She woke to the clonking sounds of wagon wheels hitting an uneven road. She stretched her hands towards the ceiling. There was an ache that wasn’t there yesterday; it pinched right between her shoulder blades.
She dragged herself across the wood floors and plopped down on the toilet which stood only a few feet from her bed. She waited. Yesterday’s newspaper rested on top of the toilet paper roll. Rebels were still fighting somewhere up north. Food shortages throughout the country. Just another day.
Outside, the traffic was thick. There was only one road, and it hugged the coastline dividing the docks from the rest of town. Horse-drawn carriages, trucks with plastic-tarps, and small flashy cars clogged the two-way highway.
Marlee hopped on her bicycle leaving the shack slum area where she lived and weaved through traffic. Without thinking, she rode past honks, yelling, and brakes screeching. When she reached her pawnshop, she watched as a horse squealed and whimpered. An army truck had rear-ended the horse’s wagon. Shards of wood had sliced through the horse legs and belly. Marlee could still hear its crying when she entered her shop.
The shop was barely large enough for a wagon, but it was crammed with televisions, radios, computer parts, books, dolls, jewelry, even car parts. She flipped on the neon sign which read, Buyers of Coins, Scrap Gold and Silver. Since the window blinds were drawn, she walked towards the back in semi-darkness. She went around the counter towards the long lever then yanked it down.
The lights illuminated every crevice. When she glanced at the counters, she noticed a boy and girl crouching behind the stool in front of the register. And yet their eyes were not on her; they were on something behind her. She turned and saw an older boy holding a thick laptop over his head to smack her with it. She could tell by the worried expression on his face that he wouldn’t do it.
“Squatters?” she said grabbing the computer and setting it beside the register.
“We’re hidin-” the girl elbowed the boy to keep him quiet.
“Hiding from the brown suits?”
They said nothing.
“We’re-” said the tallest boy.
“Don’t say anything!” said the girl.
“But we don’t know if she’s coming back!” said the boy.
Just then a shot rang out. All four stared at the door. Marlee herded all three children into the small office which was behind the counter and register.
“Only the army owns guns around here so not a word, ya hear?”
She locked the office door and scurried back to the stool. She plopped down. The shop door opened. Three soldiers in brown uniforms walked in.
“Mornin’,” she said while pretending to examine the laptop she left beside the register.
“Mornin’,” said one of the soldiers as the other two glanced around the shop, “we’re looking for someone, a boy possible this tall.” the soldier raised a hand to his chest, “He might be looking for his mother.”
“Lots of boys are looking for their mothers,” said Marlee, the soldier, placed his hand over the laptop to close it, “this one has a special mother,” Marlee didn’t like him, but then again she didn’t like any of the brown suits.
“I haven’t seen a boy, but if I do what’s in it for me.”
“Twenty-five thousand pounds,” he said. Marlee’s eyes widened. She made five-hundred a month on a good year.
“A hundred if you’ve seen the mother,” said the soldier.
“If I’d a seen them, I’d tell you. Not too many folks can pass up that kind of deal.”
“Loyal folks would,” said the soldier, “especially if the mother is Isis.”
She had to be careful with how she answered. The wrong answer could get her imprisoned, guilty or not.
“Isis the Sea Bitch?” she said without flinching, “If she were hiding here, you think you’d still be living?”
The soldier lingered for a moment while one of the soldiers turned the knob to the back office. Finally, he kicked it open. Marlee didn’t flinch, she popped open the laptop and pretended to work. The soldier came out and shook his head. All three left her shop and went to interrogate the next shop owner.
Marlee rushed back to the office but found it empty. She was scratching her head and glancing around when she heard a noise like metal clicking. They had hidden inside the A/C vent. She gave a hand helping each one out of the vent. Once they were all out, she grabbed the tallest boy. Holding his face in her hands, she examined him and smiled.
“I can’t believe it!” she said.