First a Whimper, Than a Roar

by Penelope Birnbaum, age 15
First a Whimper, Than a Roar Penelope loves to dance. Last year, she took online school to pursue ballet for the full day, but this year, she is in the tenth grade at iSchool in Manhattan. Her favorite subjects in school are science and creative writing.

“‘The hunt for the Leomates has gotten stronger. Military forces have been searching homes and office buildings,’ said a lady on the television. She had a bright red sweater on. ‘Thank God for this, Susie. The Leomates are a danger to the society, and I do not want them anywhere near me and my family,” said a man in a green shirt, standing next to the lady with the red sweater.'”

A girl and her family sat on a pale brown couch. They were in a one bedroom apartment with muted green walls. The TV in front of the family clicked on.

“The hunt for the Leomates has gotten stronger. Military forces have been searching homes and office buildings,” said a lady on the television. She had a bright red sweater on.

“Thank God for this, Susie. The Leomates are a danger to the society, and I do not want them anywhere near me and my family,” said a man in a green shirt, standing next to the lady with the red sweater.

The TV went black. Silence overcame the room.

“Well, enough of that, it’s nonsense. We’re safe. They won’t check our house. It’s all talk to scare us out,” the father rambled.

The mother worriedly signaled to the father. They walked over to the backroom, to where they thought the girl couldn’t hear them, then slammed the door shut. The young girl, maybe fifteen years old, tiptoed over to the backroom. She pressed her ear up against the peeling, plastered wall.

“We are in danger, Matt. We will be hunted and killed if we do not flee and hide from the military,” said the mother, stiffly.

“Well, what do you propose we do? Run out of this house while people have been searching up and down this block? I think we should stay here, and when things get really bad, we will run as fast as we can and leave this bloody house!” the father exclaimed.

“Matt, it has already gotten really bad.”  

The mother shot open the door.  

“Come on, Isla, pack your bags. We are leaving,” the mother said calmly.

The girl knew better than to talk back to her mother. She ran to the corner of her apartment, to a wooden dresser. She thrusted open the rusty drawers and grabbed all of her clothes in one fell swoop. She stuffed them into a small, green bag. She looked up at her bed, which was shoved into a corner, where the roof caved above her head. On her bed lay a small, stuffed brown bear. She grabbed him by his neck and kissed him on his check, feeling his scraggly, fake fur on her lips. Then she stuffed him into her bag.

She looked at the clock on the ceiling of the living room. It read 12:13 am. Her father came over to her bed. Her stroked her soft, blonde hair.

“Hey, bean, wake up. We have to go now.”

The girl was already awake. She rose up out of bed and hugged her father. She hugged him so hard, she thought his ribs might break.

They slowly made their way down the rotting staircase, being careful not to make a sound, freezing every time they heard a noise. The girl held her father’s hand as the mother led them through the darkness with her dim flashlight. The mother pushed open the heavy, metal door. The girl and her father stood behind a wall, protecting them from what might be beyond the heavy doors. The mother signaled back at them, meaning it was safe for them to go. The father and the girl hesitantly walked over to the mother. They stood by the door frame, looking out into the distance. The mother took a breath in.

“Go,” the mother exhaled.

The girl, still grasping onto her father’s hand, ran as fast as she could. Her ribs began to ache. Her feet began to slow and slur on the dirt road. Her father, now well ahead of her, looked back at her. He squeezed her hand and looked into her soft brown eyes. She ran. She ran as hard as she could. Hot tears rolled down her face, making her vision blurry. But she just squeezed her father’s hand and ran. Ran for her life.

***

The girl, who was sleeping, woke up to see her mother and father embracing. They were swaying back and forth. Tears streamed down her mother’s face. The tears dropped down onto her cheek, then on her father’s shoulder.

She resented her mother. She didn’t want her mom to cry. While the family had been hiding in the house for months, the mother wouldn’t let the girl cry. Even when the girl missed her friends and family, who were caught and captured by the military, she was to stay stone cold, showing no emotions. The girl sat up from the dirt. The father noticed. He moved his wife from his shoulder and crouched down to be at the girl’s level.

“Hi, bean. Good morning,” the father said quietly.

Isla nodded in response, her knotted, blonde hair swishing back and forth. She then turned on the radio that was positioned next to her.

