“Do you see him yet,” Tuttle asked in a whisper, pressing his face up against the darkened window. He pulled his zipper all the way up to his chin. Lee shook her head and grabbed the edges of the sleeping bag, wrapping it more closely around them both.
“He should have been back by now,” Tuttle continued, gratefully pulling the bag tight around his small shoulders. Even in the limited light of the moon, Lee could tell that his lips were blue. Lee thought about their father, working his way through the undergrowth to the nearest town. For a moment, she held his image in her mind, making it feel warm and safe.
“You think he’s ok?” Tuttle asked. He snuggled in to Lee, his ear cold against her shoulder, and she wrapped her arms around him. Lee thought for a moment, then came up with an image of their father returning, walking tall and loaded down with food. She could feel Tuttle’s presence at the corner of her mind, and pushed out this picture.
“I hope he finds peanut butter,” Tuttle said, slightly calmer. Lee added a big jar of Jiffy to her image of their father and Tuttle sighed in contentment. He was quiet for a moment, and Lee realized that he had drifted off to sleep. She lay him down on the floor, tucked into the sleeping bag, and went back to stand by the window.
To her count, they had been in the cabin for three weeks. This was the first time their father had ventured out since they had arrived. Lee wasn’t sure how her father knew where to go, but she didn’t ask questions. She’d known something was coming for months.
Lee and her father had kept Lee’s abilities quiet for a number of years, keeping her in Special Education classes and using sign language. But once Tuttle had started school, it had become more difficult. No matter how often they reminded him, Tuttle would respond to Lee’s thoughts in front of other people. At first, it seemed as though they could pass because Tuttle was young, and it seemed as though he was imagining a relationship with his deaf, mute, sister. But after a time, the rumors had begun to spread, and Lee noticed that her classmates, who had often ignored her, were now watching her more closely. Watching and waiting to see if she might respond to a direction from their teacher even if she had her back turned to the class and Lee couldn’t read her lips. Lee caught on quickly and tried to play dumb, sheltering her thoughts and shielding herself from others, but it was too late.
She noticed the specialists waiting outside of her classroom early on a November morning. They wore navy blue suits, sunglasses, and had on running shoes. Lee noticed a bulge at each of their hips, indicating some kind of weapon, most likely a taser. It did not bode well. She’d seen them once before, three years ago when they’d come to interview a fifth year, but she had heard stories about them her whole life; mostly from her father, who would keep her and Tuttle up late at night with the tales of how the specialists haunted the internet, waiting to pick up on the slightest hint of abnormality.
Their father was off the grid. Their mother had been as well, before she was taken. Lee’s father had always warned them that they were already on the watch list because of their mother, but he had managed to hide them for a time, moving them to the most rural area he could find. One of the few places in the country left that did not broadcast wireless through the city.
But now the specialists had found her. When she first saw the specialists outside the room, she turned to Lorraine, and began to sign at her frantically. Lorraine, who was unused to Lee trying to communicate, told the class to work on an equation individually and came over to talk to her. As she came near, Lee felt the first push on her mind from a foreign source. She tried to keep calm, and debated whether a normal person might just let it happen without realizing it, or collapse in agony. She chose to collapse, and when Lorraine reached her, Lee launched herself out of her desk and began to howl silently, projecting, what she hoped, were normal thoughts of fear and horror. What she hadn’t counted on was Tuttle.
She knew he was coming an instant too late. He had run straight out of his classroom, up the flight of stairs, past the specialists and to her side within minutes, and he was crying.
“Lee, Lee what’s wrong! What are they doing to you!” He threw himself across her and glared up at her classmates angrily. “Get back from her, now!” he yelled. Lee could feel his thin body shaking despite his bravado, but she didn’t want to take the risk of trying to calm him with someone still inside her mind. Lorraine had looked from brother to sister, and then pulled out her cell phone and called their father immediately. She went into the back of the room and had a whispered conversation, occasionally glancing at the door to see if the specialists were looking in. Lee saw that they weren’t, but feared that meant that they didn’t need to, and that they somehow knew what was going on anyway. In all likelihood, there was a camera somewhere in the room. Lee hoped it was trained on the students, and not on her teacher.
When Lorraine got off the phone she got up and walked over to Lee and very carefully positioned herself with her back to her desk. So the camera’s over there, Lee thought. Lorraine started signing to her.
“I’ve called your father, but you’ll still have to talk to them,” she said, as the other children looked on. Tuttle, who knew sign language as well, almost spoke up, but Lee put her hand on his arm and he quieted.
“I know,” Lee signed back to Lorraine. “I’ll be careful.” Tuttle looked back and forth between them, fat tears forming in his eyes.
“Is this my fault,” he whispered, looking at Lee. Lee looked up at Lorraine, who knelt down next to Tuttle.
“Not at all, sweetie,” she said. “Everything’s fine, let me walk you back downstairs.” She stood up and placed her hand on the Tuttle’s shoulder, then turned to the rest of the class who had been watching the whole exchange.
“Back to work,” she said dismissively. The other students exchanged glances and turned back to their equations, and Lee stood up, somewhat unsteadily, and followed Lorraine into the hallway, where the specialists were waiting.
