Just when she thought she and mom were going home, the Redemption Brigade came for them. Margaret didn’t understand who they were at the time because she was only seven, and up until that day she had always assumed that all humans were friends, could never hurt one another or shoot one another. Only the rippers were evil. Only the night needed to be feared.
Margaret enjoyed their adventure to Chicago until that day, seeing the huge buildings and playing with the kids of the Brat Pack at St. Mike’s. They were the orphans of Chicago, and for a few days while her mother was off killing rippers, Margaret stayed with them and their sort-of mom, Helen, a really old lady who smiled a lot, and their sort-of dad, Emile, a smelly fat guy who laughed a lot and showed them how to shoot. He even let her take a turn with a small handgun. She missed the target, a board with a bunch of circles painted on it leaning up against an empty old house, but he gave her two more tries, patiently instructing her on how to hold the gun until she hit the second circle.
The church was amazing. She’d never seen carving and painting like that. Some guy in a black robe came and told the children all about God, but Margaret had already been warned by her mother and Uncle Jeff not to mention the 1000 Souls, that these Chicago people weren’t believers yet and were afraid of Ericsians. Margaret also found it weird that while they were near anyone from Chicago, she was supposed to pretend that Kayla was her mom. After some big battle her mom won, they moved away from St. Mike’s and into a huge building, the Merch Mart it was called, but she wasn’t allowed to go exploring through the empty stores or offices, and there were no other kids there, so it was really boring. All she could do was look out the windows at the big city that spread all around them, miles and miles of empty buildings. One night flares popped high and there was a lot of shooting around the bridges over the river, but she only watched it for a few minutes before Uncle Jeff found her by the window and took her to the safe ammunition room on the north side of the Mart to sit with a couple of others and stuff bullets into magazines. She was very good at it, one of the fastest.
While all this was exciting, she was homesick for the familiar crowds of St. John’s Keep and the open fields and forests of Canada. Everyone in Chicago seemed very tense up until the party day, the kissing day. That was the best and worst day of her young life.
She was old enough to know that they’d won some big battle with the rippers, that they were all dead. She thought that meant every ripper in the world was dead, that the war was over for good. People danced and hugged and kissed in the morning light in front of the church. She hugged and kissed each one of her new friends in the Brat Pack, and she was especially pleased when Collin, the big boy, a full thirteen-years-old and a messenger to her mom, gave her a kiss on the forehead and an awkward hug. She treasured that memory for years. She loved him.
But her mom was all worried and angry about something. They rushed from the party at St. Mike’s back to their camp in the Merch Mart and started packing crazy fast.
“We’re going to go on a big plane,” said her mom. “We’ll be back home the day after tomorrow.”
But the Redemption Brigade arrived in their trucks with their guns and surrounded the building, wouldn’t let them out, told them to surrender.
Margaret had heard a lot of gunfire in her young life, but never in daylight, and never a battle between humans. There was nowhere for her to hide like in St. John’s, where they always sent them into the mine if things got really scary. Even the ammunition room wasn’t safe because windows facing north were hit with bullets too. They could only tuck her into a corner of a corridor behind some filing cabinets, where she filled magazines as fast as her little hands could jam in the bullets. People rushed out of the haze of gun smoke and grabbed full clips from her in panic, dropping off their empties. Some people were dragged past her back from the barricade with bullet wounds, some dead. Helen, the nice old lady who took care of the Brat Pack, stayed with her until dark. Her mom joined them for a moment, blood running down her cheek from a cut, her face a thunder that warned Margaret not to dare to argue.
“Helen’s going to take you to the big plane. I’ll be right behind, okay, baby? Just remember mommy loves you very, very much. Be quiet with Helen though, okay? No crying. These evil ass…the Redemption Brigade, the bad people, mustn’t know that we’re sneaking away, okay? And some are on the bridge at the river. You’ll have to swim, but nice and quiet, okay? Quiet as a mouse.” Her mother gave her one last desperate hug and smeared her blood on Margaret’s cheek when she kissed her.
Helen carried her through the wreckage of a building in the dark while all the gunfire only got worse behind them in the Merch Mart. They crossed a narrow foot bridge and had to slide down some piles of broken building to the ground because the stairs were gone. She got a lot scraps and a nasty cut, but she kept silent as her mother asked, telling herself to cry on the inside. When Helen reached the river not far from the bridge, she stopped and waited. Margaret assumed they were waiting for her mother to catch up.
Kayla and her new boyfriend joined them instead, and they all slipped quietly into the cold water together, but something went wrong. Margaret’s head went under and she couldn’t breath. Suddenly Helen pushed her into Kayla’s boyfriend’s arms. He carried her out of the river, but Helen just disappeared in the dark water. It was too bad. Margaret liked her.
The plane was huge! She’d never seen anything so big. Kayla called it a Herc. It wasn’t really comfortable inside though because there were only benches to sit on, but there was a lot of space for running around. Kayla told her it wasn’t really a passenger plane, that it was for stuff.
They made her sit while the plane took off, but once it was in the air Margaret went looking for her mother. She walked up and down the benches, checking each face carefully a second time as if she might have missed her by accident. Uncle Jeff wasn’t on board either. She even went up to the cockpit, but only Milan, the man who always brought candies for the kids when he flew into St. John’s, was driving the plane. He turned from all the controls and smiled at her, but it was a sad smile.
Margaret walked very slowly passed everyone back to Kayla, slowly because she didn’t want to believe that her mother wasn’t on the plane. She stood in front of Kayla, who had tears on her cheeks. Kayla wiped them quickly when she realized Margaret was standing in front of her.
Margaret didn’t ask. She didn’t have to. She just stood in front of Kayla and waited to hear the worst.
Kayla shook her head. “I’m sorry, honey. I’m so, so sorry. Your mommy’s gone. She was killed by the bad guys.” She pulled Margaret into her lap.
They wept together. Even Kayla’s boyfriend, Tevy, wept and patted Margaret’s shoulder many times, promising that they would take care of her forever. Kayla tried to clean the blood from Margaret’s cheek, but that was her mother’s blood. Margaret never let anyone clean that blood, but it wore off anyway, severing her last connection to her mother. Margaret finally let herself fall asleep, hoping that it would all be a bad dream, that her mother would wake her from her bed in their room at St. John’s.
She woke when the plane landed and wept some more, but they had to hurry onto a bus and headed out even before sun up. Kayla told her to go back to sleep, but before she drifted off a little fire took hold in her soul, an anger, a rage. It grew while she slept.
She woke in the afternoon, the sun on her side of the bus making her hot. She remembered a question that she desperately wanted answered, a question the angry Margaret wanted answered.
“Who killed mommy?”
“The Redemption Brigade,” said Kayla.
“Bobs,” said her boyfriend at the same time.
Margaret whispered those names to herself again and again during the long drive home. “Bobs and the Redemption Brigade.” She stared out at the forests sweeping past, her head pressed against the bus window so that she could see better in the bright sunlight. “Bobs and the Redemption Brigade.”
She vowed that when she grew up, she would kill them all. For mommy.
Copyright 2013 Michael Andre McPherson All rights reserved.