"Don't worry, your mother and I will be back before you know it. Until then, I want you to be the man of the house for me. Promise me you'll take good care of your brothers, and keep them out of trouble! I know you can do it! I love you."
"I love you."
The phrase echoed in his mind as he clutched his father's heavy, old scarf. He was attempting to use it to stop the bleeding from his brother's leg. The deep red color of the fabric was hardly tainted by his younger brother's bright red blood. His mother had taught him basic first aid, although he had no knowledge regarding how to remove a bullet. Luckily, the wound was just above his ankle, far from any vital organs, though it would be a long time before the middle child would be able to walk again.
A series of shots rang out followed by the sickening sound of bullets ripping through flesh. Through the small crack in the wall of the rotting, wooden shack the trio had taken refuge in, the youngest brother, Basil, carefully observed the scene unfolding before them. The middle child Lavender, bit down hard on the bloody scarf to prevent himself from screaming from the pain, but the worn fabric did little to stop the tears flowing from his yellow, bloodshot eyes. Another day in Universe 9, the "garbage dumb" of the cosmos. Although these types of encounters were not uncommon for the brothers, one could never truly become accustomed to the daily brutality that occurred regularly.
Basil's sensitive wolf ears picked up the distinct sound of combat boots approaching, followed by the engine noises most likely belonging to one of the government forces. The planet was currently in the midst of a civil war, with the three brothers hardly understanding any of the details. The only thing they knew without doubt, was that if they were caught by either side, they would surely die. They had recently taken refuge in an abandoned city, one of the regional capitals. There was food and several useful items scattered about, left over from the evacuation and subsequent battles, and the boys reckoned that this would make an adequate hiding place until they needed to relocate. But, it seemed that they could never escape the war, like they were destined to die in this conflict.
Several times the younger brothers pleaded with Bergamo to allow them to surrender either side of the war, hoping they would take them as prisoners, or perhaps even let them go behind the battle lines. But Bergamo knew that three bullets were cheaper than room and board for a bunch of scrappy kids. The disheartening sound of boots grew louder with each passing second, the trio believed that it was only a matter of time before one of the belligerents discovered their location and then, Bergamo's promise to his father would be broken.
The soldiers were closing in, and soon they would be right outside the flimsy wooden walls of the shack. The shack was old and rotten, with only a few support beams holding up the roof and the walls. It seemed as if a passing breeze could reduce the structure to splinters. Bergamo grabbed Basil's tail and pulled him away from the cracks in the wall, his bright red fur could very easily give them away. As Basil landed rather painfully on his rear, Bergamo quickly placed his index finger in front of his lips motioning for both of his brothers to remain quiet. If they kept their heads down and their mouths shut the soldiers would have no reason to investigate their temporary refuge.
The next ten minutes were the longest of the brothers' relatively short lives as the soldiers carefully advanced through the area the shack was located in. The pain in Lavender's leg was beginning to flare up again, and he could barely suppress the whimpers that escaped his mouth. At last, the awful noise of the soldiers' boots began to dissipate, as hope began to emerge within the brothers' hearts. They had to wait only a little longer. Basil, believing that the coast was almost clear, carefully peeked his head in front of a small crack in the rotted shack. On the other side of the flimsy wall, stood a lone government soldier, who was separated from his unit, and he was looking directly at the shack.
Basil's eyes widened as he placed his hand over his mouth to suppress a terrified gasp. In reality the soldier wasn't necessarily focused on the shack, just peering into the alley where the shack was located to check if any enemy combatants were hiding there. But, Basil did not see it this way. He saw a bloodthirsty, ruthless, killing machine ready to extinguish the lives of him and his brothers. He was mortified. He instinctively jerked his body back, away from the wall and found himself stumbling over an uneven section of the floor. Basil tried repositioning himself to attempt to land quietly, but doing so resulted in the majority of his body weight crashing down on Lavender. Right onto his still bleeding bullet wound.
Time seemed to stand still for a moment as Basil realized what had just occurred. Bergamo, who had previously positioned himself at the feet of Lavender, quickly attempted to use part of his scarf to cover Lavender's mouth, but his efforts were in vain. When Basil had landed on Lavender's wound and the sickening sound had reached his ears, Lavender didn't care about the situation he and his brothers were in, nor did he give any thought towards the repercussions as a result of his next action. All he did was scream. It wasn't just an ordinary scream, it was a bloodcurdling, woeful howl that terrified both of his brothers. Lavender wasn't just screaming due to the excruciating pain he was experiencing, he was releasing all of his pent up emotions he and his brothers possessed ever since that fateful day.
