Caged Animal

Continued from ‘Apologies all Around

“Arabella.” The woman rises and spins to face her daughter. “I think it’s best if you stay here.”

“But-”

“No,” the woman interjects, her tone forceful even if her voice is quiet. “Even if Cly won’t be there, the crowd is already riled up.”

Arabella steps forward. Her eyes lock onto her mother’s, an intensity in them that can only be from determination. She takes her mother’s hands in her own. “Which is exactly why I have to go back. The crowd is like a storm just waiting for a place to strike and you’ll be the tallest point if you go.”

The older woman inclines her chin. She looks down her nose at her daughter as her chest seems to swell. “I can handle it, Arabella.” She pauses, a more grave expression washing over her face. “I’ve dealt with it much longer and I know how to handle a couple of angry voices.”

Over Arabella’s dark eyes, her eyebrows scrunch together. “But they’ve never been this bad before.” Worry clings to her words.

“I know,” the woman sighs. “It’s because of the wall. They’re treating us like caged animals and like any caged animal, they grow restless.” One hand reaches forward and touches her daughter’s cheek. “Which is why I don’t want you anywhere near the crowd. I need you to stay here. I’ll be right back.”

Covering her mother’s hand, Arabella leans into it. “You promise?”

A weak smile tugs on the old woman’s face, but she doesn’t respond. She simply pulls away.

Arabella and I watch her as she empties the buckets into a large container against the wall. With two empty buckets in hand, she faces us, but her eyes land on me. She steps forward and crouches. “I’ll be back shortly, okay, Clara?”

I stare into her eyes. Can I trust those words? Can I trust anyone will be back? What if she disappears like my parents?

The woman presses her lips together and nods. Rising, she offers no more words before exiting the house, leaving Arabella and I standing in the kitchen.

Well, I still crouch on the floor while Arabella stands, but I don’t move. I don’t stand. I don’t walk away. I can’t move. I can’t understand what’s going on.

“Hello?” The voice comes from the other room.

Arabella jumps like someone snuck up behind her. She glances around without looking at anything, her eyes locking onto me. With a deep breath, she holds a hand out to me. “You want to help me, Clara?”

No. I don’t want to help you. Helping you is scary. But the look in her dark eyes calls to me, like she’s begging me. She looks scared. Why? She’s an adult? How can an adult be scared? Wanting to understand, I place my hand in hers.

Her thin fingers enclose around mine, drawing me to my feet with a smile. A weak smile. A fake smile, but a smile. It breaks when she walks towards the hallway, worry replacing the smile with a frown.

“Hello?” The voice calls again, searching, scared, helpless.

The two of us enter the room where we slept last night. One of the small bodies I saw laying on the ground earlier sits up, their back still against a wall. The other two draw up off the floor to mirror the motion. All three of them stare around with wide eyes.

They’re afraid.

Arabella draws me further into the room.

The smallest of the three jerks as if trying to back away, but has nowhere to go.

“Who are you?” The one who speaks moves into a crouch, their hands splayed against the floor like they’re preparing to run.

“Mine name is Arabella and this is Clara.” She gestures to me, but I don’t look at her.

I focus on the three children in front of me, just as scared as I was when I woke. Where are they from? What are they doing here? Did they lose their parents, too?

“What’s your name?” Arabella asks, watching the bolder of the three.

He rises from his crouch. His shaggy hair hangs in front of one of his eyes, but he doesn’t brush it back. He doesn’t look away from Arabella. Yet, his expression changes. His eyes narrow. His brows scrunch together and his fingers curl into fists.

‘Caged animals grow restless,’ Arabella’s mother said and that’s what he looks like, the boy in front of me. Caged in this room with Arabella and I blocking the door. Will he attack like the people at the well?

My heart pounds in my chest. I breathe faster. My hand squeezes Arabella’s.

She glances to me. “Is everything okay, Clara?”

“He-” My words cut off before I can get them out. I swallow and try again. “He’s scared.”

“I’m not scared!” He barks, advancing a step towards us.

The two smaller children jump. Arabella snaps her head back to the boy while I jolt back, moving myself partly behind her leg.

“Okay,” Arabella says, holding one hand out in front of her. “It’s good that you’re not scared. You have nothing to be scared of. My mother brought you here last night. We’re here to help you.”

“Help me?” The boy tips his head to the side. His eyebrows twitch like he’s trying to change his expression, but it goes back to aggressive.

Arabella nods.

The boy hesitates. His crisp blue eyes glance around the room, pausing on the other children a moment before finding Arabella again. “Where’s my brother?”

“Your brother?” Confusion glitters her words.

“Yeah! My brother!” He stomps his foot into the ground when he takes another step forward.

I jerk back in surprise, my hand tightening around Arabella’s.

Arabella shakes her head. “I don’t know. My mother didn’t say anything about a brother.”

“Where’s my brother?!” Something wild and scary grips the boy’s voice, breaking it as he speaks. His icy eyes shift to me.

Fear clutches my heart. Will he attack?

Next Installment: Figure it out Together

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