As Kori dragged her father up an exit ramp and into the city, she noticed the silence. It wasn't the same ominous silence that had followed them on the journey here. Rather, it was a peaceful silence, occasionally punctuated by the call of a bird or the chirp of a cricket. They had made it.
A sigh escaped her lips as she sat down on the curb and stared in wonder at the skyline. It was a broken, dark skyline, the product of a brutal attack. But the Visitors weren't here anymore. They had left after they ripped out what they needed. They had left the city hollow.
She heard her father stir within the makeshift gurney she had made him out of a coffin and some skateboards. It wasn’t pretty, but it was functional. Father had always taken pride in her ingenuity, a trait that had helped him survive thus far. The coffin lid opened up, and Father sat up like a vampire from the old movies he used to watch. Kori giggled. Through all of this, the two of them had still managed to keep a sense of humor.
"You did it, kiddo!" Father grinned and pulled her in close to him. "Thank you."
As Kori pulled away, her hair became tangled in the chain around Father's neck. She quickly separated the two with nimble fingers, letting his heart shaped locket fall back to his chest. She had given it to him almost a year ago, when their world had ended. A few months later, the Visitors had shown up.
The shock of Mother's death had made the Visitors' arrival seem almost pedestrian in comparison. Mother had been heathy and--seemingly--happy. Her death made little sense. The world, however, had long been overdue for a massive change. Kori knew that, even as someone who had only been on it for ten years.
With the sun dipping quickly beneath the horizon, Kori needed to find shelter. Even if there weren’t any Visitors in the city, there were other dangers to be accounted for.
"Does that look okay?" Kori asked, nodding toward a nearby Hilton that had seen much better days.
"That's perfect, kiddo," Father affirmed.
Kori dragged him to the hotel with the coffin lid open, no longer worried about keeping him hidden from Visitors. Her father needed the fresh air, after all. He'd been kept in that box for far too long. Kori had no idea why the Visitors never made an attempt to abduct her or anyone else younger than about fourteen, but that was the pattern. They only went after teenagers and adults. In fact, she hadn't seen a single adult other than her father for weeks.
The large hotel lobby was filled with debris, making it difficult to navigate the gurney. Chairs, tables, and big chunks of cement littered the floor. Kori stopped and looked over her shoulder. Father nodded, a comforting expression on his face.
"It's okay, sweetheart," he assured her. "I'll be fine."
With a grimace, Father rose up out of the coffin, revealing a twisted, bandaged leg. Blood had soaked through the wrap entirely. What little color was left in Father's face drained out, and he began to fall. Kori caught him, wincing as his full weight landed on her back.
She led him to one of the only chairs that was still upright, and lowered him into a seated position.
"We have to change this bandage out, Dad."
"It's fine. Don't worry about me."
Kori watched as her father withered under her glare. "We are changing your bandage. Wait here."
Her footfalls echoed in the massive lobby as she walked toward the front desk. There would surely be a first aid kit in one of the drawers or cabinets. She hopped onto the desk and slid over, landing nimbly behind it.
The unfamiliar voice startled Kori, and a sharp shriek escaped her throat. She whirled around to find a tall boy standing in the office behind her. She guessed he was about thirteen years old, certainly on the older end of the survivor spectrum.
"Oh, uh, hi..." Kori stammered. The boy was looking at her the same way a cat looked before it pounced. He was tense, shoulders locked as he exited the office toward her.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to scare you. I'm just wondering why you brought him into my home."
The boy pointed toward Father, who was now suddenly being flanked by two more pre-teens. One had a hand resting on the injured man's shoulder. Both had the same pouncing cat expression that the first boy was wearing. Kori's heartbeat began to pick up speed.
"He's...he's my father."
The tall boy scoffed. "And you thought you would bring him here? Are you aware that this area has been free of Visitors for months now?"
Kori nodded. She was indeed aware of that fact. That was exactly why she had made the journey here.
"And do you know why it's Visitor free?"
Kori shook her head, though she was starting to get the idea. There were no Visitors here because there were no adults. The entire city was now populated by children.
The tall boy lunged forward and grabbed her by the shoulders, a crazed look in his eyes.
"Leave her alone!" Father cried. He stood up and instantly crumpled to the floor. The two pre-teens flanking him laughed as he clutched his injured leg and ground his teeth.
"You've done something stupid, especially with so many of us on the verge of aging out," the tall boy said. "We can't have Visitors sniffing around here. I won't have Visitors sniffing around here!" He whistled shrilly, and more pre-teens appeared from the hallway, forming a circle around Father.
