The Life and Death of Molly Parker

                 I ran. I ran faster than I’d ever run in my life. Seventeen years of running.Running from what, I wasn’t sure. I just knew that I had to run. My brothersays that we’re running to protect our family. He says that under nocircumstance am I to ever give up information about what happens within TheFamily to an outsider; especially if they’re one of them: The Enemy.

Not many people inhabited Earth. After the Great War, most wereeither killed or killed themselves. My brother told me that it was the worstbattle he’d ever fought. That’s why he took me and left. He found The Familyand they took us in. He said that ever since the Great War, no one was allowedoutside of the woods. If you were caught outside of The Family’s property,you’d better pray for a quick death.

Leaves and branches scratched at my cheeks and the icy wind bitsharply into my skin. Briar bushes grabbed my clothes and did their best tostop my forward motion. My feet splashed in the mud as I ran down the hillside.I was almost there. Almost home. The Family wouldn’t be happy with me once Igot there, but I knew my brother wouldn’t let them hurt me like they’d donebefore. I shuddered at the thought of my first indiscretion and my firstoffense against The Family.

My legs burned and my chest heaved, trying to catch the breathescaping them. I couldn’t see the break. Had I gone in the wrong direction? Icouldn’t hear any other sounds around me. Maybe they’d given up? I prayed thatthey had. I stopped running and doubled over, bracing my hands against myknees, gasping for breath. I looked up and scanned the surrounding woods. Theylooked familiar, but in this part of the forest, you could never be too certainabout where you were.

The sun hung low in the sky. If they didn’t know by now, theywere certainly learning that I was gone. My sweater clung to my sweaty skin andI could see steam rolling off my forearms. The cold, night air set my lungs onfire. I needed to find the break and get back home before nightfall. The wildanimals that inhabit these woods are not the kind that you can hide from.

From the corner of my eye I could see a light flickering in thedistance. My muscles tensed. I slid behind the nearest bush and peeked over thetop. An orb of red light floated out of the trees. I couldn’t tell if the orbof light was connected to a person. I crouched in silence as the light movedcloser. Echoes floated from the light. I listened closely. The echoes werecalling out my name, but I didn’t recognize the voice.

I didn’t answer. I didn’t know who it was, why would I? If itwere my brother, the voice would be deeper, more gravely than this one. Thelight was closer now and I could distinguish the flicker of a lit torch. Theholder of the torch moved the bright, flickering fire out of their face and Icould see a hazy outline of the side of their head. I still didn’t recognizethe voice or the part of their face that I could see. If they were a part ofThe Family, I’d never met them. Maybe a new member? The Family took in newmembers only on rare occasions, but they did nonetheless.

“Molly,” the voice called out. “Molly Parker, are you out here?”

I didn’t answer. With my terrible luck, this man would be a partof The Enemy and I had no desire to validate the rumors of what they did tothose they took captive.

“Come on, Molly,” the man called out again. “If I don’t get youback, they’ll punish both of us.”

Punish both of us? What did he mean by that? I rose up behindthe bush and stepped out into the glow of the torch.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I’m Grady,” he said. I don’t remember anyone named Grady livingwith The Family.

“Why are you following me?”

“Matt sent me out here to find you,” he said with an unenthusiasticlook on his face. “I don’t want to be out here, but I was ordered. Now, can weplease get back?”

“My brother sent you?” Why wouldn’t he come with Grady?

“Yeah,” Grady said. “I just said that, so can we go now? It’sgetting darker and if I don’t get you back soon, your brother will have my headon a pike.”

“Why couldn’t he come?”

“A meeting? I don’t know, Molly. Let’s go.”

Before I could say another word, his fingers locked around myarm. I pulled against his grip, but it was like iron.

“Let go of me,” I cried out. He didn’t let go. His griptightened like a vice around my arm and he began to drag me in the directionhe’d come. I couldn’t see anything around me. The sun had already set. Holes inthe ground swallowed my feet and tried to trip me. Grady’s grip kept me uprightand moving. His stride was long and he didn’t speak the whole time. I didn’tmuch like him right now. I’m sure my arm would be a giant bruise in themorning.

“If you let go, I won’t run,” I pleaded.

“Nice try and no,” Grady said with an indignant snort.

He continued to pull me forward and I continued to stumble overthe earth.

“How far away are we?” I asked.

