Escrita por: yeonki_min
ㅡ fleeting warmth
"Rise and shine everyone! Breakfast is calling!"
Emma's voice greeted the ears of the sleepy lot, a few groaning in protest as the girl beamed. The energetic, younger ones were quick to bounce on their feet. The room slowly being filled with their cheery voices.
Mika, who was already awake two hours before the bell rung, rubbed her eyes. Remembering that it was time for breakfast, she rolled her sleepy body over to the edge of the bed and let her body flop to the ground. She let out a short 'oomph' as her right side made contact with the floor.
"Shoot… I forgot I'm wearing a newly washed uniform."
"Hey, stop messing around and get ready!" She heard Gilda chastise.
"Mika, come on!" Emma's voice came from above her.
Mika opened an eye and saw the orange haired female holding a hand out to her. She grasped it and was helped to stand upright. Noticing the soot on Mika's side, Emma fussed over it for quite sometime before remembering that they still had to go down.
Mika yawned, then gave her thanks to Emma. Said girl only returned it with a berating, "You should really try to get more sleep, you know. Why were you up so early?"
'Good question.' Mika thought as she tried to recall the reason as to why she didn't just go back to sleep after waking up earlier than even Mama herself.
Before she could answer, the orange haired girl was tugged away by the kids who were already getting antsy hearing all the morning talk. Emma sent an apologetic look towards the red haired girl, and then ran after the others.
Mika followed them, not at all surprised by the others' antics.
"I'm gonna eat you!"
Mika paused beside Gilda. They both surveyed the interaction, with the latter of the two sweat-dropping as she watched Emma try to make herself seem like a monster and chase Thoma and Lani.
The bespectacled girl trailed off, "They're at it again…"
The red haired female nodded at this and spoke with fondness in her voice, "It's like a routine at this point. But I don't think I'll ever get tired of seeing this everyday."
Mika trailed behind the lively bunch and entered the dining area. She found the other kids were already setting up the table. She wove through the children, careful not to bump into anyone and pushed herself over to the spot where Ray, Norman and Emma were.
Emma greeted the boys with Phil pulling at one side of her mouth, making her words a bit incoherent, "Gweod mhworning Norman, Ray!"
"Good Morning Emma." Norman smiled as he carried the cauldron of soup to the table.
Ray imitated the girl, "Gweod mhworning Emma!"
"Someone's full of energy this morning... and we haven't even had breakfast yet." Norman said.
The raven haired male gave one last look towards Emma as he approached the table. He teased, "Come on, how old are you? Five?"
Emma furrowed her brows and answered defensively while letting Phil descend from her back, "I'm eleven, just like the two of you! And I'm one of the oldest kids here! I'm just really young at heart!"
"You sure are," Mika neared the trio and greeted them with a smile on her face, "Good morning…"
Norman sent the girl a warm look and returned the greeting, "Good morning Mika,"
The orange haired girl gave her a glance over. "Eh! Mika, you didn't wear your shoes properly!" Emma pointed out, her eyes wide as she lightly pulled on her hair in frustration.
Mika sent her a perplexed look before looking down and seeing what she didn't do properly. The shoe for the right foot was worn on her left as the other was to the right. How she didn't feel the uncomfortable position was quite the feat… or so she mused.
Ray lightly teased her for this, "If I didn't know any better I'd think you're also not in our age group like miss 'gweod mhworning' over there,"
"Hey!" Emma pouted.
The red haired girl huffed and defended herself, "I was sleepy!"
"Of course," Ray drawled out as he watched her face switch from annoyance to embarrassment.
Mika turned her head away. A laugh came from behind the girls, and they turned to see Mama who had a smile on her face from watching their banter.
"Why is Mama laughing?" Mika grumbled as she bent down to fix her shoes.
"Emma, Mika, come help me out…"
The orange haired girl's eyes widened and she hurriedly ran to Mama's side. Mika only watched from the side as Emma profusely apologized to Mama for not helping out sooner. She also promised to act her age to which Mama responded with a fond smile. She pat Emma's head and assured the girl that her 'five year old side' was very considerate and mindful of the family.
Mika glanced at the two, playing with the end of her sleeves. She then decided to join in, hugging both Emma and Mama. She buried her face into Mama's side, her voice was muffled as she said, "Mama's right, your cheerfulness makes our day better... so don't think like that."
