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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Last Girls

Demetra Brodsky

Tor Teen

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ATL


ATTEMPT TO LOCATE


THE END IS DRAWING NEAR. Either my sister Birdie pulls her act together and finds her Every Day Carry, or we’re leaving without it. She can deal with the consequences if today is the day the shit hits the fan. I shouldn’t joke. You never know. But it’s stupid, really, since Birdie is usually the one who’s most prepared, at least physically. The prize for most prepared emotionally goes to our youngest sister, Blue. She’s the one least likely to get flustered. A calm blue sea with hair to match, which is why it’s unusual to see her in a flurry, tossing saggy, beige couch cushions aside and sliding heavy wooden furniture around to help Birdie search. Not me. I’m waiting with my arms crossed. If Birdie wants to fly out at night to meet Daniel Dobbs from The Burrow, she should have prepped her EDC before squeezing her bedraggled butt through the window and down the cucumber trellis last night.

It’s funny how Blue is the most unflappable. When you think about it, logically, that trait should belong to Birdie based on her name. Are names logical? I don’t know. Maybe Blue’s, but not mine. Women spend their whole lives cringing whenever someone calls them honey. Not me. No sirree. Mother named me Honey at the outset, so I don’t get to be offended. As the oldest, I don’t get to be anything except Responsible, Reactive, and Ready. The three big Rs. Even if that only means having a good comeback ready when necessary, which is more often than you’d think.

“Today will be the day she needs it,” Blue says. She’s prone to matter-of-fact statements. There isn’t an aggressive bone in her body. She’s just self-assured and has clear … opinions. Sure. Let’s call them that.

I flick my eyes to them and sigh. “We have to go, Birdie. Blue and I have our bags. Just stick to the evacuation plan if needed. We got you.”

Birdie blows a curtain of thick bangs away from eyes dark as a storm, deepened more at the moment by her annoyance with me. “Seriously, Honey? You’re not even gonna attempt to help me attempt to locate my EDC? You heard Blue.”

I heard her. And it’s not that Blue’s proclamations don’t often come true. They do. Out of all us weirds, she’s at the top. It’s just the world as we know it hasn’t ended in the ten years we’ve been preppers. Not when it was just us stockpiling food and water. And not in the year we’ve lived in The Nest.

I roll my own, less contemptuous brown eyes at Birdie and walk out. Blue is right in a way, and so is Birdie. Preparedness is the root of prepping. But I’ll bet my favorite Gerber folding knife, dollars to doughnuts, my sister left her EDC outside last night. Love makes you do stupid things. Not that I’d know. God forbid I have time for a boyfriend. Even if I did, none of the Burrow Boys appeals to me, and Outsiders are off-limits. For me, it’s a zero-sum game.

I hear Birdie grumble, “Typical,” as I walk to the kitchen and it puts a hitch in my step. As long as they’re following me, it doesn’t matter. I wait one second, two … expecting them to walk through the doorway and grab their lunches from the table.

Guess not.

Mother glances up from the self-inflicted palm wound she’s treating with homemade antibiotics, concocted in our kitchen from bread mold left to grow in the large bay window. The plants filling the same space provide necessary humidity for the process, turning that windowsill into Mother’s makeshift laboratory. Complete with microscope and glass beakers. A mix of aluminum and copper pots hang above her head from an oval rack, and bundles of drying herbs are hanging from the wooden rafters. Some of the pots in this kitchen are used for cooking, others for her medicinal experiments. We’ve had to learn which is which.

Typical.

Sure, Birdie. That’s us Junipers in a nutshell.

“You could be more patient.” Mother’s expression is serious, despite the youthful brown freckles covering her face, including her thinning lips. “You remember when you were a junior, all the things you had to worry about: SATs, driving, piled on top of threats of global warming, economic collapse, a possible viral flu pandemic. You never know how long you girls will have with each other. None of us do. You could be the last girls on this compound. All we can do is prepare, not predict.”

Prom and nuclear war, final exams and EMPs, college ideations and bug-outs: Mother loves to throw prepper worries into the mix of things that are typical to most high schoolers. Most, but not all. There are other kids like us in The Nest and The Burrow. Girls to the left. Boys to the right. That setup is another story.

“I was hoping we’d get to school early enough for me to work on my self … by myself, on a lab assignment for chemistry,” I correct my mistake mid-telling. “No worries, though. I have an idea where Birdie’s EDC might be.”

