“And only when it’s chosen your grave for you, will you see it. The dead eyed lamb will follow you until you die.” Janice grinned as she leaned in close to the fire. Its flickering light gave her face a haunted look. The other two children around the fire screamed and held each other, and Janice leaned back to laugh. “Oh, it wasn’t that scary! Wait until you hear why they find kangaroo bones under Australian churches! They’ll kill you themselves, you know.”
Nicolas shuddered. “No! No more! I want to go back inside now!”
Janice shook her head. “We can’t, remember? Mom and Dad locked us out.” She sighed. It happened every so often, regardless of the weather. Some nights, it was warm. Other nights, it was frigid. Nights like tonight, it was a miserable combination of rain, snow, and sleet. Only the shelter of their neighbor’s shed kept them from freezing, and a large pot with a fire inside kept them moderately warm.
They weren’t supposed to be there, but it couldn’t be helped. Janice refused to let her two younger siblings suffer in the cold wet outside simply because their parents weren’t letting them in the house.
Little Becca whimpered, and Janice pulled her close. “What’s wrong?” the older girl asked gently. “Was the story too scary?”
Janice nodded and held her close. “Come here, Nicolas. Body heat, body heat!” She forced a smile as Nicolas hurried over and sandwiched Becca between himself and Janice.
“How long do we gotta stay outside?” He sighed. “It’s cold and miserable, and I’m tired and hungry.”
“When we get home from school tomorrow. That’s the rule.” Janice rubbed her siblings’ backs to offer them more warmth.
A metal rake dug into Janice’s rear uncomfortably, and she tried to shift, but that made her legs hurt. She settled in and tried to ignore as its dull tines jabbed her. Nicolas and Becca looked up at her movements.
Eventually, the three settled into an uneasy sleep, and Janice woke often to tend the fire and keep it hot.
The next morning came quietly. The usual morning sounds were absent, and the three children remained asleep as the sun warmed the shed. Their horrible night left them exhausted, and they slept sound and long until well after the sun was at its peak.
The three children woke in the afternoon and slowly stood. They were stiff from cold and unchanging positions, and their clothes were dirty. Nicolas’ stomach growled loudly, followed by Janice’s and Becca’s. Janice laughed quietly for a moment before she reached for the cold door of the shed. She pushed it open– a struggle against ice and snow– and peered out. Nothing was moving, and all was quiet.
Noon was passed, and she had no idea what time it was. She grabbed Nicolas’ arm and pulled his wrist into the light. If they headed home quickly, they could claim to have gone to school, and just make up their work tomorrow. “We should get going. It’s past time school got out.” She frowned worriedly. What if the school called home?
They would cross that when they came to it, if they did. The three children hurriedly grabbed some snow and put out the fire, then dumped their pot behind the shed and hurried away across the cold landscape. The walk back seemed longer than usual, and the nearby road was completely empty. No chimneys had smoke, and no birds sang. There were no car tracks, and no animal prints in the slushy snow, save theirs.
All was still.
When they finally arrived home, there were no signs of life. The lights in the windows were out. The chimney was bare of smoke. The car was still in the drive. When they opened the door, the dogs didn’t bark in alarm. Everything seemed empty as they crept in and went to their rooms to wait with empty stomachs for dinner. Afternoon snacking was very strongly discouraged by their father, after all.
Time passed, and the sun sank. Supper was late. They walked downstairs slowly and began to look around the house. It took time, but Janice made the first noise. “Alice? Dad?” she called as she looked around. There was no answer. She searched the den, the master bedroom, and the basement and garage. Nobody was home.
Finally, she made a decision. “They aren’t home. I’ll make dinner.” she offered as she reached for the bread bin and a knife. She set them down, grabbed a cutting board, and then walked to the fridge. She piled a stack of meat and cheese onto the wooden slab, then snagged the mayo.
She made the sandwiches swiftly, and soon the three were satisfied enough on the small meal. Janice put the fixings away carefully, aware that the bread loaf was almost half gone thanks to their meal.
Janice hurried her siblings to the bathroom to brush their teeth, then bathed them and put them to bed. She quickly followed suit after a shower, thankful for her warm blankets.
Morning came, and the children migrated to the empty kitchen. Their parents were nowhere to be seen. Janice made pancakes, and they prepared for school. The bus never came, and they began to worry.
“Janice! Where is the bus? It always comes, even when the weather is bad!” Becca began to panic at the idea of a day off school. “I don’t want to be home if Dad and Alice get home drunk again!” She began to panic, and Nicolas quickly restrained her.
“I don’t know.” Janice hurried to the fridge to look at the school calendar. “School isn’t out today.” She paused. “Let’s wait a little longer.” She dashed toward the window to watch. Noon came and went, and neither bus or parents arrived.
Janice fed her siblings lunch, and they distracted themselves with play and reading. Dinner time came, and Janice cooked dinner. More days passed, and the panic began to turn into a slow and growing terror. The children couldn’t sleep in the silence, and nobody came for them. The weather and the seasons changed, and they began to dream of their parents, living without children anymore, and refusing to look into Janice, Becca, or Nicolas’s rooms.