I'd never seen Everett like this. He was our fearless leader, our strong, quiet, always-has-his-head-on-straight superman, the one who guided us through rough waters. There he was, sitting at the kitchen table, staring through a glass of water. His skin was pale, his eyes red, his mouth a thin line.

          He hadn't said a word since the attack ended. He stumbled straight to the house ahead of us and felk into a kitchen chair, unresponsive and defeated. Kathy had gotten him the water after we'd explained as much as we could guess of what had happened. Everyone was shocked. None of us had any clue what to do.

          Then a miracle happened.

          A small spot opened above the kitchen table and a hand shot through- Genevieve's hand- and dropped a piece of parchment on the table. Everett leapt forward, grazing her fingers as they disappeared back through the portal. Phineas picked up the rolled paper that fell on the floor and we all turned to him as he read.

          When he finished, Baxter's first question was "What's in the drawer?" but he hushed when Everett glared at him furiously.

          "Tomorrow I'm going after her. The rest of you may join me if you wish." Everett stood and went to his room, his shoulders stiff as he marched out of the kitchen and through the dining room.

          "I'm going, too," Baxter said. "Anyone else?"

          I raised my hand and the others followed shortly, except for Phineas. We turned to glare at him. Finally he rolled his eyes, unfolded his arms, and huffed, "Of course I'll go. Probably a suicide mission, but hey, why not."

         We started discussing what we should bring and Baxter asked me to fetch a notebook. When we finished our survival list, I took it and knocked timidly on Everett's door.

          "Hey," I said as he opened the door. "We made this list- I went ahead and added Genevieve's stuff to yours, since your things are together."

          "Thanks." He took the paper and started to close the door, but I stopped him.

          "Wait- are you alright?" I asked. "I can make you some cocoa or something. My mom always said a drink is the best way to make someone feel better, though I think she meant something stronger..."

           He smiled slightly and declined, disappearing into his room and leaving me embarrassed in the hallway. Everett always flustered me! He was so soft spoken and sweet. Why couldn't Phin be like that? I felt like the only reason we were sort of together was because of our limited options. Maybe I'd be happier alone.

           I walked up the hall to my bedroom and pulled a open my closet. We had figured we'd need a few changes of clothes, water, food, and some other essentials, like Swiss Army knives. Alex and Kathy had run to the outdoors store in town to pick some up and things like real hiking backpacks.  We planned on two tents carried by our strongest, Phin and Baxter, and we'd each carry a compact sleeping bag rolled up and fixed to our packs. 

          We weren't sure what to expect as far as weather was concerned, so they were also picking up some special adjustable coats for us, and I threw some leggings on top of my stack of shirts to wear under the pants they were picking up.

           Food was simple- Genevieve liked to keep us stocked with "grab and go" foods (which is why there were six dehydrators in the kitchen,) so all we had to do was raid her pantry of jerky, dried fruits, veggies, pasta mixes, cookies, and her weirder recipes of fruit and veggie "leathers" and cheese crisps.

          We all had a lot of time on our hands. She made crazy foods and taught us all music, Phineas was learning martial arts from books and TV, and I was learning to sew. Alex was learning medical stuff, so she was definitely the most useful.

          Kathy and Alex returned and the rest of us filed down the stairs and into the dining room where they were splitting things into piles.

          "While we're all down here, I need to tell you something." Kathy's eyes focused on Bernard. "I realized at the store that all of this had happened so fast, none of us considered the animals. Someone has to stay and take care of them. I'm just an old lady- I won't do you any good out there wherever you're headed, so I'm the best choice to stay behind."

          "Then I'm staying with you." Bernard strode over to her and put a hand on her shoulder. "It's not safe for you to stay here alone and sometimes Mav and the pigs can be a handful. Besides, it'll be nice having the house together," he said, his eyes softening.

          "Sounds like a plan," Everett said. "Kai shouldn't be a problem for you, and the cows just need water. I appreciate you thinking of that, Kathy."

          "Well, I know you have a lot on your mind. You boys get the rest out of the truck," Kathy said, nodding at Bernard, Alex, Phin, and Everett. Alex handed me a bag of toiletries and told me to divvy them up. I reached in and pulled out a black oblong funnel.

          "What's this?"

          "It must have popped out of the tube- those are for you, me, and Genevieve so we can pee standing up. These piles are for us." She swept her arm toward the left side of the table.  "Find the case for it and squeeze the funnel flat to get it back inside."

          Once the guys brought the rest of the gear in and we got it all separated, we took seats around the table and began packing.

          When everything was tucked away, excluding food, water, tents, and sleeping bags, Everett stood and showed us how to attach the bedrolls to the backpack. I already had the food we were taking organized, so Alex and Baxter followed me to the kitchen to help bring it out. We stuffed our bags the rest of the way while Kathy took the bag of water bottles to the kitchen to wash.

          Nobody spoke much as we prepared ourselves. It wasn't an awkward silence- more a hyper-focused one. Everyone was taking this seriously, even Phineas, though he did crack a few jokes about the pee-funnel when he saw me trying to squeeze it back into its tube. Once Kathy finished with the water bottles, we were ready.

          All we had to do was wait.

          The day lasted forever. We passed the time with games, movies, and two very high calorie delicious meals where we stuffed our faces, savoring every bite . Who knew the next time we'd get a home cooked meal? As time got closer, we each did a last bathroom check, adjusted our boots, and headed out the front door. The attack was due, and we each had different starting points.

           The second the first black, heat blasting portal opened, we took off like rockets, running toward the walkway. I saw the blue portal open about ten feet ahead, Alex following Everett through it like ghosts, but a black one tore the air and I had to roll sideways. Alex grasped my sleeve as he passed, yanking me up, and I kept going, disappearing through that hole in the air and into the unknown.

          A branch slapped my face as I flung my arm out trying to catch something. I felt my hand hit someone in the back of the head and heard Phineas cry out. It seemed the portal had opened into the lofty branches of some weird silver tree, and we were all scrambling to find branches that would support our weight. I heard a thump and my heart stopped, thinking someone had fallen. We all steadied and looked down- Everett had just dropped Genevieves pack.

          "Sorry," he muttered. He was the lowest on the tree and started to climb down, his long legs easily reaching the limbs beneath him. Alex followed easily, then Baxter, but Phineas and I just looked at each other and the ground, frozen.

          "We'll catch you if you fall," Baxter called up, his voice filtering through the white-veined leaves. 

          "I would crush you!" Phin yelled back.

          "I was talking to Olivia." I could hear a limb crack over Bax's laugh and looked at Phineas. He through a stick down but missed, and Alex stepped sideways to avoid it.

          "We can't reach the next step," I cried, slightly frightened.

          "Move," an unfamiliar voice snapped below. I saw someone wearing dirty brown robes elbowing his way to the base of the tree. "Come down!" He smacked an old walking stick against the trunk and I suddenly felt myself being lowered. I swallowed my scream of surprise and touched down lightly. Phineas was wrapped around his branch tightly, and it shook him until he fell with a plop onto the grass.

          "Who the heck are you?" Baxter demanded as Phineas stood, shaken, and brushed off his bottom.

          "I'm the man who brought you here. Now let's go see your little friend."

The End

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