Flies have magic. Yes. Ordinary houseflies. They do. And Iolani Bearse has seen it first hand. More than that, the flies are her friends and that friendship will be tested. Forces move against Lani and her friends as they struggle to save the victims of the Memory Stealers’ plundering. Lani dares to challenge the powerful and the greedy. Will they listen? What price will she pay for daring to stop the emptying of children, towns, and cities. Can Lani remember what has been stolen in time to stop the traps that are closing around her? Can she save her family and friends while she is flying blind?
Gasping for air, Jenny Ray struggled against his grip. Anton didn’t care.
There was no time for kindness. Survival was at stake. And it didn’t look good. He pulled her tight against his chest, smothering her exclamation in the flannel of his thick shirt. Bending down, his lips moved, but his words were nearly undetectable, “Quiet! Quiet! Shhhhhh now. Hush!”
All around them, the dying street lamps flickered weakly. Most of them didn’t work at all. Anton found her there, standing in the middle of a suburban two way street, empty houses with broken front doors and windows all around. It could have been any street in America. They were all the same now. The last light sputtered.
“Come on! Come on, we gotta move!” His voice was as sharp as his disapproval. “Open your eyes as big as you can, girl. See if the stars can give us a path.”
Grabbing her forearm, Anton pulled the defiant fool in his wake, strong as a tugboat. Even with their eyes wide open to the night, it was still almost impossible to see anything in the pitch. Five steps later, Anton’s shoes hit the curb of the sidewalk. He stumbled hard. His grip tightened. If anything, she kept him upright.
Jenny missed the sad flicker of the extinguished street lights, but she missed the moon most of all. Outside lamps continued to work because they used solar heat for their main energy. The fluorescent lights stayed on for hours into the continual dark, but never through the whole night’s reach. The midnight-sun had been gone too long. Even the northern lights shimmering on the edge of the sky, offered little comfort.
And without the light of the moon, there was nothing to be done. Nightfall meant hiding. Hiding and praying. There was precious little hope for that now.
Urgently, Anton guided them both around three houses, hedges, and the tangled mess of an uncoiled garden hose. His fingertips touched the edges of each house they passed. Anton counted softly.
Suddenly, still holding her hand, he stopped and pulled her inside a leaf-covered storm door. Jenny Ray stumbled down along with him, completely off balance. They landed awkwardly in a pile of molding clothes at the bottom of the stairs. Lying on the damp cold of cement flooring, Jenny Ray could barely catch her breath. Anton did not let go of her hand even then.
“Damn it, Jenny I told you not to come! You should have waited,” he whispered, which was a lucky choice. Right after Anton spoke, a ghostly ray of lime green light glowed from the corner of the basement window, growing brighter by the second. Both children lay still, spooked as any wild animal by the harsh light of oncoming cars. Outside the mud-splattered window, the greedy light grew brighter and brighter, bringing the memory thieves with it.
Anton pulled Jenny Ray close to him again. This time, she didn’t fight him. This time, she didn’t run. Shaking, she muttered, “Sorry, I’m sorry. I thought I would be safe. I thought no one was there…”
“They always come in the night under the cover provided by the moonless sky. That’s the worst time. You know that!” Nodding, Jenny Ray sniffled a little. The precious heat of her body against him warmed them both. “Best thing to do is lock the doors. We keep our heads down, that’s the only way. Yeah, we lock our doors and pray.”
Their warm breath began to condense on the upper window. The mist gave the residual horrid green light a softer edge, almost like a dream, like ghosts outside the glass. The enemy was at the gates, no doubt.
Anton had learned fear in the last three days: the green lights meant trouble, death followed right behind. ‘Memory thieves,’ that’s what he called them. Thugs who traveled in packs of eight or ten adults. Just their size almost always meant they caught the poor, stunned people they hunted. Even hidden in the basement of an abandoned house, the two of the survivors had little chance against superior, organized forces. Anton threw one of the moldy blankets over both of their heads. It was all he could do. Running was a dicey choice. Stealers were formidable anytime, but at night, they were ruthless.
He and Jenny huddled, silent as the grave. They didn’t dare watch the eerie passage of the merciless light. Instead, they looked at the ground by their shoes, praying for the wretched cover of darkness to save them.
Above them, glass shattered. Jenny stifled a scream.
The tread of heavy footsteps made the wooden support beams above their heads creak and moan. Dust fell like snow, covering everything. Anton held Jenny Ray and tried not to choke on the mold in the blanket. The footfalls upstairs stopped. A door swung open. Ghost lights cascaded down the rough wood staircase—neither of them could see it. Only their ears could save them now.