The orange haired female was dumbfounded by the words, but then she smiled from ear-to-ear and chirped, "Thank you!"
Mama let go of them and the smile lingered on her face as they continued preparing for breakfast. Emma and Mika helped carry loaves of bread to the table while the others set up the plates. Mama got ready to ring the small bell, coaxing the others to sit down. When she saw that all of the kids were in the dining area, she rung the bell on her right hand.
Everyone listened on as Mama spoke, "Good morning, my dear children. Let us appreciate that all 39 of you are able to lead happy lives under this roof."
Mama closed her eyes, her hands clasped together. "We are thankful."
The children chorused, "Thank you for the food!"
With that, everyone dug in. Emma swiped a bowl from Mika who was sitting right in front of her, she poured soup into it, ignoring the girl's protests. Ray who was sat beside Emma, watched as the two girls exchanged compelling arguments over eating or not eating the soup.
"I don't even like soup though…" Mika mumbled, but she sighed in defeat, feeling Emma's wide green eyes on her. She gobbled the food down without any other complaint.
They all started the day, feeling content.
The Litany of daily exams.
Mama had explained to them that the tests were to be substituted for conventional school. Since they were from the orphanage, they'd have to take the tests to ensure that they wouldn't be held back when they finally set out to live on the outside. It was, in shorter term, of great importance for their future.
Mika anticipated the questions as the voice came from the device they wore on their heads. It said, "Age 11, type one. Please answer every question within 10 seconds. We will begin now."
She puffed her cheeks as a beep resounded, finishing the first question.
"Question three, Give the 50th term of the following sequence."
The red haired girl focused on her grip and answered few more questions, coming across a few difficult ones that she was luckily to have been able to solve with her knowledge.
A few moments passed and the beeping sounds came to end, the tests finally done for the day. Mika slouched on her seat as she heaved a long, exhausted sigh. Gilda who was sat to her left following after and burying her face on the table.
"I got about half of 'em right!"
"Half?! That's amazing!"
"Wah, you're so good… I didn't even have a clue on how to answer most of them…"
The children's murmurs were swept as Mama entered the room with papers in her hand, she then said, "Settle down, everyone. I'll be announcing your exam scores now."
Mika straightened her back and awaited the results. She looked around at her seatmates then back to Mama as she tried to contain the excitement on her face.
"Norman, Ray, Emma, and Mika."
Mama grinned at them, "Splendid job, the four of you! You each got 300s again, perfect scores!"
Mika's eyes widened and Norman glanced at her, seeing her expression. "It's not your first perfect score, right?"
The girl nodded then said, "Yeah, but this is the first time I actually came across this one question that was so hard I had to guess the answer. I thought I'd be at least one mark off."
Norman laughed, "You're very lucky, then."
"I guess I am…"
Mika felt her face warm as the other kids talked about them. She kept her composure and congratulated the three for getting perfect marks, then she complimented the others for doing a good job.
Everyone was suprised when Don, who was only a year younger than the eldest kids in the orphanage, stood from his seat and turned to Norman with a challenging look on his face.
He loudly proclaimed, "Norman! I challenge you to a game of tag!"
The white haired male only smiled in return.
Afterwards, Mama had left them to their own devices and allowed them to play to their hearts content. Everyone went outside and did their own things to have fun.
Mika decided to join in with Emma on the game of tag, jumping up and down to test her spring. Don's declaration from earlier made her feel a bit competitive. Norman was a formidable opponent in tag, no one could get away from him, not even Emma whose physical abilities were greater than every other kid in the orphanage.
While she wasn't as good as Emma, Mika had just the dexterity needed to execute a well thought-out plan.
'If you can even call that a well-thought out plan…' She rubbed at her cheeks, then blew a raspberry when she caught Norman looking at her. The male was flabbergasted by this but the corner of his lips curved slightly upwards in amusement.
She turned her attention back to the view of the trees, then remembered something so crucial that she almost forgot.
Mika ran a hand through her hair as the wind blew, the strands getting in the way of her face. She looked towards her orange haired friend and called out, "Emma! Can you help tie my hair up?"
Emma looked at her, confused, before sweat-dropping. She scratched her head and replied, "You see I'm not really any good at that, maybe you could ask Anna!"
