I always remember what my parents told me, about staying out of sight and to not attract attention to myself, but I have to check my mail. Two days later I make a bag for the day and jump in the jeep.
The only thing that connects me to the outside world is the radio that is set up in the kitchen, which I listen to music, information on the weather, and on occasion local news. For my seventeenth birthday George allowed me to set up a landline in the cabin. I wrote down my number in a letter several months ago.
Even though my mother left me money and George sent money every month, I bring in canned food or other items that I can sell. I don’t want to have to rely solely on other people. I’ve done just fine for three years. I’ve faced three winters and a bear that was eating a trapped rabbit last fall.
As I drive to town, I think about the last letter George sent me. He wrote that Odi had an accident at the grocery store and how he was forced to have a new synth by the name Vera, which he calls Tugboat. I grip the steering wheel as I try to control my emotions when the sudden thought occurs to me; I forgot what his voice sounds like.
I grit my teeth as a few tears roll down my cheeks. I pull over on the side of the lonely road and cry for a few minutes before composing myself and continuing my journey. It’s cooler than it usually is in July. So cool that I pull my fleece pullover on as I park the jeep and walk to the post office.
In this small town, everybody knows everybody. Which alarmed me since I spot three new people walking around town. Two men and a woman. I shake off my racing heartbeat that these people are out to get me, and continue to check my mail.
I all but run to the internet cafe and log on. I bite my lip and search George Millican. As I read the reports, I stand up so fast the chair tips over and rush to the bathroom with tears in my eyes. Someone knocks on the door several minutes later and I open it. It’s the woman that I saw earlier. She steps in and closes the door.
I look around for something to defend myself with when she speaks.
“You don’t need to worry, I’m not going to hurt you. My name is Mia.”
I look at her for a few seconds before speaking, “I’m Elsie.”
She smiles, “Hello Elsie. I’m sorry to hear about your father’s death. I heard he was a good man.”
I eye her warily, “Who do you think my father is?”
“He was George Millican. He left us this letter saying that we would be safe with you.” She reaches into her pocket and I tense up.
She pulls out the letter and hands it to me. In the letter George explains who I am, where I am, and how to contact me.
“There is another one addressed to you.” She gives me the other letter which is still in its envelope.
The people that have this letter are good people. They are like you, they are being hunted by the same people we were worried about. You have to protect them for the sake of humankind. I know you don’t trust outsiders, but trust my word. They will need internet connection and at least three persona chargers. I am so proud of what you have accomplished on your own. I love you.′
Another tear slips out as I carefully put the letter in my pocket.
“Where are the other two, Mia?” I ask her in a small voice.
“They are waiting outside in the cafe. Are you ready to meet them?” She asks me.
I nod and we both exit the bathroom. She guides me to the table they are sitting at.
“This is Max and Leo.” She introduces them to me.
Max is dark skinned, clean shaven, warm eyes and an equally warm smile as he greets me. Leo is the opposite; black scruffy hair with the start of a beard and shocking blue eyes that hold no trust or warmth as he mutters a hello.
“Well, I guess I need to get food for three more people.” I say.
“Only one person. I will explain later.” Leo tells me in such a quiet voice I almost didn’t hear it.
I nod slowly and they follow me to the grocery store.
“I didn’t bring a lot of money with me, I wasn’t expecting to bring home guests.” I tell the trio as they follow me around the store.
I push the cart as my mind is racing with meal plans.
“Coffee or tea?” I ask.
“Tea.” Leo answers.
I grab a box of earl grey and place it in the cart.
“I only come in to town once a month, but I will come in twice seeing there is another person to feed.” I say to myself.
“What else would you like to eat?” I ask him.
He shrugs and I sigh. I pick up items and he either shakes or nods his head. I manage to buy everything including the persona chargers and Max helps me load it into the jeep. It’s four in the afternoon as we leave town. It will be dinner when we get home.
I make small talk with Mia, who sits in the front with me. Leo and Max sit in the back. Sometimes Max chimes in or asks me questions. Leo stares out the window. We pull up in front of the cabin and I turn off the jeep. I unlock the front door and turn on the lights. The air conditioning kicks on a few minutes after the lights are on. All of the electricity is powered by the either the solar panels on the roof or by water power, which is hooked up to a generator that connects things that need a lot of energy to work like the washer and dryer, the fridge, and the stove.
The only heat in the house is the big fireplace that makes up a portion of the wall that separates the kitchen and the living room. The second floor is open, so if you leave a room upstairs, you can see down into the living room. In the winter I change my cotton sheets and light weight comforter for thick flannel sheets and a heavy comforter with a large quilt on top.
I store most of the groceries in the fridge and put on a pot of boiling water. I sit in my leather recliner in the living room
“Explain why there is only one other person to feed.” I tell Leo.
He huffs, “Because Mia and Max aren’t human. My father was David Elster and I’m his son.”
As he explains their story to me, the water is boiling and I put in the pasta. I get a small pot and make some tea. The smell of meat wafts through the house.
Mia sets the table for four. We eat in relative silence.
“Why did they send you here?” Leo asks.
“Same reason you are on the move. When George left the program, he was paranoid that they would come for him and his family. They didn’t know about me so they sent me to live with one of my mother’s relatives. She taught me everything I know and died soon after. I built this cabin and have been living here for three years, almost four.” I explain to the three.
Mia looks at me and rests her hand on my arm. My face grows warm at the first physical contact I’ve had in years. Flashbacks rise to the surface as I remember on sad nights, Aunt Cara would lull me back to sleep by running her fingers through my hair. My eyes almost flutter shut in yearning for that again. I snap out of it and I pile a load of spaghetti on my fork and shove it in my mouth to avoid talking. Leo pushes his food around on his plate.
“Is there something wrong with the food?” I ask, rather harshly.
His eyes widen and then glare at me, “No, I’m not hungry.”
I stab a piece of meat harder than I should have, chew it, and stand up.
“I’ll put it in the fridge for now.” I grumble.
I grab his plate and get out a container. I either eat the food I make or make a lot that will last me a week. I gather his glass and begin to wash the plates, forks, knives, and glasses. It’s almost nine now.
“Leo, let me show you were you are sleeping.”
He follows me up the stairs and into the first room. Before Aunt Cara died, we drew up a plan for the cabin that she was supposed to live in with me, that is why I have the extra bed room.
He sets his bag by the foot of the bed and goes back downstairs. I follow him and bid everyone good night. Mia and Max sit in chairs by power outlets to charge. Leo sets up his laptop at the kitchen table.
I go back upstairs and take a shower before bed. Since Mia touched my arm, I can’t get all the recent memories of physical contact out of my head. I leave a window open in my bedroom and lock the door before falling asleep with a mind full of ghosts.