A Tall and Small Collection | Soren |

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When Luck Runs Out

It had been just over a week since their last borrowing trip. Soren had taken his brothers out one other time, but only to help him gather and bring back a few building supplies from the older woman’s apartment. He let them wander about under the cabinets even though the door was closed. If the door had been open, Soren wouldn’t have let them come out. The cat was probably still angry at him after all.

It was at the end of that week when Soren noticed he wasn’t quite feeling himself. His head ached after a few hours of him working. His limbs responded sluggishly and he couldn’t shake the chill from the other morning. To compensate, Soren tried drinking more water and resting, but there were just so many things to do.

Soren hadn’t felt alert enough to go borrowing for food. There were enough rations in their storage space for about three weeks if they rationed carefully. Another influx of mice had made a horrible draft in the walls. Soren, Dorian, and Rey managed to find the hole, but could only place some thick cloth over the area until they could find better building materials.

Because of the hole and the dangers associated with sleeping on the ground floor, Soren wanted to scout around and find a better place to call home. He considered finding a place near the ceiling and in between multiple apartments but hadn’t had the chance to check. Another move wasn’t optimal, but the argument to stay weakened by the hour.

Plus, Soren had committed to lining the walls with thread to help his brothers get from place to place. Unfortunately, the halls were more than the thread he currently possessed; and his pounding head wasn’t helping. He had only managed to thread from camp to all of the entrances that were safe in the older human’s apartment.

Dorian and Rey were obviously worried about their oldest brother. They asked him frequently if they could help in any way or if he wanted them to do a task instead. They even asked if they could go borrowing again in the apartment they went to first with the bags of chips scattered about. Soren, with a weak but thoughtful smile, would always respond the same way.

“Focus on your training. Work on sprints and your climbing. Braid this thread so you have a strong borrowing line for rappelling. Think about the things we need. We’ll go borrowing together soon.”

Soren knew Rey and Dorian were safe and the confidence they were gaining from two simple borrowing trips was astounding. Still, Soren didn’t want them to go on their own. They were too young. They didn’t have enough experience. They hadn’t been placed in a dangerous situation and didn’t know how to respond to an emergency.

