The Phantom of Choice

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“Quickly, we need to go!“ I busted into my home. My brother was sitting there with his face hidden in his hands. The little girl was sitting next to him holding the doll I gave her. They were both in complete silence.

When he heard my voice, he raised his head. His eyes widened as if he couldn’t believe he sees me.

“Daddy? Is that a ghost?” the little girl asked. Ghost?

“Verya?!” he said surprised.

“Yes, it’s me, now get up and start packing. We don’t have much time, we need to hurry up!”

Without a single word, he stood up, came to me and hugged me tight. Shocked by his move, I slowly embraced him back.

“I thought you are not alive,” he whispered. I felt some tears soaking through my shirt.

“What? What are you talking about?” I pushed him away from me, still holding his shoulders, looking directly into his eyes.

“I... I was...” he took a deep breath cleaning his throat. “Few days ago, I went to the military central in the town. I needed to talk to you. There was so much I needed to tell you. But they said... The officers there told me you died. That your ship crash-landed and when they scouted the area they didn’t find any bodies. They said you burnt in the fire.”

I closed my eyes. Bastards.

I took a deep breath: “there was no crash-landing. Everyone on the board of the ship is okay. That was just another lie the military told us. We don’t have much time. We need to go. We need to hurry up. They might come after us any moment. Pack your clothes, we are leaving.”

“Where are we going?” he asked me confused.

“Away from here. I will explain to you on the way, just pack everything fast. We need to hurry up.” A radio buzzed on my ear. “Hurry up.” My brother nodded and ran upstairs. “Listening.”

“Verya, we have a track of some military vehicles near your position, you need to be fast,” Duncke informed me.

“Got it. I am doing my best. Lamreak, how is the chip?”

“It seems like, they did not discover our position yet, but it is only matter of time until the program breaks the coding. You really need to be fast.”

“I am coming for you,” Zorach interrupted our talk. There was a sound of an engine starting.

“Don’t!” I shouted louder than I should have. “You will only draw attention. Alone we will be less showy.”

“Okay, but be careful. If something happens, I am going for you,” he agreed with me and the engine was turned off again.

“Auntie? Are you a ghost?” the little girl came to me, pulling my clothes in act of demanding my attention.

The way how she called me melted my heart. She was so sweet! Nobody ever called me auntie before. All my military training melted with her words. I kneeled down to her.

“No, sweetie, I am not a ghost.”

“Daddy said you left, same as grandma and grandpa,” she said with the same innocent look in her eyes.

“No, I didn’t go anywhere. Those were just things the military officer told to daddy,” I did not know how to talk to a little girl like her. Was it okay for me to tell her those bastards are liars? Did she know what a lie means?

“Did he lie to daddy?”

“Yes, my dear, that is what they do. They lie.”

“Daddy said lying is bad. Why did the man lie?” she kept asking.

“Yes, lying is very bad. And you should never lie to anybody.”

“Will grandma and grandpa come back too?” I need to go to them. Say goodbye. I cannot just leave without saying anything. I will never be able to come back here. I must not come back here. I must not leave without saying goodbye.

“No, they cannot come back.”

“And will mommy came back too?” this question shocked me. Where is that woman? I did not see her anywhere near the house. I don’t hear her stupid voice anywhere. Where was she?

“We talked about it, your mom will not come back,” my brother came from upstairs holding just a small bag in his hand.

“Is that all you have?” I asked him.

“Yes, she took everything,” he simply said with bitter tone in his voice.

“You will explain to me on the ship, we need to hurry up now.” I took the little girl in my arms, lifting her and opened the door.

“Verya, they are heading your direction!” Duncke shouted in my ear. I closed the door quickly.

“What’s going on?” my brother asked me standing right behind me.

I gestured him to wait.

“Duncke?” I called for him in the radio.

“I have five vehicles on the monitor heading your direction. They are fully packed with people.