The red haired girl nodded as if to thank her, she then reminded, "Don't start without me, okay?"
"M'kay!" Emma exclaimed.
With that, Mika took off to find Anna. She found said girl near the younger kids. Seeing this, she waved her hand and yelled to get the girl's attention.
The blonde haired girl saw Mika tug on her red strands and she got what it meant right away. She asked the tall girl to come over and lower her body to her height. Anna then tied the red locks into a tight bun.
"And… done!" Anna said as she finished tying Mika's hair up.
Mika pat the small bun with a grin on her face, she then turned to Anna and said, "Thank you so much, Anna! Now I'm all fired up!"
Anna's face flushed from the red haired girl's thankful look and could only reply, "G-Good luck!"
"Same to you!" Mika beamed. She waved bye, then ran to Emma who was conditioning her body by stretching. She also saw Ray who'd situated himself under the shade, leaning against the trunk of the tree with a book resting on his hips.
Mika looked at him, confused.
Emma caught her look and explained with a pout on her face, "He says he'll pass again."
Mika deadpanned, "Would it kill you to come and play with us once in a while? It's a great day for today!"
"I'm good." The raven haired male shrugged at her.
Emma sighed in exasperation, already getting tired from having to convince the male to join them in their games everytime.
"Can you atleast monitor the time for us?"
Ray shrugged, "Sure, that's what I always do anyways…"
Mika and Emma got ready to sprint as Norman yelled out, "Okay! I'm gonna start counting!"
Everyone scampered to the woods, trying to find a good place for cover.
Mika took off and climbed up a tree, making as little damage to her surrounding as she could so as to not give away her position. She then made sure that her hair and her white clothes were hidden by the verdant leaves.
"I'm glad my hair isn't bright red…" she whispered thankfully.
Bushes rustled as the other kids tried to nestle in them, shushing one another from making too much movement and noise.
Others hid behind the rock formations deep into the woods.
"- and ten." Norman opened his eyes and looked at his surroundings, "So all of them chose the woods for cover, huh?"
He looked at Ray who glanced down at his watch. The ravenette nodded in confirmation and Norman set out to find his siblings. Ray hummed, then shoved the device back in his pocket. He read the book in his hands, relishing in the peace around him at that very moment.
Meanwhile, Norman who'd just ran into the forest, immediately took notice of the kids who were hiding by the bushes. He approached Nat who was looking to his left, and surprised him with a tap on the shoulder.
"Eh?" uttered Nat, visibly confused for a good moment.
Norman only smiled, and left the kids to go back out to the open fields where they had to wait for the others and anticipate who'd be the one to square up with the white haired male.
Anna could have sworn that everytime she blinked, another one would come out from the woods. She gazed at the treeline and muttered to herself, "So many of us were found right away…"
Gilda heard this and crossed her arms, "Yeah, I really thought I had it this time around."
They watched as the others came back out, with the only people that they haven't seen yet being Don, Conny, Mika and Emma.
After some time, Gilda remembered something that made her frown, "Do you think the others already forgot about us?"
Anna turned her head towards the older female in confusion, she then asked, "What do you mean?"
"So far we haven't received a single letter from any of our siblings who've already departed. They're probably already living it up everyday... and then forgot about us completely!"
Anna had her doubts about that.
Still, it was pretty disheartening to not get any news back from the people they grew up with. Even the older ones before Emma's group, had not sent any letters to assure the others that they were doing fine outside.
'And after all their promises too… how odd,'
Gilda moaned, "Ughh! I wanna hurry up and go outside already! I wanna try on all kinds of outfits!"
At this, Anna nodded in agreement, her eyes trailing towards the same monotonous white uniform that they had to wear everyday. She didn't necessarily hate the clothes, but upon reading information about the outside world, she definitely looked forward to trying out the clothes that were mentioned in those books.
They fell in silence again and stood in anticipation as a bush rustled, out came Don with Conny. The former looking shocked as he saw how many of them were found.
"What the-? You've all been caught already?"
Nat gave a sheepish look, "Hahaha… this is what happens when Norman is 'it.' We stand no chance against him."
Gilda started, "And now that he got Don…"
"-the last ones standing are Mika and Emma." Anna finished, glancing at the woods. Her eyes caught sight of red from the treeline just a few steps into the forest and she couldn't help herself openly gape.