Soren knew he couldn’t protect his brothers from the world forever, but he couldn’t bring himself to send them into the world without knowing he had done everything to prepare them.

~~~~~

It was just over a week now, and Soren hadn’t gone borrowing for food in that time. Not only had he not gone borrowing, but he was still feeling poorly. Today seemed to be worse than before. His body visibly shook if he wasn’t concentrating and he had to squint so the light wouldn’t hurt his eyes. Mind slightly foggy, Soren decided he would finish laying the last line to the older human’s apartment and try to sleep off whatever was plaguing him.

He ruffled his brothers’ hair before setting out, noting the concerned look in their eyes before they began working on their own thread lines for their hooks. This interaction took place a few hours ago. Soren was forced to take a few moments to shrug off the shaking and to keep his head from swirling.

He was walking back, his feet carrying his aching body reluctantly back to camp. The mouse pelt on his shoulders was keeping him warm, but only barely. Soren saw the corner of the wall, knowing their camp was mere feet away. He was looking forward to a nice long rest when something pricked him as odd.

There was no sound. There was nothing. On days he went out, his brothers usually hung near the edge he left so they could greet him. Even if he didn’t see them, Soren could hear Dorian and Rey in debate or discussion.

His heart began to pound in his chest. His chest tightened and his eyes, blurry moments before, were now sharp and wide awake. Soren’s pace increased to a quick jog. He rounded the corner. The camp didn’t seem disturbed, which was the first thing he noticed. There were no new holes in the walls and there was no evidence of a struggle or wreckage, so mice were ruled out.

Soren was about to call out when he spotted Brady sitting against the baseboard near their food storage space. It looked like he was counting or taking stock.

“Brady,” said Soren stiffly. He barely turned his head to acknowledge Soren. “Where are Dorian and Rey?” Brady didn’t answer, almost acting as though he hadn’t heard Soren.

“We’re going to need some more supplies soon,” muttered Brady absent mindedly. Frustrated, Soren stormed up to Brady, a trembling threatening to take his voice and his patience.

“Brady, where are Dorian and Rey?” Soren demanded. Brady stopped what he was doing and made fleeting eye-contact with Soren, his pale blue eyes mocking him.

“They… went out,” he replied quietly.

“Out? Out whe…” Soren’s foggy mind put it together. “You mean borrowing?” Brady nodded once.

“They wanted to resupply and know you’re not feeling well,” Brady responded. Soren’s head swirled. To keep from falling over, he stumbled and pressed himself against the wall.

“And you let them go on their own?!” Soren’s voice was a mixture of a cracked growl and sheer panic.

“You’ve taken them out multiple times. I thought it would be okay. They were going where they borrowed before; that apartment to the left,” said Brady. His voice, usually aloof, finally began to seem concerned. His pale blue eyes beginning to fill with concern. Soren could barely breathe, a crushing feeling engulfing his chest and his lungs.

“I never took them to the apartment to the left. We’ve only been to the one on the right. The one on the left is…” Soren felt nausea seize his insides. He knew where they had gone, and it was the wrong way. “The fighting humans. The ones who are always bickering and shouting. That’s where they went!”

Soren’s feet could not carry him fast enough. He thrust himself off of the wall and began sprinting as fast as his legs could manage. To his surprise, Brady began to follow; though he was significantly slower than Soren. Every pounding step sent a throbbing pain through Soren’s head, but he didn’t care. He had to get there. He had to protect them.

Soren’s lungs screamed in agony, desperate for air, as he rounded the corner to the final stretch. He could see a light halfway across the wall – the familiar light of an uncovered electrical socket. [They must’ve gone in through here.] Soren didn’t slow down. He sprinted faster and faster, slamming into the wall and throwing himself outside into the human world outside the walls.

He emerged by the kitchen table, reminiscent of his first trek to that apartment. Soren didn’t have time to worry about whether the humans were present or not. If he remembered what day it was, the humans should be out; and he had to trust he was right about this. He followed the baseboard and peered out.

There they were. They were on the other side of the kitchen by the trashcan. Soren’s relief was almost completely overridden by a sinking, panicking, gut-wrenching punch. They were standing mere inches from a mousetrap.

A desperate shout caught in his throat. He wanted to shout to them. He wanted to call their names, but his numbed mind wouldn’t let him. Instead, he acted on pure instinct.

Disregarding any potential hazards and possible nearby humans, Soren sprinted out into the open straight for his brothers. Everything happened too quickly for Soren to process it.