Tears welled up into his eyes as he began to thrash about, kicking and screaming. Basil attempted to restrain his arms, with Bergamo attempting to get a firm grip around Lavender's legs, but as he reached to cover his younger brother's mouth, he saw something that made him hesitate. For a moment Bergamo believed he saw … purple saliva? It was emerging from Lavender's mouth as if it were saliva. Bergamo did not get a good look at it, because at that moment, Lavender's legs suddenly jerked and delivered a firm kick right into Bergamo's stomach. He and his brothers hadn't been able to eat much ever since that fateful day, but it didn't stop the little food Bergamo had for breakfast from traveling up his throat and out of his mouth as he was launched backwards from the kick. This time, it was Basil who saw something strange occur. Lavender's foot had left an almost cartoonish imprint in Bergamo's abdomen, it glowed red for a moment and then disappeared. As Bergamo flew backwards, Basil could have sworn that Bergamo got … bigger? Bergamo's sudden growth could have been in illusion, but the awful crunch that resulted from his body impacting one of the support beams was very real.
Upon hearing the sound of rotten wood snapping all three of the brothers' eyes widened in horror, and for good reason. The destruction of that support beam had compromised the structural integrity of the shack resulting in one of the walls completely collapsing, revealing the presence of the trio to a lone soldier who had fallen behind his unit. At first the soldier was terrified, believing the earlier scream and destruction of the shack to be an enemy ambush, but was confused to find that it was only three children. What was more confusing was the position the soldier found them in. The trio was covered in sawdust and termites from the collapsing wall, and the smell of the awful combination of blood and vomit now permitted the air. The three boys looked up at the soldier, terrified. None of them dared to move a muscle. Even behind the mask that concealed his face, the soldier could make out tears moistening the fur below the children's eyes. The soldier raised his rifle, he was ordered to shoot anyone who wasn't a government official, but… these were just kids, the soldier himself had only just turned eighteen himself, and the oldest looking wolf, the one with blue fur, looked only slightly younger if not the same age as himself. He had already seen enough death and destruction to last a lifetime. His muscles relaxed as he slightly lowered his rifle. But, what happens now? Does he just pretend that they don't exist and continue marching forwards, or does he take them with him and claim that they surrendered? As he contemplated this, a loud bang rang out.
The three brothers closed their eyes and winced before this as they believed the shot was directed towards one of their collective surprise, each one opened their eyes to see that the bullet was not meant for them, but for the soldier. He was lying on the ground. Suddenly a large firefight broke out where the majority of his unit was located up ahead. It was an ambush by the resistance guerilla forces. This did not relieve the brothers, as these soldiers were perhaps even more violent than the government forces, and most likely wouldn't even hesitate to extinguish their lives when given the chance.
The soldier suddenly got up and scrambled towards a pile of rubble, surprising the brothers. The bullet had only grazed his helmet, leaving a large gash in the composite material, but left the inhabitant of the armor unharmed. Now, through their collective yellow eyes, the brothers could partially see the face of the soldier who had previously contemplated ending their lives only moments earlier. They no longer saw a killing machine, but a frightened young man. The soldier looked back towards the children, and his lips formed a slight smile. They reminded him of his brothers, his own brothers he needed to protect. He aimed his rifle around the cover without exposing his head or torso and blindly fired for a moment. Then, he rose to his feet and fired off a more accurate shot in the direction the bullet had been fired from, a silhouette in the distance could be seen ducking behind cover to avoid retaliatory fire.
The brothers were stunned, figuratively and literally. They still couldn't find the strength within themselves to move, and became transfixed on the battle between the soldier and the hidden marksman. The soldier glanced over at the trio and commanded them to retreat away from this position with silent hand signals. The brothers collectively cocked their heads in confusion. To Bergamo, the soldier appeared to be opening and closing an invisible door. To Basil, he seemed as if he was improvising some sort of dance routine. And to Lavender, with tears still in his eyes, saw a man having an epileptic seizure, while somehow dodging gunfire. This lightened Lavender's countenance a bit.
The young soldier, remembering that he was frequently mocked by his fellow troopers for his inaccurate signaling, decided to use a more common form of communication. "Run! Get outta here!" the soldier cried, before firing off a few more shots to provide cover fire for the children. Bergamo gasped, he sounded like his father. Without hesitation Bergamo hoisted the still tear-ridden and bloody Lavender onto his shoulder and barked at Basil to stay close to him. Bergamo then sprinted out of the shack with a terrified Lavender draped across his shoulders. Basil was about to follow suit, but realized he was forgetting something. An old, raggedy ball fashioned from canvas lay almost neglected in the corner. There was no way he was leaving one of the last remnants of his previous life behind. Basil quickly scooped it up, and vanished in a flash. Under the cover of the suppressing fire offered by the soldier, The Bergamo and Basil ran as far as their legs could carry them. They didn't know where they were going, or if they were heading into another ambush. All they knew that if they kept running they might just see the next sunrise. Although the two never looked back, Lavender thought he could see the soldier take off his helmet revealing a similar wolf-like visage to his brothers, and smile at their successful escape.