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Jane sits next to her brother in the attic in the dark, holding onto his arm.
The gunfire still sounds from outside, with varying volumes, but it’s lessened significantly from when it started.
John looks at her, worried and anxious.
Thankfully, the attic is filled with miscellaneous souvenirs from their grandparents’ travels and adventures, providing the perfect hiding spot.
Unfortunately, it’s also probably the most obvious hiding spot.
John had run upstairs as the gunfire had broken through the kitchen windows, and Jane had blindly followed him, running up the stairs as everyone else fled.
When Jane had asked where he was going, John’s reply had been “away from the guns”.
Jane couldn’t fault him on that. Unfortunately, they were now sitting ducks.
The outside world falls silent again, and Jane can’t help but to hold her breath.
She listens intently, focusing on everything around her for anything suspicious.
Her brain goes through a checklist, an automatic process that she has become intensely aware of over the years.
One thing she can taste: the last remnants of dinner in her mouth, hers still left on the table, unfinished.
Two things she can smell: sawdust from various projects her grandfather had worked on when he was alive, and the dust that has collected on them since his death.
Three things she can hear: the footsteps slowly coming up the stairs; the sharp inhale of breath John takes when he hear the footsteps as well, signifying his fear; and her own breathing, steady but quick.
Four things she can feel: John’s nails digging into her arm; the rough, unsanded, wooden surface of the floor; the slight breeze coming in from the opening door; and the sweat slowly trickling down her forehead.
Five things she can see: a human skull resting on a shelf, eye sockets seeming darker than normal; the glint of light off of John’s glasses; her own hands beginning to shake; the swirl of dust on the ground; and the curtain blocking her view of the attic door, just now beginning to move as a hand appears to draw it back.
Jane instinctively moves in front of her brother as the agent draws back the curtain.
“There you are, Mr. Egbert,” he says, smiling cruelly, rifle in his hand, as he looks down on them.
“What do you want?” Jane asks, not thinking.
The agent turns his gaze to her. He seems disinterested, but at the same time, he looks tired and weary and angry, frustrated to no end.
“What do I want, Miss Crocker? Well, the answer to that, I’m afraid I can’t divulge.”
Still in between the agent and her brother, Jane narrows her eyes. No, that anger in his expression told her a different story than the one the agent was telling with his mouth.
“You mean you don’t know the answer,” she confronts him.
His expression changes from barely concealed anger to one of burning fury, and Jane bites her lip as she regrets her words.
“Well, Miss, isn’t that none of your fucking business?” He asks, brandishing the rifle at Jane and John.
Jane instinctively leans back, crushing John against the wall, but he doesn’t complain, his nails digging into Jane’s biceps.
She stares up at the agent, half angry, half dead terrified.
The agent snarls at her, and swings the gun back.
Jane ducks.
The agent doesn’t bring down the gun.
Instead he grabs Jane by the arms, prying her away from her brother.
Jane shouts, swinging her legs out to try to kick him, feeling her brother’s nails in her arms as he tries to hold, feeling the strength in the agent’s grasp as he fights against the siblings.
The agent wins, throwing Jane towards the opposite wall.
She scrambles to stay upright, but the agent was strong, and he threw her quite a distance.
She’s too late to stop what follows.
A single shot rings out, and Jane screams, running no longer towards the agent, but to her brother.
The agent smirks, turning to leave, but Jane has no intentions of trying to stop him.
She wants him gone, anyways.
Her focus is her brother, the blood pooling at his chest, and Jane slides to her knees, hands shaking as she leans over him.
“Oh my god, John, John,” she says, panic welling in her voice.
He looks up at her, tears in his eyes.
“Oh god, oh shit,” she whispers, trying to use her hands to stop the flow of blood.
“Jane,” he says before he begins coughing up blood, getting on his face, her face, their hands, and Jane looks at him, unable to control her breathing.
“No, no no no,” she says. “John.”
He looks up at her, eyes slowly dulling and glassy.
“John!” She shouts, hands pressed against the bullet wound.
He looks up at her, blood staining his lips and his teeth. “It’s… okay…” He whispers.
“No, no it’s not, it’s not okay, John.”
“The plan,” he whispers, softly, leaning his head back.
She stares at him feeling hollow, trying to make sense of his words.
But she can’t ask him, can’t afford for John to lose his breath.
She tells him to keep his breath, and he nods, almost imperceptible, and his eyes flicker closed, but Jane can still feel his lungs moving beneath her hands, his heart beating in his chest, and she wills him to stay alive, just stay alive a little longer.