"No, you can't!" Kori begged. "We just have to hide him; he--"
The tall boy shoved her away. "Take him to the roof!"
The mass of pre-teens lifted Father into the air with little regard for his injury. Tears streamed down his face as he attempted in vain to hold his leg steady. Kori sprang up over the desk, but the tall boy grabbed her by the shirt collar and pulled her back.
"I need you to see this. Once you have, it will all be clear," he said. "I have to keep my family safe."
"So do I," Kori responded meekly.
The boy's eyes softened a bit at her rebuttal, but he didn't let go of her shirt collar. "Follow me."
Kori did as she was told, and was led to the service hallway, where the group of children and her father were loading into the elevator. She locked eyes with Father for a brief moment. He mouthed something to her that she couldn't quite make out through the tears, and then the doors closed. She was alone with the tall boy. They waited as the display above the door showed the elevator carrying her father all the way to the roof. As soon as it had reached its destination, the tall boy hit the button to call it back.
The wait for the elevator was agonizing. For all the creaking and whirring that was coming from the shaft, it seemed like an eternity before it opened itself up to Kori and her captor. Kori kept looking around for anything to help her overtake the larger boy, but could find nothing of use.
Inside the elevator, he hit the button for the roof and stepped back. He finally released her shirt, but it didn't take away the pit in her stomach. She wasn’t going anywhere. She silently prayed to whoever was listening that Father would be alive on the other side of these doors when they opened again.
"The rolling coffin is really clever," the tall boy commented, breaking the silence. "We could use someone handy around here, if you'd like to stay."
Kori shot the boy a disgusted look which he ignored. The idea of staying with him was about as appealing as diving headfirst into a shark feeding frenzy.
"You know, I'm not doing this to hurt you," he explained. "I'm only doing this for the safety of everyone living here."
"Yeah, you said that," Kori snapped.
The doors opened into a small hallway that led to a set of stairs and a door. It was empty; no Father in sight. The tall boy led her to the door and gave it a shove. It gave a loud, metallic screech as it swung open. Her father was on his knees, silhouetted against the darkening sky. The kids that carried him up were scattered, hiding behind ventilation units and watching the sky anxiously.
The tall boy grinned as he spread his arms outward and stepped onto the roof. The wind had picked up; it was whipping his wavy hair into a frenzy.
"If we give him to the Visitors, they'll ignore us a bit longer!" he bellowed. "Come out, all of you! You have nothing to fear!" He turned to Father. "Thank you, sir! With your sacrifice, you'll become the father of us all!"
The pre-teens all crept out hesitantly, their eyes darting in every which direction. No one said a word. The air grew thick and oppressive, and as the sun went down, all light left the world.
A Visitor suddenly appeared in the sky, approaching the roof. Kori had seen enough of them to know. They were all the same: a large, glowing sphere with three long tendrils slicing through the air. She had kept Father safe from them for months.
"Dad!" Kori lunged forward for her father, but the tall boy tripped her, and she fell to her knees a few feet away from him. Through the tears, Kori looked up, and locked eyes with her father one last time.
"I'm so proud of you." The words spilled weakly out of his mouth seconds before a tendril plunged into his back and through his chest. A fine mist of blood hit Kori in the face, and before she could say anything in response, Father was ripped away into the vessel.
The world began to turn gray, but Kori fought the urge to pass out. She struggled to her feet and stretched out her arms for balance as the rooftop spun around her at a dizzying speed. She staggered around for a moment, before a sudden chorus of screams brought her back into the fray.
More Visitor ships had arrived, an entire fleet of them. They surrounded the rooftop, bathing it in an eerie glow. The monstrous hum of the ships nearly drowned out the screams of the kids around her as they raced for the door.
"No, no, I made an offering!" the tall boy bellowed at the ships. "I gave you a sacrifi--"
The tall boy's objection was cut short by another tendril, this one through his skull. The light behind his eyes went out instantly, and he was ripped away as unceremoniously as Father had been.
The tall boy wasn't the only one. The oldest-looking of the kids on the roof were being picked off one by one, plucked from the roof and carried into the night. Screams of terror ripped through the air along with the bodies as the herd was viciously thinned.
The bloodshed didn't allow Kori any relief. She sank to her knees and crawled to where Father had been mere seconds ago. On the roof, lying in the spot from which he'd been ripped, was her father's locket. She scooped it up tenderly and opened it, gazing upon the picture of her unbroken family as the Visitors disappeared into the night.