“Follow the birds, children.” Grandpa Wilson showed the kids how to pack their bags with rations, where to store their knife, and how to roll clothes to make a pillow. I already knew all this, so I strolled over to Grandma Ripple to see what she was demonstrating. Roots and berries. There was nothing new to learn at any of the tables. Great. Now all I can do is sit and be bored while my younger brother and sister go through their rotations.
There’s been one of these sessions monthly for the last five years but you had to be at least five to attend. They were fun at first, but then I got older. Now, it’s the same old stuff month after month.
“Hey, Mark.” He sat down next to me on the bench. “Bored too, huh?”
I chuckled and nodded. If I had known then, what I know now, I would have stayed there and talked to him. I didn’t though. I didn’t like him. I don’t remember why I didn’t like him, or if there was a reason at all, but I would give anything to talk to him now.
Mark tried to talk to me, but I stood up and left. Outside was warm, less crowded, and didn’t have Mark or my siblings. I paced around and kicked some rocks along the gravel road. That’s when I saw the dust clouds. Someone was coming and they were coming fast.
I had wandered farther than I thought. I was out in the open – exposed. Exactly where Grandpa Wilson said you never wanted to be. The dust cloud grew quickly and I knew I didn’t have time to make it back to the camp, so I did the only thing I thought of doing. I stripped off my clothing, threw them on the opposite side of the road, and ran sprinted a short distance away from the road. I landed on the ground and was only able to roll twice in the dirt and assume my prone position before they drove past.
It must have worked because they didn’t stop. I wish they had though. I would give anything to have saved myself from hearing what they did.
Grandpa Franklin was wrong. So was Grandpa Thomas and Grandma Everly. They all said death was fast and painless. It wasn’t. I laid on the ground and listened. Mark went early. My sister’s shrill etched itself into my mind. My brother’s ripped my heart apart.
When they were finished, I stood and collected my clothes. Slowly, I walked through the carnage of my former life. I picked up an empty pack and filled it with what I needed.
“What do I do now?” A young girl crawled out from under a woman, probably her mother, and looked at me.
Without saying a word, I packed a bag for her, secured it on her back, and gripped her hand. We walked outside.
“Follow the birds,” I said, pointing into the sky. “Always follow the birds.”