Chapter 19: The Runaways

Three days passed with no sign of Aksel. By then, I was a complete wreck, convinced that Arvid had killed him while I was giving birth to our daughters. Somehow, despite my exhaustion and grief, I managed to sneak away to the abandoned quarry to feed Meiying. I wanted to stay there forever, rocking her in my arms. But I couldn’t. Arvid would hunt me down and discover Meiying. I couldn’t let that happen. So I held her as long as I dared, then left her bundled on the dirty tarp on the floor of the empty room.

And then, late one night, Aksel appeared in the garden. “You’re alive!” I raced across the garden and flung my arms around his neck. “You came home!” Tears of relief flooded my eyes. “I thought…I thought he…”

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Aksel’s voice was grim. “I think he would have if I hadn’t run away. But look, I’m fine. It’s okay.” He slid his thumbs across my cheeks, wiping the tears away. Then he pulled me toward him and kissed me. “See? We’re fine.” He caught my nervous glance toward Arvid’s security camera. “I disabled it,” he said. “He doesn’t know I’m here.”

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“How did you survive?” I asked, still squeezing Aksel’s hands as though he might disappear again.

“It wasn’t easy.” He explained how he’d hidden between some large boulders near our fishing pond. He’d stayed there for hours, until his muscles began to cramp from crouching in the tight space. Then, when it grew dark, he fled deeper into the mountains, where the rocky walls glowed with phosphorescent light.

“I passed a few homes along the way. So I dug in their trash cans, looking for anything edible or useful. It’s amazing – these beings create more waste than Scandinavians. Maybe even as much as Americans!” Aksel shook his head.

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“But at least I scrounged up what I needed to survive.” His eyes softened as he took in my worn-out appearance, and the purple shadows beneath my eyes. Then he noticed my flat – well, almost flat belly. His eyes widened in alarm. “You’re not pregnant anymore! Wait…did you…?”

I smiled. “Congratulations, Papa. Or Isi.”

His eyes grew even wider. “I’m the – it’s my baby?”

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I felt my smile fade. “One of the babies is your daughter. The other baby is his daughter.” My cheeks burned. I couldn’t even make myself say his name. “He took her away.”

“What did he do with my daughter?”

“He doesn’t know about her. I’ve got her hidden away. Come on – she’s probably very hungry by now.” Together, we crept out of the garden and half-ran through the dark alien mountainside, until at last we reached the abandoned quarry. We followed the paths and rickety stairs until we reached the tiny, windowless room, where Meiying lay on the floor, sleeping peacefully.

Arvid sucked in his breath. Then he scooped up our tiny daughter and held her in his arms. Her tiny blue eyes fluttered open, and for the longest time, she just gazed silently at her daddy.

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“She’s beautiful,” said Aksel. He rocked her back and forth, then looked up at me, his mouth set. “I’m going to stay here and live with her,” he said. “I can’t return to Arvid’s little prison, and Meiying needs me. You should stay, too,” he added, his expression brightening. “We can scrounge for food and supplies. This can become our home.”

“I can’t,” I said. “If I disappear, I’ll never get to see Jia. She’s my daughter, too. I can’t abandon her.”

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“I understand.” Aksel kissed my head to reassure me. “You’re absolutely right. I will try to bring Meiying to you whenever it seems safe. And then, when everything is ready…” He leaned toward me to speak in my ear, so as to shield our baby from what he was about to say. “We are going to destroy that kusipää and rescue our other daughter.”

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2 thoughts on “Chapter 19: The Runaways

  1. Sharae says:

    Askel sees Jia as his daughter, too! Yay! He just keeps getting better and better. I’m so relieved that Askel will be able to care for Meiying 24/7. That’s got to be a weight off Phoenix’s shoulders, too (besides knowing that Askel’s alive, of course).

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