This is labeled horror, but it's not very scary.
WARNING: Death, blood, injuries and the sort. MAJOR spoilers for the movie "A Quiet Place". A couple curse words, nothing bad though.
Disclaimer: I don't own any characters from TMNT, and most of the plot is heavily inspired by the movie "A Quiet Place", which I also don't own.
Please Note: If you've watched the movie you'll know I've made some major changes to a lot of things, added a crap ton of scenes, and changed quite a few details. Most of this was intentional. Don't worry about it. That movie was just so powerful, I could never do it justice.
Edit: I'm sorry I HAD to re-upload this. The typos were killing me.
Donnie: 6 (a bit older than in the movie)
(They're all human)
It was quiet.
Too quiet. It felt strange, after all the blood and the screams, the overwhelming shrieks of the beasts and the ripping of flesh. For once Leo was the lucky one. He didn't have to hear the agonized moans of his friends dying around him or their bones snapping between the jaws of the alien creatures as they fed.
I didn't know what was happening, not really. None of us did. Our friend April from next door died right on our front porch. I never saw what killed her. Donnie cried and Leo clung to our father's shirt, looking dazed and confused. All I could do was watch and try to be strong. So I clenched my jaw and followed my father from a distance, slipping on loose papers that had fluttered to the floor in the chaos.
The beasts were lightning fast armored killing machines, ears and teeth on legs, no eyes, noses or fur. It didn't take people long to figure out how to avoid them: lay low and keep quiet. If they can't hear you, they can't find you. Easier said than done of course. They could hear your breath if it was too frantic, your feet if you ran too fast, and your fingers when they brushed against the edges of houses and branches of bushes to keep you steady. We weren't ready for them. By the time we managed to escape the chaos, the entire neighborhood had been wiped out, leaving only pools of blood and mutilated corpses in the unnatural silence that trailed behind them.
We ran as quietly as possible through the woods, Dad leading the way, Donnie clutched tightly in Mom's arms and Leo bringing up the rear. There was no time to rest, even when my side cramped up and my breath came in wheezing gasps. Dad motioned for me to be quiet and we pressed forward, although it somehow seemed a bit more manageable. Leo smiled tightly and grasped my hand.
And we ran.
We didn't stop until we stumbled upon an abandoned house in the woods. Dad seemed sure it was safe to stay in. I didn't want to know why.
It smelled sour and metallic at first, but that faded after the first few days and- even though it was impossible- I could've sworn it started to smell like warm pizza and orange juice, just like our old house.
Donnie was ecstatic, he had to have touched everything at least twice before we had even chosen rooms. By some miracle Leo had managed to keep him quiet, even when he threw a tantrum because he wasn't allowed outside. Of course, it wasn't long after that before Mom and Dad set some ground rules. Basic stuff like "be quiet" and "stay on the property". For once I was glad we all had to learn sign language, because otherwise it would have been extremely difficult to figure out what was going on.
Thank you, Lame-o-nardo.
We settled into a routine within a week. A very long, stressful week, but one week nevertheless. Dad built some fish traps, and every morning he walked to the river to check them. It was a warm spring, so meat of any type was fairly abundant, despite the bloodthirsty creatures preying off anything that had a heartbeat.
Mom spent most of her time soundproofing the house for Donnie. Any toys with batteries were immediately disposed of, and any metal or wood game pieces were replaced with soft felt. The walls were completely plastered with newspaper to absorb sound waves, blankets covered almost every other surface, and clothes were hung on lines around the house. I helped sometimes, but it was ultra super extremely boring so I tended to avoid it when possible.
She also gardened, both to contribute to our "balanced diet" and to try to prove that we could still have normal lives, even after the invasion. At least that's what I think she was getting at.
Leo mostly babysat Don. I swear those two HAD to have been soulmates in another life. They were together 24/7 no matter what. I knew Mom preferred it if I was with them, but they were good at playing quietly together so it worked out.
It was our new normality. And it worked out.
Donnie never seemed to get that youngest children get last pickings. Well actually, there was a lot he didn't get. Leo and I had grown up together; we had a mutual understanding. Don was just... there.