Soren sprinted across the tiles, making it from one side of the narrow kitchen area to the other in record time. Rey spotted him first, but Dorian didn’t notice as he leaned over the trap, arms extended to grab the bait. Before Dorian’s hands could reach out, Soren was upon them. Soren grabbed the back of Dorian’s shirt and threw him backwards with all of his might.

Dorian was thrust backwards away from the trap safely, landing several inches away on the ground. Soren, on the other hand, had come to the end of his luck.

The momentum of him running in a dead sprint combined with the force of throwing his brother backwards left Soren off balance. He stumbled forward. His sluggish movements kept him from catching his weight. He tried to angle his fall, but it wasn’t enough. His left pant leg caught the tripping mechanism. There was an ear deafening whirr and a thunderous crack and snap of the mousetrap.

There was a moment, only a moment, of complete and stunned silence before Soren’s sharp cry of pain filled their ears. Soren did his best to stifle his sudden shriek by shoving his fist into his mouth. Reactively, his body began shuddering and shaking while tears gathered in his eyes.

“SOREN!” Dorian and Rey flew to their brother’s side near his face. Based on the look on Rey’s face, Soren could tell the injury was bad – really bad. Soren didn’t want to know. He couldn’t bring himself to look over his shoulder at what he might find. Instead, he focused on his brothers’ pale faces.

“I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!” Dorian cried over and over, hesitating and unsure of what to do. His eyes darted from Soren’s pain twisted face to the leg snapped beneath the mousetrap bar. “I… I don’t… I don’t know what to do.” Dorian’s eyes filled with tears as did Rey’s eyes.

Soren focused on his breathing. He felt his body exerting its control, trying to make him fade. [No. I can’t. Not yet. I have to get out of here. I have to get Dorian and Rey out of here.] Nausea plagued him and caused his thoughts to swirl. His leg burned and throbbed with every beat of his heart. His body convulsed and shuddered relentlessly, but he was still in control.

“It’s… okay,” Soren managed to say through gritted teeth. “Not… your fault.”

“I… I didn’t mean… We wanted to… we were just trying to…” Rey stammered, collapsing to his knees.

“I know,” Soren managed to muster. Pain throbbed from his entire leg. He tried breathing a little faster as the edges of his vision clouded. “I… need you two… to stay focused… Can you do that?” Both Dorian and Rey’s eyes were gushing with tears while they tried to contain their running noses with hefty sniffles, but they managed a nod.

“Good. Now… is…” Soren had to brace himself for the answer. His ears were beginning to ring, making hearing difficult. “Is my leg… still there?” Soren could have leapt for joy at the subtle nod of his brothers. [Broken, not gone. I can work with that.]

“Good,” he sighed, forcing more air into his lungs. His body shuddered again as a cold sweat began coating his body. “Now this is important. Carefully, see if you can lift up the bar. Stand on the board and lift. Just be careful and don’t grab my leg.” They nodded obediently and shakily stood. Soren could see in their eyes that the injury was a bad one. He tried shaking his thoughts away, but it was of little use.

He felt them step on the wooden platform. The slight movement sent his mind reeling with pain, involuntarily making him gasp and grit his teeth. He felt the pressure beginning to alleviate and the sounds of his brothers struggling.

“Lift harder!” said Dorian with strained difficulty.

“I’m trying!” Rey wailed, his clouded eyes closing tight as he lifted.

Try as they might, the boys could not budge the bar more than a few millimeters off of Soren’s leg. Soren was unable to turn and see their faces, but could hear them starting to sob uncontrollably.

“Dorian… Rey…” Soren was beginning to have a hard time focusing. The ringing in his ears made everything sound far away. He pulled his attention back from his body to his brothers. His brothers slunk back to face him until they were practically curled up by his shoulders. Soren tried to ignore the blood on their hands and the defeated look in their eyes. “It’s going to be okay.”

“What happened?” Soren couldn’t believe the relief he felt at hearing Brady’s voice.

“It… it was my fault. I made Soren trip… and…” Dorian began balling again. With what little concentration Soren could muster, he reached out and grabbed his brothers’ hands.

“It’s… not your fault,” said Soren as he fought off another wave of nausea. “We’re going to fix this. Brady’s going to help me. Right?” Soren could guess the face Brady made based on his brothers’ reactions.

Soren was given no warning as Brady stepped onto the piece of wood and pulled at the bar. His nerves screamed in protest. A pinching, burning sensation swelled in his leg and shot like adrenaline into his brain. Unfortunately, Brady wasn’t trying to lift the bar and instead gave a no-warning test pull to see how difficult it would be to free Soren’s leg.

“Soren, I don’t know…” Brady began to mutter, but Soren cut him short.

“You are going to get me out of here. I know it.” Soren’s brave face was starting to slip further into the bliss of darkness.

