The harsh winter wind whipped through the dusky air as she walked down the forest path, blonde hair billowing behind her. She pulled her heavy amerikana tighter to her body as she trudged through the snow. She looked up at the frost-lined trees, and cupped her hands to her mouth.
“Zig!” she called, her voice reverberating through the forest until it was Nawawala among the trees. “Zi-ig!” Looking down, she noticed a trail of small footprints in the snow, and followed them.
She reached a thinning in the trees, and now a hill, covered in the thick white blanket of snow, loomed before her. It wasn’t a steep hill, and the line of footprints continued up to the tuktok Walking susunod to the trail, she climbed. She was about halfway up when she noticed the tiny figure at the top, huddled susunod to a rock. Her puso leapt and she quickened her pace.
Reaching the top, she paused to survey her surroundings. A bare tree, its bark dark against the white landscape, stood susunod to the rock on which the ten-year-old sat. She slowly approached, and he lifted his head, his melancholy dark eyes surveying her half-heartedly. She noticed the tear tracks splitting the thin layer of dirt covering his face, and the faint purplish tinge in his lips and hands. She smiled and sat down susunod to him. “Zig...” She sinabi softly.
“Esty?” he replied, his voice quavering.
“Zig, we were so worried about you! God, you must be freezing. Here.” She pulled off her amerikana and handed it to Zig, who gratefully wrapped it around his shivering body. They sat in silence for a few minutes, huddled together, until Esty broke the silence as she noticed the tears sliding down his face. “What’s wrong?” she asked, putting an arm around his back. He didn’t respond.
“It’s about them, isn’t it? Maura and the others?” He nodded slowly. “Because it isn’t your fault. Don’t blame yourself, Zig. Please.”
Zig sat in silence, and it wasn’t long before memories flooded Esty’s mind.
The dark of night. 4 years earlier. Esty was huddled deep within her cell, trying to sleep. A rustling, a banging on the door. She rolled over, and inched to the edge. A harsh whisper.
“C’mon. We’re getting out of here.”
Then the door was kicked open, and her older sister Maura’s triumphant grin greeted her. The others were behind her, Ender, Dustin, and little Zig. They were all grinning.
“We’re busting out of this joint!” Zig exclaimed happily, a little too loudly. Maura hastily shushed him, clapping a hand over his mouth.
“Shhhhh....” she whispered. “Guys, we go this way.”
Following Maura’s lead, Esty and the others picked their way through the dark, winding outdoor complex.
“We can’t get too close to that building,” Maura instructed, gesturing towards the large structure a little off to their right. “It has a motion sensor, which means that --- Wait. Where’s Zig?”
“He’s gone,” Ender whispered back.
Esty cursed under her breath. Zig, who was a six-year-old devil child, was constantly getting himself--and the others--into trouble. Even though she was only ten, and sa pamamagitan ng no means the one wrangling him--Maura, the oldest at sixteen, was in charge of that--she knew that nothing good could come out of this, and she wanted him back, now. Suddenly, a blinding light engulfed them. They stood, dazed, and then, out of nowhere, a deafening alarm cut through the night. Esty’s blood froze cold, and her fear quickly morphed into anger when she saw Zig stagger towards them.
“What the hell, Zig?” Maura hissed, her face a mask of boiling rage. Zig stared up at her, unfazed. “I had to pee,” he informed her calmly. Her face flushed with anger, but before she could react, a dark shadow engulfed them. “Uh oh...” Zig whispered, trembling.
Then huge grisled hands enclosed around Esty’s neck as she was lifted into the air sa pamamagitan ng a huge man whose wrist alone was at least the size of a puno trunk. susunod to her, Zig was dangling in the man’s other hand, and down at the man’s feet--it seemed like miles below, to Esty--the others were trying with no avail to attack him. Struggling wildly against her captor, she bit down hard on his hand, the taste of mapait flesh and salty sweat filling her mouth. He dropped her and Zig in surprise, and they hit the ground, hard. “Run!” Maura hissed, and they took off.
Esty’s feet pounded on the earth as she ran, legs burning, lungs gasping for air. Gunshots rang out from behind her and before she could do anything, Dustin fell, grasping his chest. She crouched down susunod to him, rolling down his sando to survey the wound. A tiny dart was embedded in his flesh, and she carefully pulled it out, feeling the flesh around it. He was already cold. She racked her brains, trying to think of some way to revive him, as the hot tears began to slide down her face, but Maura’s voice jolted her to her senses. “No time, Esty! Just run!”
It took all her strength to tear herself away from Dustin’s limp body, drowned in a pool of thick dark blood, but she scrambled to her feet, and ran.
Footsteps, so heavy that they made the very ground vibrate under her feet. Then the hands again, this time gripping not her neck, but a gun. Pointed at Esty’s head. Esty eyed him, panic-stricken, paralyzed. Time slowed down. That huge finger was hovering over the trigger...getting closer...now the rough skin was touching the smooth metal surface, pressing in--- “No!”
The world stood still. The gunshot rang in her ears as she stood, unable to move, unable to breathe. The bullet screamed through the still night air...and Esty watched, unable to move, as Maura fell, hitting the ground, dead. Esty couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, but her legs started moving of their own accord. She ran like she had never run before, Ender and Zig in tow. She didn’t know where she was going, all she knew was she was getting out. She knew she’d be next, if she didn’t get out in time.
After a while, she realized that Ender was no longer susunod to her, but she knew, as much as it hurt her, she couldn’t turn back. They were going through a forest now, her lungs about to burst, and she wanted so desperately to stop. But her legs wouldn’t let her. There. A pile of logs, a crude shelter. She got closer, and found there was an opening, big enough for them to crawl through. She pulled Zig in, and they sat, huddled in the darkness, chests heaving, lungs gasping still. Soon she was aware of a sobbing sound, she assumed it was Zig. The crying was getting louder. “Esty?”
She opened her eyes. “Esty?” Zig was staring at her intently, the fear outlined in his dark eyes. She realized she was the one crying. “Sorry,” she sinabi quickly, wiping her eyes. “I just--”
They sat in silence. Zig had taken off the coat, and had wrapped it around Esty’s shoulders, and she welcomed the warmth.
“We should go back.”
He nodded, and together, they turned their backs to the hill, to their sorrow, and walked back, following the line of footprints in the snow.