“Did they find the ship?”

“No activity in the ship surrounding. And the chip is working. You don’t have time to run, they cut you off. You need to get out of there somehow.”

“We will come with the longer way from the east. Count the distance and send Zorach for us, but give him a location, where he won’t meet any military.”

“Understood.” The communication cut off.

“What’s going on?” my brother asked me puzzled.

“The military is coming. We need to sneak from the house somehow and I think, I know what we are going to do. I hope you are still a good liar like you used to be,” I smiled on him. I put the little girl back on ground and ran upstairs. I was really hoping she did not take all mom’s clothes. I need them now. I heard the sounds of the vehicles from afar, when I finally found one that was not torn apart. I quickly dressed. They were too loose, but there was no time for anything right now. I covered my head and face and quickly ran down.

“I am your wife, we are all going to visit your parents’ graves. I don’t talk much,” I explained the plan to brother.

“But you said lying is bad,” little kids are sometimes very annoying.

“You don’t have to lie, sweetie. You just won’t say anything, okay? Me and you will play a silent hour. Do you know, how to play it?” she shook her head. “Me and you cannot say a word in next hour. Who will say anything, will be washing dishes in the evening!” she quickly nodded understanding my words. I took her to my arms and nodded to my brother.

“What about the clothes?!” he asked horrified. The vehicles stopped in front of the house. I took the small pack and hid it under my clothes. Hopefully, it was believable enough.

He opened the door the moment when the officers got out of the vehicles. Behind them, the general was standing. I swallowed the gall appearing in my mouth when I saw that man.

“You must be Verya’s brother, the resemblance is obvious,” the general said making first steps towards us. We all slowly left the house.

“Yes, that is me,” my brother answered.

“And I believe that is your lovely wife and your... two children?” looking on the strange shape of the belly. I hoped it will fool him.

“Soon, yes. Soon there will be two more.”

“Oh, two! How lovely, can I touch them?” he asked spreading his hand toward the belly. I took one step back.

“I am sorry, sir, in our country, we believe it is bringing bad luck to the baby if someone touches it before the birth. That is why she is also covering her face. The bad looks of people may curse the child.”

“Right,” the general was shocked. I couldn’t laugh, but the expression on his face was the best.

“May I ask why did you come here today?” my brother changed the subject quickly.

“Of course. We came to express our deepest condolences. The great loss of your sister cannot be put into words. She was an extraordinary officer.”

“Yes, she was, she surely was. It is a great sorrow. Our parents and now her...” I saw tears in his eyes. Still a good liar. “We were actually heading there, to visit my parents. Making a small ceremony, so she can, at least like this, rest in her home land.”

“I will assure you, we will keep searching until we find her body in the wreck. We will bring her home,” general put his hand on brother’s shoulder.

“Thank you, sir, you are a very kind man,” my brother took his hand and shook it.

“It is the least I can do for such an honoured officer. We will not keep you more, go and pray on the ceremony for her peace.”

“Thank you, sir,” my brother bowed deeply in front of him. We watched the general slowly walking to the car and we waited until he leaves.

“Where now?” brother asked me still whispering even thought they were away.

“Graves. They are surely following us,” I whispered back the same way. He nodded, took my hand and led the way. I felt the looks of the military following us.

On the graveyard, they were still behind us. I could tell. I knew them so well. At least that is what I thought. We were there, sometimes we moved as if performing a prayer, sometimes we were just quietly sitting and waiting. I was looking for a second, where they will be gone. Or for a second when we can run away.

I saw a reflection between the trees that caught my attention. I looked there; it was a shadow of a person.

“We need to get to the forest,” I whispered. Zorach was waiting for us there. I knew him immediately.

“We need to look for the forest flowers. Verya loved those most, she would surely be happy if we brought some for her,” brother said aloud. Great move.

“Goodbye. We will see each other again. You will forever be in my heart,” I said to the graves and stood up.

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