Point was, I had always always gotten the three of hearts in Go Fish. It wasn't even something we talked about. If Leo ended up with my card, he handed it over without question. Most of the time it worked out in his favor anyway, it's not like I didn't give him a card in exchange. But Donnie just didn't seem to get it!
It's in my hand. That means it's mine.
Come on Donnie just let Raph-
Leo's hands wrapped around my shoulders and tugged me back. Rage burned in my chest, thrumming like white hot fire through my veins. Logically, I knew that Leo would've just let us tussle it out if it wasn't potentially dangerous to all of us, but it was just so unfair. Unfair that Donnie couldn't just give it up, unfair that Leo was taking his side, and unfair that I couldn't do anything about it. I couldn't yell or scream or hit something like I could before.
It was ridiculously unfair.
It was agony living like this.
The sheer amount of awareness required was exhausting and mind-numbingly terrifying. Every movement, every step, every breath was a bomb waiting to go off. Eating was the worst part of my day.
And worse than that was the nightmares. If you woke up screaming you were dead, if you shifted the blankets too much, dead. But I couldn't forget. The scent of blood followed me everywhere, even in sleep there was no escape. Sometimes I couldn't tell if I was having a nightmare or living one.
I just wanted it to stop.
Humans were loud creatures, something I never realized until it was taken away from me. We wanted to laugh loudly, cry loudly, communicate loudly. Sure we could use ASL, but we couldn't express emotion the way we used to, and it was tearing us apart.
We started talking less and less. I despised sign language- it was so slow. I couldn't name Mom's favorite color anymore. All I'd heard from Donnie was that he though rockets were cool. I barely looked at Leo.
We couldn't run water through the hose, so when we were hot we were hot. We couldn't yell across the house, so when we wanted to say something, anything, we had to go find the recipient. Walking was terrifying, especially for Leo. The color in the floorboards started to wear away in some parts, the parts that didn't creak.
Don went missing for a couple hours. Mom was hysterical. We were banned from playing near the corn.
It was excruciating.
I'd lost count of the days. Leo etched tally marks into the wood of his headboard and let Donnie count with him, but I wasn't into that kind of stuff. It had been weeks though. Weeks upon weeks and months upon months. Every second ticked down agonizingly slow. We cleaned our rooms and went over the rules. Dad caught us dinner, Mom cooked it, we ate, and we slept.
Until I had to go and get myself sick.
If I thought it was hard being quiet before, it was nothing compared to the agonizing urge to cough with every breath, the itching burn in the back of my throat that would never go away. I curled up on the dusty floor and tried not to moan, even though my hands shook and my sweat was soaking into the parched floorboards.
Mom called a family meeting. We needed medicine. Guilt twisted my heart but I stayed silent.
We will all go together.
She signed where Donnie couldn't see. She thought I couldn't see either.
In case something happens.
Leo and Dad shared an unreadable look. We all left together.
I rode piggyback on Mom, letting everything pass in a hazy mist as I rested my forehead against her cool skin. Donnie and I played eye spy. He won. Dad ruffled his hair playfully, and of course, we walked some more. Leo and Donnie fell back as we got deeper into the forest, to minimize the number of leaves crunching under their feet. Leo showed Donnie how to walk in Dad's huge footprints. The little twerp thought it was some kind of fun hopping game.
We let him play.
We let him play for half and hour, forty five minutes, an hour and a half. I was starting to wonder if we were even walking in the right direction. I didn't remember it taking this long on the way there. Donnie had stopped hopping twenty minutes ago and was now sleeping cradled in Dad's arms. He didn't seem bothered by the unnatural silence; a line of drool trailed out of his mouth and his messy brown mop of hair fluttered in the breeze. I stilled at how relaxed he looked, remembering vividly how quickly it could all be torn away.
As if on cue, the trees began to thin until we were trekking down a worn highway and past the familiar green sign: Welcome to Coulterville.
The town was silent. Newspapers rolled across the street in the wind, and a couple doors squeaked on their ruined hinges. There were no laughing children or chattering teenagers, not even the skittering of small rodents. I shuddered involuntarily and buried my face in Mom's shoulder to repress a cough.
She set me silently in the corner, breathing roughly, and tiptoed away to find the medicine. The pills clicked gently against each other as she pushed them aside. The air caught in my throat; if she died because of me... I would never forgive myself.
