Gasping for breath, I can only make sense of the sound of dogs barking. Euler, my pup, running ahead of me next to a hound and a golden retriever, neither of which I have ever seen before. I am running too fast to look back, but I can sense that my parents are close at my heels. For the life of me, I can’t remember what we’re running towards. We’re chasing something. Something that has a thing I violently care about.
The dogs slow down and wait for my direction as a house comes into view. The foundation has sunken into soft ground at one side. It looks vaguely like our childhood home, grand, yet in this moment showing years of abandonment. Vines curling quietly around shutters, barely tethered shingles moving more rapidly as the wind picks up. With a flick of my hand and a short, high pitched whistle, the dogs fall back.
Inside the house, I send the dogs down into the basement as my parents hurriedly prepare in the kitchen. I descend after the dogs. The basement is dark enough to be in the nightmares of children. Its unfinished cement floor is cool under my bare feet. I creep downward and take note of the dogs, barking viciously at the glass sliding door which opens to the deck in the backyard. With two peeps of a whistle I send the dogs back upstairs. Euler licks my hand as he passes casually, but I’m too busy interpreting the scene on the deck to acknowledge him.
Through the glass I can see a woman, as unkempt as the house we’ve found her in. She’s holding a decanter and cradling it like a mother would her child. It is capped, and yet it is slowly filling with some liquid I can’t quite understand. That’s when I realize that she has surrounded herself with the children in my family. She has my fucking family. The woman disappears off the deck and I bolt out of the basement. The first person I reach is my cousin, Joey. Faint, barely able to hold his head up, he looks at me hopefully. None of the other children move, even slightly, to acknowledge me. Is it due to the lack of energy? The lack of will? The presence of fear?
I quickly try to unclasp Joey’s restraints. It seems to be an over engineered straight jacket, secured by criss-crossing bungee cords. Each cord ends with a fierce fishing hook which the woman dug through the jacket into the child. I am forced to tear out each one, releasing the jacket and flesh bit by bit. I feel the pain of each tug. There isn’t time to feel right now. It is a longer process than I would like. I am halfway down this first jacket when the ever growing panic catches in my gut. I jump over to the next child and start tearing apart her jacket until one of my sisters, Sophia, winced. I shoot a look at her, absently staring at Joey, who had collapsed over himself. It was then that the wind carried the soft humming of the woman onto the deck, so I leap over to Joey, tear the rest of the cording off, pick him up, and dart back inside.
I race back up the stairs to my parents. He can’t weigh more than 30 lbs. What is she doing to them? Does he have any hope of surviving this? My parents take him from me and I run back down to the deck. This time, not caring where the woman was, I don’t hesitate leaving the darkness of the basement through the door. Hands trembling, I work quickly, tearing each jacket apart as I transition from child to child. I race two more children up to my parents. I have to do more. I have to work faster. There isn’t enough time.
This time, I reappear on the deck and there - without a care in the world - was the woman. She doesn’t seem very bothered that I am stealing her harvest out from under her. She seems… to be smiling, stroking her decanter, which is approaching full. She speaks for the first time to me, understanding my confusion exactly, “It doesn’t matter what you do now, my dear. For I have what I need.” She twirls wickedly, her decanter close to her chest. It is a vial of blood platelets. She is extracting them out of the kids through the jackets somehow.
Without thinking I lunge for the decanter. She jumps off of the deck, giggling and taunting me. She pushes it toward me, and I swipe at it. I can’t touch it. Why can’t I touch it when it’s entirely within reach?! She giggled again, “Oh, my dear, you can’t destroy it. You can’t hurt me. You can only sit, and watch me destroy everything you hold dear.” I keep hurling my fists at the decanter. My mind panic stricken and too numb to have another idea. Clinc My hand comes into contact with the cap of the decanter. Interesting. Busily gloating, the woman doesn’t notice this small glitch. I flip the decanter over by its cap, unburdening it from its body.
The woman cries out in agony as the contents of the decanter slowly slosh onto the grass. She collapses. Sobbing in total defeat, she clutches at her harvested platelets, scooping up the goo with her fingers.
With her completely incapacitated, I call for the dogs, who rush over to the woman. Not staying to watch, I - instead - shift my attention towards the rest of the children. As panic leaves me, only the sense of urgency remains. Hands steadied with purpose, I hurriedly tear out the hooks of one child and then another.