What Karen Came to Find
Karen Nadler had been dreading turning down this street all day ever since Captain Weaver had announced the direction they would be heading. She knew the route as soon as they began. It was the same route she had taken comfortably every Thursday, travelling to dance class. Only on this occasion, it was not Thursday, and she was not sitting in her mother's SUV as she listened to her younger sister Jenny babble about what so-and-so said to what's-his-name at school that day.
For being two years apart, she and Jenny had never seen eye-to-eye. Their parents had claimed it was a case of sibling rivalry, simple and to the point. They had bickered over television shows and wrestled over clothing for as long as Karen could remember. The only thing they even held in common, though their parents vehemently protested that they were too much alike, was a love of dance. It was with irritation and defeat that their instructor teamed them up together most often for duets when it came to competition.
Their latest duet had been scheduled for an upcoming competition in Brockton. Their mother and personal seamstress had been poking them with needles for days to get their costumes just right. They were simple, black chiffon outfits, naturally, since the duet was lyrical. Karen tried vainly to remember how excited she had been about the upcoming competition despite having to dance with her sister, but she could not remember.
It did not matter anyways. That was all before.
It was before she had ditched school with her friends to see the space ships when they arrived. It was before the heavens shook and people flooded the streets in terror. It was doomsday. The end of the world had arrived. Repent. Save yourself. Run. Run for your life. However, she and her family had not run other than to their house where they with relief found each other all alive. Her mother a homemaker had picked Jenny up from school early, panicking when Karen had not been there too. Her father had not had any work calls that day so far and was still at the house. From then they had taken the alternative to running and hid, hoarding themselves up in their basement.
When they surfaced days later it was quiet.
The entire world had shifted. The sky was still blue, but she could only tell from between the breaks in the billows of gray smoke rising and blanketing the city. It did not take long to piece together what had happened. She had seen the monsters and the fire and the people dying not one-by-one but by dozens. There were spiders, brown ones that were the size of cars, and they had friends too, gigantic robots with lasers. It was all a bad dream, and the nightmare had only been confirmed when they were informed by a small band of survivors who they welcomed into their home on the day they surfaced that everyone had been decimated.
"What do you mean?" Her mother asked the man. He looked horrendous, unfed and unkempt, and his eyes were distant as if he was focusing on something infinitesimally small that only he could see.
"They killed everyone…well nearly, with their guns and brute force, with their ships too!" He declared, and the looks of his two companions, an elderly couple named the St. Clares, only confirmed his words.
"What do they want?" Her father asked, shaking his head. Karen still remembered Jenny's French tips pressed into the flesh of her forearms out of fear as the old woman looked pointedly at them and answered.
The conversation had ended after that. The couple and the man slept the night in their house with them. All seemed eerily normal as Karen fell asleep that night in her bed for the first time since the beginning of everything. Everything was normal until she remembered the cars that would not start, the companions in their living room, the aliens raging war throughout Boston and the entire world as far as she knew, annihilating humanity.
Karen did not fall asleep after that. As far as she knew, she was the only one in the house awake when it happened. She was sitting in her closet with her legs crossed, reading her book for school by candlelight. It was stupid she knew to bother finishing the book. The world as she knew it was over, but she still could not help but imagine that things would put themselves back together again. Maybe, if she pinched herself she could wake up. Maybe, it was all just a test. Maybe, there was an oasis they could travel to—somewhere this evil had not conquered and could not go.
Then she heard the swivel and the scuttle of noises outside. She blew out the candle and tentatively crept out of her closet on all fours as she peeked out her bedroom window, pushing aside the sheer curtain slightly. She had never regretted anything more in her life because the instant she realized her mistake the robot sensed the movement from its position in the middle of the street. With wide eyes she dropped the curtain, not before witnessing three spiders rush towards her house. For a moment she sat still out of fear as she heard the quiet house be attacked.
Everything after that was a blur, the screams and shouting, the swivel of the robot's laser, the copper smell of fresh blood wafting towards her as she made for her parents' bedroom. She was too late. They lay on the floor in pools of their own blood. Then she turned from them. Jenny. Where was Jenny? Rushing past the three dead companions in the living room, she heard the scream.
It was similar to the scream that had been elicited every time she had holed herself up in the hall bathroom doing her hair ridiculously slowly to irritate Jenny. It was like the scream Jenny had made when they had won with their duet a few months ago. However, this scream was worse. It was raw and desperate, and Karen rushed to open the door, to follow the scream, but the moment she looked out the hole which replaced where the front door should be, she cowered backwards. Jenny was being drug by the spider down the street, staring at her, beseeching her to do something.
There were so many of them more even than the three spiders and one robot she had seen. What could she do? How did she get to her? She stood stock still in the doorway numbly for what seemed like hours as Jenny disappeared. Why did she not run after her?
Karen understood what her stupidity had cost her—her family—and what her hesitation had won her—her life.
There was not time for reminiscing now though. Hal was staring at her expectantly, smiling sweetly by their motorbikes. They were only a few blocks away now as they brought up the rear of the group, waiting for everyone to pass by until they flew ahead of the crowd and positioned themselves somewhere in the middle as instructed. Di, Anthony, and the boys in the truck would bring up the rear.
"You okay?" He asked.
"Are you kidding? Let's go!" She said, revving her bike and pretending that the feeling of a gun slung on her back was not surreal. Sadly, it was not very surreal much anymore anyways.
This chaotic life she had found in the 2nd Mass. had a way of keeping her from thinking anything was impossible. She never imagined six months ago that aliens had existed and that she would be speeding off with a group of survivors for safety after aliens had attacked. This was all moot in point now. Skitters were real and mechs too.