Don and Leo wandered off to explore the towering shelves. It'd been so long since the last time we were here.
Mom let out a sigh of relief and pulled out a small container of pills. I forced a few down my tight throat before relaxing against the wall, head thumping softly on the hard plaster. Dad appeared from the back, lugging a bag full of canned foods. He set it down to sign.
Mom nodded and helped me up while Dad gathered the other kids. I was pretty out of it, but Donnie seemed to be carrying something that upset Dad. Leo shifted uncertainly, and I vaguely noticed his knees were scraped up and bloody. They weren't like that before.
You okay? I asked. He nodded jerkily, but his eyes cleared so I counted it as a victory. I smiled softly, allowing myself to fall into a comfortable rest against my mothers soft shirt. She walked evenly, like a boat on gentle waves. Up... down... up... down...
I didn't remember falling asleep.
WEEO WEEOO BE- BE- BEEEEEEEEP!
My head shot up with a jolt, eyes snapping open as the noise assaulted my ears, which had long since forgotten how to hear. I searched desperately for the wailing siren, eyes flickering in tired confusion before they finally landed on my little brother. He was holding a rocket high above his head, face frozen in a mask of excitement, confusion, and growing fear. Dad was racing towards him- racing, a terrified blur driven by the need to protect his youngest child- but he knew. We all knew.
It was too late.
Leo only realized what was happening seconds before the creature appeared. He spun around with a quiet, horrified gasp, backing up a step to get away from the flashing lights. He'd always hated lights like that, filled with sound he couldn't hear and panic he was last to understand. He reached out to do something, anything.
Donnie disappeared in the blink of an eye. A flash of earthy brown, too quick to catch if you weren't watching intensely. Not a single drop of blood tarnished the spot he had been standing, and I briefly wondered how long it took for blood to fall from a body. The creature had to be faster than that.
Dad stood solemnly in the center of the road, alone in his guilt and grief. I stared at the spot Donatello had once stood. Leo trembled next to me, one hand curled in his dark hair, the other over his mouth. Mom never moved.
All that was left was the rocket, sputtering out where it lay.
Leo insisted we make a grave. I begrudgingly agreed to help him when Mom and Dad refused, but that was before I realized he wanted to make it all the way back where Donnie died.
Come on Raph, you said you would help
Yeah. I said I would help you make a grave! There's no way in hell I'm going back there. There are perfectly good rocks and dirt here.
Raph... He looked at me pleadingly, eyes glossy with unshed tears.
Leo, no. Come on man, he loved it here.
Leo swallowed uncomfortably, lifting an eyebrow. He knew I was starting to crack.
20 minutes later I was helping him grind the rock down into a roundish shape. We hadn't been as far as I thought when... when we lost him.
My breath caught in my throat at the though, and Leo's head shot up, terrified.
We're fine, dork. I told him, trying to act like everything was normal. It wasn't, but I could pretend. Pretend we would wake up tomorrow to his warm brown eyes as he jumped on our beds. Pretend we would be able to run down the stairs with him, ruffle his hair and tell him lame jokes. Pretend he would get to go to school, make friends and win a science fair. Pretend he would grow up and invent a billion dollar machine. Pretend he would get a chance to hear our voices again, one last time. Pretend maybe he would build the rocket he'd always dreamed of riding away in, and we'd all be able to escape this hell we were locked in.
152 days since we lost him.
Leo hadn't stated it directly, but I knew he blamed himself. His eyes dulled and he'd been doing that sulking thing he always did whenever he was feeling guilty. Except this was a much larger scale.
He avoided everything of Donnie's like the plague- his toothbrush, cup, clothing that was left lying on the floor. Every drawing Donnie had done for him was stacked neatly and hidden in a drawer, and his headboard had huge gouges along where his neat tallies had once decorated it.
Dad wasn't doing much better, immersing himself in his work, which mostly included improving Leo's hearing aids. Every week or so he'd come up with a new one for the teen to try. None of them ever worked any better than the last, and I knew despite his best efforts Dad was only making Leo feel worse.
