I could never tell Ava, but I had never actually been to Sorrow’s Creek before. I knew it connected to a forest and that the highway was just beyond it. But I only had a few stories from Mom and Dad to go on. That, and the sound of rushing water.
“The creek should be that way.” I pointed ahead. Jordan fell in line behind me, with Ava taking up the rear.
“Hey, it’s a fox!” Jordan said, tapping me on the back. I followed his hand and there it was. A fox, staring at us with a smaller animal in its teeth. It seemed ominous, almost foreboding.
I looked up at the sun. Daylight was starting to run out. We would have to keep up a good pace if we didn’t want to be caught out here in the dark. Then, it wouldn’t matter if the ARC or the Morland Order or whoever else found us. We’d have all the animals in here to worry about.
The sounds of the creek grew louder. I pushed aside several branches, hoping to get closer. Once we reached the creek, we needed to follow it north to the gravel road. At least, that’s what Mom had told me when she was describing it.
I wonder why they never brought us here if they knew it so well.
Maybe they really were paranoid after losing Ava. Jordan was a baby and I was a semi-rebellious teenager. I guess they didn’t want to take the chance.
It didn’t take long to finally break through and reach the creek.
“Can I go inside it?” Jordan asked, tugging my arm. How many times did I have to tell him not to do that?
“Alright Jordan, give me your pack,” I said. “But you have to step on big rocks or something.”
“Okay, so my feet can’t get wet, got it.” He wasn’t paying attention anymore. He wriggled out of his pack and dashed for the creek.
“That kid has way too much energy,” she said, setting her pack down next to a log and sitting on it.
“It’s better this way.” I sat down next to her. “Just before you met up with us and started yelling at me-” She looked away. “We were talking to a man who said that the infection reached Tarkine Falls.”
“But everyone seemed fine.”
“That’s because they killed everyone who was infected before it spread.”
“My goodness.” She let out a long sigh. “Did Jordan understand?”
“I’m not sure.” I crossed my arms. “Honestly, I don’t think he totally gets the fact that Mom and Dad are… dead.” Even though I understood, it still felt weird to say.
We sat quiet like that for a bit.
“You know, I feel like I missed out on Jordan growing up,” Ava said. She was watching him play at the edge of the creek. He was so preoccupied in throwing sticks into the water that he didn’t notice us sitting off to the side.
“Jordan’s a good kid,” I said. “I know you didn’t get a chance to see the early years, but we’re here together now.”
“Yeah,” Ava said slowly. She drew on the ground with her foot.
“What’s wrong, Ava?” I asked.
She let out another deep sigh. “I just hate that I wasn’t here all those years.”
“You know it wasn’t your fault.”
“But me being cold when I got back was my fault.”
I could tell that being vulnerable was hard for her. I put my hand on her arm and that seemed to help. She swallowed and then continued.
“You know, when I first came back, I thought that maybe you guys didn’t want me.”
“Oh no, Ava.”
She didn’t seem to hear me. “Jordan was born right after I was kidnapped and he completed the family again. It seemed like when I got back, everyone wanted things to go back to how they were. But I couldn’t be the old Ava anymore, the one that you knew. That Ava was long forgotten. I also didn’t want to be the new Ava, who was traumatized and depressed and couldn’t do anything. I needed to be something else.”
She looked down the river to where Jordan was playing. “And even though they didn’t pick me to protect Jordan, I still want to make sure that you guys are safe.”
“I’m not sure you even want to be picked by them for anything,” I said, miserably. Ava shook her head.
“Honestly, Jade, you have to let them go. And I know what I’ve said before, so you don’t have to say it. I may be upset at some things that they did, but ultimately, I had to let it go.”
“I understand that, and I think it’s true. What I don’t get is why they would choose Jordan to carry this very important code.” I knew I was whining. I could feel myself starting to tear up. “Why didn’t they choose someone who could actually make it to The Watchtower?”
She put her hand on my shoulder. “Look, Jade, the things our parents did weren’t always great. I’m a testament to that. But there was always a reason for everything they did. Maybe, in a way, the job they gave you is more important.”
“You’re the one who has to protect Jordan, to bring him to safety. Without you, he can’t get to The Watchtower and they will have died for nothing. I’m the one who doesn’t belong here, not you.”
