After shoveling down what’s left of the morning’s oatmeal with a wooden spoon, I drop the pot into the sink and reach up to slap Mykola on the back. With my legs I would have been taller than him, but he’ll outgrow us all before puberty runs its course.
I turn to Pyotr, my middle-born, sharpening his knife at the table. “The quicksilver lights burned all night this time. Good job, son.”
“It’s kind of a shame. They work so good we haven’t had govno for fun around here—“
“Hey, use English for swearing. Don’t tarnish our mother tongue with filth.” My eldest, Leonid, drops his boots on the floor and sits to put them on.
Pyotr stabs his knife into the table. “Roger that, dillweed.”
“Both of you—“ A screeching whistle followed by a pop cuts my reprimand short.
“The perimeter!” Pyotr sheathes his knife, flashing a wicked grin.
“Leo, eyes!” I block Pyotr’s attempt to get past me to the back door and wait for Leonid to rush up the stairs to the crow’s nest.
“Come on, Papa. It’s the first time in a week.”
Pulling my middle child close, I growl the words, “We do nothing if—“
“We don’t do it together.” Mykola and Pyotr finish the family mantra in sync.
I release Pyotr’s shirt. “Start the truck, and stick to protocol.”
“For a perimeter alert, in the middle of the day?”
Threatening him with a glare, he finally relents and bolts toward the front leaving only Mykola and me in the room. “I don’t like the feel of this one. It’s too hot outside. Something isn’t right. Keep an eye on your brother.” He nods and scoops a three gallon jug of water from under the sink before following Pyotr out the front door. We’re still a family I remind myself. Function as a family and there’s something worth fighting for.
I rake four survival packs from the bottom shelf into my lap, roll into the entry and flip the lockdown lever. Calculating the remaining daylight in my head, I turn the timer to eight hours and set the cycle to repeat. On cue, the diesel four-stroke in the crawlspace under the floorboards chugs to life, wafting an acrid smoke into the living quarters. Slamming the metal door on the electrical box, I know the house will maintain perimeters whether we return to it or not.
The storm shutters lurch into motion before settling into a gentle crawl downward. Forty seconds and the house will be locked tight. Forty seconds for a forty-year-old cripple to—with a jolt I remember the photo. Nimbly I spin my chair and zip back to the master bedroom. Pocketing the picture, I reach the front door just before the lowering shutters bar the way.
While I don my goggles against the red dust Leonid drops from the roof to report.
“Station 12 went off, but I can’t see anything.”
Pyotr shouts from the driver’s seat of the truck. “That’s my new trench. We caught one!”
Leonid continues, “nothing on the horizon. It isn’t a hunt.”
“Good.” I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with sulfur. “Fire sign?”
“I still don’t like it.”
Pyotr guns the engine and slaps the seat beside him. “Jump in Mik. We got us a twitcher to kill.”
Mik lowers himself from the bed of the truck and scoops the survival packs from my lap. “Leviathan’s ready,” he nearly whispers the words. I’m already wheeling toward the tailgate before he finishes. Leonid remains vigilant, scanning the horizon for movement, until the chairlift comes to a stop. Eighteen seconds to load a forty-year-old cripple into the back of a truck. I roll forward and lock my chair into Leviathan. As it’s gears tug me into position atop its two triangular tank treads, Leonid finally steps onto the runner and slaps the door.
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