'Is that who I think it is?'
Inside the forest, Norman was hot on Emma's trail. Both testing their limits on the chase. Eventually, Norman grew tired and paused in his place, taking a few deep breaths to compose himself. He laid down the ground and tried to ease his breathing.
Emma grew concerned when she saw this and went to Norman, who as it turns out, was just using the girl's considerate nature to bait her in.
Emma exited the forest looking defeated. She was welcomed back by the others and they cheered her on for lasting so long against the cunning player that was Norman.
Said platinum blonde haired male, who'd been left to find the last player, searched through the forest. He recounted the places he had already checked and then remembered where he hasn't checked.
He picked his pace up, and ran back to the trees that were situated nearest to the open field.
'1 minute left…'
The male looked for any prints on the soil, and halted in his steps when he saw a footprint that could almost pass off as the soil eroding. He then listened on, catching the sound of the leaves rustling from the branch above him. When he looked up, black orbs locked into his own, blue ones. Surprise was evident in his face for a good moment before he accepted his defeat.
The girl said, "Time's up!"
She jumped down from the tree, then grinned at Norman, "I finally beat you!"
Norman smiled back, "You did."
"I gotta tell the others about this," She ran ahead of the male to do a little celebration, happy that she was able to outmatch Norman's intellect with her risky plan.
Mika went to the tree where Emma and Ray were, a wide smile on her face as she jumped up and down.
"Congratulations, Mika!" The orange haired girl said before she remembered her defeat, she buried her head and pounded her hands on the ground, "I was so close too, but he got me again!"
Ray looked at his watch and then said, "You managed to avoid capture for 10 minutes… hey, that's a new record."
"Yeah, and besides, I think I got lucky today. If Norman checked the tree branches first I woulda been caught right away. Atleast you got far with pure endurance." Mika rubbed her palm against Emma's back.
"Ughh! Why?! How is Norman so good at this? He's never been able to outrun me in foot race and yet I can't ever win a game of tag!"
Ray closed his book shut and asked, "What does Norman have that you don't right now?"
Emma furrowed her brows, trying to think of what exactly made Norman formidable in the game. "Too many things to count…"
"You're right that his physical abilities aren't a near match for yours but he makes up for that by using his head. So, defeating him isn't always head on. Tag is a game which allows for a tactical approach," Ray explained.
He then continued as the girls listened to him, "How will the target move? How will it attack me?"
"You need to analyze the situation, see through and predict the enemies' plan and use all that knowledge to form an even better plan. Just think of it as if you're playing chess, where you use your body to maximize all the movements on the board."
Emma deadpanned, "Are you still talking about tag?"
"Yeah, you suddenly got deep into explaining." Mika added.
"Just remember that it's the kind of game he's playing." Ray waved off just as Norman approached them with a smile on his face.
"Isn't that what makes tag fun though?" Norman asked.
Ray looked from Norman then to Emma and Mika, "See, that's why he's so good at it."
Norman nodded his head towards the raven haired male and said, "I daresay Ray has always been more of the strategist than me."
"Hey." Ray clipped as if to tell the male to stop giving him too much credit.
"Other than that, Mika was also able to formulate a plan from thinking simply. She knew I would head deep into the forest first after checking the bushes where most of the kids were, so she stayed atop the branch of a tree that wasn't too far from the fields. It's a pretty risky plan, but couple that with a good execution and attention to detail then you're good to go." Norman explicated.
Mika nodded at this and remarked, "It worked out for me just as well as I thought. I didn't really want tire myself out by running everywhere. I'm not a stamina-rich kind of gal."
"Good one." Ray complimented shortly.
"See through and counter the enemies' plan huh…" Emma trailed off.
The others gushed about the group, watching the older kids talk amongst themselves.
Nat said, "Those four really are something else."
Gilda nodded, "Four genuises of their caliber at once, I hear it's a first in the long history of our house."
"They're crazy smart and agile too! I'm jealous!"
Among those four were Norman, whose wits can inarguably surpass almost all the other kids' in the house. Ray coming to a close second and earning himself a title of 'the walking encyclopedia.'
There was Emma, who had monster reflexes and the astounding ability to learn fast. And lastly, Mika who despite not having the same level of athleticism as the other girl, had the wits she needed to create foolproof decisions.