Hal was real as well. He was the boy she never would have met and was ironically happy she did.
"All right!" She heard Hal's dad, Tom Mason, call from the front of the group, directing them with hand signals. "Going left down Destiny! Everyone keep together."
Destiny Lane—even the name was ominous. It was a long street, winding and beautiful even despite the obviously destroyed condition it was in. They were halfway down the street when she saw it. There were her mother's rose bushes overgrown in the front yard. Her dad's work truck with the gigantic bug was parked in the driveway where it had stopped. "Nadler Pest Control" was emblazoned in red on the truck's side. She could hear the snickers of the adults and laughter of the children as everyone took notice of the truck, chuckling at how ludicrous it was.
Yet, there was a wry lilt to their laughter, considering they were fleeing from skitters. It was funny she supposed at how embarrassed she had always been by her dad's truck and occupation. Never once had they gone hungry thanks to him. Not once had their mother had to work because of his income. She had been so wrong, and she saw her father now hopping into his truck proudly with her mother kissing his cheek after giving him his brown bag lunch. For a second, she could almost see them in that moment and Jenny standing on the porch. Without thinking, she sped past Hal and all the others, heading straight for home.
Weaver and Mason called after her, but she paid no mind, stopping the bike at the end of the drive and leaning it against the mailbox. Despite the confused reprimands of the others approaching or the sound of Hal's bike speeding up to reach her, she calmly approached the house. She was nearly up the entire walk when she tripped over the trunk. It was hers. She wondered why it was outside. Someone must have been in the house. It was expected because even the 2nd Mass. had ransacked some houses just the day before.
Yet, there was no reason to bother with a wood trunk unless someone thought weapons were in it, only to get the trunk outside and discover that it was full of dance clothes and shoes. The trunk was open too. How had a stranger found the key tucked in her jewelry box? Curiously, she crouched down and opened the trunk. The letter taped to the top of the trunk had her name on it. It was Jenny's handwriting.
I got away from the spiders. I was rescued by some people. They're good and talk about heading west. They think being away from the city is safer, and I agree. When we passed through here, I searched for you and convinced them to wait twenty-four hours to see if you would come. You haven't come. Where have you gone?
I put this letter in the trunk because I knew you would find it when no one else would bother with it. Besides, I had to put it in something that wouldn't soak the paper if it should rain. I assumed you wouldn't want to go in the house. If you do find this—please find this—we left from here about three weeks after that night when we last saw each other. We're heading southwest most likely. Maybe, just maybe, we can find one another.
Daddy and Mom are dead, Karen. Please, don't be dead too. I miss you. I love you. I'm sorry for always being a pest. Please, don't be dead. You're my sister. I love you.
Find me. I'm going to look out for you everywhere Karen. It's like the scavenger hunts Mom gave during our birthday parties when we were little. You were so good at those.
I miss you. I love you.
Your sister and arch enemy,
(I'm laughing at how stupid we've always been to one another.)
By the time she had finished reading the letter, Karen looked up to find Hal standing behind her. Everyone was grouped and waiting a house beyond hers in the street. They stood in small clusters, looking back at her sadly. They understood. It was her house. It was her bug truck. For the first time in her life, she felt like shouting from the rooftops that her dad was a "pest control technician" as he used to proudly boast. She laughed at the thought.
"Your house?" Hal asked sweetly, not daring to come any closer least she didn't want him here.
She also understood his hesitation since no one knew about their relationship. It was hard to rub something happy in everyone's faces. Sometimes, it was even hard to rub their relationship in their own wounds.
"Yeah," Karen nodded, looking back to the house, her house. "Tell Weaver I'll be just a sec."
"Kay," He nodded.
Trying not to break down at the sight of dead bodies in her living room and avoiding her parents' bedroom altogether, Karen raced to her bedroom. It only took a moment to find what she was after. It was silly and trivial, but it had meant the world to her at one time. It was her music box. She and Jenny had been given the matching boxes before she could even remember. They were tiny, small enough to fit seamlessly in her backpack amidst her clothes and necessities. A little blonde ballerina sprung out of the box as a soft tune resonated from it. On the bottom of hers were her initials just as Jenny's had. After grabbing hers from her desk top, she ran to Jenny's bedroom and swept her sister's music box off her dresser before rushing back outside.
She could give Jenny her box one day. She was going to find her sister. She felt buoyed by the thought, by the possibility that in this new world all was not lost. Her sister was alive. She smiled as she saw Hal, and he smiled at the sight of her smiling. There was hope. It was just a glimmer of hope, but that was all she truly needed or wanted.
"You good?" Weaver asked the moment she and Hal sped up to meet the group towards the front. Everyone stared at her.
"I'm good," Karen confirmed, and they all visibly relaxed.
"We're all sorry about laughing at the truck," Hal's little brother Matt said. Most everyone in the group nodded their affirmation.
"It's okay," She assured him and laughed in a better mood than she had thought she would be in after seeing her house. Thinking about her sister, the porcelain music boxes in her pack, and the letter written by Jenny in her pocket felt promising. "My dad squashed bugs for a living. There're worst jobs."
"Like father like daughter," Tom said with a soft smile. Karen knew that she and Dr. Glass were most likely the only ones to see his gaze flit to Hal for a brief moment as he spoke the words.
"Maybe we should bring the bug truck along," Hal suggested and laughed.
"Strike a little fear in them?" Dr. Glass said smiling.
She laughed, "Dad always did consider himself the leader of a resistance against the war on insects."