They had expected that Lee would come to them; she saw right away that she had made a tactical error. Without speaking the two of them flanked her; the woman on her right and the man on her left and began to walk her down the hallway. Lee turned and saw Tuttle also trying to turn around and Lorraine distracting him. Lee could make a fuss and try to appear normal, or she could come to the terms with the fact that it was probably already too late. Now that she was closer to them, Lee knew that it was the woman who had tried to enter her mind, and that she was far more experienced a reader than Lee. As she thought this, the female specialist looked down at her and gave her a slight smile, and Lee knew that she was lost.
Suddenly, she felt her father’s presence in the building. She shoved it out of her mind immediately. The female specialist kept stride, appearing not to notice, but now Lee was truly worried. She considered sending her father a message, but feared that might be rash. He was forever telling her to think defensively, and to not make mistakes out of fear.
Two second later as they entered the stairway, three shots rang out. The male specialist fell immediately; a wound to his temple erupting in scarlet blood. The female specialist grabbed Lee by the elbow and pulled her close, bringing out a weapon of her own. She projected silence on Lee, who accepted it immediately; the specialist could have blocked any projection Lee wanted to make anyway.
Lee felt the specialist send the threat to her father, and heard down the stairwell the corresponding clunk of a gun being dropped. She could hear screaming coming from the classrooms, and weaved her mind through to touch on Tuttle. He was terrified, gripping onto Lorraine’s wrist and trying to pull her back towards his sister. Lee quieted him, telling him that she loved him and that it would be alright. The specialist, who had been distracted, suddenly blocked off the projection and slapped Lee hard across the face. As hard as she could, Lee thought about turning and fleeing down the stairs, and instinctively the specialist moved to block her, stepping too close to the edge of the railing. Realizing her mistake, the specialist tried to move forward, but Lee had already shoved her with all of her strength, sending her over the railing. A second later, she heard a loud thud, followed by a shot. Immediately, she reached to Tuttle calling him to her, and when he appeared at the top of the stairwell, eyes wide at the site of the body of the male specialist, she grabbed his hand and ran down the stairs to meet their father.
Their father raced them out to the van, which he had kept stocked with food and other provisions for years, and veered off immediately. Not ten minutes later, he had pulled them out of the van, and sent it right into the river, food and all. They took off on foot and were within the woods in minutes.
“We need to get you out of range,” he said to Lee, who nodded seriously. Tuttle gripped her hand and kept up as best he could, until finally their father hoisted him up onto his back. And they continued that way for a few more hours, until they got to another well stocked car that their father had hidden in the woods.
“Paranoid?” Lee signed to her father. She couldn’t risk projecting anything then, just in case.
“And rightly so,” he responded. He handed them each a pair of gloves, and fitted hair nets onto each of their heads before touching the car and starting up the engine. They drove through the night, and into the next day, with Tuttle up front in the passenger seat and Lee in the back, covered by a blanket.
They ditched that car halfway through the day, and made their way back into the woods, towards the mountains this time. This time, before they set out, her father pulled three pairs of shoes out of his backpack. The first two were for Lee and Tuttle, and were adult-sized boots, stuffed with socks to make them fit. They were clumsy to walk in at first, but after a time, they caught on. Their father’s boots were his size, but on the bottom, he had added a slight platform to stack on a shoe tread that was a full size smaller than his own. When he stepped in front of them in the woods, he left normal prints behind him. Seeing all the planning that her father had put into their escape made Lee realize exactly how long he must have been planning it.
After two days of hiking, they reached the cabin. It was a small wooden shack in the middle of nowhere, hidden by a wall of trees on all sides.
“Did you build this?” Tuttle asked, looking at it suspiciously.
“Your mother and I did, a long time ago,” their father answered, then pushed open the door to the cabin.
It was musty inside, and Lee thought she saw a few mice scurry away from the edges of the light as the door opened, but it was better than sleeping outside again.
“It will get cold here,” their father warned, “so make sure to wear layers.” He threw his backpack down on the table, then opened a trap door in the middle of the floor and began to pull out can after can of food.
“This should hold us until we need to move again,” he said, setting up a lamp and throwing wood onto the old iron stove in the corner of the room. “We’ll stay for a few weeks and then I’ll check to see if things have died down.” He pulled out a camp stove, and set to cooking hot dogs and beans.
Lee wondered what kind of network he would be able to tap in to. She doubted that the dead specialists would be reported in the news. The government usually liked to keep these things quiet. She ran her hand over the table, and came up with a layer of thick dust on her fingertips.
“Gross,” Tuttle said. He plopped down on the mattress in the middle of the room, and pulled out his PSP. Their father had hacked the GPS tracker out of it when they’d first taken off, and stuck it to the bottom of another car.
They lived in relative comfort for the next few weeks, eating the supplies, and playing the old-fashioned board games that their father had ferreted away. Finally, he decided it was time to check for updates. He kissed Tuttle on the head, gave him a squeeze and then invited Lee to read him. She saw that he planned to be gone for three days, and that he was going to an isolated town to the north, where they had not yet been.
“They’re not exactly government friendly up that way,” he signed. He pulled Lee to him and held her tight. His thoughts came through as clearly into her mind as if he were speaking them. “I will not let them harm you.” An image of their mother flashed through his mind and he pulled away, slung his backpack over his shoulder and took off.
And so Tuttle slept, while Lee tried to stay awake near the window, waiting for their father’s return on the third night after her had left. She had nearly nodded off, when finally she felt his presence come into focus. She was about to project a greeting when his message came through as though he were screaming it.
“Run!” it said.