“The Leomates are destroying the world. I mean, you have seen them. They are disgusting. They infecting the world with cancer, which the rest of us have already become immune to. And you know what? There is a reason for this. They are stupider, they are dumber than us. They can’t adapt to the bloody sickness that we have already been immune to for thousands of years,” grunted a man with deep raspy voice.

The father licked his lips in anxiousness. He rested his hand on the girl’s knee.

“Don’t listen to them. They don’t bloody know anything. We are just as good as them if not better,” the father affirmed.

The girl just sat there, not listening to what her father was saying, just listening to the radio. Just listening to their hateful words that she thought were true.

Bang. The sound of a gunshot. In horror, the family hurled themselves around, looking for a hiding space. The mother’s dark brown skirt swished in front of the girl. She grabbed it, clinging on. The mother looked behind her with her light green eyes. She grabbed the girl’s dirty hand and ran. They hid under a pile of fallen trees. They stayed there in silence, not speaking a word. They both knew what had happened to the father, but both were too scared to admit it. After the darkness had fallen once again, they ran out to the initial hideout. There lay the father, a pool of blood surrounded his head. The mother let out a small whimper and fell onto the father’s dead body. The girl just stood above them, confused. She did not cry or whimper. She just stood, unable to believe her eyes.

***

The sun rose again. As it always did. But this morning was different. Her father did not come to wake her up with his soft, sweet voice. Today, it was her mother. Her mom’s rough, stiff voice whispered in her ear.

“Get up.”

Isla shoved her mother away from her.

“Young lady, you better apologize for that right now.”

Isla didn’t respond. Isla felt the burning sting of her mother’s cold, hard slap on her face. The mother’s nostrils flared, and her eyes widened.

“I did not ask for this. I am doing my best to keep you safe. I loved your father, and I wish that it were me lying on the floor with a puddle of blood surrounding my head. But it is not. Now, you better listen to me and respond to me when I tell you. Do you hear me?” the mother yelled.

“You’re a selfish pig. You didn’t even try to save father. You don’t care about me. You care about saving yourself. Dad was ten times the person you are. You know what? I wish it was you in the puddle of blood too.”

The mother gulped. Her eyes filled with tears as a knot formed in her throat. She calmly got up and walked her way over to a tree, distancing herself from Isla. She slid her back down a tree trunk, dropping down onto the dirt. Letting out a small whimper of pain, then a roar.

Night had fallen once again. Isla sat alone on a large rock. Her stuffed bear was sitting on her lap as she played with its ears. The mother slowly walked towards the girl and her bear. Isla prepared herself for the yelling and pain she would endure from her mother. But instead, the mother sat down on the rock with the girl. She reached out to touch the Isla’s knee. Isla flinched in response.  A single tear rolled down Isla’s pale skin. Her jaw clenched. The mother then hugged her around the neck. Isla pressed her cheek against her mother’s, making her feel an indescribable sense of warmth. They stayed here, feeling the warmth of each other for what seemed like the first time.

***

Isla was woken up by her mother’s pleading voice.

“I beg of you, please, I am the only one here. You killed my husband, and now I am to follow in his fate. Please do it, and then be done.”

“Load her in the back of the truck. We will kill her when we get there,” ordered one of the head military officials.

Isla continued to hear her mother’s pleading and begging, as she sat quietly, hiding behind the pile of fallen trees. Her knees curled up under her chest, tears streaming down her tired face. Her teeth dug into her knees as she held back wailing screams. Stomps that had once been far away had become closer. Her heart heaved. The stomps ceased. Isla saw the green and brown boots of a military official in front of her. Her eyes slowly scanned the man. First to his green jumpsuit that had been splattered with patches of blood and dirt. Then to his face. He had pitch black hair with dark brown eyes. His eyes not filled with distaste or hate, but with sorrow and pain, eyes that resembled her own. The man called out.

“No one here. Just a rabbit.”

“Okay, you can come back and return to your duties,” called out another military official.

“I am gonna stay here and look around a bit more. Is that okay?”

“Yeah, just come back before nightfall.”

The man crouched down to the girl, just like her father had a few days ago. He reached out and grabbed the girl’s hand. His eyes filled with tears. Isla swung her arms around his neck, hugging him. She then let out a small whimper of pain, then a roar.

 

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