"Geez, just what do I have to eat to be like them?!" Nat dramatically asked out loud.
"You're already eating the same food!" Gilda laughed, she then continued, "Their nervous systems are probably just made out of something else."
Don swept Nat from his feet and caught the male in a headlock, he then exclaimed, "Basically, they're monsters! Monsters raised right in this house!"
"But we normal people have a way of fighting too! Just watch!" He proclaimed.
He stomped over to Norman and said, "Norman this is revenge! Let's play again! This time, everyone except you is it! How 'bout that?"
The other kids deadpanned at the display, 'So petty…'
The blue eyed male smiled as he replied, "No problem. You won't catch me anyways."
Mika gasped at this, "How blunt…!"
"He's real honest, huh." Emma bobbed her head up and down as they watched the scene.
Norman's reply didn't seem to deter the younger boy who only became more fired up, "You've said it now! I'll make you eat your words up!"
He turned to Conny and grinned, "We'll catch him by the end of this!"
The girl smiled and hugged her stuffed bunny tight, "Yep!"
When Emma saw the joyous expression on the younger girl's face, she remembered something that made her tone drop a bit, "This is Conny's final day at last…"
"I feel so old…" Mika sighed.
"Another one, beating us to the punch!" Norman chipped in.
Mika pouted as she thought about the idea of being taken in by a new family. Of course, she was okay with it, seeing as to how they weren't gonna stay in the orphanage forever. But it still stung whenever she thought of having to part ways with the people she grew up with.
"I hope that all four of us get adopted by one person. That way we still have each other." Mika said, "Or we could be adopted by people who are friends with each other, so we can still stay in touch."
She lowered her eyes to the ground and twiddled with her fingers, "It's pretty much just wishful thinking but I hope things go that way."
Ray snuck a quick glance at her while Emma and Norman looked at the red haired girl with a look of understanding. The latter inched towards the girl to c̶o̶m̶f̶l̶i̶r̶t̶ comfort her.
"I hope so too." Emma said as she gazed at her siblings.
"Come on guys, let's play!"
"You coming, Emma?" Mika asked as she sprung up.
With that, the others turned their backs and counted from ten to one, giving Norman enough time to run into the woods. After the countdown, they all strode through the expanse of the trees. Mika decided to follow after Emma, determined looks on their faces as the trees loomed over them.
At one point, Emma took a sharp turn and the pair of girls were met with the sight of the small fence that separated them from the deeper parts of the forest. Away from the lurking danger that Mama once spoke of to them.
'I always forget about these fences…'
Mika saw a white figure from the corner of her eyes, and turned her head. She saw Norman who had his wide blue eyes trained on the fence before they looked at her.
The red haired female approached the male, with Emma right behind her as they both tapped the male on his shoulder.
"Guess you two caught me," Norman smiled.
The three of them looked back at the metal fence as Emma mumbled, "Never go near the gate or fence."
"Yeah, that's what Mama always tells us. She says that it's dangerous." Mika said.
A voice suddenly interrupted the three, and from nowhere, Ray came out with his hands shoved in his pockets. "She says that but it's not even true."
Mika looked behind Ray, confused as to how long the boy had been watching them. "I thought you'd sit this one out again."
Ray shrugged, "Might as well join,"
"What did you mean by that?" Norman asked, addressing Ray's words from earlier.
"Hm? Well, look at it." Ray said, "What part of that do you think is dangerous? The fence is low, and I don't see anything remotely threatening past it."
"But we should do what Mama told us…" Emma said.
"Uh-huh, you really love Mama don't you?"
"Sure, everybody does!"
"Hey! What are you guys doing way back here?" Don came running towards them, the others following just behind him.
Mika turned to them with a questioning look, "Is the game done already?"
"I guess it is," Don answered, noting the girl's hand that was still resting on top of Norman's shoulder.
Norman looked over at all of them and said, "We should call it a day. If we're out too late, Mama might get worried about us."
The others nodded in agreement and they walked back to the house where Mama welcomed them back with a warm smile on her face.
Nighttime finally came, Conny was all groomed, ready to set off and meet her foster parents. Emma entered the room where the little girl was, Mika and Norman soon entering after.
"Connyyy? Are you ready?"