Tension only rose; Leo was being more snappy than usual and Dad refused to talk to him. I took Leo's side like I always did, but no one else seemed to realize there even were sides. Ever since Donnie died Mom and Dad have both been treating Leo like glass and he hated it.
In the beginning it was us versus them- human versus monsters, but now it was starting look more and more like parents versus children, and I didn't know how to make it stop.
I had just as much control as I did when he was alive.
I laid on my stomach, feet kicking in the air as Leo moved his little blue felt game piece ahead four more spaces. The purple one lay discarded underneath the box, but you could still see it peeking out if you looked from the right angle.
A louder huff of breath caught my attention and I looked up from my folded arms to see Leo holding the dice out pointedly. I rolled my eyes and took my turn without really thinking, barely sighing in annoyance when my rotten luck landed me on the "Go to Jail" space. Leo grinned cheekily at me, grabbing the dice and grinning wider when I scowled back at him.
You're a rotten brother.
His smile faded in an instant, eyes growing distant as he stared down at the board.
Oh come on Leo, you know I didn't mean it like that.
I watched him set the pieces down and fumble for a response, my mouth drawn into an exasperated line.
It wasn't your fault. You know that right?
He stared at me, breathing unevenly. His fingers gripped the edge his loose sweatshirt for a moment in thought.
I gave it to him, he finally admitted. He- he was so disappointed. And I just... gave it back.
That's not your fault. Dad took the batteries out, we all thought it was safe. Any one of us could've-
But I did! None of you were stupid enough to just hand over a death magnet!
Leo was crying now, silent tears of grief dripping down his chin and onto our Monopoly board. His hands moved quickly with emotion, almost unintelligibly.
I would have.
He froze, confused.
If I was standing right there next to him you know I wouldn't have been able to resist either.
Leo sniffed and dropped his gaze again, shifting uncomfortably.
That's not what this is about is it?
I'd known from the beginning it wasn't. Leo couldn't hear when something was coming; he'd always been sensitive about it. He hated feeling weak, impaired, below everyone else in any way. His entire life was centered around enhancing his senses, trying to gain some semblance of what the vibrations around him meant to "normal people".
It's just... I was standing right there.
No more words were needed.
I swallowed and nodded. My hands softly gripped the carpet as I stared at our game. My beautiful red dragon sat abandoned in the corner of the board, alone and helpless. Stuck. Nothing short of a miracle could get him out. That's what it seemed like to me at least.
It's not your fault, I repeated. I wasn't sure if he saw or not. It didn't matter, really. We both knew what the other was thinking. Nothing would change.
When we were younger, before everything was messed up, Leo and I loved to play in the garden. With cool sprinklers and colorful flowers and warm grass. We chased ladybugs and caught butterflies. Leo's eyes are a little messed up, but he could recognize the weird blue beetles in an instant, better than even I could.
They were the most beautiful part.
I liked the flowers, and I liked burning ants with my Spider-Man magnifying glass. Leo didn't like it so much, but I ignored him.
There were also wasps. Dad usually knocked down the nests before we saw any, which neither of us liked, but he insisted we were safer that way.
"No, they'll hurt you, Raphael. Trust me, it's better for all of us this way. No one wants to hear you complaining about wasp bites for a week."
His voice was light, teasing, but there was an underlying seriousness to it. It scared me a little.
"Love you bud."
He always ruffled my hair at the end of that lecture, even when I had it cropped short.
One day we saw one before Dad did. Leo said we should go tell him so he could knock it down for us, but I insisted we could do it ourselves. It was only a wasp nest, wasn't even as big as my hand. What was the worst that could happen?
Thinking back on it, I wished I hadn't roped Leo into it. We grabbed Dad's broom and dragged out a chair so we could reach it. The thrill of rebellion kept us alert, kept the wooden handle stuck tight in my white-knuckled grip. I was small- almost too small to stay on the chair- but I wobbled my way up and slammed the broom into the side of the house.
It was a perfect hit. The nest fell the ground lightly, and Leo and I had a moment to celebrate before we realized our mistake.
I was crying by the time Dad got to us, and I think Leo might've been too. Dad was tough though, he picked me up with his huge muscly arms and curled around me. It was warm and safe, even though I could still hear the wasps buzzing around us. He raced me back to the house where I was warm with Mom, and he was back less than a minute later carrying Leo, who looked like some kind of pumpkin-tomato hybrid. Donnie and I laughed at him a little bit; he couldn't hear us anyway. (We still got it trouble later, but it was definitely worth it).
