They found themselves lost with amorphous memories of where they’d been. The littlest among them, a girl, thought of this night like a fog, though she could see the air was clear. It felt to her like fog, the dark with conical spots of orange streetlight, the haunting wind. Everything was quiet except for that overwhelming wind. The streets were empty, all of them, but still the siblings looked down each one, hoping to spot the takers, or anybody who could protect them from the takers. But always only a brokedown pickup truck with peeling paint, or some other wreck parked halfway up on the curb. Clusters of dead leaves, waterlogged and wilted, submerged in shallow and wide puddles.
By the time the siblings figured out the rules, they’d already lost more than half their number. When they started home there were eleven of them and now there were five. The oldest one left was a worrier, a nervous boy by nature, and because the two older than him were among the taken, and because his brain could not function properly in all his fear, he mistakenly thought they were being taken in order, oldest to youngest. He thought—he knew, for one wrong second—that he would be next. But in all his panic and his calculations his concentration became too diffuse, and they lost another one.
The takers were invisible and the takers were silent. They were something, a type of ghost, perhaps, that none of the siblings had heard of or imagined. The siblings must be mindful, always, of one another as they walked, mentally hugging one another all the way home. If any of the siblings slipped from the minds of the others even for a moment, the forgotten sibling would be taken.
When there were four left, the siblings hit a complication with the algorithms in their heads, and in one brief moment lost two, including the nervous boy. The littlest one thought it would be easy to make it now. She only had to think of her older sister, who was very brave, and her sister only had to think of her. But they walked down a street that was suddenly familiar to the littlest one, and she thought she knew where the bus stopped near here. She looked, and her sister was gone.
Now the littlest one had to think of herself, and she did. She thought of herself and she ran. She thought of herself and she told herself if she made it home she could have all her brothers and sisters back. She made this rule up herself, but if she stopped believing it, she would have no chance of making it home.
Joshua W. Jackson writes fiction and nonfiction. In the summer of 2013, he will finish the Master of Professional Writing program at the University of Southern California, where he teaches an undergraduate composition course.