“Not far,” he replied. “Why were you out this far anyway? You’renot stupid, Molly, I know you know the rules and what happens when you breakthe rules.”

With the emphasis he put on the last part, I knew he was part ofThe Family. Only those who were present for my punishment knew what I’d done.Ultimately, I stopped resisting and followed close by his side.

“I just went for a walk,” is what I settled on for an answer. Itwasn’t necessarily the truth, but it wasn’t entirely a lie.

“You went for a walk? This far away?”

I didn’t want to tell him that members of The Enemy had caughtup with me outside of the forest and had chased me back in. “Yes,” I replied.Better he think I’m stupid then to know what I was really doing that far out ofthe woods.

“I don’t believe you...” Grady’s movement stopped. He pulled bequickly in front of him. The hand that was holding onto my arm released,snaking around to cover my mouth. I jerked my head to try and loosen his hold.

“Quiet, someone’s out here,” he whispered in my ear. He tossedthe torch aside. I heard water splash and then we were in complete darkness.

Grady began to walk us backward. I felt branches slide across myarms. We stood in silence. My whole body was trembling. Burning torchesappeared in the distance. I couldn’t count how many, but it looked like anentire army. Grady’s hand fell from my mouth and he stepped around me. I followedhim to the edge of the trees and peered over his shoulder.

“Do you know who they are?” I whispered as I watched the lightspass over the hillside and out of sight.

“No, but whoever they are, they know we’re out here,” he said.“Come on, we have to go now.”

Grady’s hand wrapped tightly around mine and we began to run. Weran until I was wheezing and coughing from the cold air.

“Stop,” I managed while coughing. Grady slowed down to a walk,but didn’t stop. My stomach turned and I doubled over, falling onto my knees. Idry heaved for a couple minutes until I caught my breath. The coughing,however, did not stop.

“I think they’re gone,” Grady said peeking out of the trees wewere currently hiding behind. “I think it’s safe to walk now.”

“Thank you for that wonderful statement,” I snorted. “If youwould like to sprint for another ten minutes, feel free to do it on your own.”

I pushed him aside and continued to walk in the direction we’dbeen running. I wasn’t sure if this lead to home or to an enemy camp where I’dbe tortured and raped for information. If they would let me sit down, eitherwas okay with me right now.

“Molly, wait up,” Grady called from behind me. I could hear thelaughter in his voice. It grated against my nerves. He’s lucky The Family doesn’tlive on cliffs; I would have to problems pushing him off of one.

“You never told me why you were out this far,” he said quietly.

“Yes, I did,” I said. “I went for a walk. I don’t want to talkto you about this anyway.”

For the rest of the way home, we walked in silence. Our pathalight by the glow of the full moon, Grady guided me carefully back home. Iwould normally say ‘thank you’, but in light of what had happened earlier andhis utter disregard for my pain tolerance, I decided give him a short sideglance and walk the rest of the way to mine and Matthew’s cabin alone.

The Family’s plantation wasn’t particularly large. It housed afew hundred people, but we all lived in close quarters. Houses were no morethan three feet apart and all of the smaller cabins encircled the much largermeeting house. The meeting house was home to our leaders and their families. Mybrother was the only exception. Due to his high ranking and influence withinThe Family, he was allowed his own separate cabin on the outskirts of theplantation grounds. He never told me why we lived so far away. I assumed he justdidn’t like people that much.

It mustn’t be that late. Lights from the surrounding cabins werestill on. One of The Family’s most enforced rules was the implementation of acurfew. Lights were to be out at 11:30 PM, no exceptions.

My small, but very homey cabin’s face rose up in the distance.The lights were on meaning whatever meeting Matthew had been in was now over. Imade a mental note to ask him about the Grady guy and why I’d never seen himaround here before. I walked up the steps onto the porch and opened the doorquietly. Matthew wasn’t in the living room, or in the kitchen. I hoped he’dfallen asleep earlier and I wouldn’t have to explain my lateness. I was tired.I needed sleep.

I tried to make my steps light as I climbed the stairs, but thetoe of my boot caught on a loose board and made an awful creaking noise.

“I hope you don’t think you’re off the hook.” I spun around thesee Matthew standing at the bottom of the stairs propped against the doorframeof his room.

I sighed. “Actually, I was hoping you’d just let it slide, sinceI’m your favorite sister,” I said as I backed slowly up the stairs.

“No way, Jose,” he said. He pointed to the kitchen table. “Come.Sit. Talk.”


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