I got stung sixteen times that day, and holy crap it was the worst experience of my life. Itchy and painful and too much ice. (Plus, I smelled like essential oils for a month). Leo got away with only eleven, and Donnie must've snuck outside I guess, because he got one too. Dad refused to tell us how many he got, but I'd guess around seven hundred based on the way his face looked- all swollen like a beach ball.
The weird part was that we didn't get in trouble for disobeying. There were no lectures, we weren't grounded, not even the classic disappointed looks. Nothing! I was tense for weeks after, scared of doing anything wrong in case they decided to bring up an unexpected guilt trip.
But it never happened.
Still, I found myself jumping to do anything and everything my father said, trusting his judgment more than I trusted my own. Without thinking about it, I started actually asking for permission before doing potentially dangerous things. It was strange, but I felt a little bit scared to disobey him, scared I'd get hurt again.
It took me months to realize it. I'd already learned my lesson.
Mom had been pregnant for awhile. Me and Leo didn't want a new little sibling, the memories of Donnie still fresh in our minds, but Mom explained it wasn't our choice, even though I personally think we deserved a say.
It was so twisted. This kid would never know what it was like before The Quiet. He wouldn't understand the joy that came with laughing and splashing in puddles, or singing until your throats was raw. My stomach churned with guilt because it was so unfair! A new generation was being born into this hell, and they would never know anything else. Their entire life would be full of fear and silence and death.
It left a bitter taste in my mouth just thinking about it.
I got to help set up the fireworks though, to distract the monsters while Mom was having the baby. Apparently it would be loud, probably from the baby crying. I couldn't help but wonder how we were supposed to keep the baby from crying all the time. Donnie was never quiet when he was younger, and I couldn't imagine this one being any different. The fireworks won't go off forever, there aren't nearly enough. But I trusted Dad's judgment, and he seemed to know what he was doing.
The final product was a masterpiece, twisting around the farm, ready to go off at any second. It was bittersweet, remembering a time when we could watch them explode simply for fun, without a worry in the world. I was excited though, to see them one more time. And maybe Mom would have more kids, and I would get to watch fireworks every year.
Just like I used to.
I trailed after Dad towards the river, glancing at Leo over my shoulder. He was really upset, but as much as I wished there was, there wasn't much I could do about it.
So I sighed and carried on.
The path wound through the forest, around bright flowers and berries. I shuddered as we got deeper, catching sight of the trampled grass and flecks of blood dotting the trees. So not cool.
I heard the river before I saw it, a pounding rush of sound that felt amazing echoing in my deprived ears. There were other sounds too, rustling bushes and tentative bird calls. I walked faster, excited to be out in nature for the first time in months. Dad sped up to match my pace, smiling gently down at me.
And then I saw it.
The waterfall crashed into the frothy waves like a meteor, assaulting my eardrums, loud enough to drown out anything else. Huge fish leapt from beneath the current, spraying droplets onto the shore. The raw power of the river was beautiful, an uncontainable angry white. I let myself dream for just a moment, as I watched it wash by, that it was mine. That I was Poseidon, and I could control it, bend it's roaring tides to my will.
A breath of clear air later I was back in reality, with watery wind tangling my hair. Dad's hand tightened around my shoulder, but it barely registered through the euphoria overtaking my mind.
This is what it feels like to live.
I walked back thoughtfully, dark curls falling in my face. Dad was a few steps ahead of me, far enough to give me space to think, but not so far as to leave me vulnerable. The forest was serene, like something you would see in a romance movie.
Suddenly, Dad stopped. I barely avoided running into him, too lost in thought to notice.
Wha- I started motioning. Until I caught sight of what Dad was looking at. An old man stared creepily at us, still, like he was carved out of stone. I tentatively lifted a hand in greeting, but Dad's eyes widened and he pushed me behind him. I was confused at first, until I twisted my head a little to look past the bushes. A girl laid dead on the ground by his feet, blood pooling around her. His wife maybe? A huge gash decorated her side, and red was slowly staining her lips.