“You might be right,” I said, wiping away a few tears that had managed to slip out. One of those half crying-half laughs escaped me. “Who knew you would be so good at uplifting speeches?”
Ava shrugged. “I was the oldest of the kids that were taken, so I always had to be the big sister. I had a lot of practice giving talks.” There was a sadness to her voice when she said it.
“Well, when you first got back, it was a little weird.”
“Just a little?” She said, smiling softly.
“But now that we’ve had a chance to talk, I see that you have become different, but in a good way.”
Sitting together like this reminded me of when we were younger, before the kidnapping, before Jordan, when it was just the two of us. We would sit for hours talking about school, boys, or whatever. We couldn’t have those days anymore, but I was glad that we could have this. I reached forward and gave her a hug.
“Oh!” At first she seemed to stiffen. I could feel the bones in her back and it reminded me of Mom again. But then she relaxed and let me hug her.
“I love you, Ava,” I said quietly, for the first time in years.
She paused for a few seconds. “I love you, too, Jade.” We sat like that for a full minute before I stood up.
“We’ve been at the creek for a while,” I said. “I am going to check a little further downstream on where to go next.”
“I’ll stay here and watch Jordan,” she said, heading over to him.
I smiled as I walked away. I hadn’t expected to get to talk to Ava so much. When she first returned, I was so afraid to ask her any questions. Mom insisted that I leave her alone, that I give her space, which was fine. But I shouldn’t have been afraid of her. I shouldn’t have been worried that she wouldn’t still care about me, even though she’d been hurt by our parents.
I followed the creek a few feet upstream. I could see the road I was looking for into the clearing. I knew about it from stories that Mom and Dad had talked about for years. I turned back down the creek to join up with the others.
I guess still being angry at them was ridiculous. It didn’t matter if I felt like they thought I wasn’t good enough. They made me promise to protect Jordan because they knew that I could do it. That was all the confidence I needed from them.
I suddenly stopped moving. Everything had gone quiet. I couldn’t hear trees moving, branches snapping. I couldn’t hear Ava or Jordan. I could feel my heart starting to race in my chest. My mind was going through every possible reason for why they were so quiet. I ran back to the creek as fast as I could.
Right at the edge of the water stood Jordan. He was crying and holding his arm.
He turned to me and started to shout and point. “Over there! They have her over there!”
I looked over to my left, to the rest of the stream which was now visible now that I was out of the forest. Ava was being attacked by two men. One had her in a hold and the other was struggling to get some restraints on her.
I didn’t have time to plan. I ran over to them and threw myself at the first attacker. He seemed surprised to see me.
“Ava!” I shouted, hoping she would see me and know that she wasn’t here alone. “Get off of her!”
I hit the attacker with all of my strength but he pushed me aside like I didn’t weigh a thing. I fell to the ground and then tried to get up, but he’d knocked the wind right out of me. He lifted the bat he’d been holding with his other. He was about to strike when Jordan tossed a rock at him from across the way. It bounced on the man’s hand and drew his attention away.
“Leave my sisters alone!” he shouted, joining the shouts, grunts, and yells. Ava was still struggling with the man who had her in a hold but looked like she was making progress.
While the man was distracted with Jordan, I made a move to wrestle the bat from his hand. I just needed to get some leverage and get Ava out of her situation. She was the better fighter, but she was pinned down.
“Let go!” I said, pushing against him with one last burst of strength. I managed to get a little way with the bat and dug my fingernails into his hand. I was going to get desperate and try to bite him but didn’t have to.
The bat gave way from his fingers and I took it. I hit him with all of my strength. While he stumbled away, I turned to the man that was holding Ava and gave her the opening she needed. She used it to get free from the man and swung at his face. She kicked him in the stomach and reached for the bat.
“Give it to me,” she said breathlessly. She looked like she had done this before. I watched in awe as she managed to take on both men. Now that she didn’t have Jordan to worry about, she could handle them better. Between the bat, her punches, and her kicks, she had both men on the ground, clutching their heads, their eyes, and the rest of their bodies, unable to decide which part hurt more.
“What do you guys want?” She asked, putting her foot on one of they guys’ head. He groaned and turned over.
“Ava let’s get out of here,” I said. “We don’t need to be around when they get their strength back. We don’t need answers from them.”