I turn to head outside and she calls me back. Her voice a butter knife scraping burnt toast until she clears her throat.

“I wasn’t aware you had an added interest in chemistry.”

Mother takes a glass dropper and lets three fat blobs of a yellow tincture fall onto a petri dish.

I didn’t say that. Not exactly. Mother hears what she wants. Through a filter of her own interests, which are not always the same as mine.

“The chemical reactions are cool,” I offer, watching her work at the heavy kitchen farm table.

Chemistry is great. Don’t get me wrong. I’m good at it. One of the best in my class, but I wouldn’t call my interest added. It was just the first thing that popped into my head when I stopped myself from saying I was working on a self-portrait. Prepping comes first. Always. The rest—art, literature, music—is extra. Frivolity. According to Mother. The work of dilettantes. On that viewpoint, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I’ll prep. I’ll plan. Hell, I’ll show every Nest Girl and Burrow Boy on this compound I can be ready in a flash, just as quick as any one of them if not quicker, on any given day. But if the world does end tomorrow and we have to rebuild society, wouldn’t we want the arts to be part of that again? I would. I think there’s room for both.

That’s my real added interest. Society without culture might as well be dead. An extreme position, I know. What can I say? I’m a doomsday-prepping enigma.

Thankfully, I’m not alone.

A knock on the screen door’s wooden frame grabs our attention. Mother stands and waves Ansel Ackerman inside.

Most of the guys in The Burrow wear some version of the same uniform, so to speak. Cargos, crewnecks, button-down flannels. Ansel is wearing a monochromatic version today. A human licorice stick in black cargos, black bomber jacket, black boots. I don’t mean that in a tasty way.

“Hey, Honey. Guess I’m not the only one running late today.”

“We should blame traffic,” I tell him.

Ansel blinks his extra-long lashes before realizing that’s a joke. There’s no traffic on these rural roads. Being late would be entirely our fault. Birdie’s fault, in my case.

“I have everything ready for you,” Mother says, handing Ansel jars of homemade tinctures and the sack of veggies she pulled from the garden.

“Thanks,” he says, but won’t look at her.

The leader of the compound’s son has been sheepish around her lately. I understand why, but haven’t had the nerve to say anything to her or him yet. I hold the screen door open for him and he says, “See you among the sheeple.”

“Different day, same herd. Baa!”

He grins again, only that’s not a joke. Most Outsiders do live like herded sheep. Grossly unprepared for any number of impending threats that could cause The End Of The World As We Know It.

We’re preparing for TEOTWAWKI by homesteading. Ansel comes to our house every third Wednesday to pick up medicine, eggs, vegetables, or goat’s milk, alternating pickups from the other all-female households that make up The Nest. The Burrow, where he lives, is in charge of all things tactical. Artillery, weapons, ammunition, explosives. Things to ensure operational security in the event of an EMP that wipes out all power or a nuclear attack. We all train together in weapons usage, hand-to-hand combat, and survival skills under the radar of our casual acquaintances. On a day-to-day basis, I think The Nest is the more important garrison. We all have to eat and take medicine whether the world is ending or not.

I head outside while Mother’s back is turned and walk around the side of our cedar-shingled house before she regroups and prods me again about my chemistry project at school.

Birdie’s Every Day Carry is exactly where I suspected. Perched on the low-shingled roof outside our bedroom, where we sit to stargaze whenever we need a few minutes to chill and pretend we’re just like everyone else. Well, I do most of that kind of daydreaming with Blue, really. Birdie embraces being different, most of the time. But in those off instances when she doesn’t, when she’s tired and had enough, I have to watch her or she’ll get into it with Mother, and we’ll all pay for Birdie mouthing off. Prevention is the best safeguard for conflict. I guess that’s a form of prepping, too.

I whistle long and low with a sharp uptick at the end, so my sisters know to come find me. The flash of Blue’s cobalt hair enters my peripheral vision as they round the corner and I point at the roof.

“Oh.” That’s all Birdie says. Her version of sorry I acted like a crazy person.

Blue laughs in her husky-voiced way. She’s sounded like an old woman that smokes three packs a day since she could first speak. The voice of someone who’s seen more than her years.

“You snuck out again and left that, of all things, there?


Copyright © 2020 by Demetra Brodsky