The girl replied, "I'm not too sure. My clothes are…"
"They suit you perfectly!" Emma gushed, grinning down at the girl.
"I'm glad!" Conny smiled, hugging her stuffed toy to her chest.
Mika stepped forward and pulled the girl into a hug, she smiled, "Send us a letter or two, won't you? Tell us about your experiences outside!"
She then bent down to the girl's ear and whispered, "Maybe send some spicy food as well?"
Emma raved at this, "Mika!"
The girl stood up straight and put her hands up as she giggled, "I was just joking!"
"I'll do that…" Conny said, which made the two girls stop pinching at each other's sides. "Afterall, you're my family too, aren't I?"
Mika's eyes shone as her lips trembled, she then squished her cheek against Connys then said, "When did you get this mushy, huh?"
"We should ask you that," Norman chuckled.
"Hey, I've always been this mushy!"
"Conny?" Mama's voice came as she opened the door. She blinked when she saw the sight in front of her. Conny and Mika were hugging each other while Emma was fussing over the latter creasing Conny's clothes. Norman was only standing by the side, smiling at the scene.
"Oh! Mama's here," Conny said as she withdrew from the hug. She led Mama inside by the hand and showed the caretaker to her suitcase.
"Can we see her off, Mama?" Emma asked, her hands connected behind her back as she tipped her toe forward.
Mama smiled at her then replied, "Of course, tell your siblings to gather downstairs."
Emma, Mika and Norman nodded and did as Mama said. A few of the kids were already getting teary as they gathered by the door to see their sibling off.
Conny stood in front of everyone, her eyes glistened as she smiled, "I'll keep giving it my best even after I leave the house… Don't worry! I'll be fine! Afterall, I have little Bernie with me."
"Mama made him for me during my 6th birthday, so there's only one of him in the world! That's why I'll always treasure him no matter where I go. That way, I'll always remember you all." The small girl hugged the stuffed toy tightly and continued, "I'm not as bright or amazing as you guys, but once I grow up I want to become a mother just like Mama! And I'll never, ever abandon my kids!"
"Conny…" Emma trailed off.
There was a moment of silence as everyone looked at the girl with sadness visible in their expressions.
"B-but I… I also don't want to leave you all! I want to stay here!" Conny finally wept, Mama reaching down to wipe the tears from her cheeks. She gestured for everyone to gather in a hug and they said their final farewell to the sweet girl.
She would no longer wake up to the gleeful sounds she was used to. Don would no longer fuss over her well being, and she would have to adjust to a whole new environment.
To find parents who'd take care of you was a nice thought, but as they said, home is where the heart's at. And the orphanage was already home to them. That was what made the moment painful.
After Mama consoled Conny, they left the house, leaving the other kids feeling heavy from yet another departure.
Few moments of staring at the closed doors, the red haired girl finally spoke up.
"We've been saying goodbye for 10 years now." Mika said, she then added, "It's always been a hard thing to do."
Emma and Norman hummed in agreement. As the eldest kids around, they had to pick themselves back up fast. Trying not to dwell too much on sadness or else the younger kids would be on edge as well, dreading the day they get adopted.
"Come on, let's do our chores before bedtime." Mika went to get a broom, the other two falling right behind her as they entered the dining area.
Before the red haired girl could start sweeping the floor, she was surprised when Emma let go of her broom and yelled in surprise, "Connyy?!! How could you?!"
Mika looked at the thing in the orange haired girl's grasp.
"Eh?! Is that little Bernie?" Mika was stupefied as well, "After all that heartwarming speech, she still managed to forget the one thing that will remind her of us."
Emma looked at Mika with an almost horrified look on her face, "Wha- What should we do?"
"I mean… she might have already left," came Gilda's input as she walked into the room.
Ray followed behind her, and informed them, "It's too early to say that. Just now I saw some lights turned on over at the gate through the bathroom window. Mama sent Conny off and hasn't returned either. There's definitely a possiblity that she still hasn't left yet."
Mika perked up at this, "Maybe we can still make it!"
"Let's bring it to her," Norman chimed in, smiling at them.
"Although it's probably better to just ask Mama to send it to her later… but it'd be best for Conny's sake if we hurry, right?"