There wasn’t much time. Run? Or stay where they were, praying no shoelace or lock of hair would give them away? The topmost stair creaked under the intruder’s step. On the window sill, flies buzzed, disturbed. Fear overtook them both, seizing their heart strings like a boa constrictor, leaving only the air in their lungs to sustain them.
In a blur of speed, Anton threw off the blanket and grabbed Jenny Ray’s hands, pulling her upright and halfway up the side stairs. She looked back in fear as the lime-green light flooded the basement. She had a clear view as a shoe and then a leg descended into the cellar where they hid. Faster than she would have believed possible, Anton got the latch undone that held the cellar’s storm door shut. The door flew upward, open. Anton barely caught the edge of the wood before it hit the pavement. The noise of its impact would have given everything away. At best, they had a few seconds to escape.
“Anyone down here? Anyone? Hullo?” the voice called out from behind them, inside the damp room below. Innocent and helpful by its tone, anyone left knew it was death to answer.
Outside, the moonless night was broken only by the light of the memory thieves, blooming from inside the house and through the windows and the partially-open front door. Anton did not wait. “Run!” he whispered to her, fleeing like a rabbit from its destroyed warren. “Run!”
And so they did with the hounds of hell right behind them. Thieves emerged from the cellar door and poured out the front of the house. Jenny Ray stopped looking back. They ran for their lives, through the pitch darkness, trying to escape the inevitable. Without the moon, where could they go? Every step they took demanded the faith of giants. Still, they couldn’t stop as they plunged into the grasp of the merciless night. Death—and only death—followed close behind.
They stumbled together in the dark, feeling their way around obstacles. By some miracle, they made it to a street corner and turned down a dirt alley. No longer running, they moved quickly through the fallen trash cans and the ivy-covered fences.
On the next street over, a car drove slowly parallel to their path. They couldn’t keep going forward. That way was blocked. They would never make it past the memory thieves. Anton pulled Jenny Ray through a hole in some chain link fencing. With his hands out in front of him, Anton fumbled through an abandoned, overgrown backyard. Jenny Ray held onto his waist. Inching forward, the two fleeing survivors passed a rusted barbecue grill. Anton froze suddenly.
In front of the house, bright headlamps swept the street. Then the car stopped. The engine turned off with a finality that made their hearts drop.
Thieves of life and memory had them surrounded. It was over, and they knew it.
Jenny started sobbing. The same sickly-sweet voice that had called to them in the cellar, now cajoled from the front of the house, like they were friends, like Christmas had come in October. “Hey? You there? You lost? Sweetie?” The voice paused as the predators closed the trap, flanking any exits in preparation of finishing their short, vibrant lives.
Anton squeezed her hand and patted her back as Jenny Ray cried. “It’s okay, Jenny Ray, it’s okay. I know. I know ya didn’t mean it. I know.” Even now, Anton couldn’t be mad at her, even as they were surrounded by the lantern wielders.
She continued to cry, and he hugged her tight against his chest. It would be their last memory.
Around the corner of the unfamiliar house, the greedy green light bloomed.
Right behind them, the pitch-black night air began to swirl in a strange pattern. The two, scared and exhausted, didn’t even see it form into a beautiful sixteen-pointed star. The memory catchers and their horrid, thieving lanterns struggled to pass the bulk of a rotting and unstable firewood pile. They worked devilishly fast to clear a path to the backyard. Fat logs full of mealy bugs conspired to block their awful progress, as if nature herself gave one last attempt to shelter the fugitives from the Stealers’ hungry maw. Spilled logs bought the two runners a few seconds.
Anton could hear the men cursing at the obstacles and the remorseless blackberries that scratched at their skin and hands. “I,” he whispered to the crying girl huddled next to him, “I wish we could have seen the moon again, Jenny Ray. I wish that—for both of us.”
She squeezed his hand. “Me, too,” she whispered. “Me, too. Ant–”
Before she could finish her thought, a hand reached out of the empty, moonless night behind them.
Grabbing onto Anton’s collar, I pulled hard—upwards and back at the same time. “What the—” I could hear him exclaim. “Jen–Jenny Ray, something’s got me—” Neither of them could see, but the young woman trusted him too much to let go of Anton’s hand. That’s what I was counting on.
With a tremendous yank, I pulled them both through the flies’ spinning star pattern and out of the terrible, hopeless night.