Copyright is held by the author.
She and her brother studied the land. A blazing canopy of stars illuminated the desert floor. She imagined creatures best left undisturbed by human footfalls slithering and scurrying at their feet. She wanted to drive to the meeting point, but the instructions were clear. The last part of the journey must be on foot: a test, perhaps, or part of a game.
“I’m going to die out here,” said the boy, 13 years old with heart of a 92-year-old.
The sister took a drink and slipped her water bottle back into her backpack. “You may but better out here than in your bed or some shit-hole hospital room.”
“I need to rest.”
“Can’t, we’re on a schedule. If we’re late, they are gone.”
“How much farther?”
“According to the GPS, an hour, five kilometers.”
The brother wheezed. “I’m telling you it’s a joke, not real. We’re suckers. Whoever is waiting for us will probably murder us or worse, use us for experiments.”
“Worse than listening to Mom cry? Dad’s silence?”
“This feels wrong,” said the brother. “This isn’t right.”
“Right ended the moment you got your diagnosis.”
After a pause, the boy took her hand. “You told them we went to the movies?”
“An Alien film festival at the university.”
For the first time in weeks, the boy laughed. “That’s cold.”
As they entered a valley draped in star cast shadow, the girl felt her weight increase. Each step became laboured, and soon the boy dropped to his knees and began to crawl. As she turned to help him, the stars blinked and disappeared, leaving the desert drowning in the darkness of death.
The girl gasped and fell beside her brother. As she reached for him, she felt a presence. The girl pivoted around to her right and saw two human figures standing aside a softly illuminated platform.
One figure removed its hood revealing the stark lined face of an old man. “You’re late,” he said. “We should leave you on the ground and let the vermin of this forsaken place devour you.”
The sister swallowed and pointed to her brother. “He can barely breathe. Give him credit for making the journey.”
The other figure, an equally old woman, scoffed, “It’s a narcissistic species. It wants participation trophies.”
“Set the boy on the table,” said the old man.
The sister lifted the boy and laid him across the slab. She felt a soothing warmth radiate from its surface. It was hard to believe that the solution to her brother’s illness was in the hands of strangers who despite their appearance were not human. A part of her still thought it was an elaborate joke. “If this fails, will our parents still be…” Her voice trailed. “Is the contract voided?”
The old woman raised her hand. “The parents have already been harvested.”
The sister’s insides felt as if they may catch fire. Digging deep into the dark bowels of the Internet, she had found the help her brother required. Though she understood the price, until they had arrived in the valley, it was a game—a ploy to keep her brother’s spirits up. “Were they scared?” the girl asked.
“They cried and shat like dogs,” the old woman said. “It’s a weak species.”
As the old woman worked silently and swiftly with tools unknown, the sister sat off to the side studying the vast emptiness of the night. Her world had become too large and the universe had grown too close.
She glanced back at the platform where her brother lay. Maybe it would be best if we were alone, she thought. I wouldn’t have to make these awful decisions. I wouldn’t have to enter Faustian bargains with…
The old man stepped forward. “The boy will live.”
“Thank you,” the girl replied and thought about what the doctors had told them a month before. Her brother’s heart would fail within three months, and given their lack of health insurance he stood years down the waiting list for a transplant. “For how long?” she asked. “A year? A lifetime?”
“Until it does something stupid,” said the old woman. “The species lacks discipline.”
“I’m okay?” asked the boy. “This is not a dream?”
“I don’t know what this is, but you’re fine.”
The boy looked to the night. The stars had returned. “Did we do the right thing?”
“Interesting,” said the old man.
“Hardly,” said the old woman. “It’s a species without morals. It does what it wants to survive. They’re animals. At best, they’re useful specimens. One step above food.”
Perhaps, for now, thought the girl, but our lack of morals and discipline will be your undoing. The day will come when we will have no problem killing you.