I let out a strangled gasp and jerked back. Dad slowly raised a finger to his lips, never shifting his gaze from the man in front of him. The guy's face scrunched up, kind of like a demented puppet. I automatically reached up to grab Dad's backpack, my eyes widening in terror. Dad shook his head pleadingly, but puppet guy wasn't watching.
He opened his mouth. And screamed.
It was loud and horrible- heavy and laced with grief. The sound grated against his dry throat like sandpaper on metal. Dad reacted instantaneously, scooping me up and sprinting away. I felt the air leave my lungs as I was jostled along, clinging to my dad's shoulders like my life depended on it. He skidded around a tree and set me roughly at the base, pressing a hand over my mouth to keep me quiet. It squished my nose weirdly and made my breathing sound labored and squeaky, but I was too terrified to move.
I thought the screaming was awful, but it was nothing compared to the squelch of his body tearing in half and the thud of it collapsing to the ground. There was a higher pitched screech, this time of pain, then the man was silent. But the creature was still here, ripping at flesh and breathing deep, growling breaths. I slammed my hands over my ears, even though it did little to cover up the sounds. Dad kept his hand over my mouth, even when I lurched forward into his chest, horrified and scared.
We stayed like that long after the creature left, pressed together with silent tears running down our faces. Dad was the one that decided to move, pulling me up with him.
We have to bring the food back. He reminded me. And he was right, we had a family to take care of, it wasn't just us. So we picked up our bags and left, silently agreeing to never bring up that moment again.
The lights were red.
They're red they're red they're red redredred-
Dad was pushing me forward and I choked on bile, fear coiling in my gut and rising in my throat.
Go, he signed. And I took off. I decided I didn't want to watch the fireworks anymore, as I sprinted through the field, corn slapping my face and arms. I'd rather the lights be yellow like they're supposed to be and Mom and Leo safe on the couch.
Life is so unfair.
I slammed into the ground gasping for air, my hands already fumbling in my pockets for the lighter. The wick caught fire like it was just waiting to help me out. It was the first good thing to happen to me today.
I was running again, away this time, desperate to see if my mother was okay, if Leo was okay. My breathing was ragged, and I knew they could hear me, but I kept running. The fireworks exploded behind and above me, a numb reminder that I couldn't go back to my family, not yet.
Guilt choked me as I briefly realized how much Donnie would have loved to see them.
Exhausted and scared, I turned right and kept moving. The silo was just ahead, with a decent vantage point where a monster couldn't be waiting anywhere around me to rip my head off. My limbs propelled me to the top and Leo was there, and I was slamming into his chest with tears pouring down my cheeks.
We stood there for a moment, taking comfort in each other's solidity and beating hearts. Leo broke away first, insisting we had to start the fire so Dad could find us. I handed him my lighter and simply watched him work, seeing his trembling hands but doing nothing about it. The fire roared to life, exploding with warmth. Uncomfortable, I shifted away, and Leo closed his eyes and moved closer. It was strangely surreal.
But it only lasted for a minute before the fire was gone and the suffocating cold was back, filling the void left behind.
Leo bit his lip and ran a hand through his hair, looking more resigned than scared.
He'll come for us, I reassured him. Don't worry.
A sudden anger lit up Leo's face, full of resentment and hurt.
No. He'll come for you.
Confused and slightly concerned, I took a step forward. I immediately regretted it. The metal underneath me groaned for a moment before completely collapsing, tumbling down into the silo and bringing me with it.
The breath was knocked out of me upon impact. Through blurred vision, I caught sight of Leo's head poking over the head of the hole. I raised my hand to give him a thumbs up, but as I shifted the ground did too. That couldn't be good. I struggled to stay up, but I only sunk deeper into what I could only assume was corn. There was nothing but darkness and the same suffocating silence that I could never get away from, following me lower and lower, pushing me deeper and deeper. It made me want to scream my lungs out, rip my ears apart, anything to escape.
My hands flailed helplessly in the air, searching for an anchor, and somehow they caught onto one. The piece of metal. The one I'd been standing on. I pulled myself up, gasping for breath (quietly of course). Strangely, I remembered it landing further away from me. Deciding not to look a gift horse in the mouth- there was no point in dwelling on it- I clambered on top and grabbed my flashlight, looking back up to my brother.
