can imagine. doesn’t that sound great?” The children stood and looked at him holding Sally tightly and then a smaller boy reached down and grabbed the knife that was at his feet.

Seeing this and becoming worried about what he might do with it he said, “Just put that down boy, we won’t need that anymore.” Sally started to fight more to get herself free from his grasp and he could feel tears start to stream down her face and mucus flow from her nose making his grip on her face start to loosen. She started to whip her head back and forth while Phil tried to hold her steady with all of his strength. She soon slipped his hand off her face and while fidgeting had managed to get one arm free enough to grab his hand so that she could speak again.

She had a very worried tone to her voice but was trying to calm the children down, “Children please just help me up, he’s still chained up.” some of the children began to look at each other and then back at Sally. The boy with the knife looked down at the knife and over at Francis. He could feel another bout of strength coming from Sally to get free. He was confused that look from the little boy to Francis seemed to mean something to Sally and to the other children, a sense of doom feel over the room. Sally yelled out, “Let go of me you idiot or they’re going to stab us both!” He loosened his arms a bit at hearing that, out of confusion, how could these children possibly kill them, surely they weren’t capable of that. It was one thing for Sally to kill people to take care of them but how could they be able to kill people. Sally took her chance to leap up to her feet leaving him in a pile of confusion on the ground.

Sally yelled at him “I told you, you’ve come in at the end of this story we’ve chosen to stay here at this point, this is the life we want now. At first it was thrust at us like this knife is going to be thrust into you. The pain of loosing all of our cattle and the rains drying up was horrible but then the feeling of watching my husband die in front of me, tore my soul to pieces. Don’t you see we started to eat the dead because we had no choice. But after we started it was too easy to start inviting in the odd traveler and then having fresh steak on the table that night. It became routine until the travelers stopped coming through. Then we turned on each other some wanted to eat the children hoping we could get by until someone came through and we could find a way out of here. How could you hurt your own small children though, surely we needed to protect them.” Still shocked and trying to find a way out of his handcuff he yelled out “My ship! I can get you out of here haven’t you been listening? I can get us all out of here right now, just get me some fuel and its full of food not a lot of food but still enough for us to get by until a rescue ship comes for me.” Sally smiled and “Yea I’ve been listening and yea your ship sounds great, but we don’t have any fucking fuel you moron, don’t you think we would have just jumped into your ship before eating our friends.” She seemed to completely ignore the mention of food on it and the possibility of eating that food instead of eating him. While the children looked up at Sally with and back at him after hearing the prospect of the food he offered.

The children had all huddled in tight around Sally but he couldn’t see the knife anymore, Sally stood up straight and turned around to the kids and said “Alright hand over the knife and then go back outside you don’t need to see this part.” Suddenly the knife appeared still in the hand of the little boy who had picked it up earlier. His grubby little hands held on tight to it and his little chubby cheeks wrenched up tight he seemed to be drawing all of the wisdom his young mind could summon, Sally had her back to him and in a slow flash he reached his hand about as high as he could and plunged the knife in to her back just below the ribs. Sally immediately doubled over in pain she was gasping for air. The knife had gone in almost to the handle the children stepped back from her as she knelt on the ground. She turned slightly writhing from the pain and he could see that the blade had come out the other side and there was blood leaching from both wounds soaking through her clothes. Sally whipped her head around and yelled at the boy who had stabbed her “You little bastard, now you’re all going to die, I was taking care of you.” The little boy scrunched up his chubby little cheeks and squealed out “YOU KILLED MY DAD!!” The other children looked around at each other as if to agree then Francis stepped form the crowd to Sally and Sally looked up desperate for what to do next and looking for help. Francis wheeled her leg back and kicked Sally straight in the jaw causing her to turn and land on her stomach forcing the knife back out of her back and a renewed flow of deep red blood to burst from her back another child reached and grabbed the knife from her back only to stab it back in again higher up Sally’s back forcing Sally to issue a loud yell and a plea for help from someone.

He sat there cuffed to the pole still and in disbelief not knowing what to make of the situation the children all started to take turns to kick and stomp and stab her as she tried to crawl to the door. He looked around him for anything within reach maybe while they were distracted he could break his chains and get out of there but there wasn’t anything nearby. The chains were old and had begun to rust maybe if he could break the chain under tension. He got up and started to spin the chain and himself around the pole and pull on it with both his hands. He started pulling it around the pole more and putting stress on each link just looking for one weak link to give way and give him his freedom from these murderous children. He could still hear that wretched bloody mess of a person on the ground behind him coughing and sobbing telling the children to stop, which meant he still had time to escape. Straining the chain he saw one link begin to eject rust and thin as it started to bend slowly. The strain on his wrist from the cuff was excruciating and he started to lose feeling in his hand but he kept pulling. The rusty link started to twist and become almost wire thin. When he realized that the room had become silent.