“You might not need answers, but they attacked us out of nowhere. I need to know who you’re working for!”
“Ava, if we don’t hurry up, they’re going to get us.”
The man who had come after me reached in his pocket and pulled out a small whistle. Before I could say or do anything, he had blown on the whistle. Ava and I locked eyes with each other. This can’t be good. He could’ve been signaling for anyone.
Ava grabbed my arm. “Jade, you have to carry him out of here.”
“But Ava, I can’t! I already told you I’m not strong enough, my arms -”
“We don’t have time for this! You heard him blowing the whistle. You two need to get to the highway as fast as possible!”
“What about you?”
“You need to run fast, so you might lose me. But don’t worry, I’ll be right behind you.”
“Follow the stream to reach the gravel road,” I said, pointing further up north. “Then it’s a straight path to the highway.” We took off our packs and tossed them aside.
“I’m going to try holding them off as much as I can.”
“Ava!” I shouted. She’d just come back to us. She couldn’t be leaving already. Ava looked at me fiercely, expecting me to protest. I couldn’t. “Be careful out there!”
She nodded, then dashed off without saying a word.
“Wait! I need my flashlight,” Jordan said, reaching in his pack to grab it.
“Come on, Jordan.”
I felt every single one of his seventy pounds. Holding him tightly, I ran as fast as I possibly could. I could hear the men behind us whistling again, calling for more reinforcements. I didn’t care who they were and what they wanted. I just knew that we had to run.
As we ran through the forest, I was terrified. I could only imagine how bad this was for Jordan. He was silent as he held tightly to my body, his arms squeezing around my neck. I wanted to talk to him, to tell him this was going to be okay, but I couldn’t get enough words out. I couldn’t say anything at all. So instead, I ran.
Seeing Ava get attacked by those men told me one thing: I never wanted to see her hurt again. I would do crazy things like attack random dudes just to make sure it would never happen again. But right now all I had to do was keep on the gravel road, straight to the highway. Once we were there, everything would be fine. We would get Jordan to The Watchtower, where Jordan and the code would be safe.
I pushed on for a little while longer and the trees broke in front of me to a clearing. I could see lights from the highway in the distance.
“We’re here!” I shouted, dropping Jordan on the ground. He used his flashlight to look behind us. I turned around. Ava burst onto the clearing behind us.
“You made it,” I said, collapsing on my knees, trying to catch my breath.
“You think we lost them for good?”
“We better have,” she said, looking back where we came from. “That was a pretty long distance for them to have followed.”
“I’m sure they got confused at the creek,” I said.
“Yes, let’s hope.” Ava grew silent. I looked up at her.
“My contact was supposed to be here on this side of the highway when we arrived. He’s supposed to have a car waiting and everything.”
“Wait, he’s not here?” I pulled myself off the ground. “Ava, what’s going on?”
“I’m going to go check on the other side, see if maybe he ended up on the wrong side of the highway.”
“But what about us? What if those men decide to double back and come through here? Jordan and I will be exposed and there will be no one to help us.”
“Wait, you think you actually need help?” Ava laughed.
“I’m serious. We need you.”
“And I’m serious, too. You saved my life back there. I’m forever thankful.” Ava looked down. “That’s what makes this so hard.”
“Makes what hard?”
Ava reached over and snatched the flashlight from Jordan’s hand.
“Hey!” He shouted. I stood up.
“Ava, what are you doing?!”
“You will never understand,” Ava said, shaking her head as she took the flashlight apart. “You’ll never know what it was like to be there for all those years.” She threw one of the batteries into the field far away. “Only to come back and find out that I’ve been replaced by him.”
I could feel my chest starting to grow tight. My head was pounding. “Ava, what’s going on?”
“Wait here. I have to go find my contact.”
“What makes you think-”
Ava squatted next to Jordan. “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought this kid couldn’t travel in the dark.” She poked him in the chest. “It’s too dark for you to see, right?”
“Don’t touch him, Ava!”
She turned to me. “Or what? It’s not like you can do anything to me.”
“We fought against those guys-”
“Who I hired. You really think that two little women like us could take on men like that?” She laughed. “Honestly, Jade, you are the most ridiculous person I have ever met. For all your supposed lack of trust, you sure do trust very easily.”
