“I don’t feel special at all, I feel used.” Wren was ranting, and pacing with arms flailing. When he was having a moment like this the group found it best just to let him finish.
“Look at us! Living like animals! Worse! Animals have more sense.” Wren stopped and stared at them, his indigo eyes bulging, tucking his greasy blond hair behind his ears.
“I’d actually kill someone right now for a hot shower and a decent meal.” His eyes darted wildly from Luna, to Madison, to Jaxon. Jaxon could calm Wren when he got this way, but like the rest of the group, he was exhausted and not sure he felt up to the task.
Their current camp was on a Cliffside in a thickly wooded area of coastal Maine. Wren was standing precariously close to the edge of a rocky embankment.
“Wren, you’re freaking me out. Jax, do something!” Luna pressed.
“It’s your turn. You’re the one he’s all about.” Jaxon said laying back on the cool, pine needle covered earth. Clasping his hands behind his head, he stared up at the sky changing from periwinkle, to plum, to grenadine, and closed his eyes imaging he was back in San Diego floating on a raft in his family swimming pool. He sighed, knowing those days were gone. They were all orphans now.
Wren stared down at the surging Atlantic below, sacrificing itself on the algae coated rocks, thirsty foam licking up and subsiding. He turned, hands on hips, and glared at them pointing at the ground for emphasis.
“I could just jump and end it all, right here, right now.”
“Here we go again,” Madison drawled, tracing a scene in the dirt with stick—a spherical orb hovering over four stick people.
“I wonder if they’ll be green and slimy or sort of reptilian.” Tugging a pink lock down in front of her eyes from her mop of curls, she added, “Maybe I should go green.”
Luna shot Madison an irritated look, leapt up and ran towards Wren.
“Stop it! Get away from there. You’re scaring the crap out of me!”
He gaped at her flawless mocha completion, pleading mahogany eyes, and tangle of dark hair and thought, how do you still look so amazing after everything we’ve been through?
Luna smiled her brilliant smile, the one that could make Wren bear any burden. After all this time he forgot for a moment that she could read his mind, they all could. It was one of the many gifts they shared with the 2020 pandemic children. That and total immunity from all subsequent viruses that had caused mass casualties over past eighteen years. With the toe of his Converse, Wren forcefully kicked a loose pink stone off the Cliffside.
“Mother! That hurts!” He hopped on one leg back to the campsite, sat cross legged, and rubbed his aching toes with both hands.
“Thank you for not jumping,” Luna said, sitting next to him hugging her knees into herself, rocking back and forth.
“Sorry Luna.” Wren brushed the hair away from her eyes until she stopped rocking.
He felt like a jerk upsetting her. Sensitive and perceptive, Luna still woke up screaming from nightmares about the incinerator fires, swearing she could smell the pungent, metallic, sickly sweet odor of burning flesh. On the flip side, her spider sense that made the fine hairs on her arms stand straight up whenever they were in jeopardy had saved their lives time and time again.
“Serves you right dumb ass,” Madison said rolling her eyes. “That’s what you get for being such a drama queen.”
“Shut up Mad, it frigging hurts,” Wren moaned.
“They have the power to heal,” Luna said.
“Duh! Dude, you kicked granite,” Jaxon said. They all cracked up, laughing until their stomachs ached from something other than hunger.
“Wren, we’re all nervous about meeting the Preceptors. You just need to chill.” Madison said. “Like what choice do we have?”
The Preceptors, or the aliens, they imagined could be controllers, pedagogues, overlords, and conquerors. Preceptors had hopeful connotations, like teachers or mentors. Their real teachers from the Washington State School for the Gifted who had introduced them to the Preceptors were all gone now, along with most of the earth’s population.
“We should make a list of concerns and ask them at the next meeting,” Luna said.
“You mean like I hope I’m not the only black kid boarding this damn spaceship,” Jaxon said.
Over the past year, they had been on a mission. Every month in a different location when the moon was full, at midnight they “met with” the Preceptors who communicated telepathically. The Preceptors sent a glowing orb to gather information and share clues for the journey showcased in the stars. Wren, the astronomer of the group, interpreted the signs and led the way. Their mission would end when it was safe for the Preceptors to land their spacecraft on earth in a specified location where all of the other surviving groups would join them before leaving the planet to decontaminate and heal.
“Sure, let’s tell them all our worst fears so they can use them against us,” Madison said. “Or do even more heinous experiments on us.” She was scrutinizing a vial of water after using a dropper to drip a chemical into it. The vial turned blue-green. “We need to find another water source.”
“You know there’s a reason why we call you mad.” Wren quipped. “If they were going to torture and kill us why bother keeping us alive for 18 years?”
“For our reproductive organs and to turn us into alien incubators,” Madison said.
“Then they don’t need me and Jax or the other boys,” Wren argued. “It makes sense they need all of us to repopulate earth. Hey Jax, what if we are the only two boys? Worse things could happen, right dude?”
“Wren, you’re a pig,” Madison said. “Actually, that’s insulting to the pig.”
Jaxon laughed. “Break’s over. Mad’s right, we need to keep moving. Let’s see what supplies we can find and get gas for the gators.” A former Eagle Scout and a military brat, Jaxon had led the scavenger hunt at the start for camping equipment, guns, and ammunition. He had taught the group survival skills, self defense, how to hunt and fish, and could build a fire with a few twigs and dry leaves.
As a team, they broke down the camp, and loaded up the two gators they had “borrowed” from the abandoned Farmhouse near the school when their expedition began. That farm was their last memory of a home, where they had seen the news. Six months after her passing, the few remaining members of the President’s cabinet had abandoned their posts. A rudderless ship, the country had fallen into chaos, crime rates skyrocketed. Anyone who had not yet succumbed to one of the new super viruses had precious little time left. Reports of other countries were similar. All had thought the end would come as a catastrophic nuclear event, not a microscopic bug.
They traveled in the rural areas remaining hidden, only approaching small abandoned towns for provisions. They had survived, but there were experiences they all wished they could forget.
While the girls slept, Wren and Jax drove through the night, following Orion’s belt. Luna had mumbled before dozing off that the moon was in the Gibbous phase.
“Jax, pick up the pace!” Wren yelled.
In a few hours, they reached Meredith, New Hampshire. The boys set up camp on a hillside overlooking the town and Lake Winnipesaukee. With the backdrop of the morning sunrise, Meredith was like a movie set — white church steeples, and Victorian homes, with one exception, it was missing a cast.
“Can’t we just stay and repopulate the earth now?” Wren asked taking in the view. He looked at Luna who had stretched catlike across both seats of the gator.
“No way! It’s contaminated, especially the cities. Water’s not safe. We need to haul some for bathing and start boiling. The girls will be up soon and I need to crash,” Jaxon said.
At 6pm the girls woke them.
“We have company,” Madison harshly whispered in Wren’s ear.
“Huh?” Wren sat bolt upright.
“What the…” Jaxon said.
“All this time I thought it was a load of crap,” Madison said.
Groups of teens approached from all directions, an invasion by car, truck, SUV, motorcycle, tractor, gator, bicycle, and on foot. On the lake, boats approached. Single engine planes landed in the open field. Within a few hours a crowd in the thousands had amassed. The noise was deafening. After more than a year of living in a world comprised of four people, they had to get used to the idea of letting others in again.
Jaxon asked, “You all ready?”
“Ready to throw up,” Luna said.
“I might be having a panic attack,” Madison said.
They all looked at Wren who said, “Guys, I think I’m having a moment.”