Emma was shocked that Norman was able to deduce her thoughts from just her expression, but she guessed she really was like an open book whenever it came to matters that concerned her family. She and Mika looked at each other with grins on their faces.
The three of them took off, briefly waving goodbye to Gilda and Ray as they went to the backdoor.
Emma tried turning the doorknob, but to no avail it didn't budge, just like the front door. She despaired over this, "I guess it's no surprise since Mama's out…"
Mika pondered for a moment before turning to the boy, "Norman? Do you know how to pick locks?"
"Yeah, it's no problem. This looks like it can easily be opened without a key." Norman explained, he then asked back, "Do you have a hairclip with you?"
"Ooh, lucky. I saw this fall out from Anna's hair earlier so I kept it! Who knew it'd actually help us." Mika laughed as she gave the accessory to the platinum blonde haired male.
Norman straightened the clip, and then put it into the keyhole. He said as he worked on, "There's a trick to it, like a small wire puzzle."
"Huh?! Norman?" Emma seemed alerted by their actions.
"I wouldn't do this if circumstances didn't call for it but right now we have to." The door finally clicked, and the male twisted the knob open.
Mika looked at them and grinned, "If we get scolded after this, that's fine with me! So long as we're able get little Bernie to Conny."
Norman reassured Emma whose face still held some uncertainty in them, "Mika's right, we'll just share the blame together later!"
Emma glanced at them and was finally assured. Together, they all ran across the field, their surroundings only illuminated by the few stars that glimmered in the night sky.
With bated breaths, they were finally able to reach the Gate. The metal bars were rolled up, and they were met with the tunnel to the unknown. Before they stepped in, Mika reminded them.
"Let's be careful and tone our voices down, Mama did say it was dangerous past the gates..." Mika whispered to her friends who nodded.
They peeked in, and Emma spoke out softly, "Conny…?"
Norman took careful steps forward, the two girls following right after him as they observed the tunnel. Their shoes made light thumps against the ground, and soon, they reached a truck that was just the right size for the tunnel to accommodate. The three surveyed the vehicle, keeping as quiet as they could.
Emma mused, "Is this the truck that's gonna drive Conny to her new home? This is the first time I've seen a real one…"
The girl hugged little Bernie in her arms as she looked around, hearing the sound of water dripping from the pipes above them. Norman checked the driver's seat and whispered, "There's nobody inside."
Mika tapped Emma's elbow and pointed to the trunk of the car, "We should just put it there, maybe Conny or her caretakers will find it."
The orange haired female inclined her head forward and the two neared the trunk.
As they peeked into the cover however, they froze in their place. Their eyes made contact with lifeless ones. Mika immediately flung her hands to cover her mouth, forcing bile back down to her stomach as a heavy feeling loomed over her.
Emma's grasp on little Bernie slipped, the toy hitting the ground. Norman took notice of this noise and the girls' frozen state, he approached them without any other thought.
The scene that greeted them at the trunk of the vehicle was Conny, who had the stem of a fully bloomed flower plunged deep into her chest. Her face looked terrified, as though she'd seen something she wasn't supposed to. Her hair was splayed out underneath her. Her skin had grayed out, and she no longer had the bright look that she left the house with.
"Is someone there?!" A voice came from the other side of the door. The three swiftly took cover and hid underneath the truck. Norman was able to snatch little Bernie in time before the owner of the voice came out. The kids held their hands over their mouth, forced themselves to remain vigilant. They listened on to try and shed some light on what happened to the girl who lay dead on the trunk.
"Hey, didn't you hear something just now?"
Another voice came, "You must be imagining things."
Mika turned her head to Norman with her wide eyes, the male only put a finger against her lips, signalling for her to get a grip.
"If it were a stray cat, we could've caught it to eat!"
"Gah… You telling me that you'd eat even cats?"
"You mean you wouldn't?"
Emma composed herself and moved her head to take a quick look at the perpetrators who were responsible for Conny's death. What she saw greatly confused her. Seeing large, humanoid creatures with extended sharp claws. The abominable creatures had large builds, their skin looked grotesque even from what little the kids could see due to the dim lighting. The horrendous appearance and the thought that they could easily be killed if they were found out, was enough to send a shiver down Emma's spine.
One of the creatures reached into the trunk, and pulled out Conny's limp body. It rolled its tongue out, eyes trembling with hunger as it held the girl's body higher to observe.