“Ava, why are you doing this?” I couldn’t understand what was happening, but I was starting to see that I wouldn’t have much longer.
“I’m not going to waste my time on a long speech. But I will tell you that it’s thanks to you that I know where the code for the Machine is.”
“You’re working for those people, the ones that kidnapped you!”
Ava’s face twisted in anger. “Don’t you dare tell me that I’ve been brainwashed. I know exactly what I’m doing. They may have unconventional methods, but with the Morland Order, I have seen the truth.” She leaned closer to me. “Would you like to know how the world is going to end?”
“Ava, you’re crazy!”
“That’s what our parents said, too.” She shook her head. “Imagine that being your last memory on earth, telling your daughter who you’re supposed to love, that she’s insane.”
What was she saying? “Ava, were you there when the ARC patrol killed them?”
She started to laugh then, a grating laugh that moved from shock to anger. “Is that what you think? The ARC is not after you. They don’t even know that the code exists! I only found out about it after I had killed them both. I’m glad you only went to Dad’s office because that would’ve been bad for me!”
Everything shifted in front of me. I nearly lost my balance. I held onto Jordan and fought the urge to run away. We couldn’t do that. Not yet. This woman wasn’t my sister anymore. I couldn’t be sure what she was going to do next.
“It’s such a shame that you turned out like this. You know, we could’ve used someone like you. Instead, you squandered your genius on your daddy issues. Going on and on about ‘why didn’t they choose me?’” She laughed. “And I thought I had problems. You’re pathetic, Jade.”
“So what’s the point, Ava?” I had to stall for as much time as I could. We had to figure a way out of this. I had to figure it out. “Why bring us all the way out here, just to tell us this?”
She shrugged. “Now that I know Jordan has the code, I don’t need you anymore.” She put her hand on my shoulder. It was all I could do not to push her off. “Aw, do you feel betrayed? What, are you going to cry now?”
“Ava…” I could barely find breath, much less the words to describe what I felt.
“Actually, you know what? I don’t care. You’re irrelevant to this story, you know? You always have been. He’s the important one.” She narrowed her eyes. “When I get back, we’re going to take Jordan. If you try to stop us, I will do what I have to.” Ava’s voice was cold. “Do you want that to be Jordan’s last memory of you?”
“Get away from me!” I said, pushing her away. She laughed.
“I’ll be back, Jade. And you’ll be here waiting for me because you have nowhere else to run,” she said, walking away.
My mind was racing. I couldn’t stop the thoughts. Ava playing with the Rubik’s Cube. Her telling Jordan she would take care of him. Our conversation at the log. Me telling her that I loved her. Ava saying that she loved me. How could it all have been a lie?
I couldn’t process it. I didn’t have time.
“Jordan, we’re not safe here.”
“But we can’t go anywhere!” He was crying now, full sobs that made him hard to understand. “Ava destroyed my flashlight and now I can’t see anything. Jade, I don’t know what we’re going to do!”
I wanted to cry, too. I wanted to feel the pain that was in my chest. I wanted to scream. I couldn’t believe that she put us in danger like this. I couldn’t believe she was working with the Morland Order all along. I couldn’t believe she was the one who killed our parents.
“Jordan, we need to move. I know, I know it’s dark, but we can’t stay here.”
“Ava’s going to be back and she’s not going to let me come. I can’t let her take you away, Jordan. I promised.”
“But Jade, I can’t go in the dark.” He threw himself into me. His tears were starting to wet my shirt. “Jade, I’m so scared!”
“Jordan.” I knelt down next to him. “Jordan, I know this is scary, but we have to do this.” I wiped his face. “I have to keep you safe. We can’t be here when she gets back.”
“Where are we going to go?”
I didn’t skip a beat. “Without The Watchtower, we won’t stand a chance.”
“But where is it?” Jordan’s sobbing had slowed and he was taking deep breaths. I pushed his hair out of his eyes.
“I don’t know, but we have to try to find it.”
“It’s too dark, Jade. I can’t.”
“Jordan, you will have to trust me.” I touched his face. “Can you do that?”
He hesitated. It was hard to read his eyes in the dark, but I could tell he understood how important this was and that it was our only choice. He nodded and said, “Yes,” in his little voice.
I grabbed his hand and, without another word, we both took a step into the darkness.