Makara and her older brother held each other in the dark corridor of Long Angels’ HQ. They were watched over by Miss Robles, one of the teachers, who nervously stared into the darkness as the rattle of gunfire sounded on and off, as the building itself shook from impacts of God knew what.
“Don’t you worry, children,” she said. “We’ll make it through all right.”
Makara might have only been ten years old by then, but she was old enough to know that Miss Robles was trying to convince herself as much, if not more, than the children she was tasked with guarding.
“Maybe we should get lower in the building,” Samuel said, his hand tightening over his little sister’s. Makara snuggled closer to him – her big brother had always kept her safe.
She could only hope and pray that remained me true. The only thing Samuel hadn’t saved her from was when Bunker One fell, back in ’48. She had believed him dead, and he had been living among the Bunker survivors on the outskirts of Angel territory all this time. She hadn’t spoken to him much since Raine had ordered them both back into the relative safety of the building, but she did talk to him enough, in between happy tears and vise-like hugs, to find out that much.
“Lord Raine said to stay here,” Miss Robles said. “This is the back of the building. It’s safer.”
Makara tried to discount the fact that Miss Robles had said it was “safer” and not “safe.” The teacher had always been a source of steadiness in her life. She taught her, along with the other kids, almost every single day in the single school room on HQ’s first floor. She had a tough job – the sons and daughters of Angel gang members were not an easy bunch to teach. She managed, though, somehow, because despite her young features, she was tough as nails herself.
It was then that a sudden explosion rocked Makara from her thoughts. The sound was deafening, to the point where it felt as if her head would split open. Samuel grabbed her, pulling her away from the blast, even as Miss Robles fell amidst the sound of gunfire.
“Miss Robles!” Makara screamed, not hearing her own voice due to the blast.
She fell backward next to Makara, her face staring lifelessly at the ceiling. Blood dribbled out of her mouth, though the bullet had entered her somewhere below that – Makara knew not where. All she knew was that her teacher was dead. Staring into her vacant blue eyes, she realized for the first time that Miss Robles had been young – maybe only ten years older than she.
And if she hadn’t been standing where she was, the bullet would have gone into Makara.
As her hearing returned, as hot tears streamed from her eyes, she became aware of the sound of Samuel urging her back above the the tromping of boots, the screams of men and women, followed by yet more deafening gunshots. Some whizzed overhead. Samuel pulled her to the floor, but Makara could have cared less.
“We have to get away, Makara!” Samuel said.
Makara nodded – the only thing she felt beyond the numbness was fear. All it took was for Samuel’s hand to pull her for them both to crawl on their bellies across the rubble that had fallen from the ceiling, in the opposite direction of the gunfire. Makara turned back to look, but what had been left of the lights had been fully knocked out in the blast; her dead teacher was already lost to darkness. The troop of Reapers was going the other way down the hallway, but Makara knew they might follow them at any time.
“What’s going on?” Makara asksed. “Why are they here?”
“Quiet,” Samuel hissed. “Do you want to get us killed?”
Makara decided that she didn’t want that. She was still stunned. The life of someone who had taught her so much had just been snuffed out like a candle. Alive one second, dead the next. Makara had seen death before, but she had never seen anyone die like that. It seemed unreal. Miss Robles hadn’t so much as screamed.
Makara could only hope that it had been as painless as it had been quick.
Makara snapped back to reality when Samuel pinched her shoulder, pointing to a staircase leading down into darkness.
“No,” she said. “Not the Basement.”
She had always been deathly afraid of the Basement. Sometimes, when she walked the halls at night, she could hear screams emanating from below, so soft she could hardly know whether they were real. The other kids said the basement was haunted, or that they had seen people go down there in the dead of night, never to come back up.
And it was where Samuel was taking her, but it was either the Basement of the Reapers.
It got very cold as they went down below; nonsensically cold. It must have been seventy degrees in the building itself, but down here, it was at least fifty. When Samuel pushed open the door at the very bottom, the door squealed incredibly loud, echoing into a cavernous space lined with rows of boxes, shelves, and disused machinery. After the echo dissipated, they were left in harrowing silence, broken only by the sounds of gunshots still emanating from above.
“Let’s find a place to hide,” Samuel whispered.
Makara allowed herself to be led by the hand, afraid that if she let go, Samuel would lose her in the darkness. She felt paralyzed with fear, and that fear culminated in a scream as a tangle of spider web stretched across her face, a scream that only became sharper as a giant spider crawled on panicked legs through her hair.
“Get it off me!” she shrieked, punching more than brushing it off her black hair.
“What?” Samuel asked. His fingers came up with a silvery thread of the web. “All that noise for a spider web?”
That was when a door from the other side of the room slammed open. “Who’s in here? Show yourself!”
Samuel pulled Makara toward a row of boxes, kneeling down behind them.
They could do nothing be as quiet as the dead that were said to haunt this place.