I am walking by the school when the cry sounds. Everyone freezes, their eyes going wide and turning up to the sky. Then the emergency siren sounds and all the people start moving double-time, sprinting for the trenches. I’m in the middle of the crowd, my feet pounding against the ground, praying I won’t trip, fall.
Everybody streams over the side of the closest ditch, looking like a human waterfall. Once they hit the ground, it’s as if they disappear into thin air. I slide down into the dirt, scramble for cover under the overhang, all the hidey holes filled. Across from me a teacher, by her clothes, holds a child, pressing the little girl’s face to her chest, covering her eyes.It is dead silent, still. No one dares breathe. Another cry rents the air, a hunter’s call. A small body falls in front of me, sobbing. The boy is on his hands and knees, frantically searching for a place to hide. I bite my lip, my gaze meeting the woman’s across from me. I reach forward and grab his wrist, pull him to me. He leaves a trail behind him.I place my hand on his head. “Shh, you have to be quiet. He’ll hear us.”He nods, bites his lip. He shakes against me.A shadow passes over the trench, leaving us in darkness. I scoot my back against the dirt wall, taking short gasps of air through my mouth. The shadow moves slightly, but stays above us. He is circling.The ground is no longer dry, but damp with sweat. It drips along my neck, my legs, making them itch, but I refuse to move.And then there is the sound of running. Someone who didn’t quite make it to the trenches is going for it, taking their chance while he is distracted.The shadow disappears and the sun glares down on us once more. I squint and press my face into the boy’s hair, wishing I could block my hearing just as easy. The scream of the poor victim reaches my ears.It’s not the reasonless scream it usually is though. It’s a word, a name. “Kylan.”The boy jerks in my arms. I try to hold on to him, but he wriggles free. I grab his pant leg just as he manages to stand up. “Mama.”I drag him down and back under the overhang before he can attract the hunter’s attention. Tears leave clean streaks on his face. He bangs his small fists against my shoulders, my chest, my stomach. The thought that I could just let him go comes to me, but I keep a tight grip.A screech, another scream that is quickly cut off. Kylan screams at the ugly ripping noise that follows and he will not stop. I place my hand over his mouth. He bites down on my finger, hard, so hard, but I don’t care. As long as he is quiet.The flapping of wings, loud, powerful, taking off, sweeps over everyone. Stirred dust falls over the edge of the trench, getting in my lungs, making me cough, making everyone cough.I’m standing and coughing though. People are crawling out of holes everywhere, like some great termite infestation. They’re dusting themselves off, climbing out of the ditch.Because he’s gone. He’s found his meal.When they’re out, the remaining citizens pause and bow their heads, lay their hand over their heart. The brave watch the great bird of prey disappear into the distance. He’ll be back when he gets hungry again, but for now, he’s gone.I climb out first and reach down for the boy, holding his frail frame as if I always knew how to do it. He wraps his arms around my neck, buries his face in my shoulder. I look for him, look after his mother’s murderer.“Sh, baby, sh. It’s going to be okay.”People stare at me, but I ignore them, keep looking toward the horizon, patting his back, whispering reassuring words.The teacher comes up to me. “I’ll take him.”I don’t want to let him go, but I have to. He has to go back to school. I pry his fingers away. She takes him gently and turns away.The populace is going back to their lives, to what they were doing. They walk past me, going to the exact spot they stood before the alarm sounded, planning to move on from there as is procedure.I take a deep breath and go to follow. A man walks beside me. He glances toward me. “You shouldn’t have lied to him. You know as well as I that things are not going to be okay for that boy.”I nod, my shoulders dropping.If the hunter likes the taste of today’s meal, Kylan will be his next whether by the hunter’s own design or the town’s.