"Derek?" Kyle said, for he'd heard the shots, too. Fear was on his face and in his eyes. He was close to tears, a meltdown of his own.
Derek hissed, "Shh!" He heard wheels, metallic noises, machines. He listened for a moment, then whispered, barely loud enough for Kyle to hear, "Don't make a sound."
They waited, breaths held, until Derek was certain the machines had passed.
Derek turned to his brother. Kyle was crying – heaving, soundless sobs.
"Kyle, stop it. Everything's fine." It was a blatant lie, and both of them knew it. If everything was fine, why were they cowering down here?
Kyle only began to cry harder. He twisted his face, trying to stop, wiping his eyes with his hands. Derek watched his brother, crouching down so they were eye to eye. "Kyle, listen to me," he said firmly, taking charge. "We'll be okay. I promise. You and me, we're gonna make it."
Kyle nodded, tears running down his cheeks.
Derek stood up. "I'll be right back. Don't move, okay? Don't make a sound. I'll come get you when it's safe. I'll only be a few minutes. If you hear the mach– if you hear anything, you hide, got it? Hide down here."
Kyle nodded at his brother's instructions, lips trembling as he attempted to be the brave son his mother would have wanted him to be.
Derek left then, no good-byes like his mother had made. He would return. He wasn't going to die. Kyle needed him. He clung to wisps of hope – maybe his parents were alive. Maybe that hadn't been them that had been shot. Maybe something else had happened. His hope slipped away, however, as he climbed the steps.
He opened the door carefully, peering around him. Everything was grey – there was little light outside, although it couldn't have been later than two or three in the afternoon. The house was a mess. The pantry and the kitchen were ransacked – what was left of them, anyway. The living room was covered in debris. The windows were all shattered. Each step he took made a sickening crunch. Derek felt like he was walking on bones.
He reached the front door. It was open a crack. He peered through the crack, and what he saw made him want to stop living, right then and there. He closed his eyes and willed it to be a dream, a mirage, something. As long as it wasn't real.
Two bodies lay in the street, blood pooling around them, dark halos of death. His father lay face down, shot in the back. His mother's mouth was still open in her scream, cut short by the bullets that had torn her limbs to shreds.
Derek took deep breaths, forcing himself to think purely of survival. He could be emotional later. He could smash something or cry later. He needed to get himself and Kyle somewhere safer, and he needed to do it before the machines came back. They couldn't survive in that basement much longer. Most importantly, he couldn't let Kyle see their parents' bodies.
Mind racing, he carefully made his way back downstairs, to his brother, who sat huddled in the same spot, shaking in his terror and the thought that something had happened to his parents.
"Kyle," he said carefully, crouching down so he was eye level with his brother. "Listen carefully."
Derek continued, "We're going to go upstairs, really carefully. Okay? Quietly. You're going to take my hand and close your eyes. Don't open them until I say so. Then we're going to go to the town hall. There's bound to be others there. We'll be safer." He paused a beat, then said, "Okay?"
Kyle nodded, tight lipped and teary eyed.
"Come on, then," Derek said, standing up and offering his hand to his brother. Kyle took it, and pulled himself up, still shaking.
He followed Derek upstairs, cringing at the glass and the debris and shattered windows. When they reached the door, Derek held out his hand and Kyle took it, screwing his eyes shut. Derek swallowed hard, and led his brother past their parents, still bleeding on the road, never to comfort them again.
Once they were far enough away, Derek whispered, "Okay, Kyle, you can open your eyes." Kyle did so, almost unwillingly. He followed Derek through the remnants of their town. It was debris and waste and broken glass. The road was littered with cars and glass. There were no bodies. Derek didn't want to know what the machines had done with them.
Finally, they reached it. Before them stood the once almost majestic town hall, now reduced to rubble and broken concrete, a symbol of what had happened to mankind.
Derek glanced at his brother. "What?" he asked.
"What happened to Mom and Dad?"
Derek looked at the ruins and the grey destruction around them, and found that he didn't have an answer to that. What should he tell him? The truth? Or should he let his little brother still be a kid? "I don't know," he finally said. "I don't know, Kyle."