He wasn't there.
Maybe he'd gone looking for a rope to help me up? Although I didn't think he would leave me alone like that, it was the most reasonable explanation I could come up with, and it's not like I could call out for him. There was really only one other thing that could've happened, and it didn't happen. It couldn't...
My mind drifted back to the man, remembering his desperate scream. If something like that happened to Leo, I would've heard it, right?
I was pulled out of my thoughts by a hoarse gasping sound to my right, the shifting of corn, a disturbance in the fragile sheet of silence. Leo.
I scrambled across the slab of metal, plunging my arm elbow deep into the death trap, groping desperately for my older brother. It took too long before my fingers brushed against something solid, long enough that I was scared he was dead. It took all my strength to pull him up, with the corn fighting to keep him in, but inch by inch I dragged him to safety. The instant his head was clear he took a huge gulp of air, raggedly trying to replace the oxygen he'd lost.
We both sat on our metal boat, trying to calm our racing hearts. But I couldn't shake the feeling that something was off.
A whisper of sound to our left. I stilled, carefully lifting a finger to my lips to warn Leo. His eyes widened and his breathing stopped. We warily examined the room, trembling in anticipation. I shined my flashlight up when the wind picked up, causing a loose panel to squeak on it's hinges. Leo simply followed my gaze, petrified. We'd made too much noise.
The creature landed heavily behind us, growling when it breathed. It's what I imagined death would sound like. Leo jumped and spun around, slipping on the corn as he tried to get away. I grabbed his arm and tugged him away from our new friend, Beasty. He seemed to get the hint, and we were diving into the corn, fighting to get the piece of metal on top of us. I wasn't even sure if it was possible to survive an attack, I'd just assumed if they found you, you were dead, but I was scared for my brother and it was worth a shot. My fingers grasped the edge of the lifeline, barely managing to keep my head above the corn. Beasty's claws scraped against the metal, causing me to clench my teeth and bite back a moan. He made a disgusting throaty clicking sound. My flashlight flickered. Tears of fear gathered in my eyes, clogging up my throat.
Suddenly, an ear-splitting shriek echoed in the silo, and Beasty was gone, leaving a gaping hole in his wake. I glanced over at Leo's shining blue eyes and then the grains of corn trickling out of the side of the silo. We shared a breathless grin.
We were alive.
We shouldn't have left the silo. We shouldn't have left the silo. This was a huge mistake.
Leo hit the ground in a diving roll, tearing up the grass in his wake. I was already rushing past, so I went with the next best thing. Ripping open the truck door, I tumbled inside. There was no way it was any safer then hiding underneath like Leo had (an image of the shredded silo wall flashed through my head), but it was too late now. For a moment I just laid there, face pressed against the filthy seats, shaking in fear. There was a rustling sound further away, and I realized I hadn't ever heard Dad get in. My head shot up and I looked out the back window, panicked. Dad was still back a ways, holding a hatchet with both hands, Beasty growling at him from on top of the pergola, and for the first time I got a good at one of the creatures. I wished I hadn't.
He was horrific, slits on the sides and top of his head opened to reveal disgusting, throbbing ear holes. White strands of tendon kept the armor attached. It looked like his entire head opened up for him to hear. And his legs. They were unnaturally long, gangly and bent like a squished bug. His razor sharp teeth lined an enormous mouth, which curled at the edge to trace his entire jaw, like some sort of sadistic smile.
Beasty leapt. Dad swung at the exact same time, and they met somewhere in the middle. But the instant the hatchet hit the monster's skin, Dad went flying back like a rag doll, skidding a couple feet in the grass until he fell still. When he didn't get up again, I reacted without thinking, letting my emotions take over.
The truck door flew open, and I screamed.
It built in my chest, curled around my racing heart, and ripped its way out of my throat without my permission. I would do anything for my family, I'd finally broken and now there was nothing left but my overwhelming fear and desperate love.
I needed them. So much.
Leo pushed me back into the truck, slamming the door behind him. I didn't know why he thought he should take the chance out in the open, but I knew very well that if he hadn't, we'd probably all be dead by now. As it was, our limbs tangled together as we tried to orient ourselves in the darkness. Leo peered over the seats as soon as he was free, ducking down just as quickly. I didn't bother. I could hear death approaching.