He looked over and the children were still staring at the corpse of a bloodied and beaten women who had crawled across the ground in her final moments. A woman who only a little while ago had served them lunch and whom only moments ago was going to kill for them so that they could survive, but to them, she was not their savior but someone who had taken from them the people whom they loved and they couldn’t understand why. He stood up but realized in his running around the poll he had made his chain shorter and was now forced to hunch over at the behest his now bleeding and bruised and cuffed hand. Some of the children had clearly forgotten that he was there all together and were still transfixed on Sally’s body and the blood that issued forth. Francis turned to look at him, the blood had splashed up her pant legs undoubtedly from stomping, she had no expression on her face. Phil wasn’t sure what to do or how to react he just knew that he still wanted to get out. Gabby looked over at him too she didn’t have as much blood on her and she was very obviously sad and about to burst into tears. She started to walk towards him but Francis stopped her and turned her around and hugged her as she began crying. Francis held her close but kept looking at him still with no expression. He had no idea what to do they were still children with no idea how to take care of themselves and now no one to take care of them but they had also all just killed someone in front of him. Would they try to kill him next?

Trying to come up with someway to calm them he said, “Hey Francis if you get me out of here I can still take you somewhere else, somewhere where someone can help take care of you and no one will hurt you again. I just need the key to this cuff.”

Francis stared blankly at first but then started to get angry and hugged Gabby tighter, trying not to cry herself. The other children started to notice that he was still there some of them had started to cry themselves. The children started to move towards him not knowing what to do. He was uneasy they were just children and they weren’t going to surprise him now, but what did they want.

Still trying to appeal to them he said, “If anyone knows where the key is I can get us all out of here right now, and get you some more food, I’ve got a back pack up on the hill its got food in it just let me go and I’ll show you.” He was looking desperate. The knife was still in Sally’s back. Not knowing what else to do he threw open his arms and squated down to offer a hug to as many of them as he could fit. two of the smallest girls were the first to accept they ran to him holding their hands to their faces as they cried and ran he wrapped his big arm around them and held them tight. The fight had gone out of them they were just innocent children now. Spencer came and hugged the girls from behind and cried into their hair. He closed his eyes and nuzzled the little girls he was just happy to not be scared of them anymore.

Then he felt a piercing splitting pain in the middle of his back and all the air went out of his lungs. It hurt to breathe, he had no idea what was happening the little girls he was hugging began to scream he had tightened his grip on them in response to the pain so he let them go and he looked up and the knife was gone from Sally. He noticed Gabby sitting on the ground by herself and he heard Francis behind him “You made this happen! It’s you’re fault she’s dead!” He felt the knife get dragged back across his rib and then then plunged back into him again and again and again while Francis yelled, “I hate you!”

Soon he was dead and motionless but still chained to the pole. Several of the children were still in tears and some holding each other. Blood from Sally had started to clot and dry up when his fresh warm pungent blood flowed over it. Francis directed Gabby to stop crying and to get the other children out of the barn. She went to work on Sally first having watched her do the same on other people. The children had food for a while after that day thanks to the food from the ship and Francis’s steady hand. although the mood of the ranch had changed, before then they only knew that Sally or one of the other adults had killed the travelers but they had never done it themselves. From then on Francis took charge and tried to keep everyone working together for as long as she could. Slowly some of the other children refused to eat and wasted away to eventually just not wake up. They even tried to feed them only the food left behind by the pilot but they just didn’t want to live anymore.

After what seemed like a year a group of new prospective miners showed up looking for the next big gold rush. They stumbled upon the dilapidated farm with emaciated children who had not eaten in weeks at that point and were too weak to speak. The prospectors immediately scooped up all four children that they could find and took them to a hospital ship in orbit around the nearest planet. The children were taken as orphans and treated by the hospital. Francis laid in hospital for about two weeks before she spoke again she had lost Gabby and the other children refused to talk to her. She got sent to a different boarding school due to her age. She never saw the others again. The prospectors apparently found some new strange precious metal immediately below the farm and started to dig and destroy the farm and all of the property around it. Francis was glad it was gone. Whenever anyone asked her about what had happened there and why a bunch of children wound up on a deserted planet by themselves, all she said was that the adults all just disappeared one day. The doctors and nurses didn’t know what to make of it but were too busy to spend time thinking about it. Francis went on to live a life of loneliness always missing Gabby and never once speaking a word of what she had done that day and how she had lived for those few years, the blood and death that haunted her every day.

-Josh McIntyre