"It looks so tasty."
The three held their breaths as the creatures shuffled around.
"Human flesh is the best, afterall!"
Mika bit her tongue to contain herself, hearing the conversation between the creature- no, demons, that killed Conny. The fear was taking over her body, and she could only wince as she watched Conny get stowed away to a huge container as if she were being preserved.
'Where's Mama? Is she alright?' Mika moved her head around with as little noise as she could, trying to find any sign that their caretaker was able to escape from the demons.
"Fuck, can't I eat even just the tip of her finger?" The other demon seemed to complain.
Its companion answered, "You idiot, that kid is valuable merchandise. Nothing the likes you and I should dare to eat."
"The human meat from this farm is all top-of-the-line stuff, meant for the rich."
'Farm…? Human flesh…?' Emma thought about everything they were accommodated with. The food they were served that tasted gourmet, their comfortable beds and the roof they lived under. 'No way… we were living this whole time just to be eaten?'
There was a click, and they could faintly make out another demon coming. It held a clipboard on its grasp.
It glanced over what the kids could only assume was a list containing their names.
"Six years old again… just the usual. But it looks like we'll finally be able to harvest some high quality goods in the near future." It trailed off.
"Prepare the four with full scores for their imminent plucking."
"Yes, understood." Mama's voice entered their ears. The trios eyes widened in horror.
"We're counting on you."
"Worry not and leave it up to me."
That's what they all needed to hear before the three slipped out from underneath the car. Guarded expressions on their faces as they left the area. They didn't look back, and continued moving forwards, shoving the disturbing realization at the back of their heads as they focused on getting away quietly.
At some point whilst they were running back, Mika's legs felt weak and wobbly from enduring so much pressure. She fell to the ground, then curled up and pounded at the soil with her clenched fists.
Emma soon fell to her knees, "Everyone… the foster children…"
Emma glanced up towards Norman with her eyes wide and desperate, "That was a fake Mama back there, the kind Mama we all know… is the real Mama right? That kid on the trunk, that wasn't Conny… right?"
"C-Conny must be with her new family already," Mika tried to convince herself.
Norman looked at the two and said, "That… was Conny all right."
Mika buried her head into Emma's shoulder as they both cried. They wailed for Conny, and for every other siblings they were unable to save from being 'harvested.' They all had expectations for their future, but those proved to be useless as by the end of the day, they were all just cattle. They were just farm animals awaiting the day they get shipped off and butchered.
"Let's run away, Emma, Mika,"
Norman hugged the two in his arms, trying to ease their sobs.
"We've got to leave this place behind. We don't know what the outside world is like and if it's any different from what we read from the books, but we have no other choice if we want to survive."
"It'll be fine... we'll manage to run away."
Mika looked up and stared into Norman's eyes. His somber expression masked by his determination to be able to flee from the 'farm.'
"If it's you, me, Emma, and Ray, we'll definitely…"
Emma's voice sounded dire as she asked, "Do you think… It's possible to take them with us?"
Norman stayed quiet.
"W-We need to… if we leave them here, they'll all end up like that!" Mika cried out, "I don't want anymore of our siblings to die…!"
The orange haired girl looked at her and hugged her close, she remembered the sight of Conny's dead body and shut her eyes tight, "We can do it, we'll break out of here with everyone else. No one will get left behind, right Norman?"
Emma parted from the hug and Norman put his hands on Mika's shoulders. He smiled reassuringly, "We'll keep it together for them. Let's do our best?"
Mika wiped her nose and nodded. With that, the three shared the burden of learning a secret they were kept from finding out. A secret that will change their fates.
They could no longer trust any adult. But one question still crawled into their heads; how were they going to run from those monsters?
'It's tactics' Emma remembered Ray's words.
She took a look at Mika's form and thought, 'It's the same as the game of tag! We have to find a way for us all to survive!'
They went back to the house, Emma and Mika holding each others hand as they walked down the hallway with grim looks on their faces. They passed by Ray whose lamp illuminated the path.
"Welcome back." Ray said, then continued, "How was it?"
Norman only tersely looked at the raven haired male before trudging towards the direction of the bedroom.
"We didn't make it in time."
The three went back to the bedroom, leaving Ray standing there by himself.