The determination in Soren’s voice brought a flicker of hope to Dorian and Rey’s eyes; but it did not last. There was a sound. A familiar sound of grinding and whirring mechanical gears coming from behind the door. Soren knew this sound, and Brady knew enough to know what it meant.

The humans were home.

Sheer panic filled Dorian and Rey’s eyes. They looked to their father for a fleeting moment before looking back to Soren. Soren felt his insides drop. He was trapped and there wasn’t a moment to lose. Heart racing, temple pounding, and vision beginning to blur, Soren turned to his brothers and looked them dead in the eye.

“You two need to run,” said Soren. He kept his voice as steady as he could while looking them in the eyes. Their moods shifted immediately.

“Wh… what? NO! We can’t leave you! We won’t leave you!” sputtered Dorian.

“Don’t make us leave, Soren!” sobbed Rey. Soren stared at his brothers harshly.

“You promised me you would listen to what I told you to do when we’re out here borrowing. You said you would trust me and listen to what I said,” he said sternly. Soren felt his body shudder violently again as he gripped his brothers’ hands tighter. [Don’t make this tough. What if… No! You’re getting out of this. Don’t scare them.] He softened his voice and tried his best to force a smile.

“I’m going to be okay,” said Soren, his trembling voice was measured and sounded close to normal. “Brady is going to get me out; but, for right now, you need to go back to the walls and hide. Okay?” Dorian and Rey looked into their brother’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” muttered Dorian. Soren shook his head.

“Don’t be. It’s not your fault. Now, go.” With a reluctant nod and a sniff, they pressed their foreheads to his, stood, and started running for the wall as fast as their little legs could carry them. Brady and Soren were alone now.

Soren could see the expression on Brady’s face, which was one of pure mortification. The sound of the car rolling into the garage and turning off was perfectly clear to both of them now. The grinding, whirring gears of the immense door started up again. They didn’t have much time.

“Brady!” Soren called his names several times to get his attention. “We don’t have a lot of time. Pull up on the bar.” Brady didn’t move. He stood there, frozen stiff and eyes locked on the door leading into the kitchen where the grinding sounds were. “Brady!” Soren could see in his peripheral vision that Brady had stepped off of the mousetrap now and was inching away from Soren.

[No… he’s not… he’s not going to.] Thought Soren. [He’s too terrified of being seen again. He… he’s going to leave me.]

“I… I can’t,” muttered Brady. “It’s too heavy.”

“You didn’t even try! Brady! Listen to me, we don’t have time to debate this. I can’t do this on my own. I need you to try! For Dorian and Rey, I need you to try.” Soren couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Brady had taken a few more steps into the open back toward the safety of the wall socket on the other side of the room. They heard the jingling of keys. Soren’s vision swam as he fought another pang of nausea. He slammed his fist onto the ground as if it helped him stay connected to his conscious self. His head was starting to throb painfully.

“You’re right. I do need to try,” Brady muttered. “I can’t save you, but I’ll try and do what I can for my sons. I haven’t been there for them. You helped me see that. I can do better now.”

Soren felt his jaw drop. His insides churned while his vision blurred again. He gasped for air as another wave of throbbing pain injected itself in his thoughts. The cold sweat returned, wracking his body with a bout of shivers which made him accidentally twitch his leg. He cried out again in pain, wincing as the tears fell onto his hands.

Soren wasn’t one to cry, but his body now had a mind of its own. Once completely in control, Soren’s body began to seize the opportunity and drag him into darkness. His thoughts spilled from his mouth involuntarily in a final, desperate attempt to draw Brady back.

“Don’t! You can’t leave me here. Dorian and Rey, they won’t make it!”

“I’m sorry…” was his only response.

His brothers, the only two people who mattered anymore, were going to be left in the hands of an incompetent fool. How would they survive? Would they survive? What was going to happen to them? Soren watched as Brady ducked into the walls and secured the electrical cover over the entrance.

There were several seconds – several precious seconds – where Soren was left completely alone. It was that silence that brought forth that single, terrible notion he had suppressed until this point in time.

He was probably going to die.

Soren heard the jingle of keys hit the kitchen counter as his body exerted its control over his mind. His body shook violently from exhaustion and stress. Cold chills coated his face and torso. If he had something heavy for lunch, it would have made a reappearance. Instead, he gagged a few times. The involuntary thrashing sent waves of new searing pain into his mind. His vision swirled and began to blacken, but not before he caught a glimpse of the woman’s shadow overcasting his frame.

He gave into the darkness, slipping quietly away to an end he did not know.

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