By on Oct 30, 2020 in Fiction

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5

Shelter in the woods

Maria seems sad now, eyes dull green instead of shiny. She asks if it’s safe to climb back over East Fence at night and walk toward South Fence. She’s not sure she’s strong enough to go over the mountains again. I tell her it’s not safe. I bring Patrol lunch – one of my chores – hear them talk. They have something called claymores. If they hear the other mines explode, they’ll set off the claymores and kill anyone outside the fence. It’s to fight the infected.  Maria nods – her frown covers her whole face.

S is for sun. (I’m tired of rain. Solar panels don’t work in the rain. No fair that we only get hot showers and lights in the summer when we don’t need them.)

T is for tree. (They hide us from Patrol. You’re safe here. Do you really need to leave? You can stay and keep teaching me to read. Ada will miss you.)

U is for umbrella. (We never use those, even before we came here. Father said you could tell who the out-of-towners were by their umbrellas. That was when he laughed. Before the infection got worse.)

V is for volcano. (That’s why you can’t go over North Fence. The mountain back there’s a volcano. It won’t explode or anything, but even you can’t climb around it.)

“Emzara,” Maria says, “If I can’t go to the east or to the north, I need your help to go south. Will you help me?”

I nod. But I don’t like it.

“You say there are many buildings inside the fence where your people live. Do any of them have maps that show where these claymores and mines are?” She pulls my hands into her lap. “Think hard.”

I don’t have to think. There’s a room in Patrol Quarters. Got radios and guns and maps. Patrol meets with Father Noah every day. I know because I always take them lunch after I see Maria. They never say much when I’m in the room, but I can tell they’re worried. Infected outside the fences. No way to get supplies. Some Patrol think there’s a traitor inside the fence.

Maria’s eyes get wide when I tell her about the room. She squeezes my hands. They’re cold despite the warmth of her gloves.

“When you go today, can you help me?” She takes a little box, about the size of my thumb, from an inside jacket pocket. Shows me how to press and hold a tiny button until I hear a beep. “Now it’s recording video,” she explains. “I can attach it to the inside of your coat so it’s poking through this hole.” She points at a small tear on my left shoulder. “All you have to do is turn it on before you bring the men lunch and make sure it’s pointing at the map. I have a machine that will allow me to watch the video. I’ll be able to see where the landmines are so I can escape.”

I bite my lip and stare down at the small box in my hand. Sede’s voice is loud in my head. Doesn’t matter how much she sounds like Mother. Doesn’t matter if we haven’t finished the alphabet. I’ve gone too far. Time to get Patrol.

“Please, Emzara.” I look up. Maria’s eyes are watery green. “I need to get back to my people. They need me to fight the infection.”

I look back down at the little box. The hole inside me. The terrible coming out. I don’t know what to do.

“I tell you what,” Maria says. She takes off her gloves and squeezes my hands over the little black box. “When you bring me the video, we can finish the alphabet.” Her hands feel warm and safe against my freezing skin. Her voice chases away the terrible.

I nod and do as she asks.


Father Noah and five Patrol are sitting around a table when I come in carrying a large tureen of potato and leek soup. It’s heavy and sloshing, and my arms hurt. Ada trips behind, her rag bunny dangling wet from her mouth. She’s got a basket of fresh-baked honey-wheat bread. The men stop talking.

“Here, child,” Father Noah jumps to my side, “let me help you with that.” He pulls the tureen from my aching arms and sets it on another table between a large radio and stack of gun clips – girls should never touch those! His beard tickles the top of my head, and I almost laugh.

But now that the soup is gone, there’s nothing to hide the small tear in the shoulder of my jacket. I’ve followed Maria’s instructions, held the button until I heard a beep. Map’s on the wall by the door. I make sure to face it, nothing out of the ordinary, but my face feels on fire. I want to leave, but Father Noah’s crouched between me and the door.

“Child,” he reaches out to hold my hands. They feel hot and dry like my face. “How old are you now?”

“Almost eleven,” I croak.  The tear in my jacket’s the size of the world. Surely, he can see the camera.

“And are you happy here? What about the other children? You would never do anything to jeopardize the safety of our ark, would you?”

My face freezes. I don’t know what “jeopardize” means, but it must be bad. He knows about me. Knows about Maria. They’ll say I’m Ne’elatama’uk, a wife of Ham. Infected. I start to shake. Worse, they might blame Ada, too. How could I be so stupid? They’ll send us where they sent my mother. Where they send the other infected aunts. I don’t know where that is, but it’s not home. The hole opens inside me. I’m sure the whole building feels my shaking.

But then Ada sneezes, both her rag bunny and the basket of bread tumbling to the floor. With a cry, I throw myself after the bread, returning still-warm slices to the basket with apology after apology.

“I’m sorry, Father Noah. Of course we’re happy here. How could we not be? We all love you. We thank you for keeping us safe.”

I know my face is redder than red as I hand him the bread basket. Ada has found her bunny and stuffed its ears back into her mouth. I wait, too scared to even shake.

But Father Noah only tilts his head back and roars with laughter. Patrol laughs, too. Just not so loud.

“You see,” Father Noah says. Patrol’s laughing stops right away, “How could there be a traitor among us. Not when we have such devotion as we have here. Thank you for expressing your concern, but I am assured that the compound remains secure from infection.” He puts his hand on my head. “Thank you, child. You may go now.”

I duck my head and run out the door as fast as I can, Ada close behind. The cold rain on my face feels like fear.


I don’t tell Maria about my fear, about the hole inside me. I don’t tell her how I didn’t sleep the whole night, because all I could think about was the little box hidden inside my jacket. What if Father Noah changed his mind about me? What if Aunt Rake’el checked our clothes? What if they found out what I’d done?

 I don’t tell Maria any of this. I keep my face flat as I hand her the little box. Her smile almost makes it worth it.

W is for worm. (They keep the soil rich and help us grow food so we can stay safe from the infected. Do you really have to leave?)

X is for xylophone. (That’s a stupid letter.)

Y is for yarn. (Aunt Rake’el’s still trying to teach me to knit. Who’ll teach me to read if you leave?)

“I’m sorry,” Maria says. “But I have to go as soon as I can. I’ll miss you terribly, but maybe I can see you again someday. Maybe after my people stop the infection, we can be together again.”

She hugs me, but I don’t believe her.

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5


Stephanie A. Hunter currently teaches English at Skagit Valley College, which sits at the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not working or writing, she can be found traveling the world or taking her mother camping. This is her second published story. Her first, "Expecting" appeared in Eclectica Magazine.