My sweater was too hot, even in the frigid night air. I pressed myself flat against the seat, curled into as small of a ball as I could get. Leo looked agonized, clutching his hearing aid while his face twisted in pain. It felt so familiar that I flinched back, the old man's final moments fresh in my mind. My mouth pulled back in a grimace as I fought to remain strong, even though I felt so small. I wanted to be safe in Dad's arms. Why was this happening to us?
The truck rocked when the alien jumped on. He climbed all over it, screeched and slammed his arms on the roof, but the truck somehow held. I threw myself against the side of the truck when Leo's window shattered. Yet somehow, amidst all of the chaos, I felt a wave of calm wash over me. I looked up at Leo, who was once again peering over the seats, this time with tears pouring down his face and a confused, scared, almost unrecognizable smile on his face.
A scream rose into the air and suddenly I understood everything. The old man's face flashed into my face again, the sadness resonating in my heart. Leo was still staring at what I knew had to be a bloodbath, sending an enormous surge of pure love racing through me. I understood the pain and the fear with a clarity that rocked me to the core.
I understood Dad had just sacrificed the only thing he had for us, understood that it was his choice and there was nothing I could do about it. And I needed to take advantage of our chance, make Dad's life, his death, worth something. Needed to protect my brother.
My hands grasped the gearshift and I shoved it forward, clenching my teeth to ward away the tears. The truck clicked into neutral and we were rolling away from... that.
Leo looked comatose, stuck in a moment where nothing existed but pure life. I forced my heaving chest to slow down. Clearly something had happened in those last few moments that impacted Leo, something big. I tentatively reached a hand out and grasped his arm. He turned to me, desperate and lost. Vulnerable. I tried a half smile. He buried his face in my shoulder. I watched his back shake as he sobbed.
Nothing would ever be okay again.
Luckily, we met up with Mom under better circumstances, and it really stung that I considered this better than anything. Still, we were let downstairs for the first time. That was exciting I guess. It was dulled by the ache in my chest when I remembered how much Donnie had wanted to come down here.
Leo's breath hitched and I jumped. Grasping his shoulder, I followed his gaze to what must've been Dad's desk. My heart twisted. The entire thing was covered in research and half-done hearing aids. A diagram of the human ear was hung up, curling a bit at the bottom.
Mom somehow seemed unfazed. It was probably just because she'd seen it so many times, but my eyes narrowed in resentment at how cold she was being. Leo swallowed and continued into the room. Mom turned to me, something painful and desperate in her eyes. She pressed a squirming bundle of blankets against my chest, signing almost too rushed for me to understand.
His name, I realized. This thing is what we've been protecting, the reason Dad was dead.
Mom pointed me behind a generator looking thing and I got there just as the alien arrived. My eyes widened and I bounced the baby gently while Mom pushed Leo behind her. The creature's armored slits lifted and lowered.
Then he struck.
The baby clutched my t-shirt in his tiny fists. He was disgusting; slobber and snot ran down his face as he cried. I didn't understand why he couldn't learn the rules just like the rest of us. He was putting us all in danger. Dad was already dead.
But the urge to protect was overwhelming. He was so small and innocent.
Just like Donnie.
They had the same awkward ears and rounded nose. Dad's ears. Dad's nose.
I pressed further back into the cramped space, metal boxing me in from both sides. The beast shrieked louder and slammed itself against the tables and the walls, knocking over twisted wires and every piece of glass we owned. My arms tightened around my baby brother, pulling him close to my heaving chest. He squirmed and whined. I glanced down to calm him and his shining eyes met mine.
For an instant that was all there was. Bright, curious blue staring into vivid green and everything was right. His breathing slowed along with mine until we synced. A gun clicked in the background, Mom spoke for the first time in months. I didn't move.
I looked into my new brother's eyes. Dad was dead. Leo was fighting for his life against a monster he couldn't hear. This child was safe in my arms.
"I will always protect you." I whispered. Mikey pressed himself closer, still crying. The gun went off, again and again. Everything stopped.
It was quiet.